I’m briefly breaking my set schedule of writing once a week this month to address something very important to me: the recent passing of my favorite author, Brian Jacques (pronounced Jakes).
Several years ago (I think it was 1999), I went to a book signing in Bailey’s Crossroads. There’s a Border’s bookstore there and it was a cold and icy January evening. My mother drove me (I wasn’t old enough to drive yet) and I was dressed for a DeMolay meeting that wound up being canceled (or I called in and said I wasn’t coming). My pants were a bit ill-fitting and I was the only teenager there wearing a tie. I arrived to see this collection of chairs set up amongst the periodicals and new releases arrayed towards a single point: a kindly older man who was the point of my visit. I sat in the back next to my mother in awe of the man up front who stood before his audience and (having a small girl check his work) reciting chapter two of Redwall from memory as if he had written it yesterday. Later he went upstairs to sign books and so forth while the rest of us lined up or waited for our group to be called forth. My mother and I wound up being at the end of one such group prior to his break. As we got closer, I realized I didn’t know what to say to him. My mother was far braver: upon approach, she picked up a book sitting near him and asked if this was the next book to be released (it was, in fact, Lord Brocktree). He signed my copy of The Legend of Luke (which he humorously mangled for us earlier as “The Leg End o’ Fluke”) while my mother bantered with his wife. I don’t remember what I said or what he said, but I was thrilled.
Over the years, I picked up more of his books signed via the Redwall Bookstore online (everything through them was signed). Years later, he did another tour in my area at the same Bailey’s Crossroad Borders Bookstore in 2007. This time it was a slightly smaller group (probably because we all sat on the floor instead of on chairs) and it was all done upstairs. I sat in the back and he taught us the proper way to say the name of the book: EULALIA! Whack! (you were supposed to hit something after). I had earlier found out that he would sign a maximum of three books, so I was thrilled to bring my ratty old paperback copy of Redwall for him to sign. I also purchased in the store that day a copy of Eulalia! and the Redwall graphic novel. He signed all three for me and commented, “You’re a biggun! A long-time Redwaller, eh?” When I responded in the affirmative he said to me that all ages were welcome to visit Redwall and he was glad I kept on visiting over the years. His wife gave me her thanks for my continued enjoyment of his works and I left, a warm glow in my heart.
Today I own nearly all of the Redwall books (there’s a new one due to be released this year that will still be published).
I share this with you all today because I’ve been reading the Redwall series since I was in elementary school (probably 1992 or 1993 and up). The series has been my joy to read and experience for nearly my entire life and I will be greatly looking forward to and dreading the approach of the last book: The Rogue Crew. It won’t be signed, but I’ll love it dearly.
I will now share with you some pictures that have been put online by several of the artists that worked with Mr. Jacques on their own sites, along with the relevant links to said posts. Please, enjoy the pictures and if they inspire in you a desire to read the series, please do so and I will be happy to visit the sandstone walls of Redwall again with new friends in tow.
From David Wyatt:
From Sean Rubin:
From Troy Howell:
The works of Mr. Jacques continue to draw me back in and inspire me to be good, to do good, to be a warrior who stands for those who can’t stand for themselves. The “good yarns” contained in his books move me profoundly and have always inspired me to describe things as clearly as possible in conversation and in my own writings. Further, his books also move me emotionally. They instill in me a desire to keep coming back, to visit and revisit Redwall and the many associated locales in the Tales of Redwall… a desire to be there with the friends I’ve acquired through the reading and to experience their exploits again. To battle and feast side by side with Matthias, Martin, Gonff, Sunflash, Skipper, Amber, and the many many many more friends I’ve made walking the world of Redwall. To remember fondly those lost to us like Mask, Abbot Mortimer, Friar Hugo, Bragoon, Sarobando, Laterose, and more.
I usually reserve quotes for the postscript, but for this one, I will add several of his quotes before my usual exit statement.
“What I’m doing is telling a story. People who try to dissect my words are sadly disillusioned.”
“I do not like the term ‘fantasy’. It smacks of swords and sorcery and dungeons and dragons, and this is not at all the feeling of my books. I like to think of my books as old fashioned adventures that happened ‘Once upon a time, long ago and far away…’; in fact, good yarns is how I describe them.”
