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

Fla-Vor-Ice

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I swear these are the most amazing things ever made.

I’m sitting in a hotel in Athens, GA, to see my family for the holidays.  It’s 12:30am in the morning.  I have just consumed 10 Fla-Vor-Ice bars at once and am seriously considering trying to sneak out on my sleeping wife and child to get more.  The convenience store on the first floor of the hotel has them already frozen, for ten cents a piece!

When I was a kid I would down these things like crazy.  I would sometimes get little cuts on my lips from sucking on too many of the plastic sleeves in a row, but I didn’t care.  Now, at 33 years old, I find myself browsing Reddit in the middle of the night, using a small kitchen knife to as-quietly-as-possible saw through the top of the sleeve so that my wife doesn’t hear it and berate me for being a frozen favored sugar water glutton.  I realized early that my initial process of going back to the refrigerator, sawing one open, and returning to my desk was stupidly inefficient, so I now have a paper towel spread on my desk with eight empty plastic sleeves and a kitchen knife on them.

I’m here for four more nights.  I wonder if you can get poisoned from too much sugar water?

 

Best and worst of reviews

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Sweet, sweet reviews.

So, I’m no stranger to criticism.  I used to work at Adult Swim, where I had people who (with all the best intentions in the world) necessitated some pretty thick skin.  As a game designer this has been very useful experience, because as the designer, you’re always the fall guy when a project goes bad, whether it’s valid or not.  Everyone thinks they can do your job better than you, because design is a skill that is almost completely cerebral – people don’t see the process the same way as if you show them awesome art or screens full of code.

Now that I’ve published Cages on the Kindle store, I’ve been bracing myself for bad reviews.  Luckily for me, the majority of comments have been very good and as of this writing my US rating is at 4.7 out of 5, with 7 reviews.  Only one review, which I’ll discuss later, has been negative.

This is my favorite review, from Amazon UK, from “caitmcc”: http://amzn.to/U84peR

This is the first Zombie book I have ever read and I absolutely loved it! I don’t normally go for these kind of books and I’ve never really read a book in which the main character is a boy (closed minded I know) but this book has become one of my favourites of all time. A dream to read which has made me laugh out loud and brought me almost to tears (I am very sad). I finished this book at 4am on a Sunday night even though I had work the next day, I just couldn’t put it down!
I highly recommend this book as it, after reading a few other Zombie book (after I had read this one), has put its own spin on the whole ‘how zombies came about’ thing and it really is quite refreshing.

Why is this my favorite?  A) Because I don’t know this person at all.  I don’t think it’s someone I solicited to read the book among my friends and family, or among the Adult Swim forums, or Reddit.  That someone found the book on their own and had this positive a reaction to it is amazing.  B) Because the enthusiasm for it so closely mirrors the enthusiasm I’ve had for other books myself that I’ve loved.  To be able to engender that in a reader is extremely moving and makes me feel like a successful writer even if Cages never sells another copy.

Another favorite is from “SaltyRich.”  Full disclosure, “SaltyRich” is someone I worked with before, so his feedback may not be completely unbiased, but we’re not such close friends that I think he’d be compelled to bullshit a review for me.  We talked very little about the book before he left this review, and to complete my full disclosure, he admitted later that he thought I had too many typos.  (Fair enough, working on it.): http://amzn.to/TPZIc6

At first glance, Cages is a horror story about a parasite that terrorizes society by randomly turning a percentage of its teenagers into deadly monsters. The story effectively depicts the institutions set up to deal with this horrible nightmare as well as the trials and tribulations of the infected teenagers and the security forces tasked with keeping order.

Digging a little deeper, Cages is about being a teenager in school, trying to fit in, making a mark, challenging authority, finding a tribe, and dealing with physical and emotional transformation. It’s bound to strike a chord with anyone who has gone through or is going through teenage existence. The book examines the fascinating real-world theme of youth who still depend on support from adults and simultaneously undermine authority. The protagonist finds himself caught between the thirst for independence and the need for a parental shield from danger and fear. He is also dealing with the fact that he, and everyone around him, is changing. Some make it through unscathed, some are damaged, and some are destroyed either by their own internal molecular war or by getting caught in the crossfire. In Cages, just like in real life, being a teenager is about being in a state of metamorphosis, coping with the unknown that looms on the other side, and dealing with it en mass in a closed environment designed for learning but often engineered for incarceration.

Beyond the entertaining horror story, and the human story of innocence lost, Cages offers much more to the curious reader: a war rages between order and chaos, between structure and freedom, between conformity and anarchy. Cages is about a society that imprisons their youth to protect them from themselves. Is living in fear really living? Is living in a cage really living? Is the power structure really protecting us, or prohibiting evolution, cheating us of our full potential? And what would happen if one wants to walk out the door and leave the rules and the illusion of security behind, or if one wishes for an all-powerful, yet destructive, transformation? Is true freedom worth the shedding of one’s very humanity? Is the prison of our own ruleset the cohesion that makes us human? Without it, would we all become monsters or savages? What do we benefit from trying to destroy the system that is designed to protect us, even if it must diminish us in the process? The characters of Cages wrestle with these concepts, and therefor, so did this reader.

