2016: My Year in Gaming

In 2016, I played thirty new, re-released, or remastered games! Not included in this list are the games I replayed, or games I played for the first time that did not release in 2016.


This year, despite its political intensity, heartbreak, disappointment, and death, was a banner year for art—video games, especially. Here is the list of games that I played and enjoyed, with some thoughts on comments about each:



Gone Home: Console Edition—


I had played Gone Home on PC with its Steam release a few years back, after recommendation from a close friend of mine. Of course, after loving it, I had been anticipating its console release for a while now. There are few changes to Gone Home on PS4 outside of a slight cosmetic uplift, but the additions of trophies do allow something slightly new for those who have played through this short and bittersweet game more than a few times. Gone Home is a spectacular title, easily one of the better love stories that has graced video gaming and also a pillar of LGBTQ coming-of-age storytelling. This first person makeup and exploratory-slash-narrated narrative add something unique to this game, and it is still controversial years later.


Final Fantasy Explorers—

My first new game of 2016, FF Explorers graced the 3DS finally after being released in Japan nearly a year and a half earlier. I quite enjoyed Explorers, especially the aspect of being able to quest with friends. The customization and job classes are fun and interesting, but the graphical issues and combat trouble on the 3DS plagued the release. One wonders why this game wasn’t released at the same time as the Japanese version—a 2014 release date would have felt more forgiving of many of the game’s issues. Despite that, FF Explorers offers many hours of questing, monster hunting, and equipment customization with Final Fantasy flavor, and the true fun of this game is playing it with friends.


Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth—

My first eagerly anticipated title of 2016, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth was on the radar for a long time by diehard Digimon Fans who had felt that the last few years of Digimon games were more than lackluster. Digimon Story did many things right, namely creating an RPG experience that felt akin to Persona but using the beloved Digital Monsters to create their own unique world and narrative. I played the PS Vita version of Digimon Story and quickly became obsessed. The game is fun, difficult, and offers hours of quests and customization. Creating your perfect Digimon team requires not only finding and raising the monsters, but leveling them and taking care of their different stats as well. With an interesting storyline and free DLC, this was an extremely solid title.


Gravity Rush Remastered—

When Gravity Rush first released with the PS Vita many years back, it went under most gamers’ radars for too many reasons. Now, with the sequel upcoming on the PS4, the title was rel-released and remastered with new graphics and optimized for the PS4 controller. Gravity Rush stands the test of time as one of the more unique and entertaining action-platformers of the last few years, with endearing graphics and characters—and it is extremely fun to play, to boot. Gravity Rush’s steampunk city-world looks gorgeous on the PS4, and the ability to play the often motion-sickness inducing combat is a lot less harsh on a bigger screen. Gravity Rush offers hours of quests and a big city to explore, and after playing the demo of Gravity Rush 2 I am confident that this series will finally find a major fanbase.


Layers of Fear—

The first horror title I played in 2016, Layers of Fear was hotly anticipated because of its similarities to the cult-favorite demo, P.T. Layers of Fear centers around a frustrated painter as he explores his own home in order to figure out where his psychedelic intrusions are stemming from. Layer of Fear constantly messes with the player by keeping surprises out of view; a hallway will suddenly become an open door, a window will transform into a new room. This constant shifts create a sense of paranoia and anxiety in the player and keep you constantly moving, exploring the house as it transforms around you, but always out of sight. Layers of Fear contained some truly spectacular and imaginative imagery, with the horrors of the painter coming to light in each exploration of the house. The nearer his painting comes to completion, the more terrifying the truth becomes.


Salt and Sanctuary—

Only a few weeks ahead of the release of Dark Souls III, this indie title was released by a small two person team. Emulating many of the most entertaining aspects of both Dark Souls and Castlevania, S&S combined the best of Metroidvania design with the frustrating risk and reward style of the Souls series. S&S brought an extremely creative world to the table teeming with undiscovered lore and frightening monsters. With the ability to create your own character build and an entire world to explore, S&S forced the players to search every inch of the island on their way to its center, to finally combat the bizarre creature that had summoned them there in the first place. One of S&S’s most endearing aspects was its couch multiplayer, a concept that many games these days are sorely lacking. This allows two players to explore the island together—or to fail miserably trying.


Dark Souls III—

One of the killer apps this year, the Dark Souls series saw its third entry and its first PS4 release (not counting the PS4 remaster of Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin). Dark Souls III continued in the beloved style of the series, with harsh difficulty and worth reward. Dark Souls III introduced players to the world of Lothric, where harried souls are converging together and worlds are being displaced by the ending of the Age of Fire. Past heroes are coming back to life in order to light the First Flame, after the Prince of Lothric has abandoned his duty. Dark Souls III was sublimely entertaining, once again giving players the slow-burn of the original Dark Souls combined with new and interesting gameplay elements, such as Weapon Arts. The world of Lothric is dangerous and beautiful, and once again the Souls series shows its sublime ability to unveil story through bits and pieces of lore, creating a marvelous experience that players will revisit again and again.


Bravely Second: End Layer—

The sequel to 2014’s RPG hit, Bravely Default, Bravely Second brought back many of the classical charms of the first game but also added enough to keep the series from becoming too stale too quickly. Bravely Second matches the narrative of the first, presenting itself as a mainstream RPG but quickly showcasing itself to be full of fourth-wall breaking twists. The game utilizes the same job class system as the first, but this time the amount of available jobs is nearly doubled. Adding several fun mini-games and new side-quests to the table as well as a mix of new and old characters, Bravely Second has solidly added itself to this budding series and become a classic RPG in its own right.


Uncharted 4: Thief’s End—

After Dark Souls III, Uncharted 4 was my next major release of 2016. I’ve been a fan of Uncharted since the first game, and a fan of Naughty Dog since I was a child playing Crash Bandicoot. Plus, I consider Uncharted 2 to be one of the greatest games of all time. Uncharted 4 had a lot riding on it, with many fans hyping it seemingly beyond performance, and Naughty Dog promising the world. And…it delivered. Uncharted 4 is not only one of the most entertaining game experiences of 2016, but also one of the best games in the series. It hit all the right notes, adding in new characters and subtle gameplay elements while keeping the feeling of all the previous games. The narrative went in a new direction this time, combining the swashbuckling thievery and exploration with a more realistic approach to the characters. And yet it still kept many of the blockbuster action movie segments that make the series so entertaining. With its combination of solid story and highly entertaining third person combat, Uncharted 4 went one step further and made sure not to drop the ball in its final moments. The writers took no cheap shots with the storytelling, and Uncharted 4 will always serve as a wonderful example of how to treat your characters right.



I played the original DOOM on PC as a child, and I’ve always had a cursory interest in the series. I never played DOOM 2 or 3, but held that steadfast interest enough to want to return to the newest title in the series. Part of my interest stemmed from the game’s multiplayer deathmatch demos, which served frantic and entertaining combat. But the true glory of DOOM stems from its single-player game mode, which is not only an extremely entertaining experience but also an eventful one that has me desperately waiting for the next sequel or story DLC. DOOM did a fantastic job of keeping the combat fresh and bloody, letting the player kill demon after demon with satisfying glee. The version of Mars and Hell we visit in this new DOOM is visceral and grotesque, and every aspect of it felt like the true lovechild of the original game.


Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir—

I played the original Odin Sphere on PS2 nearly ten years ago, and I have purchased and played nearly every Vanillaware title since then. Leifthrasir took a step beyond the traditional remakes and remasters by not only giving Odin Sphere a face lift, but also touching up the entire soundtrack, adding a new ability system, multiple new game modes, tweaking the combat, adding new items, and nearly presenting the game as an entirely new experience for fans and first timers alike. Odin Sphere was a fun (albeit slightly tedious) title upon release, but Leifthrasir feels like the game it always should have been. I can proudly declare Odin Sphere as one of my favorite games of all time, and the care that was put into the game is a lesson that should be learned by any studio attempting to remaster an aging title.


Mighty No. 9—

After Capcom gave Mega Man his deathblow in the early 2000s, many fans were clamoring for anything even remotely similar to the glory of the Blue Bomber. When Inafune and his team announced they were going to Kickstart a Mega Man style game, hungry and anguished gamers gave them money by the fistful, myself included. As the years went on and many of us became worried about the quality of Mighty No. 9 (stemming from bizarre design and publishing choices, like making Mighty available on nearly 10 different consoles), I was ready to put that doubt to shame and finally play the game. Mighty No. 9, sadly, not only did not live up to Mega Man, but felt like a hollow game overall. One can only wonder what happened along the way, why Inafune made the choices he did, or if the fans themselves simply asked for too much. But with solid action-platformer titles still being released on on the horizon, the truth might be the most painful one: that Might No. 9 simply isn’t good.


