alexxkay: (Default)
Earlier this evening, I did some public storytelling for the first time in roughly a decade. I was kinda nervous. I was going with my favorite material (Astolfo and Giocondo), which is generally a crowdpleaser – but which is 30 minutes long. A flop at that length is a really big flop.

I am happy to report that I’ve still got what it takes, and I knocked ‘em dead :)

Seems like a fun group of people, and they’ve liked my material so far. I’m definitely going to try and make it to next month’s event also. April, thanks again for letting me know about this. And Doria, thanks even more for making it happen!
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I really like this indie horror film (though Kestrell was “meh”). It’s sort of a mix of M.R. James’ “Casting the Runes” and an 80s slasher flick. The protagonist is being followed by an implacable monster that is guaranteed to kill them unless they passed this curse on to someone else first – by having sex with them. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a sexually transmitted CURSE.

I thought it worked well on a number of levels. It’s a scary horror movie, obviously. It’s also in some ways a meditation on inevitable mortality, and the ways in which we try to avoid it; In a move that reverses the 80s trope that sex equals death, in this film sex is the only mechanism by which you can (temporarily) avert death. And it’s a great example of rules-based storytelling.

Being who I am, I feel compelled to analyze the rules in some detail. Naturally, this involves heavy spoilers.Read more... )
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I dreamt I was watching a movie based on a pulp-crime novel written by James Nicoll[1]. The protagonist was a professional poker cheat who was *very* skilled at "shuffling" and "dealing" cards in a thoroughly non-random fashion. What I found neat was how they represented this in the film version: All the cards were face-up, and the actors other than the card sharp just pretended that they were typical face-down hidden information.

My subconscious seems to have conflated him with Mike Ford. In this dream-reality, James had written about a dozen novels, but mostly in different genres, so all of them remained fairly obscure.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I’ve been a fan of Eric Shanower’s work for many years now. His in-progress magnum opus “Age of Bronze” is a detailed retelling of the entire Trojan War. To quote his own web site: “While everything in Age of Bronze is based on existing sources, whether mythological or archaeological, the final product is a version for the 21st century. All the comedy, all the tragedy, all the wide canvas of human drama of the Trojan War unfolds within the pages of Age of Bronze.” It gets a strong recommendation from me.

I just recently read the latest issue in paper form. AoB is one of the few comics I still have to read that way, due to it not coming out in ebook form. But I discovered, in the back matter, that AoB is, sort of, available digitally. The digital version is not in the now-standard model, but is a standalone iPad (only) app that (so far) only covers the first four issues. But, balancing these unfortunate restrictions, the digital version adds a LOT.

Firstly, the issues have been colored, very well, by John Dallaire. Shanower’s B&W art was 9and is) excellent on its own, but color is a valuable tool, well-deployed. Personally, I have trouble differentiating faces (the trouble is more in my brain than in Shanower’s art), so having different colored clothes significantly eases my comprehension of the story, especially in scenes involving many characters.

Secondly, there is a “Reader’s Guide” by Thomas Beasley, a mini-essay accompanying (optionally) every page, with a wealth of commentary, questions to consider, and links to the sources that Shanower is drawing upon. These are *very* well done, and it can’t be an easy job. To properly comment on this story, you need an extremely thorough understanding of mythology, literature, archaeology, and the formal concerns of comic book storytelling. Beasley appears to have all these well in hand. I’m 3.5 issues in, and I’ve only had one minor disagreement with what he’s said, while his essays have enhanced my understanding and appreciation of the book from their already high levels. It’s informative and scholarly, while being written in language any layman could understand.

It’s not *perfect*, of course. There are formatting bloopers here and there, and the interface, though serviceable, could stand improvement. But at $0.99 per issue, this is astonishingly underpriced.

