Saturday, November 27, 2010

Removal of Obligation for Myself

For a while now, I've been striving to blog every Wednesday and Saturday no matter what, with few exceptions - though they have increased lately, what with various stresses from school, etc. I briefly considered finding a niche for my blog, but upon determining that my main reason for blogging is my desire to practice my writing, it seemed less important to try to gain a particular readership, do the niche thing, etc. I thus remove, starting now, the self-imposed obligation upon myself to write every Wednesday and Saturday, and will therefore only write here when I please, once again. My hope is that when the semester ends I'll get back to writing semi-prolifically, possibly more than I was already, for at least as long as I have a decent amount of free time.

Yours truly,

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Storytelling Exercise: Dwarf Story, Part 3: P'kin Explains

P'kin laughs. "I'm not really going to kill you. Calm down. You're just stuck here til morning. Or you could try to walk home, but I hear the city is dangerous to walk this late, alone. So relax and I'll tell you why we've yet to be discovered by anyone besides you." He takes his own whistle, now finished, and waves it in my face a bit to show that he really did whittle mine so quickly. He then places it in his pocket, leans back, and suggests I get comfortable.

"The luck I have, to be in one of the few stations that does not run twenty-four hours. I have no chair. Are you going to whittle one of those too?"

He looks confused for a moment, and then stands and gestures like a gentleman at his seat. "Milady."

"And then where will you sit?"

"I am a dwarf. Does not your lore tell you how comfortable we are with the Earth? I will sit on the ground. It is not so damp over here as it is down that way. You may mind it, but I do not."

I sit in the chair in the alcove, and he settles onto the ground outside it, where I was standing before. "I don't like to believe everything in lore," I say. "While it also speaks of your folk as skilled craftsmen, which is evidently true, there are conflicting pieces of lore regarding your people's size and temperament. Why should I believe any of these things, without seeing for myself?"

"Fair enough. Know this, then - we do like the Earth. We live under it, actually, or many of us do."

"Many? And you chose to tunnel from the subway, and somehow managed this without people seeing you? Nothing is making sense."

"Then, Dinah, let me make it make sense. You have made the assumption that this bit of tunnel has existed for a very long time. It has not, and it is incomplete. You have also made the assumption that we tunneled from the subway. We have not. We tunneled from where we live underground, over to here. We were hoping to keep the wall between us and your subway system for just a while longer, until this tunnel is truly complete, and looks more like a proper dwarf-tunnel should. But I confess, I saw no danger in letting a fellow whistler find me. It seemed better, anyway, than to drive you away and let you alert the news-folks about this place."

My head spins. "But what do you and your people want with us? For that matter, where are the rest of you? Where is the rest of the underground? This tunnel, as far as I have seen, has no way of entry besides the way I came in, and ends rather visibly just past those lanterns."

"Ends? My dear, that's a door."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Extra Post: I Found Me At A Crossroads - A Poem

I happened to get inspired. The Dwarf Story should return on Saturday.


I found me at a crossroads, and I had two ways to choose
It seemed each had its own to gain, but one had more to lose
And each one had a guarding man, who knew his road quite well
I thought it best to take the time, and find what they would tell
I tried first he with kinder eyes and face that was clean-shaven
"Sir, tell me, does this road you guard lead to some kind of haven?
Or misery, or challenges, or happiness, or friends?"
He smiled kindly, saying "I've not seen yet how it ends,
But I like this road, so straight and true; I find the work exciting.
No time for love, I'll grant you that, but it never seemed inviting."
I pressed for more, but he said less, so closed-off was he now
So kind yet so impersonal, he frightened me somehow.
So then I asked the other man, with earrings and a beard,
"Sir, tell me, what is down your road? The normal or the weird?"
"Why yes," he said, "and more than that; I've seen so many things,
The road meanders senselessly and I take all it brings
I've driven in a chariot, befriended large and small
I've loved, I've lost, I've worked, I've taught; I fly before I fall
There's much to see and much to do. I'm always entertained."
"Is it dangerous?" I asked him. "Yes of course!" Then he explained,
"I've been shot and stabbed and poisoned and I've twice been hit by cars,
But that's alright - the danger never makes it very far,
And I keep walking onwards, like I've always done before.
I'm beginning to believe this road will never reach Death's Door."
I thanked him for his time and I stood still to contemplate
For neither seemed ideal, and I did wish my choice could wait
I asked the men if somewhere else another road did lie
The first man handed me a map and then he bid goodbye
The second handed me a sword and said, "The road is free
To the traveler who makes it his - or hers, as it might be."
So I set off with sword and map to find what was ahead
To take the road or make the road - the road I chose instead.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Storytelling Exercise: Dwarf Story, Part 2: Dinah's Whistle

The dwarf is comically similar to the sort of dwarves and trolls I've seen in classic European fantasy art, so much so that I can hardly be surprised at his appearance, nor pretend not to know what he is.

