Category Archives: Pop Culture

Using Scrivener for Game Design

It’s been quite a while now, but once upon a time I wrote a post about a software tool for writers called Scrivener that revolutionizes the way authors create worlds. This post attempted both to inform how it works and to review it as a product, based on the lessons taught in the tutorial. I had planned on writing a follow-up post that covers the remaining sections of the tutorial, but I never tackled that post because I never finished the tutorial. I’ve since bought an online course at Udemy on how to learn to use Scrivener and haven’t looked back. I decided not to write the second half of the post because there are plenty of videos that do a better job showing what I can only write about, and my point was pretty much made in the first part anyway.

But, the moral of the story, in both my post and the many videos on the software that you can find on Udemy, YouTube, or anywhere that Scrivener exists, is that Scrivener is the best tool for writers since the typewriter, and it’s just a good idea to have it.

What none of these courses, posts, or the like will tell you, however, is that Scrivener is not just a decent world-building tool for writers, screenwriters, and bloggers. It can also be used for game designers.

What???

Yes. But to make that make sense, let me first remind you what Scrivener is:

Scrivener is a project-based design tool that keeps all of your documents, web links, video files, PDFs, etc. in one place. What does that mean? It means you can use the program to plan out your games extensively, from the journal itself, to character bios and files, to maps of your games, and so on. You can also tag your assets, keep notes on every file, view select files at once, maintain side-by-side comparisons of documents (perfect for scripting), and so on.

Here is a sample of what my game design journal for Entrepreneur: The Beginning looks like in Scrivener.

From my May 25, 2009 entry:

scrivener game design 1

Notice all of the many tabs in the left binder that have dates attached? Yep, those are journal entries. I can track my development progress, ideas, etc. by clicking on the tab for that day. Because I can tag items with labels and/or keywords, searching for specific terms is quick and easy. If I need to find out what my plans are for the trashcans west of the game’s town, I can search for the keyword “trash” and see what pops up.

Next, here’s an early version of the game map that I produced in another program. I’ve imported it as a PNG file, and here we are. If I need to get a quick reference on where a store is located, I don’t have to open the game file to find it. I can just look at the graphic I posted in Scrivener.

A visual map of Hybrid City to remind me where everything is located:

scrivener game design 2

And that’s not all. Games require a programming language specific to the engines they’re designed on, and Scrivener, while not a compiling source, and not recommended for actual coding, can still be used as a storage container for active codes or scripts, and even used as a before and after example if certain code needs revision.

Here is a sample of what my plotscript file looks like in Scrivener. This comes from HSPEAK, the scripting language for the OHRRPGCE, which is the engine I use to design Entrepreneur: The Beginning.

The script I use for starting the game:

scrivener game design 3

Because Scrivener does not work as a compiling source, you would need to copy your scripts to a text file and compile from there. Or, you could probably export your scripts into a single text file, or into a document that you can convert into a text file. It’s neither hard nor time-consuming. But again, it is perfect for keeping track of scripts and for taking notes on what each script is used for, and even where you might be using it in the game.

An example of the side-by-side view, using the search parameter “random text”:

scrivener game design 6

You can also keep a chart that tracks how you’re using your assets in case you want to make a drastic change to one of your systems.

Keeping track of game assets:

scrivener game design 4

But Scrivener is not just a place to update your design journal or list locations of assets. You can also write the story in the same file you keep graphic images, research, etc.

Here is a sample of a story script in Scrivener. The program comes with various templates to help you draft the perfect story in your preferred format. It also comes with character and setting sheet templates to help you flesh out your people and locales during the design phase.

Note: Those templates are usually located in the novel formats, but you can import and use them wherever you want.

A sample story script from the game’s introduction:

scrivener game design 5

If these screenshots don’t do enough to convince you that this program is awesome and a great tool for game designers, then check out this three-part video I recorded on the topic.

Video 1 (Design Journal): https://youtu.be/N9kcDbOBB_Y

Video 2 (Plotscripting): https://youtu.be/9DhhU0CZJCo

Video 3 (Screenwriting): https://youtu.be/YNnj6G5d8Ho

Full Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2ihfMnuinWPyDkNfgtqSotqWuonxKqWM

This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding all of its possibilities. Scrivener is the ultimate organizational tool, and it can even import mind maps if you have supported software. It’s extremely versatile, and after going through a minor learning curve, anyone can find a use for it in game design planning, or any type of design, and it can even replace the need for a Trello account if you’re clever enough.

It does come with a price tag, but it’s low compared to most writing software, and probably more useful than most of them.

So far, it’s saving me the burden of getting lost in my plotscript rewrites, and it’s reminding me of all of those unimplemented features I’ve forgotten about.

scrivener game design 7

Scrivener can be bought and downloaded at https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php.

You can also try it for free for 30 days. So, if you’re on the fence, you can explore that fence without fear of falling too hard on your crotch.

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Cover image from Pixabay

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My First Mullet: Along Came a Man Bun

(A Tale Told in Three Acts)

Narrator:

From the dawn of time,
To the dusk of the present,
Man has warred internal
Over matters of many,
From the depths of his wallet,
To the tip-tops of his very head,
Raging against new horrors,
Nitpicking at the mundane,
Yet feeling lost at all points
Here and in between.

This personal strife
Has not abated quietly,
For the man must fight daily
With those demented elements
That come hotly against him,
Designed to inconvenience,
Or simply to put him out
Into the cold, dark world
Of vanity.

This war internal
Has not been a lone battle,
But a war of singularity’s parts,
A test of will against the pieces,
The pieces that define him,
And the bits that form him,
Internal and external,
Of blood and mullet alike.

This war has raged
Since the beginning of time.
But today, perhaps,
Man shall, at last, see its end.
Today, perhaps,
He may put his strife to rest.
Given that nothing happens
To compromise the peace he seeks
With those pieces of himself
That have remained at war.
Perhaps, today, if all bodes well,
Man will be at peace with his mullet.

