Sunday, December 20, 2009

Blog Revisited 2 – End of Year Wrap Up

Another year gone and its time to look back on the blog’s past. This is my second full year of blogging and I have to say that it’s been just as fun and informative as last year. There are a few things I’ve noticed, and a plan for future blog entries but let’s get right to the important part.

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading and commenting on my blog. I really appreciate it. I know most of you have many other blogs you can and do read, but I appreciate that you are still reading mine and providing feedback. I read all the comments and e-mails and do my best to reply in some fashion. So thanks for the stimulating conversation.

And now the numbers for this blog:

First Blog of 2009: Scattershot Narrative – The Right Stuff
Last Blog of 2009 (other than this one): History is a Game – Assassin’s Creed

Total Number of Blogs – 110
Total Number of Comments on MySpace - 502

Topics with the fewest comments (2)
20 topics total

Topics with the most comments
- A despicable hero – Lord Foul’s Bane (8 comments)
- The Department of Redundancy Department – Self editing for Fiction Writers (8 Comments)
- Macguffins Gone Wild – The Maltese Falcon Novel (6 comments)
- Not So Great Expectations – Great Expectations (6 comments)
- Rome if you Want to – Rome (7 comments)
- The War that Inspired a Story – 1812: The War that Forged a Nation (6 comments)
- Threads of a Story – Anansi Boys (6 Comments)

In general the number of comments has gone down this year. My high point last year was 12 comments. In addition the topics with the highest comments happened in the months from January to April. After that no other topic cracked 5 comments until the blog on “Anansi Boys”.

Now I believe that most of this has to do with the stagnation of MySpace. I’ve noticed less and less traffic in general around there and that is where the majority of my comments have come from. On the flip side, I joined Facebook and linked my blog to it. I don’t have regular readers over there yet, but I have received comments, so that’s a good sign.

On the flip side all of my topics gathered some kind of comment this year, and that was usually followed by a reply from me. So the lowest number of comments was always 2. And the total of 2 comment blogs tells me that I lost readers or my blogs aren’t as engaging as the first round.

Looks like I’m going to need to approach blogging in a different way if MySpace continues its decline. But I have a plan that I’ll share in January.

I did some series of blogs this year. This included a comparison of three anime titles that were similar Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star and Trigun. Then I did a case for and against Mystery Science Theater 3000. I tackled the revisits of Star Trek the Motion Picture and Star Wars A New Hope. Then there was my series dealing with NaNoWriMo. I had some fun with these series, but the comments were kinda light. So tell me if you enjoyed this type of thing, or not.

If you have any topics about storytelling that you’d like to see me tackle, feel free to suggest and I’ll do my best to work it in this year. Or if there were any topics that you found less interesting, feel free to tell me as well. This blog should be a fun and interesting read, that’s my goal.

Thanks again for reading and commenting, and making this year another great one for my blog. Have a great 2010!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

History is a game – Assassin’s Creed

First “God of War” and it’s sequel took Greek mythology and turned it into a bad ass adventure game with lots of blood, monsters, sex and a Ragnarok storyline (if you’ll let me mix my mythologies). The game was fun to play and the storyline was a great mix, something a talented writer had to think out and execute, and still keep in mind game play and entertainment.

Then I stumbled into “Assassin’s Creed” a game that takes history and turns it into something fascinating and interactive. The game itself takes place during the third Crusade when King Richard of England was facing Saladin with The Holy Land as the prize. With key locales in Acre, Damascus and Jerusalem, the art department worked overtime to create vivid locations, populate them with period accurate characters and costumes and give everything a lived in feel that immerses the player in the medieval world.

You play as an assassin dedicated to a sect of killers that works outside of politics. Their goal is preserve the Holy Land for everyone, not to conquer it. This allows the player to tackle both sides of the war, Christian or Muslim – both become targets. The game forces the player to use stealth, information gathering and deadly fighting skills in combination. You find the target, get close to them and then take them out, before the whole town takes you out. The game was a blast to play, even if it did get a bit repetitive here and there. The atmosphere provided by the graphics, sound effects and music were top notch.

But let’s get back to the story or a minute. I explained the main action of the game, but there is a framing element that provides the game with two important features. This framing story is a 180 from the Crusades – it’s science fiction. You start the game in the near future. Your character is a test subject for a large corporation. He is required to link up to a machine that uses genetic memory to plunge his mind back into past lives. These past lives are etched into his DNA and provide him with the persona of the assassin during the Crusades. Ok, maybe it’s more like science fantasy, but it’s an interesting idea.

Since the time traveler isn’t physically going back into time, it is only a persona traveling along engrained memories, this explains how the assassin can “die” but return to the memory at a certain spot (save point). It also allows the writers to mix history up a little bit. According to the game, the history books are based on perceptions of those who are in power. But the true memories are in the character’s DNA. So who’s to say that a group of Assassin’s wasn’t manipulating events in the past, and made sure that their involvement was never known.

During the game, the player jumps from this future state, learning a little about why he was picked and what the corporation is after, to engaging the dangers of the Crusades. Links between both stories become clearer and clearer and leads to revelations on both stories.

The other reason for the future storyline becomes clear at the end of the game. The Medieval storyline is concluded with a solid climax, but the future storyline ends in a cliff hanger. There may be further need for other memories in the future, so the main character is kept on hand – just in case. This can lead perfectly into a sequel. Guess what “Assassin’s Creed 2” is already out in stores in time for the holidays. This time the memories seem to occur during the times of the Venetian trade empire. A very interesting cut scene is available to view showing the square of San Marco as well as the canals of Venice (not to mention some new weapons and sneaking techniques).

