Three Things That Novels Can Learn From Computer Games

Well, although I was originally going to write another opinionated article about how, unlike computer games, books don’t have system requirements and how this means that modern novels are open to a much wider audience than modern games (which often require an expensive modern computer), I thought that I’d turn things round and look at some of the things that novels can learn from computer games.

So, let’s get started:

1) Series: These days, book series seem to be all the rage and there are a lot of reasons for this. Not only does it give readers something to come back to whenever a new book comes out, but it also means that an author doesn’t have to create a totally new set of characters for each book (which means that further books can be quicker to write etc..). Series also allow for deeper storylines, characterisation etc.. too.

However, if you’ve ever played a series of computer games, then you’ll know that you can almost always jump into a game series at any point. After all, games are expensive to make – so, each instalment of a game series has to be made in a way that allows new players to pick it up and enjoy it without having played the previous games. This is awesome 🙂

Whilst some genres of fiction, such as the detective and thriller genres, are pretty good at this – with each new novel in a series usually featuring a self-contained mystery for the main character to solve, this isn’t always the case in every genre.

Seriously, there is nothing worse than discovering a really cool-looking/cool-sounding book that turns out to be the fifth in a series and then deciding not to get it because it might require you to buy four other books first.

So, even if your series is telling a continuous story, you need to be aware that each book might be the first one that a new reader picks up. As such, you need to write it in such a way that people can start with each book. Although most authors do include recaps these days (which is good), you also need to think in terms of story arcs too. In other words, there should be a few points in your series where a new sub-plot or story arc starts and new readers can jump into the series from there.

2) User experience: If there’s one thing to be said for games, they are focused on the audience. A lot of game design revolves around planning and structuring games in such a way that they are fun, intuitive and compelling for the player. Game designers will do things like using subtle visual cues, including clever limitations/rules etc… to ensure that a game is a really enjoyable experience. Likewise, game studios will often rigourously playtest games in order to see how actual players react to them (and modify the game accordingly).

But, what does this have to do with writing? Simply put, it means that you have to keep the reader in mind at all times. Whenever you write something, you have to ask yourself “how will this make the reader feel?”, “how will the reader experience this?” etc…

And, yes, this means that you’ll also have to edit ruthlessly too. For example, whilst a brilliant description, sub-plot, scene or background detail might have been really fun to write and might really impress you – if it interferes with the pacing, readability or flow of your story, then it should probably be shortened, reworked or removed. The thing to remember here is that your story is meant for the people who will be reading it.

3) Length: This is a bit of a cautionary example. In games, length has often been seen as a virtue (in part, due to fact that new games are expensive). And, in some cases, long games are a good thing. But, most of the time, longer games also mean that most players never actually finish the games they buy.

Annoyingly, within the past couple of decades, this “longer is better” attitude seems to have seeped into books, publishing etc.. too. And, most of the time, it is a bad thing.

Not only can a giant tome-size novel put people off (with the thought of “I don’t have time to read all of this!”), but it can also sometimes result in lower-quality writing too. When a book is short, the author has to make sure that every page matters and they have to find ways to cram as much storytelling as possible into a limited number of pages. This results in a more well-written, focused and streamlined novel.

In other words, shorter books will often be more compelling than long ones. Yes, there are obviously exceptions to this, but if you want a satisfying story that remains consistently compelling and can be finished within a reasonable amount of time, then short is good.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Tips For Coming Up With Realistic Fictional Videogames For Your Story

The day before I wrote this article, I happened to watch an old episode of “NCIS” on TV which revolved around online games. Bizarrely, the plot revolved around a fictional online multiplayer survival horror game called “Fear Tower 3” (god, I miss the early-mid 2000s!). Needless to say, this episode is hilarious to watch for how it handles the topic of gaming – with the stand-out moment being a gloriously silly videogame-like sequence at the end.

So, this made me think about the topic of fictional videogames. Writers, in all mediums, will usually come up with fictional videogames for a number of reasons. Not only can you make the game a better fit for your story, but you can also sidestep possible copyright issues, make various points about videogames and do all sorts of other things if you come up with a fictional game for your story’s characters to play.

