Tag Archives: Extra Credits

Extra History: Cheng I Sao, Pirate Queen

When I met with the Extra History crew this summer, I could talk about one thing and one thing only:

It was time to greenlight Cheng I Sao.

The moment was perfect. I had access to resources via the Hong Kong library system. There was an exhibit on Cheung Po Tsai at the Maritime Museum. I had even been to many of the locations where the action took place—all I needed was a go order.

And they gave me one. So may I present Extra History: Cheng I Sao, one of the first EH episodes to be researched entirely on-the-ground where the events took place, using local resources.

Incredibly, it seems that work paid off—this episode did 222,000 views in the first 24 hours, and made it to #5 on YouTube’s list of Trending Videos.

Thanks for making that happen, everyone!

A linguistic note: since this episode took place on the South China coast and involved Cantonese characters, we’ve used their Cantonese names. Cheng I Sao is often known as Ching Shih in western sources.


Extra History: The Berlin Airlift

Yet another post-December catch-up post!

Freelance writers often slow down in December. Budgets run dry at your usual outlets, and everyone’s more interested in wrapping up admin projects. Publications close for the holidays.

On a normal December I might, might have one piece of work go up, and that’s if it was contracted well in advance.

This year I had not one, but three major projects publish before Christmas. I’ve already posted about the Christmas Truce episodes, but I also did this one-off on the Berlin Airlift.

Check it out:


Extra History: Kamehameha the Great

My hometown of Kāneʻohe sits below the Ko’olau mountains—a ridge of sheer cliffs that are the remnant of an ancient volcano.

And the most famous site in the Ko’olaus is the Nuʻuanu Pali. It’s a jagged split that—before we could blast tunnels with dynamite—was the only path through the range. It’s historic. Kids take field trips there. It’s one of the most beautiful vistas on the island.

But the wind is fierce. On a blustery day you can open a jacket like wings and lean 45 degrees into the wind, supported only by air. And that’s only part of why it holds a reputation for ghosts and otherworldly events. Most locals refuse to go there at night.

In 1795 Kamehameha’s armies invaded Oʻahu, driving the army of his enemy Kalanikūpule up the valley, and over the thousand-foot cliffs of the Pali. The event was captured by local artist Herb Kane in his famous painting.

Even as a child, I knew that I would tell this story someday. The image of those warriors, driven off the cliff, was too haunting to shake. I have to thank Extra History for letting me finally do that, and for both the narrator Dan and artist Lil for being responsive to my constant (often nitpick-y) feedback. I wanted to tell the story as best as I could, and I think we did that.

 


Extra Credits: Hunting the Bismarck is LIVE!

I’m about a week late announcing this, but I wrote a series for Extra History!

Hunting the Bismarck is a four-part series about one of the most exciting episodes of World War II. Written as an hour-by-hour intelligence procedural rather than a traditional documentary, it follows British sailors, pilots, and intelligence analysts as they try to find—and sink—what was (at that time) the largest battleship on Earth.

My goal with these scripts was to focus on neglected aspects of the hunt, like the role of resistance fighters, radar operators and signals experts. Telling the story from the British side also portrays the chaos and uncertainty the British faced as they tried to determine where Bismarck was headed and how badly they had damaged it.

I’m extremely pleased with the first two episodes. Scott DeWitt knocked it out of the park on the visuals (seriously, watch it full screen) and it’s among the best narration Dan has ever done.

I’ll also be creating a LIES comment to post beneath the final video, so if you have specific questions, feel free to ask them in the comments here!

Hunting the Bismarck – I: The Pride of Germany

 

Hunting the Bismarck II – The Mighty HMS Hood

 

AND THERE’S MORE!

It’s been a very World War II week! My column at Waypoint on Thursday also dealt with how we represent the war in media—specifically, how WWII movies and games continue to be dominated by the visual style Spielberg created for Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.


2015 Writing Year in Review

 

Happy New Year!

*Throws champagne, drinks confetti*

The last few hours of a year always seem to bring on reflection, and this year’s no different. The last 365 presented many changes for me–I left the Escapist,  had a book chapter published, landed some new outlets, and went to work at a writing tutor. Added to that, I started doing podcasts and video scripts for the first time.

So before the clock turns, here are some of my writing highlights from 2015:

Favorite Piece: “H.P. Lovecraft, Master of Environmental Horror” (Slate)

My primary writing goal this year was to branch out, and nothing exemplifies that better than this piece about Lovecraft’s increasing relevance in the age of environmental destruction. No video games here–just literature.

