Friday, August 7, 2015

Jack Unbound - A Starbound Story

Screen Capture from Episode 1 - "Pilot"
I have been enamored by several "Let's Play" series on YouTube over the years. These video series are basically people playing video games while adding their own voice over narration and reactions to what they're doing in games. I stumbled into this genre when trying to determine whether or not I would like a particular game - and have since used it more often and more reliably (with better results!) than typical game reviews and media. Actually getting to see someone play a game hands on and mess around in the world lets me know fairly quickly whether or not its a game I would enjoy or not. I even dabbled in doing my own "Let's Play" of a game once, but it was a disaster. Although I do think I can tell a fun story when prompted, it's difficult for me to speak and play at the same time. It's difficult to think of what to say while you're actively engaged in another action. It was awkward and terrible and I abandoned it. I decided "Let's Play" are not for me.

Then a thought occurred to me several years later. Perhaps a series doesn't need a voice narration. I don't need to bring my personality to the series if I can invent personalities that are engaging to an audience. I may not be very good at narrating my own actions in a game, but I am good at narrating a story. So I began to ponder whether or not I could tell a story within a game I'm playing. I wondered for a long time if that type of video would even be entertaining to a general public audience. I fear that it isn't, but I decided to go forth and create a pilot. Some people love it. Some people think it's tediously boring. Personally, I think it's cute and I have fun doing it. Since it's not a traditional "Let's Play" series, I've opted to categorize it as a "Let's Role Play" series. I don't think I invented this genre, but the role-play series I see on YouTube are far and few between.

Jack Finds an Abandoned Mining Camp
I decided to play an open-ended sandbox game called Starbound. I've mentioned it before in a couple of "Week in Review" columns as it's a game I've been playing on and off for about two years. The game is still in development and so content changes a few times a year. I think the game finally hit its stride with the current version, called Spirited Giraffe, and has provided an ample staging ground for telling a dynamic story. There is enough to do and the added convenience of bookmarking and teleporting to and from worlds which was absent before now. The basic premise of the game casts you in the role of intrepid space adventurer, braving the dangerous of unknown planets to forge your destiny in the universe. I know that's vague, but the game is so open there really isn't any set path for a player to explicitly follow. This is what makes it such a fun playground in which to invent a story.

The story revolves around Jack - as of yet no known surname - who awakens on a broken down starship and is forced to mine the planet below for enough materials to repair the ship. Jack's ship was attacked while he was in stasis and he remained in stasis for twenty years. There is much Jack doesn't know about the current state of the universe and humanity, but he's desperate to find out - and reclaim some of what he's lost. He is accompanied by his prison ship's Artificial Intelligence who seems to have an agenda of his own.

Jack Does Some Light Tomb Raiding
While I tend to play Starbound at a rather frantic pace, consuming and exploiting each new world I visit as quickly as I can and then moving on to the next, I really wanted to slow down with Jack. I spend a lot of time building up shelters and other constructs for Jack as he explores the universe. Typically such things are just for fun and there's not a huge amount of incentive to spend the time gathering and building up huge bases, but because I'm playing Jack with a realistic mindset, he eats everyday and sleeps every night. He hunts and gathers and mines and builds. The series is much slower paced than the average "Let's Play" of Starbound, but within the series there is an unwinding narrative about Jack's past and what he intends to make of his future.

I'm posting weekly on YouTube. I try to have a new episode up every Friday and if I do any heavy building, I post a "Build Episode" on Mondays or Tuesdays. Those episodes don't really progress the story, but show a lot of the edited out footage of building up structures and shelters. I hope you check it out and more importantly, I hope you enjoy it.

Jack Unbound


Friday, July 31, 2015

The Return to Blogging

Many times this year I've thought about returning to TOP Gaming. I originally started this blog as a way to get back into writing. I'm a storyteller at heart, one of the few and proud gamers of the world who actually value a good story and strong characters over graphics (and to some extents gameplay). Blogging was mostly an exercise to get myself writing every week and perhaps launch into bigger and better writing projects in the future. After a personal tragedy in 2013, I returned to college to finish a degree in Applied Linguistics and decided that since I was writing a paper every week, I really couldn't afford the time to write about video games every week on top of that. I was certainly getting enough writing practice.

I wanted to do a grand reopening in January with a "Best of 2014" article, but that fell to the wayside as I prepared to move from Maryland to Hawaii. It's roughly 4800 miles to move a family of five. No big deal. My supportive wife says, "It's never too late." So perhaps I will do a review of 2014, or perhaps I won't. I haven't decided what to do, honestly. All I have decided is that I need a creative outlet. I've been out of school since January and comfortably settled in Hawaii since March. It's time to get back into writing - and hopefully back into blogging.

The last real post on this blog was Music May of 2013. It was a huge undertaking and it was one of my favorite projects that I've ever done. It took months of preparation and hours of writing and listening to music. When Grooveshark crumbled in April, I was fairly devastated. My entire blog was dependent upon Grooveshark to provide the optional, ambient background music of TOP Gaming. It was another crushing blow and another setback to my return, because I knew once I came back I'd have to address it. I still don't know how to solve the issue. There really isn't anything quite like Grooveshark on the internet that I'm aware of. I don't know how best to integrate video game music with video game musings. I'm sure that in time something will come up.

May 4th of this year, a new son was added to my family. He's asleep right next to me as I write. The weekend leading up to his birth was a very difficult weekend for me and I wrote a yet unpublished blog about how I was feeling at the time. I'd also like to polish up and publish that blog for you sometime as it was an amazingly powerful outlet for me to vent some pretty strong emotions - and yes, I somehow managed to tie it together with a video game, or specifically a video game song that I don't know how to feature on this blog at the moment.

That brings me to June - which it is for a few more hours. I didn't really have any life-changing or blog-disrupting changes this month. I probably could have posted a bit earlier, but I did not. I got caught up in the Heavensward launch for the MMO Final Fantasy XIV, but now things have settled down and I'm trying to set aside more time for creativity and expression. That's really all I have. I don't want to tease an audience (whatever's left of one) into thinking I'm truly back. I haven't really thought this through. I just thought it was long overdue that I sat down and wrote.

- TOP