I was cruising around the BioWare social network, and came across a link to an interview conducted with Messers Hudson, Everman and Gamble. It wasn’t quite an apology for the dreadful ending to Mass Effect 3, but it certainly had the feeling of people who were deeply chastised. Here are a few select quotes from the interview.
From Hudson. “One thing that really stood out for us is that we underestimated how attached people would become to the characters.”
Everman said, “It shows how invested a player is in the story, and how much they care about the outcomes. I’ve learned that a bitter-sweet ending is much easier to watch in a movie, than experience in a long RPG where the player is very invested in the protagonist.”
And again from Hudson. “…all people would want to do was spend more time with the characters, sort of bathing in the afterglow – getting closure and just having some time to live in the universe that they fought to save.”
I was stunned that they wouldn’t have realized this… oh four years ago when this passionate reaction to Mass Effect 1 began to build. When the second game garnered high praise and major awards. When the anticipation for the third game hit a fever pitch. What did they think people were enjoying and anticipating? Shooting pixels on a screen? Players had spent five years with their particular Commander Shepard. The characters that were crafted by BioWare were engaging and fascinating. Romances were possible, close friendships, heartbreak, hard choices. Then there was this terrific science fiction universe that was almost a character in its own right. And the promise of a story that was epic in scale, and a message of hope and bravery. That friendship and loyalty matter. That good people can win against insurmountable odds.
So how could these gentlemen not have foreseen the backlash that would ensue?
Which made me wonder about the relationship game designers have with the act of creation versus the one experienced by writers? Is there a quantitative difference? And if so, why? When I think about my writer friends I can’t think of a single one who isn’t immersed in their particular world and the people who populate it. That is certainly true for George. Sometimes I think Westros is more real to him than present day America. For myself, I often find myself viewing current events through the lens of my Edge universe.
- Oh, that must be the Old Ones at work
, I will think. My Imperials universe is going to happen once we achieve faster than light speed. I just know it.
I am also deeply involved with my characters. If I wasn’t I could’t write about them. Why would their story matter unless I believed they were important, that they, in some fashion, illuminated the human condition? I love my characters. I have literally wept when I killed a character. I want to make sure Richard steps out of the shadow of his father’s disapproval, and we reach the stars, and that Linnet discovers her purpose and bring peace between The Powers and humans, and that Tracy destroys the Solar League and wins the hand of the Infanta. Because they are real to me. I’ve breathed life into them. I know events that happened in their childhoods that will never appear on the page.
And this isn’t the case for just the creator/writer. Readers invest in characters. They will make up stories about events that the writer might never examine or explore. They write fan fiction, and this isn’t a new phenomenon. Apparently people rioted on the docks of New York City in 1841 as they waited for the next installment of Dickens The Old Curiosity Shop to arrive. They were screaming “Is little Nell dead?” These Dickens fans were Invested!
And along come games. Where you aren’t just reading about the adventures of John Carter or Sherlock Holmes or the March Girls. You are the hero/heroine. The protagonist of the story. You are saving Ferelden from the Dark Spawn or the galaxy from the Reapers, or the Republic from the Sith, crafting the direction of the next step in Human evolution. You also haven’t invested just a few weeks or even a few months to read that book. You’ve invested hours of game play. So how could the designers not know this? Is there something fundamentally different in the way they approach story telling?
If there is, I think that’s a mistake. There is a form and structure to a story that goes back into the hoary past, and I think these tropes and rules should be applied to this new entertainment medium. Because I have a feeling the people gathered in the halls of ancient Greece felt just as passionately about Odysseus as modern game players felt about Commander Shepard.
I had a very bad, no good, rotten day today. I woke early since I was due at the barn by 7:30, and went to bring my old dog, Nikki in from the garage where she sleeps. She is usually waiting for me, but this morning there was no sign of her. I called. Still nothing. I went into the garage and found her lying on the concrete between the cars. She barely reacted when I spoke to her and petted her. Nikki is a big dog, 64 pounds, and at 14 she is very, very old for a big dog. Pretty much every day has been a gift over the past few months.
