Seven Stories & the Late Shows!

Standard

Finally found a good time to write about what could be the most exciting opportunity Creative Arts Practice has thrown my way – getting commissioned by Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books! The whole cohort was invited to send proposals for Seven Stories’ night at the Late Shows, and mine was one of the ones that got accepted!

I’m putting together a programme of pop-up performances throughout the evening, which will be Friday the 19th of May. They’ll be many talented poets and musicians spread throughout the building, spinning stories in one form or another. I might even get to do a set myself, if I’m not run off my feet. If you’re in Newcastle or that neck of the woods, come down the Ouseburn Valley and check it out! The whole city will be full of cultural events and people wandering around with beer and/or glowsticks.

Late-Shows-2016

No doubt I’ll be plugging this more actively at the week progresses. Keep an eye out for updates on specific performers as well – I’m really exciting about some of the people I’ve managed to get on-board.

For those interested in finding out how this came about, along with other Creative Arts Practice things I’ve been up to this year, check out my course blog (it’ll be up there once various technical difficulties are resolved).

Maps Maps Maps

Standard

I’ve had a bit of an obsession with maps lately or, more specifically, video game maps. You can blame Creative Arts Practice for this, making me analyse my interests and consider ways to make my work more multimedia and stuff. How dare it.

Anyway, I’ve always liked them. Especially the maps in Final Fantasy XII, for some reason. There was something about the way they looked and the way every part of the area had its own specific name that helped give every part of the place a specific flavour. Inevitably the names were things like ‘Halls of Ardent Darkness’ and ‘Demesne of the Sand Queen’, but that kind of thing sounds kickass to a certain kind of teenager.

FF12_Map_-_Nabreus_Deadlands.png

See? I’m not making this stuff up.

Young writers always get told to ‘write what you like’, and I like to think that imitating my favourite authors got me started down that particular track pretty successfully. But as a teenager playing Zelda, Final Fantasy and Castlevania and liking those, I couldn’t very well apply the same advice quite so literally. Me and high-school IT class did not get on, and even if we had done, I was a teenager, not a fully-equipped games studio.

So, for lack of resources, I drew maps. Don’t have the capacity to create and render a fully-functioning Zelda dungeon on a rainy Sunday afternoon? Well, just draw a map of it. Draw little ‘key’ symbols to show how you’re supposed to unlock the doors. Draw dotted lines so you can tell where the moving platforms are supposed to go. That kind of thing. It doesn’t look nearly as cool as playing the level would feel, but you can use your imagination to fill in that gaps. That’s how maps work.

FF12_Map_-_Ozmone_Plain.png

What was the plot of this game again? I’d honestly rather know why ‘Field of Fallen Wings’ is called that.

Towards the point – maps have come up a fair bit as part of Creative Arts Practice so far. We spent a whole seminar looking at Google Maps and Google Street View, the way they make you think about and navigate places in a certain way. And, being a hopeless nerd, this got me thinking about video game levels and their maps again. Barheim Passage from Final Fantasy XII. Dracula’s Castle from Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. Blighttown from Dark Souls. Luigi’s Mansion. Even the procedurally generated levels from Darkest Dungeon.

darkest-dungeon

Sure, this one isn’t quite so cool to look at. But when your party’s food and sanity is dwindling with every step and the next room could contain a horrifying boss monster accompanied by appropriately epic narration and backing music, suddenly you’re paying damn close attention to this thing.

The thing that struck me wasn’t really the maps themselves. Sure, sometimes in-game maps can be pretty. Mostly they’re functional – they help you visualise a space that is already harder than a real place to visualise because it doesn’t really exist at all, its fictional place represented in a game and isn’t any less fictional than the map that goes with it. They’re tools, part of the interface just like health meters, action bars and menus. So why did looking at them bring me right back into the feeling of playing those games? The gameplay, the enemies, the music – it was all vivid again. Why?

It might be a fairly specific kind of nerdy interest. I’ve always loved me a good video game dungeon. I’m also one of those incorrigible nerds who engages in tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons (heaven help me) and drawing maps of made-up places was always one of my favourite parts of running a campaign. Probably most people don’t find these maps all that interesting, or at least save that kind of interest for maps of places they can relate to (real or otherwise). But still, I think I’m onto something here.

dav
I think it has something to do with the way they bring things together. Precisely the fact that you use them to figure out where you are and where you’re going seems to bind them in your head with your experience of navigating the place, sometimes in ways you might not expect. That’s what the confusingly laid-out and probably illegible collage-thing you just scrolled past is about. I made it in the Culture Lab as an attempt to map onto the level all the things I liked and remembered about it.

