Reviews of November (2017): the Pentakosiarch —

The leaves are dying. Branches grasping like cadaverous hands. Winter is coming… But hey! The Well-Red Mage community is here to keep you warm through all this cold! November was a busy month for us and I love it when things are busy. We hit a huge milestone (for us at least 😛 ) and we developed […]

via Reviews of November (2017): the Pentakosiarch —

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See you on New Year’s Eve

In cold December fragrant chaplets blow,
And heavy harvests nod beneath the snow.
Alexander Pope, “The Dunciad”

The final month of the year is finally here. I like to spend this time reflecting on what kind of a year it’s been, and thinking about the infinite opportunities that the New Year will bring. I’ll be posting a 2017 retrospective on New Year’s Eve and a 2018 anticipations list on New Year’s Day. And since I’ve been working hard all year round, blogging or otherwise, I figure that I deserve some time off.

And what better time than the year’s final month? I’ll see you again on New Year’s Eve. Merry December.

But what if I want to write spontaneously?

Being the Purple Prose Mage, I write about and in prose, as opposed to poetry (the other of the two literature techniques), but despite this, the Orange Obfuscating Mage (whom we all love) has challenged me to expand on my previous post, in-which I argued that prose writing requires planning, in order to include poetry writing. I didn’t really want to do this, but they only gave me 24 hours in-which to comply and I remember what happened to the Disagreeable Dark Blue Mage. It was an interesting challenge, but they never said that I needed to write it as a poem, only about poems. This presented a rather interesting opportunity: to write a prose piece in a day about something I don’t understand.

For accomplished hack writers, it’s a living. For professional writers, it’s a dream. Perhaps I could become a tabloid film critic at the same time. They also warned me against making something up, which I found contradictory: why should one plan a piece about spontaneity?

Their argument was that poetic prose writers can write spontaneously but still feel blocked, implying that writer’s block isn’t always caused by lack of planning or spontaneity. But then what is spontaneity? (I know that questioning the definition of something is a very cheap and lazy way to write about that thing, but stick with me.) My original post was about writing without planning, but spontaneity is merely the end result of the same psychological thought process that is used when planning.

Spontaneous writing is writing while planning at the same time, no? Do writing spontaneously and a plan not both result in a first draft, which will be rewritten? Plans are written spontaneously, because that’s how ideas work. Bypassing the planning stage to spontaneously write a first draft are creatively the same thing.

Plan writing is about getting ideas on the page, but so is spontaneous writing. If you get blocked writing spontaneously, it’s for the same reason that you would get blocked writing a plan: you can only generate so much writing at once, even if you tell yourself otherwise.

“Writer’s block” is an excuse for lack of planning

A thousand excuses to hide behind
Sleeping through the voices blind
Crack the Writer’s Block and find
All the Gems inside
-TWRM

A thousand excuses to hide behind, Sleeping through the voices blind, Crack the Writer’s Block and find, All the Gems inside

via Asking Big Questions #003: “How do you overcome Writer’s Block?” —


The Orange Obfuscating Mage has asked a question (he likes asking questions). He wants to know how his contributors and readers overcome writer’s block. The simple truth is that writer’s block doesn’t exist. And anybody who says that it does has failed at the most important stage of the writing process: planning.

A good plan will always save you. Not planning, on the other hand, is deciding to make it up as you go along. Are you sure you can do that? Because it’s a lot of faith and blind trust to place upon yourself.

There’s no way of knowing that you’ll be able to write a story from nothing. Why choose to think that you can when you could plan everything first? It’s illogical. You wouldn’t jump into a lake without the right equipment.

Why would you jump into a story without a plan? And yet, so many writers seem to think they have writer’s block. Writer’s block is supposedly not knowing what to write next, but you can avoid this entirely by already having planned that. If you’re serious about an artistic project, would spending time and energy on preparation not be taking it seriously?

If you don’t plan, you won’t know what to do next, and worrying about that will use time which could’ve been spent writing, had you only used your time more wisely. Someone serious about writing wouldn’t put themselves into a situation in-which they’re not writing. But lack of planning will do that. Therefore, anyone experiencing writer’s block hasn’t planned well, therefore hasn’t taken the care necessary for an artistic project to flourish, therefore should reconsider whether they’re a writer by life or by hobby.

Whatever it is you’re working on is going to be a long haul, so you need to know that you’re not wasting your time, and that what you have by the end will have been worth making. And in this case, if you’re telling a story, you’re building a world. But you can only create Earth if you let there be light. You really think you can build a world without having a plan for it all first?

Because that plan is a tool box, full of plot opportunities. If you think you don’t need that, feel free to not use it. If you think you only need a handful of plot points, so be it. But that attitude is choosing to get so far in, realise that you don’t know what you’re doing and that you’ve used the few plot points you had and then you’ll think you’ve got writer’s block.

