On Snark

Feb. 21st, 2017 11:40 am
tuftears: Goofy Lynx (Goofy)
So, I've been watching "Person of Interest" at [livejournal.com profile] dracosphynx's behest. "All the characters have extra points in snark," he explained to me.

"I should try to practice writing characters with snark," I thought to myself in the shower.

Jason Carter popped into my head, dressed as the Ranger Marcus Cole from Babylon 5. I have no idea why it wasn't Jim Carrey or Jackie Chan. My subconscious works in mysterious ways. "What, you want me to say something snarky?" he asked.

"Well, yes."

"I'm sorry, but have you heard of the pink elephant thing? Well, this is just the opposite of that." Jason looked terribly earnest, as he does so very well.

"How so?"

"The minute you asked me to say something snarky, everything funny and comedic immediately fled my mind. It is a wasteland of wit. A desert of--"

"I get it already, thanks for trying, Jason."

"Thanks, I was going spare trying to think of a synonym for humor that began with D." He flashed his trademark grin and vanished.
tuftears: Lynx Wynx (Gaming)
A bit silly maybe but why not. -_- I foresee that I'm going to have a need for this.

Cut for length! )
tuftears: Lynx Wynx (SCIENCE!)
Time to noodle a bit about character creation! As most of you know, MMOs try to limit the number of skills and abilities with which players are confronted to a minimum at start time. So there should only be a few decisions that players need to make at the outset, and they should be non-threatening decisions-- there should be no wrong answers.

Cut for length! )
tuftears: Thoughtful Lynx (Thoughtful)
Okay, found the perfect title for this RPGfic I have in mind. I'd had in mind soliciting superhero suggestions but it occurred to me that I should lay out the world first.

As I alluded to in my previous post, I wanted to tap into the Marvel X-men vibe rather than the DC 'oh hey, we have random superheroes running around the world with all kinds of different origin stories, boy, our universe is such a mess that we need to have multiple Earths to explain them all.' So, think 'mutants vs humans.'

Cut for length! )
tuftears: Lynx Wynx (Gaming)
For various reasons, I find myself pondering MMOGs and superhero RPGs every now and then. For instance, I think 'wouldn't it be neat to work a superhero MMORPG into a story about virtual reality that crosses the line into actual reality.'

Lately, perhaps since I've been watching assorted Marvel movies, I recalled that while I played on an X-man themed MUSH a long time ago, the whole X-theme hasn't really been tapped into in MMOG form. There's a Marvel Heroes MMORPG, but rather than playing your own hero, you get to choose from a rotating cast of iconic heroes. That's one way for Marvel to protect its brand, but it really doesn't fly for me as an opportunity to 'play yourself'.

But that made me wonder-- how much control do people really want over character creation?

Avatar customization is obvious. City of Heroes was justly famous for its character creator. But...

Powers? City of Heroes only let you choose from major archetypal powers, and from optional power pools, and then these powers could only be allied in set ways-- ice blasts and shields, for example, rather than free-form creation of ice. Allowing free-form use of powers would be a major game-changer, and likely game-breaker-- what happens if you freeze the water in a human body?

Background? What I'm curious about here is how much people want to be able to define their own backgrounds, versus having it set by the game. City of Heroes handwaved this, letting people write freeform text and simply categorizing superheroes by their 'origin type'-- magical, scientific, technological,et cetera. An X-men-based VR MMOG might specify all players had to be mutants of some kind, giving them 'origin stories' to play through which would clearly explain to them how their character was viewed by the world, a la the Dragon Age origin stories. How much control over your character's origin would you want, versus having your origin be supplied by the game, along with plot threads and known NPCs that might show up?

I'm not proposing to run a superheroes RPG just yet but I do wonder what my friends would want in a VR MMOG.
tuftears: Thoughtful Lynx (Thoughtful)
Maybe I've posted about this before... But Steal the Dragon is too good a title for the book it's on.

Seriously, what's up with that?

A. Nothing gets stolen in the book description.
B. No dragon is involved.

Every time I see this book title, I imagine the book it should have been.

Point the first. Something has to get stolen... I don't mean breaking in to free captive or enslaved dragons. That's 'Free the Dragon', still a good idea but very different. I mean that it should fit the 'caper' model: a thief or other scruffian is presented with a problem, we as the readers are informed of the various difficulties, the thief assembles his or her resources, and proceeds with the heist. Nothing ever goes entirely as planned of course...