Man:

Will our madness ever cease,
This perversion of taste,
Such antithesis to peace?

Or, are we destined to skirmish,
All day, into night
Like some confused dervish?

Uncomfortable with our sight,
Steadfast in identity,
Clashing over who’s right?

We fight with the mirror,
You and me, against sanity;
O’ the results couldn’t be clearer.

Our war is attrition,
Where neither is a winner;
We both deserve admonition.

Yea, a mullet you may be,
But my hair you still are,
And baldness escapes we.

In a world where image reigns,
And respect is found in covering,
We must take our salt in grains.

Peace between us must be found.
Shall we truce then, dear mullet?
Shall we reach our common ground?

Mullet:

Oh, you wacky simpleton,
I never wanted to fight.
My job was to protect you,
From birds, bugs, and light.
It was you who hated me,
Not I who hated you.
I just wanted a chance to live,
To claim my right as hairdo.

Dear confused man, you,
So short of your seeing,
Your scalp is my dwelling place,
A canvas for my being.
Why shall I battle
Against my very home?
What purpose is it for me
To strip myself off the dome?

Man of vanity, sir of strife,
Our war is doth misplaced.
Much else demands your attention,
My aggression is but chaste.
Riots, speech, and bloodshed,
True problems in need of release.
Shouldn’t those be your sadness?
Can’t you grant me peace?

Man Bun:

Ooh, a quarrel among soulmates,
How juicy, how saucy!

I must scrutinize this drama
As one swirls a fine wine.

Analyzing the players of this story,
Shall grant me a great pleasure.

Oh, yes, the play-by-play, sublime!
How may I capture this event forever?

Behold! One of you is a vessel,
Designed to carry the other.

The other of you, a passenger,
Designed to ride like a leech.

You fight! You make up!
A narcissistic fever dream.

The spitting image of my own battle,
A battle you’ve also fought with me!

Man:

Oh, no! What interloper is this?
Has horror visited me twofold?
Has decency gone amiss?

I lie speechless at this entrance,
At this, intrusion, at this mess—

Narrator:

The mullet interjects!

Mullet:

You! Cross-pollinated monster!
Who invited you to our party?
This battle has kept sacred
Our intimate anger quarte!
The man duels. I duel.
A gentleman’s war with image.
But you, oh foul beast!
You have no place within our scrimmage!

Be gone! Be gone,
Horrid golem of insanity!
You are perversion of style,
Man’s folly for vanity!
How dare you infect it,
The sacred image of man?
How dare you supplant me,
Hair most foul in all the land?

Man Bun:

My, my, somebody’s testy today!
You say to me I’m unwelcome?

Have you the right to tell me off,
Infamous “Do” of the eighties?

I think that I think not, dear un-sir!
Cast a stone at me at your peril.

I am no pushover to hairbound justice!
I can tangle with the best of you!

The night is young and so am I.
With a twist and a pop, I exist!

Listen to me, yesterday’s news,
My physique needs no shears to shine!

All I need is a rubber band and a will,
And maybe arched shoulders and pride.

The best of men wear me, you hear me?
The best of men wear me for truth!

Man:

Oh, no! This interloper is man bun!
It has its grips set upon me.
Save me, mullet, for I am done!

Mullet:

They say the enemy of my enemy
Is my friend, ice cream scoop head!
But man is no longer my enemy,
And you, top knot, are not my friend.
I know your game and what you seek,
And this peace you shall not invade.
Reconciliation is my order of business,
Not a threat from a twisted man braid!

Man Bun:

Dear Mullet, you misinterpret me;
I do not seek to invade your space.

You see, I am the new kid on the block,
Observing a world in which to fit in.

The places around me abound in wonder,
And the joys I bring are geometrically sound.

I come to satisfy the hunger of man,
To shape into anything he shall imagine.

But that is not all that I am, Mullet, I hope you see.
No, there is more to me than meets the eye.

So, please listen, intently, to what I wish to share,
As early judgment against me will fulfill no victory.

This message, I insist, benefits us both,
And you shall know why our peace must exist.

Now, look me in the bulb, dear Mullet.
Take hold of my ponytail and see!

Do you not understand where I come from,
Or the ignorance of your lambast against me?

I have not come here to start a war with you.
No, friend, that is not the goal I keep.

The imperativeness of my clarity, I hope you know,
Is paramount to our mutual trust.

So, please understand my message, friend Mullet.
Please listen, as I do not wish to enrage you again.

Yes, I choose not to pull you into aggression, my pal;
No, no, no! An engagement of battle I do not seek.

We shall have no beef on this or any other day,
For you and I were born of the same place.

Yes, dear Mullet, we are brothers,
Like fraternal twins, but better.

Do not fight against me, or the future.
Instead, join me, and let us make this world of men stronger together.

Narrator:

Oh dear, what do we see,
But the internal war
That hair has among itself?
Is it true then, dear humanity,
That vanity is a vicious circle,
Set to fight all who oppose it,
Even when the source of vanity
Is just another victim of vanity?

Shake your heads, men.
Shake your heads in shame!
For the man bun is upon you,
The man bun has come to stay!

(To be continued…)

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TV Personality, Cool Words, in Print, at a Bargain, with a Surprise Twist

So, a couple of hours ago, I was walking around Barnes & Noble, as I often do, browsing for books I’d like to buy LATER. Then, before I leave, I check out the “Last Chance” bin, where books that are on the way out are given one last chance for sale at a bargain price. I skim the books, see nothing I want, then, as I’m about to leave for real, I catch a second glance glimmer of a hardcover with a silver spine, and realize that I’m looking at a book I’ve been wanting for a couple of years from a television personality I like watching on a news network that shall not be named (okay, FOX). I think, “Oh, cool,” not to be ironic to the book’s title, and pick up the book to see if I still want it. First thing I notice is that it smells a little funny, a bit like marker. Then, as I’m about to close the book, I flit to the title page where I see something I was not expecting: The author had signed the book.