Grand Kingdom—

One of the more interesting PS Vita titles I played this year, Grand Kingdom utilized a blend of strategy combat with tabletop gaming creativity. The player controls an army of customizable classes and characters that is reduced in party size per battle, and the skirmishes themselves are based on a three-tiered grid opposite the enemy group. Archers, knights, and dragon riders encompass the overwhelming list of classes that you can utilize, and the game itself is filled with story content, side quests, and an online mode where you can declare your allegiance for different groups and go to war with other players for awesome rewards. Grand Kingdom has dozens of hours of content, and is a great on-the-go strategy game that is fun to come back to time and time again.


Zero Time Dilemma—

One of my most anticipated titles of 2016, Zero Time Dilemma brought the Zero Escape series to a bizarre but satisfying close. Starting with 999 and continuing with Virtue’s Last Reward, the Zero Escape series has always been filled with mind breaking puzzles and completely out-there storytelling. Zero Time Dilemma continued this direction with a story that takes place between 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward, showcasing the terrifying and gruesome things the characters have to endure in order to keep the entire world from ending. Utilizing the same room escape and puzzle style of the previous two games, Zero Time Dilemma added a few new types of puzzle as well as amping up the violence and drama. With a remaster of the first two games coming to consoles in 2017, the Zero Escape series proves that it has been beloved by fans for a reason, and is one of the best visual novels available on any system.



A side-scrolling horror title by the creators of Limbo, Inside carries that tradition by starting you seemingly in the middle of the narrative, as a nameless and silent protagonist that must move through an increasingly violent world. From the start of Inside the player is given the stressful task of escaping shadowy captors, and once the game gets going the true terrors present themselves in such an honest and gruesome style that Inside may be one of the best designed horror titles I’ve ever played. While the gameplay is very simplistic, this works well for it by creative minimalistic and silent narrative that carries true weight. And the final scene of Inside will be one of the more haunting things you’ve ever seen in any game.


Pokemon Go—

Nintendo’s augmented reality title was actually designed by Niantic, and at launch it took the entire world by storm. For a solid month, millions of people around the globe were obsessed with seeking out and catching Pokemon, and the world seemed a better place for it. I fondly remember walking trails, going to parks and finding myself in places I had never before been just to find the most elusive Pokemon. Despite many gameplay and server flaws, and the simplicity of the overall app, many players still play Pokemon Go. Niantic has continued to offer support for the game by releasing new Pokemon and showcasing special events, but in order to help Pokemon Go survive the coming years Nintendo will have to give them a helping hand and make Pokemon Go feel like a legitimate brother of the series.


I Am Setsuna—

Square Enix graced longtime RPG fans by giving us a game that was advertised as a return to the classic format, heavily influence by games such as Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. Taking place entirely in a snow-covered world and featuring traditional, but lovable, character archetypes, I Am Setsuna delivered as promised. The game contains gorgeous piano themes, fun traditional turn-based combat, many dungeons to explore and a large overworld to see throughout its 30+ hours. Despite its presentation and acclaim, I Am Setsuna underperformed, and I see that as the combination of two things: It was overpriced ($40 for a small budget title), and it was available as digital only. Hopefully Square Enix looks at I Am Setsuna with clear eyes and realizes the mistakes that were made, but also take from it the truly good things about the game.


No Man’s Sky—

Easily the most controversial title of 2016, No Man’s Sky was gravely hyped for years and across multiple video game show presentations. Sony itself showcased the game as much more than it was, and this game was a lesson for everyone who underestimated how much gamers are willing to take. While the game itself was enjoyable, presenting a dizzying amount of planets to explore and objects to collect, it did not include a vast swathe of the things originally showcased as part of the game. Because of this many gamers felt they were conned by the experience, and it has created a rift in several gaming communities. I did enjoy the game for a good few dozen hours, but eventually realized there really isn’t that much to do to keep me occupied with so many other games on the horizon.


Hyper Light Drifter—

An indie title that had been in development for years, Hyper Light Drift promised to be a child of Diablo and The Legend of Zelda, utilizing 8-bit and 16-bit designs and graphics and presenting a brutal world to explore. The narrative is minimalist and severe, and the gameplay is tight and easy to pick up. Hyper Light Drifter definitely feels like a game of yesteryear but in modern trappings, and there is so much to find in this little title that it’s worth playing more than a few times. I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially its nods to classical gaming and its extremely entertaining top-down action combat.



Made by several of the developers of Journey, and scored by Journey’s own composer, Abzu truly felt like a title from ThatGameCompany, despite coming from new house GiantSquid. Abzu is a beautiful little title that allows the player to explore the ocean, and the developers made certain to include as many real and living special of aquatic animal as possible. The game itself feels like a testament to man versus nature, another idea that is often explored in titles such as Flower and Journey. With a gorgeous soundtrack and bright, popping graphics, Abzu is a relaxing and entertaining title that sets itself apart from so many of the fast and fluid games we play these days.



Part of Sony’s indie game summer promotion (alongside Abzu), Bound was a rather unique title that had the players enter a sort of dream state of an expectant mother, using her own childhood art book as the source for these dreams. The game mo-capped a ballerina for the dizzying and gorgeous player-character, and throughout Bound you dance and leap your way through dreamlike and bizarre worlds that play out like a child’s fervent fantasy. While a short game, Bound added itself to the unique list of Sony titles that truly stand out from the pack.


Resident Evil 4: PS4—

Although I have played Resident Evil 4 numerous times across multiple systems, there’s something about this classic action/horror title that keeps me coming back. This version had slightly updated graphics, but little else beyond the accessibility of having it on my PS4 along with many other favorite games. Once again I was enthralled by how good this title is.


Bioshock: The Collection—

The fall of Rapture was collected this year, as Bioshock, Bioshock 2, and Bioshock: Infinite were released in a single remastered collection. Bioshock holds up well despite its age, serving as one of the more unique first person shooter titles available. This version contained cosmetic changes, all DLC, and a concept art gallery for the games, plus having all three Bioshock titles together in the same format is a blessing. These are extremely enjoyable and deep games, and some of my favorites. There is something truly unique and grandiose in the design of the Bioshock games that make them stand apart from so many others in the genre.


Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse—

The sequel to Shin Megami Tensei IV, Apocalypse kept much of the original game design intact while also adding some sorely needed exploratory changes that made the title feel fresh and superior while also being faithful to the source. Apocalypse continues with many of the same characters as IV, serving as a sort of spin off to one of IV’s many possible endings. While the gameplay is more or less the same as it was in IV, the map is much easier to navigate this time and the quests are less tedious and daunting. Just as with IV, Apocalypse serves up many different DLC packs, has dozens of hours of content, and is quite difficult. In many ways I enjoyed Apocalypse more than its predecessor.


Azure Striker Gunvolt 2—

I was extremely excited when Inticreates announced Azure Striker Gunvolt years ago, as I hoped it would be a return to the style of their Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX titles, and it was. The original Gunvolt provided a unique take on the classic Mega Man gameplay, along with quests and an upgrade system for weapons that added some depth. Gunvolt 2 keeps these changes as well as adding a secondary character, and if one was to compare Gunvolt to Mighty No. 9, it seems that Inafune should have leaned more heavily on their expertise. While there are many Mega Man style games available from indie developers these days, Gunvolt retains the speed and adrenaline of the Mega Man X and Zero series in a positive, classical way.


World of Final Fantasy—

Square Enix advertised this title as a return to form, showcasing the classic Final Fantasy combat with a twist and a world filled with nostalgia and cute characters. World of Final Fantasy is sort of an FF-cum-Pokemon, a dungeon crawler with a unique spin on capturing monsters. The stacking mechanic and Liligent versus Jiant forms added some surprising strategy to this game, and the nostalgic characters, classic monsters and familiar music and combat made it quite entertaining. With a robust endgame, terrific voice acting and an infectious style, World of Final Fantasy was thoroughly enjoyable.


Pokemon Moon—

The latest entry in the mainstream Pokemon series, Sun and Moon (I played Moon) kept up with the majority of the traditions of the two-decade-old series: you pick a starter, you go on an adventure, you catch Pokemon. Aside from a few slight gameplay tweaks, new Pokemon, and an entirely new region to explore, Pokemon Moon also added a stronger narrative than the games have had in past entries. I found myself surprisingly enthralled by Lillie and her plight against Team Skull, and I enjoyed the shake up from the classic gym-style battles and badge collecting. Pokemon Moon was a step in the right direction for the series, but I can’t help but think that Nintendo and Game Freak could greatly benefit from adding some truly unique and much needed updates to the classic series.


