New Projects

If you know me at all, it should come as no surprise that I’m starting a new project.

ba-dum CHING!

ba-dum CHING!

Actually, given how long it’s been since I’ve posted here, I think I’ve started a dozen. But I’m just going to talk about the most recent one. Because speaking of how long it’s been since I’ve posted here, I want to get back into the habit. Back into just writing, just saying things.

I think the last year or so has been typified for me by caring too much. Caring that what I produce is going to be well-received, but I think more importantly, caring that it’s going to accomplish something. “I’m going to create x story because it’s going to get me an audience. Then I’m going to create x story because it’s the kind of thing I might be able to get funding for.” Which I’m doing. I actually have a lot of really exciting things on my plate right now.

But then I also get hung up on things. I want to make sure the story I’m writing is as good as it can possibly be before I release it to the world. And yeah, obviously I want my stuff to be as good as it can possibly be. But it’s been making it hard to just sit down and write. Because there’s so much planning and worrying and second-guessing.

Which brings me to the new project. I’m going to write a new story. And by story I mean probably something novel-length-ish. It’s going to be unconnected to any of the other stories I’m writing, using some ideas I’ve had for past stories that didn’t go anywhere. I have a few plot and character ideas, but I don’t really know where it’s going to go. I’m just going to start writing it.

I’m going to make it very clear to myself that this is a first draft, that it doesn’t have to be perfect. That maybe I need to go back and describe people better, but whatever, I can do that on the second draft. Right now’s just about putting words on paper and caring as little as possible.

I think ultimately I might post it all on Wattpad or something, make it clear it’s a first draft, but just put it out there. If people like it maybe I’ll do a second draft, but maybe I never will. I just need it to be fun to write. That’s the entire goal.

Maybe I’ll actually finish this one.

What about you? Ever find yourself stalling because of worry? How do you forge ahead?

Writing

My Current Creative Struggle

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to get an audience. In fact, it’s probably the cause of the majority of my anxiety about the work I do.

It came together a bit recently when I watched Becoming Youtube episode 5. Becoming Youtube is a great pseudo-documentary about vloggers and the state of the Youtube community, and I highly recommend you check it out.

This video, along with the interview with John Green that comes after it, talk a lot about fandoms, and their power to be good and bad, the lack of control over them, and the perhaps chaotic way of acquiring them.

Specifically, it’s interesting to me that what a lot of the featured vloggers did to get a large audience…isn’t really possible any more. In an age where gatekeepers are falling by the wayside, anyone can get a following, but as that playing field gets more and more crowded, it becomes harder and harder. You need to be really good to get noticed. Quality needs to be high. No more bedroom-and-webcam.

All of which comes back to me. I’m at a really weird place right now. I’ve had enough career success to believe that what I do has value, and yet I hardly have any real audience outside of my peers.

So I look at the potential of things like Youtube and Wattpad to grow an audience, and see that to really make it work, I’ll have to put in a lot of time and effort, make something really high quality.

And then I think, if I’m going to spend all that time and energy and end up with a great, high quality product — shouldn’t I be trying to sell it instead? If it has value, shouldn’t I capitalize on that?

I’m constantly trying to find the solution, find the easy way to do it — Youtube flash fiction series? New story on Wattpad? Serial fiction project? More regular blogging? — but I’m never sure of the answer.

I think it’s something a lot of creatives are wondering in today’s rapidly-changing world. I welcome your thoughts.

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The Time Tribe Launches Today


NEW TIME TRAVEL ADVENTURE GAME SERIES BLASTS ONTO WEB BROWSERS TODAY

The Time Tribe is an Epic Journey Through Time and Space, For Kids and the Young At Heart

Duxbury, MA — February 19, 2013 — Thundersnow Media Inc. announced that its first free-to-play, episodic, time travel adventure game The Time Tribe is available now online, playable on PC or Mac. A tablet version will be announced soon.

