Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Card Game Creation Quest Part 1

The Rundown

I, your humble blog writer, and the group to which I am a part of, FlubberKnuckle Studios, have a plan to release an awesome card based videogame called Flipz.  Our card game started, ever-so-humbly, from a college assignment made by my close friend and business partner, Hawk.  Back then it was a physical card game and made with random graphics taken from the internet taped to the back of playing cards and placed inside of a card sleeve with the picture facing outwards.  The game proved to be a hell of a lot of fun.  Because we haven’t officially released anything yet or even copyrighted the thing yet I’ll hold off on describing the game itself, for now at least.

We’ve been hard at work making the digital version of said card game for well over a year as our studios first foray into videogame production.  It’s been a hard road and the journey has taught us a lot about ourselves and our potential.  I’ve demoed that game a hundred times at least and can say that it’s very faithful to the physical card game which we’ve been perfecting these last two years.  Now, however, we want to pull back a little and go for a different approach than the one we were planning.  We’ve had some changes throughout the group, mainly in how we operate and what we’re shooting for.  We’ve come up with a new strategy and new software to use for Flipz.

Now the first step will be to make the physical card game and release it.  That is our current focus.  We will use Hawk’s prototype and expand it to actual production and we will sell it to as many hobby stores as we can and market the hell out of the thing.  These physical copies will let the purchasers know that pretty soon, they can look forward to a digital copy of the same game.

I will chronicle out steps to production here on my blog for anyone else interested in learning about indie card game production. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My NaNoWriMo Story Part 5

The Win

Sooooo…I won.  I submitted my story, Average Joe and the Beauty, a whole day ahead of the deadline of November 30th.  I cranked out some crazy production in the last six days thanks to coffee, excitement, and a pure “fuck this I’m winning” attitude.  My chapter outlines kept me focused and on track throughout the story.  I’m so glad that I had wrote them out ahead of time but at the end I had surpassed them and had no time to write new ones so I just wrote from the seat of my pants like many other NaNo “Pantsers” out there.  Admittedly most of this huge production of words was complete crap, stuff I should have erased as I was writing it and I know that later I’ll groan when I have to go back and read this stuff.  The point is that it got done and I did something I thought impossible.

As I was writing this portion of my NaNo story I wondered if I should be more suspenseful.  I obviously decided against it (XD) so I’ll just tell you how the whole submitting process went.  So I arrived at work really early, hours before even the early morning cooks, and opened up NaNoWriMo.org.  On the website I searched the FAQ section.  I had seen that there was a way to “scramble” the words of a submission before it’s submitted for validation.  I followed the steps which was really just using Find and Replace on MS Word to replace all letters with capital and lowercase A’s.  I did this because I am way too paranoid.  Now I will admit here that I cheated in validating my novel.  I hadn’t kept up with transferring my written words into virtual text and had given up before even the halfway point to focus strictly on writing the story out.  Knowing this I simply used my previous novel, Average Joe and the Extraordinaires , to validate this one.  Underhanded I agree but I assure you that I kept very accurate word counts in my notebook.  I took a count after every page and wrote the number at the top of that particular page.  I only validated what I had written.

After submitting my novel for validation I got my official word count (51,816).   I watched the awkward-ish (though charming) video of the NaNo crew and could do nothing but smile.  I felt so damn good.  I downloaded all of the cool winner’s graphics that they put up on the page and marveled at my wonderfully inaccurate word count.  The website shaved off 16 words but what’s 16 words between friends—a lot if my novel was 50,015 words.  After I sat there a while and quickly pondered over the month I couldn’t help but feel sad.  It was all over and I knew what I would do next but also knew that I would have to come out of this intoxicating bubble—this solitary private party—and join all of you back in the real world.  Life demands balance and I desperately needed to get back to mine.

