How do you come up with stories?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a very fantastic (as in, remote from reality) dream: I was a clone of me, created after I was brutally murdered. But I didn’t have my memories; I only knew, academically, what “my” life experience was like, who was important in “my” life, what “I” did and didn’t like. Reconciling this purely academic knowledge with my sense of self and my emotions was taking a toll. I sought rebellion from this version of me whom I didn’t know and yet who was controlling me so thoroughly. I began acting out – doing what I specifically knew “I” would not do, while conversely seeking experience that might help me to understand… well… “me.”

I don’t usually have such vivid, developed dreams, but this is not the first time a story has come to me in my sleep.

Anyways, I took this to a friend of mine and we began to talk about ways I could develop this into a story. I was also considering how I could mold this into an idea I have for our next big game (our clone-space saga). My friend, though, kept asking me “What’s the plot?” – and I kept giving a premise – “She’s trying to reconcile with being a clone.”

When I gave a few more details, they were all world-building and character development-based. None of them really were based on a sequence of events I wanted to present. And I realized: everything I’ve ever written or imagined started with a person and a premise. Then I thought about what the person would do in such a premise and called it a plot. I can’t really envision another way of devising a story. In fact, normally, my first step is creating a character sheet: drawing out the character (whether it’s an illustrated story or not), writing out his/her background and characteristics, and maybe a few key quotes from said character.

She thought I could play around with inverting this structure: thinking of a series of events and letting that inform a character. So far, though, it feels as though I can’t even conceptualize a series of events without knowing the person walking through them.

Creating the Lotus war was probably the closest to this I’ve come, and that’s because Justin was beside me on it – but I still became attached to a Taya-prototype and an Arinnel-prototype even before we knew what the end would be.

So I ask in a spirit of curiosity: any of you out there plot-driven writers? How do you come up with stories?

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Introducing a Love Interest

Wow, it’s been a while. With our friends’ wedding coming up, it feels like less time than ever that we’ve had to blog, and with less new developments, since we’re both currently embroiled in detail-oriented, time-consuming efforts. Have you ever animated before? I hadn’t. And now I never want to again.

Anyways, a recent change to a detail of the story has led us to create a new opening scene, which means a romp through Ren’s home town before he arrives, much less graduates from, the academy (don’t worry; you won’t need to go through the academy. What does this look like, Ender’s Game? Great book, btw). So now, we have a scene with Ren and Taya in their home town (and Justin wants to omit Axel, as well), in addition to the time they spend together at the academy, then traveling to the elves’ forest. That’s a whole lot of Taya.

Bet you can't handle too much of this ugly mug.

Bet you can’t handle too much of this ugly mug.

Of course, no complaints on my part, because she’s secretly (but not too secretly) kind of my favorite character. But when it comes to balance between her and Arinnel, there’s not very much as of right now. Arinnel’s met what’s seeming later and later in the game, and you’ve already had this much time to gain relationship points with Taya.

A way to balance it would be to have Taya out of the picture for a good run after Arinnel is introduced – an idea I’ve been playing with. But Justin (who wants to change my whole idea for an ending just for balance’s sake) is actually ok with the disproportionate screen time as it is, saying that Taya is the “primary love interest” and Arinnel’s… back-up?

You know... just like in real life.

You know… just like in real life.

But sometimes video game love interests just genuinely annoy people and they wish they had a second option. I mean, hopefully that doesn’t happen with our lovely cast. But let’s take, for a moment, Yukari from Persona 3. She’s a whiney, uppity, better-than-you super skank. And yet she seems to be the main/”canon” (or what would be if they had a canon) love interest for most of the game – even though Mitsuru is objectively better. I say that Yukari seems to be the main because she’s the date that the game defaults to if you have crap social links with the girls. But I did say “most of the game” for a reason (Spoilers ahead).

When Aigis walks into the scene, the game takes a bit of a change in direction: suddenly this kick-ass mega-droid seems to take the role of primary love interest. Not only does she get her own cut scene, which (to my memory) no other love interest does, but she’s the one that’s with you when you die, she’s the one that inherits your wild card abilities, and she’s the one that quite impossibly falls in love (since she’s a robot and all). Oh, and she’s the only one that remembers you when all is said and done and the world is safe.

I’m not sure how I feel about introducing the canon love interest so late in the game. You don’t get as much time to bond with her, and especially in a game with such a diverse cast that includes total butt-kicker like Mitsuru (although she’s by no means my favorite combatant), you really feel that lack of development. Not to mention, she’s a robot so she’s kind of lacking in the personality department.

