Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Tag: documentaries

Starting Small

It’s been a while since I’ve posted regularly in this blog. I don’t want to have a resolution saying that I will start posting regularly from now on, because let’s face it, most resolutions end up as failures as the rest of life gets in the way and attempts at establishing new habits get broken. But, perhaps I’ll start small with bits and pieces of observations rather than starting big with essays encompassing large ideas and perhaps that will make it easier to go on.

Anyways, I wanted to share my latest binge watching: Begin Japanology and Japanology Plus (it’s actually the same program, but the name changed). I discovered this on YouTube because the site began recommending this to me after I had been watching other documentary videos. I love these types of videos because it tells about different cultures through seemingly very simple things like home appliances and umbrellas as well as the more obvious cultural markers like food, literature, and religion.

I have to admit, part of the fun of watching this particular show on YouTube is reading the comments. (Yes, yes, I know. Never read the comments. But I can’t help myself.) It’s usually overwhelmingly positive for the main host, Peter Barakan, who has a very calm, British demeanor. But the commenters have such a hate-on for the host of the “Plus” segments, Matt Alt. It’s probably because Alt’s character is so obviously that of an exuberant American that for whatever reason, fans of the show find too jarring in comparison to the subject matter and the other host. I personally don’t get the hate (Alt definitely has a different style of presenting, but I’ve seen worse), but I do find it amusing that in the comments of the later episodes, the haters reluctantly post that he’s “getting better”. Maybe they don’t want to admit that Alt is growing on them.

Old Documentary Recommendations

Even as a kid, I really enjoyed watching documentaries. Especially science and culture documentaries. I’m not sure if my preference for documentaries grew out of my preferences for the topics or simple necessity. There was no cable and going to the movie theater was a rare thing. Most of the time, if I wanted to watch a film, I’d have to wait until the library got the VHS. (Even now, childhood habits die hard. I have no TV and I go to the theater maybe three or four times a year, tops.) I was always pretty excited when Nova, Nature, or National Geographic came on. While I loved reading stories, too, documentaries showed that the real world could be even more weird and wonderful.

Lately I’ve been watching Cosmos: A Personal Voyage and Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (one episode of the former each Sunday, the newest episode of the latter on Mondays). My view of them, admittedly, is influenced by the fact that this is also my first time watching the Carl Sagan series as well as the one hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I enjoy both series and I would be hard pressed to say which one is better. I think both are the product of their times.

Anyways, this has reminded me of some older documentaries that I think still hold up well:

Civilisation. (YT playlist) This series is a pretty thorough interpretation of Western Civilization by Kenneth Clark. It was a huge thing during its day and I think the modern viewer can still see why. (Apparently it also inspired the documentary series America, presented by Alistair Cooke. I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s on my to do list.)

The Tribal Eye. (YT playlist) It’s presented by David Attenborough, need I say more? Besides, has there really been such a keen series on African, Native American, and Polynesian culture since?

The Silk Road. (YT playlist) I first stumbled onto this by accident at the local library. And I just thought this was pure awesomeness packaged as a documentary series. I keep thinking that the film crew must have had some unforgettable adventures as they trekked across the sandy Asian interior.

Antonio Gaudi. (YT link) Simply feast your eyes on great weird art.

The Queen of Trees (YT link) and Deep Jungle: Monsters of the Forest. All right, so these are more recent ones, but I really like these two because they depict how interconnected nature is by using the tree as a central character.

Documentaries and Brain Storming

Recently, I’ve finished watching a couple of documentaries, one on psychiatry (The Brain: A Secret History) and another about Japanese philosophy (In Search of Wabi Sabi).  I really love watching documentaries–I think as a film or television genre, it’s probably my favorite.  Sure, I occasionally watch movies or cartoons, but not very often.  And as for other stuff like serial fictional dramas and situational comedies?  Forget it.  I’m not interested.  I think it has a lot to do with my preferences on fictional reading: I really dislike reading series where the author blathers on and on and on about the same characters.  It’s really similar to a lot of TV series.  That sort of stuff, I think, is difficult to do well without repetition.

Anyways, with Script Frenzy fast approaching, it means I have to come up with some kind of an idea for a script.  Last year, I managed to finish a sci-fi script, but I ended up semi-vowing that I wouldn’t do it again and that I would leave it to people who were real script writers.  You know, the people who actually love doing this stuff.  I find script writing to be the literary equivalent of memorizing the Krebs Cycle.

One piece of advice that other script writers give is to watch a lot of movies.  I think this is sensible advice.  By seeing how others make a successful screenplay, you learn the sort of tricks one should use to write a successful script of your own.  But the problem is: I am no film buff.  I find myself in the sort of position that, say, someone who never reads wants to write a book.  So why the hell am I planning on participating in Script Frenzy in the first place?

