My First Time: Watching The Goonies

So I fall victim to that feeling of ironically not doing something. I find it amusing when people are surprised that I haven’t seen [insert pop culture thing]. I begin to lean into it and start adding to the list when they start asking, and I get to chuckle at my oh so ironic enjoyment of not seeing things.

Those people actually drive me crazy, and when I realized I was turning into that person I wanted to strive to not be.

Here’s the thing: I’m not actively avoiding these things. A lot of them just never attracted my attention when I was young. And a lot of them still don’t, but I want to take my writing (even) more seriously, and to do that I need to inundate myself with media and learn to take what is useful and discard the rest.

Image result for bruce lee

This dude said that last bit. Incidentally I need to see his movies.

As an adult the reason I don’t rush out to see these movies, and read those books, is money. Well the other day I was at the store and noticed a blu-ray version of The Goonies for less than $10. Boom.

The Goonies is a movie following a squad of kids known as The Goonies. Each kid has a different personality and gimmick, and you are introduced to all of them in the first ten minutes—in fact, all in one sequence.

The plot is about the children’s adventure to find a lost pirate treasure, which they can use to save the families house before it’s foreclosed upon. The main kid, Mikey, is the son of a museum curator and has a bunch of strange curiosities in the attic. One such curio: a map to a “One-Eyed Willys” long lost pirate treasure. Map in hand, the Goonies head off for one last adventure before they all have to move away from each other.

Standing in their way are the Fratellis, a criminal family that recently broke one of their own out of prison. They own an old, abandoned restaurant that acts as their hideout, and just so happens to be where the old map is leading the Goonies.

Shenanigans ensue and the Goonies make their way under Astoria, following the trail of One-Eyed Willy’s treasure. The Fratellis are hot in pursuit, seeking to seize the treasure for themselves.

The ending is as straightforward as you expect. They all find the treasure, but neither side successfully makes off with it. But in the end, Mikey manages to snag just enough to save their homes. The kids had their one perfect adventure, they all get to stay friends, and the Fratellis end up in jail.

I really enjoyed the movie. It didn’t blow my mind, but I have no doubt that if I had seen this when I was still living in Wisconsin it would’ve been my favorite movie ever.

What I really appreciate about the Goonies is that the movies entire setup is established in the first ten or so minutes. Nearly everything is! We meet the villains, the characters, and the problems. The payoff at the end is more enjoyable because it feels like you were on the adventure with all of the Goonies. There are few scenes in the Goonies that don’t serve the plot, and it makes it more enjoyable to watch.

That being said, the Goonies is a fantasy fulfillment movie. The problem of the foreclosing homes? Doesn’t really seem that high stakes. The Fratellis don’t even feel like they are dangerous villains. But I think that’s what keeps the movie light and fun!

The characterization is really spot on as well. Each character is unique and has their own gimmick, and those traits matter to the plot. It’s pretty refreshing, now that I think about it. They take the time to introduce us to all these characters, and nearly all of them have a usefulness to the plot that gives each character setup a satisfying payoff.

There was an unnecessary sub-plot involving one of the girls wanting to make out with the older boy, and it was kind of annoying. But I probably wouldn’t have minded when I was younger since I was just getting interested in girls. There was also an alarming amount of up-skirt shots of one of the girls, which might have been tiny Daniel’s favorite parts.

I can totally see why everyone loved this movie. It’s frequently listed as peoples favorites. It’s very simple, and because of that, the plot and enjoyment feel distilled. Spielberg and Richard Donner knew how to emulate that feeling of hanging with your friends, and wanting to find adventure everywhere. This movie isn’t just caching in on nostalgia, it learned how to make a movie that encompasses that feeling instead of evoking it. Just watching that movie reminded me of riding my bike around the neighborhood with Pat and Ryan and how weekends lasted forever.

I’d say give Goonies a watch if you haven’t. I don’t think you should rush out and buy it right now as a lot of the movie becomes quaint and a bit dated with time, but I’m sure everyone can find something to enjoy in the movie.


Dark Souls and Storytelling

For any avid fans of Dark Souls whom are looking for my interpretation of the story in any of the Souls games, I’ll save you the trouble now of reading: I will not be laying out the story. I have failed you.

What I want to talk about is the way that Dark Souls tells a story and how I have borrowed it’s method when it comes to it’s unique way of telling a story. It’s story is equal parts narrative, exploration, and revelation.

