Project B

Now that I’ve explained that Super Secret Project B is a JRPG-style video game based in the world of the Farshores Saga, I can no longer really call it super secret. It’s only kind of secret. And by the end of this post, nothing about it will be a secret.

When I first started developing the game as a serious production, I had intended it as a prelude to the series, explaining where the sheggam came from, as well as providing backstory for some of the main characters while introducing new ones and advancing its own self-contained story. At some point, I realized that in order for the game to achieve its maximal impact, it would have to be released after the final book in the Farshores Saga. That way, it wouldn’t answer any questions before the reader has had a chance to raise them.

However, this made me nervous for a couple of related reasons. First, that’s a long damn time to wait. I’m not that patient, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done with the game so far and I can’t wait to finish it and get it out there. Second, I had intended the Farshores Saga to be longer than a trilogy, and at that point, somewhat open-ended in terms of length. I didn’t know if it would be six books or twelve books. It could be a great many years before the world saw a tie-in video game. I didn’t want that idea to eventually fall by the wayside because I was too busy with the novels. They’re both important to me, perhaps equally so. I didn’t want to sacrifice one to the other.

Then one night, an idea came to me. Why did it have to be just one game? Couldn’t I break the game up into small pieces, more digestible for me and its potential players? So that’s what I decided to do. Production suddenly didn’t seem so daunting, and completing the first game seemed a much more reasonable goal. And I know that once I finish one, making the rest would be a downhill effort. Only one question remained: how many games?

I decided that I would tie the number of games to the number of novels, and release each game after a novel. I began to plan out the entire arc of the games, breaking them up when I thought it was appropriate. I soon realized that with the length of story I wanted to tell in the games that there would be five of them.

And that’s how I came up with the length of the Farshores Saga. Five games, so five novels.

It was good to set that limit for myself. It’s one of the reasons I have planned so far ahead in the novel series; the limit gave me structure to work with. I knew how much time I needed to accomplish a certain story goal, and that put constraints on what I could do with the story. Plotting it became a lot easier. There are a lot of details to work out still, particularly in the later books, but I know where I need to go.

As for the games, well… the main quest is entirely plotted out for all five games. It’s done. Written in shorthand in a notebook, but done. All that remains is implementation and adding side quests for flavor and depth. That’s still a lot of work, most of the work actually, but I’ll never wonder where the games need to go. That roadmap is finished.

So what about implementation? I’ve been working on the first game for a while now, and I can already tell you that the beginning is completely playable. I recently made significant changes to the gameplay and art style, but they were worth the time to do. I’m in the process of making it better, but a good chunk of the game is done. If I were to put a number to it, I’d say 30%. The one thing that can slow me down is getting too excited and adding things it doesn’t need.

Initially, when I envisioned it as a single game, I called it The Birth of Maelstrom (what the name means, I’ll leave you to wonder until book 5😉 ). This hasn’t changed, but that’s now the name of the series instead, with each installment getting a number and a subtitle.

The titles are, tentatively, as follows:

I – Ghosthand

II – High Tyrant’s Sword

III – Memory Orbs

IV – God Seed

V – Eternity Thorn

And while each series will stand on its own completely, they will also work together, shining light on mysteries in each and enriching the world of Farshores. For example, at the end of Ghosthand, we learn what the sheggam really are and where they come from, a question that is only answered in part in the novel series. Yet, it isn’t information given solely to please fans of the novels; the information is actually an essential aspect of the overall plot of the game series. And even though each series shines a little light on the other, it doesn’t do so in a way that spoils anything or ruins any surprises. I hate spoilers as much as anyone, so I was very careful to construct everything in a way that avoids them.

Maelstrom follows Jurin, a young Sword Patterner and captain of a specialized mercenary group called Ghosthand. They’re in pursuit of a terrorist group called Atarax, who is planning to embroil the world in war in a misguided attempt to bring world peace.

