A Rose for Rose

I don’t normally discuss other people’s characters in my blog posts (except this one), but nick22 has a certain OC who I’ve never given the spotlight until now. While cataloging the timelines for Emilena and Flora, I realized that Rose is probably the third most frequently-appearing character across the Into the Black franchise. Part of that is her author’s dedication to the roleplays, but I’ve also found myself frequently using her in my own writing because she fits into a lot of different plots.

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Despite appearing in the first RP, Rose wouldn’t get a character sheet until the sequel Racing the Storm.

The first thing I liked about nick’s characterization for Rose is that she begins the story incredibly flawed, as a drug addict currently working as a stripper who hates her job. That’s a far cry from every other author’s starting character; Soren, Emilena, Axel, and Marita are all living relatively-happy lives in a field of study that motivates them. I also like how her main-character status subverts the common trope of making sex workers disposable side characters. This particular trope (along with Bury Your Gays, which Rose also qualifies for) has always bugged the hell out of me because it seems to stem from outdated conservative notions that Hollywood needs to get the fuck over.

Over the course of the plot, Rose’s working establishment is destroyed and (like everyone else) she can’t get a new job because she’s too busy surviving the government/terrorist-fueled conspiracy that dominates the first RP. But her dancing/performance background repeatedly comes into play as she turns into the team’s chameleon, capable of using charisma and guile to infiltrate places the others can’t strong-arm their way into (even spending a large part of Blanking the Slate undercover as an employee of the primary antagonists). Maybe it’s just because bards are my favorite D&D class, but this element of her character was always fun and part of the reason I used her in multiple stories of my own.

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When bushwacked and I added Lily’s clone into Blanking the Slate, I had the terrible idea to name her Rose. I thought it would be symbolic, both because they’re named after flowers and because she struggles with being a copycat so it’d be meta that even her name already belongs to a real character. But to nobody’s surprise, it got confusing the millisecond she entered the field and she was referred to as “Lily’s clone” exclusively after a single scene.

Now, I couldn’t port Rose over directly to my own stories, because I don’t like borrowing other author’s characters wholecloth, but when I novelized Into the Black (now renamed Electra City), I wanted to keep Rose’s role in the plot. She became Rachel, whereas Marita and Axel were merged into Mason. Mason had a brother-sister bond with Rachel rather than the romantic relationship Marita and Rose originally had, just because Nairda/Emilena and Mason/Lily were already a thing and I wanted more variety in character relations. Of course, Rachel is killed by the pulse bomb at the end of the novel, mostly because everybody else had already died/survived and I needed to kill at least one main character to drive home how catastrophic the Purifier pulse bomb was on Electra.

However, when it came time to novelize Blanking the Slate, I realized I wanted the character to come back, so I lazily noted that she faked her death and Rachel got to return for the sequel novel Tabula RasaWhile she didn’t have as much to do in that book, she became a main character for the tie-in story cycle Echo Chamberswhere Rachel and Leah (who was modeled after Marita) travel with Flora to Sartonic. This makes Rachel the only character to appear in all three novels, and gives her a unique arc because she abandons the protagonists at the end of every book, until the last chapter of Echo Chambers where she redeems herself by returning and sacrificing her freedom to save Flora.

Rose transcends the Into the Black canon and crosses into the Insane Cafe as well, because I wanted some sort of character cameo when Aimee and Shakila visit Lanthae in The Approaching Light. Again, Rose’s vulnerable starting state made her an attractive choice for the cameo, as it put her in a situation where she could ask the heroes for help, and then reciprocate to aid them in escaping the city.

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Last but not least, she even cameos in the Electra City video game! Press 7 while in the arena and she’ll spawn as a third neutral fighter controlled with the number pad. (She can’t deal damage and dies in one hit, but Rose was never a combat character anyway.) This mostly happened because I felt bad Nick was the only author who didn’t get a playable fighter.

