Game Spotlight — Don’t Starve

Though I wrote in a blogpost back in January that I might take up streaming on a regular basis, it is a theory that worked better on paper than it did in real life. I work a full-time job and I am in the process of writing a story. I have other activities that take up a lot of my time. And I lack a good PC that will let me play the more graphics-laden immersive games I like, such as Mass Effect Andromeda, Fallout 4, Subnautica, and several upcoming titles.

During a vacation from work, I decided to broadcast a streaming session. I sent out a notification to several Discord channels I’ve been following and started an hour-long broadcast on August 15. The game I picked was a popular title I’d favored for a while – Don’t Starve. To make it easier on myself, I tweaked the game settings to lessen the amount of monsters encountered and increase my odds of survival.

The one thing that surprised me was that several of my viewers had never played this game and had no idea what it was about. Some of them did express interest in trying it themselves based on what they saw.

For those unfamiliar with this title, Don’t Starve is a game that focuses on base building, harvesting resources, crafting items needed to survive, and fending off monster attacks. I try my best at it, but I think the longest I’ve made it is 80 to 90 days. I haven’t really mastered making it through the winter or summer, but the game can be modified to remove those seasons entirely.

Don’t Starve is a very complex and layered game that can be difficult to master, but quite rewarding when you figure it out. For starters, you can pick from one of fifteen characters from the base game and DLC – each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Initially, you only start with one – all the others can be unlocked depending on time spent playing the game or if certain conditions are met. My personal favorites are Webber, a humanoid spider who can live amongst the normal spiders without fear of attack, and WX-78, a robot that can upgrade its stats by chowing down on gears.

Each playthrough of Don’t Starve generally starts you out near a forest grove unless you’re playing the Shipwrecked DLC – but more on that later. Constructing an axe to chop down trees and a pickaxe to mine stone is a must early on since one of the things you’ll want right away is a permanent campsite. But it’s generally good to wait until you find an ideal location for your base before you hunker down.

The thing about Don’t Starve is that the land you find yourself inhabiting has a number of different environments to explore, such as forests, deserts, swamps, and prairies. Each of these environments or biomes contains their own unique harvestables or food sources you’ll need for long-term survival. Finding a base location that’s close to many of them will really help out in the long run.

Some of the early structures you’ll want for your settlement are farm plots to plant seeds and an icebox to keep food from spoiling too quickly. It also helps to construct armor and a suitable weapon to lessen the damage you take from inevitable monster attacks. The rest, you’ll have to discover for yourself.

And for those who do master the base game and are looking for an additional challenge, the Shipwrecked DLC offers a radically different adventure. In this scenario, you must construct a sailing vessel to move from island to island in search of resources to survive. Shipwrecked offers a whole new set of obstacles and dangers to overcome and feels like a completely separate game from Don’t Starve.

There is also another DLC called Hamlet due out this December. I don’t know many details, but Hamlet will bring a village into the mix where goods can be traded. I don’t know if this add-on will make the game easier, but I look forward to finding out.

I hope you all enjoyed this article and that Don’t Starve sounds like a game you might be interested in. Whatever your feelings, be sure to share them in the comments below.

What is Writing?

What is writing to you? Writing can mean many things to different people.

1–Writing is exhausting.

Remembering the rules of syntax and sentence structure is a struggle. Perfection halts our progress putting words to paper.

1–Writing is exhilarating.

Initially, don’t worry about spelling and sentence structure. There is a freedom to words. Getting your struggles and thoughts out of your mind and onto paper clears your head. Once they are released into your world, you can address them. Accomplishing that is a thrilling expression.

2–Writing is personal.

It is risky to write. You expose yourself to others’ judgement. Your self-image becomes vulnerable to criticism. Those are scary moments.

2–Writing is personal.

When you share your words, you share your experience. Others do relate to that. Hearing someone say “I learned from this,” “I was entertained,” and “this made me cry,” is a compliment and a success.

3–Writing is reclusive.

Writing is just between you and your thoughts; nothing else. You have no coworkers or teammates to rely on.

3–Writing is sociable.

Virtual communities of writers understand your struggles. Social media connects people around the globe. Local writing groups strengthen that support. A kind, inquisitive word from a stranger in a coffee shop is supportive and reminds you that you are not alone.