The games will differ from the novels in a number of different ways. Most importantly, tone. Maelstrom will be quite a bit lighter than Farshores, especially in the beginning. This was a conscious decision. I wanted someone who was familiar with Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest to play Maelstrom and come away feeling enriched, not disturbed. And while there is a lot of fighting in the game, there isn’t the same level of violence that will be a major part of Farshores. Somewhat paradoxically, though, Maelstrom will be the tragedy of the two, since it details the events leading up to the sheggam scourge that nearly destroys the world (even though that particular event doesn’t actually happen in the games). As the release of both gets closer, I’m going to stress this difference so fans of one aren’t too surprised or disappointed in the other. That said, while the tone and level of violence will be different, the level of storytelling will be the same in both. Maelstrom isn’t dumbed down at all, just filtered for content appropriate to the medium.

In my post To Indie or Not to Indie, I mentioned that I intended to take a hybrid approach to my writing career, with a mix of traditional and indie publishing. Maelstrom will be the indie part of that. My plan is to release the games on PC and Mac through Steam, as well as through the Apple Store and Google Play Store, a few months after each novel is released. I hope that this release schedule will keep the Farshores world fresh in the minds of fans and draw fans of one series into the other while they wait. I’m really excited to show both to the world, and I hope you’ll be there when it happens. Thanks for reading and let me know what you think in the comments!

So What is Farshores, Anyway?

As I mentioned in my last post, the Farshores world encompasses much more than the just the events of a novel series. But let us focus on that for a moment first, and Shoreseeker in particular. Here is a description:

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Over six hundred years ago, a race of monsters called the sheggam swept across the world like a plague, killing everyone in their path. Mankind was driven to the brink of annihilation, and only found refuge behind a magical wall designed to repel the sheggam. Now, all that’s left of humanity is huddled behind Andrin’s Wall on a small peninsula called the Sutherlands.

Despite having faced extinction, humanity was able to rebuild. Grand cities were constructed, and the magical art of Patterning, nearly lost in the war with the sheggam, began to flourish again. The horrors of the sheggam scourge were far removed from the lives of ordinary citizens, and as the centuries passed, the dark memories of that time faded into myth.

At the time of the completion of Andrin’s Wall, a ripple in the world’s Pattern had caused a second barrier to be formed, called the Rift, which divided the Sutherlands in two: Naruvieth, a small city on the peninsula’s southern tip; and the many cities of the Accord in the north. All contact between the two lands had been severed almost from the beginning. Yet three years ago, a highway called the Runeway, created with magic once thought impossible, bridged the two lands, allowing contact between them for the first time in hundreds of years.

Not everyone is pleased with this, however. Tharadis, the Warden of Naruvieth, will do anything to stop the Runeway’s completion, even risk a war with all of the Accord. For, as humanity learned so long ago, there are worse things in the world than war. And all of them are poised on the other side of Andrin’s Wall.

*

So, what do you think? I know that if I had read this on the back of a book cover or in its product description, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick it up. I think that is every writer’s goal, to create fiction that he or she would enjoy reading. Shoreseeker is exactly the kind of book I would like to see more of, so I’m doing what I can to rectify this lack.

It’s hard to talk about the series without giving away too much about Shoreseeker, but one can only be too careful. It is an epic fantasy series, so you probably already know that the Sutherlands are too small to contain it. And what fantasy author would waste a big, scary world devastated by monsters? I, for one, wouldn’t.

While Shoreseeker starts in a more-or-less familiar epic fantasy world, the kind you could expect in a Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind novel, it becomes horrific by the end. While fantasy has its dark worlds, such as anything that falls into the grimdark category, I haven’t come across any that are really that scary. One of my goals in this series is to create an epic fantasy that can give you nightmares.

But not because I think there is inherent value in giving people nightmares. I’d rather not have them myself. But one of the main reasons I’m writing this series is to give a home to the main character, Tharadis.

In a previous post, I mentioned that one of the reasons I write is to explore what makes us humans tick. A lot of dark fiction works do this, but they often examine how people break down in times of adversity. It’s fiction like this that gave rise to the idea of the anti-hero. This kind of fiction is almost always tragic, in the sense that even when the main characters get what they want, no one is really satisfied.

This kind of fiction is almost universally described as realistic, which is to say it accurately describes the human condition. “That’s the way the world works,” it implies. “Everything sucks, so you’d better get used to it.”

