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My Life in Shame – Episode 2 – The Middle School Years

In part 2 of this epic saga of my most regretted moments, I cover the start of The Awkward Years. This is the time when boys begin to dream of being older. They’re old enough and just mature enough to see what the big kids are like and what they’re up and to want to emulate it. This is to say they’re dangerous—little a-holes in the making. More often than not this emulation involves pretending to be cavalier and independent to a degree that is not felt internally in the least. You see kids in the throes of this stage all the time. Anytime you are out somewhere and you see pre-teen or early teenage kids running around, flailing arms, making noise and generally calling attention to themselves in a way that can really only be described as “unfortunate”, you are witnessing kids trying very hard to impress upon you that they, for the record, do not care in the slightest what you think of them. This is tricky because being able to effectively communicate this depends desperately on your paying attention to them.

Thusly, I am sufficiently introduced.

I was part of a pretty tight cadre of boys. We had all been at school for a good long time, some of us since first grade. We’d have sleepovers and were intensely into the gateway elements of “cult culture”. Not the rock band, not Scientology. Real Genius. Monty Python. Mel Brooks. Army of Darkness. We had our in-jokes and our one-liners that we’d throw around.

We also had a real sense of competition between us. If you’ve ever played a video game that only seems to have the high score list to measure success and thought to yourself “That’s it? That’s all the incentive to play is?” you have not hung around enough 13-year-old boys (note: seeking out 13-year-old boys to hang out with might lead to some awkward encounters). To ride atop a high score list, to be able to point to something very real and have it be known to all that you are the most awesome at killing people in Goldeneye with proximity mines is to be king. You’re all buddies and you’ll cheer your friend with all your heart when he’s riding on top of the world but the fire burns strong to knock his punk ass off the top of that heap so you can reap the glory you so richly deserve.

Most of the time when kids get into trouble it’s less because they had the idea to do something bad on their own and more that they wanted to prove that something that is an exceedingly poor idea could be accomplished, or they just wanted to prove that “Pffft. Yeah, I’ll do that.” The best way to not have to be the one stuck doing things is to be the one daring the others to do things.

The particular dare in question here took place at Magic Mountain up in Valencia before it added Gang Shankings to its list of featured attractions. We were leaving the park; I was probably only a few hundred yards from avoiding permanent embarrassment. Me and the other young Lotharios I was with had somehow gotten it into our heads that the truest test of our awesomeness on this day would be to approach some attractive young lady and ask her for a kiss. She would, of course, be overwhelmed at our boldness and readily apparent maturity, and consent.

This was a dare that had been tossed out and no one had picked it up. So, as we were leaving the park, it began to get shuffled about around the group like a hot potato. The longer it went before someone claimed it, the greater the subsequent glory would be. It clearly crossed an invisible threshold for me after a time, though, because I seized upon it. “Yeah, I’ll do it.” (Incidentally, this unknowable threshold to simply “man up” and do something unexpected is also the source of one of my proudest high school moments. How you doin’, Lauren Sherman?)

There was a girl walking with a friend and, in all likelihood, some other form of chaperon that I blissfully didn’t take any notice of in the slightest. I approached, excused myself as an means of introduction and began my spiel.

“Excuse me. Hi.”

At this point, both she and her friend look wary but interested. Potentially this will be something funny or interesting. They are not wrong from a perspective that is not my own.

“My friends over there have dared me to come over here and…”

If there was ever any moment that you may have thought that a young kid ever had the chance of really being smooth, just refer back to that clause. This seemed to be an acceptable thing to me. “Those guys over there told me to do this.” Really, anything else that popped out of my mouth after that is going to be a sort of insult. I don’t care if I wrote a sonnet on the spot. I didn’t do it because I wanted to do it. I did it because those guys over there told me I could not do it. Is there a better aphrodisiac than spite?

“… tell you that you are very pretty…”

It’s at this point that her face brightens up and she blushes a bit. Her friend even grins because she’s happy for her. It’s a compliment! They’ve missed the insulting introduction about the compliment being the result of a pressured dare! She’s pleased! I am GOLDEN.

“… and ask you for a kiss.”

Her faces crashes into a look of revulsion that burns itself indelibly into my mind (see Exhibit A: This Post). I shrug and turn around immediately—cavalier—and return to my friends. I am, quite clearly, the man. They are laughing and clapping me on the back and talking about how they can’t believe I did it. I am as much a celebrity as I am likely ever to be at that moment.

I am also totally horrified. The notion that I could do something that would cause someone to make that face remains absolutely haunting to me.

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My Life in Shame – Episode 1 – The Grade School Years

I don’t have too many secrets. It’s just not really my nature. My wife would be generous and say it’s because I like to talk and I tell a pretty good story. I would say it’s because I really don’t have anything too exciting to keep hidden away. Quite the promo for the rest of this post, eh?