To be able to do that, you have to make sure that the character you’re introducing is simply, in a word, awesome. But with so little time to show personality, it’s kind of hard to do. Especially when your interest is competing looks-wise with someone designed like Mitsuru.

We’ll see just how the characters are written, and proof-reading will always come in handy. In the meantime, how do you feel about late love interests introduced in video games? Do you prefer the time to get to know the character or the excitement that comes with an unexpected introduction?

Psychological Thrillers and Character Studies

Typically, when you think of a game, you think of action. Kicking, punching, stabbing, shooting, exploding… whatever gets the blood pumping. Yes, there are real-time strategy and simulation games (I myself have been a huge fan of The Sims, Sim City [although I was terrible at staying in the black], and the Tycoon games. Oh, and let’s not forget my beloved Harvest Moon). But I think most gamers think of action/adventure RPGs, FPSs, or Arcade fighting games when thinking about video games. Heck, controllers seem designed for them. But lately, more and more developers are looking at gaming as a medium for storytelling, pushing creators into new modes of game play.

For example, Amnesia the Dark Descent fits especially into the psychological thriller aspect of gaming, and while exciting, there is no true fighting. You are hiding from a monster against whom you cannot fight back. The second he has you in his clutches, your game is over. Gone Home, which Justin reviewed a while back, is a character study, I think, but of the player’s sister rather than the player herself. And you might’ve heard of To The Moon, an excellently reputed RPG Maker game. Even players outside of the admittedly niche-market of RPG Maker have played this, and magazines have reviewed it. While I myself have not played it (too deep into creating The Lotus War by the time I was aware of it), I know enough of its Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind-esque storytelling to know that it fits into this post well.

A comic book fan who is interested in interactive stories, this new genre is exciting to me. And really, less of a gamer and more of a writer at heart, it’s a very appealing genre – especially now that I’ve been taken with video game creation. What might its limits be, though?

Without action propelling the story forward and engaging the player, it all goes back to the story. The story needs to be good. And if the plot relies on a twist, that twist needs to be original, believable and engaging. I think the populace as a whole has seen one-too-many M. Night Shamalamadingdong movie twists to be taken in by anything less. The characters need to be relatable and likable and really – flawed, imperfect, real. We should have a real glimpse into the character’s mind or the world we are to explore. And I firmly believe that the character’s choices should matter, unless it’s one of those games where you just keep trying and trying until you get things right.

Our next game aims to be a bit of a puzzle game/character study, and I’ve been thinking (already!) of a sequel to that – although we have a large, epic sci-fi game lined up as the third, if all goes as planned. Justin and I have caught the creating bug, it seems. It’s wonderful, because this is the one mode of creation that really has thus far kept me enthralled.

What do you think of this new direction in video games? Do you like character studies/video novels, or do you prefer shoot-em-ups and swordplay?

Creative Partners

I’ve always been a solo flyer. Back in middle school, I was probably the best drawer in most of my classes. Then Joanna Rodriguez moved into town, and I had to share that title – which was totally fine because she was a delightful girl. Moreover, up until then, my friend who’d moved over from Guam and I were just about the only kids in school who liked anime/manga. So having another girl around – the nerdy, artsy type who like Princess Mononoke and Sailor Moon and who could draw and play on NeoPets with me? Who liked hanging out with boys without necessarily having to like them? Who’d watch Toonami’s line-up of Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing? That was frickin’ awesome! It was a girlmance waiting to happen.

We immediately became a trio rather than a duo, and life was good. But dang it! I was just so possessive of “my” ideas. You know… we’d rip off of other cartoons and make our own characters, like ripping of the magical-pet shows of the 90s but with our own little spin. And whenever I found a new show to rip off of, she’d be drawing her characters, too. Man… I wish I had scans of our drawings to show you, but I left them all in my parents’ garage. That’s the beside the point, though; the point is that I’d start to get annoyed that she was “copying” me… even though honestly, I copied some of the things she did too (which she smartly pointed out). I think I eventually put those trifles to rest and we joined forces to create little narratives with our characters and magical animals. We stayed friends for pretty much the rest of school before the normal drift (I was in band, she was in tennis; I was in Block B, she was in Block A, I hung out with Mexicans, she hung out with Asians… what?) and are still on good terms. Heck, we’re Facebook friends! That’s legit! But that was really my first clue that maybe, just maybe *gasp* I was not a team player. For crying out loud, even back in school when I got a group of which I didn’t approve, I’d do the bulk of the work because I didn’t want anyone to mess up “my” project.

