Midwinter Mixtapes #2

Continuing with the emotional rollercoaster, I present Midwinter Mixtapes #2!

Listen along on Spotify at: https://open.spotify.com/user/alphachar/playlist/0mVWPqtVRhgv0hLTeFgDwh

Artist = King Dude
Song = I Wanna Die At 69
Emotion = The certainty that there is some parallel universe or timeline in which things are vastly different than you are experiencing right now. And that there, you may be a very different - potentially much, much worse - person than you currently are.

Artist = Peter Schilling
Song = Major Tom (Vollig Losgelost)
Emotion = Ostalgie (German) - “Nostalgia for aspects of life in East Germany.”

Artist = Sisters of Mercy
Song = More
Emotion = Sgrìob (Scottish Gaelic) - “The itchiness that comes over your upper lip before a kiss from a favourite, or before taking a sip of whiskey.”

Artist = Songs Ohia
Song = Farewell Transmission
Emotion = Solemn contemplation of the eventual heat death of the universe.

Artist = Mars Red Sky
Song = Strong Reflection
Emotion = Saudade (Portuguese) - “A deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return.”

Artist = White Ring
Song = IxC999
Emotion = Nodus Tollens (Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows) - “The realisation that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore—that although you thought you were following the arc of the story, you keep finding yourself immersed in passages you don’t understand, that don’t even seem to belong in the same genre—which requires you to go back and reread the chapters you had originally skimmed to get to the good parts, only to learn that all along you were supposed to choose your own adventure.”

Artist = The Veils
Song = Jesus For The Jugular
Emotion = The incandescent and deeply personal rage that rises as you listen to somebody ignorant expound cluelessly on a topic with which you are very familiar. And they just… won’t shut up.


Midwinter Mixtapes #1

Here’s a little thing I’m doing for fun in December 2017.

Every Sunday, I’ll craft a tiny 7-song mixtape for the week ahead. Each song will be tied to an emotion. The songs will be from all genres, the emotions from all spectra.

Follow along if you like, comment if you like, send me recommendations for songs or emotions you think I’ll like, if you like. 

Midwinter Mixtapes #1: 


Spotify Playlist Link:




Artist = Tomahawk

Song = God Hates A Coward

Emotion = When you know you have to get off the damn couch and do something. Scream if you need to. But you still need to put your warpaint on and achieve something - anything - before noon. Go on, scream.



Artist = Puscifer

Song = Queen B

Emotion = Mbuki-mvuki (Swahili) - “To dance wildly; to shed clothes in order to dance."



Artist = The Builders & The Butchers

Song = Bottom Of The Lake

Emotion = Things aren’t so bad, are they? I mean, think of the alternative. I could be dead. Dead - murdered, no less, by a loanshark - and buried underwater with concrete blocks holding me down. Hmmm. Bet that water is nice and cool though. Hmmmmm.



Artist = The Cramps

Song = Human Fly

Feeling = Altschmerz (Dictonary of Obscure Sorrows) - “Weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had — the same boring flaws and anxieties you’ve been gnawing on for years, which leaves them soggy and tasteless and inert, with nothing interesting left to think about, nothing left to do but spit them out and wander off to the backyard, ready to dig up some fresher pain you might have buried long ago."



Artist = Diiv

Song = Doused

Emotion = When you listen to a summer song on a cold winter’s day and can just about, aaaaaaaalmost, feel the warmth of the sun deep inside. Allow me to misuse the words of Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.



Artist = Hol Baumann

Song = Radio Bombay

Emotion = Queasy cyberpunk reverse-nostalgia. We know the future will destroy us. But we also know that there will be some dilapidated beauty in the entropy of humankind. Feel it bloom within you from 2:49 onwards...



Artist = Carpathian Forest

Song = A Forest

Emotion = Yuputka (Ulwa) - "A word made for walking in the woods at night, it’s the phantom sensation of something crawling on your skin."

Building a Portfolio for Games Writing

I wrote a piece for Хабрахабр on our writing team at Larian. I got a few questions from readers on how to get into writing for games, so I wrote this post to help answer them!


When I’m out and about and tell people who love games what I do, a lot of them say “I want to do that too!” But when I ask them what they’ve done towards that goal, the answer is usually “Well, nothing, yet … I need to get my foot in the door first.” Which is completely understandable! But, let me tell you: nobody is going to knock on your door and ask you to write for games. If it’s what you want to do, you need to be the one doing the knocking. And when they answer the door, you better have something really good in your hands to show them.

That something is your writing portfolio. If you don’t already have successful credits to your name, the only thing that matters is your portfolio. That’s what you’ll be judged on - the style, the spelling, the grammar, the range. So, if that’s what you need … how can you get started with creating one?

Start Writing

Firstly, you need to write every day. Regularity beats quality, especially as you are getting started. Five minutes every day beats an hour once a week.

But the blank page is a cruel mistress. What should you write about? The only way to find the answer to that question is through sheer practice, through writing every single day until you notice the patterns and the topics that make your pen fly across the page.

Follow the Artist’s Way. Sticky-tape things that inspire you to the wall above your desk. Use writing prompts. Rolling a D10 and a D20 and writing freehand to Jack Kerouac’s 30 rules of writing is a great start!

