The Invisible Hours, The Lost Knight: Awakening, Writing Update

I swear, I’m at the point at my job where if I didn’t have this blog and my story, I’d be going crazy. I do not know what I would do if I didn’t have writing. I mean, yeah, I’m doing this reading stuff too, but this blog is a big motivator to keep reading.

The Invisible Hours

One of the questions in VR gaming, currently, is what sort of specifically unique mechanics are enabled by the new medium. Beat Saber, for instance, could not realistically be played in anything except a VR simulation. The same goes for something like Tiltbrush, a wholly unique form of artistry that allows you to draw things in mid-air and then step through them. Really, for a VR game to truly feel like something special, it needs to be clear that this game had to be a VR experience. I’m not certain that The Invisible Hours particularly had to be one, but the VR does make you feel like you’re really inhabiting the story of the game.

The Invisible Hours has been described by the VR community as “an interactable movie.” You watch the investigation into the murder of historical genius and internet hero Nikola Tesla, walking among the various suspects and following them throughout the day. Each character has their own story and their own clues: while the Belgian detective Gustaf Gustav is questioning the murder suspect, Thomas Edison (another suspect) may be giving advice to the railroad magnate’s son, and Tesla’s mysterious assistant may be searching for some mysterious item in the secret lab. You can rewind and fast-forward time, and a handy dashboard helps you keep track of who was doing what and when.

The thing is, you could do this without doing it in VR. VR allows you to search under desks, pick up papers, and walk around the railroad magnate’s son as he sobs into his bottle, but this would be equally possible in a standard 3D game. The main impact VR has is making you feel like you are really there, genuinely a sort of ghost following around the various characters in their day. The premise would be possible in another medium, but it would feel less genuine. Playing yesterday, there was a moment where I watched the lab assistant arguing with the butler, who seemed to be simply searching inside the fridge for something. However, when I shifted my perspective to behind the butler, I could see that he actually had a hold of a knife in the fridge and presumably was debating whether or not to stab the assistant.

Yet despite the fact that you might see a scene unfolding from any angle, and indeed almost at any point in the narrative, it’s a surprisingly cinematic experience. Gustav meeting the assistant and the butler talking to the railroad magnate’s son genuinely felt like scenes from a movie. And the twists and turns of the plot, where formerly sympathetic characters were shown to be much more devious than they’d seemed earlier, was fascinating to see. I’d really like to see how the story was outlined when they were putting the game together–who was where when, and what they were doing.

The weakness is that there’s not really anything to do. It’s an interactable movie, and for a movie, there’s a lot of downtime where characters are simply sitting around. You need to work to discover the whole movie, which feels unfair when you can’t actually do anything to change anything. So that’s a bit boring. But it’s an interesting concept that, while it could potentially be done in a non-VR medium, definitely works better in one.

(Also, I beat the second boss in Until You Fall this week. Hooray!)

The Lost Knight: Awakening

Got to be honest, here, the plot and world remind me of stuff I see from high school students. Not the grammar and such–technically speaking, everything is accurate. But the sci-fi world falls into the trap of trying too hard to come up with an alien world by doing things like “We don’t have ears, we have foofla.” It has the sense, at least, of grounding its perspective in a human character, which many amateur writers don’t do, but it’s a story that’s more interested in its world than in its story. The first four chapters are nearly pure exposition, where the character simply inhabits the world without getting any idea as to what he’s actually been brought there for. (This was also a problem with Ready Player One, but Ready Player One at least makes its premise clear earlier and has the advantage of a recognizable world.)

The Lost Knight is, oddly, a sci-fi story, where a prospective space colonist wakes up years in the future after earth has been subjugated by an alien empire. There’s a rebellion going on down there–but the protagonist is miles from there and it’s not his business. What IS his business? Absolutely nothing! He’s been set up with a house and a lesbian mechanic hostess to take care of him while he spends the next three chapters learning about the food, culture, gender dynamics, and sexual habits of the alien culture he’s woken up in. Let’s hear more about the history between the two species in this tiny village. Does this have anything to do with humanity or earth? Not directly.

A story needs to establish its world, of course, but that world should be grounded in something recognizable, and such constant exposition is like sitting through a anthropological lecture. This is a common problem with people who get really into world-creation, who want to get to all the fascinating mechanics and cultural mores and even linguistic details they’ve come up with. Many writers fell in love with the bizarre and fully-figured worlds of Star Wars, Star Trek, or Eragon, and want to emulate them thoroughly. It’s understandable–heck, I’ve done it myself, and parts of my books arguably fall into the “world exposition” category–but it needs to be handled in chunks, and it needs to have some link to something recognizable.

Even once the plot gets going, it’s still very exposition-heavy. For the most part it follows a “battle-exposition-slow period-battle” routine. The hero is characterized as “very perceptive,” which gives him stuff to do and explains why all the big telepathic aliens keep him around, but mostly the plot is explained through discussions with various other characters. The hero is in the action plenty (half-way through it becomes obvious that the whole story is basically a reframing of a medieval knight) but the main plot twists are simply dropped into his lap. Even interrogations are remarkably straightforward.

I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed Legacy of Wrath (though again, that one was disturbing enough I actively didn’t want to read it), but mostly because it reminded me of world-creation, how much people love it, and the pitfalls associated. Which I guess is its own triumph.

Though this book has more reviews and a better rating than my own one, so what do I know, really?

Writing Update

I think instead of posting excerpts from my work all the time, I’ll just maybe make some general notes about how its going. In this case, about how I cut all the stuff I’ve been posting.

I’d written a long, fifty-page section of the Hospitallers freeing a Uighyr concentration camp. It was fun, action-packed, and served as a good examination of when war is justified and the difficulty of righting every wrong–but it also didn’t have anything to do with the story. I was fifty pages in and I hadn’t gotten anywhere near the plot I have in mind, and I was having to think of increasingly-convoluted ways to make the Chinese camp relate to the main plot.

So in the end, I just cut it and went back to an earlier draft I had that jumped right into the main plot. For now I’ll hang onto the concentration excerpt–maybe it’ll be used in another book, or maybe I’ll post it as a fanfiction sometime.

Fanfiction… sometime I should write a blog entry about that.

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