I’m getting better at it, because I have to be. Most employers want a “team player.” They want someone who won’t take new ideas or suggestions or discards personally. Friends, too, like to matter, their opinions valued. And the ultimate partnership, marriage, requires teamwork and communication. So what are my tips for working with a creative partner?

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Of course this is #1. Of course. You don’t have a team if you don’t talk. You have two (or more) people working on their own solo projects that hopefully converge. I’ve felt that way a number of times myself during this endeavor.
Because I’m mostly in charge of characters and the designing thereof, I sometimes feel out of synch with what Justin’s creating. He’ll show me a level he’s creating, and a little situation he was proud of, and instead of being proud with him, sometimes my reaction is, “I didn’t know you were going to do that.”
Ugh.
The best way to avoid these feelings is frequent and meaningful communication. “What are you working on now?” “What kind of ideas do you have going forward?” “Thinking of any big changes to the outline we had?” Not just asking these questions of each other, but asking them of ourselves and preempting the questions with our partners by bringing it up when possible.
2. Trust your partner
Not only should you cultivate trust in your partners through your project, but you should only partner with someone that you already trust. If you don’t trust this person to reflect the same standard of quality that you expect of yourself, you’ll only spend all of your time looking over their shoulder at their work, and not enough time actually doing your own.
When you divvy up work, divide it in such a way that each person does what plays up to his or her strengths. And when you can admit, “Ok, Justin makes music way better than I ever could,” you may find yourself able to let go of these tasks because of your confidence in your partner’s abilities.
3. Think it as “ours” not “mine”
That’s a bit of an obvious one, but perhaps not easily accomplished. It requires a measure of trust, as discussed above. But when you tie your name in with someone else, don’t think about how the work might affect your reputation. Your partner is an equal part in this venture as you, and both want it to reflect well for future pursuits. Furthermore, if you’re concerned about your partner’s feelings and reputation too, you will be given further impetus to produce quality work. Knowing that the other person feels that same way as you will help allay any anxiety that perhaps the quality is not up to your standard.
4. Write it out
Sometimes, people get into weird “debates” only to find that they actually have been agreeing all along. I don’t know why. Perhaps our diction is unclear, or perhaps we’ve afraid to take too firm a stance on either side of a debate because we don’t want to be offensive but thereby confusing the other person. I’m not sure why it happens, but it’s definitely happened to me. Or perhaps you really do disagree and talking it out is only making the argument heated.
Writing it out gives us clear communication, through which we can’t cut each other off and which we can analyze and re-analyze. We can read, take note, re-read, construct a solid point, choose clear words, and hopefully, through this, can come to a clear agreement.

All of this is easier to say than to actually practice, but that’s why they call it practice. We try and try and try again. Thankfully, Justin and I have trusted each other with a lot more for a lot longer, so this was easier for us. But trust is often hard-won and easily lost, and communication is a simple principle with perhaps more complicated factors (after all, everyone thinks and speaks differently; some are high-context, some are low). But when we view our project as worthwhile, that’s work that we’re willing to put in.

Swapping Out Females?

Justin and I had an interesting debate about the end of our game the other day. We’ve mentioned before that your relationship with either female character affects the outcome of the game, but to what extent has been our debate.

You see, I want a certain outcome for Taya to depend totally on your relationship score with her (I’m going to attempt to write about this while not giving away the end). I think that end, while in some ways not my favorite end… well… in other ways it’s a good ending; yeah, in a larger narrative sense, it is my favorite ending, absolutely and hands-down. It brings around certain plot points to a powerful conclusion that I think is very cool and very moving. Justin feels, though, that having such an ending for Taya necessitates an equal option for Arinnel, too. (Note: this does not mean that you if “choose” or girl or the other the event is triggered; rather, the event is triggered strictly by the number of relationship points you have with the character in question).

I’m going to use a totally fake example with no parallels to the real plot idea so that I can explain it better. Let’s say… if you have a high/low enough level of points with Taya, I want her to… um… get a bunny at the end of the game? A really happy, cute, fluffy little bunny. Because Taya… uh… has had a phobia of bunnies from the beginning of the game, and her getting one just totally rounds out her narrative. Justin feels, though, that if there is the option for Taya to get a bunny depending on your relationship points with her, Arinnel should also have the option to get a bunny… even though she hasn’t exhibited the same feelings toward bunnies. Just for symmetry, and not to show favoritism. By the way, this has nothing to do with babies.

