Writing without the Reader: Reasoning Why Sleeping Dogs’ Plot Sucks Like a Black Hole

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As you may gather from reading the post title, I’ve been playing Sleeping Dogs recently. Considering that Square Enix puts the digital version on sale all the time, there’s a good chance you’ve played it, too. Somewhere, they probably have it on sale right now. I hear that if you bump into a Square Enix employee on the street, they will literally beg you to take their game. It’s really easy to get at a discount, is what I’m saying.

It’s well worth the price, too. The game is good. You won’t see much new here, but the game pulls its mechanics from some of the best out there. I enjoyed almost every bit of the game throughout. But there’s one area in Sleeping Dogs that’s just rotten. The plot. The plot of this game is so weak the rest of the game still steals its lunch money. The plot of this game is so stupid it had to repeat the third grade twice. The plot of this game is so foul… eh, you get the picture by now.

So what’s the big deal about this game having a bad plot? After all, video games have excuse plots all the time. Well, excuse plots are one thing, but Sleeping Dogs’ plot isn’t even coherent. But Sleeping Dogs’ plot is bad for a completely different reason than most sucky plots. When I was playing the game, the plot really felt like the designers had a complete script, but were picking and choosing what moments to include based on what they could make a mission out of, and just discarding the rest. There’s a thing an author can do with a work that I call ‘Writing without the Reader,’ literary academics probably have some smarter-sounding term for it, and the average person would probably call something like ‘Crap Happening Off-screen, Now Stop Making Up Useless Names You Dumb Blogger.’ But yeah, it’s essentially major events happening off-screen. You don’t always need the viewer present for every single important happening in your story. Some events you can have going on completely in the white space between chapters, and leave the reader to catch up on it by working through the results. It’s a tricky thing to get right, and not a skill I have yet, but better writer’s than I have used it effectively to streamline their works.

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Nobody Cares About Your Stupid Copyright Disclaimers

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Sometimes, the internet makes me feel like an old soldier. I once fought a war, but was overwhelmed, defeated, and now I survive only to wander the wastes of my former home as my enemy, the forces of Stupid, control my government and marry my women. Usually, I just shake my head and move on. For what can I do? The citizens of Stupid have grown soft and weak, but there are still much too many of them for any war to be successful, for anyone to be able to push them back and regain the territory that was once ours. When confronted once more with the Stupid, generally the only choice is to just ignore it and go home.

But sometimes, every once in a long while, I see something and just snap. It doesn’t have to be anything major, just something one of the Stupids has done one too many times. Today is one of those days. I’m once again taking up my sword, and rejoining the fight against Stupid on the Internet.

If you’ve made your way to this site, I’m going to assume you know your way around the internet. You’ve been through the slums, the back alleys, eaten at that one restaurant where the burgers are more grease than meat, had your share of local flavor, and made it back to tell the tale. You’ve probably seen this so many times before. Fan-fiction, AMV’s, songs and televisions clips reposted to YouTube, all of these copyright infringing works, with an accompanying statement. Usually it’s along the lines of “I don’t own this!” or “No copyright infringement intended” or “This song is copyrighted by Your Mother, Inc.” when the poster really has nothing to do with Your Mother. In any case, the uploader realizes that there’s these bizarre things called copyrights, and thinks that by putting up such a disclaimer, they can avoid violating these rights.

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Sinners Welcome! The Saints Row Retrospective, Part 2: Saints Row

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Saints Row Retrospective Introduction here, Saints Row 2 hereSaints Row The Third here.

We’re moving forward with our Saints Row Retrospective project, finally getting into real games. Who needs that foo-foo introduction crap anyway? This is where it’s really at! Here’s where we get into the meat of it, where we really find out what Saints Row is all about!

So here we are, talking about Saints Row, the first game in the Saints Row series. Go figure. Saints Row establishes a lot of what the following games pick up on and run with. And by “establishes” I mean “rips off from GTA” of course. I give it a lot of guff for that, but really, lots of games were ripping of Grand Theft Auto by the time this came out and Saints Row did it better than one might expect. Its definitely built off of the mechanics and style GTA III started, but the developers really added their own bits to it and made something unique. On-foot combat was made into something useable. The irreverent tone was expanded upon even as most crime games, GTA included, ditched the jokes for the drama masks. The city you were terrorizing had much more for you to do in between missions. Saints Row added enough to the formula that discounting it as just a GTA clone is doing it a disservice. It’d be more accurate to simply call it “mostly a GTA clone.”