4– Writing is frustrating.

Ideas are fleeting. Motivation rises and falls. You slam into the Writers Block wall over and over and over again.

4–Writing is invigorating.

By declaring, “Writing is worth making the time for,” you choose to commit to yourself. You whisk a reader away into a world you control. You paint with words, drawing scenes in your readers’ minds. Extra incentive comes from the release into the world. It is rewarding to receive a positive review on a reading website or from someone who is not your immediate family network and friends.

5–Writing is limited.

Only a few rare people get a publishing contract. Large publishing houses have limited resources of time, printing, ink, and space. If you do not make a living by writing, then you do not have a “real” job. If you just dabble in your journal, you’re not doing any real writing. Without public validation, all efforts are snubbed as “just a hobby.”

5–Writing is limitless.

If expression is your only goal, then laptops, electronic tablets, journals or paper and pen are all friends. Writing anywhere is accessible. If publishing is a goal, the publishing options range from working with a Big 5 publishing house to a small startup publisher. Self-publishing has become mainstream, be it an eBook, paperback or picture book. You own your options and control your future.

6– Writing is work.

Standard books are long. Whatever your measurement–word count of page length–completing something that complex is a massive task. Revisions take time, a lot of time, and are often disappointing. Writing is intimidating.

6–Writing is work.

There is power in writing the words “The End” on your work.

That’s what writing is to me.

What is writing to you?

Read Books, Review Books, Remember Books

FullSizeRenderOn this blog, I’ve written about journal writing.  I’ve written about reading books.  There was a time when I did both: I read books and journaled about them. Go figure.

After last month’s journal expedition, I wandered through my bookshelf and discovered a journal wherein I reviewed books for myself as a reminder of what I read and what I thought.  I forgot I had done that.

My inspiration came from those funky “record your recollections” books found in your bookstore’s gift section.  The fun titles and decorative covers invite you to review wines, where you drank them and save the wine labels. You could write about the places you traveled and significant snippets of the journey. Journal titles encouraged memories of meals and restaurants, favorite songs, meaningful quotes, garden plantings, lists and more. Since my two main interests were books and movies, I decided I would chronicle my impressions of each.

Rather than pay for a fancy-schmancy, pretentious book with pages too small for a proper review,    I could make my own book better than any preprinted book. Besides, I found a pair of regal spiral bound notebooks, elegant in their 8″x10″ stature. The simple black hardcover was perfect for a funky, relevant, inspirational postcard. I clipped identical, important-looking blue gel pens in the rings.  I was set to write whether at home or on-the-go.

I recorded each book in the same look, manner, and design: “The Title” by Author; Month and year I finished reading, and my review.

It was the prehistoric equivalent of modern day Goodreads.

FullSizeRender2I tabbed four sections. The front main pages were reviews of the books I read. The second tabbed section I reserved for books recommended to me or that I wanted to read. The last section has some pencil scribblings on the first page; it looks like I planned a “books I borrowed or loaned.” I didn’t know enough people who read books. There is a third section tabbed off but with nothing written on those pages I have no clue what I intended.

I reviewed books from July 1999 through September 2002. My first reviewed book will remain nameless because it is so horrible. I wrote: “College life…here was my chance to see how someone else does it. I’ve learned how not to do it. I have no idea what any of the characters look like. Everyone swore, drank and got drunk. C’mon, a keg at your final? A torture to read but I had to finish it for story’s sake. I forgot that there had been a framing structure at the beginning. Events just end and everything is summed up neatly, compactly, and smoothly like the end of the stereotypical sitcom. Now writing about it, I can put it out of my mind.”

That book was my first exposure to self-published books, often called vanity press back then. This book had to be good. After all, it was a hardback book, with a colorful cover, I discovered at an independent book fair in New York City. That gave it validation. Ever since I read it, this is the book I refer to anytime I need an example of poor writing and the desperate need for an editor.

The General’s Daughter by Nelson DeMille. July 1999

“Print from this ‘old style’ trade paperback dirties my fingers. I like the movie better than the book. Narrator often sounded like the author, not the character.” The ending was given away too soon. Very few ‘he said’ in text and was often confused by who was speaking. Movie was more coherent, flowed better.”

The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. November 5, 1999

“Never was I so glad to finish a book!”

