Complications Ensue: The Crafty Game, TV and Screenwriting Blog
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty Screenwriting, TV and Game Writing Blog


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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

FAR CRY 3 has a spectacular case of what Clint Hocking calls "ludo-narrative dissonance." That's a fancy phrase for when the gameplay is at odds with the story. The story is about a callow college boy who is out to save his friends, who have been kidnapped by bandits. The gameplay is about destroying bandit camps so you can clear out more territory and get better weapons, and hunting wild animals so you can upgrade your ammo pouches.

The gameplay is really tight and the bandit camps become puzzles: how do you knock off the maximum number of bandits without alerting them to their danger? The problem is that you are in no hurry to liberate your friends. In fact, you do the story missions last. That way, you'll be maximally geared up when you do them. To heck with your friends! They'll still be there when you get to them, right?

 In Mass Effect 3, I recall, the LND got so extreme that I realized that whenever the game told me that a given mission to save the galaxy from the Reapers was super-urgent, that meant I should absolutely not do that mission until I'd done all the sidequests. Many of the sidequests went away the moment you did the story mission.

 In this Game Informer interview, Mark Thompson, the Narrative Director, says they're going to try to sync up the player's motivation with the player character's motivation. Sounds like a good idea, eh?

In related news, Tom Abernathy and Richard Rouse III made some good points in their GDC talk "Death to Three Act Structure". Their point is that game players experience story differently than movie watches. They remember characters and moments better than they remember plot:
MS User Researcher Deborah Hendersen did a study a couple of years ago that might help to answer that question. She discovered that players really hardly remember the specific plots of the games they play. When asked “tell me the plot of your favorite game” players were unable to talk at length or with much accuracy. However, they were *very* able to recall the plots of movies and TV shows they loved.
And, of course, in open world games, it's not really possible to tell a three act story -- you have no idea in what order the player will encounter your narrative material.

So, focus on great characters and great moments.

The more I know about story, the more I realize that it isn't everything.

Both the interview and the GDC talk are worth checking out. 


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Friday, June 20, 2014

Q. I am trying to get in touch with Bill Prady and it appears from some Google searches you know him.

I have 6 scripts attached for The Big Bang Theory. They would be 6 of the best episodes ever, and the one entitled [snip] will win an Emmy for Mrs. Cuoco. I implore you to just start reading it, it encompasses everything the Big Bang Theory is about.

I realize you folks hear this a lot, but Chuck and Bill really needs to see these. I have a lot more where those came from and many more ideas.

Wow, so many things wrong with this email!

One, do not send attachments to someone who hasn't asked for them. No one practicing good Internet hygiene will open them.

Two, do not send attachments to someone who hasn't asked for them. It is extremely rude. Ask if someone wants to read your spec, then send if they say it's okay. They might ask you to sign a release. They might not read other people's material. I do not read the material of strangers unless they sign a release and pay me for an evaluation. It's not my job. I'm a writer, not an agent or a producer. I occasionally read scripts of writer friends of mine.

(See, "No, I Will Not Read Your F#@%ing Script" by Josh Olson for only some of the many reasons why.)

Three, Bill Prady does not want to read your Big Bang Theory scripts. Bill Prady has an office full of writers generating Big Bang Theory scripts, based on conversations he's had with them about the specific needs of the show. You, on the outside, do not know what these are. Your scripts will read spectacularly wrong to him, no matter how close you think they are.

If your scripts are really excellent, then send the best one to an agent. If she likes it, she'll ask for a spec of a different show, or possibly a spec pilot. No one wants to read more than one script from a show from you. If she likes your two scripts, she might be able to get you work on another half hour sitcom.

Star Treg:TNG famously bought spec scripts from the Cloud, but I've never heard of another show doing that.

Four, just because I wrote up a talk that Bill Prady gave a few years ago, that makes you think I'm on a script-giving basis with him? Oh, if only. I would indeed give him a script I thought was amazing. My own. My wife's. If I thought he was receptive to more than that, I might give him the occasional script by a friend I think is really funny. I might give him one every, oh, five years. You don't want to wear out your welcome. Generally you get one shot.

A friend of ours from high school, for example, is a big deal agent in a specific market niche. We have never sent him a script, because we didn't have anything we thought was perfect for him. We did not want to waste his time. (As luck would have it, he noticed she'd won her second Writer's Guild Award this year, and emailed her.)

Five, never send someone a whole bunch of scripts. What if they read the worst one first? Send the best one. If they want to read more, trust me, they will ask.

How do you know I even watch Big Bang Theory? How would I know if your spec was good or bad? If you asked me to critique your BBT scripts, I would have to refuse, because I don't know the show well enough to judge them.