If you’ve grown up with games, then you’ll have no trouble coming up with these (and, chances are, you’ve probably already got loads of ideas for games that you would make if you could). But, if you haven’t played many games, then I thought that I’d offer a few tips for how to include realistic fictional videogames in your stories:

1) Play games! It’s easier (and cheaper) than you might think: Simply put, you actually need to play some games. This doesn’t mean that you have to devote every waking hour to gaming or spend lots of money on keeping up with the absolute latest games (and the expensive hardware needed to play them) or even be part of “gamer culture”, but you need to be reasonably familiar with the basic features of the medium. You need to be familiar with the experience of playing games.

It doesn’t matter if you play old or new games, well-known games or obscure games, single-player or multi-player games, console/phone games or PC games, fast-paced action games or slow-paced puzzle games etc… the important thing is to actually play some games. Seriously, when it comes to inventing fictional games, nothing beats hands-on experience with actual games to show you what games are actually like.

But, if you’re totally new to games, then a word of warning. If a modern game (whether it is “free to play” or one you have to buy) starts asking you to pay real money for things like extra turns, extra in-game currency/items/weapons/costumes, randomised “loot boxes” etc… then avoid it like the plague! These games are designed to get you to spend, spend and spend some more in a similar way to a gambling machine.

So, if you don’t have a large gaming budget, but own a computer (no matter how old or low-spec) and want to play some honest free games that are actually free, then take a look at some of these games:

-“Beneath A Steel Sky” – a dystopian sci-fi puzzle/adventure game from the 1990s that was later officially released for free.
– “Freedoom” – A version of the classic 1990s sci-fi/horror action game “Doom” that adds new freely-licenced graphics, sounds and levels to the officially released free source code. You’ll need to use Freedoom with a free “source port” program designed for your computer’s operating system (eg: Windows, Linux, MacOs etc…).
– “Rosemary” – A short and free horror/gothic “point and click” adventure game involving time/memory manipulation.
– “Hurrican” – This is a freeware 2D action platformer game, inspired by the old “Turrican” games. It only exists in a Windows version on the site, but it is open-source, so someone somewhere could possibly make a Linux version.
– “Supertux” – This is a freeware “Super Mario”-inspired 2D platform game featuring an adorable penguin (the Linux mascot, Tux), which is compatible with Linux, Windows and MacOS.
– “Open Arena” – This is a freeware 3D first-person shooter game inspired by “Quake 3” that also includes both single and multi player modes. It will also work with Linux and MacOS as well as Windows.
– “Tyrian 2000” – A top down “shoot em up” spaceship game from the 1990s that was later officially released as freeware.

Likewise, if you’re worried about time or you’ve read the stories about “game addiction” that were in the press last year, then my advice would be to stick to single-player games (especially older ones). No matter how grippingly compelling a single-player game is, you can usually save your progress (so you can easily put the game down and pick it up later) and, equally importantly, there is also usually a defined ending to the game too.

2) Read up on the gaming business: As you probably guessed from the caveats I gave in the previous part of this article, the business side of gaming isn’t always the best thing in the world. Yes, games themselves are absolutely awesome. But, they are often expensive to make and this can sometimes result in some rather dubious business practices.

So, do some research into this. This will help you to add a bit of realistic cynicism to your fictional depictions of games.

On a lighter note, be sure look online for information about how old game designers and/or modern low-budget game designers had to use all sorts of clever tricks to make their games seem more impressive, despite budgetary or technical limitations. Once you learn how to spot this kind of thing, then it can give your story a real ring of authenticity. A classic example of this are the old “Resident Evil” games – here’s a screenshot from one of them:

This is a screenshot from the 2000 PC version of “Resident Evil 3” (1999).

This game was produced in the late 1990s/early 2000s and it still looks reasonably good. This is mostly because, in order to get the game to run on old computers and games consoles, the designers used “realistic” pre-painted 2D backgrounds. As such, the only “moving parts” that the computer has to handle are a few basic 3D characters that are super-imposed onto these 2D backgrounds. This allowed the designers to create a cool-looking game that will run on some very low-spec hardware.

3) Learn about game design: In addition to doing some online research into all of the different types of games out there, also be sure to do some research into how games are designed. This doesn’t mean that you have to learn how to program (I mean, I don’t really know how to program), but a basic knowledge of game design principles can help you to add an air of authenticity to your fictional videogames.

