Sunday, December 26, 2004

Miscellany Redux

I haven't written anything here for nearly a week. I must be winding down the last days of the year, much like a lot of other people are. The next thing I know, it'll be time for another one of those Disclaimers...

Turns out that it really was a virus that hit the Anino Entertainment web site. Interestingly enough, it's a worm that specifically attacks phpbb discussion boards. Part of me wishes that I could get a sample of the virus to see exactly how it spreads, while the other parts of me just slap the first guy silly and tell it to shut up.

In the meantime, I'm looking around for samples of comic scripts. I've got a couple of plots in mind for one, but in order to write something within the field, I've got to look over a format and see what I can play around with. I wonder how far I can take the exaggeration technique. I wonder if the "rule of three" still works. I wonder if the significance of the writer will survive amidst the more noticeable art.

With regards to that last point, it's not that I don't have much confidence in my abilities. It's just that I know some pretty amazing artists...

That reminds me. I still need to rework that Metrian story. I've had Antaria on hiatus for a little too long. If I don't flesh it out soon, I'll never get around to it. And no one likes a hanging story, much less a hanging setting.

The trouble is that, despite the fact that Blogger's eaten my original piece, I think I've already mentally moved on. I've got something about Antarian mercenaries on the burner at this time, and I'm wondering if I should set it aside first. These decisions are never easy.

Someone's already asked me why I don't seem to be doing anything with my writing, even though it seems mildly interesting at least. I suppose I should be asking myself that, here on the cusp of a new year. Come to think of it, it would make a nice New Year's resolution...

Of course I've got to survive two more days of work first. And in my line of work, December isn't the time of year when you can sit back and watch the holidays go by. In my line of work, December happens to be the time of year when all the alarms are sounding, the workers are escaping through the emergency hatch, and Scotty is yelling into a communicator shouting his trademark "She's giving me all she's got, Captain! She canna hold on much longer!"

Okay, I'm rambling now. Time to stop before I lose it - my sanity, and your attention.

Hopefully I'll be able to have at least one more thing up before the curtains finally close on dear old 2004.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Hackers have apparently been hitting pretty close to home lately.

The Tantra online game is currently down, having suffered through a number of violations incurred by various individuals within its game. I would imagine that bots and packets would normally cause little or no damage to these online worlds, but in Tantra's case, the violations were particularly damning - they succeeded in breaking the economy of the virtual world. (Or so the Inquirer report says.)

The Anino Entertainment website is also down, although it looks like the work of a script kiddie in this case. The violation appears typical of a lot of website defacements, although I can't resist pointing out that the hacker's grammar appears to be a lot better than that of others I've seen. Interestingly enough, I haven't been able to google for anything regarding Anino's intruder, which , along with the grammar point, raises the possibility that this might be his first outing.

There's an odd contrast between the two incidents, mind you. I can resolve the Tantra issue with the fact that there are people out there who are naturally curious, and who use their free time checking to see if they can crack one aspect of these systems or another. In a way, I don't see it as any more different than my unwholesome attraction towards games. But I can't really see a good motivation behind disabling the Anino Entertainment site. The act of bypassing server security should be relatively easy for hackers now; Why would defacing a site be considered a major achievement for anyone other than a newbie?

On the other hand, saying that hackers deface sites for the intellectual satisfaction is like saying that people read the bible because it has a nice story - it's simply an illogical explanation. I'm inclined to believe that, if a non-newbie hacker defaces a site, it's more for the purpose rather than for the intellectual stimulation. I believe that these people deface sites because they have some sort of grudge against the local administrators, and that doing so is the best way of sticking it to them while remaining relatively anonymous in the process.

So the Anino site probably got hit by a grudger or a newbie. How odd.

I wonder how Anino's faring. They're probably pulling their backups together, grumbling all the while. It'll probably take them a few minutes (or a few days, depending on how good their organization is), and then they'll get back to normal operations after increasing the security a bit. Defacing a site makes a bit of a statement, yes, but nowadays it should be relatively easy to fix.

Exactly what Tantra's going to do is another matter altogether. I would imagine that the administrators should have already accepted by now that the hackers are a part of the game. In a sense, it's the game behind the scenes - while you're busy trying to get those last few points of experience needed to advance a level, some corporate watcher out there is trying to pinpoint the location of a couple of particularly nasty scammers. You can take a few of them out, but you can't stop the tide. Much like the Internet at large.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Why Aren't I Playing Scrabble Well?

