Lurching into 08

Evidently my super-secret plans to update this pseudo-blog over the holidays were far too secret, even for me. Plus ça change…

However, I came up with an idea for a short story that I need to flesh out. The “project title” is Groundhog Day, which isn’t a working title and has nothing to do with Bill Murray. But it’s a touchstone for me to remember my idea. Consider it a code-name.

This gives me a third or fourth story in queue. I did a very rough draft of a cute little modern fable last year during a long vacation, and also outlined two other stories of a similar nature. Not sure the outlines will hold up to scrutiny, but feels good to have a few ideas down. Of course, none of that has been fully developed since I’m still working on the second draft of the Western Horror Script (with Dev).

After the Western Horror I have a Modern Fable Script that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. I think between them I may try to develop these short stories and see if I can do anything useful with ‘em.

In other news, work goes well. I’m in the middle of two giant projects, playing co-pilot on one and game designer on the other. Both should be interesting but face big challenges and are top-secret for now.

While I figure out if I can really get behind this blog thinger, if you haven’t, you should check out:

Gameplaywright by the awesome duo of Jeff Tidball and Will Hindmarch (and apparently guests. Wonder what I have to do to guest-blog for ‘em. Probably write more regularly than I currently do….)
• Robin Laws wrote an interesting essay on the role and function of denouements in RPGs.
• And apropos of nothing (except that I’m starting realize how much I want Guitar Hero 3 to tide me over until Rock Band comes out for the Wii), check out Best Buy Bodhisttva by Julian Murdoch. I don’t know this dude, but I may have to check out more of his writing.


Posted in Current Events, Writing on January 8, 2008 by Jesse
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Castles

Short but sweet…

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Ted Nasmith is doing some illustrations for an upcoming concordance-type book of Westeros. From what I hear, it should be really cool.

His art looks great here.

If there’s one thing I regret on the “A Game of Thrones RPG” it was not having significant images of the castles. We discussed it, but it was one of the ideas that had to be left by the wayside. I think this will end up being a great resource for fans of the series, and be a nice tool for GMs of either version of the game (I’m also excited by what I’ve heard of the upcoming Green Ronin version of SIF RPG).


Posted in Writing on November 19, 2007 by Jesse
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Ack grack gack gack grackk!

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Never enough time, is there?

Been meaning to write a few more meaningful posts, but the new job (writer in the creative team at Ganz – the makers of Webkinz, in addition to Eyes Only Secret Projects) has kept me busy for the past month.

However, I’ve also been working on a chapter for an upcoming pen&paper RPG game to be published by Green Ronin. I’m not sure I’m supposed to talk about it yet, but if you’ve followed my work in the past, I’m sure you can make an educated guess. It’s been fun delving back into that world, though my work for the core book is pretty small. How sharp is that sword, anyway?

In other gaming related news, I’m a regular player…scratch that. I have an open invitation to attend Robin Laws’s weekly gaming/playtest sessions, changing to whatever game Robin is working on at the moment. I just often have conflicts.

But anyway, I’ve played a bit of “American Empire” (where we played both the President’s Cabinet of an intergalactic version of the current regime, slightly exaggerated, and also played the members of a special forces squad – the Seven Dwarfs, not completely unlike agents of Blackwater or Delta Force). It created an interesting dynamic where the politicos would send the spec forces guys to perform a mission that sounded plausible from the high-level view, but looked impossible from the ground. Then, the spec forces guys would send back “mission accomplished” reports, embellished as much or as little as success and failure dictated. Then our administration characters would make new policy based on progressively “spun” information and create even more impossible tasks for the forces on the ground, etc.

After that, we played Law&Order meets Heroes. I’m not sure I can say much about that, as it’s a project that will be published, but the concept was very cool, and Robin makes some nice innovations in procedural/mystery gaming.