The best places to find out this kind of information are on Youtube channels that are dedicated to this topic. Some of the more famous examples include channels like “Extra Credits” and “Game Maker’s Toolkit“.

Not only are these types of documentary videos absolutely fascinating in their own right (so, set aside time for binge-watching) but they will also help to train you to think like a game designer, which will help you to come up with more interesting and/or realistic fictional videogames for your story.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (21st April 2019)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the second comic in “Damania Retracted”, this month’s four-comic webcomic mini series. You can find links to lots of other comics featuring these characters on this page. You can catch up on previous comics in this mini series here: Comic One,

And, yes, I know that the original “Resident Evil” was also inspired by an old NES game. But, if you’ve ever played the original “Alone In The Dark” (from 1992 – four years before “Resident Evil” was released), then it’s very easy to see the influence it had on the gameplay etc…

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Retracted – Pretty Tedious” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (22nd March 2019)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the third comic in “Damania Requirement”, this month’s four-comic webcomic mini series 🙂 You can also find lots of other comics featuring these characters on this page too 🙂

And, yes, I find all of the fuss about “walking simulators” to be a bit silly. I mean, one of the coolest gaming experiences I had in 2017 was when I played the classic point and click game “Riven” for the first time and just spent a while wandering around and exploring the game’s fascinating world. Then I got stuck on the puzzles and couldn’t progress.

If anyone is puzzled about the “retro”-style photos in the first three panels, they’re digitally-edited photos of some stairs near Tipner Lake that I took last April. And, yes, I’ve turned two of them into digitally-edited paintings (which can be seen here and here)

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Requirement – Game Police” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (22nd February 2019)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the third comic in “Damania Reconstituted”, a new webcomic mini series (you can find lots of other comics here too). You can catch up on previous comics in this mini series here: Comic One, Comic Two,

Although this will be another four-comic mini series for time reasons, I was determined that there will be some comics here this month 🙂 And, yes, this actually happened to me a few weeks before I made this comic (although I was able to remedy it by just re-playing “Doom II” and, my personal favourite, “The Plutonia Experiment” from “Final Doom”).

And, as for the second panel, Rox uses a ZDoom-style source port (with death text). Even though she still prefers the original DOS version, the idea of being able to jump in “Doom” is as awesome as it is deeply heretical.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Reconstituted – Replay” By C. A. Brown

Don’t Show Your Audience Everything – A Ramble

Although this is an article about a technique that will make your stories, comics etc.. more intriguing and realistic, I’m going to have to spend the next few paragraphs talking about 1990s videogame nostalgia. There’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later in the article.

A couple of days before I prepared the first draft of this article, I happened to watch two online videos about the history of videogames. One made me feel old and one made me feel like I’d been part of something special. Both made me feel like I’d only seen part of something important from a distance.

One of them was this video about the fact that a survival horror game called “Resident Evil 2” was 20 years old. 20 years! Needless to say, this fact was surreal to say the least. I remember reading pre-release previews of this game in magazines, for heaven’s sake!

Even though I didn’t play this game until about three years after it was released (due to price, platform etc.. reasons), this game has had a significant role in my life history (eg: in various highly indirect ways, it played a crucial role in my current musical tastes, my tastes in fiction, my decision to be a creative person etc.. If the game hadn’t existed, I’d be a very different person). And the fact that it was 20 years old just made me feel absolutely ancient.

The other video was a retrospective of the history of the first-person shooter genre. This video contained footage from videogames from my childhood (including some SNES and N64 games), in a montage about how games evolved. As I watched this, I was filled with conflicting emotions.

I felt proud that I’d been lucky enough to grow up during a critical part of the emergence a new cultural medium. But then, I realised that my nostalgia about this montage was time-shifted somewhat. When I was playing SNES games during my 1990s childhood, the next consoles had already come out. When I was playing the Nintendo 64, the next consoles had already come out etc.. Likewise, all of the PC games in the montage were things I played at least 1-3 years after they were new.

