Friday, January 3, 2014

A Biennial (Triennial?) Update

Well, I suppose this is a good habit -- I last updated this blog back in December 2011, and now we're all in the future year of 2014, where I can turn on my television with my voice and binge-watch all seven seasons of 30 Rock from start to finish without moving. If I keep this up, I'll only have to update this blog at most one more time before I expire from repeatedly binge-watching 50 straight hours of television without moving.

The last few years have proven to be rather... interesting.

Dust: An Elysian Tail was successfully released on Xbox 360, PC, Mac, and Linux (available on both Steam and Good Old Games). Not only did it receive very positive reviews (with Metacritic scores of 83/100 on Xbox 360 and 85/100 on PC), but it also just surpassed half a million copies sold. If you use a game service like Steam or GoG, you might have also seen it on their recent holiday sale. Come to think of it, I think the game's been on sale more than it hasn't over the last few months.

I also made a transition to a brand new game development studio back in May of 2012.

At HitPoint Studios, I jumped right into the deep end of the pool, working on their Windows 8-exclusive episodic PC adventure game series ADERA as a puzzle and game designer. It was more than a bit of a culture shock to me, but it was a fun new challenge to work on first-person puzzle adventure titles, especially since I loved them growing up (MYST, Lighthouse, the Zork series, the Journeyman Project, etc).

The ADERA series wrapped up after five episodes. Challenging as the project was, it was a lot of fun to work on the design for it, and I also learned a lot in the process. Not just on the design side, of course, but in working with the large and talented HitPoint team and learning to work directly with publishers on day-to-day creative tasks (Microsoft had a very prominent role in the development of ADERA).

It's also the second game I've worked on that people did cosplay for.

Well, technically the third, I suppose -- but the Wee Ninja outfit that made its debut at E3 a few years ago wasn't really fan-made.

That picture up above with the Dust cosplay, by the way, is of Dean Dodrill (the creator of Dust: An Elysian Tail) and myself, along with an awesome fan who wore his Dust outfit to PAX East last year, when Dean and I did a panel on the making of the game. That was also where we announced the Steam version to the best audience I could possibly have imagined.

So, what else is new? Partway through 2013, I had the opportunity to help create the world, characters, and design for HitPoint's latest original IP: Fablewood

If you have a Facebook account and are a fan of hidden object games or isometric world builders, it's definitely worth a look! The goal was to create an easygoing Facebook game with memorable characters and a fairy tale vibe, so if any of that sounds appealing, it's right there on Facebook. Seriously, it's right there!

I've also been keeping up with the webcomic I mentioned last time I posted (wow, the amount of time between that last post and this one is almost staggering now) -- Beyond the Western Deep continues to be a fun project and a fun story with fun characters and a fun partner to do it all with, so I suppose there's little worry in that stopping anytime soon!

Rachel and I have also just confirmed our presence at the next Baltimore Comic Con, where we will have a table in Artist's Alley and be selling hardcover collections of the first collected Western Deep volume along with some manner of stickers and/or art prints. I may also be putting up an appearance at Boston Comic Con shortly before Baltimore -- though if I did go, it would be without the inimitable Rachel Bennett at my side. The trip from Ohio is a long one, after all, and if she's picking one convention to do between the two of them, Baltimore will be it!

Judging by the number of books we'll be printing, I imagine we'll be doing some manner of online selling, too. It's entirely possible that my next blog post may take considerably less than two years to produce, but we'll see.

The year ahead is filled with promise and myriad opportunities, so I may be tempted to swing back to this blog (since people still link to it even though it updates at a geologic timeframe). The best way to stay apprised of my activities would be to follow me on Twitter @tdcpresents.

Well, that wasn't too bad I suppose. Only took me two years to put that post together. Think I'll go take a nap.

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Projects

I figured I should probably update this blog, since folks keep linking to it when my name comes up.

Things have been keeping quite busy over here - in addition to various Venan-related projects such as Book of Heroes (available now on the App Store for the awesome price of NOTHING!) I have been keeping busy with a multitude of side projects:

Dust: An Elysian Tail has been a pretty big project for me. For starters, it'll be the first script I've worked on that includes a fully-voiced cast, but it certainly goes beyond that. Having played recent builds of the game, I can say that Dust plays as well as it looks. Imagine, if you will, a combination of Metroid and God of War and you've got an idea of what the gameplay is like. Working with Dean "Noogy" Dodrill has been an awesome experience, and I'm looking forward to working on more projects with him in the future.