Anyway, I’m not sure why I wrote this, except to delve a little bit into probably the most influential character on my Into the Black writing who wasn’t originally made by me. Today is actually also the sixth anniversary of the first post she appears in. Happy birthday, Rose!

Casting CS:GO in 9 days oh god I’m not ready

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Update: rofl guess I’m not doing any of that. Pretty relieved, ngl

I’m having more and more doubts regarding the CS:GO Charity tournament I agreed to cast for one of my fellow students from the Business in Esports course I finished last month. It’s not that I don’t want to cast it, I just don’t know anything about casting Counter-Strike because I’m hot garbage at the game. I’ve just never really been into twitch shooters, I prefer arena shooters with their crazy mobility and healing classes. But I’ve been watching CS:GO casters on Twitch for years and years, before Overwatch or my own shoutcasting career was even a thing, so I’m likely more qualified than I’m telling myself. I’ve got a short list of things I want to do before the tournament before I’ll consider myself ready to cast:

  1. Play a game of comp CS:GO to learn the pacing from the players’ perspective
  2. create flashcards of all the gun HUD icons so I can name whatever guns they’re using
  3. Practice learning map callouts. Much as I’d like to learn them, the tourney has 12 maps that aren’t chosen beforehand, so I’m gonna have cheatsheets on my second monitor while casting.
  4. Watch a YouTube video explaining the in-game economy metagame. The money is the one thing I’ve never really understood.
  5. Run a practice cast with bot teams to ensure I can handle the spectator controls. They say a third party will be handling camerawork/streaming, but I’d still rather know how to switch characters and see whatever I want to see in-game. (Especially the ‘switch to freecam’ button, I remember going insane during my first Overwatch cast because I couldn’t figure out how to do that)

I wish this was the main thing on my plate coming up, but I’ve got another League Zero cast this Sunday, and on Saturday my parents are celebrating their 40th Anniversary with a 60s-themed party and I agreed to help them prepare/clean up afterward. Everyone needs to dress up as something from the era, personally I’m going as a redshirt from Star Trek.

In other news, two new Emilena stories! The first, Hapsburg Manor, was a writing experiment to practice heavily using flashbacks. It chronicles Emilena solving a case as a child and then having to reopen it as an adult when new complications arise. (Flora also cameos; Eric Hapsburg was her name before she transitioned to female in college). The second story, Rust in Peace, involves her investigating an eco-terrorist gang disrupting a housing development project in the shrublands. The gang’s leader, Hania, briefly appeared in the canon as an anti-humanist nutjob who rubbed Serris the wrong way, and he was certainly fun to bring back in a prequel adventure.

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One of my videos got thirteen thousand views!

Also E3 coverage is wrapping up on VGFAQ, which means I can start transitioning into making more freeform content. Maybe I could start making the sort of list-based videos I specialized in on the SPUF of Legend. A lot of my video-making time is now streaming time; I got my first regular viewer who amazingly hasn’t missed a stream even though I never schedule them ahead of time. I’ve now made $35 dollars total, mostly in bits. It’s not much, but I’m pretty happy getting anything streaming. I vividly remember 2014 aabicus discovering Twitch and wondering if he could ever make a single dollar streaming, so I’m pretty glad to inform him that he could.

Last but not least, since I’m not updating this blog as much as I used to I encourage any hypothetical viewers to check out my Twitter since it’s finally something worth looking at. I’ve added a picture and made it look nice, and more importantly, I now tweet whenever I do anything for any of the zillion projects I work for. It’s the best place to keep abreast of whatever I’m doing in real time.

New stories, new gigs!

Hi all! Been a while since I wrote on this blog, and lots of things have happened!

The funniest one has to be Flora’s brief limelight on reddit after I mentioned one of her stories in a discussion involving a certain BDSM fetish. I got flooded with messages from people wanting to read it, and overall a lot more conversation on the topic than I expected. (The story is the nudist colony one I mentioned a while ago btw). Well, some dude messaged me and paid me ½ cent/word to write another one starring his OC Spectra. So, if you wanted to read about a candystripe tigress with mind control powers, “What Happens in Legal…” has you covered! (This marks the third time I’ve been paid for erotic commissions, beginning with “Taming of the Revenue” back in 2015. I wonder what point I need to start considering this a side gig.)