“I have no empty heroes. My goodies are good, and my baddies are bad. There are no schizophrenic goodies or sympathetic baddies. And children like it that way; it’s not confusing. And they want the goodies to defeat the bads.”
“A warrior is not a bully but someone who would help you against the bully, who would stand up for somebody weaker than themselves.”
“My values are not based on violence. My values are based on courage, which you see time and time again in my books. A warrior isn’t somebody like Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger. A warrior can be any age. A warrior is a person people look up to.”
For more from Mr. Jacques, please look here for some video and audio from interviews and book signings.
Until next time, I’ll see you all in the Abbey of Redwall at the banquet in Cavern Hole!
P.S. I know I’ve used it before, but here’s the introduction to Mariel of Redwall again (if you click that link, you’ll hear him read it for the audio book).
Mostly, this is an addendum to Part 8: Characters, but I felt it warranted its own discussion. I’m linking everyone’s theme songs to their names because their individual themes helped to define their character and the emotions when you encountered them and it’s how I remember them years later.
It’s an interesting thing, considering characters in games your friend. Growing up, I recall playing Chrono Trigger at a friend’s house as well as Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy Tactics. The time spent at my friend’s house was my real introduction to the Japanese RPG and the start of my development into the gamer I am today. The main characters, especially in Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI, became my friends. From moment one in Chrono Trigger, I was involved because of the people.
Has it ever happened to you? You’re enjoying the local festival and you bump into this girl with a ponytail. She then decides to tag along as you try out the festival games, praising your competitive nature at the soda drinking competition and your strength at the strongarm game. You stop to check out the supposed “teleportation device” and she, being the lovely lady she is, is asked to get up to try it out. Her pendant glows, and before you can do anything, she is whisked away into some swirling vortex. Being you, you can’t let this slide. You grab the pendant that was left behind and you jump onto the platform and vanish into a similar vortex… only to find yourself 400 years in the past.
That’s the intro to Chrono Trigger. A weird sense of responsibility to a girl you (Chrono) had just met thrusts you into this time-spanning adventure. You come to know the girl you bumped into and you collect an odd array of companions as you go, getting to know each one along the way. They become your friends and after spending hours on end playing the game, I was glad to have them by my side. Dungeons can be mighty lonely after a while and having two more people with me makes things so much better. To this day, I remember fondly my times in the world of Chrono Trigger and even now I still go back there to spend time with my old friends Marle, Lucca, Frog (aka Glenn), Robo, Ayla, and yes, even Magus. In fact, the music of Chrono Trigger has special meaning for me because I experienced every moment of that music in the context of the game and with my good friends. When I hear the music, I remember fondly my times with them and something tugs at me to go relive it.
Something very similar happened to me when I played Final Fantasy VI (which, at the time I knew only as Final Fantasy III). The game starts out with this mystery girl using a suit of MagiTek Armor with a pair of guards similarly equipped (the eponymous Wedge and Biggs, but back then they were Wedge and Vicks). They storm the town of Narshe and encounter a frozen “esper” in a cave which causes the deaths of the guards and knocks the girl unconscious. She awakens in a house and is told to flee before the locals find her. Well, they find her but she’s rescued by Locke, a “treasure hunter” with a heart of gold. Eventually you come to be introduced to Edgar, Sabin, Celes, Cyan, Shadow, Gau, Mog, Umaro, Relm, Setzer, Strago, and Gogo. Oh, the mystery girl’s name is Terra. Each character had their motivations, their stories, their issues, and their complexities. At one point your entire group gets separated from each other and with Celes as your only character, you set about searching for your friends. By this time, yes, they are my friends. Well, not so much Gogo or Umaro, but it’s hard to be good friends with the mimic and the Sasquatch.
To this day, I can go back and play those games because to me they’re more than just games, they’re ways for me to hang out with my friends again. To relive those adventures with those who stood by my side through every battle and obstacle.
In a way, you can extend this to the MMO genre of games as well. You’re adventuring side-by-side with your friends through the wilderness and dungeons that lay strewn upon your mutual path. Exciting, isn’t it?