And she’s been developing more and more physical problems. Cataracts to the point she is nearly blind, she’s almost stone deaf, she breaths like she’s just run a marathon, arthritis in her hips, incontinence which, despite medicine, has been a continuing problem. Today it was clear she was not a happy animal. I finally got her on her feet and into the house. She does tend to eat like a cat in that she grazes, but she hadn’t touched her food from yesterday. She refused a treat, and there was no tail wag. There was no joy, and I realized that it was time.
I use a vet clinic just down the road that is something of a factory. A lot of vets work there. Turnover is frequent, and there is a focus on convincing people to run massive numbers of tests, and do a lot of very expensive procedures. Since I’m pretty hard headed I have always been able to say no, and since it’s a long way into town I had continued to use this place. So, I call and explain the situation and they tell me to come right now. I call Gilly and cancel my riding lesson, and I managed to boost Nikki into the foot well of the car. I make the drive wiping away tears because I love her and she’s been with me for a long time.
At the clinic they take us into a “euthanasia room” That has little birds twittering in a cage, and a cross on the wall, etc. etc. For me it was more offensive then comforting, but I figured — okay, maybe this works for other people. I sit on the floor with Nikki’s head in my lap and this vet comes in. The woman asks what’s going on. I tell her. She then says she has to examine the dog to make sure. She does a two minute exam — “Well good news, her heart sounds fine, her lungs are clear”, and then she announces it’s not time, and there are _lots_ of treatments we haven’t tried. I point out to her that this dog is 14 and not happy. She ignores me and goes on about this pill and that pill, and this treatment and that treatment. I say forcefully — “I’m not spending hundreds of dollars on a 14 year old dog who is failing.” At which point she gets nasty and says, “Well, we don’t _kill_ animals on just your say so.” I am completely rocked back by this, and I realize that this woman is playing head games with me, and trying to guilt me into treatments. I was breathless, and I sat there trying to figure out if I needed to just go off on her. She then says, “Well, if you just can’t cope we can find her another home.” Yeah, like I’m going to give away my elderly dog who has been my shadow and companion of my heart for 14 years.
I’ve steeled myself for this parting. I had been tearful, but now I’m so enraged that I can’t find the words. The woman tells me she’ll be back with some medication and she leaves. When she finally comes back she says in this snotty voice — “Well, since money is such an issue for you I’m going to give you these pills… _for free_! At this point I just want the hell out of there. We leave, and the desk says “Here’s the wet food that’s been ordered for your dog.” I end up paying for it, and find myself in the parking lot trying to boost Nikki back into the car while she yelps in pain. I debate going in and displaying a red head’s anger, but Nikki is shaking and panting, and we are trained to be polite. I finally get her in the car and take her home.
I called my equine vet who was just speechless over this. She said, “As if a two minute exam can match what you know about your pet!” And as another vet has said, “Better one month early than one minute too late.” The rest of the day was spent dealing with business that couldn’t wait, and truthfully I could not find the strength to prepare for this yet again. So because of this woman’s arrogance I now have to steel myself to face this next week, and prepare to say goodbye because this poor animal’s body is wearing out, and the gift I can bestow on her is never allowing her to suffer needlessly.
The other thing that will happen is a strongly worded letter to the owner of this clinic calling out this woman vet by name. And finding a new vet for my cats who isn’t running a money generating factory by playing on people’s very real love for their pets, or guilt tripping them into letting an old dog linger and decline.
Sorry for the rant, but I just had to vent.
For those of you who are fans of the Wild Card series I have great news. There is a new story up on Tor.com by one of our terrific writers, the amazing Cherie Priest. Do check it out. It features one of our more… er, interesting jokers — The Button Man. And George and I are getting ready to set the line up for our next Wild Card book, one of the “mosaic novels”. This one is called HIGH STAKES, and believe me the stakes have never been higher.
You can find Cherie’s story here.
