Archive for June, 2013

Book and Video Game Writing Differences

So I am sitting there last night with my newborn in one arm and a ps3 controller in my other hand playing ‘Last of Us’. It got me to thinking about videogame writing vs. book writing. Well, I thought about it when I wasn’t trying to hold in my jumps (so that I wouldn’t scare my kid) and hating those darn Clickers (for those of you who are not initiated, a Clicker is a plant-zombie that is a serious pain in the neck).
What are the differences between each? What makes for a good game story vs. a good read? Thinking about all of the really great story driven games that I’ve played: Uncharted Series, Final Fantasy (I, IV, VI, VII, X), Bioshock, Mass Effect, etc…, I thought about what made them great and came up with the following:

1. Graphics
2. Well Developed Characters
3. Meaningful Character Dialogue
4. Lush Beautiful Environments
5. Gameplay
6. Exciting Plot and Strong Plot Twists

Of course there are other things, and obviously some of the things in the above list do not refer to writing, but a lot of the list does. As I listened to Joel and Ellie banter last night I thought about how well Naughty Dog does at fleshing out their characters. Their offhand comments did more for their characters than a lot of games can manage with an entire script. It was the same with Uncharted when Drake and Elena would talk back and forth as they journeyed. I wonder how much stronger a good Final Fantasy game could be if they would incorporate that (of course I know it would be harder due to the bigger parties, but still…SE should be able to pull it off).
So now I look at the books I’ve enjoyed the most: Fablehaven, Harry Potter, The Belgariad, The Ender Series, Narnia, Sword of Truth (at least the early ones), etc…, and I asked myself the same question. What made them memorable to me? Why do I still like going back and reading them over and over?

1. Fascinating Characters
2. Interesting Locations
3. Exciting Plots
4. Awesome Action Sequences

As with games, there is more to books for me than those four things, but they seemed to jump to the top of my list as I thought about it. To me, strong book writing allows me to picture what is happening in my head, while at the same not flooding me with imagery. I know that some readers enjoy having every aspect spelled out to them, but I like to be able to fill in the gaps. Too much imagery slows things down too much (and if you’ve read my previous posts, you have an idea how patient I am… much to my publisher’s dismay). The authors of the aforementioned books hit the right combination of imagery and action (for the most part) to keep me on the edge of my seat through the entire read.

I am interested in hearing about your thoughts. What makes for a good read and a good game? What expectations do you have? What aspects are you prepared to overlook? What will stop you from completing a game or a book altogether? What traits have kept you riveted right to the end and hungry for more?


My Anomaly

So this guy calls Microsoft to report a bug with their software that is causing a work-stoppage. He has the bug documented and is able to duplicate the error and everything. When he gets on the phone with the technician, he politely walks the phone rep through the issue and the technician follows along.
When he arrives at the bug, he points it out and the technician is also able to duplicate the error and agrees with him. “Yes sir, that sure looks like a bug. Please allow me to talk this over with my supervisor.” The guy, being a reasonable man agrees to stand by as the technician puts him on hold to talk things over with his boss. Five minutes later, the technician addresses the man. “Sir?”
The man of course responds and the technician proceeds to say. “Sir, I am sorry, this is not a bug, it is an anomaly.”

So, I have always struggled with my attention span. Unless there is something that I am personally invested in, I find myself mentally checking out not long after something starts. Before you start…I know the technical term for this, and though my wife would agree with you, I refuse to admit until I am professionally diagnosed that I have ADHD.
This particular…shall we say, character anomaly…makes it very hard to concentrate in meetings and to focus on things that aren’t interesting to me. However, the awesome thing is that I can devote myself completely to something that I truly am really interested in. If I am sitting down with a good videogame, I can play for hours. Games that make this list would include most Final Fantasy games and other RPGS, and recently Skyrim, Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us (if anyone ever wants to talk videogames, feel free to hit me up as I am always up for a good videogame discussion/debate). It is also easy for me to sit down and read…as long as I am enjoying the book and I am invested in the characters. I can also sit down and watch a movie through without breaking a sweat.
Most recently I have found that I can use this…anomaly…to great effectiveness when I sit down to write. Vague outlines suddenly blossom into fully blown scenarios in my head and I find that my fingers can’t move fast enough to keep up with my mind. It seems that there is a constant war.