If you like comics, or mythology, or ancient history, or just good storytelling, I cannot recommend this app too highly. Buy all four issues – the fourth covers the seduction/abduction of Helen and is an absolute masterwork, not to be missed. Seriously, go buy this; I want to encourage these folks to continue producing new issues.
alexxkay: (Default)
Just finished reading the latest issue of Locke & Key (with [livejournal.com profile] kestrell). At a point a few pages from the end, I had to break out of my narrating voice and say, "Well played, Joe Hill, well played." Since the very first issue, there's a silly little background detail that just got revealed to be a critical McGuffin, and clearly has been there all along, waiting to be revealed, becoming the final bit of setup for the concluding arc. I'm *really* looking forward to seeing how this all turns out!
alexxkay: (Default)
Yesterday, [livejournal.com profile] kestrell and I saw the Actors' Shakeseare Project "Twelfth Night" at the Boston Center for the Arts. An above-average production, with particularly excellent performances for Viola and Feste. Also a really succesful impressionistic set design, evoking ocean waves, and literally using elements like water, sand, and dark reflections. Illyria is an extension of the sea, just as unpredictable.

There were two poor directorial choices that I feel strongly enough to call mistakes, but luckily they were not enough to kill the overall. enjoyment of the show, which I do recommend.

Firstly, having cast the twins as actors who were, though vaguely similar, clearly *not* twins (not, in itself a terrible problem), they decided to 'fix' things in a way that added to the confusion, rather than clarifying matters. Most of Sebastian's early scenes are 'shadowed' by Olivia, with the two of them talking simultaneously. To quote a puzzled Olivia, "What's your metaphor?"

Secondly, in the final scene, they let Malvolio be sympathetic. This sort of thing has ruined other productions I have seen, but at least here it was restricted to the final scene. Yes, modern sensibilities have some issues with the sort of maltreatment that Malvolio receives. But foregrounding that does damage to the story. The way to handle him (and Caliban, and Shylock, and so on) is to make it clear how much he in fact *does* deserve the treatment he gets, which the text will quite easily support. In this case, Malvolio at least had been sufficiently obnoxious through the rest of the play, even if they faltered at the last.

In chatting with Kes, I had an insight into one of the qualities present in all the best Shakespeare (and perhaps all good fiction): the audience can laugh at the characters. No matter how seriously the characters take *themselves*, one must be able to appreciate the levels at which their striving (like all human striving) is absurd. In acting mediums, that responsibility often lies with the actors and directors. The text of Twelfth Night *allows* you to play Orsino's love for Olivia, and Oliva's love for Cesario, as deep, meaningful, and tragic -- I've seen it done. But when you do that, your storytelling is confined to a single note, dull and flat. I'd be interested in hearing any counterexamples, if y'all can think of any.
alexxkay: (Default)
My 25th High School Reunion is coming up in a few weeks, and I'm actually going, for once. Last night, I started looking through my old yearbooks to spark memories.

Read more... )
alexxkay: (Default)
My 25th High School Reunion is coming up in a few weeks, and I'm actually going, for once. Last night, I started looking through my old yearbooks to spark memories.

Read more... )
alexxkay: (Default)
http://grandmothers-house.net/
This is an interesting experiment in interactive storytelling that I commend to those interested in such things. I don't recall ever seeing anything quite like it before. I don't think it's directly applicable to my current project, but good food for thought nonetheless.

Caveats:
1) Despite the description, it is only vaguely game-like. Very few standard gaming conventions, and most of those subverted in some way.
2) *Very* slow-paced. There is considerable content here, but it may take you a long time to discover it.
3) The narrative is very symbolic and allusive. You will not get a pat ending explaining what everything 'really means'.

If none of those is a show-stopper for you, check it out. It's only ten bucks, and I found it well worth that.

If you're on the fence, I can point you to this review for more information.
alexxkay: (Default)
http://grandmothers-house.net/
This is an interesting experiment in interactive storytelling that I commend to those interested in such things. I don't recall ever seeing anything quite like it before. I don't think it's directly applicable to my current project, but good food for thought nonetheless.

Caveats:
1) Despite the description, it is only vaguely game-like. Very few standard gaming conventions, and most of those subverted in some way.
2) *Very* slow-paced. There is considerable content here, but it may take you a long time to discover it.
3) The narrative is very symbolic and allusive. You will not get a pat ending explaining what everything 'really means'.

If none of those is a show-stopper for you, check it out. It's only ten bucks, and I found it well worth that.

If you're on the fence, I can point you to this review for more information.
alexxkay: (Default)
Finally got around to catching up on the end of the current season Spoilers ho!

Read more... )
alexxkay: (Default)
Finally got around to catching up on the end of the current season Spoilers ho!