So I was now done and I had won and won big.  What did I win?  A headache I suppose.  A 51,816 word labyrinth that I had to search through to find something worthwhile.  NaNoWriMo doesn’t really give it’s winners a prize but I believe that it does reward winners with something very useful.  The contest rewarded me with the ability to silence my inner editor whenever I want and helped bolster the production of my writing.  I can now put myself in a “NaNo state” at any given time in order to shut all the distractions out and get serious production going.  Towards the end I honestly did see a glaring weakness in the way that I wrote.  I wrote mainly to satisfy my plot with all other elements coming in second to that.  Now I don’t think that this is the proper way to write.  The character should always come first and not just the main character but every character in the book.  Your mains should have an arc and your supporting characters should all have interests and fully developed lives outside of the plot.  If you can find the time you should fully flesh out every character even if you use them once.  Character growth and themes have always been important to me but now they’ll be at the forefront of my works instead of at the background like before.

Now that I’ve won this year’s NaNoWriMo will I participate next year?
I really, really want to!  I can only see myself participating if I have the proper time, workspace, and no other projects looming.  It’s tough to dedicate a whole month to just one thing and NaNo 2013 demanded that I dedicate any and all hours of my life that weren’t already spent at my job.  I can’t do that again.  There has to be a balance.  I can’t run around like I was forced to do this year.  I must start building a proper workspace well in advance of the contest.  I also won’t participate if I’m working on any video or board game projects with FlubberKnuckle Studios.  It’s just way too much work for me and way too much stress.  I’ll know for sure later on, most likely in the middle of next year.

So I won, what’s next?
The next step for me is actually a backstep.  I want to return to my first book and boost the content there and make the transition from Average Joe and the Extraordinaires to Average Joe and the Beauty much smoother.  I want to make sure that the first book is also a much smoother read overall by tuning up the prose a bit, adding more detailed character descriptions (since I seemed to have nailed them in the sequel), and foreshadowing some of the outlandish concepts that I have in the second book.  I think these changes will strengthen the first book a great deal.  The primary goal is to perfect that first book and get it out ASAP.  I’ll most likely learn some HTML too in order to start perfecting the book for Kindle release.

So all in all I love this contest; the pep talks from real authors, the goals, the preparation month leading into the contest, the local writing events, the fervor, and just the basic aspect of man, imagination, pencil, and paper (or Word Processor) all coming together to complete a seemingly impossible monthly goal.  If you haven’t tried a NaNoWriMo yet then I suggest you do.  You just might learn something new about yourself and about your project.

Friday, December 27, 2013

My NaNoWriMo Story Part 4

Overcoming the Obstacles

At this point many of you are wondering what my plan for productivity entailed.  It must’ve been something crazy right?  Not really.  The only crazy part was getting me to leave the house and wait for hours in the cold Michigan air for a bus to get me where I was going.  And where was I going?  Some magical refuge for down on their luck NaNoWriMo writers?  A place where said writer can do intense training in mountainous solitude to improve word count, word quality, and plotting?  Well, kinda sorta.  I just went to the library all the way downtown.  It provided me with some much needed quiet time.  I went to the most boring looking part of the library, the sociology room I think it was.­­­­­

In the library I had no choice but to write, write, write.  I did this for hours on end.  I sat at a table away from mostly everyone.  It took a while to warm up and get back into the world but it did happen and when it did the words were flowing.  It was still crap, I thought anyway but I figured I could change it all when the contest was over.  I settled for changing my whole writing/editing process up just for this book, just for this contest.  I knew that there was plenty of gold buried under all the crappy words I was writing and I figured that later I’d just mine that gold for ideas and improve the structure around it.  It was the most obvious way to do this and quite a few of the NaNo pep talks even said this so I can’t even tell you why it took me so long to actually adopt this process.  It’s most likely because I’m a creature of habit especially concerning my writing.