The Time Tribe follows the story of four children who learn they are members of a secretive group of time-travellers called the Time Tribe. It is an episodic point-and-click adventure game that leads players on a quest through a virtual world filled with quirky characters, places to explore, collectible artifacts, a gallery to customize, mysteries to solve, puzzles to crack, and mini games to play. E-comics and mini fiction build on the overarching quest narrative that keeps players engaged with the story, its settings, and characters as new episodes are released.

The Time Tribe offers a unique take on the past that is completely factual, and yet retains that playful spark of magic kids love,” said ThunderSnow founder, historian and archaeologist Dr Karen Wehner. “With everything in the game based on real history and archaeology, there’s no broken history to fix, just dynamic, interactive storytelling that invites kids to experience for themselves how excitingother cultures and real history can be.”

The free-to-play structure allows anyone to enjoy the game from start to finish, but in-game microtransactions and monthly subscriptions expand gameplay. A premium subscription option includes monthly print mailings and collectibles that enhance the digital experience with exclusive gameplay hints, bonus story content, and real world activities.

Developed by ThunderSnow Media, Inc., together with Silverstring Media and Dubit Ltd, The Time Tribe is rated E for Everyone by the ESRB.

###

ABOUT THUNDERSNOW MEDIA, INC.
ThunderSnow Media is an independent game development and media production company dedicated to creating inspired, family-friendly entertainment. We leverage the power of diverse media platforms to craft unique, enriching, and fun products both kids and parents can love.

Karen Bellinger Wehner, founder of ThunderSnow and the creator, producer and creative director of The Time Tribe, is an archaeologist and historian with a PhD in Anthropology and 15 years of experience as an educator and researcher. She’s also the proud parent of three tween-age gamers and world explorers.

ABOUT SILVERSTRING MEDIA
Silverstring Media is a Vancouver-based digital media storytelling company. We create awesome original stories, and tell them by developing innovative technologies that allow our audience to experience our worlds across and beyond the traditional boundaries of media.

Lucas J.W. Johnson, the founder of Silverstring Media, has been a partner of The Time Tribe since 2011, co-producing, co-writing, and co-designing the project with Karen and her team, while bringing the expertise of his company to the partnership.

ABOUT DUBIT, LTD
Based in the United Kingdom, Dubit has more than 10 years of experience producing quality digital entertainment for kid-focused IPs, using its proprietary platform and scripting language.

 

I’ve been working with Karen on The Time Tribe for 2 years now, and we’re so excited to finally get this out there. Of course, there’s still lots to do as we dive into development of the next episode, but meanwhile, if you know any story-loving 8-13 year olds — or, in fact, are yourselves history lovers and gamers — go to thetimetribe.com and check it out!

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Fireside Magazine Kickstarter

I’ve been off the radar a bit recently, but I assure you (because I know you’re concerned) I’ve been busy! And October’s going to be a crazy month for me — I’ll be attending the StoryWorld Conference in LA, as well as attending (and speaking at!) the Merging Media Conference here in Vancouver. (You should come!) Plus of course there’s Thanksgiving (I think I’m having three Thanksgiving dinners this year…), the upcoming launch of The Time Tribe (stay tuned!) and more.

But right now I have exciting news. A story I wrote called “Remaker, Remaker,” a somewhat creepifying steampunk Roman Empire story about madness, will be PUBLISHED in Fireside Magazine this winter!

Fireside Magazine is this awesome new genre fiction magazine run by Brian White, which has featured stories from the likes of Chuck Wendig and Stephen Blackmoore. Issue 3 is the first issue that has accepted unsolicited submissions, and my story was the one chosen to be in it!

We all know literary magazines are very hard to fund, and Fireside is committed to paying its authors very good rates for their work, so Fireside turned to Kickstarter to make it all work — and so far, it’s worked very well! But that means that Issue 3 needs YOUR help to see it published — and thus to see Remaker, Remaker in it!