"You're a dwarf," I say.

He smiles, and clearly cannot even pretend to be offended. "Aye, my dear, that I am. And you are a human. A human, and alone. My whistling tipped you off?"

"I heard a voice. Then I whistled, then you whistled."

"Ah yes. It is because of you that I am whittling this. Well…" He gives a few more touches of the knife to the whistle. "…have whittled is more accurate. It is for you, that you may whistle louder, more melodiously, and more accurately. Not that you are a bad whistler, but that if you enjoy it so much, you ought to do it even easier."

I take the gift he is offering and examine it. It is beautifully crafted of some sort of dark, thick wood, with a place to put a string through and several holes so that I may make a multitude of sounds.

"I thank you. This is beautiful. You made it very quickly indeed, if what you say is true."

"Would you like proof?" He opens the top of the school-desk and removes a chunk of the same wood. "I'll make myself a matching one, as we chatter. Only, let me make some quick adjustments to yours, so they aren't mixed up." I hand my gift back to him. He takes a leather string from the school-desk, puts it through the string hole, and closes the desk. "What is your name?"


"Could you spell it? That is no dwarven name, nor an especially common human name."

"It isn't that rare, either." But I spell my name, and as I do, the dwarf quickly carves each letter into the side of the whistle, in strange and lovely script. He hands it back to me. Before my second thanks has left my mouth, he is already whittling the other piece of wood, and it is already resembling a whistle. I never knew such thick hands could move with such dexterity.

"So you know my name, dwarf, but what is your name?"

"I am P'kin. That is spelled with an apostrophe, and I am very much considering putting an 'i' in its place. I would like something more easily pronounced by you humans."

"P'kin. I am already used to it after one go. You needn't change a thing. Do you expect to be encountering many of us?"

"How difficult was it for you to find me?"

"Not that difficult at all, but presumably you've been here a very long time without being discovered. Unless you kill or kidnap everyone who comes down here."

"You seem awfully unafraid for someone who believes that to be the truth."

"You have given me a whistle. If that were the truth, you would be a very stupid kidnapper indeed, for I can call for help."

"You have already missed the last train. The only folks left in the subway are the bums whom nobody would miss."

My heart beats faster at these words, for I am typically cautious, not courageous. At best, I am stuck here until morning. At worst, he really is going to kill me.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Storytelling Exercise: Dwarf Story, Part 1: Into the Tunnel

I am walking through a tunnel under New York City. I didn’t know it was here; I don't suppose anyone did. I thought I heard a voice through a crack in the wall of the subway system, and when no one was looking, I moved the bricks aside, as they were unexpectedly loose. I move cautiously through, using an LED keychain flashlight to help me see. The walls are brick for the first thirty to fifty yards, but suddenly and irregularly turn to walls of dirt and stone. I listen and hear dripping, not very far off. I cannot see light at the other end of the tunnel. I walk farther until I can hardly see the light behind me, and still there is no sign of the end. I whistle a tune - the echo is far away. A small voice calls from the location of the dripping. I need to hurry; I mustn’t miss the last train home, yet I want to explore, and save the voice if there is a person in trouble. I walk faster, towards the dripping and the voice. I whistle again, feeling it is more innocuous than speech if someone dangerous resides here. Someone whistles back. The tunnel twists suddenly to the left, and as I peer down it, a lantern is lit, above. The ground, which has been hard soil and stone until now, is moist where I stand, and forwards of me. It seems the tunnel slopes downwards. I shine my flashlight ahead, take a few steps, and lanterns suddenly light on the ceiling, one by one, for about half a mile – where the tunnel appears to dead end. I turn off my light and place it in my bag. To my left, I see a wooden door, oddly shoved into an oddly-cut alcove. Cautiously, and with a whistle, I open it – to find a fairy-tale-style dwarf sitting at a stolen school-desk, whistling and whittling a whistle.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bronze and Interactive Fiction

For a class I am currently taking, we were required to play through a piece of interactive fiction called Bronze, by Emily Short. You can download it here to play through it yourself, though if you don't have Zoom (on Mac/Unix) or Frotz (on Windows), you'll need to download that first in order to play. They are linked on the same page as Bronze. Alternatively, there is a Frotz app for iPhone/iTouch (and possibly other devices) that comes with Bronze, if you prefer a portable version.