And it will be your fault. If you were landing a space capsule on the Moon, you’d plan and prepare. You’d want to know what you’re intended location is, and how you’re going to get there. That way, when you do get there, you’ll know that you’ve completed the mission.

Conversely, people who write stories that don’t have a planned ending will never finish writing them, because you cannot reach a place that doesn’t exist. Having a well-planned story will also reduce the number of redrafts that are written, because the story will have been perfected before the writing has even started. Any redrafts that are needed will likely be for cosmetic purposes – only the way in-which the story’s been written – and that will be a much simpler process, because the story already worked from the beginning, so you’re not overhauling anything. My next writing project is still in the planning stages, and I have pages upon pages of everything I’ll need.

As a result of starting with the foundations and adding ideas to it as they come to me (and also by doing a lot of research on different subjects related to the story) I have a thorough, watertight plot breakdown. It’s bursting at the seams. It’s about to hit capacity. Only then will I know that I do in fact have enough plot to actually write the story.

And when that times comes, all I’ll need is to get on with it.

“The X-Files: Deep State” coming 2018

The truth is out there.

The X-Files‘ 2018 25th anniversary season is to release a tie-in mobile game, The X-Files: Deep State. Players will be able to assume the role of an original FBI agent character investigating the paranormal and extraterrestrial. Game play will include features such as witness/suspect interrogation and moral-based choose-your-own-adventure style decision making that will impact case outcomes. New cases will be released monthly.

Monster-of-the-week and arc based storytelling, as used by The X-Files series proper, will be used in the game. Set in 2010’s spring, between The X-Files‘ 9th and 10th seasons, The X-Files: Deep State will be about the government cover-up of an alien invasion. The X-Files: Deep State will be free-to-play, with micro-transactions available to unlock fan-favourite characters and player customisation. Developers are Creative Mobile and FoxNext Games.

Is television the way to go for video game adaptations?

“There is a darkness upon the land. A saviour is needed.”

As we know, films based on video games haven’t managed to achieve critical approval yet. With so many different genres having been adapted by so many studios, it can only be the medium that is the problem: perhaps video games just aren’t meant to be adapted into film. Or perhaps film just isn’t meant to adapt video games. Could video game adaptations work if adapted to television?

It makes sense, because video games resemble television more than film, as an experience. There are save points and game play is spread over a period of time. Think of them as like novels. Video game plots don’t happen all at once, which is why adapting them into films isn’t going to work; a single feature film cannot contain so much plot and lore.

The rule of thumb is that the more lore there is, the more plot there needs to be to accommodate exposition in order for any of it to make sense; television could, by its very nature. Each episode is a different level, and a season of programming would be able to contain the vast amount of story that is in the average video game. Netflix’s Castlevania (based on Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (1989)) was well-received, and as a streamed series, the viewer could experience it like a continuing game, jumping in and out at their pleasure. Writer Warren Ellis told PASTE that he’s never played Castlevania, but the success of his adaptation proves that a good writer is all that’s required, instead of someone who’s a fan of the source material but wouldn’t be very good at adapting it (other adaptations are likely making this mistake, judging by their critical reception). Plus, the first season is the length of a feature film, so in a way, it’s both (it began development as a feature film).

One potential obstacle that would need to be considered is the way that a video game can be played differently by different players, especially when presented with different options which will create different outcomes. With either television series or feature films, there’s a linear plot which the viewer can only observe (no matter how hard Nintendo try). That would be the greatest difference, and is something that no motion picture medium could avoid – that medium might not be perfect for video game adaptations because of this, but that’s something which video game players will just have to accept. It’s a pretty good reason not to even bother, because it fundamentally changes the way it’s experienced, which would diminish the source material by making it static and lifeless.

If a way were found to introduce a choose-your-own-adventure element into it, by selecting episodes to make decisions, that would neither be a legitimate game, nor a legitimate television series. Not only would doing so diminish both mediums by removing what makes each of them different from each other, it would also show that the adaptation wasn’t working within the conventional bounds of its new medium.

But Castlevania proves that it can be done properly, so if there are to be any more video game adaptations, surely a television series would at least be somewhat better suited?

As far as video game adaptations go, Castlevania is certainly one of the best. In fact, the television show, which just premiered its first four episodes on Netflix, could serve as a starting point for future creatives tasked with adapting interactive entertainment into a passive, scripted program.

The Verge‘s Michael Moore

WIRED reports that Netflix are already looking at in-development adaptations of the Assassin’s Creed and The Witcher series, as well as a second season of Castlevania, which will be double the length of season one; perhaps this will allow it be more developed in order to truly escape its source material?

Doomsday Clock

“What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.”