Most of it, I’m afraid to say, is out of a feeling of responsibility.  At the moment, I’m the only municipal liaison for the entire state.  And as the ML, I really should set an example for everyone else.

But however burned out and disgruntled that I feel, I’m not the sort to just give things up.  So I’ve been thinking about possible ideas that would make me excited about writing a script.  Well, I’ve been watching documentaries–so why don’t I make a mockumentary or something similar to that?  Surely, since I’ve watched so many of them, I’ve absorbed what sort of story telling techniques were used to relay information to the audience in an entertaining way.  I’ve already written a Nanowrimo novel about a documentary crew.  Maybe I can write a script using the documentary style.

I was thinking of using a journalist as the main character. He or she would be dispatched to find out more about something that the journalist thinks is a bunch of woo.  Except it turns out it isn’t.  Exactly what sort of subject matter the journalist is investigating, I’m still trying to figure out.  It could go a lot of ways: horror (like The Blair Witch Project), fantasy (“Oh look, there really are unicorns!”), science fiction (“What? A mad architect really did design the Vdara as a death ray?), comedy (possibly a mockumentary), or mystery/crime.

But it’s still a month away so in the meantime, something totally different might pop into mind.

A Day Before Next Month’s Insanity

Well, it’s a couple more hours until the start of Julnowrimo.  Part of me thinks I should just go to bed early, but it’s not like I get that much sleep anyway.  Besides, there’s the excitement of starting the month-long project at midnight.  For some reason, this never gets old for me.  I guess it’s because I’m not writing the same thing over and over again.  It’s always different.  And different stories bring different challenges.

After mulling it over a couple days earlier this month, I decided to set the story in a Victorian-esque setting, in a county in England that is known to be influenced by the Vikings.  This fits in perfectly with my intentions to incorporate Norse mythology into the story.  If you’re curious as to how I came upon these settings, it was all due to my obsession with BBC documentaries.

Windermere – a location for a proposed fight scene
(Inspired by BBC’s Great British Railway Journeys, Windermere episode Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)

Carlisle – proposed location for a character’s home
(Inspired by BBC’s Great British Railway Journeys, Carlisle episode Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)

The only thing different I’ve done in planning this time is to have “blank” characters.  Oh sure, I have a list of characters that I’m including, but I have literally no description on them other than the correspondences they have to Norse mythology.  For instance, a major character in the story is the Wyrm, Jörmungandr the Midgard Serpent.  But other than that title and a motivation, I have not written down in my notes what he looks like or even what his personality is.  Is the Wyrm dangerous, angry, mysterious, silly, sarcastic, or something else?  I have no idea, although I suspect it will be fun discovering exactly who any of the characters are once I start writing.

Mapping the Cave Crawl of Ideas

Ideas have a funny way of coming together and melding when you least expect it.  It’s easy coming up with ideas but I find them difficult to implement (whether it’s a story, novel, or in this case, an interactive fiction game) right from the get-go because I often have the nagging feeling that something is missing.  So there’s always this bit of time that I force myself to think about something else and let the idea morph and mature in my subconscious before pulling it out again for reassessment.

I’ve settled on an idea that is a mashup of an escape room game, post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, the sillier aspects of archaeology, the grumpy grad student mentality, inspiration from several BBC documentaries*, and Alice in Wonderland.  I am aiming less for originality and more for something that will let me experiment with some concepts that might or might not fail in the IF medium.

Because this is my first serious attempt at IF, I’m planning to keep the game small and relatively straightforward.  And speaking of planning, there’s going to be quite a bit of that going on before I even start writing the code.  I’m approaching it in several stages: 1) prep work; 2) outlining; 3) fiction writing; 4) code writing.

In the prep work stage, I basically worked out the premise of the story, the motivation and background of the protagonist, and the setting.  All of this sets up my constraints–what I’ve decided what can or cannot be done in the scope of the game.  In the outline stage, I am figuring out where the story should ideally go and other alternatives which a player may take.  While the outline of a regular story–for me, anyway–is a rather linear list or timeline, going the choose-your-own-adventure route makes that linear list explode into a tangled web.

The outline, I’m finding, is a lot more complicated than I had anticipated.  This is where I must consider all the possible decisions the protagonist can make, the puzzles and their solutions, and how each object that I’ve included should interact with everything else.  If I were to be optimistic, I’m probably about halfway through the outline.

But even at this stage, I’m worried about one thing.  It’s one thing to write about altered states in fiction.  But how am I to implement it in code?

*How Long Is A Piece of String? Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Parallel Universes Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Illusion of Reality Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6