This wasn’t a stamp, dear readers. The book wasn’t marked on the outside like all of Barnes & Noble’s signed books are. I don’t think they actually knew they had an autographed copy sitting on their clearance shelf, and given how fresh the marker smelled, I’d imagine it was signed in secret, and not too long ago.

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

But I left the book there. I’d forgotten my 20% off coupon at home. I’m not gonna pay full price for a book, even if it’s only $5.98!

Just kidding. I bought it. (Even though I really did leave my coupon at home, dang it.) It’s a good day so far.

Of course, now I have to read it.

gutfeld.png

The Pros and Cons of the Nintendo Switch

March 7, 2017

I’ve been a fan of Nintendo since I was a kid, but I’ve admittedly fallen off of the Nintendo wagon after the Gamecube started to wane in value. I wanted a Wii, but it was impossible to get for the first three years of its shelf life without camping overnight at the nearest box store, which I would never do, and by the time I could get one by simply walking into the store and saying, “Hey, gimme a Wii,” I was no longer making enough money to actually afford one. So, I never got on the Wii train. When Wii U came around, I had already given up. It didn’t look that appealing to me, to be honest, certainly not worth the money they were asking for, and I had gotten over the console years of my life anyway. I’d already missed out on the Wii, so I may as well miss out on the Wii U, too.

With the handhelds, it’s the same story, but worse. In short, I never wanted a Nintendo handheld. I was all for playing other people’s Gameboys and Gameboy Advances, but I didn’t want to invest in my own, and I basically missed the DS and 3DS years as a result. A Nintendo fan, yes? But a diehard Nintendo fan? I guess the evidence is stacked against me here.

But now we have the Nintendo Switch released (as of last Friday), and suddenly I’m excited for Nintendo all over again. It’s both console, which I’ve missed during the last two generations, and handheld, which I’ve missed since the Game & Watch days (I did have a few of those when I was a kid), and the melding of the two forms is simply genius. Combined with the new split motion control remote, which they’re calling a “joycon,” and its advanced motion technology that can simulate force and resistance as much as record motion, and I daresay Nintendo has put forth the one system that can make a grown man become a kid again.

I still don’t have money to spare, much like it was when I was a kid, but if you have money and you’re looking to blow it on something you don’t need, should you spend it on a Nintendo Switch? Here are the pros and cons of getting yours today.

Pros:

  • The Nintendo Switch launches with a new open world Zelda game. This is all the pro you need.
  • The Nintendo Switch also launches with a new Bomberman game. Wanna party hard? This game’s the bomb (I’m assuming).
  • The system is small and the handheld is even smaller. No penis envy with this machine!
  • The joycons come in dual gray, or blue and red. They don’t know what they want to be. Perfect symbol for our confused modern culture! We call this relevance. The Nintendo Switch is relevant.
  • The joycons are so small, they fit in the palm of your hand. See pro #3.
  • You can weight train with the heavy resistant joycons. Size doesn’t matter.
  • Mario is back in his cool new go-kart, and he’s ready for some road rage.
  • You can play against your friends anywhere, thanks to the portability of the Switch.
  • The Switch has a cool “click” sound that can jumpstart any DJs library.

Cons:

  • As soon as you walk away from the controller, your little brother will beat the Zelda dungeon for you, and then hide the controller when you come back, laughing at your stupidity.
  • Bomberman is best played with four or more people, which might be depressing if you realize you don’t know anyone other than yourself. At least there’s online play! This lets you play with complete strangers you will never meet in real life. So, this isn’t a con; it’s a joy-con!
  • If you still feel small around this machine, well…
  • Getting the blue and red controllers will just make your choices in life even harder to make, as you still gotta pick one to use.
  • The joycons are so small that they can really go flying if you’re getting vigorous with them and lose your grip. Just because they’re small doesn’t mean they’ll bounce off a wall.
  • The joycons are best used in a cow-milking simulator. Really?
  • Mario Kart’s new addition will remind you that Nintendo is only good for Nintendo characters, and you’ll soon lament spending $300 on the machine, plus accessories and your six or seven games throughout the lifetime of the machine. Just like it was with the last few Nintendo systems you owned. Oh, but these games are so much fun. Joy-con!
  • Thanks to the portability of the Switch, you can play it anywhere, with anyone: at work, at school, on the subway. Likewise, you can have it easily stolen from you anywhere, by anyone: at work, at school, on the subway.
  • There’s nothing bad about that “click.” Just watch the videos on YouTube. That thing is catchy.

So, there you have it. If you think the Nintendo Switch is the best $300+ that you’ll spend in 2017, then go get yours today. I think the stores are stocking it. It’s not like Black Friday is coming anytime soon. Does anyone even know it’s out now? Eh, you could probably get it now.

In all seriousness, I’d like to get this one, too. Mario goes to New York in his next game, Super Mario Odyssey. How cool is that? Pro!

Missed my other Pros and Cons lists? I’ve put together a handy table of contents to keep you well-oriented. Check them out.

Friday Update #6: The Branding Betrayal and Other Briefs

I haven’t posted to the Friday Updates in a couple of weeks, mainly because I haven’t had much to say since my last post, but also because I’ve had other commitments and time got away from me. More on that later.

In Support of Branding

I wanted to kick off this post with a slight nitpick. As some of you may know (if you know me personally), I’m a fan of movies. I enjoy a good movie as much if not more than a good book. I enjoy them for the stories, sure, but I especially enjoy them for the experience they provide. And I’m especially a fan of movie franchises, as I can continue to reenter the worlds of my favorite characters and experience something new while hanging on the edge of my seat to the exploits of people old (but not necessarily those of old people, except for maybe Clint Eastwood, and only if he does another Dirty Harry, which I guess would be hard to watch nowadays given that he’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—more on that later).