Beyond the Western Deep is a webcomic that I've been working on with Rachel Bennett for quite some time now. The idea for the comic materialized while we were both still in college, and after many years of planning and pitching, we finally settled on a webcomic as the medium to go with.

The comic is inspired by our love of the Redwall series, but also pulls in inspiration from The Elder Scrolls series, Lord of the Rings, classic animated films like "The Secret of NIMH", and other sources. Beyond the Western Deep could be considered a love letter to our childhoods, and we're finally ready to start posting pages online. The comic's website is

Lastly, I've been working on a novel pitch (that is, a pitch for a novel, not a pitch that is novel) for the last few months now. I can't really talk about it, but I can say that I am collaborating with an artist for the pitch illustrations and the work that has been done thus far is very promising.

It is my hope that by the time my next post rolls around, that mystery third project will be able to materialize a bit for public consumption. In the meantime, there's always Dust and Beyond the Western Deep!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Brian Jacques - 1939-2011

This was posted over on Rachel's and my webcomic blog, but I think it's important to put it here as well.

Matthias and the Tapestry of Redwall (by Rachel)
It's not very often when somebody creates a world so imaginative, so influential, that generations of creators call on it as their inspiration. This past weekend, the creative world lost a giant - a man who crafted a world of woodland creatures living in an Abbey in the middle of Mossflower Wood, and created a community of fans and admirers that I sincerely hope will continue to be influenced by his incredible body of work for years to come.

In a world that changes on the whims of focus groups and sales charts, here was a man who honestly did not care about any of those things. The Redwall series transcended reviews and bestseller lists. The Redwall series simply was - and every year, almost like clockwork, another book came out that you could read, each one offering a simple guarantee that for a short amount of time, you would be whisked away to the world you'd been reading of since childhood, and it would always be the same, always safe, always familiar, no matter how dark or dreary the real world became.

Despite the fact that my one personal meeting with Mr. Jacques did not go very well (it involved a Redwall video game pitch back in 2004, and interviews have since proven that this was not an idea he was very keen on), I owe him so very much. To thank him for the Redwall series itself seems insignificant - instead, I look beyond it to see that Rachel and I would probably not know each other if there was no Redwall series, and this comic tale, this world, these characters - they simply would not exist without the Redwall series as a guiding light in our early years.

My long-standing and irreplaceable friendship with Sean Rubin began with that Redwall video game pitch - and other friendships I cherish (Kristen, Vero, Zach, everyone - too many to list) began with a common interest in the Redwall series. My work on David Petersen'sMouse Guard series would not have come to pass either, without the series' incredible impression on both his work, my work, Sean's work, and our friendship. Truth be told, most of my personal creative endeavors are due to Brian Jacques and the fantasy series he created.

I don't know what the future holds for the Redwall series now - but I know that regardless of what happens with the series proper, that it will continue to evolve and improve in the hearts and minds of the creators it inspired. Redwall was more than a book series to me - it was and always will be an idea; a creative spark that, as long as we continue to hold it with us, will never die.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fifteen Games

Oy, it's been a crazy couple months, it has. Lots of fantastic projects that I'll eventually be able to talk about, but at the moment really can't. That said, I figure I might as well put something up here in the interim, so I'll add a nice little Facebook meme I did on here that was supposed to be a simple note, but turned into something far greater. Fifteen video games of any quality that will always "stick with me".

These aren't in any particular order:

1.) Out of this World/Another World: Yeah, folks who know my gaming habits know that this game is always at the top of my list. I've probably played the game more times than all QA testers for all versions released on every system ever. I like this game so much I was actually quoted in a Gamasutra article where I went on and on about how it's illogical for me to keep playing this game, even though I know every pixel on every screen by heart, but though some magic combination of nostalgia, style, and just enough randomness in the combat to avoid feeling broken, I keep coming back to this game. "Hey, I've got 30 minutes to kill, I could beat Out of this World again..."