Dark Souls doesn’t tell you a story. Not really. It offers up a world that has a rich narrative and silently bids you to do what you will with it. The game play in Dark Souls is pretty simple: you are a the Chosen Undead and it is your job to go forth, defeat those that stand in your way, and “link the fires.”

You can play and enjoy the entire game without ever asking any questions. Dark Souls compelling game play basically distills down to “get good.” Each enemy, no matter how menial, is dangerous. You must learn to fight each enemy, gauge the terrain, find the exploits, and defeat those in your way. It is a very difficult game, but the reward is that fist pumping excitement when you finally grasp victory. The game does an amazing job of making you feel like you accomplished something.

Here is a question I started asking myself about halfway through Dark Souls: why do I need to link the fires? You start to notice that enemies and areas aren’t ambiguously named. There aren’t places like “The Dark Forest” or “The Forgotten Castle.” Locations and (most) bosses have distinct names and titles like Ornstein and Smough, Seath the Scaleless, Crossbread Priscilla, and Dark Sun Gyndolin, just to name a few.

If you were like me you begin squinting at the game and silently mouthing, Who are you?”

If you pay attention to the environment and start to pour through descriptions on your items (sneaky bastards) you can start to piece things together. It may seem as though a lot of these areas are simply slapped together for game play sake, but the writers behind Dark Souls had a definite, clear story in mind for the game; you just need to dig it up.

The only reason I think this method works is because they made double sure that you don’t have to know it at all to play the game. The game itself is about combat and exploration, and they put a lot of time creating a rich, cohesive world to run around. It feels like a 3D Metroidvania game:  massive, sprawling segments with things to find and secrets to uncover. Diving deep into one area to find the key to unlock another. Pathways that wind back into themselves to create this sense that everything is connected (sometimes literally).

For many people, I understand that having to find the story seems ludicrous. But what really works for me is the fact that I didn’t even know the story was there, and I got to have that feeling of satisfaction of slotting pieces together and realizing what happened. There is no greater feeling of excitement and urgency than realizing midway through a segment that you know what happened, and you suddenly see everything with a new gaze.

And you find this by paying attention to the world environments, and reading descriptions from items. As an example:

Havel's Ring Dark Souls 3

You get this ring after defeating Havel in Dark Souls. He’s not actually a boss, just a heavy plated knight at the base of a tower. Almost innocuous. You wouldn’t have known he was important unless you got his equipment.

Each item has a description like above: it tells you immediately what it does, and then if you are interested, it tells you a little about the wearer or the world surrounding it. You find out that the knight was named Havel, and he fought alongside—wait, Gwyn the First Lord?

And then more questions fill your mind: what the hell was Havel doing at the base of that tower? What was he guarding? Why is he here? And where is Gwyn?

Eventually you find other items that begin to fill you in on what happened. And this happens for any number of bosses, characters, or areas until you have a complete, albeit hazy understanding of what happened. Your exploration and determination uncovered the mystery. It’s really satisfying.

And then you start to realize that the environment is also telling you a story. There is a castle full of undead soldiers and barricades trying to keep something out, but what were they fighting against? There is the abandoned city of Anor Londo: where did everyone go? What is this massive library apart from the city for? What were they studying?

The scope of the games becomes much more enjoyable when you realize that nearly every single thing matters to the narrative hidden beneath the surface. Things as simple as “What is this monster from the first area doing in the last area?” become massive clues to the world and story at large.

Many games have done this. Filling you in on tidbits of history with item descriptions. Dark Souls wastes nothing, not even these descriptions. Armor sets usually tell you a tiny bit about other countries, establishing the world at large. Weapons might tell you about the bearer and why they have this. Some tell you about how characters knew one another. The more you collect and observe, the more you understand the world around you, and no one had to fill you in in a cut scene.

I can’t really full explain it unless you are already excited about the Souls games, so I’ll save you the gush. But what has affected me the most from these games is how I want to tell a story.

I have been accidentally doing this in Rogue Trader; I try and build backstories for basically every important NPC I create, and I keep this information up to date on a wiki for my players.. I put extra information on the wiki so that my players can go read more about what they are doing, and maybe sprinkle in a couple of questions they could be asking.

This has been my emphasis for my proprietary DnD realm I’m building. I want each area to have the quest, but also have enough of a story written into the details that the players can basically locate secret objectives. I want the world to feel rich with mystery, because the feeling of discovery is awesome.