I’m not talking about the sex scene. Truthfully, I don’t enjoy writing them. I have this theory that sex is really only interesting and not absurd when you’re one of the participants. There are writers who can do it brilliantly. Diana Gabaldon in her Outlander series can really write a hot sex scene, my friend, Sage Walker does an amazing job, but it’s a hard tightrope to walk. Too clinical and it’s off putting. Too cotton candy — what you find in some Harlequin romances — just make you want to giggle. The astounding number of euphemisms for penis are quite remarkable — rod of power, throbbing manhood, sword. Sorry, I have to stop, I’m starting to giggle. Anyway, good sex scenes are hard to write, and I really think they need to be dramatized only if there is a compelling reason in the story to do so.
But what I actually wanted to ponder and muse about is the scene where people have to tell each other how they feel about one another. Those are also bitchingly hard to write. It’s so easy to make the “I love you” moment feel like bad dialogue on a really low rent daytime soap opera. ”I love you more than life itself.” ”I love you so much that I feel like my heart can’t hold it all.” ”You are everything to me.” These may work in real life, but damn on the screen or the page it can often have you groping for the barf bag.
It was my brilliant friend Connie Willis, who has made a study of romantic comedy and how it works, who taught me how to handle this. She said the characters should never directly say what they are feeling. They need to talk around it, talk about other things that are a stand in for their emotions, come at it obliquely. You may have noticed that I quote Connie a lot. She was the reason I could write the post on Irony a few weeks back. Connie is a wonderful writer, but she is also a gifted teacher because he has spent a lot of time analyzing writing as a craft.
Having had this long conversation with Connie when she and the family were down for Thanksgiving I decided to put it to the test. First up — in the Mass Effect story, and by god, it was one of the scenes that a friend praised in particular. Two weeks ago I used it in The Edge of Darkness, and I think (I hope) it worked. My writer buddies will let me know next week when we get together. And I’m thinking about it in particular for my upcoming Space Opera that I’m getting ready to prepare for my agent. The whole drive of these books is my leading man’s love for a woman that he cannot possibly have, but it consumes his life. Her’s too since they are going to be star crossed lovers. So I’m really processing all of this as I get ready to tackle Imperials.
And yes, they are going to have a happy ending. There just won’t be bunnies and rainbows and unicorns. But they will have each other. :)
Today I was interviewed by Lev Grossman (author of The Magicians) for Time Magazine about Ocean at the End of the Lane. Lev and I have been having a conversation about fantasy since he interviewed me about Stardust in 1998. (Although one time the conversation was a threesome with Joss Whedon.) Lev does not appear to have perceptibly aged in 15 years. I find this suspicious. Also, we were wearing the same boots.
So, let's see.
This comes out tomorrow, designed and made beautiful by Chip Kidd:
Make Good Art (Amazon link. Indiebound link.) It's the anniversary of the original speech:
Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.I finished signing about 9000 sheets of paper, which will be sent to the printers and bound into 9000 copies of THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE. They look like this. (When I got bored I drew ghosts.)
If you are in the US you can pre-order them from PORTER SQUARE BOOKS: http://www.portersquarebooks.com/pre-or
When I was in Austin in March I recorded the Audiobook of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It's just been reviewed at Audiophile magazine: http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/dbsearc
"How long have you been 11 for?" That's just one of the mysteries in THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE, where otherworldly things might be strange but aren't in the least impossible. As the 7-year-old protagonist, Neil Gaiman projects all the wonders and terrors of childhood, both ordinary and extraordinary. His neighbors, 11-year-old Lettie, Mrs. Hempstock, and Old Mrs. Hempstock, have rural Sussex accents that get stronger when the things that they love and protect are threatened. Gaiman evokes the comforts of their farm lovingly--good food, a full moon that always shines on the back of the house just so--and they contrast with the coldly emotionless voice of the story's villain. Spooky, beautiful, and magical, OCEAN will stay with listeners for a long time. J.M.D. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award
...which makes me very happy indeed. I'm more nervous about the audiobooks than I am about anything else.
Right. We have a lot of sold-out tour dates. We have some that aren't yet sold out, and if you want to come and hear me talk and ask questions and get a book signed you might want to get your tickets very soon.
