Friday, December 23, 2011

The Twelve Games Of Christmas (Break)

On The Twelfth Day Of Gaming,
My Schedule Showed To Me:

Twelve Super Villains

Eleven Wars-A-Gearin'

Ten Martians Zapping

Nine Songs with Dancing

Eight Hands and Foot-ing

Seven Storms of Bullets

Six Birds A-Launching

Five Bastion...Things?

Four Answers Buzzed

Three Kinds of Kongs*

Two Words with Friends

And A Dragon Roaming Skyriiiimmmmm

You guys, I'm pretty excited to play all these games.

Now, while I will be playing some of them alone, the real fun comes in playing many of these games with all my wonderful friends, family, and a special lady who is, I daresay, nearly as competitive as me (though way more pouty). Great games come and go, but all the amazing people in my life are what I'm truly thankful for, though I suppose this blog post suggests otherwise. I figured a collection of photos and descriptions of all of them would be a lot less exciting for the general public. But I digress.

Happy Holidays everyone! And Happy Gaming - if, you know, you love that stuff anywhere near as much as I do.


PS: The names of the twelve games I plan on playing during the holidays, in case you were wondering, are: 
12) Batman: Arkham City (still plenty of ass-whooping and riddle-collecting to do)
11) Gears of War 3 (love the series, need to finish the campaign and spend some time online)
10) Invasion from Outer Space (great board game)
9) Just Dance 3 (present for my mother for Christmas, sure I'll join her)
8) Hand & Foot (a fun 2-4 player card game)
7) Bulletstorm (snagged it for $10 recently, heard it was good)
6) Angry Birds (I'm addicted)
5) Bastion (finally hoping to get around to it)
4) You Don't Know Jack (I've talked about this one before)
3) Donkey Kong Country Returns (holding onto this for over a year. I need to get back to it)
2) Words With Friends (even more addicted)
1) Skyrim (the challenge here will be not letting this be ALL I play)

*Technically its two kinds of Kongs, but I think Cranky Kong makes an appearance in the shop, so cram it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


So I just beat the main campaign in Arkham City. I still have lots of side stuff to do in the game, but I figured I'd take a little break and let my eyes do some blinking (they've gotten very dry) before diving back in. While I wait to dive back to the streets, I'll take a moment to share of my thoughts on the game and Batman in general here.

Look for some extra MS Paint work today to make up for the lack of actual content!
1) Combat in this game is such a sweet, wonderful dance. It is so incredibly enjoyable that I've slowly turned Batman from a weapon for justice - who fights only those who defy him - to a citywide super-bully that will stop mid-mission just to pounce on a few hapless thugs who have no information and are in no way getting in Batman's way.

2) If you haven't played the game at all, you should know that the Riddler has apparently hired a small army of enthusiastic goons to place question mark trophies, set up complicated electrical puzzles, and basically spray paint the color green EVERYWHERE throughout Arkham City, all in the name of proving himself intellectually superior to Batman, or something. And while I haven't collected everything and found him yet, I'm really hoping once I do, I'll be able to pick up the cowering, defeated Riddler, and HUG HIM. Because frankly, half the gadgets and abilities I've been collecting and honing for the entire game would be absolutely useless without his ridiculous 400+ trophies and puzzles. Batman owes him a world of thanks to justify all the crap he carries around with him. Of course, the experience has more than likely corrupted his mind. I can just hear him talking about it with Alfred now:

"Sir, do you really think you'll actually need to use this 50lb. Bat-chainsaw?"
"Don't question me, Alfred. The Riddler is insane. He put one of his trophies in a deserted, ancient underground city beneath Gotham, which was itself located beneath Gotham's sewers. I was barely able to get down there myself - and I'm the freakin' Batman. Oh - and of on top of that, I had to hit this button from like fifty feet and get to the trophy within ten seconds or it would close up inside of this annoying electronic trap!"
"It sounds like he's put quite a bit of effort into these...'riddles,' Master Bruce."
"You have no idea. It's driving me insane. I'm beginning to see green question marks everywhere."
"It sounds...quite tragic, sir."
"Wait a minute..."

"I'm going to need you to bend over, Alfred. Now."
3) I can say with absolute certainty now that I officially know more about Batman's Rogues Gallery than I do about any U.S. President. I can talk at length about the tragic origins of Victor Fries, Batman's tenuous relationship with Talia Al Ghul, or the many incarnations of the Joker, but I don't think I could tell you a single thing about what's his name, who's his face, or that other guy.