Horace Smith
Ozymandias

Anyone who’s grown up with DC Comics will feel as though their characters are their old friends from school. Particularly during the Silver Age, when the Comics Code prevented anything dark from being published. It was as though the Justice League were our best mates. But then the Comics Code was repealed, and things became darker.

The Bronze Age dawned. We graduated school and went to college, where we discovered sex, drugs and joined a rock band. And this was never more apparent than in the comic that changed everything for the medium.

From 1986 to 1987, DC Comics published Alan Moore’s deconstructionist comic book Watchmen, a depiction of superheroes in the real world. After Superman debuted in Action Comics in 1938, the superhero became a reality following copycats. During the Nixon administration, masked vigilantes were outlawed in order to prevent the Watergate scandal from leaking, and the only superheroes left were sponsored by the government – including Doctor Manhattan, the only actual superhero in this world. With the power of God, Doctor Manhattan is indestructible and was conceived by Moore as being Superman’s logical endpoint of a man becoming a God. This allowed Moore to use Doctor Manhattan as meta-commentary for the superhero, in-which they become a complicated political issue, used to end wars like Vietnam immediately, but also creating paranoia amongst America’s enemies that they can be used against them. As such, President Nixon is, in his third term, leading America closer to a nuclear war with Russia.

The overarching theme of Watchmen is whether or not the concept of a hero is good for society; that if society allows for the existence of masked vigilantes, they are submitting their freedom to somebody who operates outside of the law, and that a superhero’s very status makes them a dictator. Moore was using the hero concept as a warning of what will happen if nobody questions their leaders. That’s what made Watchmen the first post-modern superhero comic, as it established the hero as a grand narrative in order to reject it, and in the process reject the belief that a society is invulnerable simply because its leaders say it is. At the same time, Watchmen asks either: whether or not the kind of fictional heroes its using to express these anxieties are relevant in a post-Watergate age, when government corruption had been exposed into mainstream politics and the line between truth and lie was no longer simple enough to distil in a superhero strip; or whether or not the superhero was still relevant because of that social development, but would only maintain that relevance by developing in the same self-aware, self-critical way. If fantasy heroes were still relevant at the time of Watchmen‘s writing, then it was because they were more relevant than ever, and needed to be applied in more literary, considerate ways in order to remain relevant. If Watchmen‘s superheroes are inspired by the same superheroes that inspired Watchmen‘s very conception, then this was Moore exploring the effects on society that the superhero has had by making them real people, who are addressing changes within their own ranks that have happened which must be confronted. Watchmen was Moore using the superhero genre in a way that would help it understand itself.

Watchmen‘s villain is Adrian Veidt, A.K.A. Ozymandias. The murder mystery taking place within the Watchmen is coordinated by Veidt as a means to rid society of its ineffective protection in order to launch an attack which would expose how vulnerable society is, thereby committing the ultimate heroic act of empowering society by enabling it to create the means it would need to survive his existence. In the same way, Moore’s deconstructionist approach of the superhero genre was merely a means to address its inherent problems in order to then rebuild it in a new way that would allow it to survive the ways in-which society has changed since its inception.

Watchmen‘s artist, Dave Gibbons, used the symbol of a yellow-black smiley face stained with blood as a recurring visual motif, which became so noted for its resemblance of the Doomsday Clock ticking toward midnight, and for encompassing the contrapuntal imagery that has made Watchmen such a significant innovation in comic book art; it has come to represent the entire series and its universe – which was created separately from the DC universe that inspired it, as that’s the thing that Watchmen is parodying.

Because Watchmen remained an isolated continuity, its characters could never meet their inspirations: Doctor Manhattan is Captain Atom; Rorschach is The Question; Ozymandias is Thunderbolt; Nite Owl II is Blue Beetle; The Comedian is Peacemaker; Silk Spectre II is Nightshade. Our relationship as readers with characters is comparable to the relationships we have with our friends, especially in an ongoing series where that relationship develops as we learn more about those characters. Similarly, the characters of Watchmen and the DC Universe were separate parts of our lives, be that friends from school or from college. I for one have often wondered what would happen if my friends from school and college met each other through their mutual connection to me, though I also know that it’s not even possible because of how much my college friends will have changed and effectively become different people – a new identity behind an old mask, with new friends of its own. If this real-life crossover ever happened, it would likely go that way, and would end with me now wondering something new: should I have ever been reunited with them, these familiar looking strangers, and do they even need me anymore?

Since Watchmen, comics have tried to replicate its success. Though Moore’s intention was to prove what could be done with the comic strip medium and to open it up to new ideas, instead Watchmen created the opposite effect, as everything which followed it wanted to be like it.

