Today’s Art (20th January 2020)

Woo Hoo! Here’s the first comic in “Damania Recanted”, a four-comic webcomic mini series. You can also find lots of other comics featuring these characters on this page too.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Recanted – Indie” By C. A. Brown

Three Game Design Techniques That Writers Can Use

As regular readers of this site know, I’ve been getting back into gaming over the past month or two. And, since I now have the ability to play some more modern indie games than I could on my old computer, I’ve also been thinking a bit more about game design too. In particular, whether there are any game design techniques that might be useful to writers.

So, here are a few game design techniques that might work well in novels or short stories too. However, this article contains some SPOILERS for “Skylar And Plux: Adventure On Clover Island” and “Dex”.

1) False endings: This is an interesting technique that I’ve noticed in two modern indie games – “Skylar And Plux: Adventure On Clover Island” and a game that I’m playing at the moment called “Dex”. Basically, after completing a challenging part of the game, something very similar to an ending cinematic plays – only for the player to suddenly learn that, no, there’s still more of the game to be played.

When done well and paired with some excellent gameplay, this is like an encore at a heavy metal concert – the moment when the band leaves the stage and you sigh and think ‘It was all over so quickly, I miss it‘ only for the band to suddenly leap back into view and play a few of their classics. It’s a really clever way of playing with the audience’s expectations and surprising them with something awesome. Of course, when done badly, it can have the opposite effect (eg: ‘Oh no! Not more!’).

This technique relies on enjoyment and atmosphere. If you want it to work well, then everything before your false ending has to be compelling. It has to be something that the audience actually wants more of. In writing terms, this means interesting characters, an interesting premise and fascinating settings. You also need to tell the kind of unique story that your reader will have a difficult time finding elsewhere, so that your “encore” feels like more of something that the reader had thought that they had lost forever.

More importantly though, everything after your false ending also has to be compelling too. You actually have to have a good reason for including extra story after a climactic moment. This could include the resolution of a sub-plot, an intriguing hook for a sequel (after all, if the main plot has been resolved, then the reader is more likely to forgive a cliffhanger ending) or scenes that have a dramatic emotional impact of some kind of another.

2) Weakness and ingenuity: A week or two before writing this article, I finished playing an extremely terrifying horror game called “Remothered: Tormented Fathers“. Although this game is scary for a lot of reasons, one of the major ones is how it subverts the player’s expectations. After all, most gamers have played literally hundreds of games where the way to deal with a fearsome adversary is to destroy it with weapons. However, in this game, the fearsome adversaries cannot be killed by the player – instead, you can only run, hide or briefly stun them.

By making the player character weaker than the average game character, this game also gains a surprising amount of depth. Instead of mindless fighting, you actually have to think and plan. You have to come up with strategies, take chances and use skills that you’ve learnt from practice. This means that finally getting to the next part of the game feels much more satisfying.

But, what does this have to do with writing? Well, it is an incredibly useful thing to remember when writing thriller stories. In the best thriller novels, the main character will often find themselves in situations where they can’t rely on brute force to save themselves. In other words, they have to use their brain instead of their brawn.

Not only does this break up the monotony of fight scene after fight scene, but it also just feels more satisfying to read for the simple reason that the main character becomes an underdog who stands up to something more powerful than them. Not only that, the audience gets the suspense of confronting an “unwinnable” situation paired with the complex thrill of something like an elaborate heist movie when the main character uses a clever plan to get out of danger. When done well, this can be incredibly gripping.

3) Short can be good: One of the common criticisms levelled at modern indie games, and modern games in general, is that they are too short. The classic example of this is probably “Gone Home“, a modern narrative game that can be completed in about 2-3 hours. Yet, having played “Gone Home”, I can’t really imagine it working well as a longer game.

The game’s poignant story, mysterious house and concentrated shot of 1990s nostalgia work so well because there isn’t really any filler content. Because everything is there for a reason, because a well-designed small location is more interesting than a gigantic empty open world etc… In other words, it’s a quality over quantity thing. Yes, I can see how people might have felt cheated if they bought the game with the expectation of a longer game but, if you know in advance that it’s a short game, then the length makes a lot of sense.

And, in this age of doorstopper-sized novels, this is something to bear in mind. Length isn’t an inherently good thing. I mean, I can think of at least a few good novels I’ve read that would be even better if an editor had trimmed out 50-200 pages. Yes, long stories – like longer games- might be popular, but there’s a lot to be said for putting quality over quantity. For making sure that every page matters, even if there are fewer pages than the audience might expect.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (21st September 2019)

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

Well, although I made an editorial cartoon about it at the time, the super-long lead times on these comics mean that it’s taken me way too long to make a comic about this shameful act by a major games site.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Regrouped – Planned” By C. A. Brown

Three More Reasons Why Reading Is Better Than Gaming

So, a couple of nights before writing this article, I was watching random gaming videos on Youtube and found myself feeling nostalgic for the days when I played more computer games. By contrast, the novel I’d planned to read just felt kind of “drab” and “ordinary” compared to all of the cool fan culture that surrounds gaming.