Slowly I worked on releasing myself from the shackles of my process.  It was mostly psychological.  I’d leave sentences and word choices that I didn’t like in, even though they bugged me.  Soon I was telling myself that I would change it later when I copied it into the computer.  Eventually this encompassed even whole ideas that took up most of a chapter.  I now felt that I could definitely change it later or even pull from each and every wretched idea that I left on the paper and wanted to change.  I was now able to write crap and move on which is a very powerful talent or in my case, becoming a powerful learned skill.

The library helped rejuvenate me and really boosted my word count.  The first day I didn’t get as much as I wanted (a lofty 10,000 words).  I never managed to hit my target on my trips but was steadily adding large increments to my overall word count and the truth was that a lot of the writing was really good.  I knew I was too hard on myself after I’d copy a chapter down into my computer and read through it.  My inner editor had almost killed the contest for me with all this slow methodical nonsense.  Though I couldn’t get rid of the bastard it did feel good to shut him up every so often so that I could unleash the full fury of rapid production.  Now I was in it to win it – hell – I knew I was going to win it.  I had just a week left and had only just hit the halfway mark but I felt that I could really do this with one more push especially with all I had learned.  It’s crazy how much had changed in just a week.

Maybe my confidence was misplaced.  I still wasn’t finished and though I had boosted my word count, that 50,000 mark was still a long ways away.  Why the heck was I so confident?  And what if—just what if—I had somehow reverted back to my production levels of weeks previous.  There was still a lot to be uncertain of with a week left.

Friday, December 20, 2013

My NaNoWriMo Story Part 3

The Downward Slope

This is a period of time that I’m very ashamed of.  It’s a period of time when I felt that I would not complete the contest and would just settle for the headstart that the contest provided me.  This was the point when the writing was unforgivable and my inner editor just wouldn’t let me feel confident about what I was doing.  Not only was my inner editor making me feel like less of a writer but this was also the period I had the most distractions.

I was working long days, in some cases going over my shift or working someone else’s hours.  My initial plan of working through my lunch hour was thwarted by hunger and fatigue.  I sat and ate lunch with my coworkers for most of the month.  I wrote with them around about 10% of the time and by myself about 15%.  When at home my mom wouldn’t really relent on asking me questions that I didn’t think were relevant and soon my nephew was coming over nightly thanks to his new job.  Seeing my nephew is usually a joyous occasion for me.  This time was no different but marked with tremendous trepidation because I knew I would be distracted with him around and lose precious contest time.  I’m not tough enough for this I suppose.  I have trouble just shutting people out.  I can do it for a decent period of time before I start to feel bad because I’m so good at it…which makes me bad at it I suppose.

My writing productivity dwindled embarrassingly low.  I wasn’t even hitting 300-400 words a day and then began skipping days entirely.  The combination and long work days and long bus waits and rides wore me down to the point of not even wanting to write anymore.  It didn’t help that when I did write I thought I was writing absolute shit.  I wasn’t going to win the contest but at least I had a decent start.  At that point I had roughly 15,000 words but I was roughly 2-3 weeks in and now I was just about ready to give up.

I began playing videogames again and watching anime.  I managed to start Skyrim and finish a few quest lines.  I watched all of Gundam 08th MS team and while both those distractions offered up a ton of inspiration I still was severely lagging behind in word count.  My nephew was also coming over daily with tales of his new job and to play a few games.  He had begun Skyrim (which led to me playing it) and had even bought Grand Theft Auto V just to play on my Xbox.  I was very entertained by his playthrough and we had shared a lot of laughs but again I wasn’t getting anything done.  I liked seeing my nephew because I rarely got a chance to but this contest was really important to me.  I needed to do my best at the very least, nothing else would serve.  So I killed two birds with one stone.  I gave my nephew my Xbox to take home with him and with that made it more convenient for him to play games and increased my word count thanks to the increased focus.