DC Comics even tried Before Watchmen, a prequel telling the Watchmen’s origin stories and the events that lead-up to the beginning of Watchmen. But when Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns decided that things needed to be lightened-up, he decided that this would be explained as Doctor Manhattan having manipulated the mainstream DC Universe in order to make it more cynical, for some reason.

The story-line was introduced with a single image: Batman finding the blooded smiley face badge. Batman, the personification of the Detective Comics Universe, combined with the image which singularly represents the entire Watchmen universe. It needed no explanation. And it all lead to Doomsday Clock, one-part Watchmen sequel, one-part Watchmen/DC Universe crossover. And the gimmick? Superman was going to meet Doctor Manhattan.

Immediately, this is interesting in one particular way: the Justice League is fiction in Watchmen, appearing in comics in the same way as in reality. While this was originally a meta-textual device that Moore used to personify the concept of superheroes in society from copycats inspired by those comics, this now becomes a story in-which the Watchmen can come face-to-face with the characters that inspired them, which has the potential to be just a meta-textual as being inspired by them to be a commentary on them in the first place. There’s already precedent for this – in the DC Multi-Multiverse, comics are the way in-which different universes communicate with each other; events happening in one universe may be fiction in another. Doctor Manhattan will already be aware of Superman, knowing of his adventures in comics. While Moore created Doctor Manhattan as Supeman’s logical endpoint, Johns considers there to be a dramatic dichotomy between them: an alien trying to be like Humanity in order to inspire them, and a human who has become like an alien and abandoned his humanity. If Superman is an ideal hero, then Doctor Manhattan is the truth to it. And Doomsday Clock is an opportunity for the idealistic and realistic version of the same thing to come together. Perhaps the Justice League and Watchmen will clash in this way, reinforcing their characters as we learn from their opposites what they could be but are not. If this is Johns’ reason for putting Superman with Doctor Manhattan, then it’s missing the point that this comparison was already there when Doctor Manhattan was created for that purpose. The Watchmen don’t need to meet the Justice League, because any insight that could be gained from it was the whole point of Watchmen in the first place. This way of doing it is just less subtle, and misses the obvious: it’s supposed to be separate to work, because Watchmen was about DC Comics, and could therefore only exist on its fringes in order to justify itself. The only difference that will be gained from doing it this literally is that Watchmen will no longer be a complete story with a beginning, middle and end; instead, it will become another subplot in an expansive, complicated, perpetual and unending soap opera that asks its readers to come aboard with no knowledge of what the intention or final destination is (the opposite of which is what makes Watchmen so easily readable and re-readable). Watchmen was so successful because it attracted readers who wouldn’t otherwise read comics, because they didn’t need to have read anything else to understand it. But Doomsday Clock ties-in to so many previous DC story-lines that it’s not one beautiful thing like Watchmen, but one of many. In the storytelling economy, Watchmen just fell in value.

Since Watchmen, Veidt’s role in the attack on New York has been exposed. The peace building projects that it lead to have broken down. The European Union has disintegrated. Russia has ceased negotiation with America and has invaded Poland. President Robert Redford has ordered the firing of nuclear missiles. World War III is here. And in three hours, the rockets launch. Rorschach has realised that Earth’s only salvation is in the one man who has the power to interfere: Doctor Manhattan. But Doctor Manhattan has abandoned the world for one less complicated. Meanwhile, in the DC Universe, Superman has had his first nightmare.

But Rorschach is different. The original man behind the mask, Walter Kovacs, was killed at the end of Watchmen. The new Rorschach wears the same mask but has a different skin colour. He’s recognisable, but fundamentally different. He’s not “my” Rorschach, that I knew from long ago. And even if he were, he has new friends now: Erika Manson, and her partner, Marcos Maez, who communicates through movement only (which is difficult to understand when he’s just an image). The so desired Watchmen reunion can never happen, because things will have unexpectedly developed beyond what they were, so the reader’s place in it is questionable now.

From the beginning, the political references are so blatantly apparent that it’s obvious how deceptively simple it all is. Rorschach accuses society of having divided into the polarised far left/far right divide with no room for moderate centrism that it’s destroying itself. It’s fair to say that society has definitely become inward-accusing, with politics now being a game of cults using us-against-them tactics to make us think that everyone else is against them and that only they have the answer to all of society’s problems. Watchmen‘s equivalent of 9/11 – the most significant political event since Watchmen – has been exposed as an inside job, and the predicted ramifications of Brexit are happening earlier in this world. The people of Watchmen no longer believe in great systems and have lost faith in society as a construct. If Watchmen was an exposure of how uncertain the world is, Doomsday Clock is the logical follow-up to that as the story of what happens when people discover that nothing in the world is simple. Subsequently, the Watchmen are reinvented, as new characters filling preexisting moulds to fulfil the same function as their predecessors. Society’s paranoia never disappeared, it changed. It’s time for the Watchmen to change, too.