[Edit: This article was originally prepared before I got a slightly more modern refurbished computer, which can actually play some modern “AA” and indie games. So, whilst I no longer have the same anger about modern system requirements as I did when I wrote this article (and have slightly toned down these parts before publication), the point probably still stands.]

But, although there are a lot of good things to be said about gaming, I thought that I’d argue the case for books today. In particular, why they can be better than games. I’ve probably talked about this before, but I felt like revisiting the subject. Even so, apologies if I repeat myself during this article:

1) Single-player, offline fun: These days, games seem to be drifting more and more towards online multiplayer, which is great if you’re a highly social person who also likes the length and times of your gaming sessions to be dictated by other players. If you aren’t, then it isn’t so great.

Likewise, there seems to be more and more of a requirement for games to be constantly online. Whether it is modern internet-connected consoles, constant “updates”, DRM requirements for some games (which can also be used to exclude users of classic computers), greedy things like micro-transactions or even the dreaded “software as a service” rental model, games are moving online. Even if you’ve got a good internet connection, then this is still an extra thing to rely on, an extra thing to go wrong and/or an extra thing to get in the way.

Books have none of these problems. By their very nature, they are a solitudinous form of entertainment that can be enjoyed at the reader’s own pace. Likewise, because they are made of paper, they don’t need an internet connection either. In other words, they’re more like the classic games of the 1990s in this respect 🙂

2) System requirements: I’ve talked about this many times before, but it is worth repeating. Books don’t have system requirements 🙂

Yes, an older or more linguistically-complex book might take longer to read. But, if you can read, then you can read it. You might have to look up unfamiliar words or make a guess from the context they are used in. You might not understand literally everything about a “difficult” book. But, if you can read, then you can read pretty much anything.

Now, compare this to computer games. They have system requirements.

If you want to participate in current gaming culture or if you just want to play an interesting-looking new game that you’ve heard about, then you’d better have splashed out on a powerful modern computer before you even think about playing it.

In other words, games have a load of extra barriers to entry that books don’t. The greatest irony of all is that, unlike games, modern books will often be written in a more “readable” way than older books are. They are something that is actually easier to pick up and read.

Likewise, if you can’t afford a new book, then it will usually either be in libraries (although, with the current UK government, maybe not), come down in price over time and/or eventually appear on the second-hand market. By contrast, unless you only want to play older games (which are often better) then you’d better be able to splash out hundreds or thousands on the “right” kind of computer before you even buy the game.

3) Variation: This is less of an issue these days, thanks to the awesome popularity of indie games (even if they often have ridiculous system requirements, despite their “retro” graphics), but one of the main reasons why there is such a popular fan culture around games is because there aren’t that many major games.

After all, “AAA” games cost millions and require hundreds of skilled workers to make. As such, not only are there less of them but they will often be aimed for the largest and most “popular” audience too.

In other words, games are a bit like Hollywood movies. If you happen to like what is “popular” at the moment, then you are in heaven. If not then, although there might be indie games for you, expect to feel a bit left behind.

Books, on the other hand, have a lot more variation. Pretty much any genre or type of story you can think of is covered. If you want a Lovecraftian parody of “Scooby Doo”, a thriller about zombie vampires in a rural village in the 1980s, a hilarious time travel based sci-fi series, a murder mystery set in Tudor-era Hampshire, a “film noir” where the detective is a vampire etc.. Then books have got you covered 🙂


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (21st August 2019)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the second comic in “Damania Doodle II”, the eagerly-anticipated sequel to last year’s “Damania Doodle” webcomic mini series. You can also find links to lots of other comics featuring these characters on this page too.

And, yes, this month’s mini series will be four single-panel monochrome comics since, due to being busy, this pretty much seemed to be the only way to actually plan/make some comics for this month.

Today’s comic update was a lot of fun to make 🙂 Not only did it give me a chance to make yet another comic about Rox’s old computer, but it is also a comic about how system requirements are more of a barrier than anything else (seriously, you don’t get this with any other artistic medium. There’s no difference between looking at old and modern paintings, reading old and modern books, watching old and modern films etc… but, if you want to play popular modern games, then you have to “upgrade” your computer…).

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Doodle II – Rules To Live By” By C. A. Brown

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.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