What I do have is a small handful of incidents that are the items that I revisit most in my head. This is not to say they’re the only items I ever think about, because I’m not that much of a commercial for things that are depressing. They stand out because they are the things I regret the most. They hover around in my mind and flutter to the surface from time to time, largely unbidden, and make me embarrassed even when I’m alone. We can call this post an exorcism attempt.

There are two incidents from my elementary school days that come to mind.

The first is, fittingly, from first grade. I don’t remember much about what happened, except that it was the end of a school day. I don’t seem to recall being particularly rowdy (I was a pretty well-behaved student) but right as the day was closing, almost literally as everyone was walking to the classroom door to go outside and meet their parents, I was joking around with a kid who was a bit of a troublemaker, the class clown.

As we packed up to leave, he must have said something wacky or done something goofy, because I responded by picking up the jacket I’d brought with me and draping it across my shoulders and pulling the arms across my neck like they were choking me. I let my tongue loll out to complete the effect. I was very clever.

The next thing I know I was being told by the teacher that she had had enough and that I and my supposed partner in crime needed to stay after class. I don’t recall how long we had to stay (I’m guessing only 10-15 minutes), but it was long enough that my Mom wanted to know why I had taken so long. Even as a first grader I knew that this was something to cover up. Children, it would seem, become acquainted with the notion that trouble is to be avoided at all costs pretty early on. I seriously doubt that I managed to be convincing, but I didn’t crack and just maintained that things in class had taken a longer time than normal.

I’m not sure if this incident would be a good reason why I’m so averse to drawing attention to myself in situations where I shouldn’t logically be the center of attention, but it’s the only one I can think of: the time I got in trouble in first grade for being goofy when I didn’t think I deserved it. How’s that for continuity from last week’s Monday post?

The second item is from third grade. All the students were lined up to go back into class at the end of lunchtime. As I walked past two of my friends Friend #1 pretended as if he was choking Friend #2. Young boys, as these two examples are clearly illustrating, are very clever. High-class shenanigans all around.

Seeing this, I wanted in on the fake violence. So I approached Friend #1 and in slow motion did a pretend knee to the side of his leg. My recollection of the event is clearly colored by own desire to not be culpable, as I pretty clearly recall barely making any contact at all with the side of Friend #1’s thigh. My memory is not of making any contact, but clearly I must have been mistaken entirely about that.

As soon as my knee made contact with Friend #1’s leg, he went down in a pretty spectacular display of tears and wailing. Thinking that I had just been joining in on the fun and not even having the intent of making real contact with him physically, the situation became pretty alarming pretty quickly.

I was also not in a situation where this could be covered up and dealt with nicely and neatly. ALL of my classmates were within about a thirty foot radius of this and now not only was I the center of attention, but I was also that kid that made that other kid cry.

What followed was a visit to the principal’s office and what seems to be in my memory about 30 minutes of great weeping and gnashing of teeth. From me. I don’t even think the injured party was present. I proceeded to explain—thinking that my simple explanation of “Seriously, I had no intention of even actually touching him, and must have done so entirely by accident” wouldn’t fly—that it looked to me like Friend #2 was getting beat up on. So I was going to come over and try and make sure that wasn’t happening. I’m not sure how I worked in my Van Damme-age knee to the action, but I must have.

The principal at the time, a Mr. Singer, was pretty bemused. I can recall this now. I was a good kid and I never got in trouble outside of these two instances, as far as I can recall. I was even friends with his son, who was a student in our grade. I think he knew I wasn’t out to enact vigilante justice on the schoolyard. In the midst of my weeping and begging that my parents not be contacted (which I’m pretty sure didn’t happen — which means I’m blowing a perfectly good 20-year-old cover), he very calmly and probably with a smirk on his face that I couldn’t see through the tears, told me that I didn’t really need to go around policing the school. And that was that. I sheepishly returned to class to sit near a still-sniffling Friend #1 and probably didn’t think about it again in my grade school years after that day.

And here I am now, a couple decades later, and it’s still something I think about and deliver a nice, firm facepalm over.


The Pressure’s On

I went to the doctor’s office about two week ago. It was a totally standard visit in every way. I have a patch of dry skin just near my left ear and I find myself scratching at it quite a bit. Not a problem, but annoying, and something I wanted to get some sort of cream for before dry winter weather hits and exacerbates the issue. That, or I wanted a referral to a dermatologist. All in all, about as run of the mill as a visit to the doctor’s office can be.

After waiting an hour, I’m finally greeted by the doctor and he asks me a couple questions, takes about a 5 second look at my scalp, agrees with me that it looks like it needs something, writes me a prescription and then takes my blood pressure as a matter of course. And it comes out high. Not danger, danger Will Robinson high, but to the high side of normal. Even though we’re both pretty sure it’s a case of nerves in the doctor’s office, he asks me to consider getting a blood pressure device to monitor things for a few weeks just to be sure. So, I get myself a nifty little electronic blood pressure monitor and, what a surprise, each time I test I’m almost textbook optimal.