NOT SOLD OUT YET: The Publication Day event is June 18th. It's in Brooklyn, at the Howard Gilman Music Hall. This should be really fun and special. Surprise guests, publication day madness, and the special jet lag of an author who did his last event the night before in the UK and got off the plane earlier that afternoon.
Wednesday June 19th NYC - SOLD OUT. I THINK.
Thursday June 20th - Saratoga Springs: NOT SOLD OUT YET (it's a big venue). The pre-signing interview will also be broadcast on NPR. http://www.northshire.com/event/shelf-au
Friday June 21st, Washington DC. ALMOST SOLD OUT - a hundred or so seats left. http://www.politics-prose.com/event/book/n
Saturday June 22nd Decatur GA. SOLD OUT.
Sunday June 23rd Coral Gables (near Miami). It's an afternoon signing - starts at 2 pm. I think it may be my first ever signing in a shul. NOT SOLD OUT YET. http://www.booksandbooks.com/event/neil-g
Monday June 24th Dallas TX. ONLY BALCONY SEATS LEFT. It's at the Dallas Museum of Art. I like the idea of bringing OCEAN home: I finished it and typed the first draft in a Dallas coffee shop. http://dallasmuseumofart.org/Events/Arts
Tuesday June 25th Denver, Tattered Cover. This is one of three stores whose tickets do not go onsale until publication day.
Wednesday June 26th Phoenix Az. ALMOST SOLD OUT. http://www.changinghands.com/neilgaiman
Thursday June 27th. LOS ANGELES. I'll be talking with EW's Geoff Boucher. NOT YET SOLD OUT but selling fast and you may want to get in there, http://livetalksla.org/blog/2013/04/02/j
FRIDAY JUNE 28th SAN FRANCISCO is SOLD OUT
SAT JUNE 29 PORTLAND is SOLD OUT
(Then I teach Clarion West for a week in Seattle, interrupted only by...)
TUESDAY JULY 2 SEATTLE which is SOLD OUT
SATURDAY JULY 6 SANTA ROSA isn't yet sold out. If you're in the Bay Area and you are not happy about how fast San Francisco sold out, you should come to Santa Rosa. http://www.copperfieldsbooks.com/event/n
Also at my request, the event start time has moved earlier in the evening, to 6:30pm as I was worried about how late it would go if it started at 8. (Sorry.)
and then I fly across the country like a speeding teatray and the next time I touch solid ground it's
Sunday July 7th and I'm in Ann Arbor, Mi. It starts at 6pm. it is NOT SOLD OUT -- info at http://www.nicolasbooks.com/event/one-ti
Monday, July 8th, Edina MN. This is the Twin Cities stop, and I am hoping to see lots of the home crowd. Tickets/wristbands etc do not go on sale until publication date, June 18th. http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/e
Tuesday July 9th Chicago - this is SOLD OUT I'm afraid.
Wednesday July 10th Nashville TN -- this one is selling well, but it isn't sold out yet. http://www.wmarocks.com/events/detail/ne
Thursday July 11th Lexington KY -- It's at Joseph Beth (a wonderful bookshop). Not sure how close to sold out they are -- Tickets are "Purchase at Joseph-Beth Lexington or via 859-273-2911"
And then I get my first day off! I fly back to Cambridge, I sleep in my own bed for the first time in over a month, and then...
Saturday 13th July I do the last signing of the tour. It's sponsored by Porter Square Books (who are selling the pre-signed books as well) and tickets are going on sale on publication day, June 18th, and can only be picked up locally. Information at http://www.neilgaiman.com/where/details.p
Then there will be three Canadian signings, which have not yet been announced.
And of the UK events coming up in August, the only one that's been announced is:
Tuesday 20th of August, when I'll be in Ely Cathedral. And I think that one is going to be fun.... http://www.toppingbooks.co.uk/events/ely/n
I’ve been chatting with someone over on Facebook about Skyfall as compared with Iron Man 3. There was criticism over the fact the first half of the movie is about chasing after a hard drive, and that’s when it struck me. The hard drive is just a McGuffin, not just for the movie, but for the villain as well. The hard drive is the bait to get people to come after him and incarcerate him in London so he can go after his real target — M.
