Cages free for the next two days!

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Seems like a good time to pick it up!  Or, if free digital books on the Kindle aren’t your thing, pick up the paperback!

 

FREE Kindle version: http://amzn.to/TIE6PL

Paperback: http://amzn.to/UwOlXK

Cages now Available in Paperback!

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Lookin’ pretty.

After a good month or two of working on it, Cages is now available in Paperback form!  I used Amazon’s CreateSpace service, which has so far been amazing!  The book is propagating through the various online stores, so it’s only available at CreateSpace.com right now, but in a few days it’ll be available everywhere.  You should even be able to order it from a Barnes and Noble if online purchasing isn’t your thing.

Also, I’m holding a giveaway for 3 free copies of the paperback version right now on GoodReads, so enter if you want a chance to get a copy for free!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Cages by Chris Pasley

Cages

by Chris Pasley

Giveaway ends February 23, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

 

 

Losing Jobs

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I didn’t receive my paycheck today….

The games industry is a volatile place.  Anyone who’s been in it longer than a year or two knows this firsthand, whether they’ve been let go themselves or survived a company downsizing.  As the recipient of another headcount cut no more than a week ago, it seems apropos to reflect on how my response to these events has changed.

When I left Adult Swim for Kongregate in San Francisco in 2007 everything was awesome.  The economy was doing great, the move represented a great step up in the business world for me and I was going to get to make awesome games.  It was also a banner year for games – I remember being halfway through BioShock for the first time when I made the move and finishing it in my 450 sq ft studio apartment off of Mission and 6th a week later when my TV arrived.

Well, then the economy went south.  I didn’t think it would really affect me at the time – people weren’t going to stop playing free web games, were they? – but in the end what I was doing wasn’t part of the core Kongregate business and everyone was feeling the pinch to cut costs.  I understood – in fact I’m sure I would have done the same thing if I were in the founders’ shoes.  It still didn’t make it any easier and emotionally I took it hard.  After all, I had never been made to leave a job I didn’t want to leave at this point, and I had grown to enjoy working with the people at Kongregate.

Jim and Emily Greer, the co-founders, were wonderful about it.  Jim handled my dismissal himself and admitted it was the hardest thing he’d had to do in his career so far.  I think the fact that he took it so hard made me buck up more – I didn’t want to add to his burden by being choked up about it.  My wife (who was working in TV and commercials at the time, and had only moved out to San Francisco to be with me a year before) wasn’t finding work anyway, so we decided the best place for us both to be was LA.  Well, Jim and Emily had made the extremely generous decision to keep me on until Remnants of Skystone finished, and then made the even more generous decision to pay our way to LA, even taking over rent on our SF apartment.  Words really can’t describe how thankful I am for their generosity.  They made what was a painful and disheartening experience survivable and made it possible for me to move on to the next stage of my career.  Thanks, guys.

I was lucky – within two months of my last paycheck from Kong, I was hired by Break Media in Los Angeles.  This was a godsend –  it wasn’t exactly a booming job market at the time and Break was just the sort of place where my previous experience could be of use.  I think those two years were some of the most exciting in my life – I was doing work I loved with people I liked; my wife and I were expecting a baby; and I was flying off to foreign lands on a regular basis where we worked hard but had a lot of fun together too.  But the games group never managed to pull off the hit game that would have saved it (for dozens of reasons I won’t get into here), and it crumbled.   This time was less painful – maybe I had grown some emotional immunity since the first time, or maybe it was because the trajectory was a lot clearer ahead of time.  I was still unhappy about it, though, and the fact that we had a little girl now made it potentially a lot more devastating if i didn’t get a new gig soon.  Break was really good about this as well – they were aware of my daughter’s genetic condition and graciously provided 6 months of health insurance for us.

Well, luckily, I only barely needed two.  I began working with Majesco soon after, first working remotely and then moving to Boston to be with the core games group.  Now, with the studio having dissolved a year later, a few people have asked me if I regret the move, but I don’t think I do.  I think being in Boston allowed me to interact with the rest of the team in a way that would have been difficult otherwise.  I learned a lot in the past year and I find it difficult to regret any of that.  This time it was a bit like pulling off a band-aid.  There was some pain, but it was quick and I was able to move on to the next step of looking for my next job without mourning this one too much.   I think I’ve become a lot more hardened to the realities of the game industry.

Still, I hope the next place I go to will last me a while… I’m getting tired of changing addresses!

 

 

 

Sci-Fi Heroes Writing Post-Mortem

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Sick Burn, Dude

Last Friday I was informed that the studio for which I’ve been working for the last year, Majesco Boston, was going to be shut down.  I’m deeply saddened by this for obvious reasons, not least of which is that I now lack a full-time job, but second to that comes the unscratched itch that comes with leaving projects unfinished.

Most of what I was working on I can’t talk about, but I’ll mention one in particular.  Sci-Fi Heroes is a game for iOS that I can say I slaved over as close to literally as possible without going over.  It was originally released during the first week of November, 2012, to mixed reviews.  The negatives we can save for another day – there were some obvious flaws relating to performance and some inadvertent UI mistakes that led people to believe we were greedier than we were.  (All things, by the way, that were being fixed in an update slated to be submitted extremely soon.  No idea if it will still be updated, but I hope so.)

What thrilled me most about people’s reaction to the game was how much they enjoyed the humor.  When I first came on board, the design for the game was serious – very sci-fi military with some retro sci-fi characters.  I really don’t know why this seemed so imperative to me, but I insisted that this game needed to be funny.  Maybe it was all the Red Dwarf I had been watching during my previous job search window, or some latent desire to get back to my Adult Swim roots but I imagined the game almost as an office comedy rather than a war epic.