Perhaps it does end up that way for a lot of people. But it doesn’t have to.

Art can be powerful. It can be a light in the darkness. The world can be a cruel place; no one needs confirmation of that. But there is something that people often forget—goodness is real. And it can win. Sometimes we need art to remind of this. Personally, the books that I cherish the most are those that remind me of this simple yet profound truth.

So how does the world of Farshores, as relentlessly brutal as it often is, lead us to this idea?

Because some lights shine brightest in the darkest of nights.

To Farshores, and Beyond: Part II

As much as traditional publishing gave way to indie publishing with the advent of new platforms such as Kindle and Nook, so too did the video game industry change. Steam, Valve’s world-conquering distribution platform, changed the way developers reached gamers. One no longer needed a big publisher like Electronic Arts or Square-Enix to distribute games. You could do it directly, as long as you had a product that gamers would want.

But creating a game is still a monumental undertaking. When I was working at Nintendo, a few of my friends who also worked there decided to get together to create a game. I was brought in as the writer, having already published some of my Fourth World stuff. We started planning. But even this group of very motivated gamers did not get far beyond the planning stage. Creating a game is not as simple as just sitting in front of a keyboard and typing away. There are a lot of moving parts that require specialized knowledge. Failure to understand all of these parts could result in a game that is completely unplayable.

This is true of writing, too. One must patch all those plot holes or readers will complain. But it’s a much bigger deal for games. Imagine making a mistake while typing away in your novel, and the entire thing suddenly becomes completely unreadable. Such a catastrophe would never happen from a typo in a novel, but frequently does in a typo of computer code. And even if catastrophe does strike and a novel is lost, it’s usually because of some computer problem. Game developers deal with this routinely.

The biggest obstacle for us, however, was managing a team. When writing a novel, you are responsible only to yourself (for the most part). Only your schedule matters. Only your creative direction matters. As long as you create something of quality, you’ve done your job.

With video games, everyone on the team has their own ideas, their own schedules. There are bottlenecks. Technical incompatibilities. Creative differences. Any one of these could cause the project to collapse.

Despite having committed to the novelist path, I still kept my ear to the ground when it came to game development. Games still did something for me that novels didn’t, and perhaps, subconsciously, I knew that I still had the urge to create games.

I eventually came upon tools that allowed a single, focused game developer to create games much like those I loved since that fateful day in 1997: Japanese-style RPGs.

I thought, “What the heck. I’ll give it a shot.” I thought it would be a nice way to scratch that itch, even if nothing ever really came of it.

It was turning out pretty well, so I thought I would incorporate some of the ideas of the Farshores Saga into it, and make it part of the history of the Farshores world. I thought it would help me make the world real for me and help bring out some of that flavor into the novels. It would also give me an opportunity to create backstory for the characters.

At one point, I was playing through what I had created. I knew that it was more than just a repository of backstory and worldbuilding to aid in the creation of my novels.

I knew I could make a game that other people would want to play.

Thus was Super Secret Project B born (the “B” stands for “Brandon” because I’m, uh, super-creative).

I’ll have more details about this project in an upcoming post.

To Farshores, and Beyond: Part I

I remember when I decided to be a writer. Not the exact day, but I remember the event that triggered it. I’m sure many writers remember a similar event in their lives: the first time they read the Lord of the Rings, the first time they watched Star Wars, or some other exposure to a work they wanted to emulate. That work likely got them thinking about how that story could continue. They felt as if they had begun a conversation, and now it was their turn to speak.

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I had dabbled in fan fiction. BattleTech fan fiction, to be exact. I was a GM for the BattleTech RPG, called MechWarrior. I loved creating stories for the neighbor kids, who themselves loved participating in them. Years later, one of those same neighbors recalled fondly a particular adventure I had taken him on in our little mech-filled universe. That was a big moment for me. I also loved reading BattleTech novels—particularly the ones written by Michael Stackpole—and eventually thought I should try my hand at writing one.

I did. It wasn’t good, and I only wrote a few pages before I ran out of steam. I decided to go back to what I was good at, which was running our game.