All this might seem a weird interest for someone who writes rather than draws, paints or does anything all that visual. But ultimately I think it feeds into something I’ve always had a strong interest in as a fan of fantasy (and sci-fi, and horror): world building. A certain kind of story is as much about the setting itself as it is about the people in it and the stuff that they do. Just think how popular maps of Middle Earth, Discworld and Westeros are with fantasy fans.

middle-earth-map.jpg

I’m sure a lot of people recognise this one.

But Lewis, you say, maps of Middle Earth aren’t what made LotR awesome. That’s true. And it was the music, the level and enemy design, the lore and the gameplay of those games that made their levels the experiences that they were. It wasn’t the maps. Those things aren’t even necessarily represented that well on the maps, some not at all (like music). But still, I think I’m onto something here.

Creative Arts Practice has given me a lot of food for thought regarding the different ways ideas can be represented, and the different media we can use to express them. Wouldn’t it be a kind of cool gallery exhibition that tried to capture a video game level or just a place by combining a map with all those different kinds of media? What if you were looking at the map of a level while listening to its soundtrack? That’s kind of what the idea is with these poorly-photographed collages – a first attempt at bundling some of those things together.

Its at this point that my thinking is much less collected. I have a few ideas of where I want to go with this little pet project of mine, if anywhere. One thing that has my interest is the multimedia nature of these associations.

I also think there’s good potential here for picking apart the way world-building works in games, even the tried-and-tested ‘I wonder what awful shit went down in this dungeon’ kind. Sometimes you it helps to know why this mansion’s full of the living dead, you know? (speaking of which, Extra Credit made a really cool great series of short videos about exactly that kind of world-building and level design in Baldur’s Gate).

baldurs-gate-durlaggs-tower

It may not look like much, but it turns out this area is a classic case study of good storytelling & gameplay through level design.

Finally, I’m curious about the way the way maps in video games and real maps relate, and the way we think about them. What would maps of our daily commutes and favourite places look like if we navigated them in the same way as games? I don’t know how well it would work out, but I would quite like to try a mash-up of the some of my favourite real and video game locations, or a ‘gamified’ map of my daily commute.

And… maybe I’ve just got games on the brain, but there are a wealth of associations between games and the world around us. I definitely use coffee shops the way I use save points, and the entrance to Victoria Tunnel near the Hancock Museum definitely looks like a secret dungeon entrance to me. Thoughts?

victoria-tunnel

***

Image sources: Final Fantasy XII, Darkest Dungeon, Lord of the Rings, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow and Baldur’s Gate.

Creative Arts Practice M.A.

Standard

It probably hasn’t escape your attention that I’ve been posting a lot more recently. Why the sudden burst of activity? Well, part of the reason is that that I’ve finally got my English Language & Lit degree from Edinburgh. It was a great four years – I really enjoyed my studies and made a lot of friends – but I also spent a lot more time writing essays than I did anything else, and even though the essays were mostly cool ones, I still felt the lack of variety quiet a lot. Now that I’ve graduated, the possibilities are wider, to say the least.

That leads on the main reason – my new course! Just under a month ago I began an MA in Creative Arts Practice at Newcastle, my home city, and boy has it gotten off to a good start. For my purposes its similar to a creative writing course, but there are people on it doing photography, film, music, visual design and allsorts, and it also gives me the chance to learn a lot more about digital media and take modules from other courses. So there’s a lot more scope for collaboration and interesting multimedia projects!

The department building is also one of the highlights – its based in the Culture Lab, which has IT equipment and studio space coming out of the woodwork. Its a really lovely building, and we have our own generous bit of space all to ourselves, which is already beginning to feel like home. As well as hosting course activities, there are a lot of cool events on right in the main building, and I’ve been to a few already.

All-in-all, I’m really excited for this year. With any luck it give me the chance to develop some vocational skills and work on some cool creative projects. Poetry, copy editing and writing for video games are my current holy trinity of aspirations, so fingers-crossed!