So please check out the Kickstarter here, and help support it. Your pledge will get you a copy of the magazine, is the ONLY way to get a PHYSICAL copy of the magazine, and you can even get a copy signed by me (or the other authors) or have YOUR NAME as the name of the character in Remaker, Remaker. So pledge now! And I hope you enjoy it.

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When Escapism Is Not Okay

We need to make better games.

I was at PAX Dev last week, the almost-new game developers conference that runs just before the Penny Arcade Expo. We were told not to tweet or blog about the content of the conference to allow developers to feel safe talking about strategies and stats, so I’m going to attempt to talk in more general terms — because what I want to talk about it extremely important.

One of the panels at PAX Dev — and in fact the reason I went in the first place — was on Ending Harassment in Gaming, a topic very much in the public eye in the last little while.

One of the points brought up at this panel, and the roundtable on the subject I attended after, was the line between harassment and escapism –that direct attacks against real people are harassment, but that acts in-game against non-player characters — such as, say, beating a prostitute in Grand Theft Auto — are escapism, and that escapism is a separate issue more likely to be “okay.”

The problem is, we as gamers have long internalized that, say, violent video games are not the cause of real-world shootings, and so it’s easy to believe that escapism-based crimes are harmless.

Or in my case, my gut feeling was that they shouldn’t be okay, but I couldn’t for a moment justify it in the face of the shooting-things-in-games-doesn’t-lead-to-shooting-things-in-life argument.

But, I think there’s a major — and extremely important — difference between connecting war games and real-life shootings, and connecting other forms of so-called escapism with a subtler and more insidious misogyny, homophobia, and racism.

Picking up a gun in a game and shooting people is not going to make me pick up a gun in real life. But consistently being allowed — even encouraged? — to make hateful choices and take hateful actions, and being consistently faced with misogynistic, homophobic, and racist depictions of people in games can cause a shift in my perceptions and a lowering of the barrier that normally prevents me from acting in accordance with such perceptions (ie, harassment).

Therefore, while funding solutions to prevent active harassment in games is extremely important, I think it is equally important to, as game developers, make better games. Games that don’t promote hate. Games that actively work to promote acceptance, understanding, and empathy. Games that expand our audiences.

Games with strong female characters.

Games with female characters that aren’t just boobs and butts.

Games with characters who aren’t white.

Games with LGBT characters — yes, all letters of the initialism, and more.

Games with LGBT characters who aren’t stereotypes, or defined by their sexuality.

Games with female, non-white, and/or LGBT characters in leading roles.

Games that reward more accepting choices.

Games that really show what it’s like to be all of the above.

This will help our communities. It will better us, it will welcome new audiences, it will help lower harassment in-game and out. On top of which, it makes economic sense — welcome new gamers, make them feel safe, find more audience, keep them around, make more money.

Entertainment is a reflection of culture, but it also defines culture. It’s our duty as game developers, as creators of entertainment, to improve our culture. To do better.

Thanks to Scott Dodson for putting the panel together and inviting the majority of the few female speakers at PAX Dev, and for George Skleres for running the roundtable. This post is mirrored at my transmedia/business site, Silverstring Media.

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Project Concordia: A Protagonist

When creating the concept for a story, developing a setting without developing plot or characters is silly. It’s the characters that will be the focus of the actual story, creating the narrative by navigating the plot they’re thrown into. The setting is merely background. Trying to create it in isolation of the rest would result in a setting that doesn’t feel really part of the narrative, but merely tacked on.

The character concepts for my eventual story for Concordia actually started to come to me very early on in the process of conceiving the project. The next few posts will begin to explore them, and how they fit into the setting.

First, the protagonist. I decided pretty immediately that I wanted my protagonist to be a kick-ass girl, because I love a good kick-ass girl, and I rarely write them. I don’t know how well I’ll write one, but I’d like to try, I’d like to get better at it.

Oh, and let’s call her Skye. [Burn the land and boil the sea—you can’t take the sky from me.]