2.) Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness: Before Morrowind, there was Quest for Glory. And as much as I love the Elder Scrolls games (see further down this list), Quest for Glory IV has a dark sense of humor that just can't be beat. This game combines a great many things that I love: a unique story with a real air of foreboding, HP Lovecraft, a non-linear world, great writing, great music, great voice acting, and a puzzle that requires you to give a dapper hat to a talking skull so it will let you past other skulls that shoot laser beams out of their eyes. Also, it managed to make buying and eating food to survive NOT a pain in the neck.

3.) Shadow of the Colossus: How many games in this list with some variation on the word "Shadow"? Well, Shadows of the Empire would've made it on this list fifteen years ago, but not now. Anyway, what can be said about SotC that hasn't been said? Despite being painfully short (mostly because the gameplay structure tantalizes you with hints about the next encounter so you don't want to save and quit), the game is filled with "moments" that simply can't be beat. Everyone who's played the game knows what I'm talking about when I say that jumping off a galloping horse in real-time onto a 400 foot long flying serpent ranks as a defining moment of the medium right up there with "dog jumps through window."

4.) Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: It was a toss-up between this and the original-but-not-really Prince of Persia for SNES, but in the end this game has held up better for me, despite its age and the fact that other games have come out in the interim that build upon its core mechanics (specifically other Prince of Persia games). Despite its linear gameplay and aging graphics, it's the game's tone and narrative that keep me coming back. The whole "Farah/Prince" duo thing was done better here than anywhere else because there was actual development to the characters over the course of the game's events. Also, even though combat was pretty shallow, it felt fast enough and was simple enough to grasp that I honestly wish the series would go back to it and lay off the combo-based stuff from the later games. I've yet to play Forgotten Sands, but I've heard good things.

5.) Chrono Trigger: Getting this on the SNES was an experience that simply can't be replicated in today's gaming world. At an age where I pretty much had to rely on my parents for games, and they were tempted to hold them until Christmas, getting a hold of this game before its ultra-hyped storyline could be spoiled by my classmates and friends was a challenge. Somehow I got a hold of it, and I was completely entranced. It's like an oasis of brilliance even TODAY. It bucks all sorts of silly JRPG trends by getting rid of random battles, losing EXP grinding, ditching obscure hints you need to decipher in order to find the next dungeon, and characters actually not taking themselves or the game story SO SERIOUSLY all the time. Despite having a crazy huge cast of characters, most were rendered with such loving detail it's hard to forget them. Also, why the hell hasn't anybody expanded on this game's combat system? It was speedy, just deep enough to prevent getting lost in it, and was balanced perfectly. Not even the game's "sequel" bothered bringing it back! It's almost like this game traveled from the future and people are still trying to figure out what it took to develop it.

6.) Lost Odyssey: I hate random battles and emo main characters. Seriously, I just despise them. I also hate JRPG cliches that have persisted for the last 20-some-odd years despite the fact that any objective designer would look at them and wrinkle their nose at their obsolescence. So imagine my pure, unmitigated hatred when I saw Lost Odyssey - like Death riding his pale horse at the front of an oncoming apocalypse, I saw it as everything that was wrong with the aging Japanese developer culture. I railed on the game for quite some time - then I rented it. That was a mistake, because it turns out Lost Odyssey isn't a representation of everything wrong with Japanese development - it's actually an honest and well-produced look at the things we liked most about it, repackaged and made JUST fresh enough to make us forget there are random battles, an emo main character, a spunky heroine with an attitude, two annoying magic-using kids, etc. The turn-based (and timing-based!) combat really kept the battles interesting, while the narrative - one of the best I've ever seen - kept me interested all through the game's immense play-time. The 1,000 Years of Dreams segments, all displayed in text with appropriate music throughout, weren't just good, they were GREAT. Add this on top of what I consider to be one of the greatest game music scores ever and you've got a game that really stuck with me.

7.) Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars: I don't know how Square did it (especially after creating the bizarre and barely-cohesive Kingdom Hearts/Disney crossover universes) - they took a Mario game and gave it an excellent narrative, a cohesive world, and interesting characters. They also used Chrono Trigger's not-random battles, a spectacular timing-based combat system, and fun worlds to explore with silly mini-games peppered throughout. The only thing I hate about this game is that it hasn't come out on the DS yet, and with the Mario and Luigi RPG's maintaining a presence on the system already, it seems highly unlikely it will ever happen. Ah, Square Enix, why did you have to be so awesome in the 90's?

