Thoughts on Writing

January 6th, 2014

[NB: I've held onto this post for about a year so that I could publish it around the same time as Game Design Companion: A Critical Analysis of Wario Land 4. It's not particularly enlightening, and a bit self-indulgent, but I think it captures most of the feelings I had towards writing at the time.]

After more than 2 years of work, last month I finally finished my first book, Game Design Companion. Given the sheer scope of the project, the time and energy I invested into it, and how I did it all in relative isolation (that is to say, I rarely discussed the book with friends and family besides the usual, “Yeah, still not finished”), I’ve formed a bunch of ideas regarding the writing and editing process that, for my own sake, I need to get off my chest. I guess this is what blogs are for, right?

Timeline

Work Situation

Techniques

First Edit – Re-analysed the game, added in new commentary, added more articles.
Second Edit – Checked analysis for errors, trimmed fat, and general edit.
Third Edit – Thorough sweep for grammar and punctuation errors.
Fourth Edit – Deep read of the book, checked for commas, hyphenated words, and naming errors.

Through the process of constant iteration, you come to understand your ideas better and thereby build a more complete article.

Thoughts on Wario Land 4

In Game Design Companion, I made a point of rarely revealing my opinion of Wario Land 4 or the Wario Land series. So prepare to be shocked as I announce something you probably weren’t expecting: I like Wario Land 4. It’s not my favourite game, but it’s certainly the best designed and most focused game in the series. Aside from Wario Land 3 and Wario Land Shake Dimension, I’m fond of all the games in the main series. Wario Land and Wario Land 2 were my favourite GameBoy games when I was a kid, so it’s nice to be able to pay respect to the series by writing a book about it.

Thoughts on The Book

I feel pretty neutral about the book. I wanted to write a book analysing one game in its entirety so as to make a point about the state of games writing, and I did that. It worked out, on my first go nonetheless. Everything could have ended up being a disaster, like most first books, but it didn’t and so I’m grateful for that. There are parts of the book that are more or less interesting than others, but, as I came to realise, this is the nature of such a project. Some parts of the game just aren’t as interesting to talk about as others, yet despite this, I still had to write about them. These less interesting parts are probably the book’s main “weakness”, but I’m not too worried. Each edit, I hacked away at these sections until I got to the essence, then I polished the essence until I was happy with it. I’m confident that there’s not much of a disparity between the hills and valleys.

What I Learnt

Aside from improving my writing and analysis skills, writing this book has taught me a few important values:

Good things take time, but it’s always worth it: My original plan was to write a 120-paged book on Wario Land 4 as a lead-in to a larger book on Metroid Prime. The larger the book became, the further back I pushed the deadline I’d set for the original 120 pages of copy. Even though the book ballooned to more than four times its purposed size, I still wrote it in the mindset of the original time frame. So everyday, when I woke up, the first thing I’d think is “It’s not done”. Although the time frame became a stick that I’d use to beat myself with, I never compromised on the polish. When I decided to write this book, I committed to ensuring that I wouldn’t waver on quality, and even though it took me 2 years to get it done, I stayed true to that ideal. Through this, I understood the importance of taking the time to do something properly.

On a related note, my writing of this book has made me sceptical of the internet and social media, which are trying to speed us up and stop us from thinking. I wrote more on this topic here.

The effects of writing on the brain: Ever since I got deep into editing, I’ve started noticing how the thought processes behind my writing find their ways into other parts of my life. After a long day of editing, I used to wake up in the middle of the night in unbearable mental discomfort as I’d been “sleep editing” to myself for several hours and couldn’t switch my brain off. I also frame responses to things I disagree with in a more considered, argumentative way and really hate it when people mask poor arguments behind flashing intellectual complexity and jargon. Writing consumes you, I suppose.

I’m still not good at writing or editing: Just that really. Writing a book sure is empowering, but it also shows you that you always have so, so far to go.

Editing Style

My approach to writing and editing Game Design Companion was one of functionality. Because of the nature of the book, I needed to impart a lot of information before getting into the core of each article, the analysis. Therefore, it was my goal to convey as much as possible as quickly as possible while still maintaining readability. Here are some of the techniques I used:

  1. The reader must always be active.
  2. I can cram in as much analysis as possible.
  3. If the reader doesn’t understand a particular point, they don’t have to look far to find what they missed.
  4. I can create a forward momentum and maintain the reader’s interest.

Room 2 is a prime example of maximising limited space. The snow blocks on the left prevent Wario from returning to the vortex. The snow clumps/slope combo needed to remove the snow blocks is locked behind frog blocks. The frog switch needed to remove the frog blocks is locked behind a snow block in Room 4. The snow clumps/slope combo needed to remove Room 4′s snow block is several rooms away. That’s three interconnected lock and key arrangements. Add in the silver chest and the room goes another two layers deep to a total of five arrangements.

I repeat the same writing structure throughout the room-by-room analysis too. First, I draw the reader’s attention to the various points of interest, then I make comment.

The Yukiotoko sits in a shallow trench where its ice breath projectiles hit the sides and dissipate into puffs of cold air. The platforms shield the enemy from overhead attacks. Wario needs to get up close to either attack or jump over the Yukiotoko*. By making it easy for Wario to touch the puffs of cold air, the arrangement demonstrates that they still freeze him. The icy wall prevents Frozen Wario from sliding all the way back to Room 2.

At point *, I don’t say “Because of the positioning of the Yukiotoko, platforms, and Wario’s goal, beyond the Yukiotoko, it is easy for Wario to touch the puffs of cold air”. The reader can figure that out by connecting the dots, and so I just start the next sentence with the implicit conclusion.