A haven’t really experienced this much as a player outside of video games and some books. But I want to encompass that feeling in Rogue Trader and my story writing, that feeling of exploration, discovery, and revelation. I will endeavor to continue and I will always look to Dark Souls for inspiration because the feeling I got while playing that game is irreplaceable.


I’m Finally a Game Master

I did it, Emily.  It’s been a long, arduous, frustrating road.  But I did it!  I’m a Game Master!

My first overarching quest is coming to a head!  Not by itself impressive, but what is is that my players are slowly realizing that the scenario is bigger than them— and how important the decisions they have (and will) make will echo in the halls of eternity!

Whoo!  I successfully communicated the ideas and themes behind this plot-line in a way where I didn’t need to ham-fist exposition.

My players thus far have made very straightforward decisions based on where they think they are supposed to go.  The problem with that is they do what they think I want them to do; as if the game is scripted and they are just parts in a play.

But in the last session, when faced with a political decision, it forced them to take a step back and realize that there is more to this than simply showing up and rolling dice.

To be frank, I don’t think some of my players enjoy this part.  But this is what I want the campaign to be: choices.  I want my players to find themselves in situations where their actions and choices are going to shape the world around them.

But my worry up until recently is that they wouldn’t care about making an informed choice.  They do care about the game and having fun, but it would be easy for them to be like, “Uh, that one- I don’t care, where is my laserfist.”


The quick version: the players had made it through the Maw into the Koronus Expanse and they moored up at Port Footfall.  They met the rich merchant Zulfikar Raheem.  He has worked with them on a few jobs, but then it starts to become apparent someone is messing with Zulfikar’s affairs.

Zulfikar suspects (and with provided evidence from the players, ascertains) the Kasballica Mission is trying to screw him.  He implores the players to go distract the Kasballica in a gambit to buy him some time.

The Kasballica Mission hires them to do a job; that job was to fuck with Zulfikar’s affairs.

The mission is to go to a mining colony and setup a facility that will break the compact Zulfikar has with a Rogue Trader.  They go to the mining facility and realize that the planet itself is embroiled in its own conundrum.  So the players need to wade through the planets politics while also furthering their own ends.

Then for the first time the players asked themselves what they are doing.  Thus far they have been making whichever decision is presented to them.  But once they started to understand the stakes involved with the planet, and with their various political relationships, they finally started asking questions of themselves.  Not questions like, “Where are we?” but more like, “Why are we doing this?”

They slowly started to question the ins and outs, the benefits and consequences, and that’s when I ascended to a new level of Game Master.  That is when one of my players asked himself, “What is Zulfikar doing?”

I had done it.

It’s the moment I was never sure that would come because it was heavily dependent on my ability to playact a story for them.  Playact it in such a way that the pieces fit together, but might not be presented in order.  And in that session my players began inspecting the pieces and realizing that the picture is far bigger than they thought.

Now to be utterly fair, maybe my players had greater faith in me than myself.  Maybe they had been piecing it together and just making notes until the end.  Usually after sessions I get a lot of, “It’s fun!” and “Campaign is awesome.”

But this was the first session where I began to see them deliberate.  To engage with the story and talk about their investment.  Listening to them make theories and compare evidence.

I will never be able to fully describe the feeling.  I think I have a long way to go to become a GM of legend, but its good to have affirmation that the setting I’ve built is doing its job.

This post comes out on Friday.  The following Saturday I have to run the game again.  I cannot wait to see what happens next.


Writers Block?!

“I don’t believe in writers block.  Do plumbers get plumbers block?”

— Django Wexler

So writing has been my new big hobby.  I am now running two campaigns and write in one of two blogs each week.  I am slowly drafting a real book or novella.  I am in the middle of Story by Robert McKee, a book about crafting story and making the most of your words.

I was bound to encounter this writers block I kept hearing about.  And its proving a difficult thing to overcome!  Specifically I’m encountering this with the Rogue Trader campaign.  I have a ton of content written up already and is just waiting for me to flesh out, but the last story arc of the campaign is eluding me.  I’ve work-shopped it a couple times, and the ideas are pretty alright, but I’m having quite a time trying to fill out interesting and unique quests.

Past posts I’ve made have put forward the strong ideas I have about narrative and goals in story writing.  My goals for the Rogue Trader campaign are to have a campaign that my players have a vested interest in, and I always want it to be actionable by the players.  The moment that I run a campaign and I’ve talked for more than five minutes I feel like I’ve failed.  Its a role playing game, and I never want to have my players become bored listening to me talk.