Sacha Chua's recently posted the results of our most recent Scrabble game on her blog. It's the one where I lost to her by a measly 28 points.

What it doesn't say, though, is the fact that I've dropped two earlier games to her, the most significant win margin being a nasty 260 points. (She's pretty good at the game, yes.) And in an earlier game today against another skilled player, I bit the dust about 50 points behind my erstwhile opponent.

I find that odd, somehow. I'm a writer - aren't I supposed to be good with words?

I've already mentioned a few possible explanations during my games with Sacha: I'm less likely to challenge words based on the fact that I've seen and used quite a lot of them in my time, and I'm more likely to place words on the board that usually won't be found in the standard Scrabble dictionaries. (The very first word I ever placed, "Skirge", was promptly challenged and removed... not a good sign, if you ask me.)

That, and I seem to get too many vowels. But that's besides the point at the moment.

If there's anything I've noticed, there's a marked difference between my play style and that of my opponents'. I have a habit of finding words of five letters or more in my tiles, and tend to place those on the board. Sacha (as well as quite a few others, it seems) makes a lot of short words each turn by appending two or three letters alongside an existing row. Where I'm scoring 12 or 15 points a shot, they're getting 20 or more.

It could explain why I'm losing my games, I think. All the colored squares on the Scrabble board cluster together, yes, but almost never on the same row or column. The more I look at it, the more I see that placing a long word would obviously score less on average than placing a short entry that registers multiple words. Long words usually hit only one colored square. Multiple short words can easily hit two or more, jacking up the resulting score.

I've also realized that I tend to run into problems when my opponent is clustering his words together - the resulting mixture leaves me little room for which to connect my longer entries. I've been forced to discard potential seven-letter words more than once merely because I couldn't find a place to put them. And even if I do manage to place a long word, it gives my opponent an easy opening for her own entries.

Interestingly enough, I have to conclude that, in order to improve my Scrabble, I have to set aside my intuition for long words and concentrate on identifying the shorter words that can mesh with others of their kind. That'll have to include knowing which words actually exist (like "ti" and "qat"), and which don't (like "ut").

It's strange, how I've been playing this game for decades and yet never got around to looking at it from a more strategic angle.

If you're around the website, do head for the Scrabble boards and see if 'wintermarch' is around. I'll be happy to oblige you with a game.

Just don't beat me by 3000 points or something. That would really damage my ego.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Creative Advertisement

I found a mention of a contest in Dominique Cimafranca's blog the other day, and I figured it was worth a shot. I don't have much of an interest in wallpaper - a desktop's a desktop, after all - but I do love the occasional competition. That, and it asked a very good question: What is the most creative way to advertise within an online videogame?

My succeeding reply is given below. You decide if it's a good idea or not.


I only have one suggestion here, as I'm aware that a lot of the common marketing ideas will be raised.

My current assumption is that advertising in an online game has two pitfalls: First, that most users have a negative impression of Internet ads, considering them as being nothing but spam and pop-ups. Second, that atmosphere is a major consideration in some online games, and that simply introducing product placement in those games will merely result in blatant anachronism and public outcry.

In other words, a gamer who sees a 7-Up ad during a World of Warcraft game or notices a Star Wars Galaxies NPC walking around wearing a McDonalds signboard is more likely to leave the game than he is to even think about buying the advertised product.

I figure, therefore, that subtlety is the key to advertising within an online game.

Online games are still games. Their players still live in the real world, and will of course make natural, regular references to it. Why else would the Clarity spell in Everquest be nicknamed "Crack"? For what other reason would a specific type of player character be called a "Tank"? Game slang like this spreads quickly, is used for significant periods of time, and becomes familiar to a good number of players.

As a result, I would like to raise the possibility of companies recruiting players to spread game slang that references their own products. Imagine players being 'hired' to refer to the act of using a healing potion as "Miller Time", or of slimming down one's inventory as "doing the Subway diet". Companies can perform market research into a significant online gaming population, and can invest in good catchphrases this way.