8.) Super Mario 64: Playing this now, it's pretty hard to get back into it. It's an entertaining game and all, but unlike "Out of this World", it's hard to really blast through it just for fun's sake. It's stuck with me though for a number of reasons, and the one that sticks with me the most is a really vivid memory: Fall 1996, Holyoke Mall, at the Electronics Boutique, they had a kiosk set up with Mario 64. This was my first glimpse at any system beyond the SNES, and when Mario's head popped up for that opening menu screen and shouted "Hello!" I nearly wet my pants. Back in '96, to me, this was the future of gaming. No game since have I pined for so desperately, and no gaming experience past Mario 64 has ever felt quite so cathartic. Now I play it and all I see are flat colors on chunky characters, 2D billboarded trees and the cheap plastic of the N64 controller (and the now-loosened and difficult-to-use analog stick that binds the whole experience together) - but 14 years ago this was the pinnacle of entertainment for me, and that's hard to forget.

9.) System Shock 2: Is it that time of year again? That time of year when I re-install System Shock 2 and play through it again? Not yet, not - but there are two games that I make a habit of playing through start-to-finish every year, and this is one of them. System Shock 2 was the first game I played that actually made me feel like I was physically exploring a location. I wasn't controlling an avatar, I was controlling my own view - and that made the incredibly scary audio and convincing (yet admittedly old-looking) environments and enemies all the more terrifying. The level design was also incredibly brilliant - after years of exploring environments that looked interesting but didn't feel logical or real, I was suddenly finding myself exploring abandoned apartments, lounges with overturned sofas, places that felt like ACTUAL PLACES, and not just a series of interconnected hallways. Also, walking through the robot storage facility was one of the scariest moments in my entire gaming career. Where the HELL is my System Shock 3?

10.) Headhunter: I was looking forward to Metal Gear Solid 2 at the time and then I read EGM's review of Headhunter - they described it as a kind of action-themed Metal Gear Solid clone, only with motorcycles and a badass main character named Jack Wade. "Well," I thought, "It can't be that bad, then." The game itself had some pretty standard mechanics: Take cover, aim at baddies and shoot them. There are different weapons, stealth kills, all that jazz. But around this mediocre shell I found some very cool things - an amazingly-realized version of the near future, where society has descended to a point where the air is so bad and our dietary habits so poor that organ transplants are a common, everyday thing. It sounds weird, but through a combination of gameplay mechanics (all guns are non-lethal, causing brain death but not damaging other "vital organs") and load-screen advertisements, they create a believable world where that kind of crap happens. Also, it had some extremely clever boss fights and what I consider one of the greatest musical scores in any action movie/game/show/etc ever by the inimitable Richard Jacques.

11.) Final Fantasy IV: This isn't the "best" Final Fantasy game out there - for me that's a tie between FF6 and FF12 (you heard me!), but FF4 was the very first JRPG I ever played, back when it was called Final Fantasy II on the Super Nintendo. The reason I ever played a JRPG so early in my gaming career was because my dad had stepped into a Babbages (yes, when they were still around) and somehow managed to pick this game up and read the back of the box. The only reason I played a JRPG at the age of 7 was because I shared a surname with one of the game's leads characters. Yes, Dragoon Kain is the reason I got into Final Fantasy originally. The following days after receiving this bizarre game consisted of poring over the instruction manual (which was not particularly helpful) and experimenting with various systems in the game. This was the first game I played where the good guys and bad guys lined themselves up on either side of the screen to fight in turn, where everything was based on stats, and where the storyline played a large role in my enjoyment of the title.

12.) Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: It was a toss-up between this and Ocarina of Time, but after some careful thought, I concluded that all the things I liked about Ocarina of time were just updated feelings I had felt earlier while playing the SNES iteration of the series. That said, I do love Ocarina of Time even to this day - but Link to the Past made that first impression on me, so it makes it on the list. I had experienced open-world games before (the Quest for Glory games, specifically), but Link to the Past doesn't get points for that - it gets points for its expansive dungeons and excellent puzzles. The classic "secret discovered!" sting always made me feel like I was the best gamer in the universe. Also, the size of the game world was large enough that I could get an objective in some faraway location (like the top of Death Mountain) and get that soon-to-be-usurped-by-Elder-Scrolls feeling of epicness as I prepared for my journey and ventured forth across the expansive landscape. Also, the 1/3-point where you think you've defeated the final boss and then discover that THE GAME IS JUST BEGINNING was really awesome and evoked a feeling I didn't feel until Far Cry 2 - a game that ALMOST made this list specifically for that reason. 