Final Fantasy XV—

The most anticipated release this year for many, Final Fantasy XV has felt like a long time coming, however if you keep in mind that Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn came out in 2013, we’ve only really been waiting about three years for the next main series FF title. Despite its transformation from FF XIII spin-off (never released on the PS3), to fully-fledged Final Fantasy title, it retained much of the advertised majesty. Many fans were worried that FF XV may not live up to hype (or worse, that it might not release at all), so the day of its eventual release was highly anticipated the world over. Final Fantasy XV as a game is extremely enjoyable, offering dozens of hours of content across the Lucis region with four pals in their faithful automobile. The world of FF XV felt real, and alive, and deep, and its characters (with their many hours of unique voice acting) felt strong and relatable. The combat in FF XV was a departure from previous titles and yet the game still felt very much like Final Fantasy, with explosive moments, surprising revelations, and those classic FF nods like monsters and magic. While FF XV’s story fell apart in the last few chapters, many fans were able to forgive this for the overall adventure and the enjoyment of the title. This was a grand reintroduction to the series for many, and longtime fans felt the fuzzy enjoyment from it as well. Most of us, myself included, cannot wait to see what FF XVI will be.


Super Mario Maker 3DS—

I did not play Super Mario Maker WiiU, and I have regretted that since seeing the amazing fan creations and quirky gameplay provided by the title. I received Super Mario Maker 3DS for Christmas, and I’ve been blown away by the sheer creativity of the base levels, and further by the creativity of the fan created stages. Super Mario Maker seamlessly transitions between the styles of Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, and Super Mario DS in its stages, and each stage is more lively and strange than the last. Playing through the pre-created stages unlocks parts for the Maker segment of the game, but the sheer enjoyment from the design of the stages will be enough for many players who simply enjoy that classical Mario gameplay.


The Last Guardian—

Another game that has been anticipated for years and plagued by rumors of delay, The Last Guardian finally released, and barely a week after Final Fantasy XV. My personal Game of the Year, The Last Guardian is a shining beacon of design accomplishment, a game that (much like its predecessors, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus) feels like its living within you, like it is something that has existed before you were even a thought, a world ancient and beautiful and real. The relationship between Trico and the Boy is visceral and heartwarming, and the game’s simple direction and complex puzzles offer ample enjoyment while the soundtrack and surreal beauty of the world leave the player reeling. The Last Guardian is a special kind of game, a true testament to the possibilities of video games as a presentation of art, and the heartwarming and heartbreaking moments between Trico and the Boy must be experienced to be truly understood.


Thanks for reading! Here’s hoping 2017 is just as great! With FF XII: Zodiac Age, Kingdom Hearts 2.8, Gravity Rush 2 and Persona 5 on the horizon, I’m excited!

The Last Guardian



Trico and the Boy.

Trico and the Boy.


From the first few notes of the song Overture Lore, we are asked to feel. It’s subtle. The song is quiet and slow, with singularly pressed piano keys and lulling voices. And, unconsciously, we are pulled into the nameless world of the Last Guardian, which is a story of a Boy, and a beast. Images flash by to accompany the opening credits, images of fantastic creatures that don’t exist in our world. Marvelous things drawn in black ink with ancestral names. And then, the last title card is show to us before we are pushed into the world of the Last Guardian: it is an image of a strange creature, a beast called Trico.

We see the ground, and something in the ground. A disc, perhaps? It is brown, and rough, but there is a mystery to it. A green glow. A shadow falls over that green glow, and the story begins. We awake as the Boy. He does not have a name, or at least, his name is not known to us as the player. Immediately there is a sense of otherness, of the foreign, and it is invoked the same way in Fumito Ueda’s previous masterpieces—Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The Boy stands, and we as the player are given control. With utter reverence, Trico is revealed to us. The beast is armored, and wounded—there are spears sticking out of its feathered hide—and it seems uncertain and afraid, perhaps angry. We are given no vocal cues on hand, and aside from the past-tense narration from the (what we are to assume) older version of the Boy, there is little to guide us. The room is small and cramped, mostly stone and archaic, runic architecture, with nothing to do but to climb. And so we do. We climb, and we find a switch, and a barrel.

Part of The Last Guardian’s infectious charm is the budding relationship between Trico and the Boy. In fact, one could argue that this is the game, the subtle and strong interactions between the pair, and the moments when they begin to trust one another. The Boy grabs a barrel—overlarge for him, and glowing, and fluttering with butterflies—and we give it to Trico. The animal is uncertain. It’s hurt. And so the game’s nuanced tutorial directs us to pull the spears from the beast’s hide. This is one of many gameplay mechanics that will become as unconscious as the relationship itself, an automatic give and take between Trico and the Boy. Trico saves the Boy from danger, the Boy helps and heals Trico. And with the spears pulled out, and the Boy safely far away, the anxious and grand animal can consume the barrel…which is as mysterious as the beast itself.

As the Boy is given no name, Trico is given no gender. Fumito Ueda is famous for his storytelling mysteries, and equally famous for the subtle symbolism that permeates his creations. Why is the boy now covered in strange markings? Why is the beast covered in broken, damaged armor? Why do Trico’s wings appear shorn? And, most importantly, what is Trico? Trico stands gargantuan over the Boy, but exhibits the same youth the Boy himself has. Trico stands on what appear to be birdlike legs, and the beast is covered in feathers. Trico exhibits the mannerisms of a puppy, but has a kitten-like face. Its back sports wings, and it has the tail of a rat. And that tail?

That tail. The strange, buried object from the opening scene is immediately revealed to us as a shiny, reflective shield—and when that shield is pointed at something, a static violet burst of electricity sparks from Trico’s nearly-sentient tail, destroying any target marked by the light of the strange shield. With the controls understood, and the Boy guiding Trico— “Toriko (portmanteau of ‘bird’ and ‘cat’ in Japanese)” —with his voice, we are on our way out of the ruins and confined spaces and into the open, awe-inspiring vistas of the mysterious ‘Nest.’ Is it the place of Trico’s birth? Is it a haven, or a prison? The only truths we are allowed are the ones we can understand with our own eyes: It is a place of endless beauty, a garden of lush green trees and broken stone pillars and endless flapping butterflies and flying white doves and crawling black lizards. A place that simultaneously evokes the glory of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, combining the factors of both games together into a puzzling, adventurous, wondrous kingdom.

The Boy and Trico exist at one another’s beck and call. The Boy can shout for Trico, and Trico will plainly make known its demands for the Boy. Puzzles are solved by using the combined teamwork of both beast and boy; The Boy can climb up on Trico back to reach higher ledges, and Trico and jump across massive chasms to reach new areas. If Trico is distracted by a harmful roadblock or painful smell, the Boy can remove these things for him. And if either partner is attacked by the strange, terrifying statues with their glowing green eyes and robotic mannerisms, the Boy can tackle them—but it is Trico who shines. The beast is angered by anything that tries to hurt it, and with jumps and swipes and honks and roars it will eliminate all dangers from the Boy’s path. Quickly the relationship blossoms. But things also become vastly more complex.

Within the first few hours of the game every control, facet, and design is revealed. The player is subtly given all the knowledge required to play, and the rest is nuance and exploration and understanding. We learn by doing. The Boy can pet the bloodstains out of Trico’s feathery hide. Trico will make quiet cues for the boy if he is bothered by a particular puzzle. If there is something of interest high up or far away, Trico will look in that direction and let loose one of its honking, barking cries. And all the while, endlessly ascending the Nest, the great Tower is in view. The Tower that bothers Trico every time it sees it, the Tower that feels so ominous, and eventual, and ending.

The mechanics of the relationship in the Last Guardian truly are profound. Simple actions such as petting or jumping or yelling lead to infinite combinations, and Trico has its own ideas for how to make it through the labyrinthine designs of the Nest. As the player, many of us will enter the Last Guardian with the belief that it is a video game, a piece of simple enjoyment that contains machinations that ought to obey our every whim. And yet this mentality is a complete betrayal of Trico’s behaviors and the budding relationship between it and the Boy. Yes, Trico is an animal contained within a video game, but its intelligence is complex and thoughtful. We, as the player, have our own ideas of how to solve puzzles and move on. Our eye is distracted by beauty and complexity and action; Trico’s is as well. Allowing Trico the same respect that we are allowed as the player buds a much richer and more rewarding experience of the Last Guardian. Trico isn’t simply a tool to make it through the game and see the credits roll, it is a creature on its own, and it deserves patience and thought. Despite a dozen hours with the game, I don’t think I ever became used to Trico’s incredible size, the intelligence in its dark (and often-glowing) eyes, or its ability to think for itself, and go where it wanted to go.