Skye is fifteen years old—I wanted this to be a YA story, where I’m most comfortable, and wanted to start it a little younger than I usually do. And because when I conceived of the space-station-with-mostly-abandoned-old-parts the most interesting part of it to me was the most-abandoned-old-parts, that’s where she grew up. You know, give her a hard life, lots of adversity, lots of demons to work through. That’s always fun.

She grew up basically on the street, eking out a survival. She’s a tough gal, doesn’t take shit from anyone. She’s a loner by nature—prefers to be alone, to live alone, to keep away from the eyes of others—especially adults. And what of her parents? The old YA trope of parents-are-dead is too easy; the parents have got to matter somehow, even if they are dead. I think her mother was raped. Hurt in the assault, maybe she hit her head and was never quite right after, wandered to the lower city when she couldn’t support herself anymore, raised the child of the rape for a few years before finally succumbing to death.

So yeah, her mom’s dead, but very present in her mind. And her father—well, her father is out there somewhere. A rapist. A brute. And you know what? Probably something more. And therein we have drive, motive, purpose for our main character, and a little plot seed.

So despite being a loner—she tends not to trust others—she’s cultivated a network on contacts in the lower city, other street kids like her that look up to her for… well, I was going to say her hunting or something, y’know, she gets food for them, but that’s so Katniss Everdeen. And I can’t imagine hunting rats in the lower city would be a thing. Would there be rats?

But maybe she’s protected them. Protected other kids from the evils of the lower city adult dregs. So she’s a survivor, and she’s a fighter. She probably has a sense of humour, but rarely gets to use it—maybe it’s something that will come out later, as she begins interacting more with other characters. I hate characters with no sense of humour.

She needs a skill, I think. What about her allows her to fight off aggressors? Stealth would be a major asset, a general acrobatic ability, but there needs to be something combined with that. A gun’s too easy, a sniper rifle’s too a) ridiculous and b) Katniss, martial arts is too unrealistic (where would she learn?). Not that it needs to be a weapon per se. But maybe knives? That could be cool. Dangerous, but cool.

A couple other things for dear Skye: one is that natural result of implanted computers I mentioned before—growing up in the lower city, mostly alone, Skye wouldn’t have the implant. This will be a hindrance often, unable to connect to the networks without an external unit of some kind. It also means she’ll know very little about the setting outside of what she observes herself, and what she hears on the street. A useful plot device for keeping secrets and discovering information, as well as for explaining the setting to the audience as she discovers it. It also means there’s no way for any evil corporations to use experimental technology to get into her head…

I also had the idea that she would have an interesting place to live, a little hovel in the lower city, a secret spot: exploring one day, she happened upon a sealed room from some ancient origin of the station, a room once occupied by some poor bloke long-dead who was so in love with his literature, his history and mythology, and that smell, oh that smell of old bookstores, that he smuggled a small library of books—real, physical, paper books—onto the station. Smuggled, because the weight and space they would take would be probably not allowed on a space station, especially the early one. But there nonetheless.

I like this for two reasons: One, a love of books. I love the concept of a love of books in fact. And there’s the symbolic debate between physical books and electronic books. There’s a lot of potential symbolism to work with. And two, because then Skye—cut off from “modern” pop culture of Concordia—has a frame of reference, a knowledge base: history and mythology. The stuff we know. And a whole bunch more potential for symbolism and meaning—the origins of Mars, of Phobos and Deimos, of Concordia itself. The gods—the wyrms.

And, y’know, I just love mythology, so shut up.

———-

Project Concordia is a new science fiction project, wherein I’m blogging the creation of the setting as I create it, in preparation for making a story of it. See all the posts at the Project Concordia tag.

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Project Concordia: Dragons…in space!

At some point, a sci-fi setting also asks another important question:

Aliens?

I don’t want Concordia to be a cornucopia of exotic (all rather humanlike) aliens, like you see in so much sci-fi. I wanted it to be primarily about humans doing human things and dealing with humanity.