However, one of the things I depend on in my movie experiences is continuity, and that’s especially true of those that actually continue into sequels and more sequels. Franchises like James Bond can get away with actor changes because there are so many of them that eventually the actors will get too old to play the part, like Sean Connery, who’s the same age as my grandmother, who just recently passed away—still, more on that later). The only thing we really must have in a James Bond movie consistently is the tracking gun barrel sequence at the start of each movie, and the opening credits sequence with the dramatic song and the nearly naked women superimposing the movie’s weapon of choice. There are story points that must be addressed, too, but those are related more to the genre than to the franchise itself. At any rate, James Bond has a specific brand we expect each film to adopt, and those are the things we expect—oh, and of course the James Bond theme song by Monty Norman. Other movie franchises like Mission: Impossible also have an expected brand, with the lit fuse marching toward an explosion and the classic theme by Lalo Schifrin (I almost mixed the two composers up—I’ve watched these franchises so many times that they sometimes run together on details like that). It’s also well-known for its anti-brand of style by changing directors and storylines so much that each movie barely resembles the one before it, and really only has Tom Cruise and the opening fuse to bind all five together. Weirdly, this works out great for that series.

If you’re paying attention, then you’ve noticed that I’ve addressed two of the top three blockbuster spy movie franchises currently running. The third franchise, the Bourne series, also has a brand, with each film taking the exact title from the book that corresponds with its entry number (The Bourne Identity is the name of the first book and movie, The Bourne Supremacy the second, and so on through The Bourne Legacy, which changes the lead character but stays firmly in the established cinematic universe), and this keeps them all in the same family.

Or, at least this is true of the first four films.

Now, I just saw the latest Bourne film, Jason Bourne, on Wednesday, and even though I enjoyed it, there are a few things about it that annoyed me. And it all has to do with its branding.

Movies like this remind me why branding in a series is so important. On the outside, novels in a series establish brands by having similar covers and similar fonts from one installment to the next. Their internal content can also establish brands, with recurring themes and recurring popular characters populating them. But they also form brands by the titles they use. Novels do this. Movies do this. Even the names of television episodes (something many audiences will never even see) do this. The show Scrubs, for example, would title each episode as “My [Something].” That puts every episode into a family. My favorite show, Community, would title each episode after a fake and ridiculous course title (“Advanced Complaining,” for example, was never a Community title, but it could’ve been because each episode was titled something like that). I think branding among titles is a good idea, but keeping a continuity among titles to establish that brand is vital if the series has three or more installments and the first two are of the same style.

Before I saw Jason Bourne, I watched the Honest Trailer for the original Bourne film trilogy, and I think it does a fine job highlighting many of the trilogy’s repeat items, enough for me to recognize them when I see them in new installments. I must also say that plenty of elements within the newest movie match those of the older films (the use of the word asset, for example) quite faithfully. And I was pleased to see that the end title song, “Extreme Ways” by Moby, makes its fifth appearance in the series, over the usual hi-tech background graphic where the credits flash, with its expected differences in style from its previous incarnations. And, of course, the story is basically the same as it is in the first four movies. Even though it brings nothing new, it’s still most everything I expect from a Bourne film. Well, almost everything.

Going back to the title, there are two expectations that people like me will have whenever a new entry into the series is released: 1. The title will be The Bourne [Something]. This is how it’s lain out in the previous four films. It’s how the fifth movie should’ve been presented. It’s what we expect when we set up our DVDs and Blu-rays beside each other on the franchises shelf. 2. The title should coincide with the book that matches its installment number. In this case, the fifth book is called The Bourne Betrayal, so the movie should’ve been called The Bourne Betrayal. Even its IMDB entry mentions this inconsistency in the trivia section. What’s worse is that the movie’s plot actually supports this title.

So why change the name? I don’t know. I suspect that the studio dipped its hand where it shouldn’t have, as it often does, and decided that it would make more money or be more appealing to feature the main character’s name instead of what audiences actually expect. I mean, it worked for Jack Reacher, right?

Here’s the thing. The movie is the same regardless of what title it’s given. My complaint is about as OCD and nit-picky as OCD and nit-picky get. But I also think this inconsistency is as annoying as snot. Just give it the expected title. As long as it has the name Bourne in the title, we’ll know it belongs to that franchise. The title change has single-handedly taken a franchise I love and made it into something I love a little less. It just feels like a detached entry now. Being that it takes place 12 years after the previous three just isolates it even more.

Now, if the next Bourne movie is called Jason Bourne 6, and not The Bourne Sanction (the sixth book’s title, and the sixth title to maintain consistency), then I’ll have to stop caring what decisions the studio makes for this franchise. Seeing as how they aren’t changing the formula a lick from movie to movie, either, I’m guessing the series has had its heyday and is ready to take another long nap. I don’t know. Makes me sad, though. This really was one of my favorites for the longest time.

For those of you who write series books or make series movies, please stick to your established brands. Changing them by even the slightest angles derails the momentum you’ve created. Don’t do it. Change the stories instead. That’s what we care about being new.

Other Non-Writing Things

So, I missed last week’s post because I was distracted. We had my grandmother’s memorial the following day, and I was mentally checked out from doing anything creative or informative in the hours leading up to it. I was also exhausted from two straight days of walking several miles on the soggy beach during the hottest time of the day, so I ended up sleeping through most of it. So, sorry if you were expecting news. But I really didn’t have any.

The week before, I was supporting a friend at a cocktail party on the 29th floor of a beachfront condo about an hour from where I live. I was tired when I got home. Plus, I didn’t have any news. I did have fun though. I don’t get invited to cocktail parties like that too often.

Smashwords Sale

For those of you who might’ve been interested in buying my e-books during the Smashwords sale, the sale is over, and everything is back to full price. But, you can still find coupons for discounts and freebies in the Promotions sections in the header, so don’t worry about it. Thanks to those of you who bought something, or will buy something.