One thing (of many) that the Last Guardian does so well is seamlessly blend the story with the action. There are no cutscenes during the gameplay segments of the Last Guardian…or are there? One action blends so seamlessly into the next, that many of the game’s most shocking and unbelievable moments will fall onto the ‘scripted’ plane, and yet the player will not even realize it because there is no load time, no cut to black, no control taken away. The Boy and Trico move through the harrowing, crumbling necropolis of the Nest, and oftentimes we as the player are left wondering…how much control did we have? Are we playing the game, or is the game letting us play it? And this unending complexity comes in even stronger during the final moments of the game, when ascending the Nest is a life or death situation, when moment after moment induces shock, terror, and rage, when the final climb for the end is so desired, so wanted, that we believe the strength between the Boy and Trico is nigh-unbreakable. And it is.

Fumito Ueda and his team did many things right with the Last Guardian. They did many things wrong. And this imperfectness, this very obvious care and the cracks within it are exactly what has made Ico and Shadow of the Colossus cult hits, some of the only games in video game history that have gained the inarguable status of ‘high art.’ The Last Guardian is no different. With each of its frustrations comes joy, comes glory, comes shock and awe. The relationship between the Boy and Trico is not only believable—it’s real. Where Ico and Shadow of the Colossus left storytelling completely to subtlety, the Last Guardian becomes somewhat of a traditionalist. The story is given to us (and it is beautiful, and painful), but the true story is forged by the players and how they choose to exist with Trico. Solving a puzzle and rushing over a crumbling wooden bridge, fearing the chasms below, is as much the Last Guardian as standing on a ledge, looking out into the beauty of the Nest and marveling at the size and complexity of Trico. Petting Trico until it falls asleep is as much the Last Guardian as watching the brutal, gut-wrenching final act.

The Last Guardian is not a lengthy game, nor should it be. There are no levels, there are no stats, there are no equippable items. There is almost no speech, there are almost no cutscenes, and the world is small. And yet, despite all the many things that Fumito Ueda’s lack compared to other big budget titles, his team’s games are simply better. This is storytelling. This is real, true, raw emotion. The Last Guardian will get inside you and become a part of you and will irrevocably alter the way you see the world, relationships, pets, and video games. Does the Boy belong to Trico? Does Trico belong to the Boy? And after the final credits fall and the final scene is watched, will the world feel the same to you at all? What is accomplished in the Last Guardian’s few hours is something that simply has to be experienced, and despite my praise, I have revealed almost none of the parts of the game that truly stand out as extraordinary. I have seen many people say that we don’t deserve video games like the Last Guardian, and we don’t. No one does. Simply play it, enjoy it, experience it for yourself, and be thankful that there truly is goodness in this world—tucked away in a video game, pined after for years, beheld in the eyes of a truly majestic creature called Trico.

NaNo 2016: How to Write when you feel like not Writing.

Today is Monday, November 14. We are two weeks into the NaNoWriMo process, and by now most of us have either taken a big chunk out of our story process, or we have begun to despair. Are your plots coming along? Are your characters coming alive? Do you feel like your NaNo project is something you want to continue with?

And if not, what do you do? How do you write when you don't feel like writing?

This last week has been hard for many of us. In fact, I've given into despair more than a few times over the last six days. There was even a day where I did not write a word, which makes this NaNo much different than past years for me. Writing is a way of life for me. I make very little to no money on it, but it's my life regardless. And I write to feel like I'm doing something meaningful, like I'm adding to this world and not simply taking away.

But in those dark moments where it's so, so hard to create, what do we do?

It can be hard to center yourself. To look at what you're writing and convince yourself that there's any meaning to it at all. Why does it matter, when there are already so many books out there? Why do you matter, when there are so many better authors? One thing I can tell you, and this is absolutely true, is that despite the fact that we live in a world with 7 billion other people, there is no voice like yours. None. Even if every single other author out there decided to write the very next Harry Potter novel, they would all be different. Certainly there would be some similarities: fantasy elements, magic, dragons, wizards. But the story itself, and all the little details that make it? Yours would be different. Every time.

Writing when you don't feel like writing is no easy task. In fact, sometimes writing can feel like a downright chore. One famous author once said, "I do not like writing. I like having written." And for a lot of us, that's exactly it: looking back at what we've created and feeling a sense of accomplishment, and sometimes, pride. Writing one word at a time, one letter at a time, is a daunting process. But being able to look back at a finished work? That's everything.

If you find yourself despairing at the state of the world, or at your own thoughts, think of writing as a solace. No matter how good or bad your work might be, it's still a world that you're creating free of the trappings of the real one. Your reality can literally contain anything. Anything. And you should use that. Create new government orders, create new genders, create new magic spells and weapons and species of creature. Really let yourself go in the best way.

One thing I tell myself when I don't feel like writing is that I will feel SO much better afterwards if I do write. Even if I spend an hour writing nothing but absolute shit, I won't be able to feel guilty for having not written. The words are still there. To be thrown away or edited or whatever, they are still there and they are yours. And as Jack London once said, you can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.

So you don't feel like writing. And sometimes you have to give yourself a break. And your story might not feel original and your characters might feel flat, and you might feel like you're creating the worst work of fiction ever seen on this planet. And even if you did, you'd be known for that, and you'd STILL be ahead of the people that never wrote a word.

Even when you don't feel like writing, you should. Push yourself and you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish. There's a power within you that you're not even aware of, and it grows and grows. Write the kind of world you wish existed, and make it the best one you can.

NaNo 2016: Day Seven!

Oh wow. It's been a week already? Somehow I'm always amazed at the passage of time. Single days seem to go on forever, by weeks fly by. And this is part of the danger of being a writer.

It's very, very easy to make excuses, to sit back and tell yourself that you'll get to this and this, then and then, there and there. But it doesn't happen, you have to make time. And to those of you who have made it to day seven and have some writing to show for it, great job! Keep going.

By now, your story should have some real substance to it. Are you on chapter three, four, five? Do your characters feel real? Does it feel like your story is moving somewhere? After a week of writing, and nearing 15,000 or so words, your story has a great chunk accomplished. So you should celebrate and feel proud! You're doing it!

I'm nearing 20,000 words on my own project, and it's interesting so far. I've never done horror in long form before, and horror novels are tough in a way that fantasy and sci-fi are not. I'm making sure everything in my story is purely character-driven, which is a great difference from almost every manuscript I've yet written. But things are starting to come together, and I can see patterns in my symbolism, and meaning in what my characters are saying. This is the exciting part, finding meaning. 

Some tips!:

Let your characters make mistakes, it's more interesting.

Show contrast in your dialogue.

Insert something into your story you didn't plan for, a monkey wrench. Yes, it can happen as early as chapter five.

Don't lie to your readers. If you are building toward a plot twist, let it feel organic.

Go ahead and spill some stuff early. I promise you, more exciting things will come to mind.

From my own experience, don't info dump! No matter how much you want to. It's not worth it. Or if you DO info dump, get rid of that in your next draft.

Congrats on week one! Keep going!

NaNo 2016: Dawn of the Third Day!...lots of days remain.

I think day three of NaNoWriMo is pretty important. Day One is all about getting started, Day Two is feeling out your permanence. Day Three? This is the day when you realize you are actually IN your project, for better or worse.

On Day Three, most of us are in the 6,000 word range, some of us a little more. I'm over 8,000 myself, moving into the third chapter of my manuscript. So, on Day Three, how do you feel? 

Writing truly comes down to pattern behavior. Coming up with your story is fun, creating your story is fun, but to be able to continue day after day, you have to live in a pattern. Whether you want to write or not, you have to decide on a minimum time or minimum word count for yourself, and hit that. Once you're there, writing is the same thing, every day (it's not, but you know what I mean).

But NaNo Day Three? You're into your story now. Your characters are starting to sound like real people. Your story is starting to sound like a real story. You've created enough that by this point, to quit would be a waste. And why would you quit? You've only just started!

So keep going, day after day. Put in your word count for Day Three, before work or after, (or if it's your day off, awesome!) and really let your story go.

Some things to remember from this point forward:

Don't take yourself too seriously. This is a first draft, have fun.

Implement things into your story that maybe you didn't think of during worldbuilding. Believe me, it's fun. You can surprise yourself.

Let your characters do things that you didn't plan for. They are real people.

Your story should feel organic. If you're forcing part of it, let that go and try a different avenue.

Take breaks. Drink caffeine. And find a way to reward yourself as you move on to Day Four.

