What “Death Mark” on the Nintendo Switch Taught Me About Writing

What is Death Mark?

Death Mark is described on the Nintendo store page as an adventure game, which it very much is. You play as a man with amnesia who finds himself drawn to a mansion he doesn’t recognize, with a mark, described as a dog bite, on your wrist. You don’t know how you got it, why you got it, how to get rid of it, or even who you are, but you do know that the answer is hidden somewhere in this mansion, and that is where our story begins.

Now, my opinions on Death Mark are pretty neutral. I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it. The Nintendo Switch title is pretty run-of-the-mill Japanese, adventure game. It’s text heavy, which isn’t a problem, usually, but the story really drags at points. The whole amnesia thing is pretty played out for me, but the horror is definitely present and well-done. So, it falls into my, “happy I played it, but probably won’t play again” pile. However, even if it wasn’t the best thing ever, there can still be a lot to learn about writing from this title, and here is what I learned:

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4 Things Catherine taught me about writing

WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

First a little background on the game Catherine, as described on the Catherine Wiki:

Catherine is an M-rated horror/romance/puzzle/adventure video game from Atlus USA, released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game is developed by the same team that created Persona 3 and Persona 4: Katsura Hashino as Director, Shigenori Soejima as Character Designer, and Shōji Meguro as Sound Composer.

It deals heavily with the themes of commitment, relationships, infidelity, maturity and love, while intertwining the horror and mystery of a rash of unexplained deaths of young men, rumored to be the “Women’s Wrath”: vengeance against the unfaithful.

The story revolves around Vincent, his long-term girlfriend Katherine, and his subsequent affair with Catherine. Following the affair, he is plunged into nightmares each time he sleeps, which makes up the puzzle/action part of the game. Each night within his dream, Vincent must push and pull blocks from a tower to create a path to the top, all the while racing against a time-limit or outrunning bosses which are manifestations of his real-life fears.

During the day, Vincent can freely explore and talk to his friends at the bar, listen to music at a jukebox, send and receive text messages, order drinks, play an arcade game, and experience the narrative of his struggle of choosing between Katherine and Catherine. There are 8 possible endings based on the various choices the player makes throughout the game.

As you can probably tell, this is one of the run-of-the-mill Japanese horror games with endings separated out between “Good” and “Bad” endings depending on which woman you decide to pursue a relationship with, as well as how you treat other NPCs in the game. I’m a sucker for anything reminiscent to my anime fanatic days, then throw in a puzzle? Plus romance and horror? I was hooked from the start.

I’ve written about other games like Minecraft, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, and Animal Crossing: New Leaf! Click the titles to see what I learned!

And of course, my writing life always intermingles with my gaming life, so here is what I learned from my time with the wonderful game Catherine:

  1. Your characters need motivation.
    They can’t just do things, just to do them. I mean, sure, I do some random crazy things, but most people don’t do that. So you have to give them a reason. Vincent is in love with Katherine, so why would he cheat on her? The creators had to give Katherine a bit of a controlling, pressuring side to push Vincent to seek a freer partner in Catherine. Otherwise, we would have no plot, or on the flip side, Vincent would just be a dumb asshole. Vincent is still a dumb asshole, but at least we can sympathize with him a little. He has a reason. It’s a crappy reason, but a reason.
  2. People should somewhat like your main character.
    They don’t have to necessarily love them, but they should at least be able to sympathize and root for them. Vincent is scum. I didn’t like him, but I felt bad because Katherine was somewhat mean to him… and I loved Katherine, so that was hard for me to admit in the end. I didn’t agree with what Vincent did, but there was a part of me that felt bad for him, too. Katherine made me want to like him. Which leads me to my next point:
  3. Side characters are important.
    The main character is Vincent. He is you, you are him. But Vincent’s story would be nothing without Catherine and Katherine, plus all of his friends. This is a very plot-driven game. You connect stories from the people you meet, and every decision you make interacting with these characters plays a role in what ending you get. If you ignore characters, they may die, which, in turn, will cause Vincent to miss out on an interaction. It makes a huge difference. Don’t forget those side characters.
  4. Your character’s decisions have consequences.
    They can’t do something bad and expect to get away without a scratch, unless of course they are master thieves, then I guess that could happen… but for our regular characters, there are scratches. Lots of them. Vincent is a cheater and depending on who you ultimately choose to be with, he doesn’t get away with the perfect girl with just a “Sorry, love ya.” Oh no, he has to go through hell to win her back – literally. Consequences create plot. Don’t be afraid to punish your babies.

