There was a moment the other day when I saw a famous author on twitter point out to everyone that they were not their characters. “If I was,” they said, “we’d all be in danger.” This was a joke, of course – the suggestion was that since a fair share of their characters were murderers or psychotics, then the author could not be them, as the author is not, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, a murderer or a psychotic.
This joke highlights one of the fun, fuzzy, gray areas in writing relationships – where do characters come from? How do writers make them up? Or do they make them up at all?
Characters aren’t precisely “made up,” I don’t think. When we think of fictional characters, we imagine them as just sort of popping into space – they do not exist, and then the writer thinks of them, and suddenly they’re there. Something from nothing, in essence.
But it’s not from nothing. People think writers work with no raw material at all, but they actually do – they work with themselves.
Imagine a writer as a huge, swirling, dripping ball of knowledge, memory, and experience. The ball is so big it’s impossible to hold in your hands, or even to get your arms around – after all, we’re talking about years and years of conscious and subconscious impressions, connotations, associations, all kinds of messy intangibles. And you can’t funnel that into any one character – the ball is just too big and unwieldy for anyone to make a copy of it.
So what does a writer do? They pull off a chunk, like a piece of clay. Then they take that chunk and massage it, and maybe add more chunks from the main ball if they think it’s necessary, and they sculpt it and shape it and adjust it until it has the semblance of a real person – the sculpted chunk’s got emotions, experience, agency, prejudices, goals, all that kind of fun crap.
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Okay, I’ll admit it, I first loaded up Game of Thrones, a full-on Dragon Age-style RPG developed by Canadian/French developer Cyanide Entertainment, with some hesitancy. Like many Fantasy fans, I consider Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire to be a pre-eminent work of Fantasy and place it among my very favourite pieces of fiction, regardless of medium. Though there is recent precedent for the adaptation of the series into other formats (particularily HBO’s television series and the Graphic Novel, adapted in part my Daniel Abraham), videogames have always been a difficult transition due to the non-linear style of storytelling that they often employ. Added to this, developer Cyanide Studio doesn’t exactly have the strongest back library of games and their previous attempt at a Game of Thrones videogame, A Game of Thrones: Genesis was poorly received (so much so that the publisher of Game of Thrones, Atlus, very clearly points out in the press material that this game was developed by an entirely different team at Cyanide!)
So, then, I booted up my PS3, eager but also weary of what I’d find. First impression? A twenty-plus minute mandatory install to my PS3′s harddrive. No flavour text or history to read through, no stirring music or pretty screenshots. Just twenty-plus minutes of a bar slowly filling up.
The graphics are pretty dire. While the art direction is decent at times (if a little over-the-top for Martin’s generally reserved world), the first environment (Castle Black) is bland and lifeless, textures are poor, the characters animate awkwardly, and the faces are almost as bad as an Elder Scrolls game. Further, thought this might be a PS3 issue, which has always Framerate is junky and there’s a noticeable amount of tearing.
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38 Studios and Big Huge Games, creators and developers of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, are no more. After a well publicized run-in with the state of Rhode Island over a missed loan payment, it was announced today that all employees of both companies, 379 in total, have been laid off. No employees have received a pay cheque since April 30th.
Of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the Governor of the state of Rhode Island, Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee, said:
“The game failed,” he said. “The game failed. That was integral to the success of the company.”
He told reporters that experts told them it would have had to sell 3 million copies to break even. Schilling has said that the game sold about 1.2 million copies in its first 90 days.
“Companies fail over night,” Chafee said, in response to a question about the sudden closure.
Now, calling it a failure is something of a misnomer. To “break even” Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning had to sell 3 million units. It’s being speculated that where the failure lies isn’t so much with the performance of Reckoning, but with the studios projects and their reliance on its performance to fund the ongoing development of “Project Copernicus,” a long-in-the-making MMORPG. 1.2 million copies in a month-and-a-half is a decent number, even for a game as large as Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. A more conservative estimate in sales and budget might have saved the studio (though this is, of course, speculation on my part.)
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