NaNoWriMo 2016: Some Thoughts pre-Day One

So, tomorrow is National Novel Writing Month. From Nov 1-Nov 30, thousands of people will be writing a novel, ranging through every genre imaginable. Some people will be writing their very first novel, others will be working on a draft, and some will simply be doing it for the community, as a fun exercise and simply an excuse to write more (which is always good).

Okay. Now what?

Writing a novel isn't easy. For many people, seeing that first blank page and writing the first sentence can be daunting, especially if you are hoping to write something that settles between 50,000 and 120,000 words. The goal for NaNoWriMo is simply to write 50,000, which is the short end of what is considered the 'adult novel.' Now, most of us will need to go far beyond that initial scope in order to have a truly completed draft. But for the month of November, concentrating on the 1,600 or so a day is all you need to do. And if you try and meet this small goal, you'll be surprised how it adds up, and how much easier it gets to move along from idea to idea, page to page.

Some pointers on how to be successful:

There are many, many word processor programs out there. Finding one that works for you (and something better than Microsoft Word or Pages) is ideal. I've used Scrivener to write over half a dozen novels, and it is by far my favorite. But the point is, you shouldn't be working against your tool. If you like paper and pencil, that's great too. Just work in your medium.

Stay focused. Even when you aren't writing, you are writing. Think about your novel. Think about what works and what doesn't. If you have an epiphany, jot it down. Try and keep yourself in a good mental place for whatever type of novel you are writing. 

When it comes to the actual process, remove distraction but also engage in things that keep you focused. Put on music you like, sit in a comfortable chair, have snacks and drinks that keep your focus and don't tire you. Let yourself enter writing as a sort of meditation.

Don't let frustration stop you. If a sentence isn't coming, if the plot doesn't feel natural, start writing something else. Move on to the next chapter, introduce a radical concept, action, or character, do whatever it takes to move through the First Draft. The First Draft is a playground, it's a sandbox. The novel you will eventually end up with will look almost nothing like the First Draft, so don't feel too attached to it.

In the end, all the matters is getting words on the page. That's the most important part of NaNoWriMo, and I'll be doing more blogs on my thoughts of the writing process!


Blog Entry #23: Kognition: Final Fight and the future.

When I started writing Kognition a few years ago, I was in a bit of a blind panic. You often hear about a middle life crisis, but no one ever talks about someone having a panic in their early twenties. At the age of twenty-four I had already considered myself a failure. Nothing published, nothing well written, no prospects, no future. Finally, I sat down and wrote two stories: one would become Kognition, the other is a sprawling fantasy epic that I'm still working on to this day.

In the period of time I wrote the four Kognition books, I have also written a book of epic poetry, a dark fantasy novel, a sci-fi novel, and I have begun work on yet another novel. I've realized something important: regardless of my sadness, despite my self loathing, I truly love writing and creating. I will make worlds, characters, places, and I will do it until the day I die. I must say, without preamble, that I am proud of myself for having written Kognition. Sales are still low and it's tough to get anyone interested in the series, but I believe in what I've created. And I think, after all this time, that it will someday become something. Maybe not this series, maybe not this book, but I will continue to persevere and to create, because that's who I am.

For those of you who have read and supported me, thank you so much. I truly appreciate every dollar, every cent, every hour and every minute. If you've enjoyed Kognition, please tell me. If you've enjoyed my writing, please share it. And if you are working on your own art, please never stop. Never, ever.

Blog Entry #22: Writing Advice- "I don't believe in my story or myself."

I think this often. Other writers think this often. Your story requires a lot of things to come to life: strong writing, a concept, characters, a plot, details. How do you bring these many shifting pieces together and make something coherent. Further, how do you make a single, unified purpose run through the subplots and main plot and character dialogue and action?

I believe in my story in the beginning. I believe in it when I’m sitting on the couch at two in the morning watching one of my favorite movies and dreaming about the perfect coherent plot. I believe in it when I’m daydreaming at work. I believe in it when I’m thinking about my favorite new character as I’m examining a lime in the grocery store.

I believe in it. Then I see my message in another story, and I know it’s better than I can make it. I doubt my story, I doubt myself, I doubt my passion and ability and style. I know deep down I can’t make the next Harry Potter, I can’t create something as epic as The Lord of the Rings, I can’t make something as beloved and timeless as Star Wars. I think to myself that I’d be happy with a story that even made people think a little bit about one thing, even if it only lasted a day or two. But how can I even accomplish that?

And now I’ve already forgotten. What was my message? Did I lose it in the last twenty thousand words? In the last fifty thousand? Why are my characters so stale? Why is the plot so bland? Why is the action so dull?



Do it anyway. Write.


Yeah I know I’ve said this before, it’s more motivation. So what? It bears repeating. Write and write and write. Sleep. Go make some money. Hang with a friend. Watch a movie. Write. Write and write.

But you need intention, discipline, routine. You don’t believe in your story after the first month of writing it. Do you give up? No. Fine, you doubt it, but do you really want to cultivate a habit of failure in yourself? Finish the damn manuscript! You’re the one thinking about it all the time! You’re the one letting it become stale! Keep going!

You need to make yourself proud as a storyteller. You need to feel a sense of accomplishment in your works. Okay, so many you have new ideas and your next project is begging to be started. Add those ideas to your current novel! Stir things up! You can do ANYTHING in your novel! Be creative and add something wild! There are a million dry stories about daily life out there. Make your story something new and different and bizarre. Add character to your routine.

Solidify in your mind that you will finish a manuscript, at least one. Yeah, the writing process doesn’t end when you’ve finished writing. It actually gets more difficult. That’s why you need to persevere now. Artists have to have thick skin, and yes, that sucks. You have to be your biggest cheerleader, and yes, that sucks. You have to be excited about things alone and cry about things alone because no one else is going to understand the story running through your head. Until you finish that fucker and the world loves you for it. Hopefully.

Here’s the other kicker: your story might be brilliant, and you might not find out for a long, long time. How many times have you picked up a new, amazing novel only to discover that it was published before you were born? Before your parents were born? Are you going to find that author and tell them you loved the book? Are you going to make sure the money spent on the novel went to the author? No, you aren’t. Just like people aren’t going to do for you. As an author you have to live with the fact that the majority of people who read your novel will never come into contact with you. If you’ve already finished something, someone could be raving about it right now, and you don’t know. Yeah, it adds another layer to the loneliness, but it’s a part of that whole ‘thicker skin’ thing. Keep writing.

You are building your name and existence into a product, a living portfolio. Keep working. That novel that you did that only got three out of five stars? Someone loved it enough to give it a six and someone hated it enough to give it a one. They are both wrong, they are both right. Keep writing. Work on your next novel. Paint a picture. Write poetry. Make a song. Work on your next short story collection. Make a graphic novel. Write. Write and write.

“I don’t believe in my story.” “I don’t believe in myself.” Well, you’re not alone. And you are. But keep going because someone out there believes in you and to be honest, your story and your work is probably a hell of a lot better than you give it credit.

Blog Entry #21: Writing Advice-Worldbuilding #3: Believability

Gathering the many pieces of your world together is very fun and exciting. Especially if you are trying to create a massive, sprawling fantasy world for your epic. You learn about new concepts, religions, kingdoms, weapons, etc. Keeping all this information organized and sorting it into its proper place is just one part of the worldbuilding concept, though. To truly make sure that your world is interesting and real is to make it believable. 

Now, achieving believability can be done in a variety of ways. Usually you want to start by picking a time period for your novel, but what if you’re completely making up a new world? How do you decide what technology exists in the setting of the novel? How do you decide what sort of government should exist? What sort of religion matches up with your technology? How many different races are in your world, and what are the various levels of government, religion, and technology? If there is magick, how old is it? Is magick allowed or is it religious superstition? How many different kingdoms exist in your world? How do people travel? Can you get from one continent to the next swiftly, or is travel a huge pain?

This is where you need to start thinking about how the different pieces fit into each other. When you’re creating a science fiction novel, you don’t have to make everyone come from Earth. When you’re writing fantasy, you don’t have to make your time period match up exactly with an existing time period. Sometimes authors do this just to cement the idea of believability into their readers early, like George R. R. Martin matching Westeros with medieval times. The problems that can come out of this, though, are when you allow lazy misconceptions roll over into your fantasy realm because of the excuse that it ‘fits the time period.’ Does it? You created this world; it’s not real. You can do whatever you want.