Fingers: Slow down!
Brain: No! You keep up!
Fingers: We are going as fast as we can!
Brain: Well go faster!
Fingers: We are cramping up, cmon give us a break!
Brain: If you take a break I am going to forget everything that I just came up with and we will have to start again.
(Enter Le Beautiful Wife)
Wife: J.R. you’ve been down here for two hours. It is bed time. You have work early in the morning.
Me: Can’t I have ten more minutes?
Wife: You’ve already said that three times. Come to bed.
Me: Fine…
Fingers: Phew, finally.
Back and Butt: I can’t believe you couldn’t take the time to readjust in the seat at least once since you sat down.
Brain: Fine! Quit now. That’s ok, I’m sure I’ll remember all the stuff you didn’t write down tomorrow morning.

Of course Brain is a big, fat liar and come the next day, all of my great ideas are gone and I have to come up with them again. But, that is the good thing about my…anomaly. The next time I sit down, things start over and the process continues. Creative writing is an outlet for me. It allows me to let pent up ideas out. By the end of a writing session I am usually so exhausted that I can’t even think straight (so of course I try to play my turn in Words With Friends and Scramble against my wife).
Over the years I have spent a lot of time with creative writing. I would always get hip deep in a story (with every intention of finishing it) before a new game would come out, or a big vacation, or big race…you know, the next shiny object. Then I’d go off and chase that and when I returned, the interest had faded from writing. I am not sure what switch flipped that allowed me to finish this first book, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth. Good thing there were no gift giving opportunities. I may find myself in trouble come holiday season 2013…stupid ps4.

Open Water Musings

I’m a typical guy…well maybe not too typical, so I’ll rephrase…I am a guy. Which means,of course, that there aren’t many things that I’ve really looked at and thought to myself, “Wow! That is really beautiful.” Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of those moments that have crossed my path, but most of the time, that particular thought catches me by surprise. For some reason, I am just not wired to be on the lookout for those kinds of experiences. I will admit however, that there is a certain charm to being blindsided by a moment like that. It throws an unexpected wrench into the gears and, at times, can literally take my breath away.
One of those moments was the day I married my wife. The way she looked in her wedding dress when she finally made it out of the SLC temple. It was worth the wait. Her hair was real fancy and done up and she looked like an angel walking towards me. Even dressed in my suit as I was, I felt like a country bumpkin.
Four other moments were when my kids were born. Not the actual process, mind you. I’ve heard of people saying how the whole childbirth process was a thing of beauty etc… I can respect that opinion, but I went through most of it in a helpless panic, I felt awful for my wife and bad for the kid (or kids in the case of our twins). But the moment when they were here, screaming and placed into my wife’s arms for the first time. That was the magical moment for me.
But those moments are more personal and not what I really wanted to focus on with this post. I’ve never been one to sit back and just enjoy nature. Fishing is boring to me, no matter how beautiful the surroundings. My wife and in-laws have the gift of being able to just sit back and appreciate nature. Whether fishing, camping or simply driving, they can soak it in and just enjoy the scenery for what it is. Me, well…I have to be doing something. If I am driving I am listening to audiobooks. For camping, I need to have an electronic device (or preferably multiple electronic devices), a book, or at the least a card game. I need to be doing something This will tie in presently.
You should know that I am not a morning person. I could sleep until midday, regardless of what time I go to bed. My wife accurately pointed out that the only time I wake up early is if there is something exciting happening in the morning; the first day of a vacation or something. Well, add open water swims to the list of things worth waking up for.
Pulling up on a lake, bay, reservoir, or on occasion even a scummy pond is exciting. There is something about the morning that seems to brighten as soon as the desired body of water comes into sight. Colors seem to intensify and the early morning haze immediately begins to evaporate. Excitement bubbles when I arrive and I can’t get the wetsuit on fast enough. Being a bigger fellow (hereafter referred to as Clydesdale because it sounds nicer) that part of the process isn’t particularly flattering. I have a friend that once referred to it as a walrus putting on a seal suit. Accurate, but still…
Anyways, once I reach the edge of the water, there is always a moment of hesitation. Even in a wetsuit, 52 degree water is COLD at six or seven in the morning (water-skiers should know exactly what I am talking about, as that is when the water is at its glassiest). Incidentally, I used to work myself out into the water step by step, but I have recently found that a quick dash-n-dunk is a lot easier (and doesn’t leave you open to practical jokes by other swimmers in the group). Once the initial bite is over and I am completely awake, it is a necessity to play in the water for a bit, whether it be making fun of those too chicken to come in right away, doing handstands, splashing, dunking, etc…
Once everyone is ready and watches are set. Then the actual fun begins. This is where I am usually hit by how beautiful the world really can be. As I swim towards my destination (and it must be pointed out, that I am not a straight swimmer, I have a habit of weaving back and forth in the water like a drunken sailor), every time my head comes out of the water, I see the sunrise on one side and beautiful mountains on the other.
Sometimes, it is necessary to stop in the middle just to sit and watch as the night shadows on the mountainside grudgingly give way to the light. The air seems to warm and an already great morning seems to brighten a hundredfold. The light dances on the glassy water as if there were millions of diamonds just sitting there waiting to be picked up.
Some people love to watch sunrises from their porches, or from the top of a tall mountain, or in the wilderness sitting next to a tent or trailer. For the longest time, I couldn’t understand the appeal of this, and to be honest, I never really expected to. As it turns out, I simply needed to witness it from the right location. Out in the middle of the open water, with nothing surrounding or distracting me, I can always count on being able to find one of those beautiful moments.


