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Wednesday, Jul 24, 2013
Space Lawyer is a science fiction story set in Charleston, South Carolina that engages with the classic themes of Southern Gothic in radical ways.

Long time readers of the Moving Pixels blog will know well the pseudonym of former PopMatters columnist and blogger Kirk Battle. So all you fans of the writer formerly known as L.B. Jeffries may want to check out his new science fiction novel, Space Lawyer


Space Lawyer is about a civilization that uses data to govern every aspect of itself. It is set in a world where no one has to go hungry or without shelter, but that ideal society comes with a complicated price. While women have risen to prominence, men struggle to find a new identity and purpose when everything is handled by everyone else. The things that create reality and identity for people have become calculated figures, easily tracked and removed when they become inconvenient. The novel deals with the larger economic problem of what to do when a technological invention disrupts every last aspect of this society.


There’s a lot of other complicated stuff in there, kept entertaining with the inclusion of a mystery story, a media war, and dry humor. It’s a science fiction story set in Charleston, South Carolina that engages with the classic themes of Southern Gothic in radical ways. The writing has a light touch but isn’t afraid to be complicated without ruining the pace.


You can find Space Lawyer on Amazon.


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Tuesday, Oct 12, 2010
L.B. Jeffries bids adieu to the Moving Pixels audience, but before he goes, he has a few words to share about writing game criticism, noting that "the difference between a critical analysis and a game FAQ is that somebody who has never played the game can still gain something from good analysis."

Due to a massive increase in my workload, I’m not going to be able to keep posting regularly on Moving Pixels. This blog has been a wonderful creative outlet for the past few years, and I’ve learned a great deal about games and writing while working here. Thank you for your time.


For this final post, I’ve decided to offer a few tips and tricks for writing about game design. When I started writing about video games, I relied on a mostly “narrative-centric” approach. I think this is very normal for people because we’re all familiar with content and discussing it. We do it when we talk about books, television, or movies, and it’s natural to apply those skills to video games. From the writer’s and publisher’s perspective, it also makes better business sense because more readers will understand what you’re saying if you focus on content. The issue is that not every game really fits into this single perspective. A lot of them don’t have plots or have stupid ones, but their gameplay is still superb. Sometimes people will glorify the story of a game far beyond its meager offerings just because they like the gameplay, or worse, give it a low score because the plot is silly despite the game’s quality. It’s for this reason that I think the best game critics are ones that can handle multiple approaches to a video game depending on if it’s a story game or a design-oriented experience.


Most people understand game design when you talk to them about it in terms of what they like or dislike, but the actual discourse as the critic begins to examine the nitty gritty details can be so mechanical that often readers are understandably put off by the process. You’re just rattling off rules, after all. There’s also the more fundamental question of how you go about criticizing a game’s design without devolving into just whining about difficulty or frustration. Here are some of my personal tips on writing a design-centric article. To keep things accessible, I made spiffy headers and will offer a brief explanation for each point as I go.


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Tuesday, Oct 5, 2010
"If you grew up thinking that the stage/arena show is what live music is supposed to be, it’s jarring to be confronted with a band playing two feet in front of you, running into you, spitting in your face, hitting you with their instruments."

For the past several months I’ve been writing about virtual space and how meaning is created in that sort of medium. One of the core principles of space is that your actions partially define its meaning and vice versa. For that reason I think a good capstone to this work would be a discussion of the dynamic of meaning creation through space in a setting that’s familiar for many: your own house.


