Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Slight 'Cross-over' in Topics

Today, I held a copy of my first published 'book'. It is an Official Strategy Guide for a game entitled 'Tree of Tranquility', a new game in the Harvest Moon series. I never thought that my first 'book' would be a game guide, but my respect and admiration for the creators of the world of Harvest Moon is so profound that I feel honoured to be connected to it in an 'official' capacity. Despite the fact that my game guides on the internet are fairly well-known, the permanent quality of the printed page makes a book far more 'real' somehow.

The sheer amount of labour that is involved in a project like this is incredible. I cannot imagine individuals being willing to submerge themselves in projects of this sort without any deep devotion to the subject itself... and yet, I know from my past experience in the book publishing world that there are many individuals in publishing who do precisely that. Even with my own personal dedication to Harvest Moon, the copy-editing aspects of it were not always strictly speaking a 'labour of love'. Nonetheless, there is something intensely satisfying about a real BOOK, especially when the book represents both a subject that I love and my own labour.

As a child, I saved my money to buy books. The thrill of going to my favourite bookshop to buy a coveted book is one of the most enduring memories of childhood. Sometimes the smell of the pages of a new book will take me back to one of those magical moments.

Often it was the artwork as well as the writing itself that drew me into another world. The Oz Books were early favourites partly because of the exquisite illustrations of John R. Neill. One of the first novels I wrote at the age of 7 or 8 was an Oz Book. (I probably need not add that it had no literary value whatsoever.)
'The Land of Oz' and 'Rinkitink in Oz' were my favourites, although I loved 'Ozma of Oz' because anything connected with Ozma was particularly magical. I think it was the cover of Ozma of Oz that made that book most memorable.

Dorothy could return to THIS world and yet, Ozma would make certain that she was not forgotten. All she had to do was make a secret sign at a specific time and Ozma would respond, whisking her back to Oz. As a child, by some skewed logic, I thought that if I made the same sign at the same time, Ozma might notice and bring ME to Oz... It made no sense, really. After all, according to the novels themselves, Dorothy had become a permanent resident, a Princess of Oz, with the rest of her family. There no longer would be any reason for Ozma to spend any time at all scrutinising THIS world.

I personally see many parallels between great children's literature and Harvest Moon. Harvest Moon is not strategy so much as total immersion in another world, with characters that one comes to know and love. There are the beautiful as well as the eccentric and many who fall somewhere between the two. Playing Harvest Moon is rather like leaping into a beloved folktale and becoming part of it. The fact that the games are realistic and require your participation in farming, eating, making friends, even starting a family, are where these games actually are more than mere fantasy. You must work for rewards in Harvest Moon and weave the threads of your own life into the story.

Some players complain that Harvest Moon is too time-consuming and that farming or ranching tasks can be tedious. To me, that is part of the genius of the series. If you do not water your crops daily, they may die. Animals if neglected may die as well. You cannot expect to skate over the fundamentals of real existence in Harvest Moon. You can engage in courtship and romance but not at the expense of daily life. As in reality, you still must eat to survive.

My family is not familiar with Harvest Moon and have no understanding of what it is that I wrote. I suppose if I never had played a video game in my life and a friend were to tell me that he/she had written a game guide, I would not know even what that signified either. If I were to think about it objectively, though, a novel of mine would not signify much more. My mother no doubt would be uninspired by the characters or plot and wonder why I had wasted my energy on 'people like that'.

One really must do things for oneself and not to impress others. Inevitably, people who truly understand you will take an interest in your accomplishments. As for the others, volumes have been written about individuals who scaled the highest peaks and yet never managed to impress a loved one.

I remember a tale about a famous composer that we were told often as children. It was either Handel or Haydn whose wife took his compositions and used them in lieu of rags to curl her hair.... At least that was the tale we were told, to illustrate how often even the greatest artists fail to attain the appreciation of those closest to them.

Well, a game guide even for Harvest Moon cannot be compared with the work of Haydn or Handel. Nonetheless, I am happy to be connected with this project and as strategies guides are useful, I know that the work will be appreciated by some at least.

