Chronicles of Craddock: 2016Image Not Found.
Welcome to the 2016 edition of Chronicles of Craddock, a yearly blog in which I give a brutally honest look back at my writing year that was—good, bad, and ugly—and offer a glimpse into what I'll be working on in the year that will be. Or in this case, the year that is.
(Click here to read other Chronicles of Craddock posts.)
I started this annual column with the intention of publishing in mid-to-late December, but I got a late start on this one due to cranking away on Point of Fate. It's almost done! It should be out this year! Along with four other books.
I've been a busy bee.
Fix yourself a drink, sit back, and get to reading. CoC blogs are as much a writing exercise for me as they are a detailed report for you, my readers. I hope you enjoy!
Doing it for Shacknews
In late March I returned to Shacknews.com as a freelancer. I'm very proud of this position, and of the website itself. As some of you may know, Shacknews holds sentimental value for me. Not only is it the only online community I call home, it gave me my start as a paid writer. (My first writing job was pro bono for MyGamer.com.)
I work a regular schedule at Shack, covering gaming news during weekday afternoons and evenings. My favorite part of the job, however, is writing exhaustive features on the making of games and the people who make them. Below, I've included some of my favorite pieces published on Shack from 2016. Feel free to read them at your leisure.
- Shack Select: 20 Years of Tomb Raider – Shack Select is a semi-regular column in which one of the site's writers conducts research on and interviews with developers of a particular game, and composes their findings into an account of that game's development. Shack's editor-in-chief, Steve Watts, appointed me to Selects in the late fall of last year; "20 Years of Tomb Raider" is the fruit from my first harvest. I'm extremely proud of it, and just as proud to say it went over huge with our audience.
- Machinima Magic: The Death and Rebirth of Ranger Gone Bad – Bryan "CrustaR" Henderson is a regular at Shack, and one of my closest friends in the community. He also happened to play a huge role in capping off the inaugural Quake machinima film, "Ranger Gone Bad." Last summer he contacted me privately and asked if I would be interested in telling his story. I broadened the scope to include details on how "Ranger Gone Bad" started. The piece turned out beautifully, if I do say so myself, but I wasn't the first to say so: Bryan contacted me again and said he was proud of how it turned out. I'm always pleased when my craft helps brings closure to people in my life.
- Obituary: Remembering Stephen Hornback, videogame artist and 'Duke's Mighty Foot' – At once one of my favorite and least-favorite pieces from 2016. Stephen was a phenomenal artist whose DNA is forever intertwined with that of Apogee, 3D Realms, and a generous helping of their software catalog. Rest in peace, Stephen.
- E3 2016: Preview for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – My first E3 assignment in nine years felt preordained: being among the first in the world (outside of Nintendo) to get my hands on the newest Zelda game. Zelda is the alpha and omega of video games for me. It encompasses everything I love about the medium, and I was giddy when Steve signed me up to go hands-on with Breath of the Wild.
- Review: Doom – Part of my job at Shack is reviewing the occasional title, and Doom marked the occasion of my first review for Shack since... Yeesh. Sometime in 2006 or '07. I couldn't have chosen a better game. Doom matched and exceeded the standards I set as someone who loves the old-school Doom games (I typically play through them once or twice a year; they're perfect to chip away at when I need to take a breather during the day) and set brand-new standards for its contemporary peers.
Austin Walker left Giant Bomb after E3 last year to head up VICE.com's new gaming vertical, which had no name at the time. It was known simply as VICE Gaming. I'd met Austin in 2015 when I reached out to him to gauge his interest in providing coverage for Dungeon Hacks, my book on foundational roguelike games. I knew Austin was interested in procedural content generation (creating content algorithmically), and he was kind enough to interview me about the book for Giant Bomb that summer.
Fast forward to a year later. After Austin left Giant Bomb I sent him an email of congratulations and asked if I could pitch him features from time to time. He told me to fire when ready, and last year we agreed on two. They both turned out wonderfully, and are, in my humble opinion, two of the best things I wrote last year.