My problem with both girls getting bunnies at the end of the game – which is a huge, game-changing event, really – is that the endings aren’t really different if we do that. It would render the endings the same, your choices won’t really matter; the endings would basically just be a mirror of each other. It’s not crafting a unique storyline based on the traits we’ve imbued into each girl. It’s treating them like stock-characters and plugging them in/out of one story. As much as I’ve made my girls out to be a bit of eye candy, I do agree that it’s time girls stop being just stock characters and start being… heroes, really. Or at least three-dimensional beings – not merely love interests (although yeah, that too).

Now, I’d be happy for Taya to get a bunny and Arinnel to get… a… guinea pig, or something, if Arinnel’s arc includes deep-seated feelings toward the little squealers. That would be fine. An equally important circumstance, although uniquely different to suit the character. That would be cool. It’s just thinking of what Arinnel’s guinea pig would be that’s the problem.

What do you think? Has media been lazy when it comes to developing their female characters, or do you think progress really has been made? Do you think it lessens the value of each character if their only function is to serve a particular purpose for the narrative of the protagonist?

Becoming Heroes

Like many, I was a fan of the first season of Heroes…. right up until its “epic” last battle with Sylar. The thing is… as you might’ve noticed… that last battle was not epic at all. As I do so many things in life, I’m going to explain this in Dragon Ball Z terms…

So we are offered a Goku in Peter: a nice guy who just wants to do good – who also happens to have the potential to be the most powerful humanoid in the universe. He even trains a little bit to try and sharpen his skills. Good for him! We are also offered Vegeta in the form of Sylar: maybe not a bad guy, but certainly with a great capacity of evil – who also happens to have powers that could come to rival the protagonists, if not quite as naturally/effortlessly, and with a head-start.

We have supporting cast: Hiro/Krillin, Glasses Guy/… I don’t know… Piccolo, Buff White Chick/Bulma, her boyfriend/Yamcha, Cheerleader/… Chi-Chi? Is Nathan Raditz? And Parkman… In any case, we have a great ensemble and many potential heroes, but none who are quite on the level of our protagonist/antagonist… so obviously when it comes down to a final, epic battle… yes, some teamwork is involved – but overall, the expectation would be that the final battle would see the two most fitting rivals converging. This is something Dragon Ball Z has shown us over and over again – but that Heroes took one look at and balked. Perhaps they thought it they gave us a Peter/Sylar show-down, we’d be satisfied with that and forget about the show entirely? Alas, they underestimated our extreme excitement to see such show-downs over and over and over again. I mean, seriously: how many fights did Goku and Vegeta get into? And now how many actually bored you? (Well… you know… besides for the episodes-long power-ups).

That’s just one of my issues with Heroes. When the moment came for Peter to live-up to the title of the show, he wussed out, and the “final battle” with Sylar amounted to a bunch of people taking a whack or two at Sylar. Now, I know that Yajirobe is the one who cut-off Vegeta’s tail, much like Hiro was the one who stabbed Sylar with a friggin katana – but removing Vegeta’s tail was far from a final blow, and it only demonstrated that the defeat of Vegeta was arduous… not just a gang of people randomly pot-shotting one (admittedly bad) guy.

This makes for an easy comparison to the final battles of video games: typically, you have a team. That team stands by you throughout each battle; you begin to think of them as a single unit with your hero. In Persona 3, you can have the protagonist, Akihiko, Aigis, and Koromaru or Ken or Mitsuru or whomever. In KOTOR, you actually get to face off with Malak alone, which is awesome (and basically the hardest fight ever… or maybe just for me)… but up until then you have Bastila, Carth, Zaalbar, the ever entertaining HK-47, and T3-M4 – who basically won my entire penultimate battle against Malak single-handedly (immune to many force powers and able to heal my party when Malak fled; I hardly leveled HK-47 at all due to my insistence on playing mostly-light side). Final Fantasy always gives you your teams. But because you are controlling all members of your party in these fights, the accomplishment feels like a win for you – the player – who has trained and leveled-up and tried every tactic after death scene after death scene (my tactic when fighting Malak? Stock-up on grenades, especially shock ones/ice ones, run really far, throw a grenade, hit him a little bit, then continue to run like hell).

You feel satisfaction in those wins because it took effort, and it was challenging and utilized the sum of your training. Because it was the fruitage of one person’s struggles against a worthy adversary: yours.

