I’ve updated my website; also, some tips about shitty web design

I’ve updated lauramichet.com and this blog, blog.lauramichet.com, to look good instead of bad. In general, it’s good for things to look good and bad for things to look bad, so I’m pleased with what I’ve done.

I have spoken recently to a number of people who are not professional web designers or coders and feel unsure about designing their own webpages/hosting them/etc, so here’s some advice from me: just copy other websites.

Seriously. Don’t copy them exactly– that’s ridiculous and it will make you look like a chump– but if there’s something on another website that you want to have on your website, take a look at its source and just use the same techniques they used.

The stuff you learn doing this will be highly valuable to you. If you are making a very small static webpage for yourself– the kind of thing that just presents links to your projects without any bells or whistles, or just contains a Twine game or a bitsy game with a title, or is just a lot of centered images with titles or whatever, it will honestly teach you 100% more if (instead of using a web design program) you just write the site by hand and blatantly copy other websites to learn how they do the things you want to do.

Learning this basic HTML and CSS is important because many services– like WordPress, for example– require you to have an understanding of CSS in order to make modifications to their product. WordPress’s 6-bucks-a-month premium package gives you access to a lot of templates, but the only way you’re going to make it look “unique” is if you know CSS. You need to have a basic understanding of CSS to make your Twine stories look unique, too.

When it comes to “coding,” these are some of the easiest skillsets to learn, mostly because you never actually have to be good at them. If you’re the kind of person who makes small projects and just needs to find a home for them on the internet, you can get away with shockingly low skill levels in these departments. I do! My websites are actually terrible and very simple and stupid. My bitsy websites are particularly brainless. You can make a website that’s just all embeds of your youtube videos or Bandcamp albums. You can work in Prof. Dr. style. The amount you need to learn in order for these skillsets to be useful to you is shockingly low in part because it’s so easy to copy other websites. I retain barely any working CSS knowledge between projects and I just gather it all back up again by googling a ton whenever I have some CSS-related work to do.

Don’t avoid learning HTML and CSS because it seems intimidating, either: it’s actually not really coding. Writing a web page by hand using CSS is basically like using a really complicated UI for applying paragraph effects in Microsoft Word. You won’t need to write loops or figure out how to do data input/output or understand search theory or anything– you just need to know how to write out the lines that make things bold or right-aligned or left-aligned or centered in a column on a certain part of the page, or whatever, and you need to understand how those effects nest and overlap with one another. The way you think about problems has to change a little bit when you learn about “real” coding, but the problems inherent in the kind of ultra-simple static website design I’m taking about are probably not very different from the problems you experience when you’re trying to format a stupid image-filled word doc. They’re more complicated, sure, but it’s honestly not so bad.

Anyway, good luck with this stuff. Copy shit and take it easy.

I’m editing Where the Water Tastes Like Wine

I’m horrible at announcing things. I’m extremely bad at it. I never properly announced that I was writing for Where the Water Tastes Like Wine last year and I never properly announced when I became the staff writer for that project this year. So, uh, here’s that announcement:

I wrote for WTWTLW but now I am also EDITING the whole thing! Nice. I have been doing this for a while but I forgot to say it anywhere specific!

Editing WTWTLW involves writing a large amount of extra content for the game’s characters. It also involves straight-up editing the text! On top of that, I’ve also written a large number of random events for this game. My fingerprints will be all over the project.

The trouble with leaving fingerprints as an editor is that this game is a collection of diverse short stories– it is deliberately not a monolithic experience with a single tone and voice. My goal with editing WTWTLW is to preserve each writer’s unique voice, both in the showcase characters you may have seen in trailers, and in random events that take place elsewhere in the game. After the game ships I may have some things to say about what editing this project was like, and about the advantages of embracing writer diversity in a project rather than trying to make a game seem monolithic and consistent.

Prior to working as an editor at my day job, I had no idea I could enjoy just sinking deep into the dark and numbing pit that is full-time editing but– guess what??– turns out I love editing. So now I live in that pit both 100% of the work day and 100% of my nights and weekends also. I love editing. Hire me to edit your shit.

On the value of editors

I’m not just talking myself up when I say that more teams should hire totally separate human editors to edit their narrative games. It is important for more than one person to look at every published piece of writing; having someone else check your stuff and read it from an exterior perspective can dramatically improve the quality of the finished product.

I’m not talking about proofreading; I’m not talking about copyediting. I’m talking about comprehensive full-service editor editors who are themselves good writers and who have experience doing this kind of thing.

The first and most obvious value of an editor is that they can identify errors. Proofreaders can also do this! And editors who can edit for style and clarity offer opportunities for other valuable improvements. But the biggest thing that an editor can do for any project– game, book, article, screenplay, anything– is that they can also turn on their “idiot brain” and try to read work from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about the project and has no personal investment in it.