This game was interesting, fun, and kept me going until the very end, and that’s how I want my books to feel. Have you played Catherine before? Think you will? How do you feel about these tips? Find them helpful? Let me know, and comment below!

Thanks for reading!

-Lissy

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What I learned about writing from Animal Crossing: New Leaf

It’s been a long time since I wrote a post about what I’ve learned from video games and how that can be applied to writing.

I’ve actually written two others, one about Minecraft another about Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

As it has happened with so many other gamers, life has snuck up and taken away my lovely game time. Work, internships, and writing have all had their fun with my gaming time, especially console gaming. To make up for it, I purchased Animal Crossing: New Leaf (ACNL) for my 2DS, a clunky throwback to old school handhelds, which I actually prefer over the new 3DS systems.

But anyway…

And did I fall in love?

I fell. I fell straight into a pitfall seed.

I love this game. It’s mind-numbing. Just how I like them, and with a wide array of NPCs, there’s hardly a dull moment.

Granted, this game isn’t for everyone. If you don’t like the following, steer clear:

  • Paying off your mortgage only to expand your home and pay that off, etc. etc.
  • Watering flowers
  • Running errands
  • Purchasing furniture and decorating
  • Taking part in town festivals
  • Being mayor
  • Fishing, catching bugs, etc.
  • Selling said fish and bugs
  • Working at a coffee shop
  • Drinking coffee
  • BALLOONS
  • Fossils
  • Museums / Donating to museums
  • Dance clubs
  • Buying clothes and trying on new clothes
  • Talking animals

Yep. That’s the game in a nutshell. It’s wonderful, and there are some pretty great communities to take part in, too.  Now, what can we learn about writing from this? Well, onward to the list!

  • Separating your voice from your characters.
    Everyone has their own voice when writing. There will always be a certain part of yourself in every bit of writing you do. Whether it’s things you love, things you hate, a character based off a person or kind of person you hate, there will always be a little bit of you in there. The key is to make their voices different. If you give them all your voice, then you’ve basically made clones of yourself. How did I learn this from ACNL? With 33 different villager characters and set villager personalities, I found that even having two lazy villagers in the same town, didn’t mean I would hear the same things from them. For whatever reason, they just felt different to me. They each had their own voice. You can have similar personalities, but you really shouldn’t have the same voice.
  • Rules are rules.
    Just because you’re mayor in a town of talking animals, doesn’t mean you can do just anything. There are rules, time periods that need to be followed. You have a mortgage to pay, work to be done in the town to keep it nice and to further develop it. And who pays for those developments? You. So you have to make money by catching fish, which come at different times of the day, then wait until you pay it off, plus a day, for it to be done before you begin working on the next project. It’s important to give your characters rules. If they can do anything they want at any time, what would be the point? Where is the conflict? What is your story? You don’t have to make them your everyday Joe’s, but give them rules.
  • Men don’t have to wear suits and ties/Women don’t have to wear dresses (Click the link to read more on gender in writing!).
    I’m not going to lie, this is one of the many problems I have when writing up characters. It’s so easy to fall into the stereotypes of women just being women, and men just being men, when I myself have been made fun of my entire life for being the opposite. I was, and still very much am, a tomboy. I hate makeup, I dislike most dresses, and I’d much rather play video games than go shopping. Shopping literally makes me ill. I’ve been called a dike and a lesbian more times than I can recount. At a certain point in the game, I was able to buy men’s clothing and get male hair cuts. It was then I realized, you don’t have to be feminine to be a woman. I am a woman, and I am not feminine. I have a boyfriend, I have friends, I am woman without subjecting myself to all things stereo-typically woman. A woman can be masculine without being a lesbian, and the same is true for a man being a bit more feminine. This pic says it best:

Well, it’s 2014… but you get the idea.