Back to the Present: Thoughts on Life Post-Wario Land 4

Game Design Companion anchored 2 years of my life. To suddenly be set adrift makes me feel lost of any direction. 2013 was a turbulent year for me. I’ve moved house three times, gotten married in two different countries, and settled back in Australia. Adventures in Game Analysis has been exactly what I hoped it to be, an outlet for me to cover specific topics in depth, as I please. However, I’m ready to move onto my second big project. If it ends up being what I have in mind, it’ll be something completely different. That’s all I’m going to say on that matter, though. I’ve indulged far too much already. It’s time to get back to work.

  • Philippe Lemaire

    Hi Daniel,
    I just bought your book. I absolutely love the content on your site, so I put my money where my mouth is.
    Thanks for this piece too. I love writing, even though I’m far from great at it. I want to improve, so I think I’ll try some of your tips.
    Regards,

  • Samuel Stephens

    Hello Daniel
    I have just finished reading your book. It has been a very interesting and informative read. There is definitely nothing like it at the moment. I especially appreciate your commitment to game design in an environment that seems to privilege storytelling and thematic relevance over craft. I also feel that player psychology is the key to understanding and designing video games. It is only fair that I give my own two cents about your book. Hopefully you will find my comment constructive.

    After reading your book, I have come to the conclusion that writing a book about a single game is not necessary or even preferable. I say this not to put down or stifle your work. In fact, I would have had no way of making this statement without ever reading your book. However, I think it is a little excessive in nature. It is, perhaps, better to make some statement about the game and write an article/essay that uses examples and terminology to support it. This brings me to my issue with the book and what I feel you can improve on in future projects.

    I either misunderstood the purpose of the book, or the whole point was lost on me to begin with. It seems (forgive me if my interpretation of your intentions is wrong) that the purpose was of a larger agenda, as highlighted by the preface of your book. “[The book] is a critique of contemporary games writing, in particular the broadly defined games criticism” (p.7). Instead of writing an actual critique of modern games criticism, you write a book in the style that you feel there should be more of. The book is self-evident in a sense. But outside of this bigger agenda, I feel there is no purpose. You write a lot about Wario Land 4, but do not really come to any meaningful conclusions about it. You are not really proving anything or convincing the reader of anything outside of “games are complicated.” “My opinions are downplayed to the point that I don’t even reveal if I like Wario Land 4 or not” (p.9). Wouldn’t discussing why you like something be more meaningful than to just write about it in all its aspects though? This was the same problem I had with Brendan Keogh’s Killing is Harmless (also featured on Stolen Projects). There is a lot of observation, but little purpose.

    That is why I feel that writing a book about a single game is not preferable. What is there to do to fulfill the length requirements of a book besides writing about all the details? This is just my thoughts about the book for you to chew on. I am very glad that you wrote it and that it exists. Good luck with your future writings and your blog.

  • http://danielprimed.com/ Daniel Primed

    Hey Philippe,

    Thanks for the kind comments. Let me know how you go with your writing.

  • http://danielprimed.com/ Daniel Primed

    Hey Samuel,

    Thanks for taking the time to read through the book and leaving such a constructive comment. I’m currently putting together plans for my next big project, so you’re comments are timely.

    I agree with all your points. There are no grand revelations in the book and reading it will probably not radically alter the way one sees Wario Land 4. And as such, the whole project can seem a bit excessive and unnecessary. Personally, I find that 1000-10,000 words is a pretty comfortable limit, and it’s for this reason that I’ve loved working on Adventures in Games Analysis (my new bookazine series compiling game essays of said length). So then, what’s the point?

    The book has an implicit meaning that I tried to play down and let the reader realise for themselves. The meaning is that even in a simple game like Wario Land 4, there’s an incredible amount of artistry in the gameplay design. While I could have covered the core design of the game in 10,000 words in a series of posts here on my blog, using the space granted from the book format to really slow things down and draw the readers attention to the all the details was really the only way that I was going to prove this point (because much of the magic is in those details).

    I don’t think that sharing my opinions on the game would have been as insightful as the analysis itself. I mean, I don’t really have much to say personally besides the fact that I think it’s clever. In saying that, subjectivity is super important. It just wasn’t my focus for this project.

    I’m not sure if I’ve answered your question so well. I hear what you’re saying, though. The book is written in a particular way to push a particular point. The extent of the work is part of the politics. I’m thinking a lot about the points you raise for my future work.

    Thanks,
    Daniel

  • Samuel Stephens

    Sorry, new comment (hate to squish)

    “I don’t think that sharing my opinions on the game would have been as insightful as the analysis itself.”

    I certainly don’t think one has to give their opinions about a game when writing about it. What I meant was that saying something such as “Wario Land 4 is a well designed game and this is why”can give a lot of focus to your writing. Writing about how Wario Land 4 solves a specific design problem would also be a good point of focus. I could care less about subjectivity, something that critical community has way too much of.

    I am very excited about your new “bookzine” It will be interesting to hear what you have to say about Metroid Other M. I really dig how its a 3D game with a 2D aesthetic and reminds me of what Nintendo has done with Super Mario 3D Land and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

  • http://danielprimed.com/ Daniel Primed

    Oh sure. Again, I agree with you here. Similarly, I probably should have ended the book with a proper conclusion that went through all the key areas of design and how the language allowed me to articulate how they work and why they are so clever.

    Certainly, Other M plays with space in a very different way to most other games. I haven’t played the latest Mario and Zeldas, but they look incredible. Fortunately, Santa got me a 3DS for Christmas and I’ve picked up Link Between Worlds and 3D Land as part of a promotion. Can’t wait to get started.