Other exciting news, MasterClass has hired me back onto another upcoming class! I haven’t signed any NDAs, but I’m positive they don’t want me talking about the content so I’m keeping my trap shut. I’m just excited to work for them again, the Will Wright class was a great experience and I’ll be putting a lot of time into them the next few days. So don’t expect this blog to start being updated any faster than it currently is.

VGFAQ is going good, releasing videos at a steady rate. E3 is in a few days, that’s when I’m gonna kick things into high gear on that front. I’ve started publishing articles for the VGFAQ blog, which forced me to learn block-form WordPress, which was weird at first but it grew on me after a while. It gives you a lot less flexibility for your formatting, but it simplifies cookie-cutter article creation quite well, which is pretty much all I make for them anyway.

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Lookit my sexy Twitch channel wallpaper! I update the words/icons after every stream so my viewers know what/when the one will be. 

I have two subscribers on Twitch!!! This means I’ve made 5 whopping dollars as a streamer, which is actually really exciting because I’ve wanted to commit to streaming for years and am only now finally doing it. It’s really fulfilling to know that people enjoy my shoutcasts enough to throw Twitch Prime subs my way, and I’ve been streaming ARK and Overwatch on a semi-regular basis to try and keep my numbers up. (By all metrics I shouldn’t be streaming ARK, the Overwatch streams are the only ones that get any traction, but I enjoy ARK and it feels like a natural continuation of the YouTube series of mine and Asmund’s adventures. Plus it’s not like I’m anywhere close to the 75 viewers average needed to qualify for partnership. I haven’t even broken 30 viewers at any given second, much less for a 30-day average.) When life settles down somewhat, I fully plan to reapply for a job at Twitch. Previously they said no because I had no streaming experience, but next time around it’ll be another story!

New Darwin’s Soldiers story!

Man, doesn’t this take you back to, like, 2014?

Been ages since I wrote one of these. And to be honest, I’m not done yet. But f-22 was one of the original players in Darwin’s Soldiers and he told me an idea he had for a story, and I liked that idea. Problem is, he’s already got a story he’s working on, and another story planned for after that, and let’s be honest he’s not exactly the fastest content creator, so this one would have to wait probably years to come into being if he wrote it. I’m not that patient, and he gave me permission.

Introducing Next of Kin, a sequel to the ancient story I wrote a bajillion years ago, Ship of State. Don’t actually click that link though, because it’s not done yet. And even when it’s done, it’s going to go live on the Gang of Five, where I post a chapter a day in a dedicated thread. This is a walk down memory lane to a different era, a time when these Darwin’s Soldiers stories were my only creative outlet. It’s really nice to get back to that, for just a bit. No editors, no filter. And I get to flood the wiki with new information as soon as that whole thing’s finally posted. Because every author knows you never post a story before it’s finished. Don’t click that link.

Pixelberry Wants a Writing Assessment!

Just got my first writing job application that wants to move forward! Pixelberry has asked for a writing assessment to see if I can move onto the interview stage. This is super cool, and I’ve taken the day off school so I can fully focus on it.

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I like the artstyle, and I can definitely do this sort of writing, though I hope they assign me to the sci-fi/supernatural/fantasy/not-just-high-school settings. The “every good option is locked behind a premium currency” business model is super frustrating but I bet it makes a fortune

I’ve kinda taken everything else off too, just to send out job applications fulltime. I repurposed my old C++ learning story into an all-purpose story for working on things in the third-person, and it’s got a pretty cute spreadsheet tracking my job applications and their status.

