Recently in Writing Category

I read two articles recently that made me think a lot about the way I think and how I see myself.  I don't know if I would say I have low self-esteem, but I do know that I am monumentally insecure, and I suspect the vast majority of my most annoying character traits come from that.

First was from Squaremans, his first article in a new series called "The Process."  He discusses the working relationship of three directors, and how an honest dialogue is important to their creative process.  That same sort of relationship is the one I want to have with the people I work with, regardless of the field.  Luckily, where I work now, I do have a very honest relationship with my coworkers -- if I screw up, I can count on them to call me on it and vice versa, and we can all count on each other to own up to our mistakes and point out our own errors.  I'm not sure if I have always been wired this way or it has just grown out of my working environment organically, but now I find it difficult to work without that kind of honest back and forth.  This has, unfortunately, gotten me into a bit of trouble when I work with people who don't work that way, or when I am not in a venue appropriate to that sort of discussion.  The people who know me well can probably guess as to what I'm talking about.  I'm slowly learning to self-censor a little better, but I think I will always crave this sort of brutal honesty.

The second article was Time's "Yes, I Suck: Self-Help Through Negative Thinking," which talks about how affirmations only tend to make people with low self-esteem feel worse.  This is a common problem for me; I tend to feel like the people I'm getting the compliments from are either trying to make me feel better or don't know any better -- yes, I know that sounds arrogant, no, I don't really have any retort to that.  I suspect that's another problem I can blame on my insecurity.  Part of this though, I think, comes from the working environment I talked about above, though.  If I'm not getting a good dose of criticism, I feel like people aren't being honest with me, and it drives me crazy.  The feeling I get is something stronger than simple frustration though, it's almost like I feel like I've been betrayed.  I realize this is probably insane, especially since they are more than likely trying to be nice to me, but I think over the years I've slowly become very suspicious of people who are unwaveringly nice to me.  Probably not the most redeeming quality, but it's hard to break out of.

I'm not sure where this particular aspect of my psychology comes from, but I think it goes pretty far back -- my parents have never been the coddling type.  They have always been very firmly on the side of the "teach a man to fish" philosophy, which has ended up being to my benefit, even if I didn't necessarily think so at the time.  They have always been supportive, but also honest about their feelings, with regard to my work (which, I admit, I sometimes feel they are a little too uncritical of) and everything else about my life, and I've come to expect it.  I really can't thank them enough, but I admit at times it seems like a mixed blessing.
"When everything is possible, nothing is interesting."  -- HG Wells

That quote from H.G. Wells is from a review of the last BSG episode, linked from a detailed analysis of said episode by EFF Director Brad Templeton, who says that the series finale was "most disappointing ending ever."  I don't know if I would go that far, but I was extremely disappointed -- I didn't write about it because I didn't end seeing it until about a month or two after it actually aired, and figured it was kind of late for that.

However, the more I read his analysis, the more I realized he was echoing pretty much everything that I thought about the episode (though I admit the bad science didn't bother my as much, partly because my grasp of biology and genetics is not quite as strong as his).  I think the most interesting part of his analysis for me was that it echoed a lot of the same general complaints I had about the plot of The Empyrean Age.  With the second Eve novel on the horizon, and nearly a year passed since that review, I thought I'd try to explain why I feel so strongly about the Eve storyline and why I keep coming back to it time and time again (even though I'm sure some of you are getting real tired of it).

Eve Online is a unique environment in that unlike nearly every other MMO or virtual world out there, there is only one "shard" for the vast majority of players (not counting the Serenity China cluster, which has a much smaller playerbase and I believe is run fairly autonomously).  Not only does this provide some very interesting gameplay dynamics, but it also provides a unique storytelling opportunity.

Part of this is the stories players create -- when BoB, Goonswarm, and the Northern Coalition collide in massive space battles, or hard-fought territorial contests, or daring espionage attempts, their actions have repercussions that everyone in the game can feel.  Unlike with a sharded game, I cannot isolate myself from events by moving to another server.  Even smaller scale events, like empire wars between small corps or simply pirates camping a chokepoint, can have repercussions throughout the game world, or at least in their local area.

However, it also provides an unparallelled storytelling opportunity for the game developers.  The fact that there is only one shard means that the story can be manageably changed based on player feedback (by which I mean gameplay-wise, not simply comments).  On a sharded game, this becomes impossible to manage as the various shards all go in different directions.  If you set up a conflict between two entities, the various permutations of events become harder to keep track of and adjust for, especially as they stack upon one another.  You end up having to keep a storyline group or at least a developer for every shard, something that probably does not get much return on investment, considering that some games have a large number of shards (WoW has over 200 shards for North America alone).