So what gives with the high readings at the doctor’s office? I’m not a nervous person in general. I hate shots and anything that might lead me to shots, but I wasn’t going in for anything that would possibly merit a needle. I pondered for a moment then why it might be that I would be stressed at the doctor’s office, and I realized that it’s because I was concerned about approval.

I think I’m always concerned about approval. I can’t help it.

At the doctor’s office, I want them to tell me all my readings are solid. I don’t want to hear that so I can be told I’m in good health (I’m already pretty sure I’m at least not anywhere close to bad health), I want them to think that I’m the kind of person that takes care of himself. This is also why it sticks in my head that the first time I went to this office and the nurse weighed me she proclaimed “Oh, you hide your weight well.” *shakes fist at nurse*

I wanted to have a larger post here, with a discussion of what I think this means for me and how it comes up in my day to day life. But after I wrote it all up, it read back as just so much apologetics, which seemed pretty ironic considering the content of the post. So, suffice it to say this is a silly quirk of mine and I’m pretty sure its here to stay.

And now to begin preliminary work on my project for next month, which there will be a post about soon enough.


Friday Fiction: Changeling, Part 2

Continued from here

It became easier once I became an adult. I didn’t have so much growth and change to simulate. I could take a photograph and sequester myself for a week. It didn’t matter who, but I always picked someone that I imagined qualified as handsome in a way that was subtle. I would post the photo near a mirror and study it. I would imagine how people would react to this man and how he would respond. I would map crow’s feet and furrowed brow lines. Then I would turn to the mirror and it would be time to sculpt. It’s not a process I’ve discovered a way to make more efficient.

Aging is still troublesome, but it’s simpler to achieve for an adult. A trip to the supermarket and a bit of hair dye and suddenly you’re graying at the temples and you’ve picked up a few years in age with minimal effort. Growing old, however, is quite different from aging. It’s a bridge I’ll have to cross when I reach it. I’m not entirely positive how long I’m expected to live. That should make for a surprise.

I suspect that my later years will be remarkably similar to my early years. I’ll have less of a sense of myself as others perceive me. My world will draw in upon itself and my appearance will be more a factor of my moods and situation than of surroundings and outside influences. Finding someone to help care for me once I’m unable to do so for myself is a concern I find myself continually trying to ignore. When I was infant, I was largely happy: a textbook perfect child. My appearance was uniform, barring small changes chalked up to the capriciousness of development. As a toddler, though, I was a terror, and my body reflected this. Features would arch, my hair darkened. I became an expression of frustration and will. That middling age is marked by extremes and during happy times it was as if I was a different child, physically and emotionally. My parents told me the first time I came out to see them, happy with a toy I had found shortly after a particularly brutal tantrum, that they had assumed that once again they had been robbed of their child and presented with an imposter. I pray that those golden years I spend waiting out whatever hereafter awaits me are not ones marked by similar moodswings. I know that I would be terrified of an old man that quite literally darkens with rage when he doesn’t get the second helping of pudding he wants.

As a child, the changes were a matter of mood and pure instinct. Reflex and nothing more. When I was in grade school, I thought it was a game and didn’t really believe my parents that not everyone could do what I could do. It only took one terrified classmate and a very long meeting with a school principal to relegate me to homeschooling. I tried to fight the decision once I reached the age for high school, but it was a losing battle from the start. I clearly have a similar life progression to a regular human. I was not immune to the horrors of teenage life and hormones wreaked havoc for me. No longer was changing reflexive or recreational, it became involuntary, like a tic.

These unwelcome spurts of change only served to deepen my resentment. I lived in a world that was by contrast almost entirely static. My parents normal in every way, my home as standard as any other. I rarely went outside, first as a mandate and later out of a sense that I didn’t need anything other than myself. It was exactly the wrong time to be brought to the realization that my parents had never really gotten to the point of understanding me, not in the way that I had expected that they should.

How could they? I didn’t understand myself, and judging others on their ability to do the same was stupid. But at the time it didn’t matter in the slightest that they were doing the best they could. It’s taken a few years of what may not quite qualify as hard living, but certainly lonely living, for me to realize that they probably did understand a part of me very well, as well as any parent understands a child. But I changed.

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The Non Post

There’s actually no post for today. This might qualify, but I’m not counting it. I fell ill yesterday afternoon and was simply not able to concentrate on revising and polishing up the post I had started. And sleeping last night was one of the more bizarre experiences of my life.

It was as if my brain had forgotten the specific methods used to fall asleep. I became stuck on a loop where I believed, in my half asleep state, that I had to “delete files” from my brain to quiet it down enough for me to fall asleep. Needless to say, this didn’t prove effective. Eventually I gave up trying to sleep and played a little puzzle computer game for an hour or so, and then when I went back to bed my mind had decided that the proper way to clear one’s head to go to sleep was to shift ideas around like tiles in a game, and by shifting things from the bottom (bottom of…?) that other thoughts would fall to the bottom and be cleared off the board and then I could sleep.