That said, humanity’s response to other life in the universe is also a fascinating question to examine, and extraterrestrials can make a nice device for explaining some things — technology or abilities or understanding that we wouldn’t have otherwise.

At some point in thinking about characters and plot for Concordia, I decided that I wanted to try to reuse some plot elements from an old D&D campaign I was running in the world of Eberron, and started thinking through what that might mean. (With Eberron’s economic powers in the form of dynastic families, and many layers of secrets and pseudo-technology, it’s actually not so different from some kind of fantasy Mass Effect/Neuromancer hybrid, so it actually fits the pattern well.)

And one of the things that I thought would be cool to pull in ended up being that an important character was secretly a dragon in disguise (cool for a lot of reasons, mostly the plot implications). Obviously I don’t actually want to just do dragons in space, because that’s bordering on ridiculous.

But I conceived of a wyrm-like creature that is very highly evolved — to the point of being able to survive and move through space without the need for ships. A giant space-snake if you will. Something that could have come into contact with humanity but remain…aloof, enigmatic, not quite understandable by humans, and yet simultaneously take an interest in them.

As I continue thinking about plot, this actually solves a couple problems for me, but it also comes with some really interesting implications. Like the inevitable movement started by certain humans to worship these creatures as gods. And the thought that they can create for themselves a kind of avatar, a human shell into which they project (a part of) their consciousness, to interact with humans.

And I think interestingly, the idea that while they are highly evolved and so-called enlightened, and seem detached and enigmatic, and are worshipped by some as gods — they’re actually much like humans in a lot of ways, each with individual desires and plans and emotions and flaws. Maybe one gets attached, sympathetic. Or see humanity as ants to be experimented with. Or go insane from staying too long in a human avatar that can’t contain their full mind.

The pictures I’ve posted are just some pictures I found with a google search, and represent something like what I’d want the wyrms (as I’ve been calling them) to look like. But I’m still not settled on much.

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Project Concordia: Personal Tech

The next logical iteration of the computer-in-your-pocket (which we still call a “phone”) is a computer implanted into you. This I think will be the basis of personal technology for Concordia: a chip planted into the skull, that acts as the personal computer/communication device for each citizen.

It would be inherently wireless, able to access the internet and interface with other devices. It would have voice and sound modules in the jaw, and probably some kind of heads-up-display. Would that be able to be displayed directly on the eyeball with nanoprojectors, or would it need something a little more device-y over the eye?

There would need to be a way to interface with it as well, beyond what would likely have to be simple brain controls. Perhaps a touch-screen-like environment that gets projected onto a surface in front of you? Or if you’re interfacing with an existing terminal, you can use its screen?

Of course, real tech-heads would go all out with this thing, and similar implanted techs, extending their cybernetic abilities. But there would probably be legal regulations against going too far, for safety reasons – I imagine as much as technology has advanced, it’s certainly not perfect yet. Major enhancements would also be expensive – since each requires surgery.

These may be a little more common in the technological underworld. I love the cyberpunk criminal tech world of Neuromancer, and imagine similar things, with black market hospitals for the surgery, experimental chips and programs, etc.

But at the same time, where an iphone might be stolen from someone or a computer accessed from a public terminal, these personal computers would have to be implanted surgically. And while they might be ubiquitous enough that basically everyone has one by tweenhood, there would be one exception: people who grew up outside of the normal societal structure.

Sure, someone on the streets in the undercity would have access to the black market clinics, but if they never had the money to get it, they would be completely cut off from “normal” cultural awareness, cut off from the communications grid, and in a way cut off from each other. What a divide that would create.

Would there still be computer terminals that people could access without a chip? What purpose would they serve? Who would be expected to use them? Or are they relics of the last generation, before the chips were so ubiquitous? Ah, but they would still have had something personal, the beginnings of a chip, perhaps linked to a handheld device closer to what we have today.

I like the possibilities here, but there are still a lot of questions to answer. What do you think?