If this sounds like a corporate sponsorship scenario, then that's because, in a way, it is. The main difference lies in the subtlety of the product promotion: If you plaster a blatant product ad on a gamer's screen or have a player walk around with a corporate logo plastered all over their weapons and armor, you're obviously more likely to get a negative response. But if you find a way to get your product to be part of the online gaming experience instead, then the players are a lot more likely to embrace it.

The best part, of course, is that the arrangement benefits all three parties: The players get paid for playing, the corporate sponsors enjoy effective product promotion for low costs and get new insights about the online communities, and the online games continue to gain profits without having to worry about customer complaints.

Advertisement doesn't have to be a loud and obnoxious endeavor. Sometimes subtlety rules, after all.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Rules of the Game

I like to think of a blog as a personal journal. Given the "weblog" context, though, it's a journal that a lot of people across the Net can potentially watch. But I still like to think of it as a personal journal.

That said, there are some lines I draw with this blog. I try not to express any personal angst, I try not to stick my nose into political and social commentary, and I try not to seriously offend anybody with lowdown, underhanded techniques.

I suspect that my instinct towards reader-friendliness is what gets those lines drawn and redrawn. Writing a story is as much an effort to keep the reader's attention as much as it is to express a good plot idea, after all. That's really the common thread between any endeavor that gets you to write for audiences.

Some of the more astute readers, of course, may point out that no one may actually be reading these posts, but I figure it's best to make sure.

I believe that you've all got problems enough, and I'm perfectly willing to listen to them. No sense in burdening you further with mine.

I believe that everybody's got the right to his or her own political and social opinion, and I'm not going to foist mine off on anybody just because I happen to be on some sort of mood swing. If I want to be heard, then I'll be heard. But if otherwise, then no.

And although I'm not sure that "lowdown, underhanded techniques" encompasses, you can bet that I believe that this blog should be worth the time and effort you invest in reading it. You may think it's serious, you may think it's funny, but at least you still read.

Kampai, everybody.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Motley Crew

I've always figured that the secret to creating an effective cast of characters involves two things:

First, each character has to be unique, and consequently fleshed out in a logical and realistic manner. If readers are going to be stuck with the same group of people for a number of pages, they need to be able to relate to these characters in one way or another. Some characters are distinct in terms of height, weight, build or age. Some characters speak only certain languages, or in marked accents. Some characters have certain personality quirks, or physical enhancements, or physical limitations. Loading up on these differences basically ensures that the characters don't end up looking like a bunch of clones.

Second, the interaction between characters has to be played up without necessarily affecting the story itself. This might be seen as a corollary for character uniqueness, yes, but where uniqueness helps characters stand on their own, interaction allows the reader to see just where the characters stand with respect to each other. Character interaction also helps keep the storyline plausible - after all, there's got to be some reason why certain characters stick together, or why certain characters fly at each others' throats.

Generally, the more important the characters are to the storyline, the more important these tenets tend to be. Readers will probably look upon the supporting cast with various levels of interest, but they'll definitely end up putting the main characters under intense scrutiny.

I'll delve into an example from Antaria. Let's assume that we've got three mercenaries that appear as characters in the story.

If the three mercenaries only appear in a single scene, then I think we can safely ignore the rules here. In fact, the audience just has to know that they're mercenaries. Accordingly, they'd be known as First Mercenary, Second Mercenary and Third Mercenary in the closing credits. Heck, if they don't even get to chew scenery all that much, then we can even hold off on the "mercenary" label.

If they have non-prominent supporting roles, then a bit of description can come in. We can say, for example, that they're two males and one female. We can say that they're dressed in the leather armor that indicates that they're experienced mercenaries, or that they're difficult negotiators. We can even name them, say... Artrem, Roth, and Vién, although that's not really necessary.

If they're prominent supporting characters, then we'll have to start showing how they walk, talk, and otherwise schmooze with each other, although we can choose to leave out the finer details. Artrem acts as the group's scout and backup man, can spot inconsistencies from a mile away, and is handy with a crossbow. Roth holds the nickname "Bonecrusher", walks seven feet tall, and always speaks in the third person. Vién plays the smooth talker, takes more than her fair share of anything, and fights ferociously with two swords.

If they're main characters, then we can turn up the level of detail significantly. Artrem and Vién used to sleep with each other till their recent falling-out, and while Artrem would rather forget about the relationship completely, Vién takes a perverse delight in rubbing his nose in it. Roth tends to gravitate to advice from the others because he thinks that they're a lot smarter than him, although he's got a bit of a moral center and won't enter any needless fights. Vién thinks of Roth as something of her toy, and is not above ordering him around on seemingly innocent tasks.