This wasn’t the moment that triggered the “I am a writer” compulsion in me, not really. It was just a false start. The real moment wouldn’t come until years later, but it too was brought about not by a novel or a movie, but by another game.

The year was 1997. I was just about to turn 14 when that fateful moment occurred. When Final Fantasy VII was released.

One of the neighbor kids (different from the BattleTech neighbor kids) brought over a copy of the game to play on my sister’s PlayStation. It was all this kid would talk about, and he begged me to borrow it so he could talk about it with someone who understood it. I did borrow it, somewhat skeptical (I was a dyed-in-the-wool sci-fi guy, and wasn’t interested in fairy tales and fantasies), and gave the disc a spin later that evening.

I went to bed, red-eyed and bleary, at around 7 AM the next day. And at that moment I severely resented my body and its stupid need for sleep. As soon as my eyes were open—perhaps after about 4 or 5 hours of sleep—I was back in Midgar with my spiky yellow hair and enormous Buster Sword.

ff7_us

When I finally finished the game, I sat back and realized something.

I could do this. I could write a video game script. Perhaps one even worthy of Final Fantasy.

That was the moment.

From that moment on, I was consumed with the idea of creating my own RPG, from developing the world and characters, to writing every line of dialogue. For that game, which I had titled Paradigm (for some reason), I had come up with some unique twists on the typical JRPG formula that the world wouldn’t see until years later, with the release of Final Fantasy XII (I honestly think someone in Japan read the script from Paradigm before creating that game. It had way too much in common with the one I was making).

I became an avid JRPG fan and played everything I could get my hands on. Another pivotal moment was, of course, the next iteration of Final Fantasy. This game, with its more realistic characters and (slightly) more realistic setting was more in line with what I wanted to create, me being the sci-fi guy. It was then that I decided on my hero, who incidentally had an awful lot in common with FF8’s hero, Squall.

I worked on this game for years before I finally was able to type the words “The End.” In that time, I had researched what it took to be a writer in the video game industry. It turns out to be a lot harder than I had naively thought as a 14-year-old kid. A lot of writers started out in testing, then worked their way up through design and finally into writing. Others already had writing credits to their name, having written stories and novels or worked in some other media before finally writing for video games. One does not simply declare oneself a video game writer, I learned to my dismay.

It was a sobering lesson. That was where I wanted to go. Into writing video games. I seriously considered going in through the testing route, and even tried my hand at it for a brief time, before I learned that was not where my skills lay, and I would have to work harder than everyone else just to get to the point where I could write games.

Then I turned to the other common route: writing in other media. The obvious media was novels. I had read a lot growing up, and when I started seriously considered writing novels, I had recently discovered a genre I had previously scorned: fantasy.

You see, I had never actually read a fantasy novel until I was 23. If there weren’t any spaceships or robots, I wasn’t interested. But once I finally caved into pressure and picked up my first fantasy novel, a little book called Wizard’s First Rule, I became utterly and totally obsessed. This was the second time in my life that I was convinced I would be a writer. This time, a writer of novels.

It wasn’t long before I decided that writing for video games would be just another dream job that I grew out of, like being an astronaut, a mad scientist, or a ninja. Writing novels would scratch the same itch as writing video games, and didn’t need to be a mere means to an end. It could be an end in itself.

I proceeded with this line of thinking for years, and much to my benefit. Here I am, on the eve of completing my first novel, and I am satisfied.

Mostly.

To Indie or Not to Indie

As I mentioned in a previous post, a story I had written, called Scrapyard Paradise, had been accepted in an anthology called A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, published by WordFire Press (you can buy it here and elsewhere). Getting that acceptance email was easily one of the highlights of my burgeoning career as a writer. Another was getting this:

A Game of Horns

One in the hand is worth two in the ereader.

Now, I’m a big fan of ebooks. I’ve got a Kindle and a Kindle Fire, and I often read books on my phone. And having moved around the world, I had to part ways with my large collection of paper books. I think electronic books are the future of reading, and paper books will eventually go the way of the candle. Good for decorating your house, but not as useful as its more technologically-advanced counterpart.

