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Lessons from the Aether:Skyrim and the Power of Setting

Tweet of the Day: Pacing Tips


Video Games have always pushed the graphics envelope by looking to create better and more realistic images. They haven’t gotten human faces just right or human movement even with motion capture techniques, but some games, like Bethesda Softworks’ Elder Scrolls: Skyrim have mastered the art of presenting mind blowing settings that dare the player to explore them to the hilt. Skyrim is the latest in the Elder Scrolls series of sandbox (not open world I dislike the term as useless) fantasy games set in northern province of the Empire that rules the continent of Tamriel. The developers created a province mired in rebellion by a people modeled on the Vikings against said (Roman-like) Empire while dragons set fire to the land below. But it just another bucolic psuedo-medieval setting. Yes, it has the sword & sorcery, the strange races (elves but no dwarves although dwarven ruins are plentiful), and long history. But it is a game set in a land of rushing rivers, ice caped mountains and iceberg choked shores. One place in particular called (appropriately enough) Sky Temple, allows the player to gaze at frosted mountain range that gave the region its name: Skyrim.

It is the power of these vistas as well as the carefully crafted towns and cities of the setting that pulls the player in. The developers harnessed the power of setting to engage the players at a visceral level. It not simply a matter of killing a monster or defeating a dragon but of seeing what lies across the meadow, or on the other side of the ridge. Exploring old barrows full of restless dead never gets old. The ending (spoilers ahead) occurs in the world’s version of Heaven, under a dome of ringed luminous clouds ripped right out of  Dante Alighieri’s Paradiso.

The game’s designers understood the power of setting to grab the player’s attention. Of course, the setting is populated with many interesting characters, various monsters, and lots of activities to keep a player entertained for well over a hundred hours of gameplay. But it is the space where it all takes place that really makes the difference. The amount of detail put in makes the game feel unique among its many rivals.

Setting is also important to writers. A carefully crafted setting with details both big and small will stand out to the reader as well. It is not simply another dragon lair on the side of a mountain, it is the ancient domain of sharp toothed wyrmn, carved out of the stone of crumbling dwarven domain. A secret elven village is not complete if it doesn’t lie deep in a forest where trees whisper to each other and fairies dance in the moonlight. It is not simply a city skyline aglow with the light of hundreds of neon signs but what those neons signs sell that matters.

Remember, details bring your setting to life and make it a place your readers want to live in.


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TV Tropes Monday: Apocalypse How

Tweet of the Day: The Hilltop Spacemen

The Apocalypse, the End of All Things, or is it? It all depends on the flavor of said End. After all,not all acts of mass destruction are equal. As the tropes page shows, they can go from erasing a few blocks of your neighborhood to wiping all existence.  The scale depends on two factors: the nature of the stakes involved and the timing of the apocalypse.

A story about an individual or small group surviving the apocalypse may not need anything more than a mushroom cloud in the distance or a giant wave sweeping a coastal city of the map. But if the stakes involve the survival of an entire species, nothing short of a exploding planet or star will do.

The timing is also important. If the story begins with an apocalypse then it must have been survivable in some way. So the scale of destruction will be (at least) one less than the total sum of the scale of the setting. If the action is confined to a planet, like Earth, then blowing up the planet destroys the story. On the other side of the plot this trope signifies the literal end of the story and can be in any scale the author chooses, often with bigger, most destructive forms the better, specially if the author intends to nuk– end a series or books with a grand (and depressing) finale as to make it impossible for someone to continue the work afterwards.

So ready your weapons of mass destruction, prepare to unleash unstoppable forces of nature, summon primeval entities from before the Beginning of Time, and smash the universe to pieces.



Weekend Roundup: November 9-15



Tweet of the Day: How Accessible is Sci-Fi Romance?


Hi, didn’t see you there! Well, if I sound a bit more upbeat is because I am. Things have now reached a plateau of sorts, and it took me awhile to get used to the new normal in my life. Change is never easy, even when you know it is inevitable and already here. You power through, you carry on. But a little reality check goes a long way. And so here we are, celebrating another day. Talking of which, take a gander at this week’s posts:

Well I hope you’re having a great weekend where ever you are.