Eve has a tremendous advantage here.  With a single shard, they can create immersive plotlines that respond to player influence -- therefore getting more people involved in the plotline (at least emotionally) and increasing its value as a retention tool.  It also allows complex storylines that can be unfolded over the course of months or years, with ripple effects that filter through to everyone in the game, and created shared experienced.  Old Eve players, including myself, will still talk about momentous events in the game they witnessed -- I can still remember seeing the CONCORD battlefleet on its way to break the m0o blockade of Mara and Passari, way back in the months shortly after release, and there's plenty of other examples I could point to.  That event is especially interesting because it was driven by the actions of players.  Whether or not you think m0o was acting within the rules of the game and this was "unfair," or whether you think they were exploiting game mechanics, you cannot deny that they prompted an event in which the NPC world of Eve collided with the PC world.

This continued through AURORA events; as flawed as they may have been, and I can't deny there were problems, they were CCP's best tool for tying the storyline of the game to the world of the players.  Few other games have that kind of strong connection -- by the very nature of their design, most MMOs, if they have a storyline at all, only have a one-way interaction, from NPC world to PC world, if that.  Now that they are gone, I think most of us in the Eve roleplaying community feel like a lot of the immersion and emotional reward of roleplaying has been lost.  Interaction between the game's storyline and the actions of players has been reduced to a few notes in the margins, a few news articles, and a medal for those of us in the Caldari militia.  This is a far cry from when I remember reading how Omerta Syndicate was blown away by an AURORA actor simply acknowledging their own backstory.

CCP has this kind of storytelling power at its disposal, but I feel like they have become too afraid to use it, largely as a result of some scandals that I think may have been somewhat overblown and could have been corrected without such a drastic measure.  Unfortunately, they have also made the choice to go from a very static setting to one that changes overnight based on, in my opinion, some unnecessarily outlandish events.  That is what I thought about when I read that HG Wells quote at the top of this post, specifically comments TonyG made at last year's FanFest about aspects of his book, about how science fiction makes anything possible.

I'm not going to rehash those arguments here -- you can look back and see what I've said before if you want.  What I will say is that the reason I feel so passionately about the Eve storyline, and wanting it to be as strong as possible, is because it is so unique, and because it has the possibility of showing that this kind of a dynamic, player-responsive storyline can actually work on a large scale.  This sort of thing has been done before, on a much smaller scale, with RP-intensive MUDs like Armageddon; they have a far smaller player base however, and are largely run as hobbies, not as businesses, so they don't have as good a chance of proving the argument that a good storyline has business value.

If the Eve storyline fades into irrelevance, if it becomes just a bit of decoration, then it becomes that much harder to make a business case for spending the money to hire good writers for games like this.  As someone who thinks that story is one of the most important parts of any game, and who feels that it is important that gameplay elements be closely tied to that storyline, I don't want to see that happen.  I admit, part of it is for selfish reasons -- someday, I'd really like to work in the industry on projects like that.  The larger issue, though, is that I think that is something of greater value to the art of game design and storytelling, and I don't want to see an opportunity squandered.
A joke for my fellow Caldari:

A Caldari CEO calls his three top executives into his office -- a Patriot, a Liberal, and a Practical.  He slams a box of the company's widgets on his desk and says, "Gentlemen, we have a problem.  A Gallente company has put out a widget that is better than ours and it's about to dethrone us from dominating the market.  How do we beat them?"

"It's obvious," the Patriot says.  "Get the CEP to raise the tariff on foreign widgets 20% and ban them from our enclaves.  Besides, people should know that it's unpatriotic not to buy Caldari."

The Liberal looks at the Patriot and shakes his head.  "That's only putting off the inevitable.  Eventually we'll have to compete -- we should get started now and invest in widget research."

"And you?" asks the CEO, looking at the Practical.  "What do you think we should do?"

The Practical thinks for a minute, then takes a sticky note from the CEO's desk.  He writes "NEW AND IMPROVED!" on the note and sticks it to the box of widgets.  "That should do it," he says.
It's been almost two weeks since the last installment of the Caldari Dialogues, and I apologize for the delay.  This is the last installment of the original batch I had planned, so any further installments will probably be spun off of discussions about these articles and not from that original conversation with Yoshito and Kai (by the way, if you haven't seen Kai's new site yet, The Zion Chronicles, you should check it out).

In this part, I'll be talking about the other 10-20% of the Caldari population -- the people who, either by choice or by circumstance, have found themselves on the outside of the corporate system.  These are the people that have conventionally been the heroes (or antiheroes) of cyberpunk literature and RPGs.  They live in the shadows of the rest of society, living on their crumbs and cast offs, or trying to scramble back into the system that has left them behind.  So, without further adieu, let's get to the main event.
So a while back I said I wanted to have a discussion of what I thought about the concepts of background, metaplot, and narrative as it pertains to game writing, and why I think that CCP dropped the ball a bit when it comes to establishing those three things, and so here it is.  While I realize that this may seem a little pretentious -- let's face it, I am not exactly a "real" game writer (yet) and there's many other people out there far more qualified to articulate this kind of thing -- I'd like to think that I have a pretty good grasp of the concepts and that, at least to me, these aren't just the purview of published authors, but really everyone who's ever run an RPG.

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