Once you gain an idea of what fits and what doesn’t in your world you can continue to build off of that. In fact, for many people establishing the time period might make the entire worldbuilding a little easier. You can filter out your ideas and build a nice backbone for what can and can’t exist. In one project I’ve been working on for a few years, there are several different continents but three main kingdoms that all war against one another. One is a technologically advance meritocracy, one is a religion-fueled kingdom ruled by the equivalent of the Catholic church, and one is a former tribal nation that went through a period of rule by Philosopher Kings but is now a trickle-down meritocracy in the fashion of the first kingdom. Magick is real in this world, but it is rare, and there is much in this age that could be called ‘steampunk.’ Since I know how the world is going to be, I can craft the ideas that will keep it believable. I know what works for each kingdom and warring fashion, and I establish what technology can exist and what can’t. 

If you decide to make your world have very little to do with pre-existing time periods on Earth, things can get a tad trickier. You might have to constantly ask yourself important ‘Why’ questions, and let your editor know that there are certain things that need to be watched out for on the side of believability.

So, to create a fantastic sci-fi or fantasy world, make sure you establish early on in your worldbuilding the kind of world you are making. Create hard and fast rules…and then break them. Force the reader to understand the things that absolutely must exist in your world, and then throw curveballs. This is how to make your world highly interesting, to craft a story wherein your world is absolutely believable and then build the ups and downs of the story around that. This way you can create a truly grand, sweeping story that people will talk about for years.



Blog Entry #20: Writing Advice-Worldbuilding #2: Organization

I should probably take a brief moment to point out that if you are serious about your novel, you should be using Scrivener to write it. Scrivener allows you to keep your chapters separated, your research organized, and lets you split your screen to easily access all your information. If you don’t have access to Scrivener, I would recommend having several word documents separating the more important aspects of your worldbuilding. Characters, cities, magick/supernatural, technology should all be separate so that you can easily access them at your whim. You want to format your worldbuilding in such a way that you don’t have to search to much for things, but also so that you can freely write and rely on your previously created information without having to slow down your progress.

For the most part, I’m going to be blogging here assuming that you are using Scrivener, as I have used it as my sole word processing document for the last three years. I have self published four novels using Scrivener and have written countless other projects on it. So, organization. As you keep the pieces of your novel separate, you can rely on these pieces to carry you through your story. At this point, writing should be almost autonomous. You should only have to worry about your story, your sentence construction, your characters, your pacing. Things like ‘how far away is this city?’ ‘who has this weapon?’ ‘who is this person’s relative?’ ‘when was this person born?’ ‘how do these characters know each other?’ should be easy to pick out of your worldbuilding document, or at the very least able to find rather quickly.

Proper organization of your worldbuilding pieces will also result in a much easier time reading over your first draft and editing it in the later process. You will construct it to the point that it’s a glossary or encyclopedia of terms, and this way you can either make your novel a tight read or create something as sprawling as A Song of Ice and Fire. Once you spend the time creating and organizing your worldbuilding document, you will be surprised at the quality and detail that exists in your own writing. After some time, you will begin to understand how the greatest science fiction and fantasy authors are able to make such sprawling worlds. Think of your worldbuilding documents as cheat sheets that you can rely on as you wish. Any time you forget part of your sprawling, constructed world (which you will) you can easily fall back on the hard work that lifted you up to this point.

So, organize! Create that amazing world that has been in your head for so long, but don’t short change yourself. Keep things as neat and tidy as you can. You don’t need to go through a full outline or bring your worldbuilding down to a level of detail that impedes you, but if you have enough information created and organized to which you can easily rely on it, your writing will become smooth and easy. Your beautiful, sprawling world will come to life as easily as if it has always existed. 

Blog Entry #19: Writing Advice-Worldbuilding #1: Shards


For many people, doing research and worldbuilding can be the most entertaining part of writing. It’s exciting, opportunity is limitless, your entire story is set before you. You can make your world as large or as small as you want. You can make it as detailed as you want. People, places, things, concepts, religions, creatures, everything is absolutely open to your creativity and breadth of ideas. But, for some, worldbuilding can be scary. Just like with writing your story, where do you begin? How do you know if you’ve done too much, or too little?

Worldbuilding is made up of its many individual pieces. For the most part, you have an inkling of what your story is going to be, who your characters are, what sort of era it’s in. If this is a fantasy novel, does your world have magick? How is it used? Where does it come from? Is it biological, chemical, or engineered? Can people use magick, or just creatures? Is it against religion or science to use magick? Is magick political? Is it determined by social class? It it morally good, or evil? This is where the pieces come in, the shards of your worldbuilding. When you sit down to create your worldbuilding document, it’s important to pick one thing at a time and follow it through to conclusion. 

Let’s keep going with the example of magick. The more detail you include in your worldbuilding, the easier it’s going to be to write your story. You won’t have to stop and think about too many things in depth because you have already created them. Your research and worldbuilding are done (for the most part, it’s always safe and fun to add more things as you think of them) and so you are free to write with assurance and confidence.

So, magick. If you have to, make a list of these questions and then simply answer them to your preferred level of detail. Do you want your magick to be explicit, or implied? Make sure that you have enough of your own details created that you can make the information flow naturally through your story, instead of dumping it all at once. I know, we get really excited about our stories and worlds, but it feels much better as a reader to have much of these things inferred or assumed by characters to make the world and its concepts feel natural. Suppose that this magick you’ve created is pulled from nature itself. Your characters can summon stones, or vines, or create fire if these things are natural around them. Perhaps write a scene where one character lights a cigar with his fingers near a camp fire, or another character uses vines to tangle the legs of a foe. Whatever your magick is, if you showcase it in a natural description, much of what you’ve done in worldbuilding can be conveyed to the reader as if they already knew about the concept.

Now that you have magick, move on to the next thing. Tackle race, geography, religion, philosophy, money, creatures, and class much in the same way. Save the bigger aspects, such as history or family, for the end of your worldbuilding. Try and start small, build up those shards until you have a full, formed gem. Maybe start with magick, then weapons, then creatures, and move on to religion, society, class. Keep building up and up and before long, you will have lists and sub lists of all the things you need. Once you are at a comfortable position, you can move on to the next step of your worldbuilding: organization.

Blog Entry #18: Writing Advice-Motivation #6- What You Love

We all feel passionate about the things that entertain us in our free time. Many of us dream of a day when we can either enjoy these things at our frequent leisure, or create them ourselves. Film, television, video games, music, so many different things we engage in artistically leave us with beautiful reactions. We are scared, we are excited, we are impassioned by the stories and emotions generated by different forms of artistic entertainment. Those of us that spend huge chunks of our time creating things of our own examine the arts a little differently. We takes pieces with us, slivers of things that have impressed us in one way or another. These things cultivate within us, and the many, many pieces of fiction and art we engage in become an investment of time that can pay out in very creative ways.

While I write I pull on my inspiration from many different fields. As a writer, it’s very important that I read every day, so that I can see the uses of my craft and learn new words, see sentence structure, etc. Reading keeps writing sharp. However, I’m often inspired and motivated by things outside of books. The stories contained in other mediums are just as inspiring, and sometimes seeing different creative slants can be a wonderful thing to bring back to the keyboard. As I’ve written The Kognition Cycle, I have been inspired by Final Fantasy, .hack, Xenosaga, Neon Genesis Evangelion. With other works I’ve been inspired by Saga, Firefly, Star Wars, Cowboy Bebop. Sometimes I even write while I have a movie on, just for a creative change up from music. Broadening your horizon and spending time with many different types of fictional medium is not only good for your creative output, but it can also really help your motivations.

When writing and crafting your story, it’s important to take the pieces of those things you love and mold them into something new and interesting, something creative that you can be proud of. Being motivated by other works and taking inspiration from them is important, and it’s equally important to realize that your originality stems from thousands and thousands of years of other stories. Taking the pieces of things you love, especially if they are very different on their surface, and combining them with your own creative slant is how the best stories are made. Think of those moments when you’ve been truly impressed and awestruck by a scene in a movie or a book, or lyrics in a song. Think about why they made you feel that way, then harness them into something for yourself. 

Eventually you will find that you are creating something that other people will take inspiration from, something that will hopefully motivate others in the same way. You become an important cog in the machine that helped create you, and join the ranks of storytellers since the beginning of human history. As you craft your stories, as you write your novels, as you make your poetry and your songs and your screenplay, you become an important piece in the spine of motivation for all artists. In a way, we end up helping each other by not only pushing our creative boundaries, but by creative new tropes and stereotypes in fiction, by inventing new archetypes, by adding to a strong menu of stories and inspiring tales. 

So while you write, think about what you love and why you love it! It’s important. Push past the simple act of enjoyment and really think about the working pieces of story, the characters, the emotions. Use those things to generate your own works and make them good.