Until next time, remember your friends fondly and go back as often as you can to that far off time!
P.S. This reminds me of a passage from a book…
Old stories told by travelers,
Great songs that bards have sung,
Of Mossflower summers, faded, gone,
When Redwall’s stones were young.
Great Hall fires on winter nights,
The legends, who remembers,
Battles, banquets, comrades, quests,
Recalled midst glowing embers.
Draw close now, little woodlander,
Take this to sleep with you,
My tale of dusty far-off times,
When warrior hearts were true.
Then store it in your memory,
And be the sage who says
To young ones in the years to come:
“Ah yes, those were the days.”
– Brian Jacques, Mariel of Redwall
Welcome to part six of my many-part series: What makes a great game? For consideration’s sake, I’ve retitled my article on Home to be part five of this series because I do believe it’s an integral component in the “great game” world. So, for today, we discuss something that has been getting better and better over time: immersion of the player in the game world. By this, I mean… well, it might be easier to give you a few examples…
If it pleases the Court, allow me to introduce example one: movies. Have you ever gone to a movie theater before? Most likely. The experience is all about immersing yourself in the experience provided by the motion picture you’re there to see. In fact, the point of the motion picture (as far as I know and as far as it matters for my point here) was originally to distract the viewers from their daily lives for a little while. Hence, the darkened room, the big screen that dominates the room and demands your attention, the easily available concessions, and the nearby bathrooms. It’s everything necessary to keep you busy for an afternoon, to keep you distracted by something that twangs your emotions, whether it be fear, happiness, sadness, or whatever. Admittedly, this is imperfect. There are crying babies, children (and adults) kicking seats, and wherever there’s close proximity to other people, there’s bound to be the occasional bout of violence/interpersonal issues.
The aside for this example: I remember going to see Air Force One in the theaters. Wow, that was a great flick and I’m a Harrison Ford fan, so the movie was going to be awesome anyways. I remember sitting there with my cousin in the front half of the theater (which was uncrowded) fascinated by the action on the screen. When those American fighters showed up to save Air Force One from the encroaching MiGs… man, I was into it. My cousin leaned away from me as if attempting to display through body language that he didn’t know me. I didn’t care. I still don’t, because that was a moment of success for whoever made that movie. They took me out of my world into their own, where Harrison Ford was a president who managed to hijack his own plane from the hijackers and barely made it out alive. I’d vote for him.
If I may continue, I’d like to direct the Court’s attention to example two: music. In this modern era of iPods and the like, music is very accessible. Have you ever just sat there with a piece of music, headphones or earbuds in, eyes closed, and let the music wash over you? Music has the amazing quality of being able to evoke or shift emotions in a person, if they allow it. Take a sad piece, and you can mellow the mood or stress the sadness of an event. Take a thumping beat and you’ve got a party (or a complaining neighbor). Music sets the mood for a lot of things, but if you just sit and listen and take it in, it’s an immersive experience all its own. Just don’t fall asleep.
The aside for this example: Have you seen some of the behind the scenes stuff for Star Wars? I don’t recall which one it was, but there was a point in the development of the original Star Wars movie released in 1977 where Lucas showed his movie to some friends like Steven Spielberg and the like and they hated it. Then, Lucas brought on John Williams to do the score for the movie and it became an incredible experience almost instantaneously. The version that Lucas had originally shown had no musical score. It’s the music that makes you feel for the characters and associate with them almost as much as the performance provided. It’s the music that sets the mood and let’s you know how to feel and when to feel it. If life had a soundtrack, well, it’d be a lot noisier out.
If it please the Court, I have a third piece of evidence to detail: books. Ah, the wonder of books. The idea that you can sit down with a collection of words and lose all track of time while devouring each one in turn is an attractive one. Many a reader has whiled away the late night hours reading books that captivate the imagination, encourage the intellect, and create a desire to discover a little more by reading just… one… more… chapter! Pick up a novel of daring and adventure and within moments you’ll be spirited away to a world far removed from your own. These worlds don’t just enthrall us, they inspire us to continue on.
