Comedy versus Horror

What’s the difference between Comedy and Horror?

I’m not sure I really ever agreed with Aristotle’s definition of Comedy vs Tragedy, but I was thinking today about the trope of “Body Horror,” and how it was used as a comedic element in Deadpool (2016)

I concluded that: in Comedy, we are told everything is going to be okay; in Horror (or Tragedy, for that matter), we are told that it is not.

 

On Giving Feedback

What’s the best way to give someone quick feedback, especially on some creative work that they have done?

I’ve seen the “Sh!t Sandwich” recommended, but while it can work as part of a longer feedback discussion (for example, an employment review), when its used wen giving a few moments of feedback, the structure is far too transparent. I find that either people recognise the pattern and assume it’s a way to essentially sugar-coat criticism, or they completely miss the critique and only think about the nice bready bits.

Likewise, a simple “hmm… try this,” can come across as know-it-all, especially as sometimes what makes sense in our head makes absolutely no sense in real life.

The best feedback format I know was taught to us by one of our Multimedia Design tutors, and follows this flow:

  1. I like…
  2. I don’t like…
  3. How I’d do it differently.

Most of the directors I’ve loved working with and would be happy to work with again also give redirection following a similar structure.

I think of it as an “Open Sandwich.” Three different layers with three different functions. It maintains the same basic parts of the Sh!t Sandwich, but has something extra on top that really turns it into a special something!

It works well because it forces the person giving feedback to really force themselves to both find something they like (useful if they’re a critical person or “always sees the flaws”), and something they hate (useful if they don’t want to offend or don’t care, or come across as insincere), as well as contribute an idea (ideas are always useful, even if they’re bad: they can trigger awesome ideas!). I find myself thinking and talking this way all the time now. If I sense some resistance, I’ll offer a, “it may not work, but let’s try it.”

Of course, when the trust is built up, the person receiving the feedback knows your intention and is more than happy to try it.

The outcome ends up being that the feedback is taken well, sometimes that idea is tried and works great, sometimes it truly is bad, but in the process of trying something new, the creator finds a new outcome that is greater than both ideas.

 

Narrative Structure: Military Service Trauma and First-Person Shooters

One of my responsibilities as Narrative Designer at Blowfish Studios has been to write and design an example/official campaign for Gunscape, which is an FPS level-builder and multiplayer game that heavily references a lot of iconic FPS of the past, and is now only two weeks away from full release!

When I started working on deciding what sort of campaign we might have (keeping in mind that this was late in the development cycle, and there was limited scope for new features), I decided that a good place to start would be to review the games that we were referencing art-wise, to see what patterns I could find in them.

I found that each fell generally into one of two narrative structures. Interestingly, it struck me that these two narrative structures correlated to two concepts described within Trauma research.

Disclaimer: I haven’t played all of the games I researched. I often had to rely on transcripts, level breakdowns, or synopses. Also, the quality or methods of storytelling is incidental to this observation of narrative structure.

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What makes games unique?

At PAX Australia 2015 in Melbourne, I attended Warren Spector’s keynote speech, which included the quote,

“We are all part of a medium nothing else can do: collaborative storytelling. And I think it’s important that we embrace that capability.”

It was an awesome speech, but I found myself mentally griping about that line. I really want to give the benefit of the doubt and assume Mr Spector intended to insert the word “digital” or “screen,” because otherwise we are really missing out on another entertainment medium that can do some incredible collaborative storytelling: live theatre.

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Horror Games – Indulging the Wickedness

Today, I finished playing a game that was recommended to me by a friend a while ago, called The Cat Lady. I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this game. I realised pretty quickly that revenge is a pretty bad motivator for me, and the horrific images they showed seemed to neither shock nor repulse me. In fact, the only thing that drew me back was how strongly my friend had recommended it. But, I also kept in mind that my friend loves horror games, while generally I do not. Continue reading

What’s your point?

Every time I brainstorm or critique or give feedback to someone on a creative work of theirs, I always find myself asking,
What’s your point?

In other words: what are you trying to say; what do you want to explore; why do you want to tell this story; why do we want to listen?

This has the same significance whether it’s a one-panel comic or an epic novel series. There can be, and usually is, a difference between the plot (“what happens”) and the point/moral (“what it’s about”). There are a number of ways to tell the same story, and a number of reasons that story could be told. Some reasons are noble, some are indulgent, and none of it really matters. As long as you have that reason for telling your story, you have direction. It’s like having a customer/user/persona when you’re developing a product: you have a focus, a goal. All decisions made in the telling of a story, or the creation of a product, are answered by comparing whether it will help achieve the goal, whether it is in line with the focus.

When you feel that a scene or line is weak, when you start playing around with the storyline, come back and ask yourself, “What’s my point? What’s the point of this scene?” If it doesn’t advance the plot or the characters towards the goal, try changing it to something that does.

The Adventure Story

Recently, I started thinking about why Adventure games “died” in the late-90s, only to have a resurgance of popularity now, in the mid-2010s. Is it simple nostalgia? Is everyone who “grew up” on the game just get bored of them, and now are thinking back fondly? Or is there something specific to the ideal “Adventure” story structure that no longer resonated with us by 2000, but we’re again thirsty for, 10-15 years later?

Then, the other day, someone mentioned that they haven’t seen an “epic adventure” movie for a long time. Yet, we’ve been fed a steady stream of LOTR/The Hobbit movies. There is clearly something to an “Adventure” story that isn’t the same as following someone on the Hero’s Journey, or even the alternate journey that I’ve talked about a few posts ago.

Question: What do Ferris Bueler, Westley, and Indiana Jones have in common?

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