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I’ve kinda let my YouTube channel fall by the wayside as I sort this stuff out, but it’ll be there when I get back. My viewers almost exclusively come from my reddit threads, so this might actually be a chance to test whether a brief hiatus even hurts my numbers. Itch.io’s been sitting barren since February, but I’m pretty happy with the game selection already on there tbh.

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Just broke my 200th download on itch.io, which is genuinely cool. It warms my heart to check every few days and see a handful of people have downloaded stuff. Almost all of the hits are from TV Tropes, since I wrote full pages for Gamer 2, Find the Cure!, and Oedipus in my Inventory. Any of my future creative content will get its own page no questions asked, it’s great for building steady (if minor) traffic. My Clickteam Fusion tutorials and C++ Projects are steady hitmakers too, the latter of which I don’t really understand but I’m not complaining.

I can’t help but be a little worried overall. Literally no other job I’ve applied to has even written me a rejection letter, so if Pixelberry doesn’t work out I may not have a lot of options going forward. One safety net is that I’m in the running for their Senior Writer position, and if they say no, I can ask if there’s any chance I can downgrade to their Junior Writer position. I mean, you never know.

Update on Things

This might not be my most coherent blog post since I didn’t sleep last night, but at least I spent it being productive, right?

The first big thing that happened was that my article scored the second-to-top comment in a reddit thread dedicated to an insane play performed by the LA Gladiators during the Overwatch League playoffs. A blog called Daily eSports contacted me and asked if I wanted to start writing articles for them at a rate of $1 per 100 words. I agreed mostly because they said I’d get to work with an editor and use their SEO tools, two things I’ve been meaning to get more practice with, things that would teach me valuable skills to making my content marketable. It’s a little depressing because the SEO tools were like “please replace every single interesting word with the most generic synonym” and the readability tool was like “Every sentence over 20 words is too short”. I mean, I assume they’re right since they were literally designed to attract people, but I like my $10 vocab words ;~; But I’ve already written my first article for them, which is officially the first online article I’ve ever been paid to write.

I’ve been strongly considering making a Patreon for my YouTube channel, maybe start getting some pocket change for that pastime too. It’s still humming along, nothing but the Payday videos are getting hits but I expected that when I decided to invest into a single franchise. The only Fortnite video I’ve made is maintaining a steady climb of new viewers despite me phoning in marketing, so I’ll probably more of those. I decided to do my Fortnite vids with a Scottish accent just because I need some way to enjoy myself, the game itself certainly isn’t doing it.

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Right: Before aabicus learned Photoshop. Left: After aabicus started learning Photoshop

Look at how goddamn gorgeous those thumbnails on the left are. Sure, they’re not Rembrandt, but they actually qualify as YouTube-worthy thumbnail quality. I’ve finally finally started Photoshop, and I’ve recently passed the threshold where I know enough that it’s just fun and awesome and I look forward to making the thumbnail instead of dreading it. Photoshop is a goddamn miracle and it blows my mind what I’ve been able to accomplish with next to no effort. This makes me really happy because I’ve wanted to know Photoshop for years, but I’ve always put it off because the initial hurdle felt too daunting. That leaves Unity as the one looming beast I’ve never managed to tame. Have made no progress on that front.

Kinda related segue, my new school project is to make a Mixer game with 3 other students (Tyler from Zone Out, Akshay, and Wong). Mixer is Microsoft’s attempt to beat Twitch at their own game and, following their failure to do so, rebrand itself as the leading avenue for crowdplay games (the genre Twitch Plays Pokemon invented). To their credit, they have done a great job of that and there are a bunch of thriving crowdplay games on the channel. Our job is to make one more.

My job specifically is to write the design document and create a mockup in Clickteam Fusion for playtesting purposes. The design document is a work in progress and the school’s private Google Drive is a real twip about sharing stuff outside network, but you can see the mockup via this secret itch.io URL. That’s never going live anywhere else, so consider it a thanks for reading this blog. Hopefully it’s more user-friendly than Hurdles.