- Better Than Black and White: One Man’s Decade-Long Quest to Remake 'Metroid II' – Milton Guasti's is one of the most interesting story I've come across in my blossoming career as a videogame biographer. The subtitle gives you the gist of the story, but learning the particulars and having the opportunity to frame them in such a way that conveys all the setbacks and triumphs he overcame was a great challenge, and a fulfilling one.
- How Cheat Codes Vanished from Video Games – One of my projects for RETRO in 2016 was to put together a book of cheat codes to be included with third-party controllers made for Nintendo's NES Classic plug-and-play console. (More on that below.) From there, it was a short leap to reminiscing over how much I missed the culture surrounding cheat codes much more than codes themselves. I interviewed several developers and writers to put this piece together, and it went over like gangbusters: Waypoint pinned it to the top of their website and social media accounts for over a week.
RETRO Videogame Magazine
2016 wasn't the best year for RETRO. Due to problems out of my control, the magazine's coffers were dry, and it turns out shipping a magazine on a regular schedule is difficult without money. We shipped one issue last year, issue #11, a Zelda-themed book, and put together a best-of anthology that I curated.
Our second-largest project of the year was a book of cheat codes that was bundled with third-party controllers designed for Nintendo's NES Classic console. I'm proud of how the book turned out, but there were some issues with it—some my fault, one definitely not. The one I cannot take blame for was that the controllers did not work with the NES Classic. That was a manufacturing issue. I'm not sure of the cause, exactly, but the Amazon pages for the products were flooded with complaints from customers who had purchased the controllers only to find them unresponsive.
This was out of RETRO's hands. We never received the controllers. Our job (my job) was to research the 30 games included in the NES Classic and write a 30-page book of codes for them. I was able to do that without ever touching the controllers, although the client did ask that we include "hot tips" side bars encouraging readers to use their products' turbo (aka rapid fire) feature scattered throughout the book.
Do you know how difficult it is to say "PRO TIP: Turn on your controller's turbo feature to fire/punch faster" 30 different times? Pretty difficult. But the customer is always right, so I did my best to spice up the tips. Researching and compiling codes and tips was fun. In fact many games forced me to write tips more than codes because not all old-school games used cheats.
There were a couple of gaffes in the book, however, and I own those. In one instance I used the wrong cover art for a game. My other mistake was writing the wrong code for Super C, a sequel to Contra. The Konami Code is burned into my brain—I expect most gamers who grew up in the '80s and '90s can say the same—and I accidentally wrote Contra's code for extra lives instead of Super C's code for lives. I also made a minor grammar flub on one page that haunts me because it's just so stupid.
In my defense, I can only say that the production schedule on this special edition was tight and I was my own editor—never a good combination. Still, those were my mistakes, and I take full responsibility for them. To be fair, the issue went over well. As a matter of fact, many of the people who complained about the third-party controllers asked if they could return the controller but keep the cheat book.
Other than those warts, I'm glad I got the opportunity to turn out that book. I get nostalgic over codes—the culture surrounding them more than the cheats themselves. There was an air of mystery around them because they weren't always at our fingertips. The internet has done more good than harm, but it's ruined gamers for secrets and codes. (For a nostalgia-fueled trip through code culture, check out my Waypoint article on the subject.)
Toward the end of the year we nailed down issue #12, an interview-only book of interviews that our publisher and my employer, Mike Kennedy, conducted. I think the issue turned out well, but the future of the magazine is unclear at this point.
I wish I had more to say on this topic. I love writing for RETRO, working with writers to hammer out pitches and assemble a stellar line-up of features. Last year, it just wasn't meant to be.
Making Fun: Stories of Game Development – Vol. 1
I'm the ball in a game of tug-of-war between two of my compulsions. Since publishing Stay Awhile and Listen: Book I in 2013, I've decided I want to publish at least one book per calendar year. Not just want: need to.
I'm a writer by trade, therefore I treat writing like a trade. Writing is an art in some ways, especially creative writing, but if you're getting paid to do it then it's also a job, and when you have a job, you do it. You work. I work and then some; I'm juggling multiple projects at any given time. Knowing that, I see no reason why I shouldn't be able to publish one book every year—on my own or, increasingly, through traditional publishing channels.
