If We Could Go Back In Time…

Text by A.A. BENJAMIN, Game Demo by JO KIM, Characters by SPARLING

Our fictional Once Upon A Time Machine video game proposal (<–see our powerpoint presentation here) had one obvious blunder. We had a cool game demo but treated our presentation as separate from the demo.

As we talk about hyper-meditation in this English New Media course, finding ways to merge the two would have been an opportune way to express what we’ve learned in the course. However, timing issues and mishaps aside, the highlight of this project was collaboration. Our bouncing ideas transformed into a proposal that mimicked gameplay and a fun intertextual commentary that made gaming attractive to a target audience.

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The Narrator

We built a video game model off of the arcade style and well-known Mario Kart race track design. The premise of the game is that you can choose one from ten playable characters designed from H.G. Well’s novel, The Time Machine. You then race against your friends in your choice of eight vehicles derived from methods of time travel across literature and film to date, all with their pros and cons. Along the courses which follow the novel’s plot, you use items and special weapons to work your way to first place, surviving the clingy Eloi and destructive Morlocks. Our game provided some intertextual game play for intellectuals in their 20s and 30s, as well as sci-fi and steampunk fans. We also took liberties with H.G. Well’s more obscurely described characters to create gender and race-inclusive characters.

The most enjoyable part about this project, to me, was the generation of ideas together and then watching them develop through art and imagery. One thing we would have needed to do if this were a real proposal would have been to fully design our own concepts and/or cite our sources (drawing them would have been super fun). Though we wouldn’t have to consider copyright issues with the aged H.G. Wells novel, we concluded that we could keep the vehicles as direct references under the Fair Use doctrine. Also, as indicated by our classmates, we could have described the functions of more of our characters, vehicles, and levels rather than focusing on one or two, so here some drafts that didn’t make the cut:


Man With A Beard
Man With A Beard–Spontaneous combustion whenever using matches


Time Machine Sled–Can hold endless items. The more you have slower you are. Items attract Eloi, sled itself attracts Morlocks. Enables use of mace
Tardis–Unaffected by villains. Overheats when lighting matches. Your matches don’t work on villains (because you’re in a box. Basically, just avoid matches). Disappears momentarily. Works best with Medical Man
Final Stage Kill Screen: In the old arcade games, the machines had limited space and therefore when players got far enough the graphics began to devolve. The Time Machine ends with the Time Traveller disappearing without a clue of where he went, so the last stage could be a “kill screen,” racing at length until the game graphics begin to deteriorate.

Unfortunately, we are mere undergrad students incapable of rendering the game in such the intricate way that we imagine, so if we were to get a chance to build it, it’d probably be less compelling. But it was fun to dream, anyway. Isn’t that where all great games begin? Progress!

–A.A. Benjamin

Living in a Galaxy far far away

Sometimes, despite all the technology we have in today’s advanced society, one might yearn for more. It’s human nature, to want what you can’t have; thus, I think if I had to choose a fictional world in which to live, I’d choose the world of Star Wars. Sure, Facebook and smartphones are nice, but they pale in comparison to starships and bacta tanks, not to mention lightsabers and blasters.

More than just being able to “live in space”, I’d be able to fly around wherever I felt like and explore planets in a starship. If I was feeling like gambling, I’d head to Mos Eisley on Tatooine; if I felt like taking a vacation, I could head to the city of Theed on Naboo. Just the ability to go to these various places in the blink of an eye is tantalizing, and the possibilities for success are endless.

The obvious jump when one talks about living in the world of Star Wars is to become a Jedi; of course, that would be great, but even if I couldn’t do that, I could become a smuggler or bounty hunter. Sure, there are other professions, (I even could potentially take sides in the war between the Empire and the Rebellion) but hunting down bounties or smuggling spice throughout the galaxy would both also be awesome and fulfilling, adding to the amazing appeal of the Star Wars universe.


-Spencer Smith

Battle Royale!

Jake Karlsruher

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away….

Neal Stephenson: Who would win in a fight: Raven or Anakin Skywalker?

Sci-Fi aficionado Jake “Kar-El” Karlsruher: Let me first say that a fight of this epic-nitude could tear a hole in the Universe….or the Metaverse…or the Galactic Republic.