This kind of distance is very important. Creative people of all stripes often make decisions for personal or team-dynamics-related reasons that are not transparent to their audience. An editor who was not part of that decision-making process and has no investment in it can identify decisions which may not actually be working.

I no longer read books or articles about writing advice; I find that the vast majority of generalized writing advice is completely useless to me. Instead, I prefer to receive direct feedback for my writing from people who have actually read it. You can read all the writing advice in the world and still never find advice specifically suited to your needs and your project’s unique issues. Editors give targeted feedback. There is nothing in the world better for improving a written project than an editor.

Luckily, there are many humans out there who have the experience and background necessary to edit interactive narrative projects, even ones with torturous ink/ren’py/twine structures. If you are working on a project right now and want an editor, ask around; many people who can write for games are also good at editing.

Frog Fractions 2 is out!!!

Frog Fractions 2 has been published! Finally!! It’s out on Steam now! I wrote and helped design one of the minigames in it. This is the first game I have worked on that is being sold for money on Steam!

Spoilers ahead! Don’t read past this shrugging boy if you don’t want to know anything about Frog Fractions 2!!

shrugboy

So: FF2 is actually called Glittermitten Grove. Like the original Frog Fractions, FF2 is a mess of hilarious minigames hidden inside a game that seems to be completely ordinary. Glittermitten is actually a chill base-building game– and for the full FF2 experience, I think you should play it and try to figure out how to get to the minigame section on your own. If basebuilding games make you rage, though, and you want to get straight to the minigames, there are ways around it.

My contributions to Glittermitten Grove are the two “SPAXRIS” sections. SPAXRIS stands for Super Passive Aggresive Xenomorph Roommate Irritation Simulator. It’s a game where you are a space marine from the movie Aliens who is trying to annoy your xenomorph roommate until he moves out of your shared apartment. You would kill him, but you are in the same friend group and have too many mutual friends. Your aggression is limited to drinking his beers, messing with his law school textbooks, changing the HDMI cables around on the TV, and flushing the toilet repeatedly while he is trying to brush his teeth.

spaxris3.png

 

Here’s the mildly-weird story of how SPAXRIS got in the game. I’ve done a lot of game jamming in the Bay Area– that’s where I’d caught the bug– and one of the absolute best games I’d made for a jam there is Desert Hike EX. Jim Crawford, the lead developer on FF2/GMG, led the Desert Hike team, which included me and a bunch of his other friends.

A while ago, a friend of mine was running a jam that I had the opportunity to do with Jim. He wrassled up a team and we went. And, like Desert Hike, the team Jim wrangled up was really good, and the art and music were great, and I was able to go absolutely nuts with the writing. By the end of the weekend we did not have a completely finished game, but we did have something that was pretty clearly hilarious. At some point, Jim leaned over and told me, “Let’s just put this in FF2.” So that’s what happened.

It’s funny that the first Steam game I’ve contributed to is something I made almost without knowing that it would even be part of a commercial game at all. I’d just got done doing a lot of writing and localization for a bunch of PC and mobile games that were mostly cancelled. (The ones that were not cancelled before release are Facebook games, and THEY have all been shut down!) Since then, I’ve gained a lot of experience and have started doing story consulting and writing on indie and AAA games, but none of those have released yet, either! I often feel like the last couple years were kind of “lost years” for me. So it’s deeply gratifying that SOMETHING commercial that I worked on in that period is finally coming out and is really good!

I am roommates with Rachel Sala, FF2’s artist and Jim’s development partner, so I’ve gotten to see a lot of the blood, sweat, tears, tiny frogs, etc. that went into FF2. I’m really glad this game has finally come out and that they can enjoy the results! A lot of great things have happened in my life thanks to knowing Jim and Rachel and hanging out with them and making cool shit with them, and I’m incredibly proud of them and the other developers!

Anyway, yeah! Enjoy the game!

Surprise: I’m doing games journalism again

As of this week, I’m now the editor of Zam.com, a site in the Zam Network (which includes LolKing, Wowhead, DestinyDB, and several other sites). While most of the network is game information databases and fansites about specific games, Zam.com is going to transition to be more of a games news site, with day-to-day news coverage– and everything else I can get for it, including crit, opinion, personal stories, and features.

I’ve been out of the saddle as an editor for about five years now, which means it will be a challenge to get back into the swing of things. But I’m excited to do it. I’m also excited that I’ll have a proper support network this time around.

If you write words and have something you’re itching to say about games, we have pretty damn good freelancer rates and we’d love to get pitches. You can find information about how to contact me in the announcement post on Zam.com itself.