So although I was pretty lousy on production for nearly two straight weeks I still managed to produce at least something.  At that point I wasn’t even halfway done but those small increments kept me in the game.  With my time quickly dwindling down and my production levels so very far from goal, I finally had enough and put my plan for productivity into play.
Special thanks to the wicked awesome distractions of Man of Steel, We’re the Millers, Identity Thief, The Wire, Binding of Isaac, Borderlands 2, and Devil Survivor, along with Skyrim, GTA V, and Gundam 08th MS Team.  All you fictional entertainment pieces have kept my head out of my own worlds and into yours.  Thanks for helping to make me a lazy bastard!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My NaNoWriMo Story Part 2 ½

The Trials

The first week of NaNoWriMo brought plenty of excitement but it also brought its fair share of trials.  I had sworn off all forms of communication with others unless it was an emergency or near emergency but not everyone knew this and I’m a sucker for not wanting to make people feel unwanted for lack of a better word.  I also had a few obligations going into the month that I didn’t or forgot to cancel.  The first of which was a date.  I hadn’t had a date in quite some time so I wasn’t ready to cancel this one.  I also really wanted to reconnect with this person so canceling was out of the question.  It was a fine distraction though and I did actually get a lot of writing done before the date so in hindsight, I had no cause to worry.

Other obligations I had were to my family (my niece in particular), and the videogame studio I’m a part of, FlubberKnuckle studios, not to mention work obligations like a friend REALLY needing me to work a day for them so they could interview for a much needed extra job.

I don’t get to see my young niece a lot so when I do I like to do things for her.  She usually invites me on field trips and other school events with her so if I have time I like to go.  I couldn’t say no this month even with NaNoWriMo looming over my head.  The NaNo gods must have looked over me for the month though because her event (along with a lot of school days) was cancelled multiple times until the next month.

My game group, FlubberKnuckle Studios, is restructuring and focusing on further building our designing skills and so everyone is hard at work learning new software and creating new deadlines for various projects.  Every week we check in with Wednesday conferences updating everyone on our progress with whatever we’re doing.  My goal before the month was to learn the Blender and Unity software.  I started a few tutorials and played with the software but didn’t accomplish much.  With everyone in the group working so hard and taking our deadlines so seriously I felt that I couldn’t entirely shut out my FlubberKnuckle productivity so I continued to build my knowledge of the software and participate in conferences, though I missed two.  What I learned is that I don’t like juggling important tasks like that without a dedicated workspace.  Unless I have a desk and a quiet space to work—in my home next year—I will only participate in NaNoWriMo if I have no other obligations and vice versa.

Life Doesn’t Pause
Distractions, distractions everywhere!  Time I find is such an easy resource to waste especially for myself.  I take life slowly most of the time and like to just stop and think about things, everything really.  I don’t have a space of my own and I don’t own a car so finding that precious quiet time that writers crave is like mining for gold and precious gems.  It’s a task it really is.  I stay in a one bedroom apartment with my mother in an impromptu (what I thought temporary) move to save money.  I stay in the living/dining/now bedroom and my mom likes to watch T.V…a lot.  When I write, I typically write for a stretch and then pause to think about what I wrote and what I’ll write next.  Problem is whenever I pause and the sounds of the T.V. travel over to my ears and my eyes begin to wander in a search for something newer or fresher than the bright whites of my notebook or laptop screen.  It’s astounding how much time I actually wasted absentmindedly watching the crap she was watching at the time.  When I realized how little work I had gotten done it started to piss me off.  My mom is wondrously considerate like myself and I knew if I had asked her that she’d go quietly to her room but that shit wouldn’t have been fair of me so I kept my crabby attitude and tried to work through it.  I knew then that I needed some other work space but it was cold and the buses really ran like shit and I couldn’t think of any decent places to go where there weren’t many distractions around.  There aren’t any nearby coffee shops where I stay, at least any that didn’t require an hour and a half bus wait.