At the same time, even though 50-60 hours of my week go toward writing, I don't like to rush things. Point of Fate was not ready to turn in at the end of 2015; it wasn't ready at the end of 2016, either. (But it's ready now! See below.) So I talked to my publisher, gave her a progress report, and was fortunate enough to receive more time.
I turned in Break Out too late to make Schiffer's Fall 2016 release schedule. Rather than slap Point of Fate together so that either it or Break Out would be released in 2016, even at the last possible minute, I looked around for other possibilities.
Enter Making Fun: Stories of Game Development – Volume 1. "MFV1," as I like to call it, is a collection of some of my novella-sized accounts of how games are made. I rounded up various stories and articles I'd written over the last few years, tidied them up, and shipped them under my Press Start Press publishing label.
I'm proud of MFV1, and the "Making Fun" concept—a series I can add on to whenever I feel like I've amassed enough accounts scattered hither and thither around the Internet to put out a nice-sized book. I foresee the next one arriving in 2018, primarily because I'm too busy this year to put it together. I'm certainly not hurting for content.
Point of Fate
I wrote the first draft of Point of Fate in a fever of four-odd months in 2006. Edited it a few years later in California in preparation for selling Heritage. That was before I made sweeping changes to Heritage and sold the book in the summer of 2013.
In June 2015 I began draft 3 of Point of Fate, a total rewrite due to the extensive changes in Heritage. Those changes didn't cause ripple effects so much as aftershocks that registered 9.0 on the Richter scale of authoring.
Now, 19 months and two additional drafts later, Point of Fate is done... almost. I have ~7 more minor changes to make, which I plan to do early this week. Then I'll send the book to my editor, Margaret Curelas, at Tyche Books.
I plan to write a Book Breakdown for Point of Fate drafts 4+5 that goes into more detail later this week or next. The short version: fans of Heritage should be able to read the story later this year. Fingers crossed. The book is doorstopper-sized, and Margaret and I need to pow-wow about how to handle that.
If you want deets on the writing process for Point draft 3 in the meantime, check out that Book Breakdown.
Break Out (Apple II games)
I sent Break Out to Schiffer Publishing last June, and know it will be out in hardcover this year. Other than that I've been asked not to say too much about it. Schiffer prefers their authors talk in concrete details once their book is ready and not a moment sooner so as to not make promises they can't keep, such as promising a release date only for production concerns to push it back.
I have a Book Breakdown for this one planned as well. It should go up in February or March.
I researched my book about seminal roguelike games over 2012 and 2013, wrote it over 2014 and 2015, and published it that August. There were a few lingering corrections I wanted to make, and did, enabling me to finally put a bow on it.
Dungeon Hacks also afforded me an amazing and fun opportunity last September, when I was invited to deliver the keynote for the Roguelike Celebration conference in San Francisco. On a personal note, being asked to speak at the conference allowed me to return to SF for the first time since moving back to Ohio in July 2011. I got to meet lots of brilliant people at the conference, take a spin through my old stomping grounds in Daly City, where Amie and I lived for four years, and spend time with my Uncle Brad and his family. Uncle Brad and I are close, and I cherished the time we got to spend together.
EC is my blog where I serialize stories about the making of games and the people who make them. I haven't been able to update since October. As of right now, I do not foresee making updates in the future, at least not in Episodic Content's current form.
I'm buried in books and steady freelance work. As much as I love EC, it doesn't bring in enough money through Patreon to justify the enormous time and effort I put into each project. I do have plans to transform it in a way that I hope will result in more interest. For now, though, it's inactive.
This section provides an overview of the projects I'll be working on, as well as projects that should be available for public consumption, this year.
Point of Fate
I went into this in the "2016 -> Books -> Point of Fate" section above, and am only including it here because 1) I've worked on the book all month, so it counts as a 2017 project; and because 2) it should be out this year, barring a lengthy editing process.
I'll be honest: a lengthy editing process is possible. Point of Fate didn't drop nearly as much weight in my revisions for drafts 4 and 5 and I'd hoped. I'll go into more detail in my upcoming Book Breakdown for drafts 4+5.
Point of Fate is the first of five books that should be available this year.
Another hanger-on from the 2016 section. Break Out should be out this year, but I'm not allowed to say more until we have a release date pinned down. Sooner rather than later, though.