I want to keep my players engaged, and much like a video game, I keep trying to play to their innate desires as characters and players.  Players want to have fun and do things while their characters can have fun, emotional arcs through the story.  My players with few exceptions give me very little to work on that front.  I’ve asked them for more to work with and I’ve begun role-playing exercises meant to try and make them think about their characters in complex ways.  However, this has availed me very little.

I press on though, and that’s suitable.  I feel like I’ve blown through all of my unique ideas though.  The remaining ideas I have for quests don’t align or link up to form grand, overarching ideas.  It feels mishmashed and I hate it.  The quests I want to write have interconnecting threads, themes, and motivations that make sense and are possible.

I don’t want to fill in the blanks with meaningless filler just to navigate towards something I want to do.  Tools like that cheapen the effect I’m going for.

I hate NPC’s that have emotions or motivations that translate to “convenient for the GM.”  Having combat encounters for the sake of keeping the players entertained is almost always a poor idea, at least in Rogue Trader.  If I have a hive gang attack because they are looking to score some cash, the players will assume that they must’ve been sent by somebody.

I can’t really elaborate on the questline I need to flesh out because one to two of my players read this and it would be wiiiiiiiiild spoilers.  I have some cool moments I want to navigate through and I don’t want to rob them of the experience.

There are a number of things I’ve read about doing to try and clear my problem but it doesn’t feel like it works.

  • Keep writing anyway.  Stuck on one part?  Write another until the problem clears itself up!

My issue is that my next big hurdle is campaign order and structure.  Which quests happen in which order.  Since I don’t even know what the individual quests hold, I can’t even do placeholders!  Maybe I’m over thinking it?

  • Back up and try something else.  Write a bunch of scenarios and see which one is the best!

This has failed me.  All the scenarios I write feel like they lose something personal and begin to feel like filler.  If a scene or an act doesn’t have a premise and a meaningful conclusion I feel like its pointless.  Now I get as a role-playing game these things can be fun because the players make it their own but all I keep coming up with is “Go to location.  Do the thing.  Return.”

But its Rogue Trader so I need to try and write things in such a way that the players don’t fly away out of boredom or blow it all to hell.  This is why Dark Heresy is the #1 Warhammer 40k system: there are no fucking spaceships.

  • Don’t try and jump in and write.  Make the outline, then the draft, then write it.

I love this one, and its how I actually usually write my quests.  This is what I’ve been currently trying but since I’m stuck with even the core idea of the quest line I still feel stuck, even when I begin to list out segments and settings.

On top of all of this: the campaign is continually marching on.  I can’t take a month to work on it since my players expect to play every other Saturday.  And if I take a month off to work on it, something else will fill that RPG void and I’ll lose my platform to run my campaign.

I acknowledge that I’m probably wildly overthinking this.  My difficult has always been brainstorming and coming up with ideas.  I’ve never felt deeply creative.  Many of my friends are an endless font of inspiration and ideas, but I feel like I struggle to even come up with set pieces.

My players are finally on the trail of the story at large.  I’m hoping this is the event that kicks my brain into gear.  I usually produce good work at the eleventh hour.  I learned this in college- all nighters were my bread and butter.  I don’t want to work that way, but we will certainly see what happens.


Telling a Story: HTTYD v. Monster Hunter

A new Monster Hunter game comes out soon and I’m fucking pumped.  I love that game!  The most recent one, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (MH4U), was super great and it might be my favorite one!  I dunno though- Freedom Unite on the PSP was pretty glorious.


That monster is the best no matter what Ellis cries about.

The one thing that stands out to me as a huge glowing weak spot in MH4U was the single player story.  The game isn’t an RPG, but they certainly try to make it one.

Monster Hunter’s formula is: you hunt monsters, you collect parts, you make better armor, you use said armor (and weapons) to fight stronger monsters.

The single player story puts way too much into trying to make you understand why you are hunting them.  They try to make me invested in the people and the town when I really don’t fucking care.  I wanna go fight badass monsters and make bitching weapons so I can see what the next monster is!  I don’t give three shits about your town.

The single player story essentially is: talk to village people, they make requests for parts, you hunt monster, you get prize.  That’s perfectly fine- I enjoy hunting monsters for my own reasons, so I might as well hunt them for profit.  But MH4U had a long story line about how the village is threatened and blah blah blah.  I can’t honestly fucking tell you because every time someone starts talking about some shit I skip it all.  I don’t care!  I heard “There’s a new monster…” and I was fucking checked out!