Suffice to say, I think my body was focused enough on trying to fight off whatever food poisoning or infection I have that my brain tripped out a little bit in the process.

And with that, it’s time to curl up in bed, drink ridiculous amounts of fluid and be pleased NetFlix allows me to stream movies to my laptop.

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Friday Fiction: Changeling, Part 1

Depressingly, I am now starkly aware that the largest barrier to my fiction is that structure and I do not see eye to eye. So, I’d like to say that I know where this is going, but I’m not 100% positive. I actually wrote an outline for this one, so hopefully it won’t go the way of “20th”, which I really must do post-mortem on one of these days, but I’m not 100% on if what I’m crafting up will be a satisfying story in any real way. At any rate, I’ve tried for a bit too long now to offer up excuses if you don’t like how this starts off.

The Changeling

I have never known my true face.

There are no portraits or photographs made by a doting mother and father and hung above a mantelpiece, lit by the warm caress of lamplight and the glow of parental affection. The man and woman I could most accurately call parents have long been quit of me. They raised me as far as they felt was necessary. They couldn’t bear to be associated with “my kind”. I remember laughing at that. They knew what I was as well as I did, which is to say that they had only the faintest inklings. It was about all we had in common.

I envy the orphaned. They have either the certainty of a love lost or the wistful dream of a noble and grand lineage. I can suffer no such illusions. I was abandoned. Worse still, I was abandoned in place of a human child stolen from under the noses of my adoptive parents. The man and woman who raised me are decent people by all definitions, but were unfit for my circumstances and I knew that I was always a poor substitute to the child they created together like gods in their own universe. I don’t need any more details about those who created me to frame a clear enough portrait. They were the sort of parents that leave their children mewling in the bassinets of mankind, lost to the world that they were born to.

When I was very small my parents never noticed anything unique about me. They knew that I was not their child of course. They also were not the sort of people to abandon a helpless infant to fate in spite of a sadness that I know was inconsolable, in spite of the concession they were left with. I was a baby in every way that they had wanted one. I cooed and drooled and had eensy toes that I would put into my mouth. The malleability of youth. Were it not so regular I would call it a portent.

The appearance of an infant changes—in comparison to an adult human—with frightening speed. I do not mean false cosmetic change. Applying makeup or changing a hairstyle doesn’t effect a fundamental change. Babies and toddlers, though, change rapidly and surprisingly. Blues to brown eyes. Blonde hair to black hair at the core. Blemishes fade, marks surface. Body shape forms and shifts. Bones fuse and vanish. It’s no surprise I’m most comfortable around children. It’s not because of shared ancestry.

I was just past two years old that they finally decided something was “amiss”. Much is made of outright insults and slurs. I don’t understand the impact. They are a telegraph of emotion. You know how the wielder of an epithet feels about you. They’ve made it plain as day. Wipe them clean from your life.

Something amiss. And said with a smile and eyes that expected commiseration. I don’t ever expect to wash that away. They both asked for hugs after we had that talk and I could see in their stance that they felt some great weight had been lifted from them. They had been absolved and by confronting this issue head-on, they had graduated to mature adults who were proud of the burden they had to bear. I was to recognize them as noble guardians for their acceptance of my strangeness. They embraced me as if I was their new brother in solidarity and I embraced them to say goodbye. I didn’t leave for several years, but I was homeless from that point on.

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Friday Fiction: The Worst Thing, plus previews!

The first thing for today is just a little funky exercise. I was trying to think of something to write and having a tough time. And so… this came out as a sort of “just keep writing until you have something”.

This has got to be the worst thing I’ve ever written. No joke. I’m not a fan of a lot of the crap I churn out, but this takes the cake. The crap cake.

What the hell was I thinking?

It’s like a million monkeys with typewriters, but they all have goatees and stupid little ponytails and they want you to read this screenplay that they wrote about redemption. Is there anything worse than pretentious monkeys?

This. This is worse than one million pretentious monkeys. How do you even tell if a monkey has a goatee? It’s not like they’re normally running to the store to see just how many blades you can fit onto a single Schick. Nice imagery there, ace.

What inspired this? I don’t even have the crutch of drugs or alcohol to fall back on with this one. Wouldn’t it be nice if when people read this I could laugh and wink knowingly and say to them, “Crystal meth, you know how it is.” And then they would laugh and pat me on the back and nod because they do know what it’s like. Who doesn’t succumb to a good meth-bender from time to time?

It’s even breaking the fourth wall. There’s not even a wall to break; it’s a theater term. That’s how awful this is. Who am I talking to? The guy next to me at the coffee shop playing World of Warcraft on his laptop? He’s not listening. He has a headset on and keeps bitching that someone needs to “just pick a target, dammit”. He’s busy.