That is classic Second Stage Rocket. You think it’s about the names of agents on a hard drive, but then you find out it’s much, much worse than you knew. Your enemy is five steps ahead of you, and he’s gunning for someone that Bond actually cares about.
They also did a lovely job of having the personal story lines for both Bond and Silva echo each other, and intensify the emotions that are driving these two men. There is just so much going on in that movie. It’s about loneliness and isolation and seeking validation. The more I think about the film the more I like it.
First, HP printers suck. I bought this big printer, fax, copier barely a year ago. I went to print out the Wild Card script for my files, and it refuses to print it out with the black ink cartridge. Instead it has somehow managed to mix the colors so it came out a dull red, rather like dried blood. Which might be appropriate for a Wild Card script, but it’s annoying as hell. My old Canon lasted for years upon years and never came me a bit of trouble until it just upped and died.
I called HP for help. Was told the machine was out from under warranty, but if I’d like to give them $25.00 someone would try to help me over the phone. Maybe I should have done it, but it really irritated me. A nice fellow on Facebook offered some advice. I tried all the diagnostics, etc. Nothing worked. I then pulled out the color cartridges. Guess what? It won’t work unless all four cartridges are in which is expensive since mostly what I print is black ink on white paper. I don’t actually mail hard copy of scripts or novel manuscripts any longer. Everything goes electronically. but if I have to write a letter I’d like it not to look like it was printed with blood.
I just noticed something weird. I had printed out the stallion contracts from CSU. They had been attached to an email, and they printed with black ink just fine. I will go and check the settings in Final Draft. Maybe the problem is there.
Next, if anybody is interested the first two sections of the Mass Effect story are posted over in Writing.
And now I have to go and try to figure out something to cook for dinner that won’t make me sick. I really do want a new stomach.
THERE WILL BE SPOILERS ****************************************
I went to Iron Man 3 with great anticipation and equally high hopes. All the pre-release buzz had presented this movie as better then even the first movie. Which was high praise indeed. The first Iron Man movie ranks for me as one of the top five superhero movies that have been made thus far.
We expected a crowd so my friends and I decided to go to a 10:15 feature. It wasn’t necessary. The theater was pretty much deserted, proving yet again that Santa Fe just isn’t much of a movie town. We settled in, and I was ready to love this movie.
Except I couldn’t. There were some cool bits and some huge missed opportunities. Tony Stark’s PTSD could have been a powerful and meaningful thread for this film. Instead they used it as a gag and to get laughs which I found insulting to the thousands of men and women who are currently dealing with the debilitating and dangerous effects of PTSD.
As the movie spooled out I kept trying to figure out what it was about? What was the theme, the issues that would illuminate the human condition? I kept coming up with nothing — just confusion.
It started with the bad guy. I mean the real bad guy. They gave me at least three different explanations of why he was doing what he was doing. Reason one — Tony Stark had dissed him years before. Reason two — he wanted the government to fund his research so he was creating false flag/terrorist events. He was creating false flag/terrorist events so the government would pay to use his super soldiers to fight off this terrible threat. I never did figure it out which left me confused and cranky.
Tony does something stupid — gives the “bring ‘em on” speech, and bad guy destroys his house and kidnaps Pepper. Okay, big flashy scene, but I kept wondering why the FAA never reacted to these military helicopters heading toward Malibu presumably without any kind of flight plan. If the movie had been working for me otherwise I probably wouldn’t have gotten tripped up on this little real world issue, but it wasn’t and I did.
Tony is now back to a guy without resources just a faulty suit that he has to repair. We go into some of the best moments in the movie as Tony interacts with the little kid, but then they completely undercut the scene by having Tony summon a bunch of remote guided suits for the big final fight. If he could do that why did he spend all this time trying to repair Mach 42?
And that also completely undercut the whole PTSD thing. If Stark was afraid to be the “man in the can”, well, he didn’t have to any longer. He could be a remote drone pilot and run the suits from a safe location in Tierra del Fuego.