13.) The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind: Sadly, I can't really play this game anymore now that Oblivion has come and streamlined its less-than-savory elements, like slow movement speed, simple combat, and freakishly irritating Cliff Racers. But when this came out on Xbox (my PC was not powerful enough to play it at the time), it was an experience unrivaled by anything up to that point. There are moments in games where the pure joy of the immersive experience hits me - from getting the air ship in FFIV ("Holy crap, I can go wherever I want!") to standing in front of the Princess' castle in Mario 64 ("Holy crap, I can go wherever I want!") to exiting the Census and Excise Office in Morrowind and getting that trademark Bethesda pop-up that basically states "Okay, we won't bother you anymore. Go and do whatever you want." To which my response was "Holy crap, now I can go wherever I want and DO whatever I want!" The second part of that exclamation made Morrowind stand out more than any game previously, even games with moral choices I could make like the Quest for Glory games (obvious forebears of the Elder Scrolls formula). Wandering Morrowind's expansive and alien landscape, I felt like I should - a stranger in a strange land, free to make my mark in any way I so chose. Oblivion, I felt, screwed this up a bit ("How come nobody knows who I am if I've lived my whole life in this landlocked kingdom?"), but improved on almost everything I liked in Morrowind. I may play Oblivion now, but Morrowind hooked me in the first place, so it goes on the list.

14.) Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers: Lots of "4's" here in this list, I realize. Final Fantasy IV, Quest for Glory 4, even Prince of Persia: SoT was Prince of Persia 4, technically (after PoP 1 and 2, and then 3-D). So here we are with Space Quest 4, an adventure game that, upon playing now, I realize has some of the weirdest and most nonsensical puzzle solutions in the history of the medium. How the hell did I ever figure out that I was supposed to take a rope, hide behind THAT SPECIFIC PILLAR, and use it as a snare to grab the Energizer Bunny? And that was the first big puzzle in the game! There were so many other stupid puzzles here that I'm surprised I was ever able to get through it - but with the help of my good friend, Ned, we were able to take down the evil Sludge Vohaul and save the Space Quest series. This game sticks with me for a few reasons - first and foremost, cooperative adventure gaming is something that should be experienced more often - it makes solving puzzles that much quicker and makes the normally slow moments of wandering around collecting items much more interesting. Also, Space Quest 4 had some incredibly funny writing. Instead of traveling to different years or eras, you traveled to different Space Quest games - even Space Quest games that didn't exist at the time. Also, traveling back to Space Quest 1 meant getting taunted by low-detail characters in such ways as "Look at Mr. 256 colors over there!"

15.) Trespasser: Jurassic Park: Wow, bet you thought I'd actually put a GOOD game here, didn't you? Well, the thing is, Trespasser is a good idea buried under a veritable mountain range of terrible physics, broken gameplay, poor level design, lame puzzle design, busted AI, and dreadful graphics. That idea, which has been built around other, better games since (particularly the recently-released and most-excellent Amnesia: Dark Descent), is that you are stranded and alone, and the key to your survival is to make good use of everything you can scrounge up, be it a half-spent machine gun or a metal pipe. Despite everything that was broken with this game, it did a few things right. Trespasser was the first game to use the "only two weapons at a time" mechanic, and also pioneered the recharging health mechanic. You'll noticed that those two mechanics were then modified for use in Halo: Combat Evolved, and from there, every major FPS and action game into the foreseeable future. It also introduced the concept of needing to manually manipulate objects in the environment, which Penumbra and later Amnesia: DD did to great effect. Unfortunately, in Trespasser, this required players to manually aim guns using the actual iron sights of the in-game model, so shooting things wasn't always accurate. Also, as bad as the game is, it consistently produces some of the most amusing bugs ever, like getting your arm caught in a door and being able to walk backwards and see your arm stretch out like Stretch Armstrong. And since the AI and enemy animation system was busted, watching raptors stumble around like drunks never got old.

