Defining Characters by the Crap They Own

Setting a scene in a story, no matter the medium, benefits from attention to detail. The best video games have taken this art to new levels. It has to, if the player is allowed to poke around in every corner of the scene. In fact, the setting often forms the core of the story. Building an environment around a culture or set of characters gets lumped in to “world-building” among writers, but it’s something all writers do, when they select the objects a character owns or the kind of house they live in.

Environment design is a nebulous discipline in game design and animation, ranging from laying out virtual buildings to lighting scenes and placing clutter. Creating a game environment with a strong story is the secret to “immersion.”

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Dropping Ballast to Gain Momentum in Life

De-cluttering is one of those things we do to make ourselves feel better, because who wants to live in a mound of crap. However, it also tends to be an exercise in procrastination. You clean your desk before sitting down to write, for example, and end up vacuuming the cat until dinnertime. I’ve managed to turn it into a routine activity that gives me energy for writing instead, so I’m going to talk about how.

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How the Talent Myth Hurts Everyone

“Some people are just naturally good at some things, and other people aren’t. If you’re no good at something, don’t give up. You just haven’t found what you’re good at yet!”

If you’ve heard that, or any variation thereof, feel free to roast whoever said it over an open fire because that person is feeding you a comfortable lie. It’s bullshit – especially that “don’t give up” bit, because that’s exactly what they’re telling you to do. Here’s a similar quote to put the first one in perspective:

“Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

—Homer J. Simpson

How are those quotes even close to the same thing? Here’s what the first quote really says: “If you’re not good at something first try, then give up and keep giving up until you find something you’re instantly good at, because that’ll totally happen. In the meantime (meaning until the day you die) you can pretend your genius is all pent up inside instead of taking a big scary risk to do something you actually enjoy with your life.”

The above sentiment is often trotted out when someone complains that something is “not fun” or “too hard” and desperately looking for reasons to give up instead of useful advice about how to tackle the problem. However, the most pernicious lie is in the first sentence: “Some people are just naturally good at some things and other people aren’t.” Because this plays on the myth of “talent” and the idea that skill is innate instead of learned.

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How I Stopped Smoking: The Slow Habit Shuffle

I’m an impulsive, all-or-nothing type person. What’s moderation? What’s discipline? How the hell did I quit smoking? Especially since I loved smoking. Well, here’s the story, along with some motivational bullshittery because it’s New Years, the time of year where people vow to quit smoking and get in shape – and I’ve had some success so far.

First Some Background

I first attempted to quit smoking about 12 years ago, when the taste of cigarettes had become utterly foul to me. I managed to get all the way down to one cigarette a day, but just couldn’t give that one up. So I gave up. I said, “Screw it. If I’m going keep smoking, I’m going to damned well enjoy it.” And I bought myself a pipe and 25 grams of some shitty vanilla tobacco.

I smoked that damned thing for 10 years, until all I could stand was the finest Virginia tobaccos. I loved it. Other people loved it. The same people who used to do that “hack hack, cough cough” routine as they passed by would take a deep breath, fill their lungs with the stuff, and say, “Mmm, that smells so good!” It was like burning incense, with nicotine, and I still get a twinge of nostalgia thinking about it – but I don’t get the craving.

The thing is, I haven’t touched a cigarette since. I’d completely transferred my habit to the less addictive, less additive-infected pipe tobacco. The cravings were different. They didn’t come with the same pain and urgency. It’s probably the same reason vaping helped my SO stop smoking around the same time.

Vaping didn’t help me quit the pipe though. I was definitely addicted, smoking on average about 50 grams of tobacco a week. I had a pipe in my mouth the whole time I wrote my first novel. I didn’t want to quit, but I had to. The reasons were piling up: my teeth are trashed, my SO developed an allergy to my favorite tobacco, taxes raised the price to $1.50 a gram and I’d lost my day job due to chronic migraines.

So how did I finally quit? I’ll break it down into a nice little listicle, because everyone loves listicles!

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Higher Poly Does Not Equal Betterer

I’ve been quiet the past few weeks due to a manic cycle in which I could not stop working on my latest obsession, 3D modeling. At some point I’m going to have a rant about how terrible Blender is to work with, but for the moment I have to rant about something else: the modding community’s confusion about what actually improves the look of models. I’ve seen people simply save original game textures at a larger size, call them higher resolution, and slap them up on a modding site for download. I’m not even going to be nice about this. Anyone who believes that improves anything is a moron. Resizing does not equal resampling. All that does is make the same level of pixelation take longer to load.

I’ve also run across tons of people who assume a higher poly model is going to look better, which is easier to understand because in most cases higher poly models do look better, when those extra polys are actually doing something to define the shape of the object. It’s not easy for people to spot models with a ton of superfluous vertices, because they’re not as obvious as pixels when viewing them outside a 3D modeling program. So, I’m going to show you:

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Get Fezzed

Mucking About

This week I’ve been working on the new Uvirith’s Legacy Website, using it as an opportunity to better get to know WordPress because I have a lot of content for that site ready to go. I’m quite impressed by the Ignite theme, and may switch to it for this site as well—we’ll see. I’m also using a different slide-show plug-in that has touch responsive options, and may switch over my galleries here. It’s been quite an undertaking because I’m editing the content as I convert it into the new format. One thing I wasn’t as good at, half-a-decade ago when I wrote most of it, was brevity. No wonder people asked some of the same questions over and over. It’s not like what I’d written was crystal clear. Hopefully it is now (it’s certainly more searchable in this format). Though there’s still enough information to fill a book. It’s a big mod.

The next bit is TL;DR, but it’s maybe worth a laugh:

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Your Writing Prompt Sucks

My experience with prompts comes from the Flash Fiction Thunderdome on Something Awful. A few years ago, myself and the other two Thunderdome founders looked at the story writing contests and flash fiction threads, all of which petered out due to lack of interest, and figured out to make a contest that didn’t suck. Part of it had to do with the prompts. Other contests had weakass prompts like, “the story must have a character named so-and-so and include a mattress.” How the hell is that supposed to inspire anyone? At best, someone comes up with a story, 100% on their own, and awkwardly tries to wedge in the stupid requirements to fit the contest. That shit is idiotic, and yet it pervades writing contests all over the web.

If you want to prompt someone to write a story rather than a weak scenario, then get to the heart of storytelling: motivation and conflict. Behind motivation and conflict are two questions: how and why. What, who, and where don’t matter as much. Even how isn’t as important as why. I’ve found the best prompts set a scenario and ask the writer to fill in the blanks about how and why it came to be.

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Wagner Spitzer Karikatur (Public Domain)

Great Literary Takedowns: Tolstoy vs. Wagner

I’m currently reading Tolstoy’s scathing indictment of aestheticism in What is Art, his views of which are unpopular to this day because he pretty much hates everything. I’ve been taking notes, so I’ll have more to say on the whole book later. However, I have to share his crotchety-old-man rant about Wagner, because it is hilarious. Tolstoy describes attending a performance of The Ring of Niebelung in 1898 like it was a terrible fever-dream. Here’s his reaction to Act I in all its TL;DR glory:

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Why Participant Ribbons Are Bullshit

I’ve read a lot of gripes about whether or not every kid should get a trophy just for showing up. The defenders talk about how competition divides kids into winners and losers. The detractors talk about how rewarding kids for bare-minimum effort leads to entitlement and failure. Both sides have valid points, but what the self-esteem supporters fail to realize is getting a trophy for doing badly, or fuck-all, does nothing for anyone’s self-esteem save the back-patting school administrators who think they can do the bare-minimum to make every child feel included and call it a day.

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