Next there’s turning Pepper into a superhero. I guess, though even that is unclear because at the end Tony says he’s “fixed” Pepper thus proving he is not just an engineering genius, but also a brilliant biologist. I guess he’s a scientist with a capital S. Anyway, I’ve always liked Pepper. She is an independent woman who can run a giant multi-national power, and she has a super power. She can stand up to Tony Stark and tell him when he’s being a douche. And make him listen. Now they made her Nuke Girl or Fire Girl, and I really didn’t need that unless Robert Downey Jr. is not planning on making any more Iron Man movies and it’s going to become about Pepper Pots fights crime.
Finally we come to the end of the piece where Tony orders his faithful computer to destroy all the suits, and he fixes his heart and removes the device that not only kept his heart beating, but apparently powered the suits, and then he throws it in the ocean. Which means he can no longer power the suits even if had some. Which means he’s no longer Iron Man.
And then as if they writers/director realized what they had done they throw in this line at the very end where Stark declares “And I am Iron Man.”
No, you’re not. You’re a really rich guy who threw away the device that powered your awesome fighting suits.
I’m disappointed. So much money and so much talent and not a coherent story to be seen.
I’m watching a show implode which is making me sad because I had enjoyed SMASH, but it is also offering some interesting lessons in What Not To Do. Smash is a television series about taking a musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe to Broadway. I was a singer, I performed with the Civic Light Opera, I love Broadway and try to see a couple of shows every time I go to New York. The show was created and run by a woman who has, in fact, taken shows to Broadway so it was a look behind the scenes at an interesting world that isn’t well known to most people. It had cool characters — the gay composer and female librettist who are partners and have created successful musicals. The two young ladies vying for the lead. The old woman producer trying to mount this production. The brilliant and acerbic British director (who is far and away my favorite character). There were some terrific numbers composed for this show (I bought a lot of them for my IPod) and staged beautifully with great choreography. It was really interesting watching them go for a big name movie actress to play Marilyn, discovering she couldn’t actually sing, etc. etc. All of this was cool.
What was way less interesting was — in the wise words of George R.R. — “All the damn family drama.” I didn’t care that the librettist had a fling with the guy playing Joe DiMaggio and it wrecked her marriage. That her teenage son started acting out. That one of our ingenues had boyfriend problems. Now the other ingenue sleeping with director that felt much more real and again a look behind the curtain. If you don’t think the casting couch is real, I’ve got a bridge for you.
Anyway, that was first season. Then comes second season and they decided they had to skew younger, and bring in a “bad boy”. So now we have a composer/librettist team that are two men and the gay and straight are reversed, and the composer is this complete jackass and our leading lady walks out of Bombshell (the Marilyn show) to do this off Broadway thing because he’s just so hot. No, he’s not. He’s an ass and his music isn’t all that good either. And her leaving the show made me question her sanity and IQ so now that character is pretty well trashed for me. And now we discover the Bad Boy has drug problems. Whoa that’s a surprise. In addition to all this family drama there was this incredibly stupid subplot about doing Dangerous Liaisons as a musical with a physical comedy guy playing Valmont who also has mental problems. It wasn’t funny and it didn’t tell me anything about behind the scenes in musical theater which is why I watched the show. Was it an attempt to be edge? Funny? I don’t know. Whatever the intent, it didn’t work.
George and I agreed that we like shows where we learn something about worlds that we don’t know and the drama comes from doing those interesting job. We know a lot about book publishing and writing and about Hollywood, but we don’t know how things work on a major newspaper, or how to bring a show to Broadway, or train a race horse to get to the Derby, etc. etc. We all know what it’s like when a relationship goes bad, or mom gets breast cancer, or dad starts drinking. Not only have most of us experience “real life” we’ve seen it done to death on television for fifty years. I know the networks and executives think that family drama makes the characters more relatable, and up the drama, but I think it’s just become lazy writing. Need a B plot? How about mom and breast cancer? Need a C runner? Kid is getting bullied at school.
Please can we put the bad boy to bed and go back to trying to create buzz on a new Broadway show by gaming the reviewers? That was interesting.