But damn, does it feel good to hold my book in my hands.

I’ve published my own ebooks before, and every time I did, I felt satisfied and proud of the hard work I had done. But none of that came even close to getting this professionally-produced and published book in the mail, seeing its gorgeous cover, feeling the heft of it in my hands. I could never make anything as wonderful as this.

The moment I realized that, I knew what I would do with the Farshores Saga, something I hadn’t yet attempted (with the exception of Scrapyard Paradise): I would seek out a traditional publisher.

Although I’m not entirely satisfied with the Fourth World series (what kind of author would I be if I were satisfied with something I had written?), much of the feedback I received about it was positive. I thought the stories were pretty decent, if a bit unconventional and overly ambitious. Even so, they never really generated buzz or took off by any stretch of the imagination. Part of the reason could be that I never spent the money to give them the professional treatment they needed. I tried too hard to do everything myself instead outsourcing to people who knew how best to publish a book. Another part, and perhaps the more significant part, is that if I didn’t go out there and generate buzz about the books myself, no one would. And I didn’t.

A lot of traditionally published authors say they work just as hard to promote their books as any indie-published author. And that may be true, especially for the more successful ones. But it’s undeniable that simply having a publisher in your corner, someone who was willing to take a chance on you, is itself a promotion of your work. Some of my friends who had never read my Fourth World stories picked up a copy of the anthology simply because they knew it was traditionally published. I think there’s a lesson in there, and it’s that traditional publishing is the way to go for me.

Of course, one does not simply will a publishing contract into existence. You need to have a product that the publisher wants, and you have to show them why it’s in their interest to publish it. My writing group is a phenomenal group of people who, when they combine their powers, are like the Voltron of polishing a manuscript. With their excellent feedback, I’ve been able to take my novel to a much higher level. I’m confident that when it’s finished, it will be ready for the big leagues.

Plus, with Scrapyard Paradise, I’ve shown that going this route is not as far-fetched as I once thought. I know it’s achievable because, in the case of my short story, I’ve already achieved it. Now it’s just a matter of doing the best work I can to make it happen with my novel too. And honestly, while I liked Scrapyard Paradise as a story, Shoreseeker is at least fifty bajillion times better.

But the question of going indie or not is actually a false dilemma. An idea that I had toyed with when I was just starting out with the Fourth World was a hybrid approach to publishing: traditionally publishing some things, independently publishing others. A lot of authors have tried this approach with success, and I think especially given my own inclinations as a writer, this is the best way for me. So I will traditionally publish my novels.

As for independently published stuff? Well, that’s where Super Secret Project B comes in.

Resolutions

Happy New Years, everyone! I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted any updates, and I’ve got a few that I’d like to share, so here goes.

First, and most important: my novel. I’ve been working on this beast for a while now, but life keeps getting in the way. It’s taken me a lot longer than I would have liked to get as far as I have, but the great news is I’m really far. Around 80%. So it’s no longer pie-in-the-sky. It’s pie-in-the-oven, and it’s starting to smell really good (from where I’m sitting in the kitchen. Okay, enough of the metaphor abuse). I intend, nay, resolve to finish this novel this year, including revision and editing.

Also, I’ve decided to change the title of the novel to Shoreseeker (let me know what you think in the comments). Previously, it was Fall of the Moon, but after heavily revising the worldbuilding and plot, that title no longer made a shred of sense, so I had to ditch it. Shoreseeker actually figures into the plot, the characters, the setting, and the theme. It doesn’t get any more perfect than that. The only concern I had about it was whether or not it would fit better on a book later in the series. In the end, I decided that it would be the title of book one.

Regarding the whole novel series, I have news on that as well. It will be called the Farshores Saga, and I plan it to be five books long (more on that in a later post). One of the main problems I had with the Fourth World series was I knew where I wanted to start, but I wasn’t all that sure where I wanted to end up. That was one of the reasons I abandoned that series (sorry to those who were hoping for more of the Fourth World – I don’t see that happening any time in the near future). I don’t have that problem at all with the Farshores Saga – quite the opposite. I’ve already had to shelve some really rad ideas because I don’t want the series to bloat up. Which is to say, I know where I’m going, from beginning to end. I’ve completely mapped out the main character’s arc for the whole series. I’ve already written some of the prologues and epilogues to later volumes (which helped me develop the overall direction of the series). I know how the final confrontation is going to play out, and I’ve even foreshadowed it a little in Shoreseeker.