The buses were where I wasted the bulk of my time for the month.  Mostly during my travels to work.  Don’t get me wrong, I still crammed as much work into my bus ride as I could and actually did some of my best work on the coach.  But even writing on the bus proved to be inconsistent.  Getting a seat on the bus (especially the one I catch) is never guaranteed and about 70% of the time I stood up on a crowded coach.  Waiting for the buses alone wasted about 2 to 6 hours out of my day depending on how late they were.  But on the good bus rides I could easily write between 400 and 1000 words because of the lack of distractions (when other people weren’t acting crazy).

The writing itself was a whole other trial.  My plot, I now saw, was not fully fleshed out.  I wrote from the outline but added new details, locations, and characters as I did.  The outline kept changing and the chapters filled out more.  The writing came slowly and I found that I was truly a slow and methodical writer.  I had to pause to figure out every little detail about what I was writing even words and word arrangement in a sentence.  I was entirely too slow. 

So now I saw that if I wanted to win this contest I needed to change where I wrote and how I wrote.  So I brooded on that for a while whilst continuing to try to blot out the distractions at home with earbuds and music which proved only marginally effective.  I knew my next step but it would take a large setback to make me implement it.

Up next, the pitfalls that nearly destroyed my resolve.

Monday, December 9, 2013

My NaNoWriMo Story Part 2

The Month Begins

It was November 1st and NaNoWriMo was well underway.  I stayed up late the previous night to get a midnight start on the writing and wrote a few paragraphs whilst following my outline fairly closely.  The writing was a bit slow and clunky and I hated the way I phrased a few of my sentences.  I sat and deeply thought about what would sound better like I usually did.  I kept doing that until I remembered what the contest was about and so I stopped editing myself so much and just ran with it leaving sentences I didn’t like behind…unless I really hated them.  My notebook is a battleground of scratched out sentences.

I forsook all distractions the night before.  I unplugged my Xbox 360 and logged out of all my social networking sites aside from email clients.  My iPod was unplugged, drained of battery, and left in the corner of my table because I knew with it that I’d waste valuable writing time on the bus listening to music and staring out the window.  I told my friends via Facebook and a few texts that I wouldn’t be around for the month of November because the contest.  I had a plan and I wanted to stick to it for a few reasons.  My first reason was because I’d never stuck to a plan, schedule, or routine and I really really wanted to break that cycle.  I want to be a much more productive person and I saw this as a major step for that.  My second reason is because I really really wanted to get some traction on this second book while the events of the first one were still in my head and the ideas were flowing.  There was no better time to do it.  So no distractions meant getting things done.

I left out of my house before the sun was even up, around 6:00am.  I wrote a lot on the bus which helped me finish that first chapter which I felt a little better about because of how I ended it.  I made it to work around 7-ish and continued writing.  I wrote in the dark and empty café.  I had my notebook out and was ready to start typing the first chapter up on NaNoWriMo.org.  I browsed the site and learned that you didn’t type out anything on the site itself but instead posted your word count.  You could take your own count or “validate” your novel early which counted the words for you and promised not to be a portal for novel theft.  Eh, I trusted it.  So anyway, armed with this new knowledge I opted to continue my early morning work visits so I would continue to treat this noveling business as legitimate business.  I updated my word count and checked my phone to see if I could do it from there and to my surprise I could.  What a thoughtful team of visionaries, these NaNo people.

I moved my show from the café and the distraction of WiFi to the signal deathtrap of the basement breakroom where it was hot and stuffy from all the machinery and steam pipes.  I began working on my second chapter, writing it down in my notebook.  More inspiration found me in the form of a visit from a cute older lady named Myra.  She asked if I was doing homework and I told her about NaNoWriMo.  She seemed pleasantly shocked and said what I was doing was cool.  She herself likes to write and had been working on something off and on.  I told her that she should just go for it and soon.  If not for the month then just whenever.  She said that she should, smiled, said that she didn’t want to be a bother, and walked off down the hall.  I went back to writing and maybe 10 minutes later Kurt the pastor comes in and asks me what I’m working on and I tell him what I told Myra.  He asks if he could read it when I’m done and I asked him if he had a Kindle or Kindle software so I could send him a free sample.  He didn’t but he gave me his card and well wishes.  That was pretty much how my conversation went with anyone who caught me writing for the next month.