- Super Castlevania IV (If there had been a number 16, this would've gone there)
- Super Mario Bros. (Because it's Super Mario Bros.)
- Silent Hill 1 and 2
- Goldeneye (N64 - One friend, two Dark Sims, one-hit kills, fly-by-wire rockets)
- Metroid Prime (First-person adventure game. Made exploration and found narrative a beautiful thing)
- Flying Dragon (First game to use QTE's, despite what people say about Dragon's Lair)
- Starfox 64 (Rumble pack. 'Nuff said.)
- Jet Grind Radio
- Shenmue
- Jurassic Park (Genesis version)
- Disaster Report

It occurs to me that this was written up before I even went to NYCC, but I never posted it. Well, enough of that hogwash, it's time to get back into this blogging business.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Potential - Beyond the Page

This will be the last "Potential"-related blogpost, I promise. I realized that there was one more thing I wanted to talk about re: the story Sean Rubin and I did for "Legends of the Guard #2", and that was to write a bit about the storyline beyond what's included in the page.

One thing that I (and many other writers, I'm sure) will do when writing a story is to envision events both well before and after the tale to help put the characters' actions into greater context. When I'm sensitive to the characters' motivations and desires, it's infinitely easier to write scenes and dialog. With something like "Potential", where there really wasn't a lot of dialog to begin with, making every word count was of the utmost importance. To do that, I had to really dive into my characters, Eskel particularly. He explains his philosophy in the story itself, but in the backstories I wrote, he didn't always hold that point of view.
The original story, before common sense required Sean and I to hack away at the page count, involved an elaborate flashback sequence that was to explain more of Eskel's history and why he would put so much on the line for Barkhamsted and its small collective of inhabitants. 

Eskel was originally in a patrol with his best friend acting as Patrol Leader. Immediately before the Weasel War of 1149, the group was tasked with protecting a small Mouse village called Saybrook along the western border of the Territories. In a "Seven Samurai"-inspired scene, Eskel and his two best friends stood their ground and defended the town from the weasels during the opening days of the war. During a particularly heated battle, Eskel asks his Patrol Leader friend why they are risking their lives for some meaningless town (suggesting they abandon it out of pure common sense). Eskel's friend would only reply "If one falls, all fall."
And yes, for those keeping score at home, that would've been two small Connecticut towns in mortal peril in a single story.

At the end of the battle, Eskel is near-fatally wounded, his friends are killed, and the town is destroyed. Eskel only avoids meeting his maker thanks to the townsfolk whisking him away before the invaders can get a hold of him. After being nursed back to health, Eskel vows to follow his friend's example and protect those who other Guards would abandon. Instead of returning to Lockhaven to participate in the Weasel War, Eskel becomes a bit of a rogue element and travels from colony to colony, helping those that are too small to garner assistance from the Guard to defend themselves from attack. This work takes Eskel all over the Territories, until he finally reaches Barkhamsted and deals with their bear issue.

The subtext here is that Eskel hasn't been back to Lockhaven in years, and has been on a kind of pilgrimage, perhaps feeling that if he saves enough small towns that he will put his dead friends' souls to rest and make up for his cowardice. It takes Osric's determination and desire to become a Guard for Eskel to return to Lockhaven, where he would have eventually become a Patrol Leader and returned to the fold. 

Unfortunately, that bit of subtext could in no way ever hope to fit in the story as we have it written, so it remained, until now, a mystery. In a way, it helped the mystique of the story, making it really feel like a good campfire story as Fenton presented it in "Legends of the Guard #2". Eskel's philosophy is explained, but his motivations are not. His skills are demonstrated, but how he came to learn them was not. My problem is that I always write stories that are bigger than their final product - I tend to write icebergs and only display the tippy-tops. I'm always disappointed that I have to leave things by the wayside, but I think it ended up working in "Potential's" favor, adding a level of mystique appropriate for the June Alley Inn's storytelling contest.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lost "Legends": Part 2

Well, that only took a month, right? I guess I'm not too good at this whole 'blogging' thing. Anyway, before moving on to other things, I figured I would finish what I started and talk about the other Mouse Guard story concept that I put together as a possibility for our Legends of the Guard contribution.