Well, those are my top three. If I think of any more, I may add to this post. The game is still being updated, and I’m still learning as I go along. What have you learned? Have you played Animal Crossing? Any of them? How do you feel about my post? Let me know, and comment below!

Thanks for reading!

-Lissy

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What the games Ico and Shadow of the Colossus taught me about writing

BACK STORY

The back story is completely optional to this post. If you’d like to skip ahead to the writing-listy portion, go on. I have it marked accordingly, but I must warn you. You’re missing a magical tale of love, nostalgia, and the renewal of my inner-child. You have been warned.

Not too far back I went out with my boyfriend and we went out to check the used game hoard at our favorite GameStop. It’s a regular outing for us, as both of our usual off days are on Monday. It’s become a major staple in my life, and I tend to never spend a dime. I go just to look, to reminisce over games of my childhood that sometimes pass by on the shelves, because I gave up games for my writing. I play every once in awhile, but nothing like I used to. I would’ve classified myself as a “hardcore gamer,” two years ago. Now? I’m more of a casual, passer-by in the gaming scene.

Well, on this particular outing, I was checking out the Playstation 2 unit, segregated from the rest of the games in a tiny bin at the corner of the room. Most games run from $10.00 to under a penny, and most of them already make up a core of my dusty gaming collection at the top of closet. But it’s always fun to check out a few older one, or some that I might have missed along my path to professional writer-dom.

Digging through the stacks, I came across a familiar cover. Beyond familiar. It was the first game I ever played on my Playstation 2, which came with the Playstation my dad brought home the day the system came out. I was beyond excited, having exhausted my Nintendo 64, Playstation, and Gameboy Advance while I awaited its arrival, and I drooled over the never-ending possibilities this new toy had built up in my mind.

The game I found, and played for hours upon hours, sum fourteen years ago, was Ico.

While the game itself already had me rolling on the dirty carpet of that Gamestop with a piercing shrill of fangirl giggles, the price tag had me beyond shocked.

The game is beyond a classic: it is a work of art. But that game was $39.99, used. I still had my copy, so I wasn’t shelling any money out for it, but it had me wishing. I wished I could play the game again, but my PS2 had conked out not long after I picked up the PS3, so my game was basically unplayable no matter the disc’s state.

In my fit of fangirly-ness, I had called the attention of my boyfriend, his stack of first-person shooters abandoned back over near the wracks of “New Releases.” He came over without a word, plucking the game out of my hands and studying the name and case with interest. His eyes glanced up at the price, bugged for only an instant, then shifted back to the title. He had bought games brand new at $60, but a used, outdated game for a little over half that was still a shocker.

He never said a word during his scan, and eventually did hand it back with a half-hearted discussion on the artistic integrity of the game, which I can sum up as a snarky, “The graphics were shitty.” I begged to differ, but that’s another tale for another day. Then, he drifted back to his ever-growing stack of games, plucking one more off and adding it to the pile before lifting and cradling them to his chest to then dutifully carry them over to the checkout counter. I never bought anything, so I never brought my wallet. He would usually check out, then come see what I had scavenged or found interesting. He’d talk to me for awhile, about it all, then we’d carry our conversation, plus his gaming loot, back to the car and debate back and forth all the way home.

He used to ask me if I wanted him to buy me something, but I would always tell him no. If I didn’t have the money to get it myself, then I didn’t need it at all. At least, that was my usual answer, but as we left the store, I found myself drifting back the Ico game in that used gaming bin. It fouled my mood enough to keep me from speaking most of the way home.