Read more... )
alexxkay: (Default)
I recently read the conclusion to Joss Whedon's X-Men run. It was a decent story, but I'm mostly writing about one trope he uses in it. It's one I know I've seen in other superhero fiction over the last few years, but I can't recall specific examples. Part of why I'm posting this is the hope that some of you will either jog my memory, or provide examples of your own.

As a long time gamer (and rules lawyer), I tend to see stories in terms of their underlying (if only implied) rules systems. In general, a given hero's powers will stay within fairly consistent bounds. Sometimes a hero can temporarily exceed these bounds when the plot really requires it. Many game systems allow this sort of thing through a 'Hero Point' mechanism, whereby you can essentially turbocharge a character briefly at the cost of a rare meta-game resource.

The 'Hero Point' concept generally covers relatively small degrees of overpowering, and can be done many times without significant repercussions. Lately, however, I've been seeing a new variant in the fiction: The Mega-Overpower Sacrifice.

Here's a stab at a definition. A character may, if the stakes are high enough (at least a city full of civilians; more typically, an entire planet), use their power at an *arbitrarily* high level -- once. This use is essentially guaranteed to succeed in averting the disaster, but at great personal cost. In order to prevent abuse of this mechanic (by authors or gamers), this has to have permanent repercussions. In the best case, the power is 'burnt out', and may never be used again (typically relegating the character to NPC status). More often, the character making this heroic effort dies as a direct result.

(Of course, since we're talking about superhero universes here, 'permanent' is really more of 'for at least a few publisher-time years', until someone decides to repower or resurrect the character. But the other characters/players are still obliged to treat the loss as permanent and roleplay as such.)

So, what's your favorite example of this mechanic?
alexxkay: (Default)
I recently read the conclusion to Joss Whedon's X-Men run. It was a decent story, but I'm mostly writing about one trope he uses in it. It's one I know I've seen in other superhero fiction over the last few years, but I can't recall specific examples. Part of why I'm posting this is the hope that some of you will either jog my memory, or provide examples of your own.

As a long time gamer (and rules lawyer), I tend to see stories in terms of their underlying (if only implied) rules systems. In general, a given hero's powers will stay within fairly consistent bounds. Sometimes a hero can temporarily exceed these bounds when the plot really requires it. Many game systems allow this sort of thing through a 'Hero Point' mechanism, whereby you can essentially turbocharge a character briefly at the cost of a rare meta-game resource.

The 'Hero Point' concept generally covers relatively small degrees of overpowering, and can be done many times without significant repercussions. Lately, however, I've been seeing a new variant in the fiction: The Mega-Overpower Sacrifice.

Here's a stab at a definition. A character may, if the stakes are high enough (at least a city full of civilians; more typically, an entire planet), use their power at an *arbitrarily* high level -- once. This use is essentially guaranteed to succeed in averting the disaster, but at great personal cost. In order to prevent abuse of this mechanic (by authors or gamers), this has to have permanent repercussions. In the best case, the power is 'burnt out', and may never be used again (typically relegating the character to NPC status). More often, the character making this heroic effort dies as a direct result.

(Of course, since we're talking about superhero universes here, 'permanent' is really more of 'for at least a few publisher-time years', until someone decides to repower or resurrect the character. But the other characters/players are still obliged to treat the loss as permanent and roleplay as such.)

So, what's your favorite example of this mechanic?
alexxkay: (Default)
MZD's first book, _House of Leaves_ was a phantasmagorical revelation, playing complex literary formalist games with the nature of book-as-artifact, while simultaneously being a gripping horror novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was really looking forward to his next book, which I have finally gotten around to.

A brief digression: my wife [livejournal.com profile] kestrell being blind, she will often ask me to identify a book (that she wants to scan), and along the way asks, "Is this the right way up?" For _Only Revolutions_, that answer will always be yes. It's structured as two books that interpenetrate each other. There's a yellow side and a green side, but they are both 'right'. The narrative of your current side takes up the top section of each page, with the narrative from the other side lurking upside-down below it. Each page features two page numbers in the center-outer margin, one for each direction. The inner margins of the page each feature a date, and a series of phrases that evoke historical events of that period. (If, like me, you slept through high school history, many of these have an echoing familiarity, without actually conveying any meaning.) The rest of each page is taken up by the 'story', with each half being narrated by a different character.