It wouldn’t be a problem but they talk forever.  Its the goddamn owl from Ocarina of Time.


“Don’t say ‘No’ this time.”

I’ll do another article how much I fucking love this game, but what I really want to talk about is how to tell a story.  I’m not a script or story writer, but as one who values experiencing a story there are definitely ways to make it fucking better.

You’re stories need to be about the experience as much as they are about the story.  If you spoon feed me the specifics about whats happening it makes me feel outside of whats happening.  That’s what happens in MH4U.  All I want to do is kill monsters, but you are making me sit down so grandpa can tell me about how he used to kill monsters when he was young and god I want to skip this sentence as I’m writing it.

If you want me to feel the pressure about monsters destroying the village- have them destroy the village.

How fucking pissed would you be if you failed to kill or stop a monster and it tore ass through the village and now half of the stuff I need is under repair.  Fighting monsters would have a new level of nut-sack on fire intensity if I knew that failure meant things would affect me.

But no- they’d rather have this guy talk for 1,000 years.  The monster destroyed the village while he was talking about the monster destroying the village.

This method is used a lot in Shounen animes.  Dragon Ball Z, Soul Eater, and Bleach come to mind.  It doesn’t inherently make them bad, just unsophisticated.  Its that formula of Character A is doing something and Character B is explaining what they see (even if they are alone).

An example of how to tell a story without a couple gallons of exposition is How to Train Your Dragon.  Dean Dublois is a fucking hero.


He also worked on Mulan and Lilo & Stitch.

Now I know I’m comparing story telling elements in a game versus a movie, which can’t fundamentally be the same thing- but keep with me.  The overarching point I want to make is “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

I ain’t even gonna explain How to Train Your Dragon (HTTYD) because hopefully you’ve seen it.  If you haven’t I have significantly failed you as a brother.

Every scene in that video we understand promptly.  We understand Toothless and Hiccup separately, but also together.  The very end shows Hiccup trusting Toothless enough to look away with his hand out, and then Toothless leans forward and touches it with his snout.  Now- we could have a character from behind a bush be like, “Oh my gawd they understand each other and Hiccup is learning that they aren’t mindless beasts!”

But that doesn’t happen; so we all remember that and feel uplifted because we experience it with the characters.

By necessity the story is going to have a lot more visual storytelling because dragons can’t talk.  But that’s what makes the movie so great.  Words are more easily forgotten than seeing something and Dean knew that.  Its why Toothless is so expressive.



Is that fucking owl still talking?

You take one quick look and you can tell whats going on.  He doesn’t have to have Hiccup voice Toothless’ every thought.

Dean trusts that he can put enough points out that we’ll just naturally connect them.  And when he establishes this with the viewer we get adorable sequences where there’s no talking- only happy memories.

And then he uses this as a powerful story telling tool.  As the audience, we know shit is very, very wrong when Toothless looks like this:



Dean wasn’t explaining to us why we should be worried, he was appealing to our experience so far as a moviegoer.  We’ve only seen Toothless have almost human like expression- and now Dean is finally showing us that Toothless is actually a fucking scary dragon.

And this contrast involves no dialogue.  Now obviously he has the characters respond to it in the movie but it mirrors our own.  We experience this at the same time as other characters in the movie.

I mean- these examples are pretty straightforward.  Maybe I’m not making my point.  Lets compare it to this:

Literally laying out a plan in front of the enemy seems fucking silly.  It’s not the end of the world but he could’ve just said like “Everyone know the plan?  Go!”  They could all rush off and we, the viewer, are left to discover what is is.

We can get excited when we start to realize and figure it out.  Why lay it all out?  Things are more exciting when you don’t know everything.  Its like sex- its not exciting if my explanation takes longer than the act itself.

Dean Dublois uses this stuff to great effect in HTTYD.  Since they are CG movies he’s able to carefully sculpt each scene to be full of symbolism and subtly.  He tells a lot more with less words because he sets it all up.  He treats each component of the story as its own character.


Old Yeller ain’t got shit on Stoic.

You watch this scene.  Its somber, the music is low, everyone’s sad.  But this part of the movie is a turning point for Hiccup and he gives an emotional speech.  It couldn’t be more inspiring, but the idea behind the scene was that Hiccup is standing in the shadow of his fathers light.  He’s afraid, and he feels alone- but we see this on screen.  We don’t need someone from Sequelitis popping up to inform us what’s going on.