Little Blue Babies – On Epic Story Telling in Video Games

This article was originally published in 2012 at GameArena, a site I wrote for which has since shut down. I have re-posted it here for entirely figurative posterity.

Warning: This article discusses the art of telling epic stories, and includes major spoilers for the Mass Effect, Star Wars, Matrix and Lord of the Rings series’.

It was in the final hours of the battle of Earth. All hope had faded. I had said goodbye to my love, Liara T’Soni, and as I charged with a rapidly-decreasing number of Alliance troopers toward our objective, I pondered my relationship with her.

Liara, a beautiful Asari woman with distinctive blue skin, had wistfully talked to me several times about us one day having little blue babies. Before this climactic battle, we had spent a last few hours together, to make those little blue babies happen.

That thought kept coming back to me as I charged past explosion after explosion, watching people die all around me. I had to survive this. Saving the galaxy wasn’t enough – I had to get back to Liara, to raise our little blue babies.

Then, a blast finally goes off too close, and I find myself crawling the last few steps, blood all over me, barely able to stand and unable to hear anything. It wasn’t until this moment that it really dawned on me – this really might be a one-way trip. My stomach turned.

I may never see Liara again.

This sort of story is familiar to us, and with good reason – the story of Commander Shepard in Mass Effect is one of many which follow the guidelines which we have subconsciously refined and crafted over the years – the Hero’s Journey.

A Fucking Fairy Tale: Chapter Six

The continuing story of Princess Lisa and her hangover. More can be found here.

 

Chapter Six: Bedbugs, Knights & Suitors

Defeating horrible creatures was becoming easier.

I have to admit, at first I was pretty disgusted. I’d turn my head slowly, realise one was nearby, and would never have bet money on just how successful I’d be in vanquishing it.

But I’d gotten better.

When I saw this one crawling along, its tiny body barely visible against its surroundings, I held my breath ever so quietly and stayed very still.

Then, with dexterity and swiftness even the tailor from that fucking seven-with-one-blow story could be proud of… I crushed it.

“Eighteen,” I mumbled, crawling out of bed, wincing as I stepped on my tender leg and racking my brains to think of some way – any way – to get the disgusting number of lice and bed-bugs out of this place.

No soap.

No cleaning products of any kind.

No shampoo.

No tooth-paste.

No tampons.

Just a thousand bed-bugs and other creepy-crawlies, and a population who had little idea of the preventative merits of bathing more than once every year or so.

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A Fucking Fairy Tale: Chapter Five

The continuing story of Princess Lisa and her hangover. More can be found here.

 

Chapter Five: The Consequences of Violence

It’s called an action sequence.

That’s the way we think of them.

The main character (me, I guess… oh man, this place is SO fucked) rises to the challenge of defeating a bad guy. Now, it happens in a spectacular way – and usually in pretty damn vicious but visually pleasing weather. It starts out bad, there’s a twist in the middle, but right near the end the protagonist gets the drop on the villain and emerges victorious.

There’s flowers, there’s a parade, the hero is awarded a goddamn medal, gets the girl (or guy – but that’s rare) and the credits roll.

And the most important part is that no matter how wrecked and damaged the hero gets in the fight, he or she (usually a he) is all better for the after-party and the medal-giving ceremonies. Well, except maybe a stylish cane.

That’s a great concept, but as I stood there – on top of a roof with every muscle aching, my shin throbbing and all but shivering in cold – over the limp and nearly-lifeless body of a guy wearing a cravat, with a collection of confused and angry looking men in armour standing below me and staring at me like I’d just gone down on their daughter… well, I began to doubt I’d be teleported to any awards ceremonies right away.

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Playing in the Sandbox

This article was originally published in 2011 at GameArena, a site I wrote for which has since shut down. I have re-posted it here for entirely figurative posterity.

In films, it’s just expected that a new technique – some trick of editing or clever lens-work – would be used, once it’s first devised, by many other filmmakers. From the early tricks of juxtaposing imagery in an edit used by Lev Kuleshov to Hitchcock’s famous dolly zoom in Vertigo, these ‘tricks’ are used by other filmmakers, and after a while simply become more tools in the kit.

The games industry has an interesting habit of being overly critical of any game which ‘borrows’ mechanics from another. When Call of Duty 2 tried removing the health bar in favour of a regenerating system, anyone who borrowed the ‘trick’ got sneered at (especially amusing given CoD itself borrowed this particular Good Trick from at least one earlier shooter). For a while, at least – it has become the standard, now, to the extent that even games trying to be ‘old-school’ such as Duke Nukem Forever have absorbed it into their makeup.

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A Fucking Fairy Tale: Chapter Four

More of the fairy tale. The rest can be found here.