The farther we go up the ladder, the more work that needs to be put into these characters. It takes a bit of a while to get just the right balance for each level of character usage, of course. If anything, though, as long as such efforts end up gaining the reader's attention, then crafting character detail should remain a worthwhile endeavor.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Leafed through the prequel as well as the first two issues of Nautilus Comics's Cast last Wednesday. I had the good fortune to stumble across Ramon de Veyra that evening, and, bless his heart, he told me that there was something interesting going on in the nearby Powerbooks branch. I ended up leaving the comic's launch party with the three issues in hand, my wallet a good two hundred pesos lighter.

I'll admit that I'm more of a written fiction person than I am a graphic novel person. That said, however, I pick up a few of the more interesting comics every now and then (Brian Michael Bendis's Powers has a place in my collection of odds and ends), have a few of them on my "buy" list (like Alan Moore and Len Wein's Watchmen), and go through some of the local publications (as with Cast). Given my experiences with Anino Entertainment's Anito, I'm more than happy to support any of the local endeavors as long as they're creatively sound.

Cast follows the times and tribulations of a group of high school students from two different schools (hooray for gender exclusivity) as they prepare for a massive stage performance. One character's nervous over the fact that he's one of the main characters in his first stage play, and that he's the 'new kid' in an in-crowd of accomplished stage performers. One character's recently reeling from a bad breakup. One character's got problems outside school, perhaps even outside the play itself. There are the Catholic priests and nuns who run everything with a cautious eye. There's the artiste, caricature-like director who throws the most vile insults this side of Michael Moore.

I think that a personal review of Cast at this point would be pointless. I believe that the story is still in its developing stages, and I would prefer to see how it all (ahem) plays out before I give a marked opinion on it. Fortunately for Nautilus Comics, this means that I'll most likely be picking up the next few issues as I find them.

Jaime Bautista, the writer of the series, happens to be from my high school alma mater, and I can see more than a few similarities between the comic and the 1997 stage performance that my exclusive boys' school and the exclusive girls' school across the street put on together. I've still got the program for that performance, mind you, and I got deja vu when I went through it afterwards. Back then I was too busy competing in the local Math contests to involve myself with the play, but it's not hard to imagine what Bautista was going through, and how he was able to translate his experiences into the comic.

In hindsight, I seem to have been reading a lot of comics lately. I figure that writing for a comic is a heck of a lot different than writing a short story, but maybe I can give it a try someday.

Watch this space, everyone. I'll put up a review for Cast as soon as I have one.

Thursday, December 09, 2004


theswanlake's comment from "Daggers of the Mind", below:

Wow, it's amazing to read your blog! You have a very nice one! I always admire people who can write very well... because that is what I want to become.

"Write very well"? Hah.

I'm just another hack, making his way in the world. No, wait, I'm not just a hack - I'm a hack with a blog. That should put me about three degrees lower than usual, I think.

In order to write well, I think that one has to recognize two things: First, you have to learn to read and recognize what others write. Second, no matter what masterpieces you manage to get your hands on and read, you have to realize that you can write stuff that's a lot better than what those hacks can come up with.

The first one is easy. The second one tends to be difficult, because it's easy to be deluded into the position that there are a lot of better writers out there.

I read Stephen King, but to me, he's a hack. His characters curse too much. His stories sometimes cross the line from believable to rip-snorting-out-of-touch-with-reality. I think I can do better than him.

I read J.R.R. Tolkien, but to me, he's a hack. His narration is ancient and sawdust-dry. I fall asleep reading his books, no matter how good the movies might have turned out. I think I can do better than him.

I read and love Terry Pratchett, but to me - ultimately - he's a hack. He stretches things a bit too far sometimes, pushing the limits of fantasy to try to fit technology yet not quite succeeding. And even he can't quite rescue the more boring settings. I think I can do better than him.

So I'm a hack. I'll admit it freely, and for your own good.

"Write very well"? Hah. I'm just a hack.

And I think you can do better than me. :)

Daggers of the Mind

Usually stories are complacent. You give them the "baa-ram-ewe" password and then lead them around the corral all you want, making sure to tell them how nice they were afterwards.