This week we started a brand new game, which is, as they say, a little bit lighter in tone. I haven’t laughed this hard at a session for awhile. It’s more a miniatures game with a bit of role-playing than a serious RPG but it would be a fun game to play between more dramatic campaigns. Our invasion of Earth was curtailed by our inability to overcome Earth’s first line of defense…a peep of chickens.

I’m told changes will be made and our psychic powers will be bolstered. The brood shall rue the day it ever stood against us!


Posted in Games, Writing on October 20, 2007 by Jesse
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Heart of Texas

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a sports nut – hell, I’m not even much of a sports fan. I’ve watched the occasional World Cup game or Superbowl or whatnot, but that’s about it. However, for all sorts of reasons, I was captivated by Friday Night Lights (the series, not the movie) last year.

* Uniformly strong writing
* Fantastic actors
* Clear examples of simple stories well told

I would argue it was one of the best written series of all last year, and I was looking to the premiere of the second season with much anticipation last Friday…and was very disappointed.

Heart of Texas

Fans of Texas high-school football, as those of us who were strangers to the ways of Pigskin Planet learned last season from the NBC small-town drama “Friday Night Lights,” live in the hope that their team will “go to State”—play in the state championship in Dallas, in the Cowboys’ stadium—and make their home town’s dreams come true.

It’s hard to say what’s great about “Friday Night Lights” without feeling that you’re emphasizing the wrong thing, because although the show’s particulars are distinctive and special, it seems not to be made up of parts at all—to just be an organic whole. In short, it feels like life. The show isn’t merely set in the world of West Texas football; it is that world. Watching it, you have a feeling of total immersion—in the (fictional) town of Dillon, in the lives of the football players and their parents, and in all the elements that determine people’s fates in that dry, desolate, and depressed part of the country. This sensation is triggered in part by filmmaking technique and in part by the writing and the acting; but much of it is simply alchemical and wonderfully indefinable.

(more…)


Posted in TV, Writing on October 10, 2007 by Jesse
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Behind the Times, 3

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On Thursday my last Paragon Times articles went up on City of Heroes, to a wonderful reception. Between this week’s and last week’s piece, I’ve certainly ended on a high-note. The Outbreak Plague / Foiled Breakout piece got 398 comments in the official thread, while the President Marchand / Dastardly Duo piece has received 299 posts and spawned at least two other threads of note. Not too shabby.

I spent of chunk of Saturday browsing the comments – it’s always exciting to see what people think, good or bad (just not indifferent) – about a piece. The most common theories seem to be:

* Alternate Timeline
* Parallel Dimension
* Multiple Timelines (Crisis on Finite Servers!)
* Jesse screwing with people on his way-out-the-door (can’t catch me now, suckas!)
* or a typo. Which is probably my favorite answer. 🙂

These articles were a lot of fun to write, as I’m sure is obvious. There was a lot to draw from. There are a number of subtle clues within them, many of which have been brought up. There are also a handful of in-jokes, most (but not all) of which have been mentioned.

People have also asked if there are mistakes in either piece (there were some typos in the first that have since been corrected – whew!). The only typo that I’ll acknowledge in the newest piece is “Columbian” should be “Colombian.” A few people didn’t like my Spanglish quote of “Los United States,” but in my defense it’s a bit of dialect taken from Across the Wire by Luis Alberto Urrea (great book), where he uses the phrase “los Yunaites Estaites.” Now I realize one is Mexico and one is Colombia, so I may be flat out wrong here, but it was an educated guess as to how a regular joe in the Colobmian army might speak.

Oh, and I *think* people are making an association between President Marchand’s power-armor and Iron Man/Tony Stark, because the reporter’s name is James Stark. Except, I’m not. James Stark has been “my” reporter since my first times, and was always intended to be the alter-ego to Arctic Sun.

I’m really thrilled at how much people enjoyed these stories. A shame my third piece – a 17 minute youtube interpretative dance clip involving mimes playing Citadel, Numina, Mako, and Snaptooth – was deemed too costly.