Point the second. There has to be a dragon. Don't just nickname an aircraft or spaceship 'Dragon'. It doesn't have to be an intelligent dragon; in fact making it intelligent raises completely legitimate questions of ethics and morality, legal status of monsters notwithstanding. It does have to be big, winged, scaled, and possessed of enormous destructive force and a temperament to suit. In other words, not the most cooperative thing in the world to steal.

I can even imagine the opening line of the book.

"I don't do livestock," the greatest thief in the world said. She ignored the aide's nervous tittering. "Artwork, bullion, documents, artifacts historical, magical, and religious, if it's portable and worth something to someone, I'll steal it. But I don't do people and I don't do beasts."
tuftears: Goofy Lynx (Goofy)
Here's to the writers who venture tirelessly on a regular basis into the dreaded Word Mines!

Cut for image! )
tuftears: Lynx Wynx (SCIENCE!)
This has been irking me a bit lately, as I read various superhero 'fics' -- serials and the like. Whenever people write about most heroes, they have clear-cut powers. This is part of what makes Worm so interesting; not only do they have specific powers with known effects and ranges/strengths, they are often inadequate to the task, so they can only win the fight by outsmarting their enemies.

Then when it comes to inventors-- often referred to as 'tinkers', sometimes as 'contrivers' for those who exert magical power in technological guise-- all that goes out the window. Inventors can do anything, given some time in a lab and access to materials.

I've mused about this before but that was about why inventors don't seem to have more impact on the world. This time I want to talk about why inventors' abilities are so poorly defined.

When you look at stories like Legion of Nothing and Brennus in both cases, there's never a clear definition of what they can do. In fact, in Brennus, many people remark on the protagonist's unheard of ability to improvise deadly weapons from ordinary components in the heat of battle. In Worm, Taylor often remarks that tinkers are cheating, since they can quickly devise solutions that render her insects powerless. The only thing that restrains them is authorial intent: does the author want them to win or not?

This isn't true for superhero RPGs, of course. In Champions or Savage Worlds, you don't get to invent new powers on the fly; invention is just the 'special effect'. New inventions represent the character developing new technology. Points are how you balance the characters against each other.

But in fiction... How do you balance it? How do you make readers feel that the inventor superhero has limits on his or her power?

Sometimes you let it go; it's all about wish fulfillment. Tony Stark's "Iron Man" is liberal in the use of 'hey, look, new technology!' -- very often it turns out that Tony Stark had anticipated needing a certain technology, and is then able to summon it and put it into use quickly. On the one hand, it makes Tony Stark look smart. On the other, when it's not foreshadowed (as it so often isn't), it looks like "deus ex machina".

But if I were writing superhero fic... I'd want to hew toward power balance somehow. Maybe "story" inventing needs rules. Note that I'm specifically excluding 'contriving' here: this is specifically about inventors whose devices work by real (story universe) laws.

So what would those rules look like?

* Power. All inventions require power equivalent to the effect they cause. You can't just build a tank-cutting laser with a flashlight and two D-cells. You need a truck-sized power generator.
* Miniaturizing isn't free. Each order of magnitude you reduce a device increases the cost by about that much. For example, if you want powered armor with the speed and strength of a car, but you want its power pack to be backpack-sized, you'd better plan on the materials costing $100k.
* The farther in the future your technology is, the more expensive it becomes. We live in an age of internal combustion and fission nuclear reactors. Let's say you want to claim your power source uses antimatter. Total annihilation of matter should be fiendishly efficient, allowing you to make a really tiny power source, right? Well, first you have to build an antimatter-generating cyclotron; apply the miniaturizing rule as above if you want to use less than a football sized plant. Then apply the 'futuristic technology' multiplier. Hope you also made a money press!
* You can repurpose your inventions if you need to, as long as they share technologies. That tank-cutting laser? You can totally turn it into a wide-area flash to blind people or a battleship-sized welding torch. What you can't do is to turn it into a teleporter or a sonic stunner.
* Specialize. Inventors should have some easily defined focus-- maybe they like lasers, sound-based machines, or gravitics. Outside that focus, they'd be limited to 'state of the art' or worse. If they can do everything, the story becomes boring.
* Beg, borrow, steal, or buy. Inventors need materials. They can't just go to the city dump and get materials or spare parts. (this actually happens quite a few times in the superhero fics I've read) Real-world materials yield real-world results. Super results require super materials and devices. I picture inventors negotiating with other inventors, or forming a company and working together.

Which naturally leads toward the second half of things: what should the inventor-based superhero be doing?...