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Project Concordia: Station Structure

Outside the space station Concordia is a terraforming Mars, and a humanity expanding throughout the solar system. But what about inside the station? Is this city all one united entity, like a starship Enterprise, or a council of factions like the Mass Effect Citadel? Is there no government at all, like the Sprawl?

I want to go for something of a combination. I do want a government entity on Concordia, an upper-city body like a city council, something that imposes at least some measure of law and order, at least in the upper city areas where it has influence.

But the zaibatsus of Neuromancer have always been compelling as well. Corporate entities that exist practically as nations themselves, fighting a lawless war with other corporations for economic supremacy, raiding company campuses to steal top researchers, hiring private security forces and hording secrets – technology, pharmaceuticals, weapons, and secrets deeper.

To align these two pictures, I go back to the modular feel of the city. So there are different segments of the station (perhaps completely different appendage-like extensions from the centre? I’ve yet to conceive the physical structure of Concordia) controlled by different entities. The upper city is what was always intended as the primary station-city: government controlled, where the “regular” citizens live and work and play. Clean, middle class, attractive.

Then below that, the lower city, the dark passages of the lower class, the criminals, the homeless, the druggies, and who knows what else. Below even them, the lost secrets of a bygone era, the original craft sent to Mars…

Shooting off from this dual core of the station are the corporate campuses, perhaps a half-dozen complexes wholly owned by the rich research companies that have made their names and fortunes controlling much of the solar system – mining, manufacturing, developing technologies and spacecraft and more. Technically they’re supposed to operate within the laws of the station, in order to be there – but the station would be nowhere without them, and so they are mostly left alone. And besides, the Concordia military would likely be no match for their private security.

As always, I have these basic ideas, but questions remain: who are these companies? How is the government structured? Do they report to a higher government, or is the station autonomous? (I’m leaning towards autonomous because of some future history ideas I have yet to elaborate on, but it’s still up in the air. And will there perhaps be a larger government-like organization watching over it all?)

 

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Project Concordia: A Time and Place

Creating a fantasy setting demands certain questions: Earth or another world? high magic or low? relative technology level? A sci-fi setting has to ask similar questions. Is this a galaxy-wide space opera, or set on Earth? Is it so far in the future that Clarke’s third law is in full force, or near enough to us that technology is recognizable?

Unlike “How does this spaceship work?”, these generally aren’t questions requiring logical explanations, merely choices made by the creator. In my case, as I mentioned in comments yesterday, I’m being largely influenced by Mass Effect, Neuromancer, and the fantasy setting Eberron for this project — but in the case of these kinds of setting questions, mostly Neuromancer. It has to be far enough ahead that we have this space station, but not so far ahead as to be unrecognizable.

Frankly, if I wanted to create a wide-ranging, multi-alien, very futuristic space opera, I’d write fantasy.

What interests me are technologies we can see looming in our future, with a good mix of “what ifs.”

So, we’re going a couple hundred years I think. Enough that we’re past the singularity to some extent, we don’t really know what technology will look like, but we’re not talking FTL drives, hyperspace, etc. We’re not out of our solar system yet, except for maybe some more probes and a cryo-ship slowly heading for the nearest star. [More on personal technology later.]

TerraformedMarsGlobeRealistic I’ve also always had this weird love affair with the idea of a terraformed Mars. (The banner image of this website is in fact a representation of what Mars would look like if terraformed.) But while technology we develop over the next couple hundred years might be able to speed the process, current ideas of terraforming make it an extremely slow process (on the order of thousands of years, if not more). So even with advanced technology, that’s not going to be less than a few hundred. So we don’t have a terraformed Mars yet.

But we could be in the process. So I came up with the idea that Concordia is in orbit around Mars, and Mars is in the process of being terraformed. Mining colonies live there, underground or in domes, but it’s not ready for mass settlement yet. Maybe that’s even why Concordia is there — generations waiting to land.

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