Biggest Achievement: Shooter

Shooter was a big point of pride for many reasons. It’s my first book publication, first off, but it also scored a couple of nice reviews and has some gorgeous art.

Largest Growth Area: Podcasting

When I began 2015, I’d never taped a podcast. As of today, I’ve appeared on the ChattyCastThe Freelance Game, and Covert Contact from Blogs of War. I’ve come to really enjoy it and hope to do more in the future.

Favorite Interview: “Military Expert P.W. Singer Predicts the Video Game Wars of the Future” (Playboy)

P.W. Singer’s a fascinating guy, and his book Ghost Fleet provides a scary look at a future where games and military tech are increasingly merging. It’s a topic I’ve followed for years, and I’m glad public consciousness has finally turned to this crucial, and sometimes worrying, development.

Favorite New Outlet: Extra Credits

I’d admired Extra Credits long before I began writing about games, and I couldn’t be prouder that I’ve leant my hand to two episodes this year. The first was on how games can re-approach WWII, while the second was the crucial question of where our consoles come from.

Weird and Wild

I also had a couple odd ducks this year, both at Playboy. The first was an article about visiting the Resident Evil haunted house at Universal Studios Japan–and all the weird Japan-ness that ensued–while the second tracked the real history behind Assassin’s Creed Syndicate‘s ghost stories.

So that’s it for 2015! I’ll have some more news on the way early next year, so watch this space…


Extra Credits: Where Do Consoles Come From?

Once again, I’ve collaborated with the folks at Extra Credits on a topic I’ve followed for a while: supply chain problems in console manufacturing. Proud as punch serve as a co-writer with EC, and hey, is that Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame? Damn.

This sounds like a dull issue, but it’s increasingly important. Our globalized economy provides mind-boggling manufacturing power, but it also hides the people who actually make the objects we use in our everyday lives.

Give it a watch:


The Hidden Power of EPIC FAIL

I came across a couple pieces this week that synched up nicely, clarifying a point that’s been bouncing around my skull for awhile.

Item One: an episode of Extra Credits titled “Fail Faster,” about the power of doing and correcting rather than trying to build a perfect foundation.  EC’s actually a show about game design, but this episode’s broadly applicable to any creative endeavor.

Item Two: an editorial from New York Times Magazine called “Be Wrong as Fast as You Can,” detailing the author’s experience as a failed writer – and his ultimate realization that failure is a natural and powerful part of the creative process.

Though by no means a summary of the full article, here’s a great pull quote:

I recently saw a Charlie Rose interview with John Lasseter, a founder of Pixar, about the creative process behind his movies. Pixar’s in-house theory is: Be wrong as fast as you can. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process, so get right down to it and start making them. Even great ideas are wrecked on the road to fruition and then have to be painstakingly reconstructed. “Every Pixar film was the worst motion picture ever made at one time or another,” Lasseter said. “People don’t believe that, but it’s true. But we don’t give up on the films.”

Both of these hit on a point I’ve been revisiting lately: that while it’s important to outline and develop ideas, you can’t get bogged down in thinking about a story rather than writing it.  It’s a common trap writers fall into – even professional ones – and it’s often driven by the fear that we won’t do our story justice, that we’ll get it wrong and make mistakes.  That it won’t be as good as something else already out there.

Fun story: In the early drafts of Frozen, Elsa was a straight-up villain like Hans Christian Andersen’s original Snow Queen.

Yeah, not so great. The movie was fun, but didn’t have much heart. Then Robert Lopez and Krisen-Anderson Lopez wrote “Let it Go,” and the team thought, Hey, maybe Elsa’s a tragic figure.  So they had an interesting villain and a show-stopper, but something was still missing.  That is, until an early read-through of the script spat up so much chemistry between Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell that the team thought, Check it – what if these two are sisters and the story’s about family dynamics.

BOOM. Hit movie.

As Extra Credits says, every great game course-corrected for success.  To scatologize John Lasseter’s classy quote, every Pixar film was, at one point, a giant turd.

Popular wisdom states that you can’t polish a turd, but that phrase ignores something more important – poop makes excellent fertilizer.  In the same way, bad ideas aren’t worthless or hopeless if you take the time and patience to grow a good idea from their nutrients.

But to do that, you have to have some crap to work with.

So go forth and fail today.  Make crap – a giant mountain of it – then use that fertilizer to grow a tree, a field an entire orchard of tasty fruit.  All you need is time and patience.

And shoveling.  Crap requires a lot of shoveling.