So yes, in TV shows like Heroes, you do track the progress of several different characters of the arc of the series. That’s a trend continuing more and more. You don’t want writers to just drop the ball entirely by forgetting about the characters once shit gets real. But you don’t want to totally neuter the main character either, by rendering their efforts useless in comparison to a few slaps in the face by auxiliary characters. I think, in this case and despite my many problems with the movies itselfMan of Steel did well in that department: we followed a determined soldier trying to protect his country from beings vastly out-matching him… and win (sort of) – throwing back a catchy little jab at said beings, at that. Meanwhile, the ultimate, most difficult victory was still Clark’s.

For our own game, we face the same difficulty all game creators do: making boss battles feel meaningful and difficult – without being impossibly frustrating. While we’re a little limited with the Pokemon-like battle-system, acquiring skills and leveling up will vastly aid us in this quest.

Balls of Dragon

That has got to be the single funniest lyric in all of Television Theme Song history. It makes me laugh every time.

Anywho, as many nerds who’ve emerged from the ’90s, I’m a huge fan of the Dragon Ball franchise. And like 99.98% of Dragon Ball fans, I was hugely disappointed with Dragon Ball Evolutions without ever having to see it. I saw the Honest Trailer on YouTube and that was enough. To be totally honest, I saw the cast and knew then and there that I’d never need to see it at all. But lately, I have given some thought to a Dragon Ball movie – mostly lamenting that a good American version will probably never be (because let’s face it: American live-action anime movies suck without fail. Although that’s pretty unfair, considering that Evolutions is literally the only one I can think of, and Initial D was a Hong Kong film). With the recent improvement in superhero movies – which the 80s never thought would be a success – though, I’m willing to entertain the idea (I was super excited to see a Robotech movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but alas!). The problem with Dragon Ball Z? Man of Steel stole its thunder. Really.

If we think about the most compelling Dragon Ball Z story arc, it’s gotta be the coming of Vegeta – a militant hard-ass from a destroyed planet of super-powered aliens – who reveals Goku’s true origins as a member of that race, sent as a babyto basically conquer Earth. Sound a little familiar?

Granted, Clark Kent, even in the new version, was never sent to conquer Earth (although his father did say he’d be a god) – but the rest? I won’t go so far as to say that Zod has taken a page out of Vegeta’s book, since he’s always been after conquest of Earth in just about every incarnation – but the characters are indeed from a similar vein at the outset.

So, in summation, I would not start off a Dragon Ball franchise with Z as the basis. Rather, I would probably actually start with Dragon Ball – a compelling story that I feel is a healthy departure from any American superhero stories to date. Why?

For one, I really appreciate that while, yes, Goku has the genetic edge in being Saiyan, he does work his butt off in martial arts training from the time he was a young boy. We don’t have American superheroes like that; certainly none in the current mass media. I’d say that the closest is Captain America, who was a soldier and has that genetic superiority due to government experiments. Batman also worked for every skill he has, without alien powers of governmental intervention – though he was heir to a billion-dollar fortune that he didn’t work for. One that would fit the bill pretty well, if we ever see her origins, is Wonder Woman – trained as a warrior from a young age and a member of a super-strong race. Still, look at the movies we have: Spider-Man, Superman, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man. All of them pretty miraculously attain their abilities without grueling work – and if grueling work is involved (again, Wonder Woman), we don’t tend to see it; it’s only implied.

If, then, I were to write a Dragon Ball movie – a good one, mind you – I would start with Goku as a child, training under his grandfather, and maybe Master Roshi, in Martial Arts. We would see his transformation into a hero who will work hard to save the world because he was raised to do what’s right. What would be difficult to portray on the big-screen, live-action and starting in this period of Goku’s life is… well… him becoming a giant monkey and crushing his grandfather. I think the monkey bit is a fairly important arc in the overall story; it’s one of the largest threats Vegeta offers when he arrives, it helps explain how the Saiyans thought a baby could destroy earth on his own, and killing the man who raised him is definitely a defining moment in Goku’s life (well, the realization that it was him), but it is very goofy to include in a live-action movie to appeal to Americans at large (unless it’s primarily a children’s movie… which would actually be very fitting, although stepping on your grandfather is not an image most parents want in their children’s minds).

I would definitely set the story in its native Japan. I would cast mostly Japanese actors – although I mean, I don’t care that much about Bulma, for example. Krillin, too. But enough with Asian people taking the backseat in their own stories. No more Tom Cruises being the last samurai, or Keanu Reeves being a ronin (though I know his character was mixed-race, and that’s pretty cool in my book, but still!), no more David Carradines being playing an oppressed bi-racial Chinese man when he knows neither the culture nor the oppression.  I think we’ve reached a point where we’re open-minded enough, as a whole, to watch another race take the lead in a movie franchise. And if we can watch Thor fight monsters in an entirely different realm, we could survive a fictionalized Japan. Or even, forget that and have it be in some made-up parallel-universe. Whatever. It’s not going to be in Oklahoma, is what I’m saying. (Nor in California, Hollywood.)