I developed a fascination about writing the true story of a real person. I moved away from fiction and desperately sought solid nonfiction. I read a series of disappointing memoirs after that. One review included my insightful comment: “In the last two memoirs, the struggle is established at the beginning but then the readers never reap the benefits of success.”

Good advice to remember as I finish my memoir.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. November 25, 1999

“This book made me uncomfy [uncomfortable]. That was wonderful! I want to read it again.” In January 2000, I did just that. “The second reading as powerful as the first. Real writing, honest and true yet not sappy. There’s a reason this has been on the best seller list for over 100 weeks.”

Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah. Saturday, March 4, 2000

“A tragic memoir wonderfully told. Her words: simple, and I got so caught up in her storytelling I didn’t notice.”

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. June 2000

“Good example of a story told through many smaller, seemingly unrelated stories. I’d like to see how the movie translated this fine book.”

As of this writing, I have not yet seen the movie.

The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank. August 13, 2000

“What a quick read! Recommended by Jane, I echo her thoughts: I wish I’d written this book.”

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. March 2001

“It has been so long since a book snagged me so completely. I was up nights swallowing every word until way past my practical bedtime.”

I wrote about the Harry Potter series from December 1999 to 2002. Interesting how my opinion has changed since those initial readings.

My last entry is Diary of a Mad Bride by Laura Wolf. September 2002

“B-day gift from Dawn, I read it in about one week. Funny, and a lot more truth in there than any bride would care to admit. Written in short journal entries, it’s easy to read. I must read this closer to my wedding 🙂 again!”

I never did read that book again, but maybe I will now, especially since I am married.  One part of my New Year’s Non-Resolutions is to revisit and reread an old favorite book.  I’m faced with a dilemma: which one do I choose?

Do you have any recommendations of good books to read, or ones to avoid?

How Important is the Title?

What weight should we give to the title of a novel?

If the sum of a book is 100%, is the title worth 20% or 80%? On the one hand, if the title isn’t catchy then potential book buyers may never pick it up. All the efforts the author has put in will never be tested. What a waste for both author and reader. On the other hand, if the title is too convoluted readers may not understand the direction the author is taking them. Like a four-star chef, authors want readers to finish their creation. Putting it aside half-finished is worse than having never started. It is the difference between telling the waiter, “I’ll try something else, thank you,” and telling your friends, “I’ll never eat in that restaurant again.”

This question has been weighing heavily on my mind for the past few months as I turn the final corner on writing Knock Softly (working title). I’ve asked a few fellow writers – those who are in my writing group and have read the manuscript so far – to think of something better. Nothing is sticking. I try not to fret about it, tell myself it’s not important until you finish, but that finish line is now in sight and the fret is turning into sweat.

Let’s look at the responsibility of a title. That’s right, a title has responsibilities. First and foremost it has to succinctly sum up your story. It also has to be catchy enough to cause a reaction. It should say either “pick me up” or “not for me.” But is that all? Shouldn’t the title also come into to play at the end of the read? Shouldn’t the reader be able to see that title again on someone else’s shelf and be able to recall the entire story? Have an engaging conversation with that person over the book? Gone with the Wind does that. So does Hunt for Red October and To Kill a Mockingbird, and numerous others. That’s my dilemma with Knock Softly. I want a title that will recall the entire tome when next you see it again.

I came up with Knock Softly strictly as a constant reminder to myself that no main characters die in this story – there are things worse than death. Cancer is the villain. Curing our heroine is the story’s master thread, and keeping that central to the other events in the story hasn’t been difficult. Those other events include our heroine’s infidelity and a tortured past life she’s kept secret from her husband and children. Only mitochondrial DNA can save her now. To get it, her husband must delve into her dark past. Her desire to die with her secret is almost as strong as her will to live for her children and the child she carries. Knock Softly doesn’t convey any of that.

In Knock Softly, we have a mother of two, pregnant with another man’s child and suffering stage-4 cancer. She refuses to abort the baby, even though it increasingly diminishes her own chances of survival. Her husband rides the full length of the emotional rapids as he discovers there is so much more to the woman he married.

I don’t have the answer to my question; what weight should we give to the title of a novel?