Dev diary #2

Prompt: – Write about the week’s lecture and readings as they relate to your project
– Write about this week’s industry guest speakers (if any)
-Write a description of your progress (both positive and negative) on your current project
– Must include at least one piece of media:
GIF, link to video, screenshot, sketch, etc.
+ Why you want to make games

This week’s lectures -and reading- talked about how much pre-planning you need to do before you start on the project, and how much playtesting after you’ve started, and they weren’t kidding! I’d have saved a lot of time if I’d planned out a few more things before plowing into the coding and development elements of my “Two Verbs” project. Every single person who playtested my game had similar issues with it; they had trouble figuring out the controls and the mechanics of the objective. I redesigned my UI multiple times from the ground-up to try and fix these problems, and while many sources of the confusion were alleviated, it never fully went away. Finally, on the eve of the final day, MJ told me that I needed to work on my First Time User Experience so that new players can painlessly learn the mechanics and play the game. We’d talked about how the best games slowly showcase the mechanics one at a time, and the only way I could think to get that at such short notice is a full-fledged tutorial, so I added it with a day to go. Works pretty darn well if you want my biased opinion, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to let anyone playtest it due to how late it was added. But the game is done, and playable here on my itch.io account!

 

Thought I could showcase the “shapeshift” verb in a few GIFs. Here’s the primary form of transformation, switching between Wolf and Human form. There’s a third form, recon mode, which you get when you eat a blue mushroom, and finally the player becomes a bird when they win the game just because it’s more exciting than a generic “You win” screen.

 

Also, in order to get a picture in this diary, I’ll talk a bit about my favorite moment from playtesting. At the time I was frustrated that playtesters blitzed through my Main Menu without noticing any of the explanatory content therein; they’d immediately click the Play button and proceed to just stumble around confused in the main game. I realized they were doing this because ‘Play’ was in the top-left corner of the menu, the first thing you read. I moved it down to the bottom-right and put the ‘Backstory’ button in the top-left because I wanted people to click on it first. The remaining two buttons, Credits and Controls, would occupy the remaining two spots, but which of those two spots (upper-right and bottom-left) were more ‘important’ in the eyes of my players? Controls was far more important than credits and I wanted to give it as much attraction as possible. So, in order to figure this out, I wrote this short paper-and-pencil exercize and walked it around to various people in the labs:

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I gave them no direction beyond asking them to circle each of the names. As I suspected, almost everybody circled Jeff first, and the remainder circled Will, likely because they were pondering my intentions and wanting to subvert expectations. But I was really testing to see which name was most frequently circled second. And Sam, in the top-right, was overwhelmingly the most popular second choice. So that’s where I put Controls in my main menu, leaving Credits in the less popular bottom-left.

 

John Salwitz was our guest speaker for the week, and he talked about how the industry has changed over the years. Honestly, that’s why I’m going into this industry. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly over the years, as trends come and go, and it’s amazing. Everyone’s trying to keep up with the times, the community grows tired of certain gimmicks and they die, and the industry is constantly evolving. Remember when every new shooter was a Modern Warfare-esque gray-and-brown drabfest? Or how about the “early access first-person wilderness survival game” craze? These cycles come and go, right now it looks like we’re in a feedback loop of “it’s either got to be a hero shooter or a Hunger Games ripoff”, and its great to know that things are gonna eventually shift another way. I also like the increased specialization of teams in the modern era; as Salwitz’ lecture clearly demonstrated, teams are getting larger, and I can focus on my piece of the puzzle (likely writing) and play a part in a larger team.

 

I’ve written novels, screenplays, articles, and stage scripts, but I’ve found that I most love the versatility of narrative that game designers need to incorporate into their work. Games are unique in their ability to craft a story that can change every single time the audience experiences it. So many other storytelling mediums are focused on the work itself, and while games are no exception, they have to always keep the player’s moment-to-moment experience in mind. This interactivity with the audience, even if I’m not present during their playthrough, is why I find myself writing games in my spare time over other genres of fiction.