Anyways, in the first movie, he’d probably be about the age of the kid in Ender’s game for the main storyline. While I’d like to stay away from Piccolo as the villain, to maintain distance from Evolutions, it’s somewhat unavoidable. Though I think chronically his journeys, his dealings with Yamcha for instance, would be pretty fun to watch. There’s already a seed planted for god-aliens in our cultural-subconscious: I can’t be the only one who saw that Ancient Aliens program on History Channel, talking about how this village of Chinese people say that their ancestors came from the stars – that’s a good opening for Kami-sama and how he came to viewed as a god, which also opens the way for Piccolo.

The next movie would take place years later (as the anime similarly lapses), when Goku reunites with the Z fighters to avert a new threat that Kami-sama has alerted them to: the arrival of the Saiyans. During that movie, Vegeta would gain sympathy (as he did the anime) talking about Vegeta (the planet) being destroyed by Freeza. The last installment would see Vegeta and Goku team up to take Freeza down.

I know this cuts out some of the best stuff: Trunks, the androids, the Cell saga. But if I were to stick to a trilogy, that’s probably the arch I would follow.

Not too Super

Tonight, I will be watching Man of Steel for the first time since it was out in theaters. While it was an honest disappointment to me the first time I saw it (didn’t like Clark, or really even Lois although I like Amy Adams, Jonathan Kent’s death was… laughable, it was too “artsy” and long in some parts, Clark’s reckless abandon), there were enough good points that I hope a second watch will improve it (the fight scenes, every Kryptonian that wasn’t Clark).

Basically, half the movie is Clark with this expression on his face.

What did you think about Man of Steel. What do you think about the casting, etc., going on for the sequel?

New TV Tropes?

I occasionally follow Ted Mosby’s quest to find his soul mate and the mother of his future kids in How I Met Your Mother. Given that this is the last season, I’m following it more now than ever before (I mean granted that the whole premise is Ted telling his kids how he met their mother, I *correctly* assumed he hadn’t in past seasons). A more avid fan of The Office, I recognized two last-season stunts pulled out of the same book.

“Minor” Marriages
The series ends with the wedding of two secondary characters (or, non-protagonists). Now, Dwight Schrute, as Barney Stinson, are indisputably main cast of their respective shows. What would either show be if we were left only following the nearly-average lives of the charming but absolutely normal Jim Harper or Ted Mosby? Dwight and Barney are the Urkel or the Sheldon Cooper or the… other… unrealistic but completely hilarious side-character of their shows. But shows of the past have left-off with big, sweeping romances of their main characters/couples. In the last episode of Friends, Rachel decides to stay in New York and be with Ross. In Chuck, Chuck and an amnesiac Sarah kiss and we hope beyond hope that it helped revive her memory or at least gave her reason to stay. Scrubs’ JD and Elliott are flash-forwarded to a time when they have a ring and a kid.

However, The Office refused to implausibly tug the audience around with NINE YEARS of a “will-they-won’t-they” relationship a la Jim and Pam. In a move that I respect immensely, they married the characters off in the middle of their run. Sensing a need to end on a big note, then, and having lost Michael-Scott, they thrust the burden onto our trusty beet-farmer and his crazy cat lady. With their hands similarly tied (the show is not called How I Married Your Mother), but also needing a grand finale, HIMYM is spending an entire season on the wedding of the other half of the main on/off couple.

Trouble in Paradise
Both final seasons heavily feature turmoil in the main, “stable” couple. Marshal and Lily have been the only consistent couple of HIMYM for its nine-year run. Sure, fans like to argue that The Mother has been a character since the beginning, with Ted revealing traits of her throughout his stories. Robin and Barney were coupled-up pretty early on. And there was some ambiguity when Lily when to California during – what? like season 2? Just as Jim and Pam had their uncertainties (Pam was engaged, Jim went to Stamford and dated Karen). But always knew that these couples were “meant to be,” so to speak, and that in the end, they’d be together. However, just to keep things interesting, after years of stability, these couples are finally facing some struggles in light of: 1) the Man’s job, 2) his poor communication skills, 3) his insecurities based on past choices of their wives. And, in both cases, the wife eventually forgives him and comes around.