Clever game writers were able to do two things here. They could create a game based on a rich time in Western history. The Crusades provide them with plenty of opportunities for intrigue, combat and colorful settings (even if they seemed to borrow from Ridley Scott’s take on the Crusades in “Kingdom of Heaven”). But they also had a framing story that allowed them to tweak with history in a believable way (at least for the game’s world) but provided the perfect outlet for sequels.

Have you played “Assassin’s Creed”? What did you think of the two storylines and their effectiveness? Is this the type of thing that can only be pulled off in a game, or could this have been done in a book or movie? Ever read a historical fiction that tamped with history? Did it work?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Is it Modern - Peace

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we went to see “Peace” by Aristophanes. I’d seen an ancient Greek tragedy done before “Oedipus Rex” but never an ancient Greek comedy. I knew a little from some quick research, that Aristophanes stuff was on the bawdy side and in your face kinda comedy. And truthfully my taste in comedy tends more toward wordplay and irony, not so much with the fart jokes.

I also had the suspicion that the production was going to be on the modern side of things. Now, I’m no fan of modern art, and performance art always leaves me cold. I’m even iffy about updating Shakespeare plays without a good reason to do so. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but most of the time I just end up feeling like it was done to shake up the visuals and not really to make the play more acceptable to a modern audience.

When we arrived at the theater things became more suspicious. The seating was arranged like an ancient Greek or Roman theater, facing toward the entrance of the Getty Villa. So you had a kind of makeshift stage in front. But what disturbed me was the fact that a mound of trash was in the middle of the theater and a set of silver yoga balls piled against the door of the Getty. Suddenly I had visions of a Christmas episode of “South Park” where minimalist composer Philip Glass worked on the Christmas pageant. Would this be nothing but people dressed in black sweaters spouting verse and doing interpretive dance?

All this changed when a man dressed as a Mexican mariachi walked out with a blue foam finger on his arm that was emblazoned with the Dodger’s logo on it. He began to speak in a very serious tone of voice about how we all must keep our cell phones off, and how we could laugh but must keep the noise level down for the neighbors. His little reminders dropped more and more humor, but delivered as deadpan as possible. But in the end the audience chuckles seemed to pass on down to him and he cracked a little. The absurd combination was the perfect intro to what was to be a very interesting show.

The approach was modernized, and yet completely fantasy at the same time. The basic plot of “Peace” goes something like this. An Athenian farmer is sick of war, so he jumps onto his dung beetle and flies up to heaven to confront the Gods. When he gets there he finds the Gods have all left except for Hermes. Hermes tells the farmer that the God of War is cooking up more trouble for mankind. Not only that but the evil god has locked away peace in a cave and blockaded it with boulders. The farmer goes the cave, gets some help from other Greeks and together they release Peace from her prison. Some of the Greeks who stand to profit by war voice their opposition, but they are silenced. The whole thing ends with Peace bringing joy to Greece, a marriage ceremony and a celebration.

What’s interesting are the bits of humor that this production kept in. The dung beetle for instance. In the original version the farmer needs to feed the poor beast, so he has his slaves collect dung and turn it into cakes. Pretty much the same thing happens here, except fudge-cicles are involved, and the dung beetle is shaped like a Volkswagen bug and is referred to as a hybrid because it runs on methane. Ancient Greek comedies often had characters wandering around with huge phalluses strapped to them and used for comedic purposes. We got the same thing here, with balloon phalluses being used and popped. This lead to a rowdy musical number about masturbation: with accompaniment provided by a string trio.

Then there was the exclusively modern stuff like the interview with Aristophanes on a radio show, or the annoyed neighbor coming down from the audience with her little dog in her purse, or the entire Marx brothers routine involving a statue of the Goddess of Peace, pulled right from the interior of the Getty (don’t worry, it was only a foam recreation).

The show was funny, rude, and of course carried a message about the trouble of getting peace delivered to our world. There was nothing subtle about the message, but from what I’ve read about Aristophanes, he never did anything subtle at all. In the end, I had a very good time, not all the humor landed (lots of low humor here folks) but things moved quickly enough that if one set up didn’t work, chances are the next one would. It was a fun 90 minutes of entertainment at a beautiful location. I’ve never been to the Getty Villa at night and with all the smoke in the air because of the recent fires, the red moon actually added to the surreal feel of the show.

In a way all the mad cap antics and mixing of styles worked fine for the play. Its basic plot is nothing but a fairy tale in the first place. So once you accept that a farmer can fly a dung beetle up to heaven, you don’t really mind that he’s a pot farmer, or that his son is obsessed with Michael Jackson, or that the God of War is annoyed that the “White Devils” are being lead by “a skinny black guy”. For the most part the humor reminded me of “South Park” – no holds barred, offensive to everyone and still really damn funny.

Most writers will tell you that comedy is harder than drama. And I think staging a Greek comedy in its pure form must be more difficult than staging something like “Oedipus Rex”. Some form of adaptation must be made, because most viewers aren’t going to know their Cleon from their Pericles. But throw in humor about Rush Limbaugh or Barak Obama, and you’ll get chuckles out of most people.

Ever see a Greek comedy or tragedy? Was it modernized? Was it still effective either way? When tackling a historical figure or event, how much modernization should the writer allow him or herself?