I’ve learned my lesson from the Fourth World, so I guarantee I won’t run into the same kind of problems that I had with that series.

But with the Farshores Saga, I’m doing so much more than avoiding the things that plagued my last series. I’m creating something that I am truly passionate about, something that I truly believe in. The Fourth World, as the title implies, was an exploration of a particular kind of world, one with metaphysics that differed greatly from our own world: it was a universe where no one truly died, but merely went back and forth between different worlds. All of the stories in that series came from that one idea. As such, it wasn’t really about any particular characters and didn’t really capture any particular themes, other than that purely fantastical one.

That’s all well and good, but that’s not the kind of writer I am. While I certainly write in the fantasy genre, the things I want to see on the page after my fingers have hit the keys are themes about what it means to be human, to be alive. I am as passionate about these kinds of themes as I am about fantasy, and to see them melded together is what I hope to do.

Farshores is the manifestation of this dream.

As proud as I am of what I did with the Fourth World, I feel like that was just a stepping stone, something to get me ready for creating a story I can really pour myself into. I’m really excited to be able to share this with everyone, and I’m even more excited that it’s getting so close to completion.

In a later post, I’ll talk more about how I plan this series to be published, as well as Super Secret Project B, so stay tuned!

Red Unicorns

For the past several hours, I’ve been pacing and fidgeting around my computer, wondering if ten minutes is too short a time to wait before checking my email again. I went back on forth on the issue, and eventually decided that only waiting five minutes was probably fine. I’m pretty sure I started checking it every three minutes.

Last year, a call for submissions to an anthology went out to the alumni of Superstars Writing Seminars. I was an alum, but I hadn’t been keeping up with the others much over the past couple years, and I had my hands full with my own projects and living in a new country. I didn’t submit.

That anthology had one driving theme and one basic requirement: purple unicorns. While a fantasy buff, I hadn’t developed much of an interest in unicorns since I cracked open my first fantasy novel. I didn’t think I had a unicorn story in me.

Unicorns, man. Unicorns.

Even so, I watched the proceedings with interest. The anthology, called One Horn to Rule Them All: A Purple Unicorn Anthology, was released in August of last year by WordFire Press. It was well-received, and sales exceeded expectations. The stories were strong, the artwork (by the talented James A. Owen) excellent.

Its publication wasn’t like that of any other anthology, at least not for me. Many of the authors in that anthology were people that I had met and knew, and because of that, I was buoyed by their infectious joy. Even though I wasn’t a part of the anthology, I couldn’t help but feed off of the enthusiasm and excitement of those who were.

I don’t often feel regret, but at that time, I felt more than a bit. I wanted in, but I had missed my window.

At least, that’s what I thought.

A few months ago, another call went out, this time for Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology. I still didn’t have any unicorn stories in me burning to get out, but I decided that could be an advantage: I would write a unicorn story that wasn’t your average unicorn story. It wouldn’t be laden with castles or forests or young Tom Cruises in scalemail.

Thus was born “Scrapyard Paradise,” a post-apocalyptic alien invasion unicorn story. I can’t be 100% sure, but it might be the first of its kind.

I wrote it, polished it (with the help of my brutal, bloodthirsty comrades, the Tokyo Writers Workshop, as well as my parents — voracious readers, both of them), and sent it off. I also tried to forget about it while I waited, but that didn’t work out so well.

Finally, yesterday, the editor began to send out notifications in waves. I waited and waited and waited. No email.

Then she announced the table of contents for the anthology. “Scrapyard Paradise” was there. I checked and saw the email she had sent, confirming it. I was in.

There was dancing, and it may or may not have involved the Running Man.

I will probably share more about this later, but for now, please excuse me while I go watch Tim Curry in a devil suit.