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Space for Rent: Ode to the “Simple” Plot

Tweet of the Day: My Life in Books: Restoration


I like “simple” plots. A simple plot can be strong, supple, elegant. In the right hands, the simplest of plots can be a thing of beauty. It is not a new thing under the sun, but it shines in the sunlight. A simple plot is the backbone of an amazing story, a bridge for characters to cross, and the power that makes a setting come alive.

A simple plot is simple.

It is not boring…unless ignored.

It is not dull…unless it is not polished.

It is not limited…unless you ignore its possibilities.

A simple plot is the cloth from which you weave deep stories of romance, adventure, and exploration. It carries the weight of subplots with aplomb and grace. A simple plot is the ever present undiscovered country, full of possibilities. It never feels like it was created by comity. It never relies on empty twists or unfounded conclusions. A simple plot never overstays its welcome. It is the kind of plot that goes under, over, or to the side of the giant blocks of granite that block a writer’s path. A simple plot doesn’t need to be carried, it shows the way.

A simple plot is as solid as a foundation stone and as lofty as the tor of the highest mountain. It is never pretentious but it allows for great ambition.

So shoo away all those cooks from the kitchen, all those generals from the command center, all the cobwebs from your mind.

Start simple,

Stay the course,

Build upon success,

Explore the possibilities brought to you by the “simple” plot.

Write a simple plot, and when in doubt…write some more.



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Lessons Learned: Politics in Video Games

Tweet of the Day: Upcoming Attractions: A Brief History Of Time Travel Documentary


My first official video on my new video game You Tube channel is up. I discuss the idea that video games and politics don’t mix. An idea that I find rather naive.

Visit the channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSJwmEVas6IDMKaE3YA9_rA

Link to the video here: http://youtu.be/zh-xdPFxAkU

Thank you all and have a nice week!

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TV Tropes Monday: Sealed Evil in a Can

Tweet of the Day: Talents and Skill Thesaurus Entry: Throwing One’s Voice


It’s a trope as old as time, according to several mythologies including the Greeks. Person is walking along, minding their business when they stumble upon a box, door, or other closed object or area. Curiosity gets the better of them and they pry the lock open and all goes to hell in a hand basket.

Congratulations jackass, you just unleaded a Sealed Evil in a Can.

This trope sets up one of three plots:

  • Stop the villain from unsealing the evil.
  • Re-seal the evil.
  • Find a means to destroy/neutralize the evil once and for all.

The last one is a bit tricky to pull of, on account that if it were easy to kill said evil, someone would have tried by now, and if they tried and failed, then probably the evil is no longer sealed. Of course, the imprisonment might have weaken it, or bought enough time for the heroes to assemble the McGuffin to kill it. Either way, it is powerful and therefore hard to kill. Although if I remember my Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she did kill one with a rocket launcher. It turns out that humanity had come along way from bronze weapons and wooden arrows.


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Weekend Roundup: November 2-8



Tweet of the Day: This Week’s Hurdle and Excerpt


Life, life has a way of catching up to you. It certainly has done for me. The family illness that I wrote about earlier continues and it even impacted my own health in small ways. It happens, you deal with it, you hope you can move on. I’ve also been busy with my new project, Lessons Learned, a new You Tube channel dedicated to video game analysis and critique, with a focus on the history of video games and questioning the assumptions of the industry made by developers, critics, and players. I really hate to ask readers for anything, but I would really appreciate it if you clicked on the link, yes, this one right here, comment and subscribe. Every view counts and to be honest I could use the help. Even if you are not a “gamer” or a fan of video games, the topics discussed will bridge the gap between video games and other areas. Well enough of rattling my empty cup, let’s see what happened this week on the blog:

I would also like to say something to all the wonderful people who have visited this page over the years: Thank You!

Every word of encouragement is appreciated.

Every statement of support lifts the heart.

Every praise helps me to carry on.

Again, to all of you, Thank You!



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