Cages is a fun, accessible, page turner. The story is linear, event driven, and swiftly propels itself forward with minimal expectations of the reader. In this respect, Cages a satisfying post-apocalyptic infection-based pandemic horror story set in a quarantined high school prison. But that’s really just a point of departure. There are many ways to explore this story and the actions of its characters. I highly recommend reading Cages. While the text is guaranteed to deliver a wild ride through a morbid fantasy, the subtext is likely to sneak up on the psyche and unlock some cages of its own.

It should be clear why I like this review: it makes me seem smart.  As the proud holder of an English degree, I’m not so immune to praise that I don’t enjoy people seeing the layers I wrote into the book, whether they’re interpretations I agree with or not.  This review is the first to really dig below the surface and look for more beyond the plot.  That the books seems to be enjoyable on both levels is something I find delightful.

Ok.  So, negative reviews.  I actually only have one I consider really negative – the other one was broadly positive with some quibbles that earned me a 3-star, so I won’t count that.  This one is also from Amazon UK, by “Sarah.”: http://amzn.to/Uwsb5l

Chris is trying to be smart here and is conveying a story on two levels 1st the Cages the result of a parasitic outbreak and 2nd – real life oppression. We even get some nice little ramblings of the “characters” view on social pressures and media influence. The story starts with promise, goes downhill from there and the ends disappointingly. I would have given this 1 star but the book flows nicely and the authors ramblings, as i like to call them, where readable.

There was a part of me that resented this review, but after all this time of making creative works, I’ve learned to take it at face value.  This person just didn’t like it.  That’s perfectly fine.  I obviously disagree with her assessment, but what can you do?  I appreciate enough that she took the time to read the book in the first place, and that she gave me two stars… as she notes, it could have been one.  I do dislike that it’s driven my UK rating down, but I think it’ll eventually come up.  I can’t force the book on people.  I can only hope the book stands on its own merits at the end of the day.

So, there were my reviews!  Be sure to hit me up on Twitter and Facebook where I’ll probably discuss new reviews more quickly and (thankfully) more briefly.  Also, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to review the book – I appreciate every word.

In the beginning…

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A cat so dynamic he can’t even stay in focus.

So.  First Blog post.  No pressure.  I can do this.  So what if I’ve tried blogging before?  So what if the only reason I’m doing this now is because I’m too tired for the game design I’m working on to make sense any more?  So what if I can’t think of anything relevant to say about anything?

Everyone says it’s boring for writers to talk about their writing, so that’s out.  I’m worn out thinking about games, so I’ll avoid that today.  Facebook and Twitter have nothing interesting for me to rip off… No subject matter?  Who cares!  That’s never stopped bloggers before.  So here I go.  Right.  Now.

Ok, I got nothing.  Think, think!  What can I talk about that the internet craves like a WoW addict craves sweet loot?  *Ding!* Got it!

Let me tell you about one of my cats.  His name is Conner and he’s a giant wuss.  Seriously, of my four cats (yes, bad planned parenting on our parts) he’s by far the largest, the most muscled, with claws so sharp and avian I’ve seen passing falcons look on in envy as he casually shreds the carpet.  He’s a transforming Ninja, silent as he walks, black when he’s dry and white when he’s wet.  Did I also mention he only has half a colon and only one eye?  But he’s the biggest scaredy-cat in the world.

We have another cat, Mia.  The lone female, a pretty tiny specimen of a feline.  But she hunts him day and night.  She is like the hunter from that story, the Most Dangerous Game and he’s like… well, the hunted guy from that story.  (Minus the one-line twist ending.  So far.)  She waits for where he knows he’s going to walk and attacks.  Hisses when he comes within a four foot radius of her.  In one apartment we had where all the doors happened to lead through one single junction point, she would sit at that point and dare him to try to move from Room A to Room B.  Just try it, sucker.

Maybe Conner is a pacifist, but he always runs away and hides under the bed.  He’s so bad about that, the time we drove cross-country from L.A. to Boston for my new job, we thought we had lost him at a hotel in Oklahoma City.  We had security looking through the calls, scrubbing through security video from our hall… it turns out he had just burrowed his way into one of the beds’ box springs and hid there.  We did not get our security deposit back.

But maybe not. Maybe he’s just waiting for his time to strike.  To finally take his revenge.  Here’s to you, secret ninja cat.  Here’s hoping you grow a(nother) pair.