What, are people going to clap me on the back and tell me how very clever it is of me to write something about how I’m writing something and about how that something is so very bad which both manages to absolve its inherent shittiness and make me charming and witty and attractive to all peoples. Through the magic of metaphysical prose I will find success. Oh god. It’s not getting any better the longer it goes.

Do I keep writing and hope that somehow I can meander my way out of this deathtrap? Literary quicksand. You keep wriggling about hoping that you’ll be able to reach that vine over there, the one being dangled by the orangutan, but all you’re doing is increasing the vacuum sucking you closer to inexorable, gritty doom. And that orangutan’s not helping. He is a dick. He’s probably got a goatee and a ponytail.

It’s all pretty fruitless, I mean, it says right at the top that this is the worst thing I’ve ever written. How do you escape from that? It’s right there on the page; you can’t change that.

Well, you can’t change it. You’re either reading it on a webpage or printed out. You can close the window or cross it out with pen (why did you print this? Don’t you know how expensive printer ink is?), but it’s there, man. Sure, I could change it to say “This is the best thing I’ve ever written”, but, come on, let’s be honest with ourselves.

These next two items are a couple of previews for other items I’m working on and hope to have posted up in the coming weeks.

The Changeling

I have never known my true face.

There are no portraits or photographs made by a doting mother and father and hung above a mantelpiece, lit by the warm caress of lamplight and the glow of parental affection. The man and woman I could most accurately call parents have long been quit of me. They raised me as long as they felt was necessary; they couldn’t bear to be associated with “my kind”. I laughed when they started to use that phrase. They knew what I was as well as I did, which is to say that they had only the faintest inklings. It was about all we had in common.

Saga of the Techno-Viking

The world was forged of the defeated corpse of Ymir. It is tribute to the power and foresight of Odin, who would indeed spend his eons contemplating his fate in Ragnarök, that the defeat of a great foe could become the means through which our world would be born. The blood of Ymir became the rivers and seas, his bones the mountains and his skin the earth itself. The heart of Ymir was set aside for a special purpose.

Many of you may already know the glory that is the Techno-Viking. If you do not, you may educate yourself here. He dispenses his justice about 40 seconds in.

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TMNT: Double Damage and Writing for Games

This is Friday Fiction after a fashion.

Please to direct your web browsers to this rather ungainly URL. This is the latest offering from Urbansquall Games and it features a story “written” by yours truly. Why the quotes? Well, that’s the topic of today’s post.

For starters, it was awesome to get to work on a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles project. I was a fan of the movies, the cartoons and the original Eastman and Laird comics. Good stuff all around. However, writing for a video game, writing for a flash video game and writing for an established and lucrative license are all very different from writing in general.

There’s a pretty broad range of eras of TMNT to choose from. The early comics work has a different feel and different characters from the early cartoons, which are different from the early movies, which are different from the later cartoons, which are different from the latest movies, which are different from the latest cartoons. At the outset, I wasn’t given any directive at all in terms of the story. So, I crafted up a couple Turtle story concepts I thought would be fun to tell. Baxter Stockman is trying to recreate the ooze that transformed the Turtles, Bebop and Rocksteady engineer a mass breakout from the local zoo to create an army of animal mutants, Shredder is evil and kidnaps April—that sort of thing. Classic Turtle escapades from the early cartoon era.

Well, matters immediately become more complex when you factor in that you’re not always going to have an artist who has nothing to do all day long but draw the ideas you want to appear in your video game, especially at small companies. The mandate came in from the lead designer that I had 4 areas to work with that our artist would be able to manage on top of creating all the enemy and character graphics that I was going to be asking for: city streets, rooftops, warehouse and—a pressure-release section—a techno-lair for the final bad guy.

[What do I mean by pressure-release section? This is a portion of the project that can be jettisoned if time doesn’t permit. Since a chunk of levels can be forfeited, you need to ensure the story can survive without those levels as well.]

So, the story became a very basic one. April discovers a warehouse in the city with Foot soldiers everywhere. They trail her and just after she alerts the Turtles, she’s kidnapped. The Turtles rush to her location and give chase through city streets and across city rooftops, eventually following the Foot back to their warehouse where it is discovered that Baxter Stockman is trying to create serum for super soldiers. After he is defeated, the Turtles continue their quest to track Shredder to his hi-tech HQ, where they ultimately defeat him and save the day.

So far, so good. Basic. I’m not exactly wowing myself with my story prowess, but its certainly functional and the color can come in the details.

But then we submit this idea as part of the overall game design to the client… and they shoot it full of holes. Turns out they’re looking for a different era of Turtles than we were providing and there are a few details their licensing people want tweaked. Easy enough to handle, but embarrassing to have had your hands slapped by a major client. As a rule, do not expect that when you have questions about items you consider critical to your work that a major client will respond quickly so you can do you job. More often than not, they’ll be silent until you’re forced to just do SOMEthing before deadline, and then they’ll be mad you didn’t do what they expected you to just assume they wanted. 100% of my experience with major game firms shows this to be true (yes, yes, 100% means I’m only 2 for 2, but still, 100%).