I fell utterly in love with the piece, or game, if you will. After playing through Bronze, we were required to write reviews about it, and I am offering mine here. Please note that if you want to play though it spoiler-free, you should play it BEFORE you read the following. You don't have to play it at all to read what I have written, of course.


After playing through Emily Short’s Bronze, an interactive fiction take on Beauty and the Beast, and achieving its four endings, I had to go watch Disney’s happy version of the story to cure my daydreams of Bronze’s haunting and vivid twists. The characters, rooms, and objects crafted by Short form a deep and disturbing world, fitted with puzzles that effectively engage the reader and force exploration of the text-based castle.

In this version of the story, the player becomes the protagonist, the nameless Beauty, who is returning from a week-long visit to her troubled sisters and negligent father. It is darker than the usual love story, and is presented in fragments. Examining objects and looking around rooms gives bits of the background between Beauty and the Beast, using Beauty’s memories as a creative way of giving information. A contract book, a room full of castle records, and the personal notes of an enchantress named Lucrezia provide more direct information. Finally, once the player dons Lucrezia’s shoes, the Beast occasionally invades on the protagonist’s thoughts with commentary and further story. These methods of delivery are indirect, elegant, and rewarding - the more the player seeks, the more the player will find.

The built-in puzzles force the player to seek more, and to explore the castle. The first puzzle is simple – locate the Beast. The Beast, however, can appear in one of many of the rooms that are open to the player when the game begins, and will not appear until half have been searched, so that the player is forced to explore. Each further puzzle presented involves a goal, and its sub-goals. To destroy the contract book and free the servants, one must enter the crypt, but a complicated string of tasks is required before the player can bring light into its darkness. Each series of tasks opens more rooms, more of the story, and more possible endings, until one of the four finales is achieved.

Though it is easy to get lost in the story, it is not so easy to get lost in the castle, thanks to a few innovations. The castle has fifty-five rooms, and spans multiple floors, but Short evidently wanted the complexity to enhance the story without furthering the confusion. She included a status bar that shows the name of the current room, how many rooms have been visited, the total number of rooms, the directions the player can go from the current location, and which directions the player has already visited. That makes it easy to walk the castle and keep the compass directions straight. The directions are always stable; if the player leaves a room by going west, going east again will return the player to the original room. Short also included a special “go to” command which, when followed by the name of a room or object that the player has seen, will bring the player directly to that room or object. After all, the protagonist has allegedly lived in the castle for some years; the player is merely drawing on her knowledge.

The protagonist at first appears to be in love with the Beast, which plays on expectation. As the story is revealed, the relationship between the two seems more tenuous. Dialogue plays its part here, when the player is shown old conversations between the characters, when the player finds and wakes the Beast, and when he speaks to the protagonist via the magic shoes. He seems remorseful, and when the protagonist summons the woman who enchanted him, she learns why. All the endings reveal Beauty’s ambivalence regarding the Beast, which is the author’s intent – the only bronze object in the game is the one that viciously destroys the Beast.

The subtlety and complexity of the story, characters, and location of Bronze create a gripping piece of interactive fiction, and the puzzles lead the player through the tale and the castle like an enchantment. I couldn’t put it down until I’d reached every ending.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Short Post: Intent to Graduate

I've been getting e-mails lately, begging me to fill out the various forms necessary in order to graduate my university in May. I did much of it last night, after caffeine-pill-taken-after-7-PM-induced insomnia kept me wide awake until 5 or 6 AM. It's a bit weird, to think I'll be done with college (unless I someday go to grad school) in several months. It seems like a terribly long time off, yet these forms keep asking for my GPA and my courses completed and what I got out of my time at UCF as though they'll be kicking me out tomorrow. It is strange, indeed.

So far, it has been a four years far superior to high school, yet I certainly hope these weren't the "best years of my life" as some people claim them to be. That would be ludicrous.

Future retrospection will possibly (probably) ensue when it comes time to actually walk in the mortarboard, or when I get my diploma. By the way, I hate graduations. I'll only be walking because my dear parents and boyfriend evidently care to see it happen. Which is fair, I suppose.