Saints Row is a sandbox game where you are responsible for inflicting as much chaos, destruction, and straight up weirdness on the city of Stilwater as possible. Your nameless, customized character, known only as “Playa,” is an enforcer for the Third Street Saints, and as enforcer, your goals are to end gang warfare in Stilwater by murdering each and every member of the other three gangs in the city. Along the way, you’ll commit no small number of major and minor crimes, mostly through missions and non-storyline activities. It’s a sandbox game. Those things are made for messing stuff up. You’ve got pretty typical driving and third-person dual stick shooter controls. They put them together in a way that’s not quite great, but it functions well enough to make thousands of bangers dead. The plot’s fairly straightforward. There’s only a few twists, and they’re mostly towards the end. But you’re not playing for the plot anyways. The game doesn’t expect you to. All it expects you to do is destroy, and it dedicates itself to setting up just what you need for that.

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An Important Message from the Terran Confederacy

MEDIA CONTACT: Corporal Maxwell Hammer, Public Affairs Liaison

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

I’m proud to be a Terran.  Who wouldn’t be?  We’ve got the most trustworthy government, the most powerful military, and the happiest citizens the galaxy has ever seen.  From our founding in the year 2323 tao today, we have expanded our territory and taken just what we deserve, and let me tell you, we deserve a lot.  Have you taken a look at everything we’ve accomplished lately?  Pretty impressive, right?  And you know what?  Go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back.  You’re part of the Terran Confederacy, so our success are your success too.  You’re just one more cog that makes this great machine of ours work, and I’m proud of you.

Well, most of you.  A very select few of you, I’m rather disappointed with.  For they’ve been spreading lies.  Filthy, dangerous lies.  I speak, as I’m sure you’re aware, of traitors in our midst, of these so-called Terrans for the Ethical Treatment of Zerglings(TETZ) and these horrid falsehoods about Zerglings they’ve been passing around.

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As I’m sure every responsible, red-blooded citizen of the Terran Confederacy knows, we are at war with the Zerg Swarm.  The Zerg are parasites, infesting and assimilating all they encounter.  It is important to know that the Confederacy has never interfered with the Swarm; it is in fact they who forced us into the war, seeking to take the pure potential for greatness that exists in the heart of every Terran citizen (except, of course, for those scumbags at TETZ) and twisting it into a weapon they can use against the Protoss.  We do not fight the Zerg for our own entertainment.  And we especially do not push back the Zerglings “because they look alien to us,” as the traitorous dogs at TETZ suggest.  The farthest we go because of their alien looks is horribly unethical and painful experiments, their looks have no impact on why we’re fighting them.  We’d go to war with anybody!  The way they look has nothing to do with it.  No, the only reason we fight them is to protect you, the average Confederate citizen.  You have my word as the Terran Confederacy’s Public Affairs Liaison, we only kill Zerglings when it’s absolutely necessary, or when it’s at least mildly funny.

It’s not even true that Zerglings have feelings anyway.  According to our science staff, the aforementioned horribly unethical experiments have revealed to us that the Zerg have a hive mind.  Meaning these fleshsacks don’t even have the ability to hold feelings.  They’re mindless, just following the whims of whatever consciousness the Swarm has.  That means it’s completely okay to do whatever we want to them!  It’s not like it makes a difference!  In fact, that’s what makes the TETZ’s campaign so dangerous.  See, the Zerg are going to come.  And they’re not going to care one whit about you or your family.  So if you’ve got a Zergling under the gun, and you start worrying about their “feelings”, you and everyone you love is lost.

Now, if the above pamphlet is the first time you’ve seen a Zergling, I can see how you’d be confused.  After all, how could something so cute be so deadly?  I’m afraid to say, real Zerglings don’t look anywhere near that huggable.  This is a Zergling:

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You see those teeth, there?  They need those because their diet is completely made up of Terran babies and cute puppies.  Literally, the only things we’ve ever seen them eating in our extensive testing on the matter is either a baby or a puppy.  How’s that for feelings?  And those spines?  I have personally seen Zerglings pierce through like eight marine’s sternums at once with those!  Not a pretty sight.  Zerglings are death machines, that’s all they’re capable of.  In fact, the entire reason you can’t find a stable relationship is probably because a Zergling has already killed the man or woman you were destined to be with!  Now are you going to sit back and take it?  No!!  Of course you’re not!  You’re going to kill any and all Zerglings you see!  We’re counting on you, citizen.  Do us proud!