Six, no one wants to read your spec script without a release. You know why? Because if we were ever to read your script, and didn't have a release from you, and later on we wrote a script that you, for some reason, thought was full of your stolen ideas, then you might sue. You would almost certainly lose the suit, but it would still cost a month and $5,000 to get the lawsuit thrown out of court. I would rather spend that money on Zinfandel.

So I did not open your attachments, and I have deleted your email.

Good luck, eh?


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Saturday, June 14, 2014

One of the standard bits of advice that the successful give to the aspiring is "write for yourself, and the money will follow." (Well, except for these guys.) It's a specific case of the broader platitude "Do what you love, and the money will follow."

It's wonderful advice for the successful to follow. Pretty much every breakout success happened because someone believed the world needed something only he or she had -- a personal computer, a better way to index the Web, a story to tell.

And for many people, it is excellent advice. Me, for example. I never really considered the odds against becoming a pro screenwriter. I just kept at it until I could support myself. (And I never had to be completely indifferent to the market; people encouraged me all along the way.) Took longer than I had planned, but now I look at my high school classmates who are doctors and lawyers and bankers, and a lot of them are trying to get out of their business. A friend of mine who's a surgeon is trying to put together a singing and acting career. On a larger scale, while I've made a good living (and sometimes a great one) for, let's say, 14 out of the past 15 years, so many of the businesses that were supposed to be safe turned out to be much sketchier. Who ever thought you could bust your butt for years to become partner at your law firm and then the partners could fire you in a downturn?

The problem with this bit of advice is that you almost never hear from the failures. For everyone who follows their bliss and makes it big -- or makes a living at it, at least -- there are uncounted numbers who follow their bliss and fail horribly. 

I get emails from people who have written all thirteen scripts for the first season of their TV series. Unfortunately, they have no credits, and that's not how you make a TV series. 

The truth is, "follow your bliss, and the money will follow ... if your bliss happens to be something that everyone turns out to want." 

See, the problem is, when Matt Weiner writes MAD MEN or Marc Cherry specs DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES or Sylvester Stallone turns down $100,000 for ROCKY after he's had to sell his dog -- they have something that, in retrospect, the market wanted. What they loved and believed in, other people came to love and believe in, too.

I bet, as well, that a lot of people told Stallone he had a pretty amazing script. And people worked with Marc Cherry to help him make his spec amazing. And Stephen King's wife encouraged him to keep writing, and rescued the manuscript of CARRIE from the fireplace. 

"Follow your bliss" is not a blueprint for monomania. The truth is, nobody succeeds alone. Creating something good and new is a tug-of-war between listening to yourself and listening to everybody else. 

I'm sure Marc Cherry had nine other ideas he would have loved to write in addition to DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. But he had a sense that DH would make it. I'm sure Matt Weiner has a folder full of ideas crazier than MAD MEN. Even Sylvester Stallone had another idea -- about a troubled vet in a small town with a mean sheriff -- that didn't get picked up till he was a star.

It is true that you have to write what you love. If you're not loving what you're writing, probably no one else will like it either. (Unless you're a neurotic genius who never likes their own work, but it's really good anyway. But that's rarer than you might think.) If you're bored, the audience will be, too. And life is too short to write stuff you're bored by. Why go through the trouble of being a writer if you're bored? I've never turned in something I hated. 

But I have sometimes had to figure out what I loved about a project. Most pro writers rarely turn down work. That doesn't mean we're whores or hacks. It means we have a talent for finding what we truly love in the material we're hired to work on. 

That's what I do when I consult on story: I try to find what I love in the other guy's work, and help him or her carve it out of what is ordinary and stale. It's not my job to say, "Well, I woulda done it this way." 

(And, by the way, "hack" isn't the insult you might think it is, not among pro writers. I think most of us respect the ability to hack it out -- to turn in something that's at least shootable, on time, regardless of whether the Muse is taking our calls.)

But you have to learn how to listen. As Rabbi Hillel said, "If I am not for me, who am I? If I am not for other people, what am I?"


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Saturday, June 07, 2014

I have a strange brain. Scansion sets me off. Today I saw a cheese knife at the Atwater market, and immediately an old pop song popped into my head. See if you can figure out what it was. It went something like, "I like a cheese knife, I like to boogie..."

This happens all the time. Every time I see the phrase "Philadelphia cheese steak," I hear a song by Elton John. With slightly different lyrics.

Philadelphia cheese steak, I luh, uh, uv you, yes I do.

I suppose this is what comes of writing poetry in high school. Or possibly this is why I wrote poetry in high school.


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