Break Out is the second of five books that should be available this year.
Stay Awhile and Listen: Book II
Finally, right? After nearly four years, SAAL 2 will hit the shelves. Digital and physical this time around. Amie and I have grand plans for both editions of the book.
But first, a status update. SAAL 2 is finished and awaiting another round or two of revisions and fact checking. It will get those rounds as soon as I boot Point of Fate out of the nest (19 months, Aidan? Fly or fall already!). As always, I'll deliver a Book Breakdown to provide a comprehensive look at my writing process and statistics (word count, etc.) for this and other projects.
SAAL 2 is the third of five books that should be available this year.
Top secret project for Boss Fight Books
Boss Fight Books has been a tough nut to crack. They're one of the most celebrated publishers in the videogame-book space, but I finally got my foot in the door.
BFB publishes books about particular games. The writing style varies depending on the author's approach, which I love. Most of their books dig into how a game was made, but they also delve into the author's personal connection with the game in question.
BFB holds open submissions for a month or two every summer. Last summer I pitched them an idea that I still plan to use, but they turned me down. I was pretty bummed, but also pretty busy, so I moved on.
A few months later I talked to a game developer I'd written about previously. We got to talking, and they wanted to expand my first take on their story by getting all the principals at the studio involved, thereby expanding my short story-sized account into a proper book. I took the idea to Gabe Durham at BFB, he read my first take and loved it, and he and I brokered a deal with the developer in question.
Which developer? I can't say. After all, the label does say "Top secret." It has to stay that way for now. I'll have more to say in a few months. What I can say is that we're planning on this book releasing this year, and for it to occupy a special place in BFB's next Kickstarter to raise funding for their upcoming line of books.
This project is the fourth of five books that should be available this year.
Exclusive book for StoryBundle.com
For two years running I've included some of my works in Story Bundle's annual game-development-themed bundles. The idea is you pay what you want for a set of eBooks, or pay over a certain amount (usually $15) to get the whole lot.
Story Bundle's curators have been happy with my offerings, and we worked out a deal to include two or three more in a bundle set for March. This one's another mum's-the-word project, but I should be able to talk about it sometime in February.
Last but not least, this hush-hush project is the fifth of five books that should be available this year.
Top secret project #2
This project is videogame related, and will be a making-of account of one of the most popular games of 2016. It won't be published this year, though.
Five! Five books due in 2017! Fortunately for me they're all in various stages of completion; not a one will have to be started from scratch. Once I send Point of Fate off to Tyche, for instance, I'll await Margaret's edits and make them. There might be some heavy lifting involved, but that phase of Heritage involved smoothing out grammatical wrinkles, fixing typos, making sure continuity carried through from chapter to chapter and page to page.
I'm nervous, but I'm also excited. I'm also wiser now than I was this time last year. One of the biggest mistakes I made in 2015 was taking on multiple projects. I've gone over this in excruciating detail, but it bears repeating because I still feel awful about holding up projects for both my readers and my publishers: I took on simultaneous book contracts because the projects excited me, and because I got nice advances and needed the money. Unfortunately, that caused each book to take much, much longer than it should have to write.
I work quickly. I don't screw around and wait for a muse to wander in; I sit down at the computer and I work. I proudly describe myself as a blue-collar worker. The fact is, though, that working on X books simultaneously means my attention and working hours are divided X different ways. I've worked 50-60 hours a week since May 2015. I'm professional satisfied, but also professionally, emotionally, mentally, and physically drained.
Furthermore, I get writing wanderlust. I can't spend over a year and a half on mega-sized books like Heritage and Stay Awhile and Listen: Book 1 without needing to cleanse my palette. I hope to show rather than tell about that wisdom by working on all five of those books more or less individually, with little overlap, so that I can maintain my sanity and not get so burnt out that burnout on one project causes all the others to go up in flames.
I'm bearing my soul not in a bid for pity, but because I pride myself in my transparency. The last two years have been some of the best of my still-young career. I've grown immeasurably as a writer. I'm confident in my style, my voice, and my process. I've also made dumb mistakes partly out of necessity, and I can't say I won't repeat them. If it's up to me, though, I will not if at all possible.
Thanks for reading,