Every now and then, though, a story's going to go rogue, and usually in extreme fashion. These are the stories that feel that their time has come, and that they're going to see themselves in writing no matter what.

I have no idea what happened in the last three hours. I just know that my mind started wandering in the middle of work, and that all of a sudden, I had the story sitting in front of me. Not to mention almost half the workday wasted doing something that I hardly even remember.

Sometimes, when people ask me how I write, I describe it as a sort of madness. It's a dazedness that consumes me and gets me waking up next to some of the most interesting stories I've ever read, wondering where the time went. Sometimes I even wonder whether I'm actually the one writing these, or if it's some alternate personality who looks to take over my soul one day. God help me if that ever happens.

At the moment, I'm reading the new story, wondering if it'll be worth posting here. Perhaps it is, and perhaps it's not, but for the moment it might be best to let it stew for a while. Maybe I'll just sleep on it or something.

Monday, December 06, 2004


Feh. Blogger just did it again. This time it was a very nice reflection on using description to flesh out fictional characters. That's another piece of good writing that I'm never going to see again.

I can draw a number of unfavorable comparisons here, chief among them being the tyrannical editor, the harsh critic, and the ubiquitous Big Brother. However, for some reason, I'm reminded of Peter Parker's editor, J. Jonah Jameson. And that's even if, for all his bluster, J. Jonah never really rejected any of Peter's Spider-Man photos.


What does "ubiquitous" mean, anyway?

Ubiquitous (yoo'bikwitus)
adj. Being present everywhere at once.

Geez. These things probably burn themselves into my subconscious or something. It feels weird using a word and then realizing later on that you have no real idea as to the context the word should have been used in the first place.

Maybe that's why Blogger hates me at this point in time.

For now, though, I'm going to sit back and see if their tech support can explain the matter. It's not as though I'm willing to keep writing stuff that Blogger will just throw away, after all.

Pale Shadows


Thirty seconds after I finally complete the Metrian story and publish it, Blogger gives me a serious error message. Maybe something went wrong with the main server. Maybe a connection got severed somewhere. Maybe the system just didn't like my writing.

Whatever the case, I found that I had lost the draft in the mad rush that followed. Left in its place was a pale shadow of an outline that I had long since tightened and glossed over.


I'm never going to be able to get that story again. I've released all the pent-up effort that was supposed to have gone into its creation, and it's now nothing more than a memory in the back of my mind. It's probably floating around somewhere in the virtual world, wondering what to make of its new-found freedom.

I guess there's nothing much left to do but to try for another one. At least I can console myself with the fact that I can most likely make this one better.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Disclaimer: December 2004

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Of course, if you try to take credit for my stuff, then I'll still be on you like a bag of bricks.

The issue of plagiarism of Internet writings has hit a little close to home recently; Seems that some young punk with more snot than brains decided to rip off one of the better blog writers for a Philosophy assignment.

We're here to put our thoughts down on virtual paper, people - we're not portable copy-and-paste sources for your homework. Believe me, you're all perfectly capable of writing circles around us, should you invest enough time and effort into the matter.

For the moment, I'm just going to sit here and seethe. The kid'll get his someday.

Of course, if it was my stuff that he had taken, I'd be putting on the brass knuckles right now...

Friday, December 03, 2004

Antaria: Untitled

The old woman raises her face. "He is here."

"Who is here, wise one?" the young woman asks.

"Him," the old woman replies. "The everlasting."

"So soon?" the young woman says, surprised. "Surely he would not return from the void so early."

"Times have changed, child," the old woman says. "The time of reckoning draws near, and when it comes, all of them shall be needed."

"I feel it," the young woman says, shivering in the stale air. "I feel it... everywhere. As though it were death itself."

"No," the old woman cautions, "not death. Death is a familiar. Death knows not good, nor evil; not order, nor chaos."

"Then how could it be, wise one?"

The old woman pauses in thought. "Death knows no allegiance, but trails in this one's wake. And although those other than us may fear death now," she whispers, "they would soon wish that death had taken them long before."

Above them, the twilight darkens into night.


Old story, this one. I've hit a bit of a snag with the Metrian fiction, and I thought I'd put this up for the moment. It describes the Thanatai very well, but I was considering writing a relatively longer story for them.

In the meantime, do hold on. I'll have this finished as soon as I can...