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, the very first Mouse Guard story I'd conceived was actually meant to be a comedy. The general thinking being that if the main characters of the canon series represent the best the Mouse Guard has to offer, then what is the opposite side of that spectrum? The end result involved two mice, named Eskel and Conrad (not the same one from the canon series and who would later be renamed to Osric). These two characters were meant to be the absolute worst Guards in the history of the institution. Not because they were malicious, but because they were clumsy and not wholly bright. Osric was meant to be the one who liked to pretend he was smarter than he actually was, and Eskel was the one who acted entirely on impulse except, unlike Saxon in the canon series, doesn't have the skills necessary to back up his wild tendencies and would get into trouble more often than not.

Already I'd run into a problem - the characters, their personalities, their predicament - it would all require way too much backstory. The idea was for these characters to be introduced, then put them in a situation where they could save the day. That was well outside the bounds of a 10 page story, unfortunately, and I had to shelve the idea early on. A few concepts worked their way into "Potential", however.

First of all, Osric and Eskel eventually became the characters in "Potential". I liked the names (Osric being a popular name for ancient Anglo-Saxon kings, and Eskel being of Old Norse origin) and eventually they morphed into the characters seen in the current story. The backstories and personalities all changed as well, but Eskel's weapon of choice did not - in the original concept, Eskel's saving grace would be his vast knowledge of plant and herb mixtures that allowed him to attract and repel a wide variety of nasty beasties throughout the Mouse Territories. In "Potential", Eskel has managed to get his hands on some kind of bear-attractant. In my next post (and last post about Legends of the Guard writing) I'll write a bit about "Potential", explaining a bit about the backstory that isn't mentioned in the actual narrative found in "Legends of the Guard".

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lost "Legends": Part 1

As luck would have it, I'm actually moving out of this apartment Saturday morn. Having to take care of all the salient details (and having my day job on top of that) has really taken its toll on this blog. I figured that now, almost a solid day before the move begins, that I would buckle down and write another blog post about those "lost" Legends of the Guard story ideas.

Like I mentioned before, the project started with three ideas. Sean and I evaluated the three and picked the one we liked the most. In this case, it was the third and final concept I'd done. That one, originally jotted down by yours truly as simply "Shadow of the Colossus meets Mouse Guard!", turned into "Potential".

But what of those two other stories? What secrets did they contain? What new mysterious characters reside therein? Well, let me open the Google Doc and take a look.

The first story idea I wrote down was to be about the creation of the Mouse Guard's "scent border", which relies on a concoction created by mouse chemists that prevents massive and freaky predators from encroaching en masse into the Mouse Territories. The heroine, Shani, is a young chemist in the city of Sprucetuck who dreams of greater things, but is constantly berated by her overbearing father to simply accept the life she leads.

One night, she overhears a Guard complain that there are too many predators in the Territories and they are losing good Guardmice. He wishes that mice were stronger and more able-bodied - then they could just build a giant wall and be done with it! Shani half-jokingly suggests doing the very same - but with her own chemical concoctions instead of timber. The Guard is intrigued, and tells the Matriarch of the Guard the idea. This results in Shani being invited to Lockhaven, where she (quite hesitantly) assumes command of the greatest undertaking in the history of the Guard - to create enough of the concoction, and then use it along all the borders of the Territories.

(Map artwork by David Petersen)

As the Matriarch writes: "Long has the Guard attempted to ward these beasts through brute force and primitive traps. No longer must we put ourselves in such danger, for the unlikeliest of heroes has saved more lives than I can count. Shani of Sprucetuck is a testament to the potential of our kind. Her work has given me pause - that this, our greatest victory against the predators, was not won by a seasoned warrior at the tip of a sword, but by a meek science-mouse whose breath quickened at the very sight of Lockhaven. We must continue to seek out such outlandish ideas, for they may be the savior of all mouse-kind!"

Sean and I ultimately scrapped this story because it contained absolutely no action whatsoever. The story did focus on a series of values I wanted to instill in the narrative - about a young non-Guard who gives up their normal life to achieve a higher purpose - but Mouse Guard is also about rousing adventure and action, something this story seriously lacked.

I'll go into detail about the other story treatment next time - which will hopefully not take so long to write up.