If only U.S. Presidents had more easily identifiable obsessions and/or origin stories.
4) The Joker has a steady, (insanely) devoted girlfriend. Batman has only has a handful of flings. You could argue both are equally devoted to their "life goals" - Batman to justice and the Joker to making Batman's life miserable. Yet somehow the murderous clown is the one who has found his better half. Sidenote: I also may be over-thinking things during my many jaunts through the crime-ridden streets of Arkham City. But is it so wrong of me to want the character I'm playing as to find love someday?

5) This is something kind of funny/awesome about Batman: NOTHING SURPRISES him. In the span of my 10-15 hours in Arkham City, he's suddenly come across one armed, hammer swinging clown henchmen, a giant man-eating shark (which, upon coming out of the water to devour him, was met with not shock, but rather, an immediately barrage of FISTS OF FURY) and trips to two separate drug-induced, surreal fantasy worlds where he's had to fight for his life. This is of course on top of your run-of-the-mill encounters with dozens of armed cronies and criminally insane costumed villains every 5 minutes. No matter what's going on, Batman is totally keeping his cool. And the funny part is that I wouldn't buy that attitude for anyone but him. I'd even put money on Superman being freaked out for a second before remembering he's a god.

Now I'm debating whether or not to try Skyrim next, or save it as a reward for my next big project. The bigger question is, when do I see myself having 100+ extra hours of free time?


Thursday, December 1, 2011

MaShaReCa NaNoWriMo

50,118 Words. 29 Days (I somehow managed to finish a day early). NaNoWriMo is officially behind me. And what an exciting, stressful, wonderfully insane experience it was.

As promised (though I never did get around to that 'midway post' I promised, sorry about that) I'm going to recap the entire experience with WAY more pictures than you'd think I'd have relating to a month that revolved around sitting in front of my laptop.

Matt Shafeek's NaNoWriMo Debrief

1) The idea I came up with for my revolved around two ideas - tragic/misguided anti-heroes like Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars, Zuko from (my new favorite series) Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. Characters that clearly have some good in them but fall victim to their darker nature for one reason or another. Particularly Gollum interested me because the other idea in my story was that of an artifact - similar to the all powerful ring the Lord of the Ring's story revolves around - only with a twist. I thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of an artifact that granted its owner powers, but rather than corrupting them as they used/carried it, it forced them to deal with their demons - in other words, an artifact of anti-corruption, or enlightenment.

I won't spoil too much of the story here, in case I ever finish and want people to actually read it, but these ideas organically lead to a fantasy world where magic existed, and was prevalent among to almost anyone willing to study it (I made being a magic-user the equivalent of being a real-life programmer, basically), and I thought it would be interesting to explore a world where it had only recently been discovered, where the limits of magic were still being tested, and the use of it was still very controversial in some circles.

2) Prior to November, I spent many hours meticulously outlining my novel (still technically within the guidelines of NaNoWriMo, in case you were wondering) so I wouldn't get stuck while actually composing the story. And while for the most part I was never at a loss as to where my story was going next, I still got stuck plenty of times just thinking about some of the many details that come with creating a fantasy novel. I was creating a fantasy world, and as such, every original thing I came up with needed a name, a background and a description - if not on paper, then certainly in the back of my mind. Crops, forests, animals, characters, towns, castles, moons (I decided to have three of them), spells, weapons and magical items. This is to say nothing of the particulars of magic itself. How are spells cast? What is the cost of casting a spell? Do you just want to copy everything Rowling and/or Tolkien did? And so on.

If you're thinking about doing NaNoWriMo yourself someday - know that you can never do enough outlining. I bought the book below in October and it helped me out significantly. The book probably would have come in even more handy in September!

3) Having strong characters with clearly defined wants REALLY helped my story. I had a fairly easy time writing conversations and figuring out reactions events in the story, mostly because I had very well-defined characters that bounced off each other in interesting ways. Some of what they were saying almost certainly fell into the realm of cliche - things like my "anti-hero" protagonist brooding nonstop (until I decided he shouldn't do that anymore and having him just stop suddenly), and almost every other character using the term "m'lord" to anyone with a higher status - but uncliche-ing a page is certainly much easier than un-blanking one. And you can quote me on that elegant statement.