(I just noticed that most of the existing coupons are expired or soon to expire. I’ll generate a new batch at some point soon. Keep checking back.)

And that’s it for this week. I’ve spent the last few days working on my computer game, Entrepreneur: The Beginning, and I’ve been reading a lot on the Story Grid website, catching up my knowledge on how to edit, so I haven’t been writing much lately. I will soon, though. Don’t worry. I did write a poem called “My Fading Silence” a couple of nights ago, however. You can read it in my previous post. I don’t write poetry often, so it’s a rare treat.

Oh, and I’ve officially cancelled my preorders for Teenage American Dream, Sweat of the Nomad, and Zipwood Studios until further notice. I will be reinstating them at some point, but not before I get an email list together or something substantial toward their development. I also need to figure out if I want to release their original short story versions under their existing titles and their novel versions under new titles. Check back here often for new information.

Pokes and Mons: The Pros and Cons of Playing Pokemon GO

July 19, 2016

Just under two decades ago, Nintendo introduced the world to the Pocket Monsters, or Pokemon for short, in the form of a handheld adventure game where kids could go around pitting monsters against monsters in an effort to catch them, collect them, domesticate them, and then turn them into vicious fighters—kind of like underground dogfighting, but for kids.

Well, now they’re back, and this time they’ve migrated from the handheld Nintendo market to the handheld cellphone market, shedding their colors and jewels for the greatest action word ever, GO. And rather than walking around a scripted video game, hoping that your version of the game has the monster you’re trying to catch—when the alternative version is the one that actually has it—players can walk around the real world and seek out the Pokemon via GPS, in businesses, schools, bus stops, and wherever Pokemon decide to call a habitat. It sounds like my childhood exploration fantasy.

But is it worth it?  Let’s find out together.

Here are the Pros and Cons to Playing Pokemon GO.

Pros:

  • Once upon a time, video games were accused of making kids antisocial and keeping them away from sunshine. Oh how the tables have turned.
  • Playing Pokemon GO can teach you your local geography.
  • When playing Pokemon GO, you get to test your cellphone’s battery longevity and decide if you need an upgrade.
  • Playing Pokemon GO can prevent media poisoning whenever something bad happens in the world and someone undeserving takes the blame.
  • Playing Pokemon GO may just cure people of ADHD.
  • Pokemon GO can be enjoyed by any age and any culture, and is popular around the world.
  • When you play Pokemon GO, you support the evolution of the Pokemon culture and ensure the property sticks around another 20 years.

Cons:

  • Kids may more likely get sunburned if they hunt Pokemon too long, and they’ll undoubtedly start talking to strangers, including the ones with blue vans and candy.
  • Even though you might discover new and exciting places, you’ll never know it because you’ll still be looking at your cellphone.
  • If your cellphone battery runs out while you’re hunting Pokemon and your search for Charmander has led you to find yourself walking through a fiery downtown riot, you won’t have any means to call for help.
  • Playing Pokemon GO may inadvertently numb the populace from knowing what’s happening to the world around them, and history will eventually repeat itself, and stupider games may become the result.
  • Pokemon GO may cure people of ADHD by shifting focus from something dangerous (like oncoming traffic) to something meaningless (like catching Pokemon).
  • Any age and any culture are still populated by legions of careless idiots who don’t watch where they’re going.
  • If you play Pokemon for the next 20 years, there’s a good chance you’ll lose track of reality, and you’ll wake up one day, probably after catching the final Pokemon (by then there will be 1000 of them), wondering where your life went off track, and you’ll numb your pain by dusting off your old Gameboy and returning to the Pokemon game that started it all, and you’ll die sad and alone. But at least you caught them all!

Probably a lot more cons than pros, come to think of it, but seven’s plenty for this list. Hopefully that’ll give you a better idea whether playing Pokemon GO is smart for you.

If you’re a Pokemon GO player (I’m not), tell us your pros and cons in the comments below. Do you agree with this list? Did I forget anything important? I suppose it would make sense if I’ve forgotten something important. It’s the only thing about Pokemon GO that does make sense.

Bonus Pro:

If you play Pokemon GO, you can be like Morgan Freeman.

Bonus Con:

Playing Pokemon GO may teach you to become like someone you aren’t.

If you like my joke pros and cons lists, check out these other subjects that got the ringer:

The Pros and Cons of Riding a Hoverboard

The Pros and Cons of Using a Lightsaber

The Pros and Cons of Valentine’s Day

E-book Innovations

Earlier today, I was skimming Digital Book World for some writing news and happened across an article about Amazon’s lack of innovation toward e-books. This relatively short article, “Amazon, Ebooks, and the Lack of Innovation” by Jason Illian, discusses how Amazon is known for innovations in technology, but chooses not to innovate in reading technology. It’s an insightful, and somewhat discouraging thought about the state of reading and the attitude that the major distributors of e-readers and e-books take on it. It’s definitely worth the read, as are the comments that appear from readers at the end of the article.

And it got me thinking about the topic of e-book innovation, not just on why they choose not to innovate, but also on how they could innovate if they were to choose to, as the article and certain articles linked to in the comments section, particularly one by Chris Meadows in his article “Whoever feels like innovating e-books, please raise your hand!” posted at TeleRead, address the question of how e-books can leap forward without becoming “spammy” with advertisements or cluttered with distracting materials that no reader actually wants.

Coming up with ideas can certainly be tricky, but the bigger problem, according to these articles, is that the e-reader manufacturers don’t want to innovate. They don’t want to because they don’t need to. If they’re not losing the market to paperbacks, then they are keeping the market on the backs of those who aren’t looking for innovative leaps in e-reading.

If the people are complacent, then so will be their providers of technology. I mean, why should they innovate if no one is asking for it?