Story is approved at last! Time to write? Not yet. How is the story going to be told? Scripted scenes with in-game animation? Ideally: yes. Practically speaking: only if you have the time. Telling story like that is the most integrated with gameplay itself, and it requires a lot of code adjustment and tweaks that your coders might not have the time for. After all, at the end of the day, the game needs to be fun more than it needs to have some brief story elements. Their time will very likely not be devoted to your requests.

So then do you just have little markers in the level that when the player walks over them they see a dialogue box? Nah. It’s clunky for story… plus that’s how tutorial elements for gameplay are delivered.

What do you do then? In our case, we found another artist who could do animated comic-book style pages for us. However, the project has a tight timeline and the artist was only given enough time for about four to six pages of work. Now it’s time for me to try and break the story into comic-book ready blocks of action, something I’d never thought about before. I tried to keep action high and dialogue minimal and to communicate as much story as possible in broad strokes to ensure that the artist had enough time to make something quickly and have it communicated in the equivalent of 12 to 18 comic panels. It’s trickier than you might think to imply broad swaths of action and progress with virtually no dialogue.

This goes well… but then it’s clear the pressure valve needs to be applied and we lose 5 levels and this changes the comic situation. Two pages are cut. We’re now missing a boss character, and his absence happens to change the logic of the story overall. Now the evil goal of the Foot clan is vague. They kidnap April for finding their mysterious warehouse, the Turtles find the warehouse and rescue April and battle Shredder twice in the process. They defeat him… but what was he trying to do in the first place? Well, hopefully you won’t think too hard about that because it’s too late to add new pages now.

Aaand now it’s done. So, similar to, but on a smaller scale than tales of screenwriters with their films that hit the Hollywood grinder and emerge looking nothing like how they started, writing a video game title for major client is barely something that can be called your own work. It’s more commonly a collaboration between the writer, the artist and the lead designer for the game with the client throwing as many wrenches at you as they can.

We pulled it off and I think I’m happy with the product, but I’m not sure I can say I’m proud of it from a story perspective. I’m proud of the accomplishment, and happy for the experience. I really liked trying to craft instructions for an artist for comic panels, too. It’s a uniquely collaborative writing exercise. Trying to envision your words in a fashion clear enough so that someone else can make them concrete is a pretty neat task. It’s hard for me to feel too much ownership on an end product that has very little of my words and ideas of mine that were heavily augmented by a large corporate third party. I’m not trying to say I’m emo bitter kid about this, but I do want to communicate that projects like this are almost never your baby when they’re completed. They become “the job” and they’re really kind of everyone’s success more than they are yours.

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Fiction: The Snow’s Shadow – part 2

Those were the lost years for Shiro. His peers graduated from the school that no one would ever know existed and walked the world in shadow, practicing their many arts. Some were pleased to know that Shiro had vanished. Others were crestfallen that he was never able to learn to be like his brothers and sisters. In time, nearly all forgot about the young shinobi who was fated to fail.

Fukurō thought otherwise. Careful study of the tales reveal that Shiro had been sent by his master to train in isolation. As wise as Fukurō was, he could not teach Shiro what was needed. Fukurō was himself a creature of the shadow, and he knew he could only walk beside Shiro for a short distance before Shiro must find a new path without the old man’s guidance.

The tales all say that Shiro was not seen for many years, but this is foolish. No shinobi is ever seen that does not wish to be seen. To say the shinobi were not seen is to say that this world is vast. It is the kind of statement that is not worth the breath it would cost. Shiro had been told to seek the way of the light and it was there that he could be found if any knew the secrets to watch for. He spoke with the sun and the sky. He walked among reflections and lived in the open world. As other shinobi greeted the dusk, Shiro greeted the dawn.

Seven years passed before Shiro returned to history. Seven years after his student’s departure, Fukurō was taken from his school. There existed only a very small number of schools in Nihon. As time passed, the shinobi began to seek more glory, to become more visible. They fought for reputation in a way that was unknown to their forefathers, who only needed approval of the many kami that governed all things. This new generation looked for the approval of the Nihonjin and the pleasures their money and favor could grant them. So it began that schools would fight amongst themselves. They would perform elaborate feats to claim their dominance. The kidnapping of the famed master Fukurō was seen as particularly daring display.

He was taken to Fuyō-hō, the most majestic peak in all of Nihon. It was surely Fukurō’s wish that his students and his school would absorb his teachings and respond in the grand tradition of the shinobi, with patience, precision and stealth. His students, though, were clearly lost without the strength of his presence. They reacted with the rashness of youth and organized immediate and foolish rescue ventures. Many students were lost during the attempts to scale Fuyō-hō. The fortress Fukurō had been taken to was near the mountain’s peak, which meant that any attempt to approach was difficult to hide, the distance to traverse being so great.