God: I’ll allow it.

Jake:  Good.  Then let me tackle the question, Neal. Now I have to ask, which Anakin?

Neal:  Well phrased.  Let’s use yellow-eyed, slay-all-the-younglings Anakin.


Jake:  Fair.  Well, Anakin’s got the whole Midichlorian thing going for him.  Allow me to level the playing field.  We’ll set the battle in the Mustafar Region, in a scene similar to that of the closing duel in Revenge of the Sith.

George Lucas: Granted.

Jake:  That way, Raven can get his surf on and Anakin can demonstrate both poor gymnastics and bad acting (“Don’t try it Anakin, I have the higher ground!”  “You underestimate my power”)

Neal: Mr. Kar-El, please stop free-associating and stay on topic: the fight, sir.

Jake: I apologize, I digress.  But, before we get to the fight, we need to examine each character’s motivation; a fighter is only as strong as his desire to win. Both Raven and Anakin are filled with passion.  Raven hates America, and wishes beyond all else to see its destruction.  Unfortunately for him we are in the Mustafar Region, not America.  However, he also feels a strong loyalty to his cause, the one that saved him from his troubled ways.  Skywalker, on the other hand, feels no special allegiance.  Throughout all of the new movies, Anakin is generally confused about his purpose (or maybe that’s just Haden Christiansen).

Haden Christiansen:  Heard that.

George Lucas: Can’t argue with facts, Haden.

Jake: If I may continue, George *he sulks*, I was going to get to the fight.  Raven will quickly find that his glass knives are useless; they will melt from the heat of the lava. Limited to only his spears, Raven quickly loses any advantage he held.  I’m going to give the edge to the guy that can move stuff with his mind.  After a couple triple back flips and poor dialogue, I see Anakin lopping Raven’s head off… and then the nuke goes off.

Neal: Uh-Oh, probably should have seen that coming

George Lucas: F#@!

Haden: Huh?

God: Wow, I am so flooding you guys.

Why I love Star Wars (or, John Williams is the Man)

Originally, I thought I might just write that as my title, and then not talk about Star Wars at all (huzzah for in-jokes) but then I realized that you can relate Star Wars to anything, and therefore I can write about Star Wars for this topic.

I first watched A New Hope when I was really young–in fact, we still have the old VHS tapes from when Lucas released the new-and-improved versions of the original trilogy (you know, with the Jawa falling off the  Ronto and the more-crowded cantina and Han shooting second). I think it might have been those first few viewings of that galaxy far, far away that turned me into not only a fan of SciFi, but of adventure–particularly quest romances.  I devoured old myths and fantasy/sci-fi novels as I grew up, never realizing that these stories  had a lot of the same traits until I read Eragon (caution: spoilers ahead!). When Eragon finds out that the right-hand man of evil, Morzan, is his father, all I could think of was Luke and Vader on Cloud City. The light bulb flickered on, and after that,  I really dove in, looking up Hero of a Thousand Faces and just about everything else Joseph Campbell wrote, comparing legends and myths from various civilizations and, of course, writing my own stories as well. Call it escapism, a hobby, an antisocial activity–whatever you like. You’ll still have to admit that there’s something in Star Wars (and in any quest romance) that makes you want to be a part of it.

Quests are a part of life. Most have meaning only for you, but they’re still there. Whether you’re walking across campus to find a professor’s office or writing a paper or applying to college, you’re on a mission–a quest, in other words. What Star Wars gives us is a series of quests that have more meaning than a paper or a long walk. Star Wars does combine the best of adventure, romance, mysticism, science, and unexpected plot turns, but what really makes it special are the quests the story focuses on. Luke, a farm boy longing to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Jedi; Leia, the princess, bravely leading a rebellion against an evil Empire; and Han, the scoundrel, just out to keep his neck intact and his wallet full of credits at the end of the day. The success or failure of their quests, unlike your paper, matter to everyone around them. If the Rebel Alliance succeeds, the course of history changes drastically, and thousands of worlds will be freed from Imperial tyranny. Or, the Empire could crush them and then extend the grip of the Dark Side even further. Everything (almost literally; the Empire can blow up planets, you know!) hangs in the balance of their quests. Lives, planets, the balance of the Force–it all depends on them. Your paper, on the other hand, makes up a fraction of one of your many grades, which in ten or twenty years you will not even remember.

