A book seems a really big and all consuming thing right now. Having finished the latest draft a couple of weeks ago during lockdown I’ve touched up a few chapters but not gone back to it since. I’ve taken to doing smaller writing tasks that provide much more of an instant gratification upon completing them. I’ll spent time reviewing a cheap game over on the video game blog my son and I keep. I’ll write some more about wrestling and put that up on Bad Education. I’ve also discovered single player role playing games during the lockdown, one of which is scratching that writing itch just dandy right now. It’s called The Machine by Adira Slattery and Fen Slattery and it’s something of a revelation.
The Machine involves the keeping of a journal detailing how your character makes the titular contraption. It can be anything you want it to be. In my case it’s quite small like a pocket watch and able to sing songs from within. You play the game alone but the idea is that, once your character meets their demise, you pass the journal onto a friend so they carry it on as somebody who has found or been given the same journal. My current character is a discreet magician (I figure he’d have to be in order to keep his tricks under wraps).
You select two options from a list of about sixty jobs and characteristics, crossing them off the lost so nobody else can choose them. Using a deck of playing cards you lift the card on top and the number and suit influences what has happened. For example my first entry proper was the six of diamonds which gave me ‘hateful’ and ‘a sleepless night’. There followed a frantic half hour as I described my character pacing around his elaborate study in the early hours sketching his grand plan for the construction of the machine that would gain himmhis fortune. After those thirty minutes I was done, I could move on, I had achieved something. No long think times, no sitting infront of a blank page and no going back to rewrite. The Machine is part game and part creative writing exercise and if you’re a writer at a loose end or needing something of a writing based distraction then it’s a good $5 to spend.
The book still hangs over me though and it’s something of a problem to work on it knowing that there’s a whole heap more to do before I get that ‘done writing’ hit.
Writing a blog about writing a book is difficult to keep interesting at the best of times. When progress on aforementioned book has ground to a halt in recent months then it’s even harder. The noise of Christmas and New Year has now faded in the rear view mirror and I’ve suddenly became very much aware that it was one year ago since I started writing the basic outline and notes for the story. The actual task of putting words on the page was started in March and I made fairly steady progress over the summer months. Then in October, once the nights had started drawing in, I reached a part of the story in which the whole thing seemed to suddenly run out of steam. It’s been hard picking back up after that and I’ve constantly been saying to myself that I’ll return to it. That return keeps getting shoved back.
Reading what I have so far confirms the worst fear that it’s 30,000 words of utter nonsense. It’s a combination of small town Scotland, aliens, child abduction and people not quite seeming what they are. If that sounds like it shouldn’t hang together well then rest assured that at this current moment you are indeed correct. The overwhelming feeling is that even if I do charge forward and reach the end then the editing job to get it anywhere near watertight at the end is massive.
I seem to have spent the first two weeks of 2018 taking up other projects separate from the book which seems like a subliminal effort to avoid actually doing anything about the thing. I’ll write about video games over on Dragon In The Castle and I’ve had the mad notion to start a printed games fanzine. I’m also still involved in the pro wrestling podcast called Conquistabores. I’ve also had the pleasure of being invited up to Edinburgh on a fairly regular basis to talk about Doctor Who on another podcast called The Polis Box.
These things are all great fun and I look forward to participating in them. The strange thing is that I’m struggling most with the one that I’m solely responsible for. It seems just that little bit uphill at the moment and the hope is that I find a thread sometimes soon and carry on. I have a feeling that once I hit a rich vein then it’ll become far easier.
The more I’ve got into writing this book the more I’ve began to appreciate and be inspired by others online who are trying to get their dreams and ideas into reality. I’ve usually never met these people (but would certainly try and say hello if I ever did) but their individual stories do remind me that, when ploughing through another thousand words or so, there might just be something really special at the end of all of this. For the last few weeks I’ve been thoroughly addicted to watching Games As Lit 101 on YouTube in which Samuel Gronseth casts a critical eye over interactive media. I’d been watching a lot of his videos (drawn in mostly be his remarkable analysis of Bioshock) when his latest video describing his personal circumstances landed.
Rather than waffle on about it myself I’ll just put the video right here.
Once again I’ve never met Samuel nor ever spoken to him but I wanted to go right ahead and sign up to his Patreon because I really enjoy what he’s doing and want to help him advance it to the stage that he obviously reckons he can. There have been so many times whilst watching his videos that he’s introduced completely new ideas regarding games I long since thought I knew everything about.
I’ve signed up to $4 a month which isn’t a huge amount (does four bucks buy you a coffee and doughnut over that side of the Atlantic these days?) but I hope it goes some way to getting to his target. If you like video games and don’t just regard them as junk, throw away entertainment then I’d certainly recommend chucking Samuel some money so he can expand his show and bring his ideas to life.
Also, he likes cats so that’s an automatic thumbs up from me.
Now I need to go and write more words.
I don’t know why I’m here, I only know what to do. It’s time to put the chicken mask on.
Creeping through the door as silently as possible I see the first guard around the corner. Breaking into a run I fling myself around the corner, punching the guy squarely in the face. He stumbles onto the floor and drops his baseball bat. I stand over him, raise my boot and bring it down into his skull. Blood spatters over the carpet covering it in jets of crimson. He won’t need the bat anymore so I claim it.
Behind the next door I can hear two guards pacing around. Bursting through the door I swing the bat with such force it caves in the heads of both men at once. With both dead at the same time I gain a double score. Before I break into a grin a bullet flies through the air straight through me, one guard comes around the corner armed with a shotgun but the damage is done. I press X the restart at the front door and go for another run through.
So begins each level of Hotline Miami, a game which I’ve been very curious about since it was released. It’s a game in which each level is a killing spree as your nameless character receives cryptic answering machine messages. What sounds like a simple job of ‘pick up a suitcase’ results in running around each level murdering everyone else in the level with samurai swords, shotguns or knives. There’s a wonderful sense of tension as you plan the next move, timing each phase of attack. Death is never that far around the corner however meaning an instant restart.
But this isnt a blog about games (well, not entirely about games), it’s about stories and writing them. The saying goes when writing to always keep it simple. As a game Hotline Miami gets straight to the point with an opening scene in which three people in animal masks tell you that you’ve done some terrible things. Your character doesn’t even have a name, only being labeled ‘Jacket’ by fans because of his American college style apparel. You’re then flung into the first blood soaked level having been told to go and grab a suitcase and bring it back to your employer. The gang members who guard the building don’t have names either individually or as a collective. You have no idea why you’re supposed to be killing them or what exactly is in the briefcase. A little later in the game, once the flood of bodies has settled on the ground, a girl who has been locked in a backroom begs you to take her with you as she ‘has nowhere else to go’. You pick her up, like some modern day white knight, before taking her back to your car. As far as I’ve got currently she plays no further part. There are also the locations set between levels, shops and restaurants which seem to feature the same guy working behind the counter giving away free items. Jacket, it seems, never has to pay for anything and you’re never sure why.
Hotline Miami draws you in with questions, only answering them as and when it wants to, never giving in to any demands your subconscious might be making for more information. To give away too much too early would strip this story of its mystique. The game’s presentation and soundtrack give it a lo-fi feel, like something contraband, something you shouldn’t have. It’s dirty under all those bright lights.