Jim, for instance, felt justified in carrying family decisions because if he didn’t make big moves without consulting her, “she’d be married to Roy.” Likewise, Marshal has apparently felt second-fiddle to Lily’s art passions since she left him to pursue it back in the second season. Both may be a little justified in their reasoning because both always, even before and during marriage, supported their wives in their artistic endeavors (Jim encouraged Pam, while dating, to take courses in NYC, Marshal was willing to move to Italy). The Women, however, feel short-changed because of their lack of input in these important family decisions, although they ultimately recognize it as an important step both for their husbands and their families.

Now, probably the writers of HIMYM didn’t watch The Office and think: “Yes, that’s what needs to happen.” But with the primary drama resolving (The Mother finally being introduced/Robin officially unavailable to Ted and… uh… what was the primary drama after Michael Scott left? Andy/Ellie? Dwight/Angela? The Senator/Oscar?), the writers needed to add a little tension… and they needed to do it to relationships that audiences already care about: Dwight/Angela & Barney/Robin and Pam/Jim & Lily/Marshal.

As much as these similar themes are not evidence of copy-catting, can they be evidence of good writing?

Good writing or another trope in the making?
In the case of The Office, this tension (and ending with Dwight so deep in perfectenschlag – and just to be clear, not the SECOND definition) resulted in one of the show’s best seasons in years – probably since Jim and Pam’s wedding. After taking a back-seat since their season 6 wedding, they showed that a couple of years did not let their on-screen magnetism decay. They delivered some very believable performances as a couple in turmoil (that’s not to say I thought the premise, of nice-guy Jim taking a job without consulting his soul mate was entirely believable, but their acting certainly helped suspend my disbelief). The scene, for example, where Jim and Pam had an argument over the phone about CeCe’s recital, and Pam hangs up, holds back tears, and looks up at the camera was really a good depiction. As much as I would love to chalk it up to good writing, a lot of it was good acting, good directing, and good chemistry.

I feel that way a little less with HIMYM. Not only did the writers make the bizarre choice of making one weekend into an ENTIRE SEASON (though I can see how that adds a little tension, like a runner that’s seconds from the finish line), but they haven’t delivered a whole lot of great episodes. While I won’t complain about the “yellow-face” in the Slap episode (I feel like they were parodying erroneous Western interpretations of Asian culture from the past than the cultures themselves), and it was a little giggle-worthy episode, it was so clearly filler that added nothing to the plot that I may as well not have watched it. While I feel that definitely “How Your Mother Met Me” was the highlight of the season thus far, I do think “Sunrise” was a good one, too – Ted lets Robin go. Marshal and Lily reconcile. Barney passes on his “old life” to new bros, it’s not because of the added tension this season – though without the tension M/L’s arc wouldn’t have conveniently resolved along with the rest of the gang’s.

Focusing a big, last event on a secondary character can have huge pay-offs. For the Dwights and Sheldons of the world, much beloved by fans who only want to see their resulting bliss, it’s an excellent move. And when I think about HIMYM resolving as it did – Ted letting Robin go – I think thematically it was much better than the typical trope of the very transparent, “will-they-won’t-they-of-course-they-will.” I actually really like that the broke the mold, because that’s life: if a person is not interested in his/her friend, it may never change. As far as satisfying entertainment, though, perhaps if it were a couple more compelling than Robin and Barney it would’ve engaged me more. For instance, I really liked Kevin (or Kumar, or whatever). If Robin were marrying Kevin, I think I’d be on-board… because again, that’s life: sometimes a new person walks in that demonstrates for you exactly why you never really clicked with any of the rest you knew. But ah… television is designed to reflect what we want, not what we are forced to live with.

What do you think?

Four Things Everyone Needs to be a Creator

Four Things Everyone Need to Become Creators

At certain points in my life, upon hearing a statement like that, I might think that “talent” would be at the top of my list – I’m not going to lie. And not because I’m so talented or anything; on the contrary, it’s my lack of talent that has made me feel this way, for example, when confronted with a piece of art forever beyond my capabilities. But more and more I’m learning: talent is not necessarily needed to be creative, and as you’ve probably noticed, not even to be commercially successful.

Yeah, you’ve noticed.

In fact, someone can actually create with little talent in the medium and still be good. No offense to John Porcellino, for example, but the indie-American comic Perfect Example is… well… a perfect example of that. His drawings aren’t particularly great – I don’t know if that’s intentional or not – but it’s effective in telling his story; and that’s something I can appreciate.

From my readings, watchings, listenings and attempts of creativity, these, in no particular order, are some of the traits that creators just need.