Buy yourself a really nice notebook and carry it with you wherever you go. Inspiration strikes at the strangest moments, and having a tiny notebook and pen handy to jot down anything that strikes you is invaluable. Then, when you are looking for inspiration - like at a game jam - you can pull out your notebook and see what grabbed you: words you like the sound of, little phrases and quotes, tiny scenes you witness on the bus, small drawings, mini poems, etc. I keep a little notebook religiously. Everything I write down in my notebook surfaces in my work at some point … and it would all have been long forgotten without it

Snippets from my notebooks

Snippets from my notebooks

Write Stories

Once you have a writing habit established, then start to expand your snippets of text into stories. How to do that? Firstly, realise that all story is conflict. Your character wants something … but there are obstacles in their way. Your story will have a set-up, a confrontation and a resolution: all driven by conflict. Find the conflict and you’ve found your story.

So far, so easy, right? But beyond conflict - story is myth. Story is religion. Story is how we understand who we are and how we relate to others. Story connects us to the past and to the future. Story is the vehicle through which we can release our unique viewpoint to the world and allow others to look through our eyes. We tell stories to ourselves all the time (“I’m not good enough!”, “They’ll love me if I agree with them!”) and we believe these stories. Our stories can uplift the heart or share in your sorrows.

So, if we see stories as a special way to share ourselves with the world, how much more engaging can it be when we do it in an interactive way? When we ask a player to step into our shoes? The interactivity of games changed stories forever … through offering players choice. You’ll want to read up on the mechanics of this on Emily Short’s amazing blog, and watching this great GDC talk from Alexis Kennedy of Fallen London.

Jack Kerouac's rules of writing

Jack Kerouac's rules of writing

Now … start writing games. Yes, now!

You can begin writing a game today and publish it tomorrow! If you already know how to use Unity, you could use Fungus to make short dialogue-driven games.

If you are a complete beginner, then download Twine, the most popular entry-level tool. It’s free, open-source, works on both PC and Mac and is relatively simple to use. By simple, I mean that if you are familiar with using Microsoft Word and have any experience at all with HTML/code, the learning curve is not steep. With Twine, you create branching stories in a diagrammatic way, and when you are ready to publish, you can upload your game or story as a simple HTML file either to your own website, or for free on philome.la.

In Twine, begin adding in your snippet-based story, node by node. Make it a piece that shows you understand a fundamental principle of writing (story is conflict) and a fundamental principle of writing for games (interactivity changes stories for games through choice).

Keep an eye on what you’re doing while you craft. Use dialogue. Choose the tense you use wisely. Examine the point of view you are using carefully (second person often works well for Twine). Make sure you offer the player meaningful choices - a classic mistake I see often in my students’ first game is the initial choice being ‘Get up’ versus ‘Hit the snooze button’. Think about it!). Be aware of the potentially infinitely branching nature of interactive fiction and prune your branches carefully … choose a structure, rather than walking yourself into a bottomless pit or letting your choices spiral out of control.

Know what’s out there already. Play the good stuff. Play the interactive fiction that’s winning awards. I really like the work of Porpentine and Michael Lutz. Find the stuff that you love and figure out why you love it. Is that special ingredient within your own work?

Now, before you show it to anybody else, read over your own creation with a critical eye and edit like crazy. Be diligent, be ruthless with yourself. Spelling, grammar and syntax aren’t nice extras; they are 100% critical.

The wise words of my friend & colleague Slava - good to remember when you're deep in the writing woods

The wise words of my friend & colleague Slava - good to remember when you're deep in the writing woods

Publish it!

When you are happy with your creation, publish it through philome.la and get it out there to the readers who are waiting for your voice … share it with your friends, tweet about it, send it to a literary journal, etc.

Ask people you trust for feedback, but be judicious about what feedback you apply - not everybody is going to like what you create, and that’s OK! If you are writing from the heart, some people will love it and some will hate it. The only situation you want to avoid is 100% of people thinking “meh”.

With your first Twine published, you’ve now made a game. You are a games writer! Now bundle that game up with a story, a blog post, a poem or two and anything else you’ve written that you love. Put all of those things into one folder. You know what that’s called? A portfolio.

Good Luck, and if you do go ahead to make something in Twine, I’d love to read it!

The Golem

On the night the golem rose in Prague there was a storm. The sky was dark and loud and thunder rolled between the sick beats of my heart, the heartbeat of the city. I wandered the old Jewish cemetery, weeping for those gone long before I was born. Hidden in an iron-bound garden, I found an intense young man: a cut-rate Dracula accompanied by two crow-like goth girls, all glittering eyes and twitching fingers. I saw these magicians whispering by an ancient grave, saw them call and cast, rocking and weaving over a small book.

The fever which had already begun took fierce hold of me that day. Staggering back to the austere hotel, I shook and vomited, alternating hot and cold, head stuffed full of feathers and blood and tar.

Sometime in the never within the night, I awoke in fear, in wonder. I parted the curtains and looked out across the city and felt him rise beneath the full moon, felt the golem stalk the streets. Watching for him, I almost but not quite saw his lumbering bulk in the shapes unseen just behind the buildings and the clouds. Listening close, the weather spoke for him. I was consumed with a portentous feeling so strong that, years later, I can still recall it easily.

Trembling, I tried to wait for more but then I fell asleep and dreamed and tossed and turned too long and woke to another day of weaving the streets glassy-eyed: looking for meaning, looking for medicine... 

Praise the Sun!

Back in May, I wrote a little piece for Existential Gamer on yoga and Dark Souls 3. If you like either of those things, you might like it! Read it here.