To be perfectly honest, I’m okay with the lack of innovation in e-reading. I’m one of the massive many who prefers paper to electronic form. In fact, the only reason I’ve spent the last year writing for the e-book format is because I can, and because I can do it for basically free. Reading it is a different matter. I don’t have an e-reader of my own. Nor do I have a trendy phone that can read my books to me or for me. I’m still a technically backwards guy who does his reading in print or on a computer screen, thanks to Adobe Digital Editions.

But, I’m still an imaginative reader who has ideas on what could get me to start reading in electronic form more so than on paper (not that I would ever give up reading paperbacks entirely) if anyone were to take a chance on moving things forward. I’m one of the reasons why innovation in electronic reading should be considered more by those technical geniuses who know how to implement it. I’m one of the reasons why the e-reader market even has a slump.

What Readers Want

I’m going to make an educated assumption now. E-readers have lost a chunk of their audience to Androids and other well-adapted cellphones because, in many cases, these devices are better, clearer, and, let’s be honest, linked to something they already have. Some of these phones have the ability to “flip” pages according to where the user draws his or her finger, which I think is pretty cool. The first time I saw Shell Out on a friend’s phone and manually turned those pages, I was awestruck. I was turning pages of my short story, on a phone! For these people, why would they even need an e-reader, especially one that’s ugly, clunky, or archaic? Better question: Why would they pay for a dedicated e-reader when they can just press a button on their phone? If my phone did all that, I wouldn’t bother buying an Amazon Kindle. Well, not likely. Exclusivity poses its own issues, but I’m not going to focus on that here.

Now, I’m not usually so easily impressed by the latest innovations unless it makes something I like doing a lot easier. I had a similar reaction the first time I saw the computer program Sprout in action. But, when this new technology I generally don’t see in action is doing something special to something I’m responsible for (in this case, taking my favorite short story from my personal collection and making it electronically interactive in a physical world—use your imagination if you’re lost by that comment), then I’m colored impressed. I’ve yet to feel that way about the average e-reader. Maybe I thought the Kindle was cool the first time I saw one in action many years ago. But I’m more impressed with phones these days.

I agree with those who think e-readers, or e-books for that matter, lack innovation. But the accusations don’t end with this simple opinion. The argument they make is that readers aren’t crying for innovation. They further argue that readers want to be left alone with their books and don’t want the advertising blitz, or fancy videos or sounds to ruin their personal experience that a likely strain of e-book “innovation” may create. Honestly, I agree with these arguments. When I read a book, I want to be left alone, in a quiet place, with my thoughts on the story or the information I’m reading, not the series sales pitch or the related graphics that might try selling me the phone that the writer is writing about. Not really.

But, I think that part of the reason I don’t want these things is because I haven’t been given a world where I have these things.

Now, I don’t advocate bastardizing the reading experience with gimmicks, ads, or other intrusive things. But I do think the way to leap e-readers, e-books, and book reading in general forward is to innovate how reading is handled. And to do that, it’s important to understand two things:

  1. Readers don’t know what they want until you give it to them. Until Gutenberg developed the printing press, none of us knew we wanted our books in print. Until trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks became a thing, none of us knew that getting the same story at a cheaper price was possible, or that getting that same story in slightly lower quality was somehow acceptable. We learned our ability to adapt after we were given the chance to experience it. I think the same goes for the first generation of e-readers. The idea driving the development of the Amazon Kindle was awesome, until people figured out it didn’t have the same personal touch as a physical book, yet plenty of readers stuck around to give it a fair chance. Eventually, it “caught fire.” Maintaining that fire is a different story, but the important thing to consider here is that, once upon a time, this technology was introduced and a particular population embraced it.
  1. Readers are innately personal. But they are also visionaries, researchers, explorers, and dreamers. They want the feeling that sitting on a beach during the summer with a good paperback brings, and they want to experience that feeling quietly, unobtrusively, and personally. But, they’re not going to bring their dictionaries with them. And they’re not going to bring with them the memory of what happened 100 pages ago to a minor character who did something terrible to the protagonist, or the recollection that the thing that happened was in fact 100 pages ago. They’re going into the reading wilderness the same way they have since the dawn of books. At some point, readers may want the extra help, the same way that farmers and hunters figured out that the world would someday need a Chick fil A or Applebee’s.

What readers want is the experience they understand. A point made in the article by Chris Meadows (which he links to in the comments posted under the main article by Jason Illian) is that one way to keep the e-reading experience different is to use scrollbars instead of page-flipping. I agree, that would be different. But, it’s not really what I want as a reader. I may be okay with them in web articles, but I hate scrollbars in fiction, so utilizing scrollbars as a selling point, for example, is not a good way to get me interested in e-readers. Of course, I’m one man. Maybe there are readers out there who do want scrollbars. So, for them, they should have one. For them, they should be allowed to check the preference box that says “scrollbars enabled,” where I may want to check the preference box that says “page-turning enabled.” The default, of course, would be a page shuffle. You get the idea.

Yes, custom options would be a great step toward innovating e-books and e-readers. Videogames use options like these all the time in their setup menus. Electronic reading devices would benefit from the same. And maybe there are some out there that are already programmed for that. I don’t know. As I said before, I read my electronic texts on my computer. Point is, it’s something.

But that’s a small leap forward. Having that scrollbar or page-turning application is great for single-screen devices. The problem with that is that it only enables the limitation that the average reader has with the average e-reader. It’s a single screen. Running your finger across the screen doesn’t provide the personal connection that grabbing a sheet of paper and flipping it has. It cannot simulate the joy of clumping entire groups of pages together and flipping them over to span massive chunks of story to more quickly access earlier or later parts of the book to gain insights on the details we have since forgotten. In short, it makes us feel robotic.

Giving Readers What They Want

To counterbalance that robotic feeling, we need an e-reader that makes us feel human again. So, here are my suggestions for making things more personal while jumping e-reader technology forward, and perhaps getting those who treat e-readers like pariahs more on board with the idea of reading things on a “screen.”