I suspect it’s a squishy number, based on how strong the author’s own name is. Steven King could call his next novel Untitled and it would sell out. I doubt 100 copies would sell if my name were on it. For someone like me, a mild-mannered suspense writer whose day job is composing coherent internet ads in forty characters or less, I suspect the title is worth nearly half of everything written. It is in advertising, and in selling newspapers.

Now taking good suggestions for A.K.A. Knock Softly. Anyone?

Imagining Fiction in the Electronic Age

I received a good response to last month’s apocalyptic post on pulp, mostly notes of reminiscences. I had no idea people time-stamped their best reads like they were best dates. Two folks thought enough to put fingers to keyboard and tell me just how wrong I was, and one good friend about chewed my ear off with the same message. But one woman wrote about following a person off a subway, up a flight of stairs and all the way to the crosswalk without that person ever looking up from their Kindle. She didn’t say if they were male or female, old or young, but earlier she had seen the same thing play out from subway to crosswalk, only this person was reading a paperback. What she noticed was how engrossed both readers were in their stories, not the format they were reading them on. To her, and to me, it proves that Content will always be King.

Thanks to all who commented.

 

Tomorrow’s bestselling fiction authors need to wade through new and exciting waters if they want readers to enjoy their digital content. The future fiction story has to be engaging on every page. Good news! Authors can now use more than just words to engage their readers!

Meaningful graphics strategically placed in the body of the works is soon to be the new norm. Children’s fiction has always been picture book format, so it will just be business as usual for that age group. Adult fiction authors, however, strive to paint just enough of a character or a scene, yet still leave something for the reader’s own imagination. We want to draw characters that remind readers of someone they’ve known: the bitchy boss, the nearsighted neighbor, the real estate lady who knows no quit.

Authors run great risks in the future if they use the wrong graphics. This becomes a fault, graphically speaking, when authors use a well-known person as a metaphor. For example, one of my references to Elizabeth, a main character in my upcoming novel, Knock Softly (working title), says she looks like Little Orphan Annie in one childhood photograph. The reader already knows that Elizabeth is a redhead so that is all I say. I leave all her other attributes to the reader’s imagination; young Elizabeth’s height, voice, dimples or not. Adult fiction readers can color in all the “known” minutiae much faster, and clearer, than the author can. In this case, any companion image of a young Elizabeth would spoil the reader’s own imagination.

Other trip-ups include using well known locations, like Disneyland or the Grand Canyon for example. You don’t want to alter whatever image your reader already has; you want them to recall it. Authors can only do that with words that metaphorically develop their characters against such landmarks. The great e-novel of the future will illuminate the text with images that only the author can bring to life.

Color, not black and white, will adorn future e-pages. Without ink, there is no cost consideration for digitally printing in color, so descriptive hues, shades and shadows will matter as never before. For that reason, future authors need to be just as considerate for what they choose to leave out as what they choose to spell out. Even the very colors that illustrators use have to complement the scene’s mood and drama, otherwise the visuals will wind up competing with the words. It’s a subliminal thing, but ad agencies have been refining the use of color for decades to convey stature, sensuality and attitude. This is nothing new, it’s just found a new home. Black and white will only be used to depict dark and dreary scenes, or to shadow horror too repulsive for vivid interpretation.

Here’s the rub: e-novel readers cannot see how “heavy” a tome is before they buy it. There is no page count. Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken weighs as much as James Joyce’s Ulysses in e-book format. Instead, there is an indicator at the bottom of each page showing what percentage you’ve completed. It feels like a journey, not a read. Authors need to be aware of this from their first draft onwards. That indicator is like the kids in the backseat of your mind asking, Are we there yet? There is less time for a story to “breathe” in the future e-novel, where pictures purpose the pauses. Each page has to be reason enough for the reader to carry on. Authors are going to have to make the journey just as entertaining as the destination if they want to shut up the brats in the backseat of their reader’s mind. The percentage indicator is neither good nor bad; it’s just a new way of telling time in a novel. We’ll all get used to it. By next Thursday.

E-novels will probably be 75,000 to 100,000 words with a dozen-odd illustrations to richen up the read. Last chapters will be written like soap opera; effectively, lead-ins for tomorrow’s adventure in a continuing series. Authors who create quirky characters that readers want to follow from adventure to adventure will do well.