I started writing interstitial videos introducing each character, inspired by Valve’s “Meet the X” promo videos for TEAM FORTRESS 2.  (All hilarious, if you haven’t seen them.) I also started an intro video laying out the extremely bare-bones plot. (Aliens invade.  Good guys fight ‘em off.  Yay!  It didn’t need to be complex, just a backdrop for the office comedy, the same way in which “the Office” is about a documentary about a paper company, but that’s not at all important.)  In writing all of these, I kept finding myself writing with the voice of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw in my head.  (The host of ZERO PUNCTUATION.  Also hilarious.  Trust me.)  I resolved to find a voice actor who could pull off that same dry, British machine gun delivery, but in the end I thought… hey, maybe we can just get Yahtzee!

After I managed to contact him (which I did like a raving idiot, leaving comments on his blog and other such indelicate methods) and he agreed to do it, we recorded the sessions.  I actually had a completely different opening written, but it really wasn’t working the way I meant it to.  Yahtzee was too polite to say so, but he agreed when I mentioned my concerns. So I rewrote it to be less clunky – I was trying too hard to be funny by stringing long complicated sentences together that, if you parsed them right, would equal a soft chuckle at best.

Original Sci-Fi Heroes Opening

Intro (should be very fast and tight)

An info-graphic style representation of four planets in orbit.  Initially they’re green with the Alliance symbol, but quickly a dotted line bounces from one to the other, filling the planet with red and marking it with the Empire symbol.

NARRATOR
In the days after the Calimar space horde conquered the last civilized planet in the solar system, things were understandably a little tense.  Those who could afford rockets evacuated.

Icons of green rocket ships blasting off from a conquered planet.

NARRATOR (Cont’d)

Those who couldn’t either stayed and became die-hard fans of tyrannical dictatorships or found creative ways to liberate the aforementioned rockets from their affluent owners.

Icons of pipes and an unfolding kind of Swiss-army wrench, with dotted lines coming from them, like schematics or diagrams.  The pipe icon hits a stick-figure man in the head.

NARRATOR (Cont’d)

Usually with a pipe or some sort of wrench-thing.  All of which meant that four days after the conquest, every ship within a thousand light-years was heading away from the New Calimar Empire as fast as the laws of physics would allow.

Icons of rockets all speeding away from a planet on the right, going left.

NARRATOR (Cont’d)

Except for one.

A swerving representation of the Aphelion moves from left to right, causing the other ships to swerve and crash in to each other.   Zoom in to see the normally animated version of the Aphelion, then zoom in again through the hull to see the Aphelion crew standing in a line, idle, each doing some animation in character (spinning a gun, petting a tiger, etc).

NARRATOR (Cont’d)

It’s been said the crew of the dropship carrier Aphelion are the best special forces team in the galaxy.  Usually by the crew of the dropship carrier Aphelion.  The thing is… they could be right.

The characters all adopt a battle stance, spinning swords, cocking rifles, etc.  Then a moth-like creature flies by over their heads and Sarge opens fire wildly, laughing crazy.  The others duck and cover.  Soon he stops, looks at the others and shrugs, grinning.

NARRATOR (Cont’d)

It doesn’t mean they’re not a little unhinged.

The crew picks themselves up and stand tight together. The camera zooms out.

NARRATOR (Cont’d)

I mean, one dropship crew against an entire army spanning the whole solar system?  That’s crazy, right?

The camera finishes zooming out.  The logo is hanging over their heads: Sci-Fi Heroes!

NARRATOR (Cont’d)

Right?

Yeah, too complicated and honestly the visuals were too reminiscent of Yahtzee’s own Zero Punctuation style.  So instead I centered the action around Sarge, arguably the goofiest and most iconic character in the game.  You can see the results here:  INTRO VIDEO

Yahtzee was great to work with, and always turned around everything I needed very quickly.  (he’s in Australia, I’m in Boston.)  He also added his own take on a couple of lines which made the whole thing flow much better.  In hindsight, it might have been better to hire Yahtzee to actually write his own lines — I’m happy with how it turned out, but I think we might have ended up a bit tighter and maybe a little more biting had I given him free reign.  He’s never given me his opinion on the game, but I’m hoping he liked it enough to never review it.

Aside from the intros and character introductions, there was scene-by-scene story to write, which I actually found fairly challenging.  The purpose of having a story in a game like this is to hopefully a) entertain and b) make the player want to continue playing to see the end.  I had a lot of limitations in that regard – I couldn’t do scripted events or animations.  There were no sweeping story lines planned out early on, so all I had to use were the character dialogue panels at the beginning of each level.  I could have also put some at the end, but there was so much going on at the end of each level, with rewards given out with victory and advice given out with defeat, that it seemed like too much.

I limited myself to four panels a level only, which was a challenge in brevity.  As any writer knows, it’s a constant temptation to write War and Peace any time you step up to the keyboard, but this restriction forced me to write in short, digestible chunks.  Setting up jokes in only four exchanges is actually a lot harder than you’d think – the entire process actually took me about a month in constant revision, usually working late at night (to concentrate, and well, because that’s how much work I had going on at the time.)

One thing I really loved that will likely be removed in the update (for performance reasons) was that every time a character intro was shown, the other crewmates used the opportunity to rag on the featured character.  In games you don’t often get the chance to break the fourth wall elegantly and I had a lot of fun with that.

If I had it to do over again, I think I would have spent more time on the dialogue panels.  Had the headshots animate like they were talking, showing emotions, things like that.  I think that would added some empathic kick to it.  But all in all, it’s one of the games I’m most proud of.  Check it out below!

SCI-FI HEROES