One final note.  This is Joel Bartlett, evil mastermind of TETZ and this campaign:

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You may be wondering what would drive a man to betray his own species and side with the Zerg.  I know I was.  But remember that the Zerg are fully capable of infesting us Terrans and controlling us from within.  Am I saying that’s what happened to Mr. Bartlett here?  No.  But after we had our forensic guys go over the photo with gamma radiation, x-rays, and only a little bit of image editing software, this image was revealed:

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Rather suspicious, if you ask me.  In an entirely unrelated note, the Terran Confederacy is now offering a reward for information as to the locations of Mr. Bartlett and any other member of TETZ.

Developers Say the Darndest Things: Cliffy B on Microtransactions and Some Other Stuff Too, I Guess.

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If you’ve been paying attention to the internet video games journalism scene lately, there’s been a fair bit of game news assaulting your eyeballs.  We’re waking up from the post-Christmas slump, and some real announcements are starting to get made.  One of those announcements comes courtesy of Electronic Arts, fresh off of the microtransactions in Dead Space 3.  Now, EA spent some time backpedaling from this statement earlier today, but as of late February, word from their CFO was that all their games are going to include microtransactions, those fun little things where you pay money on top of your original purchase price of the game to get a number changed in their system that works out to your benefit.

Now, as you may expect, the gaming community isn’t displeased with this.  I think the official word on the Dead Space 3 microtransactions is that they’re “not that bad,” but it’s still not something gamers are wanting to see more of.  So yeah, we’re not happy with it.  And when we’re not happy about something, we’re very, very good at talking to each other about it on the internet.  Sometimes we use angry words, even.  Words that might make some people cry.  Well, Cliff Bleszinski, designer for the Gears of War series and a bunch of other games I may try out some day but not really, decided that instead of crying, he was going to use some words of his own!  And he did!  You can read them here.  He likes microtransactions.  And seems to think that… you should shut up about them maybe?  He goes off in a couple different directions in that post, and it kind of hurts the coherent point he may have been trying to make.  But he said some things!  And I think he’s missing the point in a lot of the things he says.  Luckily for me, I have a blog!  That makes me eminently qualified to provide my own commentary on his post!

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The Work-Induced Writer’s Block

 

I like to write.  It’s kind of a strange thing I feel.  I don’t normally seek to have my work read.  Usually, anything creative I make is for my eyes alone, or that of a small group of close friends.  I don’t really crave an audience for my work, but I like to write anyway.  I like to create worlds, characters, and stories, I like putting my thoughts into words, I like slipping blatant remarks about how good I look into blocks of text, and I like taking what’s in my mind and giving it a more permanent form.  It’s an activity I find very engaging, and it really gives me a lot of fulfillment.

Sometimes, I have to do a lot of writing for my job.  And not the fun kind of writing.  I’m not in the right industry for that.  I get to do a lot of writing for foundation grants, government paperwork, and various other pieces of bureaucratic necessity.  And lately, it’s been hitting the time of year where it seems that all I’m doing for eight hours a day is stare at a word processor while my fingers numbly type words onto the screen.  In small amounts, I don’t mind it.  It’s just part of the job, and while it may not be the most fun thing to do, it’s something that’s well within my abilities.  The problems only come up when I’m spending hours upon hours of doing that.  Is it possible to get writing fatigue?  If so, it feels like that’s what I have.  After a long enough time of being forced to write the most droll things imaginable, it gets to the point where I’m just numbly typing words onto the screen.  I lose the feeling of a good piece of prose just being “right” for the idea I’m trying to get across, and anything I type feels dull, bland, and just slightly off the mark of what I was trying to convey, no matter how good the work actually is upon review.

The worst part is, this feeling follows me home.  Writing too much at work leaves me too burnt out to do any quality writing for enjoyment.  Just yesterday, I was working on one of the large blog posts I have planned, and I had to can most everything I did because it all feels just slightly wrong.  I have been putting too many words on the page over the past week, and they’re all starting to run together in my head.  It’s not a problem with ideas, I know exactly what I’m wanting to get down.  It’s a problem with finding the words.  Everything I write just seems to fail at getting the idea across.

I know I’m not alone in this problem.  Talking to others, I’ve heard several accounts of people just writing too much of the wrong thing, and not being able to mentally switch tracks back to what they really want to write.  What do you do about it, though?  That’s one thing I haven’t heard a solid answer to.  Me?  Apparently, I write blog posts about writer’s block.  Let’s see if that fixes anything.