1.       Something to Say
It seems to me that creativity is synonymous with self-expression. That may seem really obvious… or that may be a statement that people take exception to. But at least for me, a person who loves to draw and write, all creative endeavors come about because I want to show the world, or at least my audience, something about myself.

Now Justin seems pretty content creating simply for the fun of it. He makes music, and not always to express emotion (often not, in fact), and The Lotus War really came about because he wanted to make a video game. Not because he wanted a statement about racism or war or anything. It is, however, at core, an expression of Justin’s fondness for video games. That is the statement he’s making with that (in addition to the rest that we decided to add in); he likes video games (and making music and computers and good stories and working with me, of course) and to the extent that he wants to participate in the creation of one.

And there’s nothing wrong with creating for the sake of creating; it’s fantastic to really just enjoy the act of creation. Lots of people start each and every project that way. Writers, musicians, visual artists… they start with the feeling of “I like sculpting” or “I liked writing” and then think “What can I write/sculpt/draw about?” I’m pretty sure Stephen King didn’t write Carrie because he was swept up in the idea of “bullies are not cool… how I can I use supernatural phenomenon to show that? Huh… and in what medium?” It was probably “I need to write. What should I write about?”

So it may start with a base of “I want to show my love of [insert medium here] to the world!” but eventually that desire will latch onto a theme, and that theme will shape the work.

2.       An Audience
So this is the point when people are going to say, “I have a whole bookshelf full of notebooks with poetry/drawings/My Little Ponies/Beast Wars fan-fiction that I’ve never shown anyone!” And to this I say: great, me too. In fact, for the longest time, I could not be in the same room when a person read/viewed my work. I couldn’t sit there and see their face because I’d analyze them in terror as they analyzed me on page. Also, I’d keep interrupting, “Have you gotten to that point yet? Because let me explain why I did this one thing…” so they’d have my verbal explanation rendering their feedback moot before they could ever give it to me.

Still, regardless of whether My Little Beast-Ponies’ War: A Romeo and Juliet Story has ever or will ever see the light of day, you cannot deny that it was written for someone – even if that someone is only you, as you sit in your room sketching ponies riding rainbows into combat against robo-organic entities.

The catch is, Firefly Meets Outlaw Star (oh, wait, that can’t happen; they’re the same thing. BURN!) probably will end up seeing the light of day… or at least the digital light of the internet. Even if you post it anonymously in a fan forum or have a little LiveJournal dedicated to odd mash-ups, you’re casting a net for an audience of your work because creativity thrives on a give-and-take/show-and-tell relationship.

3.       Time

Oh, and what time. And who has that time? Most work, if lucky, 40-hour-per-week, soul-sucking jobs that eat up our time and kill our creative instincts. No wonder artists need to be starving. It’s either starve and make or eat and don’t. Or at least it certainly feels that way. I mean, after an eight-hour day of working by compulsion, all we want to do is decompress and watch The X-Files re-runs. Hurrah. Even if you really, really enjoy playing clarinet or whatever, by the end of the day, you’re drained of creative energy. And that’s a sad state to be in. That’s the kind of state that makes me hate work. My job itself doesn’t do it; it’s the all-consuming energy that it takes.

But I find that carving out the time to do it helps. Just like most of us got home drained from school and then had to do homework on top of that, if we set a time and then sit down and make ourselves do it, we’ll find that it’s not that hard. And it’s a lot more enjoyable than homework to boot.

4.       Endurance (or, in lieu of that, a partner with endurance who will spur you on)
This is something that has historically eluded me. No matter how much I long to create, really, really at the core want to and respect people who do, I’m horrible at follow-through. Inspiration strikes and for a while, I’m really excited by the prospect of this new project… and then half way through, a new idea comes to mind and I get excited about that instead. And the cycle continues. Then a while later, I’ll try to pick up the first idea (which in itself had supplanted some other now-antiquated one) but my style or my “something to say” or my vision has changed so drastically that I feel compelled to start again… from the beginning. Scrap what I had and re-do it all. Not exhilarating work.

Even now, with The Lotus War, this lack of “stick-to-it-ness” has afflicted me. Justin and I already have ideas for two more games – one of which was my idea for a comic that’s large and exciting to me, so I’m really motivated to do that. Not to mention, little side comics I’d like to do of a personal nature. It’s getting difficult to keep trucking along drawing character portraits – especially since now all the major players are done. I don’t have a clear picture of what else I want to say.

Two saving graces are keeping me going: the multi-faceted nature of video game making (I can do portraits or make battlers or work on the origins comic or map or…) and Justin – who is very good at project-oriented work. He’s the little nudge that keeps me trucking.