Blog Entry #17: Writing Advice-Motivation #5-Keeping Things Fresh

Once you are at a point of daily writing ritual, the work itself can sometimes turn unconscious. You will spend much of your day thinking about your story, its various pieces, its characters. You’ll sit down to write in your morning or evening and put down everything you thought of or jotted down. Hopefully this ritual will continue for the rest of your life, barring your own changes, additions, and rituals. You will form your own everyday creative stint, and your work will flow out of you.

Or will it? Oftentimes as we write, we get worried that our own work isn’t as good as say…just about anyone else that has ever written a simple monosyllable. We think about our own work constantly, our stories, our pieces of story, our words, our poems, and after a while they start to become bland. Almost like watching a beautiful stream flow and flow and flow until the imagery of water becomes static nonsense. Maybe you’re halfway through your first novel, maybe you’re on your second, maybe you’re in the middle of a poem, or a screenplay, and suddenly everything you’re doing feels stale, stiff, and lifeless. What do you do?

This is actually the most fascinating and beautiful aspect of writing. It’s the fact that the only thing limiting you is yourself. Put aside convention and trope and stereotype for a moment. Think about your own work, your creative soul and what you are striving to do. Think about your goals. What do you hope to achieve? What sort of story do you wish to tell? Throughout our lives, we are influenced constantly by outside forces. For the writer this is both good and bad. Every piece of everything will influence you. Maybe you are certain of your story idea, only to have the entire thing turned on its head by a film plot. Maybe you see your current idea already exists. Maybe you feel as if your protagonist or villain are suddenly uninteresting. So what?

Change stuff up. Play with your first draft Introduce something that you did not previously think of, or change some aspect of your research and outline. Introduce a new threat, a new character. Kill someone. Take something away. Give your story new life if you believe that it is losing itself in breaths. But also remember to not jeopardize what you have created so far out of sheer panic. Because there’s another truth to this. You think about your own work constantly, so of course aspects of it become boring to you. If you’re writing a novel, think about it in these terms: you dream up, you research, you make a first draft, you write a second draft, you edit, you add, you take away. You read and reread. You will become so aware of your story it will be almost painfully boring after a time. Just remember that other people will find your work interesting because it is new to them. If you need to, lean on the advice of friends and peers, and think about your tropes and character standings. Make your story interesting on its own merit.

If your motivation increases from this, that’s great! Sometimes you may need to take a break from a particular manuscript, draft, or outline. Sometimes you may need to work on another project or another aspect of what your current idea is. After you finish a draft, you need to step away for a time and allow the work to marinate without you. You need to forget about it and then look upon it with fresh eyes. Your story deserves your absolute attention and care, but you also have to find it as interesting as anyone who is going to read it. Whatever the case, don’t lose sight of your daily motivation, your goals, and the things about your story you originally found interesting. Most likely, your brain is just getting in the way of itself. Don’t let a single thought, a single day, ruin the great longevity and possibility of a work.

Blog Entry #16: Writing Advice-Motivation #4-The Daily Grind

So you have your ideas down, you’ve done research, you have somewhat of an outline, and you’ve written a chapter or two. Your motivation is carrying you far enough that you can see a story building, and you can proudly scroll through a few pages and see that hard work does pay off. You keep writing, and writing, and writing. Then, you realize it’s been a few days, maybe even a week, and you haven’t written a word. Wait a minute, what happened?

Writing is a ritual. Yes motivation and creativity are important, but they absolutely will not carry you through your novel. You need to transform your desire to write and the creative aspect into a daily motivation. Not the motivation to write, but the motivation to sit down and cultivate your ritual. Think of it like working out, it has to be done a certain amount every day, a number of days a week. Writing is no different. For me, I write two thousand words a day no matter what. I usually write at night, as this is my most calming time, and I punch out those words. Once you decide on a reasonable daily goal for yourself, and you stick to that goal, you won’t have to worry about inspiration or motivation because you will be writing every day no matter what. Yes, this seems like it’s turning your creative passion into a grind, but once you get to the point where it’s a daily occurrence, you won’t even think about that any more. Writing will be like making breakfast or brushing your teeth. It will be an automatic, necessary part of your day that will hopefully occur for the rest of your life.

Now on average, if you were to write two thousand words per day every day, it would take you around three to four months to finish a novel. If you can finish a novel every six months (draft) then you’re still doing fairly well. When you turn writing into a daily habit, you can look forward to your work transforming into something tangible. However even with this daily writing model, make sure you aren’t falling into a rut. Take time to look over your research. If you wrote down some ideas during the work day, make sure to type those up. Try and keep the writing fresh and interesting so that your story moves along. Just make sure that you are writing ever day (but also don’t forget to take holidays, important events, tragedies off). 

One of the ways I like to keep my creative edge is by working on multiple projects at once. In the beginning, I would not recommend this. Work on your first draft and turn it into something you are proud of. But after a while, and even sooner than that if you feel your creative edge slipping, try and spread yourself out a little bit. At the moment, I am working on a handful of things: the second draft of a novel/novella, refining a book of epic poetry, and editing the fourth book in my Kognition series. I also periodically write single poetry, short stories, or jot down other ideas as they come to me. If this sounds like a lot to work on, I promise you it’s not. I always feel like I’m not doing enough. But once you get into that daily model of writing habit, you will be aching to do more and more and more. Just make sure you find your balance and don’t bite off too much.

Phew. Okay. Make writing a daily habit. Pick a word count. Meet it. Focus on your creativity. Think about your work. Read over your research. Just make sure that writing is a ritual and a habit, something you cannot do without. The first few days and weeks will be bothersome. Then a month or two will go by, and if you skip a day of writing, you will feel it. Because it’s in you. It’s who you are. Eat, breathe, sleep, write.

Blog Entry #15: Writing Advice-Motivation #3, Beginnings

If you’re at that point where motivation isn’t a problem, if you’re sitting down and actually working on your writing, that’s a good sign. But there’s another issue that can come up after your research and worldbuilding, after you’ve poured yourself a cup of coffee or opened an energy drink or taken a swallow of whiskey. The beginning of your story.

For some people, writing the beginning of the story is part of the problem linked to motivation. They have the entire thing (or most of it) in their head, playing like a movie. You see your heroes and your villains duking it out, you have a few quotes in your head, and you’ve outlined a few pivotal scenes (or at least thought about them). So you sit down to right, and nothing comes out. Not because of a lack of motivation, but because starting the story—just writing the opening sentence or paragraph—is suddenly daunting. Why is this? You know what your story is. You know that you want to get going. But the intimidation and anxiety caused by the opening sentence, paragraph, or pages is just nagging you. So you quit your word document and watch Netflix or go to sleep.

Okay take a deep breath. There are a few ways to alleviate the issue of beginning. One is, to pretend like the rest of your story doesn’t exist. Just do this for a moment. Stop thinking about how boring the opening is and refuse the urge to info dump (as we all want to do). Those things will come in time. Write an opening hook, then develop something at the beginning. Pretend the first few pages or the first chapter is a short story. Allow it to be a seed, then germinate. Let it grow from there.

Another way to handle it is to skip the beginning, at least for a time. On at least two novels I’ve written I didn’t write the beginning until I had finished my entire first draft. Sometimes you don’t even think of what the beginning should be until you’ve fleshed out the rest of the story. You don’t have to start in the middle or anything like that, but start writing one of the scenes you like, and if it becomes what you want, build on it, either toward the future or the past. Write a chapter before it, write a chapter after it. Sort of like the ‘Ignore it’ rule, you can jump from one important chapter to the next, and then worry about fleshing out those other chapters later. This way you are actually writing, which is what you want.

To get over the anxiety of motivation you often have to destroy the idea of perfection. For many of us, we want to make it big. Or, you just want to impress the people reading your work. Or, you want to write something that’s worth talking about. And you think that if it isn’t perfect out of the gate, it’s not worth it. The secret is: no author in the history of time has written a perfect first draft. It just doesn’t happen. There doesn’t have to be rewriting, but there is always fidgeting and fiddling. Neil Gaiman himself said he often detests looking at his own past works because he can find a problem on every page, and Brian K. Vaughan doesn’t like to read his own works because he can’t stand his own writing. These are people who have made it, and have been working on their craft for years.  So you don’t have to worry about perfection, you just have to worry about putting the words on the page.

Sigh. Beginnings. It’s about half motivation and half anxiety of imperfection. I’m sure there’s many other ideas and faults wrapped around beginnings as well. But they don’t have to be terrifying, they can be fun. Cut yourself some slack and do something strange, if you can’t think of how to write what you wanted to write. Kill someone early. Write an outburst. Make some sort of decisive, strange action to pull the action along. Your delete key is right there, so play around a little. You might find that your story turns into something entirely different than what you first thought.