You notice how I put 'story' in scare quotes? The bulk of the writing is poetic, but not in a positive way. The language is elliptical, allusive, and opaque. After an hour of reading, I still had *no idea* what was going on, so I stopped. The two narrators appear to be describing the same 'events' from differing points of view, but I don't have any real notion what those events *are*. There are no defined characters apart from the protagonists, and there is no defined context whatsoever. Without that grounding, any 'events' are meaningless, and even the protagonists barely rise above ciphers.

While _House of Leaves_ played a lot of similar structural games, and left a lot of unanswered questions, most individual chunks of it were comprehensible on the level of basic narrative: characters, events, and settings which might be mysterious, but at least were basically recognizable. _Only Revolutions_ doesn't have that baseline of normalcy. As it turns out, I require that baseline as a bare minimum for enjoyment.

Well, at least that was my reaction to the opening few sections (of each side). Mileage obviously varies. A coworker of mine has had a copy on the outside edge of his desk for months, bearing a post-it that says, approximately, "Please take this and read it, it's the most moving book I've read in years." I shall have to ask him why he thinks so. But for my part, this book, despite being a gorgeous physical artifact, is Not Recommended.

Tangentially, this business of context being of vital importance to storytelling is something I've been thinking about ptofessionally for quite a while now. Quite often, the games which get lauded for their 'story' have stories that are just as thin as an average game; what they have that makes them special is a fully-realized *setting* to *contextualize* that story. BioShock's story may be a few notches above average on the merits of pure story, but what puts it over the top for people is how completely realized the city of Rapture is. Without that supporting context, it would fall a lot flatter, and the seams would be way more apparent.
alexxkay: (Default)
MZD's first book, _House of Leaves_ was a phantasmagorical revelation, playing complex literary formalist games with the nature of book-as-artifact, while simultaneously being a gripping horror novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and was really looking forward to his next book, which I have finally gotten around to.

A brief digression: my wife [livejournal.com profile] kestrell being blind, she will often ask me to identify a book (that she wants to scan), and along the way asks, "Is this the right way up?" For _Only Revolutions_, that answer will always be yes. It's structured as two books that interpenetrate each other. There's a yellow side and a green side, but they are both 'right'. The narrative of your current side takes up the top section of each page, with the narrative from the other side lurking upside-down below it. Each page features two page numbers in the center-outer margin, one for each direction. The inner margins of the page each feature a date, and a series of phrases that evoke historical events of that period. (If, like me, you slept through high school history, many of these have an echoing familiarity, without actually conveying any meaning.) The rest of each page is taken up by the 'story', with each half being narrated by a different character.

You notice how I put 'story' in scare quotes? The bulk of the writing is poetic, but not in a positive way. The language is elliptical, allusive, and opaque. After an hour of reading, I still had *no idea* what was going on, so I stopped. The two narrators appear to be describing the same 'events' from differing points of view, but I don't have any real notion what those events *are*. There are no defined characters apart from the protagonists, and there is no defined context whatsoever. Without that grounding, any 'events' are meaningless, and even the protagonists barely rise above ciphers.

While _House of Leaves_ played a lot of similar structural games, and left a lot of unanswered questions, most individual chunks of it were comprehensible on the level of basic narrative: characters, events, and settings which might be mysterious, but at least were basically recognizable. _Only Revolutions_ doesn't have that baseline of normalcy. As it turns out, I require that baseline as a bare minimum for enjoyment.

Well, at least that was my reaction to the opening few sections (of each side). Mileage obviously varies. A coworker of mine has had a copy on the outside edge of his desk for months, bearing a post-it that says, approximately, "Please take this and read it, it's the most moving book I've read in years." I shall have to ask him why he thinks so. But for my part, this book, despite being a gorgeous physical artifact, is Not Recommended.

Tangentially, this business of context being of vital importance to storytelling is something I've been thinking about ptofessionally for quite a while now. Quite often, the games which get lauded for their 'story' have stories that are just as thin as an average game; what they have that makes them special is a fully-realized *setting* to *contextualize* that story. BioShock's story may be a few notches above average on the merits of pure story, but what puts it over the top for people is how completely realized the city of Rapture is. Without that supporting context, it would fall a lot flatter, and the seams would be way more apparent.

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Alexx Kay

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