Posted in CoH, Games, Writing on September 30, 2007 by Jesse
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Behind the Times, 2

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Today marks the first of two special edition Paragon Times features. (Paragon Times: Outbreak Plague / Guards Foil Breakout)

As I said last time, I wanted to discuss the process of crafting an issue of the Paragon Times.

The Subject

I always believed the Paragon Times should focus on something eventful happening in the game. Ideally an edition would coincide with the lead up to a new Issue (game update), an in-game event, or the wrap-up of an Issue or in-game event.

I’m not very big on “slice of life” or “human interest stories” except when done very well (in this case it would have to be something that spotlights a player-character or group, and tells it in an engaging way).

(more…)


Posted in CoH, Games, Writing on September 20, 2007 by Jesse
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Behind the Times

The Paragon Times – one of the more challenging projects I’ve dealt with on City of Heroes.

It’s on my mind as we have a special double-length edition coming out this week. (Check the official site, natch.)

A Paragon Times article (“Statesman’s Strike”) was one of my first projects after I joined the City of team in Austin. It was to promote the end of beta launch event for City of Villains, and like many of my newspaper-style writings took a lot of influence from the headlines of the time.

After that I did just a handful – one for the Winter event, one for the relaunch of Pocket D (the combined space for Heroes and Villains to do the Time Warp again), then a huge gap until the next Halloween…clearly the Times was being left behind.

And it was. I was more focused on trying out different styles on the Backgrounders and pushing other elements of the web page. We added a few more Official Guides (and for awhile I was working on a number of others games as well as CoH, and just didn’t have the time). But a number of players would ask me, not often but regularly, “Hey, what happened to the Times?” I didn’t realize how important it was to them – because to them, it was another feature of the game, and one which helped convey the sense that Paragon City was evolving and organic, too.

And that’s one of the fascinating things about an MMO (or potentially any expanding game with a strong social network). People invest a lot into their characters and the world, and they (not all of them, of course, but many) want to see it expand and change and grow. We all know that developers never have enough time or resources to put in everything they want into a game, and we also know that players can’t be in the game 24/7 (again, most players), but tools like the Paragon Times are a way to serve both groups.

Web fiction can help developers expand their world-story in a relatively cheap and quick manner. One of the Cryptic Crew, Archon Voss (and I think also War Witch) has mentioned how they put in construction sites into the game for a time before they were ready to put in the arena buildings. The Paragon Times can be used the same way, and we did some of that for the most recent Rikti invasion event.

We actually had 4 newspaper articles to promote the event. During the lead-up we had a fan written “A City Remembers,” which was written without knowing the Invasion event was coming, but nicely reflected on the first Rikti invasion. Then we had the “Senate Questions Vanguard” piece, which suggested that some thought the paramilitary organization, Vanguard, was no longer needed – obviously foreshadowing that in fact it was definitely needed, and would be soon!

To coincide with the actual event itself, the Paragon Times exclaimed, “Invasion!” in the headlines. Then we wrapped it up with another player-written piece, “Vanguard Reports Success,” summarizing several players’ perspectives on the event.

Next entry, I’ll try to explain a bit more on the process of creating a Paragon Times article, and what I’ve learned in the process.


Posted in CoH, Writing on September 18, 2007 by Jesse
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Bioware: Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

I regret not being able to hit AGDC this year, as it was a tremendous learning experience last year. However, being in Toronto, and still recovering from GenCon and post-GenCon travels, it wasn’t to be. Still, I got to go to Pitch Expo Toronto, which may well have been more worthwhile.

But I saw this article today, on Slashdot. Zonk covers Bioware’s Writing Seminar from the Austin GDC.

How They Do It

The core of the BioWare writing process would sound familiar to most programmers: iterate, iterate, iterate. To that end, the company aims to get writers involved in a game’s creation early in the process. They make it a point to have a writer in the room during the broad concept stage of game creation. From an org char perspective, writers are a part of the design department. Currently the company has 73 designers on 5 projects, with 26 of those folks being members of the writing team. Titles on the writing team include lead writers and managing editors, writers, and technical editors.