Just in case you’re not convinced, watch this, and just try to tell me it’s not awesome:

Remember: the Force will be with you, always.


Edit: I completely forgot to cite the video. Thanks Prof. Hall 😀

Moosebutter, comp. Star Wars An A Capella Tribute to John Williams. Perfs. Corey Vidal. 2002.

To Play, Perchance to Battle – Ay There’s the Rub!

Before fully grasping the concepts of the Metaverse in Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, I imagined the Metaverse as a simple game with small characters similar to a colorless version of the Super Mario Bros. I thought of the game as cartoonish, bleak, and hardly three-dimensional.

This however, is the beauty of imagination.

Though my thoughts where way off target from Stephenson’s particular viewpoint of his own novel, (and everyone else’s viewpoint for that matter) who’s to say my imagined Metaverse wasn’t a well enough assumption?

No one can! My own thoughts and imagination are just as good as the nerdy kid who sits across from me, who thinks he figured out the meaning of life at age 9. I’m entitled to my own thoughts despite how unsound they may be.

I’ve always considered myself to be a dreamer; so living in an imaginary world is very common for me. Like every teenage girl, I liked to dream up my future down to my kids names and birth dates; it’s a chick thing! This is why reading about combat with swords and spears in Snow Crash, is far more engaging to me than virtual combat in LOTRO.

Now that I understand that the Metaverse is actually more of an outgrowth of the Interent and is a fully immersive three-dimensional virtual world, I now imagine the place more like The Matrix or maybe even like Star Wars. (What, I need some type of reference point!)

I imagine the swards and spears clinking together the way lightsabers do, and everyones characters are made out of a million different numbers. The idea of being able to dream up my own battlefield of the Metaverse is simply far more appealing then playing a game like LOTRO where I am limited to killing one thing at a time, using one weapon at a time, and living in one virtual battlefield that has already been designed for me.

Though it is compelling and engaging to battle in LOTRO, (my little hobbit looks so cute taking on the giant Spider) I would much rather have a battle in my head without any boundaries. I can always throw in some other random characters that aren’t even in the book and out of nowhere start slaying dragons. Because that boys and girls is the beauty of imagination; to read, perchance to imagine – ay there’s no rub!


Lost Connection

NOTE: Apparently this didn’t post the first time, so I’m going to try again. I apologize in advance if it ends up posting twice for whatever reason; just let me know and I’ll delete one of them.

BY: Billy Bunce

Due to technical difficulties which led to a total reformatting of my hard drive, I was only able to finish the Epic Quest Prologue and not Book I; therefore this blog post will focus only on the Prologue.

I must say that, while I was pleasantly surprised with the Prologue quest’s story overall, it certainly gave off a misleading first impression. Despite its titular “epic” nature, the early portions of the quest primarily consisted of me painstakingly and unnecessarily investigating a possible goblin sighting by asking around in the Shire. Don’t get me wrong; I love the way the quest culminated (raiding the goblin encampment actually did feel epic), but to me the beginning of the Prologue really highlighted one of the flaws of storytelling intrinsic to the dynamic nature of an MMORPG.

This dilemma is that of establishing a connection with the reader/player, allowing him/her to vicariously become affected by the narrative and how it plays out. Such an experience was most definitely not found in the beginning stages of this quest. I play the Warden, a class marked by a commitment to defend the weak and to “[protect] those who cannot protect themselves” (http://www.lotro.com/gameinfo/classes). The Introduction (which comes before the Prologue) did allow me to establish a connection with my character as a sort of heroic guardian, as I bravely rushed to protect the town of Archet from the Blackwold raid. I had mentally established my character as one who would never back down from a fight and who would put his own life on the line to save the innocent.

Yet, the Prologue quest would have me believe that, upon hearing of a goblin sighting, my first instinct would be to ask around about it, rather than to go out on a limb and investigate it personally. When the game forced me to passively inquire about the goblins rather than slay them, any connection I had with my character was lost; LOTRO had decided that Shandelin the Hobbit was different from whom I thought he was. If my character has a giant spear and the skill to use it, wouldn’t he act out of a desire to protect rather than a desire to learn? Although the plot for the rest of the quest was involving and helped to reestablish this broken bond, the opening to the Prologue clearly stuck out as a negative point which almost removed all characterization from the vertically-challenged avatar running around on my screen.