  1. Make a “real” e-book. Don’t give us a Gameboy from 1989 and change its programming to read books instead of controlling a plumber through Goomba-infested lands.

Perhaps this needs explanation. The average e-reader is a simple handheld device with an interactive screen. It’s cheap and functional, but not the least bit personal. A true e-book would serve as the electronic equivalent to a real book. And the way to do that is to give readers a real book. Let me clarify: a real book with programmable pages.

Wait, what?!

Okay, yes, if you’re visualizing what I’m visualizing, then you’re already counting the cost of producing such a thing. It would be expensive to buy, and maybe expensive to make. But, every new thing is expensive at first. Once upon a time, that bulky television you bought for ten bucks at the Goodwill would’ve cost you hundreds of dollars at your local retailer. The money you spent on that black and white in the 1950s would probably get you a nice 60” UHD flat screen today. Electronics go down in price eventually. Everyone knows that. In the early 1960s a pocket calculator would cost you over $2000. Kids get them in their Christmas stockings as a bonus item today, so don’t fret about cost.

But, while we wait for that beautiful day when a thousand-dollar e-reader drops down to the price of a Kindle or lower, we can have those publishers who without conscience raise the prices of e-books to the level of their paperback counterparts use the extra money they save on manufacturing to help supplement the production costs that go into the e-reader, and then take a small percentage of every e-reader sale. This would give it sustainable marketability, and serve to drive the price down for everyone eventually. I think. Sounds right. They won’t do it, of course, but it sounds right.

But back to the ideas, a true e-reader should be made up of an electronic cover (matte or glossy), with fiber optic pages that you can customize through add-ons. Each reader would come with a default 350 pages (as most novels clock in at just over 300) and adapters that would allow a reader to add a stackable group of 25 pages each (with limits depending on the digital spine, which should probably be flexible to allow for the adapters, or maybe the adapters add more spine—probably that) to accommodate long books, longer books, epic fantasies, and Stephen King books. Each add-on would cost the reader a little, but once they have it, they’re covered for the life of the true e-book (a brand name which I will henceforth use to describe this magical form of innovative e-reading technology).

Which brings us to the beauty of this system. Each page of the electronic book is hardwired to allocate the digital pages as defined in the .epub file (we’ll say .epub4, as that’s the next generation of .epub if I’m not mistaken). So, page one of the .epub will “print” only on the first electronic page of the true e-book. Well, no, it’ll print on the front of the first page. Obviously, page two will appear on the back side. Can you visualize that?

So, already we’re beginning to feel more like a real book. Add digital loading to the front cover, back cover, and spine, and you have yourself a truly customizable electronic reading device that gives the reader the feeling of reading a real book. That, of course, is because the reader is reading a real book. Just one that can change the content of its pages with a simple upload of a new .epub file.

This means that the true e-book would need a docking bay in which to change the programming. It could work the same way that modern e-readers use menus and online features and “bookstores” in which to shop for new titles. This docking bay would be the impersonal device that modern readers are used to today, the thing that serves as both storefront and book. Or, it could be their computers, as the one element the true e-book will have that a real paperback won’t is a USB port. I mean, even Neo in The Matrix had that input jack on his neck. We can’t escape computer technology in favor of reality entirely. But we can get really, really close.

Now, this enhances the visual appeal of e-books, but not the sensory appeal. To do that, all true e-books should come with a cartridge that emits that “new book smell.” The fiber optic pages, or “paper screens,” should also be meticulously crafted to feel like real pages and real matte or glossy covers. My computer screen feels almost exactly like a matte cover, so I know it’s possible. Shouldn’t be difficult to duplicate. I also think that pages should have Instagram style filters that make electronic pages look like real cream or white pages, with digital noise in the fonts to simulate ink. Or, you know, options for other styles. Make the look of the pages customizable. The modern e-reader already makes it possible to adjust for size and font. The true e-book can do the same, but it should recognize the defaults as set by the author or publisher. This assumes that the author or publisher cares enough about the title to put in these extra options. Unfortunately, a new kind of e-reader won’t necessarily create a new kind of publisher.

fake true ebook 2
Example of what a “true” e-book could look like. Basically like a real book, but electronic.
  1. Give readers features they want that real physical books can’t offer.

The modern e-reader already provides digital bookmarks, dictionary support, and highlighting options. I think it also provides keyword search. Certainly, the true e-reader would provide all of these things (though bookmarking won’t be as necessary, as the pages are now physical, but if the book automatically opens to the digital bookmark when you tap the bookmark sensor, then that would be cool).

But the true e-book would also provide advanced indexing options that would allow you to quick-find characters, events, or other details that might otherwise take away precious minutes from your narrative flow when searching for previous reminders about who these people are or what happened during these events. For example, if you double-tap on the name of the minor character that the protagonist is talking about, it can bring up a small menu with options, including one that highlights any page where that character’s name appears, and then highlight in a different color the name itself so that every instance he’s mentioned can be found in seconds. And for those who still want their foot in The Matrix while reading, other options can include reloading the current page with supplemental information, including other books or volumes the character may have appeared in (and where in the context of those books), basic character descriptions, and whatever else the author or publisher may preload into the supplements file, including an option to load up another book in the series (provided the reader owns a copy). And, if a book doesn’t come with that information, then the selection in that particular menu is disabled. It’s possible that the modern e-reader does these things already, or will soon enough, but the true e-book would most definitely have to do these things to stay on par with, if not ahead of the game.