... honestly? Probably not 'going out there and fighting crime'. Sorry, Tony Stark, but that's a waste of valuable inventing time and an endangerment of a nationally critical resource, the inventor.

They can make inventions and go out using the inventions themselves, of course. But these inventions can be mass produced. Instead of having one man in an Iron Man suit, they could be equipping a team of responsible agents and sending them out. Going out alone is kind of a sign that one doesn't trust anyone else with such amazing powers.

That does go against the whole mystique of being an inventor. It seems like the real reason people want inventor superheroes is so they can have awesome powered armor suits.

Well. It's not like Sylia Stingray of the Knight Sabers didn't have her own 'hardsuit'...

Edit to add: I guess the upshot of this ruleset is, I don't think it's as interesting when inventors can bang together junk and make super-futuristic gadgets that do anything. Think of the inventor as MacGyver. The reader can have more fun trying to guess what the hero inventor is going to do with an old car engine, scuba tanks, spare parts and electronics, and her trustworthy sonic screwdriver if she knows the inventor isn't going to somehow improvise a spaceship.
tuftears: Lynx Wynx (SCIENCE!)
I've been reading through The Legion of Nothing, a superhero fiction centered on Nick, who is an inventor without superpowers but the uncanny ability to understand and develop technology, and pondering why it is that inventors like Tony Stark seem to have had so little effect on their worlds.

This might get a bit long. )
tuftears: Thoughtful Lynx (Thoughtful)
I read a really impressive original-universe superheroes webfic series earlier this year, Worm. (warning, some triggery- stuff, very dark, epic in length) Wanting more, I eventually found a link from Harry Potter: Methods of Rationality to Cenotaph, a fanfic series that explores a large chunk of the series told by changing just one thing and extrapolating how that might have affected the story as it goes on. And then I noticed it was just one of a number of fanfics by various people all centered on this superheroes thing.

So, I read some more of them. Some I liked, some I didn't. In general, I really appreciate how Worm places so much emphasis on thinking, working out both new and better ways to use powers and when and where to use them for best effect. Worm also does a great job at capturing reader interest through a gradual but always intense escalation of power levels and conflicts. With that as a basis for comparison, cut for length! )
tuftears: Sly Lynx (Sly)
This is full of information! I find it really thought-provoking stuff, and I want to use some of this in world-building sometimes.
tuftears: Lynx Wynx (Default)
Just picked up one of these story bundles. The bundle is closing in a few days (August 28) so if you're interested. I have no idea who any of these authors are, but I saw mention of it on Smashword's blog, about this one author who is starting to take off on Smashwords.

Wonder if these story bundles will take off? (encourages author friends to take a look)
tuftears: Thoughtful Lynx (Thoughtful)
Christopher Wright writes about James Dean, William Shatner, and how acting changes over time with the tastes of the audience... And the same may apply to writing as well.

He raises a fair point. No one raises an eyebrow at how Shakespearean plays are spoken and read; it would actually cause us to cry out (or at least regard it as a bold stylistic decision) if someone decided to 'modernize' the language in them. Kabuki and noh plays have their own severely distinct styles. But across a generation, little changes in style make the old style seem distinctly old-fashioned, even cartoonish to us.

It definitely gives me a new perspective on Shatner's oft-decried "overacting". And it makes me wonder about how writing may advance in the future, building on today's accepted conventions. Right now the trend is for writing to be as transparent as possible, to use a few words to create a rich panorama in the reader's mind. But what of the future, with books becoming increasingly online entities?

Maybe they'll laugh at late 20th and early 21st century authors for writing such empty books, so minimal -- in the sense that they expect the writer to be layering the prose with opinions, asides, and digressions into other topics... Feedstock for intelligent reading apps of the future to transform a manuscript into a "holographic" novel that lets them read a multilayered story with no more trouble than we read simple stories now.

Imagine being able to read [livejournal.com profile] haikujaguar's Aphorisms, Admonishments, and Black Blossom like a native of Kherish'dar because the Lexicon of all things Ai-Naidar is subtly whispering into your ears every time you encounter some new word, and before one eye appears a composed picture of the scene; in the background hang the strains of alien music. Imagine the dialogue spoken just as the characters would, thanks to text-to-voice mini-apps, feeding off of cues in the prose and samples of the audio books.

I dunno, trying to see the future is difficult. What we see as inevitable changes never happen, and disrupting change happens from unexpected quarters.


tuftears: Lynx Wynx (Default)
Conrad "Lynx" Wong

August 2017

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