Projects are broken out into three distinct phases: Prototyping, Pre-Production, and Production. Prototyping is primarily early story and setting concepting, looking for new ideas, trying to figure out how to do things in a different way. They ask how they can explore the IP they’re working on while staying true to the core concept. This is the ‘cheapest’ phase of the work, by far. Pre-Production, then, is about nailing things down: defining characters and story arcs, and working out systems and work pipelines. Production is the longest phase by far, with several distinct sub-phases making it up. This is all about generating the guts of the game, and the goal is to know what the company is going to make before they get here.


Posted in Games, Writing on September 11, 2007 by Jesse
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Trickster Makes the World

Starting collecting info on tricksters again for another script project – in a fit of madness the other night, I labeled the project an “urban fable.” Kind of pretentious really, but what the hell…

Nice Wiki page on Tricksters. Though it’s kind of an odd-mash-up of info, with an extended section on Coyote, but no one else (on that page). The few sub-pages I clicked through seem pretty decent, though.

On the same motif, I recently reread Charles De Lint’s Someplace to be Flying this past spring. De Lint’s Crow girls are terrific, as are most of the animal people in that book.

Of course I also picked up Tim Power’s Last Call again, because it is awesome. 🙂

And I should also reread Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore – some great scenes in Vegas.

On the to read list:

Trickster Makes the World, by Lewis Hyde

Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman

Hustler Days, by R.A. Dyer

Declare, by Tim Powers

But I’m always up for recommendations.


Posted in Underbelly, Writing on September 10, 2007 by Jesse
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Come Out And Play!

Sometimes writing is the hardest thing in the world.

“There’s nothing to writing. It’s dead easy. All you have to do is get a piece of paper and stare at it until your forehead bleeds.”
–From an unnamed American sportswriter, quoted by Douglas Adams

(Although the Interweb also attributes the quote to Gene Fowler, but I don’t have the energy tonight to figure out the truth. The Douglas Adams answer feels right).

I just updated the City of Heroes web site tonight with my write-up for The Warriors.

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(You can read the backgrounder, if you so choose).

This update has seemingly been months in the writing. That’s not entirely true, but I started it at a really bad time. I began the project right before we began the marketing push for Issue 10, the last big update to City of Heroes. I had to turn my attentions away from this and to the numerous fiction updates we used to promote I10. (The Invasion piece was my favorite)

And as soon as the I10 launch wrapped, I had to prepare for GenCon – which was a tremendous amount of fun as ever, but it killed 2-3 weeks of my focus. And immediately upon returning from GenCon, I’ve been involved in several High Level brainstorming sessions for Issue 11.

Furthermore, starting a piece is always the toughest part. I need an angle, or hook, to figure out how I’m going to tackle it. The Knives of Artemis were comparatively easy, as they have such a rich mystical tradition, and several well-established archetypes in comic lore.

Similarly the Sky Raiders were easy because I’ve done a lot of reading of paramilitary groups for other RPG projects, and have read a fair bit about groups like Executive Outcomes (now defunct) and Black Water. The Sky Raiders are scarey when put in the context of the real world, and that’s always a great hook for me.

One of the things that did help was going through the character testimonials and seeing how the players view this group. Looking at their toughness and resilience and grit, in the face of such amazing super powers, was a good starting point. While framing up the character testimonials, I was able to get into the proper headspace long enough to get through the rest of the update. Overall I’m happy with it, though it’s far from my favorite.

Now to figure out my next angle…


Posted in CoH, Writing on September 6, 2007 by Jesse
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Jesse Scoble

Jesse Scoble is a writer, story editor, and game designer in no particular order.

He has won awards, written a Western Horror script, worked on computer games & pen&paper games, contributed to more than 30 titles, and makes a mean mojito.

Currently he is a freelance writer in Montreal, QC.