And, I could go on, but I think it’s pretty clear: Digital books don’t have to be impersonal. And we, as readers, don’t have to accept their impersonal touch. I don’t love the idea of replacing paperbacks, and, as long as we have bookshelves and a desire to fill them, I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of them completely. Even in the age of Netflix and Hulu, we still have DVD and Blu-ray discs bought and sold daily. Even with iTunes dominating the music market, stores are still selling CDs (kinda). The demand for these things may not be what they were before digital markets invaded their turfs, but some of it still exists, and there are still people out there who want to stick to the classics. But regardless of how many want to innovate or how many want to keep to the systems they’re used to, the corporations involved in the production and distribution of these materials need to consider their entire customer base, not just the rich and the trendsetting, and create the kind of experiences that anyone could want, modern and retro alike. It starts by understanding human psychology.

To adapt the famous line from Field of Dreams, “If you [make] it, they will [use it].” Make the true e-book and drive its price down to something affordable, and I’d give it a fair chance. Heck, I might even like it enough to modify my current library of hardcovers and paperbacks. I may be technologically backwards, but I still have movies I like on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, and I suspect I’ll get them again on 4K UHD someday. I’m not against a good leap forward. Perhaps those in charge of e-reader design shouldn’t be either.

The Gatsby Effect

January 9, 2016:

Success is a fickle thing. It’s hard to gauge when it’ll happen and where it’ll come from, as it is near impossible to know what will bring it on. We can use all the genius we have to find it, and still somehow fail.

I was walking back from the beach when I thought about this idea of success. The Great Gatsby (1925), an “American masterpiece,” and one of the few books I’ve read more than once, was the third book in the author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s bibliography, a marginal success both in sales and critical acclaim, and had neither the out-of-the-gate popularity of his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), nor the heartbreaking reception of his later novel, Tender Is the Night (1934). It was basically the middle book of an author who had a declining career.

Here are some fast facts I found at Mental Floss about The Great Gatsby. Take note of fact #’s 7-9 for more relevant insight:

http://mentalfloss.com/article/50822/24-great-gatsby-facts

So why bring this up? I think it’s really easy to get discouraged when our lofty expectations are crushed under the weight of reality. But it doesn’t have to mean anything. Sometimes success requires time, or a change in understanding, or a change in approach. James Dyson, founder of Dyson (a company that makes and perfects a number of our modern conveniences, like hand dryers, for example) had to make over 5000 variations to his vacuum cleaner design before he got it right–and right it was because Dyson vacuums are awesome. That’s basically five thousand failures before one success was possible. The point is, we keep going until something sticks.

I’m writing this more for me than for the general public, but artists, like me, can be susceptible to discouragement by the weakest of critics or the flimsiest of sales if we’re not careful. Some things just take time to grow. I think it’s important to remember that a work isn’t genius if the rest of the world gets it immediately. But success can still happen at any time, for any reason. The Great Gatsby found a resurgence at the end of World War II, 20 years after it was published. Now it’s recognized as the literary classic and masterpiece we know it is today, with or without the movie adaptations. Even people like J.K. Rowling had to experience early difficulty before achieving a rousing success (read the short version of her biography if you want to see a classic example of building success out of heartbreak). Just something to think about the next time you, me, or anyone wants to take a stab at something that may or may not resonate with audiences or consumers. We don’t have to give up because we didn’t hit the ground running. Maybe we need more time for our perspective to gain respect. Maybe we need a trend to change. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing because, if it’s worth anything, someone will eventually understand where we’re coming from, appreciate our viewpoint, maybe even share it, and that, I believe, is the beginning of success.

Cannonball City is Coming!

December 23, 2015:

Coming Christmas Day!

cannonball city cover art version 1p
Cover Image for “Cannonball City: AMDF, Year One”

The massive epic adventure of a tennis star who becomes a superhero and faces his darkest fears amid the unusual landscapes of Los Angeles and the Caribbean will be available for download on Christmas morning. Check its official page for details.

Note: The presale price is temporary. It will be marked free for download on the day of release. Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo may not change the price until after the holidays, but Smashwords will have it available for free.

The Pros and Cons of Using a Lightsaber

December 18, 2015

So, now that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been officially released, and now that I have spent my entire day editing my gargantuan epic novel (part one!) for the e-book format—which means I haven’t seen the movie yet—it’s time to unleash my final blog dedicated to Star Wars culture:

Yes, it’s a Pros/Cons list!

We all know what a lightsaber is, right? It’s that flashlight-looking handheld device that produces a colorful stick of death when pressed and makes a whoosh sound when swung. You’ve seen it. It’s a giant ice pop that doesn’t melt in your mouth—it melts your mouth! Little boys between the ages of 6 and 79 want one. It’ll probably be the number one requested Christmas gift of the year.

But should you get one for that man in your life? If you are a man, should you get one for yourself?

Here are the pros and cons of using a lightsaber.

Pros:

  • It looks cool when you wield it.
  • It makes that really awesome whoosh sound pretty much always, which girls love.
  • You can use it to power dead electronics in a pinch.
  • Your friends will envy you for having it.
  • Your enemies will be afraid of you when they see it.
  • Your cat will chase it when you fling it around for a cheap laugh.
  • You can use it to create pathways anywhere you want.
  • Lightsabers make mock sword-fighting super flashy.
  • Knowing how to use one makes getting into a Star Wars movie easier.

Cons:

  • It doesn’t look as cool if you cut your arm off.
  • It’s not a popsicle, so it can’t be eaten.
  • It’s not a flashlight, either, and can make things awkward when turned on in tight quarters during a power outage.
  • Your mom will ground you if she catches you using it.
  • Once grounded, your dad will confiscate it and use it for himself.
  • Your cat might blow up if she catches it.
  • Using it in most public places might get you arrested, especially if you keep it concealed.
  • If you aren’t that good at sword-fighting, then a lightsaber will really make that clear.
  • Most of the lightsabers in the Star Wars movies are effects-driven and fake, so bringing in your real one could cause some issues.

So, that concludes Star Wars week at Drinking Café Latte at 1pm.

Stay tuned for news about my upcoming e-book surprise. (My opening statement gives a clue about what’s coming soon.)