Distance is typically no concern for the shinobi. Stealth, when executed properly, has no end. Picturesque Fuyō-hō is known for the majesty of its snow-capped peak. The techniques of the shinobi were of little use upon the vast stretches of pure white snow. Even the cover of darkest night did little to disguise their ebon movements against the fields of ivory.

Attempts to return Fukurō from his captivity continued to meet with failure and soon they became less and less frequent. When they had stopped altogether, Fukurō’s captors declared their victory. It was at this time that Shiro enters the tales once more.

Shiro understood that to conquer his rivals, he must first tame Fuyō-hō and so his journey up the mountain was slow. He moved during the day, melding with the light and learning the secrets of the mountain. Breaching the fortress would only be half of his journey. Once he had retrieved his master, he had to ensure he would be able to return with him and Shiro understood that this was not a task that his master, wise and skilled as he may be, could accomplish on his own.

As he advanced, Shiro would take note of every available shadow and create shelters where there were lapses. He spoke to the mountain and asked it to shift the snows. He coaxed the growth of the trees and bushes. He made a home of the mountain and learned its secrets and only then did he know the time was right. During the day he moved through snow as blinding white as the cloth that covered his skin. At night he buried himself, becoming as much a part of this new home as he could.

This was the lesson that Fukurō passed down to his student. Shiro had learned to live in and be a part of the world. He had taught himself to adapt and to forge pathways where none existed. While his fellow students had learned their craft well, they had not learned to find their own way and were limited in ways that Shiro was not, for all the many freedoms they seemed to have earned above the Nihonjin. The shinobi trusted in their teachings, but Shiro had learned to trust in himself.

After weeks of scouting and preparation, Shiro was finally ready to rescue his master. He approached the fortress atop Fuyō-hō at the peak of the sun’s domain over the world, knowing that this is when it would guarded least. The shinobi would only be expecting what shinobi know, the tricks of their forefathers and the tricks of the Nihonjin.

Providence smiled upon Shiro’s infiltration, as there was not a cloud in all of the sky over Nihon that day. The snow upon the ground was a blazing white and Shiro moved gracefully through the light, whispering to the snow as he went, and it gladly covered his footfalls as he proceeded, happy to have the company and to be flattered by his respectful nature.

Whereas the shinobi would sink into the darkness surrounding a fortress wall and swim up its depths to the parapets, Shiro found another path. The darkness ignored him as stoically as it always had. He paid it no heed as he strode ably up a sunbeam to enter the fortress. He then began his quest for the center of the fortress, which was surely where Fukurō was being held.

To the guards scattered atop Fuyō-hō, Shiro was nothing more than the light reflecting off the snow, the artifacts of vision after closing one’s eyelids, a strange reflection in a pool of water. He was invisible to them in a way that none of their other brethren had ever been. And so he reached the center of the fortress.

When he opened the door to Fukurō’s cell, it is said the old Owl stood and addressed his pupil. “I am proud of you, Yuki Kage.” Shiro was confused by this, and was concerned that perhaps his master had been mistreated and that his mind had wandered during his captivity. “I am your faithful student Shiro, Master.”

At this, it is said that Fukurō laughed. “You are Yuki Kage. You are the Snow’s Shadow. Bright as daylight itself and invisible as the unseen. And I am no longer your master.” Before Shiro could protest this unprecedented statement, Fukurō put his arm around his former pupil and said, “Now, Master, will you teach me the wisdom you have learned in your travels? Fuyō-hō is grand and I fear I will not be able to return without your guidance.”

Shiro’s heart swelled at this praise and he turned back to the cell door and stepped out with his former master into the light of legend.

I had intended this to be a cute little fairy tale take on the Ugly Duckling, but with less of a “It’s cool, you’ll grow up and be beautiful automatically, so don’t worry about it” and more of a “You are unique and this is your strength if you can discover it”. I had planned on it being a very light and fluffy piece. And then I decided that I didn’t want to say “ninja”, I wanted to use a more traditional term like “shinobi” and from there I decided I wanted to use the proper terms for Japan and its people (“Nihon” and “Nihonjin”) and then from there I realized that I was writing an entirely different story than I had intended to. The core is the same, but almost nothing else is as I had envisioned it. So… I guess this is a fun example of writing guiding itself, which is one of those things that when I read articles where authors say it I just want to smack them in the face for being all smug about their craft: “Oh yeah, the words just write themselves”.

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Friday Fiction: The Snow’s Shadow – part 1

Here’s part one of a story I’ve been working on. Part 2 of 2 should be coming up next Friday. Forgive me if I have butchered any Japanese, I haven’t run it all by my favorite translator yet.