Herein lies the main problem with dynamic storytelling; it is almost impossible to tailor a specific story to a very unspecific character. I’m sure that had I played a Burglar, my internal characterization of him would be much different than that of my Warden. Due to financial and time constraints, however, the developers cannot possibly hope to create a narrative which fits every possible protagonist’s profile. They are forced to construct a relatively generic tale in which the main character is involved physically but not emotionally or mentally. This stands in stark contrast to statically-told stories, where the protagonist is clearly defined and, thus, always takes logical, believable actions as they relate to his overall characterization.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, we never encounter the aforementioned flaw of LOTRO because the character of Frodo is consistent and completely laid out for us; thus, we never experience a moment in the book where we are tempted to disconnect from him. The bond between the reader and Frodo only grows stronger as the novel progresses, due to his believability.  As the story is told statically rather than dynamically, we are able to experience a significantly more character-driven and involving plot. This static storytelling is not a monopoly held by books, either; movies and offline video games almost always use this approach as well. I am able to easily sympathize with Luke Skywalker in Star Wars or Cloud in Final Fantasy VII because they are clearly defined and their development is natural given their initial characterization. Even in BioWare’s sci-fi epic Mass Effect, where one’s individual character is completely unique, the player can still easily establish a connection with Commander Shepard (the generically-named, player-created main character) due to the fact that the choices made by the player actually affect the world, and one’s character is never forced to linearly proceed in a fashion which does not befit them.

The online game is a medium which, in terms of storytelling, is inconsistent at best. The developers don’t know exactly how you see your unique character, and as such it is incredibly difficult for them to tailor a believable experience to every single player. In the case of The Lord of the Rings, the game’s story differs so much from that of the book because of the inherent difference in the way the story is told – dynamically in the former, statically in the latter. Though Frodo is an exciting and interesting character to follow, my character in LOTRO doesn’t seem to have any sort of well-defined identity and it is therefore much more difficult for me to really care about what he does.

So I watched LotR yesterday…again…

And I’m supposed to compare it to another fantasy movie I’ve seen. I haven’t seen many. This may be a problem. However, I will not be stopped by a meager unfamiliarity with other media in a genre! The synopsis begins!

Alright, so ((Luke)) Frodo lives with his uncle, ((Owen Lars)) Bilbo in an isolated sort of town, kept secret from ((the galaxy)) the rest of Middle-Earth, almost left behind in time. This place is called ((Tatooine)) the Shire. There is a wandering hermit named ((Obi-Wan)) Gandalf who shows up. He is a ((Jedi)) wizard with far more to him than meets the eye, except on special occasions. He loves the ((isolation and safety of anonymity in the desert wastes of Tatooine)) simple and peaceful ways of the ((Jawas)) Hobbits, and hangs out with them whenever possible.

Meanwhile, certain events take place that force young ((Luke))  Frodo, his new mentor ((Obi-Wan)) Gandalf, and his faithful ((droids, R2D2 and C3PO)) Hobbit friend, Sam to have to leave the Shire. ((Luke)), among others, enters a bar and meets ((Han  Solo)), a Ranger that will transport them to ((Alderaan)) Rivendell, home of ((Princess Leia)) Princess Arwen.

See where I’m going with this?

Later on, Obi-Wan sacrifices himself heroically to buy time for Han to lead the others out of the Death Star.

NOW you see what I mean.

There are wild magics, glowing swords, and epic quests. Our heroes must cross the world/galaxy in order to take the Ring/proton torpedo and deliver it into the fires of Mount Doom/two-meter wide exhaust port. Our hero, who is young and innocent but tenacious and determined, will encouter things that will force  him to grow and test his purity with the temptation of corruption. Our tragic hero is probably going to die. Our Han is going to become a General (or the King) and marry our Leia. There is a formula to these things, one might notice.  And yet, we can always appreciate them, even if only giggling at Luke screaming “NOOOOOO!!!”

— Breon