 

Chapter Four: How To Defeat An Evil Wizard

There are three things I now greatly regret doing in my life. The first was sharing a secret with Leon Sumpter in the sixth grade. The second was telling my parents that I’d seen fairies when I was twelve. The third and final regret I must now live with is slipping two tabs of acid to a powerful wizard from 19th-century England who had mastered the ability to control the weather.

I sat there, in a repeat of how I’d first met Brenton “The Plagius” Byrne, behind a wooden wall as it rocked back and forth as it and many blocks around were engulfed in a rain and wind storm the likes of which I’d never felt before.

A smear of mud landed in my eye.

I winced and wiped it away.

“STAND BACK, HEATHENS!” came Plagius’ voice, shrieking from atop the tallest nearby building.

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A Fucking Fairy Tale: Chapter Three

Part three of the fairy tale. More can be found here.

 

CHAPTER THREE: THE PLAGIUS

Awash with the warming buzz of several standard drinks, I once again prepared myself to be accosted by both a massive number of peering eyes and a lot of sunlight.

Neither of those happened.

Instead, my shoes were comforted by the soft, squishy feeling of having trod in faecal matter.

“Jesus fuck.”

Mugridge floated out behind me, and almost bumped into my right ear as I stopped to shake the gunk off my shoe.

“Watch it!” I said.

“Alright, sorry. Now… erm… Castle… Castle…”

I tried wiping down my shoe on a discarded plank as, to my surprise, only one or two people looked on from the other side of the street.

“You know, you’re like a really creepy insect, Mugridge.”

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A Fucking Fairy Tale

Hi there.

So, I got a bit angry and decided I’d write a fucking fairy tale. This is the result. It’s the prologue and the first two chapters, at least. I rather enjoyed fucking writing this, and I’d like to keep going, but knowing some people want to read more would be helpful in keeping my motivation up.

So – if you read this and think you’d like to read more, please let me know – and share the link around! You can contact me as @expectproblems on twitter, leave a comment or email me at rohan at rohanharris.net. I don’t really mind which.

Just please don’t let kids read this, as it is NOT meant for them.

– Rohan

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To Dust: A Short Film

So, I just finished a new film. It took over a year to make, as one of those projects that just kept coming and going and being something I’d work on whenever the mood took me.

I intend to write more about it, but for now I’ll start by simply putting the film here.

It’s a long film, for a short – 14 minutes. If you’re going to watch it, I recommend lights being down and sound being up, and preferably watching it at the highest quality you can manage.

What follows is, if you’re interested, more information about what the film is – along with why and how it was made. I have kept it largely spoiler-free, but I still recommend watching the film before proceeding.

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Star Trek Into Darkness: Analysis & Review

So, after my massive missive on Star Trek and why the series matters to me – it seemed only right to follow it up with an elephantine examination of Star Trek Into Darkness. (Tired of the alliteration yet? Okay, I’ll stop now).

The short version? I fucking loved it. I enjoyed myself more than I have going to the movies in quite a few years, and I’m now excited to see a third film.

The long version? Well, it’s spoiler time here, so steel yourself for a braindump after the break…

John Harrison in captivity

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Star Trek: A Love Story

“You can whistle really loud, you know that?”

– James T. Kirk, “Star Trek” (2009)

In two days, I will be going into the cinema (a rare occurrence, as I can’t stand the bloody places despite how much I love film) to watch the new Star Trek movie – “Star Trek Into Darkness”. It’s the sequel to one of my most hated films of 2009 – one which had me leaving the cinema just about fuming, confused, and trying to figure out if my fellow film-goers felt similarly… or if I should avoid making their night bad by venting.

Fortunately, most of the folks I saw it with seemed to feel at least slightly let down as well, and so some “what the hell was that?” ranting did indeed take place. It didn’t stop there, either. I’m that annoying prat who takes any opportunity to get my angry on, referring to it as a Star Wars movie in jest (making Abrams’ being picked to direct Star Wars 7 all the more amusing).

Yep. It’s a film so bad I bought it on blu-ray, and have re-watched probably five times since.

Wait, what?

So, here’s the thing – I couldn’t hate the film so much if I didn’t love it too. Strong feelings go both ways.

So, I admit – Star Trek isn’t a bad movie. Certainly not an awful one. In fact, it does (seemingly) exactly what it set out to do, has some truly wonderful set pieces, fantastic sound design, great casting & performances. It’s nothing short of a film miracle watching great actors like Karl Urban, Simon Pegg and Zachary Quinto not only inhabit, or even just own, but re-invent roles that had previously been the exclusive domain of their original cast.

So why do I have such strong feelings about it? Like my bemused brother and other keep pointing out – it’s a fun movie. Nothing more. It’s not like the last few Star Trek movies before it were great, so isn’t it a step forwards one way or another?

Well, I think it’s because of the name Star Trek, and because of how important Star Trek (the TV series’) is to me. So, I figured it’s time I exorcise some demons and go through exactly what Star Trek has meant to me and done for me, and why I feel so passionately about its future and current state.

Enterprise

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