In both cases, there was a sense that I hadn’t seen everything. That I’d only glimpsed part of something great from a distance. I hadn’t played “Resident Evil 2” when it was a new game (but I’d read about it in magazines at the time). I’d only played a few key games in the history of gaming, a few years after they were new etc.. Yes, I felt glad to have grown up around these things but there was a sense that I hadn’t seen everything.

Although this initially felt depressing, I suddenly realised that it wasn’t a bad thing. It was simply just a part of being human. No-one can see literally everything that happens.

And, if you’re telling a story, it’s important to bear this in mind. Yes, it can be tempting to give the audience an omniscient view of literally everything and to make sure that they are present during literally every significant event in your story. But, this isn’t realistic.

By occasionally leaving a few things at a distance (eg: your characters hear about something happening after it has happened, or only see the after-effects of an important story event) or showing your characters discovering something important later than you would expect, not only do you leave more to your audience’s imaginations but you also add an extra degree of realism to your story. After all, in real life, this happens all of the time. No-one can be everywhere at once, or completely “up to date” with literally everything.

Yes, this probably has to be handled carefully in fiction (eg: yes, you should still show your audience some significant events) but it can be a way to add a bit of interest or “realism” to a story or comic.

For example, in stories, games, film etc… in the fantasy genre, some of the most significant events in a story will often be relegated to the backstory. They will be the “legends” or “myths” of a particular story, which the main characters only encounter many years after they have happened. So, this technique can be used without getting in the way of the main story too much.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Library Of The Imagination – A Ramble

A while before I wrote this article, I happened to read this online article which speaks in defence of binge-watching TV shows. But, one thing that the article didn’t mention was the value that binge-watching, binge-reading, binge-playing etc… all sorts of entertainment media has if you are a creative person.

Simply put, it results in less writer’s block/artist’s block and it also allows you to make better creative works too.

Ok, doing nothing but watching/reading/playing lots of stuff won’t instantly turn you into a good artist or writer. You actually have to practice your craft too (regularly, no less!). Likewise, you also need to learn a few other skills like how to take inspiration properly (eg: how to be inspired by something, without directly copying it). But, in combination with these things, spending a lot of time immersed in creative works can have all sorts of brilliant benefits.

Why? The best way to think about this is to think of your imagination is as a chaotic, disorganised library. The more things that you put into it, then the more chance there will be that – when you browse it – you’ll find an interesting mixture of things. Not only will this result in more unique creative works, but it will also mean that there are more things for you to be inspired by. Which means less writer’s block/artist’s block.

For example, here’s a preview of a digitally-edited painting of mine that will be posted here late this month:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 28th November.

The initial inspiration for this painting was the memories of watching old 1990s episodes of “Twin Peaks” evoked by watching the modern version of the series. This made me want to make a “cosy” painting, set in a wooden building during the 1980s/90s, with some surreal elements.

But, in addition to this, I also wanted to include gloomy tenebristic lighting (like in a Caravaggio painting, or an old heavy metal album/horror novel cover). I also wanted to give this gloomy lighting a slightly more futuristic cyberpunk-like look (inspired by films like “Blade Runner”), whilst also adding a few gothic elements (inspired by classic horror games like “Resident Evil”, “Silent Hill 3”, “Clive Barker’s Undying”, “Alone In The Dark”, “Realms Of The Haunting” etc..). And, of course, my use of colours was also partially inspired by these fan-made “Doom II” levels too.

The number of different inspirations for this painting is probably at least ten or more.

But, the bulk of these inspirations are things that I’ve discovered over the past few years. Back when I started making daily art in 2012, I obviously had less practice (and my art didn’t look as good as a result) but I also had fewer inspirations too. Not only that, I didn’t really know how to take inspiration properly too. As such, my imagination felt somewhat more limited then than it does today. Likewise, when I felt uninspired, it was much more of a panic than it is now.

So, spending time watching/reading/playing things that interest you, in combination with regular art and/or writing practice can work wonders for your imagination. It’s like adding more books to a reference library, adding more colours to a palette, planting more seeds in a garden or adding more music to a playlist. It gives you more things that you can take inspiration from in new and creative ways.

So, yes, binge-watching a TV show or binge-playing a game isn’t a “waste of time” if you’re a creative person. Well, except when it gets in the way of your art and/or writing practice, of course.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