There’s a great TED talk given by David Byrne on the relationship between architecture and music venues (“David Byrne: How Architecture Helped Music Evolve”, TED, June 2010). The way people would engage and listen to music has an intrinsic relationship with the space they’re in. It wasn’t until 1872 that the concept of not being drunk and jabbering while someone was playing music became popular. This was mostly because of the changing design of opera houses such as Wagner’s Bayreuth Festspielhaus or Carnegie Hall. A quiet audience means that you can have more nuanced and complex music that will actually be heard, the singer does not have to scream. This dynamic exists with technology as well. A small club, before the advent of microphones, meant that you had to play loud and heavy music to be heard. Once the microphone was invented, crooning and much quieter songs became an option. Music in a giant arena typically has to take the form of a ballad to be coherently understood by the audience. An Ipod, on the other hand, allows for extremely nuanced and complicated music but has to always be at a certain volume, or you’ll make the listener go deaf. Since so much of music is defined by the space that it is being performed in, Byrne comments, “The passion is always there, but the vessel is what is created first.”


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Tuesday, Sep 28, 2010
People may not listen when they feel like they're being preached at, but raw data has a voice all its own.

My time with the Wii Fit may be the longest period that I’ve ever played one video game. As of this writing, I’ve been using the game for over 860 days. There was a month here or there that I took a break, but I always ended up coming back to it. I’ve written about the device extensively, first making fun of it and then comparing it to the competition. I’ve consistently considered the Wii Fit to be the superior program despite the fact that in many ways it is not. It is not the most effective work out regime and it’s not even an accurate representation of BMI. I’m also going to hazard a guess and say it will still be superior to the Kinect and the Sony Move’s offerings. The reason for this is fairly simple: it goes far beyond exercise by tracking your weight and commenting on your progress.


For the purposes of this piece, I’m going to be talking about Wii Fit Plus, which adds a couple of key features that are essential to turning the Wii Fit into an effective weight loss tool. Some things still aren’t perfect. The game swaps out your trainer without asking, and it still finds bizarre ways to insult you intermittently. Sometimes I wonder if the developers intentionally made that little white board into a hateful little shit just as an extra motivator. What they added to the game was the ability to string together a series of exercises to make a private work out routine. The diet planner and tracker is decent, but you can get a more portable and accessible one on your I-phone or DS. I find that it’s best to write down what I eat right when it happens rather than force myself to remember it. The push ups and ab work outs on it aren’t half bad and you can string them into an effective 20 minute regime. After that, about ten minutes of hula hooping makes it a decent routine. This isn’t enough to actually lose weight. I’ve also had to do 30 minutes of cardio in the morning and diet heavily. In this regard, the Wii Fit is not actually a good exercise game, but it is a good weight loss game.


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Tuesday, Sep 21, 2010
When an author constructs an entire world, they tend to want to show it off as much as possible and provide explanations to game players. That's when games get stuck, especially if borrowing from sci-fi or fantasy literature.

Every video game is fundamentally about creating a world. Sometimes it’s a very small, linear world that’s a series of paths with nice scenery. Other times it’s a broad, open landscape that leaves you free to roam. What makes these things represent a world is that there is always a rule system or logic guiding everything. In the same way that Harry Potter’s magical world has a series of principles that guides the character’s conduct, any game has rules that govern the player’s conduct. To fill in the details and perceptions of those rules, video games tend to borrow from a wide variety of mediums. Books, with their wide selection of science fiction and fantasy novels, are very adept at creating fictional worlds. What ideas can be borrowed from them?


An article at Wikipedia explains that for most writers you either start at the top or work from the bottom. That is, you plan the entire world out on paper, or you just create as much room as you need for the story. The space can be expanded as your characters move on to new areas and you have to think up new stuff for them to do. You can generally tell which one an author is doing by how much extraneous crap they shovel into the plot. When an author constructs an entire world, they tend to want to show it off as much as possible. An article by Heather Massey listing off unnecessary details in science fiction stories mostly consists of authors insisting on rattling off all of the technical details of the world. How does the ship deal with gravity, flight, the vacuum of space, pew effects, etc.? All of these are details that people don’t really need explained to them. Readers are familiar with the concepts and don’t require explanation to maintain a suspension of disbelief (“7 Unnecessary Science Fiction Details”, The Galaxy Express, 10 May 2009). It’s when figuring out these ways to plausibly have elements of the world discussed (without becoming tedious) that games get stuck, especially when borrowing from sci-fi or fantasy literature.


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