Finally home, we went back to our bedroom and went to sorting the games out. It’s a beautiful thing. I love making lists, spreadsheets, and organized stacks. It’s all like a puzzle, which is much of the reason I fell in the love with the game Ico. It was a never-ending, beautiful puzzle. We would each take half the stack, and I would start marking them down. My boyfriend dreams of one day writing game reviews, which I encourage whole-heartedly. He is just as much dedicated to writing and organizing as I am. I usually passed out the stacks, but he made sure to purposefully half and pass me my stack. It was odd, but we are an odd couple, so I didn’t put too much thought in it.

I went through my stack fairly quickly, taking down every title and making sure to ask whether or not it had a Game of The Year/Platinum edition coming out anytime soon. I wasn’t as much into the gaming world anymore, so I wasn’t as aware of things as I usually was. He would nod or shake his head accordingly, and I would mark it down accordingly. My lack of current gaming information was probably why I was so surprised to find the game at the bottom of my stack. I had already started to ask,

“Is this going to have a Platinum release?”

When I stopped and reread the title.

The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection. It was a PS3, remastered, re-release of Ico, plus its unofficial “spiritual sequel.” Needless to say, I was beyond ecstatic, and when my boyfriend told me he had bought it for me, you can only imagine the love and happiness I was emitting towards him, and though he only smiled and told me not to thank him, I knew he was just as happy as I was.

THE WRITERLY PORTION – ONWARD TO THE LIST

After the large, huge, ginormous amount of back story happened, I played the game. It is simple in mechanics, which allows for thought, patience, and immersion to completely take hold of the player. It tells a story without dialog, but I’ll explain more of that in my bullet pointed explanations. Enjoy!

  • YOU DON’T NEED DIALOG TO TELL A STORY
    In Ico, there is probably ten lines, total, of dialog. All of which is in an entirely different language, with subtitles that consist of symbols, reminiscent of the Word font Wingdings. The game relies on the gameplay and setting to progress the story, just as writers can/should use constant action and detailed setting to push along the mood and story. The game made me cry, and I never understood a single word said, if any words were said at all. There’s a reason this game is hailed as an art form, a classic, and will probably be remastered time and time again *fingers crossed.*
  • AN ACTION CAN EVOKE JUST AS MUCH EMOTION
    In Ico, there is a simple hand-holding mechanic, which you use to guide Yorda, Ico’s charge, to move her from area to area because she will run off or get lost, otherwise. Every time Ico must turn back to grip Yorda’s hand and pull her up what seems to be a never-ending spiral of staircases, or when he must fight off shadows to reach Yorda before she is sucked into a large, dark shadow and her only hope is Ico’s out-reaching hand, that creates a bond. It creates an emotion. Sure, the added intensity of the fighting mechanic adds its own part, but even the simple holding her hand to cross a rickety bridge, or lifting her into his arms because she’s growing weaker as time passes creates this beautiful relationship. And not a word passes between either of them. Simple actions and interactions between characters is enough to evoke the emotion you want. You just have to find the action.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTIONS OF SURROUNDINGS AND OTHER CHARACTERS CAN HELP EVOKE EMOTION OR FURTHER PLOT
    Like I’ve said before, Ico relies heavily on its surroundings, especially where the puzzles are concerned. When you have to look out for Yorda, who is frail, weak, and unable to perform most of the tasks Ico can, sometimes the path isn’t always clear. A dark shadow may hide something. An unlit torch may be the key to finding the hidden path. A misplaced brick may lead to blocked door. Or an overly-ornate chandelier in a dim, destroyed ballroom, may indicate an action is required before being able to continue on through the doors, which are locked, at the other side of the room. Create places that will either help or hinder your characters. Put shadows where mystery may hide. Make your main character’s shadow resemble something from his nightmare, or, in Ico’s case, his reality. A well-placed detail can create a whole new flow or progression in your work. Create a puzzle and see if your characters can solve it.

While I would love to talk more about the wonderful world of Ico and SOTC, this blog post is running much longer than my usual go-around, so I’ll be cutting it off here. Now, for my favorite part, questions. Have you played either of these games? Do you agree with my points? Do you use them? Need help with any of them? Wanna know more about my nostalgic gaming collection? Let me know, and comment below!

Thanks for reading.

-Lissy

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