So all in all I was off to a good start.  I had an outline that stretched far ahead of me.  I had a decent place to get my writing done, updating my word count was much easier than expected, and my book was rolling along at a decent though somewhat slow pace.  With a start like that I had no clue that my challenges to come would have me questioning if I should even waste my time trying to finish the contest.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My NaNoWriMo Story Part 1


This year was my first experience with the super cool and awesomely exciting National Novel Writing Month or as the cool kids call it, NaNoWriMo.  I heard about it towards the beginning of the year and planned on participating at that very moment.  Even better was the fact that I was finishing my first Average Joe novel (I thought, more on that later) and planned to use the month to jump start the planned sequel.  It all sounded so crazy.  How the heck could anyone write a whole book in only a month, a mere month.  It took me at least a year with both Hell Warriors: A Hero in The Flames and Average Joe and the Extraordinaires (AJE), that’s not even including the countless revisions and tiny tweaks I’ve done with both throughout the years.  So, more than anything else, I wanted to see how I’d stack up in the contest with the odds so high and my normal production speed so low.

I created a profile on the NaNo site (nanowrimo.org) months in advance and browsed through the site.  It’s a pretty neat and easy site.  There weren’t a million and one things cluttering up the front page which was great because I didn’t feel instantly intimidated or confused.  Browsing through the site gave me a sense of what to expect from the contest.  I’d check back on the site sporadically for updates like once a month or sometimes more frequently than that.  The main tip than I gleaned from veterans and from my own common sense was that the key to success was to write without abandon, to write as if you were held at gunpoint and the minute you stopped was when the seedy gangster pulled the trigger.

You’re only supposed to care about one thing and that’s your word count.
I finished Average Joe and the Extraordinaires, aka book 1 of the Average Joe series, about two months before the contest officially started on November 1st complete with what (at the time) were my final edits.  So I hooked up with an editor for that and started my idea factory for book 2 which I knew would be called Average Joe and the Beauty (AJB) from a simple idea that popped into my head.  I noted random ideas down in my Quicknotes and References file for the plot and went back to old notes to see what I could use to get a rough idea of what the sequel would contain.  On October 5th I started an official outline of AJB containing all the rough notes I had previously wrote and some new ones.  I got all the elements together and started working on a basic chapter by chapter outline of the book and where my plot was going.  I gave myself a headstart of about 8 plotted chapters for the next month.  This came from a bit of advice I read from the pre-NaNo emails you get from signing up.  Before NaNo even began I knew that my story would have 2 main POV’s from Joe and Liandra as well as a few villain POV’s because I liked those in AJE.  And I knew how I would begin and what ground I wanted to cover.  What I didn’t know (at the time) was how much my chapter outlines would change because of the choices I made while actually writing but more on that later.

I didn’t have internet and at the time thought you’d have to do all of your writing constantly online so I planned to use the library and my job’s free WiFi (free for me not them) to do all of my writing.  I do my best writing in notebooks so I figured I’d write into the late hours of the night in a notebook and wake up early and copy it all over into NaNo’s online writing software while at my job.  Luckily I did this for one day and saw that you only had to post your word count daily so I was greatly relieved that I didn’t have to kill myself for this but I was very proud of myself for being so prepared.

In my head I was ready for NaNo 2013.  Could I have been better prepared?  You bet!  Even at the time I knew that but I figured I had a strong start and I really did.  I was gung ho about it and felt my chances for “winning” were really good.  I knew the writing itself would be tough, it always fucking is, but I thought “this is good, even if I don’t win I’ll have a helluva start.”  That thinking prevailed throughout the month and was really what kept me from giving up throughout.  More NaNo adventures to come.  Part 2 will chronicle my actual start and the challenges that came from that.