I have many friends who are professional writers, whether of fiction or non-fiction. I always thought one of my novels would be published by now. A part of me comprehends, however, that my own exacting standards in fiction have crippled me somewhat. In writing a game guide, on the other hand, it is not MY work that must be worthy intrinsically, but the game itself. That is one reason I could not write a guide for a game that I considered a waste of time and energy.

There is a point though where I should take up the challenge once more to write fiction. Even if the results prove to be lacklustre, I always was happiest when I was engaged in writing a novel.


Chase said...

Wow. I just want to say congratulations ! I have made use of your online guides many times as the Harvest Moon series have always been some of my favorite games and it's so true that it's like immersing yourself in another world. I look forward to reading your Tree of Tranquility Guide. Good luck with your novels too.

Chase said...

I'm sorry, I meant to ask, with regards to the Brady guide, did you get extra time to play before writing the Tree of Tranquility Guide ? I notice your IGN guides get updated as you make new discoveries and I've always wondered how much time the authors of the "hard copy" guides get with the game before they publish the guide. Harvest Moon is so complicated. I had a look through the Island of Happiness guide and there are definitely some errors such as the requirement for the horse and sheep to appear. I always found your IGN guides much more helpful than the published ones so I'm very interested to see your published guide as you really love the game and try to be so through in your guides. Hopefully they gave you lots of time to play.

Freyashawk said...

Thanks, Chase. There actually is a character named Chase in ToT! He is one of the eligible bachelors if your character is a girl. I do have a website devoted completely to Harvest Moon at:


Links to all my guides are given there as well as frequent posts and screenshots about the games.

Freyashawk said...

Book publishing has its own deadlines, Chase. To be honest, I couldn't make the initial deadline for the ToT Guide because I did need more time to play the game. I had to beg for more time. I am not going to comment on the printed IoH Guide, because it is nothing to do with me, except to state that I turned down the offer from Brady to write the printed guide for IoH for a couple of reasons:
1. I couldn't imagine how I could cover BOTH IoH and ToT simultaneously and do justice to either;
2. The deadline for the IoH guide was utterly impossible. I sense how complex the game would be even before I saw it.

I am not going to 'bite the hand that fed me' here by criticising the publishers, but their agenda is a little different from mine.
My primary loyalty is to Natsume. I am not an employee of Natsume, but I believe wholeheartedly in their philosophy and their commitment. I accepted the Brady assignment to write the ToT Guide in order to try to write the best guide possible for Natsume. That having been said, I tried to do the job as best I could within the time limits set by Brady, but they create guides for a lot of different games, not only Harvest Moon. They can't allocate too much time to any single game. Harvest Moon can't be their top priority and in fairness, Harvest Moon probably is far more complex than most games they cover.

I think I may have been too committed to Harvest Moon for them, actually. (I don't think they bargained for 450+ pages of manuscript, for a start.)

I am very independent by nature, as any one who follows my guides would realise. I work alone. I try not to base my guides on anything outside my own personal experience, although I do ask players to contact me with their experiences for comparison purposes, especially when they have problems triggering an event.

As far as the ToT Guide is concerned, I wish that Brady had given me another month, to be honest. The game hasn't been released yet and has been delayed further. Production of the Guide could have waited in that respect, but Brady had other projects and needed to move forward.

All Harvest Moon games are complex. People who complain about delays in release really ought to be glad that Natsume is not willing to send a game out prematurely. When a game is that complex, any decent guide will require extensive 'hands-on' research.

Anyway, I am glad to have had the opportunity to work on a printed guide for Brady. It is very exciting to see my name on the cover of a published Harvest Moon guide that has wide distribution. I probably am not a practical choice for Brady in future but I am grateful for the experience I had working with them. That having been said, I know I was right to reject the IoH assignment, as much as I would have loved to have written the printed guide for THAT game as well... As it is, I still am revising my internet guides for IoH on a daily basis!

The truth of the matter is that the errors that fanatical Harvest Moon players may find in the printed guides probably never will be noticed by most of the people who buy and use those guides. Many of the errors deal with 'advanced' gameplay. The writers of those guides do the best job possible in the limited time given to them. I only hope that the ToT Guide I wrote is a good one. If I had opted to write internet guides instead for ToT, I daresay I would have been updating THEM daily for months... It is quite a challenge to write a guide that cannot be updated!