Quick Introduction

My name is J.R. Simmons. I am the husband to a beautiful wife and the father to 4 good lookin’ boys. I am a computer scientist and I work for Hill Air Force Base. I have a lot of expensive tastes, but I have a good wife that is able to reign me in when the “I wants” start to take over. I love to spend time with my family, read, write, play video games, sing, perform, and socialize.

I’ve been married to my lovely wife for over ten years, and I have twin seven-year-olds, a three-year-old, and a baby who is almost a month old. We live in Roy, UT and life in the Simmons family is pretty sweet. Especially when me and the three older kids are out in the backyard sword-fighting on the tramp or having movie picnics. My wife has more refined tastes and so we usually play card games or watch the weird, yet strangely hypnotic, murder mystery shows on TV. The youngest, well he isn’t in to much yet, so he just kinda sits there.

I am LDS and I really enjoy the peace of mind that the truths of the gospel bring. I enjoy the time I spend in church and the chances I get to work with everyone there. I am currently teaching music to the children and it is absolutely awesome. That’s right, you read that correctly, a male primary chorister…

Recently I wrote a book called RAGESONG: AWAKENING. I was fortunate enough to be picked up by a great publisher who is throwing herself into the book wholeheartedly. We are looking at a September release date and it has been a very exciting process. The book is currently awaiting a second edit and we are in the process of preparing a cover. The artist that is doing the cover is incredible and it has been hard waiting for things to progress.

That is another thing about me. No matter how many patience lessons life throws at me, I keep failing. I am a “right now” kind of guy and I really struggle to wait for things. I can’t count the times that it has been necessary to wait for something, but I always struggle with it. It is a good thing that my wife is patient with my lack of patience.

Let’s see a couple more things about me. I was recently introduced to Triathlons and I have found it to be quite an enjoyable (and yes, semi-expensive) sport. Nothing beats an open water swim. So far I have found the bike and the run tolerable, but totally worth it for the chance to get into the water. I am what is kindly called a “Clydesdale” triathlete (that is how they refer to us…husky fellows).

I am also a technology nut and I love to have the latest gadgetry. It is an expensive habit that at times drives my wife nuts, but there you go. I am addicted to the soft hypnotic glow of a touchscreen device and my latest dilemma is whether I want to wait for the elusive new iWatch that is supposedly coming or go for the Garmin 910xt (a triathlete’s dream watch). Man…first world problems.

Well, that is me in a nutshell. Life is pretty good and I can’t wait to see what is still coming. I enjoy meeting new people so feel free to hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.