Blog Entry #14: Writing Advice-Motivation #2, Why Do I Matter?


You’re sitting there in the post-reading bliss of finishing a fantastic book. It moved you. It inspired you. Hell, this happens with film, with video games. This strike of awe and amazement and inspiration happens when you look at a particularly beautiful piece of art or finish a song that feels as if it were written specifically for you. You put that book down, you walk out of that movie, you turn off that video game. For a while, the inspiration moves in your veins like adrenaline, it sparks your mind like a drug.
Then, the bad part of your brain sets in, and you wonder: Why do I matter? Can I even make something half this good? A tenth this good?
Coming up with a reason for existence is difficult, be it about writing a novel or a book of poetry, or simply life itself. In the scope of writing, it does come down to you, and deciding whether or not your story and your time matters, and how to cultivate the motivation to make that happen. You sit down and begin typing out the first few paragraphs of your story, certain that it’s a wonderful thing, but that thought still plagues you: why does this matter? Why does the story matter? Is it worth my time?
This part of writing and motivation can be a tad dangerous. There are no guarantees with writing. None. With writing, you are expected to be good. This in itself means hundreds of different things. Most importantly, can you write well, and can you craft a good story? Then, after you do these things, will your story find its audience? Will the audience care? Will they see it the way you wanted to be seen?
Writing is constant exercise, not just of your fingers and your lower back, but of your ability to be aware. You have to understand the proper use of adjectives. You have to know how to build sentences and thread those into paragraphs. And you have to write as if you are speaking to one individual, not many, so that your story can not only get across but can be loved. You have to construct locations, characters, plots. You have to remember to include all the best parts of your research. Writing is not a skill developed across hours, it is a skill developed across years. It can make you wonder if all the time is worth spending. Writing requires much of your free time, if not most of it. The motivation doesn’t end with the writing itself, it begins there, and it has to carry you through to the end. Is all this time worth it? Is my art worth it? Why do I matter, at all?
My first suggestion for this bitter thought pattern is: ignore it. Let’s guess that your first novel will be around eighty thousand words, give or take a few thousand. It will probably take you around three to six months to write, perhaps longer if it requires a lot of extra thought and life keeps interrupting you. This is a huge time and thought commitment, and there is absolutely no guarantee that this amount of time will get you anywhere. There is no guarantee of money. There is no guarantee of fame. But here are the real, honest guarantees: growth, and fun.
Growth is fairly obvious, the more you write the stronger a writer you will become. This isn’t a ‘maybe if I write I will get better,’ thing. I am telling you, guaranteed, you will be a better writer the more you write. You can have absolute, one hundred percent faith in this. Ask any writer alive, they will tell you this is true.
Fun. I’ve said this so many times before but it bears constant repeating. Writing should be fun for you. You should love your story, your characters, your plot. You should have fun weaving the tale. You should feel joy at perusing the thesaurus and dictionary, reading other authors, gathering research, and feeling new story and plot breakthroughs. All these little moments will become an almost obsessive high as your story takes a firm hold in your mind and becomes a good majority of what you think about in the day. You should absolutely look forward to your free time writing, because you are creating something from nothing. Writers cull magick. They have spells in their fingers. Believe nothing less.
So why do I matter? Why does my writing matter? Mostly, because it’s yours. You could be half way through your first draft and find that there’s a novel out there that’s strikingly similar to yours. Keep writing anyway. Your story will be different, I promise, and you will change so much along the way. Your first novel or short story or book of poetry may not be your magnum opus and it shouldn’t be. As long as you keep writing, as long as you look for reason and hope within your own pages, as long as you let the motivation carry you, you will arrive at a good place. I promise.

Blog Entry #13: Writing Advice-Motivation

I will be attempting to blog regularly about writing advice and different musings I have pertaining to writing and creativity in general. This week I will be blogging about motivation!

The thing I hear the most from other writers (by far) is “I don’t have any motivation.” As in, they don’t feel motivated to write. They sit down in front of their computers, well-intentioned with a cup of coffee and a favorite playlist, and no less than a million ideas running through their head. They set their fingers to the keyboard, and look at the blinking cursor.
And nothing happens.
Why? I’ve thought about this for a long time. And I want to put some of this in to words with more than just my own experiences with finding and keeping motivation. I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I’ve self-published four books so far and have many other writing projects in various stages. I love writing. But this person who sits in front of their computer and sighs in frustration at the blank screen loves writing just as much as I do. There’s just some sort of disconnect, a frayed edge to the wiring that isn’t carrying the galvanized current.
Most of us can’t turn our minds off to write. The creative mind is a terrible beast, and it has a habit of working better when you’re in a grocery store picking out bunches of cilantro than when you have three hours of free time and some really good coffee. However, all that worry is still there. Not just panicking about a family member, worrying about bills, thinking about that noise the car is making, thinking about work, thinking about that souring relationship, no. There are so many worries that exist before the terrible beast that is writing.
Writing is a lot of things. It’s ideas, and it’s researching those ideas. It’s taking that research to a point where a story can be told of it. And then you worry, “Is my writing good enough?” “Do I overuse adjectives?” “Do I have too many similes?” “Is my story even any good?”
You worry that no one will like what you do, or worse, no one will even read your work, and it will fall to nothing before it can ever be something.
Here’s the truth of it: write because you like it. And yes, I know how that sounds, but hear me out.
Writing is fun, and that’s why you are a writer. The most important part of writing is not only letting go of all the problems plaguing your life, but letting go of the nihilism and difficulty of thought surrounding the act of writing itself. First of all, write the first draft and focus on that. Even if your research isn’t finished and your characters aren’t fully fleshed out, you should write the first draft, mostly because it will give you a great idea of where you’re going. Then after you have that thing, that real and tangible thing, you can not only feel proud but you’ve started the most important leg of the journey. Writing is sort of like creating a creature from nothing. You make the skeleton, then you fill in the muscles, then you apply the skin and the aesthetic goodies. But without one piece you cannot have the other.
One of my favorite tricks while writing is something I call the ‘Ignore Trick’ (honestly I’m naming it right exactly now, I’ve never thought of it as having a name). Here is what I do: If you don’t like a particular scene, or piece of dialogue, or sentence, then write it quickly and shitty so you can keep moving. Go on to the next part of what you’re doing and build on that. Not only can you alter or erase that part later on (or completely change it during the second draft and beyond) but you can laugh at later.
So, don’t get stuck. Write a bad sentence, write bad dialogue, write a bad scene, then ignore it and move on. Once you get used to this habit, you’ll find that you can fly through words and scenes, and you will actually result in having something written down. Yes, you might be angry when you reread it, but it’s still there. You created it. 
This is the first and most important part of motivation while writing: doing the thing. You can hate your writing all you want, you can kick and scream and whine about how no one will like it or read it, you can tell yourself you are the worst writer of all time. Do that. Prove it. Prove it by writing the thing down so that you can have something to hate later.
Because it’s something.

Blog Entry #12: Resurrection

The Kognition Cycle: First Fragment + Second Stage is available in hardcover and on your favorite eReading device! Happy release day!

Wow. Almost two years ago I released First Fragment on kindle alone. And then I made it available in softcover. And then I changed stuff. And then I released Second Stage. And then I---

Well, anyways, here we are. The Kognition Cycle: First Fragment + Second Stage is the definitive edition of both of these stories, the first half of the series now available in my preferred text along with new short stories, presented in hardcover (if you so wish). This has been a labor of love for sure, but I am so happy about the finished product. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed creating it.

(Also, I will have another blog entry up soon about the changes and why this new edition is the preferred text, and even why I now consider the other two versions of the books non-canonical. Oops).

Blog Entry #10: New Year, New Projects

Hello 2015! Hopefully most of you are already well under way with your own projects (or at least heavily thinking about them). I know my fellow writers, poets, artists, designers, and creators of all kinds have the daunting task of turning 2015 into something meaningful, and January is a great month to just churn through the idea engine.


2015 is the year of Kognition for me. 2015 will see the release of both Kognition: Volume One, a hard cover collected special edition of First Fragment and Second Stage, as well as Kognition: Fourth (tentatively titled), the penultimate book in the adventures of Lisa Perdita and Hayden Itagaki. Volume One should see the light on day around March, and Kognition: Fourth this summer.

After that, there are many new novels and projects underway, and I am excited about all of them.

I'm hoping to use 2015 to spruce this blog up a bit, using the blog portion of it to talk about other books, video games, movies, TV shows and the like, as well as putting regular entries into the Codex Animus, a database that will have detailed information on the characters, terms, and places in the Kognition Cycle's Midgardian universe.

As always, thanks for reading, and cheers.