4) I did my best to find time whenever I could - lunch breaks, early mornings, late evenings, making up ground on the weekends, etc. (similar to when I was 'Paused,' I work REALLY well on a pre-determined schedule with deadlines) There was no trick, unless you count 'pacing' and 'carving out time every day' as a trick. I finished NaNoWriMo working a full time job, performing improv once a week, taking a writing class and still managing to have a social life. Now, the trick going forward is going to be behaving this way without an artificial deadline!

5) I had some fun on my #NaNoWriMo related Twitter updates, where I pretended to be writing an "urban fantasy novel" a la Twilight that involved underwater vampires, a cameo by Bella and Edward, and eventually, sky werewolves, (or "airwolves"). Every one of the updates mentioned this ridiculous story gained me some new followers. So, you know, that fake story clearly has some genuine interest. Feel free to take the idea and roll with it.

6) The No Plot? No Problem! novel writing kit - which objectively is like something right out of a 2nd grade teacher's arsenal - worked wonders for me, motivation-wise. It features a pledge that you sign, daily tips/affirmations, and best of all, a little chart to keep track of your daily word count (more on this in a minute). There was something very reaffirming about putting little gold starts on this thing every 2,000 words, and seeing the count go up as the month went on. Would I have finished the month without the kit? Probably. But I wouldn't have been smiling nearly as much the whole time.

7) Being an improviser definitely came in handy this month. For all my plotting and planning, every single actual scene was written in the moment, and sometimes the specific point of the story would change even if my outline dictated otherwise. Two characters that were meant to bond early on actually didn't, and a character that was supposed to be a major villain wound up becoming a much more nuanced character due to all the action happening in the moment. I'm sure I wasn't 100% consistent with my characters in every scene, but I'd like to think everything you're reading makes sense in the moment.

8) I found out I'm pretty good at writing dialogue and action scenes, and pretty bad at writing everything else. Describing environments, details (again, this could be due to lack of planning), and any general "lulls" in my story where my protagonist was just travelling, or in between major scenes wound up feeling a little trite.

Conversely, conversations with my characters always flowed out of me, and actions scenes are just plain fun to write. Those were also, not-so-surprisingly, the times when I'd lose track of time and my current word count and just write without that nagging feeling that I'm composing the first draft of a second rate fantasy. Actually, now that I think about it, the downside to my improviser brain is that I rarely have to think about things besides actions and dialogue on stage, and as such, I was very much working an unused muscle.

9) Speaking of word count - boy oh boy was that a double-edged sword. Having a specific number of words to hit daily (1667) focused me and ensured I'd set aside enough time to get my write on. I discovered that without letting myself be distracted, I could do this in about two hours every day. As you can see from the chart on the right, I was pretty damn regimented. I usually would aim to do either one day's worth, two day's worth, or half a day's work (I took one full day off as well), which generally translated to one to four hours worth of work.

Conversely, I could tell things were going slowly when I'd open up the calculator on my computer and start calculating first how much more I had to write that day, that week, the rest of the month, and so on. Also, doing the calculations on this chart were a wonderful way to pretend to be productive while avoiding what the interior of a medieval arena looked like.

10) I really like my story, and I hope to finish it sometime in the next few months, but more than anything this month has shown me (as I was shown last November when I wrote a blog post every day) how much writing I can get done if I'm motivated enough. I already have big plans for my writing in 2012, and I'd like to think, if nothing else, NaNoWriMo was the coup de grĂ¢ce on a stellar year for me, creatively, that will hopefully lead to more risks and opportunities to come.

11) I would be remiss to not mention my good friend Karen Castelletti, pictured above with adorable pet parakeet (not a parakeet though, right, Karen? Please, correct me) who embarked on this incredibly writing adventure with me. We did a great deal on bonding over the course of this month while we both cheered each other on, answered each other's questions and provided much needed distractions (and in Karen's case, delicious hot chocolate) a few nights every week over the course of NaNoWriMo. Having a friend to do this with was vital, moreso than any other motivational accouterments, and I'm so very grateful to have had someone so smart, so easygoing and so very determined to write alongside me all month long.

Thanks a million Karen!

12) Finally, as you may, recall, I put a sticky note on my highly-anticipated reward copy of Batman: Arkham City that read: "Do Not Open Until You've Finish Your Novel!" which was a misstep on my part, since I didn't even consider the possibility that my novel would be incomplete at the end of the month. But I'm not sticking to the letter of the law here. I just went ahead and amended the note accordingly. And on that (revised) note, I'm going to go ahead and dive into Arkham City right now. Ta-ta!