The aside for this example: I’ve been reading for most of my life. I have over 100 Star Wars books on my bookshelf and while I haven’t read all of them yet, I’ve read and reread many of them. If you’ve experienced the stories in the Redwall series or the Wing Commander series, you and I have something in common. In High School and often in college, I had a novel on hand to read a bit here and there. The mark of a good book, and I have many good books, is when the pages have run out and the tale is told, you sit for a moment and think and feel just a little sad that it’s over… and sometimes you’ll move right on to the next book in the series or list or whatever, but sometimes you look at that book you just finished and you start it all over again. A good book is not only one that’s hard to put down until you’ve finished it, but it’s hard to look at again without desiring to read it. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “I cannot live without books.”
With these three piece of evidence in hand, I direct the court to my final argument: immersion in games. Games are in a unique position to benefit from the same qualities that movies, music and books have. Allow me a moment to discuss a few small points first. Movies and games are inseparable from music. If you have a terrible score, the movie and the game both suffer. If you have a game without music, it’s probably done intentionally to emphasize the emptiness of the environment (or the game is so old, there was no music). Likewise for movies, sometimes the absence of music is done intentionally to convey the emptiness of the scene or to allow the viewer to focus on a particular item without distraction. Either way, music, it’s constant presence and its occasional absence, is an integral part of both movies and games.
That said, books: not so much. Movies and games are fully capable of existing without books to inspire them or to appear as a derivative. Yes, the ever popular “books based on movies/games” or the “movies/games based on books” frequently attracts the attention of the fan of one side of the equation. I know I was interested when the Wing Commander movie came out and, whereas it was an okay film on its own, it wasn’t what I expected from the game franchise I enjoyed. Of course, Wing Commander is a bit of an oddity. There are books based on the games, a movie based on the series of games, and books based on the movie. As opposed to the other way it could’ve gone with Philip K. Dick’s book “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” being made into the Harrison Ford movie Blade Runner, which eventually spawned a computer game called Blade Runner several years later.
Where was I? Oh yes… so, if you grab a game like, oh… Mass Effect 2 (I know I know) you’ll get hit with a lot of stuff at once. Mass Effect 2 possesses the story of a book/movie, with the music of a movie, the entertainment of a game/movie/music/book, and manages to encourage you to come back a couple of times to enjoy it again. Just throwing that out there.
Let me put this another way: when I sit down to play a game, typically it’s a role playing game of some sort. I’m there to enjoy a complex story with antagonists, protagonists, characters I can identify with, characters I love to hate, story elements I’m genuinely interested in and so forth. When I play a game, I sit down with headsets on (if at the computer) and my attention goes into the computer. The music sweeps me away, the cutscenes give me movie-quality immersion, and the background elements are as detailed as a book. I might be an oddity of society, capable of getting into just about anything, but when I sit down to play a game, I’m all in. When I sit down with a book, a movie, a piece of music, I’m there to enjoy it and I’m there. If something ruins my immersion, whether by a slow book, terrible acting, or discordant sounds, or even by just an ugly, non-voice acted game, I have a hard time enjoying myself.
As an aside to this, I was in a conversation last night with a friend and I mentioned how I love playing older games, but if they don’t have voice acting, I have a hard time bringing myself to replay them because I’m so spoiled today by fully cast games. I WANT to play Chrono Cross again, I WANT to play Legend of Dragoon, but I fear I’m too used to modern style games. Septerra Core was an anomaly because it was released in 1999 with a full voice cast. I recall just a couple of years before that with Fallout where a fair portion of the game had voice acting, but if you talked to Killian Darkwater enough, eventually Richard Dean Anderson wouldn’t be saying the lines any more.
As a reward for making it through my discussion on immersion in the arts and entertainment world, I will leave you with a few links to bounce through.
First, to illustrate how motion pictures and music work hand in hand, well, it’s a television show, but Scrubs did this all the time with music and events. Yes, it’s Journey and it’s awesome.
Third, here’s a great piece of piano music by Yiruma called Hope. Pretty much, everything I’ve heard him play is amazing and moving.
Until next time, don’t stop getting involved in your chosen forms of entertainment!
P.S. “True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read.” – Pliny the Elder