The Snow’s Shadow

In a land that the people call Nihon and in a city that was once called Edo, there was a school that no one knew existed. Describing the area surrounding this school would be a fruitless exercise, for it cannot be seen. Listing for you the steps to reach its doors would be a folly, for your feet will never tread upon its grounds. Suffice it to say, the school existed, though the Nihonjin know as little of it as the rest of the vast world.

From this invisible school issued forth invisible students. They could be seen, but only as it suited their purposes, so they were called invisible. The students were called shinobi. In some years hence, they will also be called oniwaban, which has a more savory aura, and they will not be so invisible then. That is for other tales.

There were mature, expert shinobi in this school, walking unseen among the Nihonjin, but this tale does not concern them, except as corollary. This tale tells of the chibi sasuke and chibi kunoichi: the little ones.

If the concept of little shinobi is amusing, think of the tiger cub learning to stalk or of the falcon’s chick spreading her wings for the first time. Deadly things learn their deadly arts when they are smallest. So it is with the shinobi.

The garb of the shinobi is their skin. By tradition, they are swaddled in clothes as black as night. Their eyes are all that is left visible. This is for the benefit of the young shinobi as well as their parents. Tiny shinobi in garb the color of night are difficult to locate.

It is said that as shinobi grow, their second skin grows with them and becomes a part of them, as they become a part of the shadows. This may seem outlandish, but this is the first failing of most Nihonjin when it comes to the shinobi. The laws of this world are suggestions to the shinobi. It is also said that only fools speak to the wind, but the shinobi have learned much in this manner. To borrow the words of one of the poets of the western world, there are more secrets in this world and the one beyond it than the nihonjin will permit themselves to recognize.

Over time, the little shinobi are taught to breath in the light and exhale shadow. They are taught to exist as a perception, to live as an inkling. They stand astride the wall separating this world from the next. They learn the language of this plane and the ones that surround it. They also learn a great many deadly arts.

The world of the shinobi is vast, but it is by necessity rigid. Secrecy is delicate. This is why the shinobi who was called Shiro did not have a life that mirrored that of his peers. When he was an infant, he was swaddled by his parents in a white cloth that was so pure it was blinding. They offered him no explanations or apologies.

There is a special cruelty wielded by youth. It cuts more sharply in a place of rules and structure, where tradition can lend credence to any number of otherwise outlandish taunts. While his peers busied themselves with matters of the darkness, Shiro had a very different matter to contend with. The shadows spurned him. He was welcomed only in the light, and even there he was hard to look upon. Being hard to look upon is a very different thing than being hard to see. One cannot help but be aware of something that challenges a gaze, rather than redirects it.

The little shinobi were merciless with Shiro. This is unsurprising as they are trained to be fearless in all things. They cursed his name and mocked his parents for what they were sure must be a legendary display of foolishness or cruelty. Why else would a young boy be subjected to such bizarre conditions? He was beaten and abused by the more violent of his peers, who were convinced that his very presence was a threat to the existence of the shinobi. He existed outside of the order of the world, they claimed, which was in violation of the principle law adhered to by the shinobi. He was told that his master would only tolerate him for so long, and that one day he would be wiped from this plane like any other abomination.

Shiro was largely impervious to these taunts and took the beatings as a matter of course. He was, after all, undergoing the same stoic training as his counterparts. The notion that his master would disapprove of him was something that gnawed at him. The parents of a shinobi supplied little beyond an origin. The master became the entirety of existence for the young warriors. He was the source of all wisdom and praise, as well as the final judge in all matters.

The master, known to all as Fukurō, the Owl, but never addressed as anything but Master, was in fact entirely unperturbed by Shiro. Was a difficult student any less of a student? What use is a teacher who can only instruct the simplest of pupils? The Owl saw to it that Shiro was given instruction the same as all his peers. He must learn the principles and methods of the shinobi. To separate him entirely would be an injustice, and would only reinforce the words of the other students, that he was different, that he needed to be sequestered.

It seemed to Shiro that he was not performing well. Devoted as he was, it could not be denied that the teachings of stealth could not be applied in the same way for Shiro as for the rest of the shinobi. The techniques he knew well, but their application was lost to him. Fukurō, however, withheld any criticisms. The other students took this to be the definitive sign of his shame at such an unacceptable pupil. Shiro took this to mean that he must strive harder to please his master.

When Shiro was almost of age, when all shinobi emerge from the school to seek their way in the worlds, Fukurō asked for Shiro’s presence after his normal lessons had ended. There was much whispering about this event, as it was the old Owl’s most overt gesture towards a student who had led a most tumultuous life in all other aspects.

The details of this meeting are a matter of conjecture. Shiro never spoke of it and Fukurō was famous for his secrecy. What is known is that after their discussion, which stories say lasted from a few short moments to days on end, Shiro walked out of the school and into the world and it was assumed that he would never be seen again.

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