Sunday, December 31, 2017

From 2017 into 2018 - What a Crazy Year!

It's that time of year again – specifically the end of the year. That means it's time for me to reflect on 2017 and needlessly share all of my thoughts with you. I'll try to keep it shorter than last year, but this was a crazy year so I make no promises.

How'd Those Resolutions Go?

Apparently I made five resolutions for 2017. Let's go through them one by one and see how I did.

2017 Resolution #1: Finish drafting and seek publication on my novel

Yeah, I just didn't do that. I got away from the novel for a few months, and then realized that I had lost interest in it and was getting much more invested in my new ideas, and when I finally got back to writing Nothing But The Boots it just felt like a chore. I still liked the characters and many of the plot points, but the whole novel just felt like a jumbled mess. The primary problems were that I had conceptualized it when I only had a very basic idea for how to write a novel, so it just wasn't structured very well and I wasn't adequately prepared to write it, and as a result of that I had done so many rewrites to major characters and plot points that I had trouble remembering where exactly I was headed with the latest draft or what was "real" in the story anymore. When this year's NaNoWriMo came around, which is typically the biggest thing that kicks me back into writing, I made the decision to work on something else entirely, which has been going so well that I've started to finally think of Nothing But The Boots as a failure I can finally walk away from. While that was still a tough decision, it's made easier knowing that I've learned many valuable lessons in storytelling and novel writing as the result of that process, which I've carried with me into writing my next novel.

2017 Resolution #2: Write more and post stories online

I kind of did this one! I can't say that I "wrote more" necessarily, but in the start of the year I did continue writing stories based on writing prompts on Reddit, which I posted to my dedicated subreddit over there. However I fell out of the habit of looking for writing prompts around halfway through the year so that I could focus on writing for Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! 

2017 Resolution #3: Learn to play an instrument

Okay, so I admitted in my resolution that this one was the most far-fetched and unlikely. Appropriately, I barely even started working on this one before I moved on to other projects.

2017 Resolution #4: Lose weight and get in shape

In 2016 I lost 10lbs, and in 2017 I gained 10lbs. I definitely failed this one for a plethora of excuses I won't bother you with.

2017 Resolution #5: Explore my area more

Due to the project of finishing part of our basement, which took up most weekends of the better parts of the year, my wife and I didn't get to hike or go to community events as much in 2017 as we had the year before. That was a bummer, but it's what comes with taking on a huge home project that we're ultimately incredibly happy with. The good news is that I can still consider this resolution partially complete, as we tried out many more local restaurants this year than perhaps ever before!

2017 Summarized

I wrote for a video game that has gone on to be successful. My wife and I (with huge help from her dad) finished part of our basement and turned it into a beautiful home theater room. We visited both North Carolina (again) and South Dakota. I tried a lot of new restaurants, watched a lot of movies, and read a lot of books (and I got back into reading and collecting comic books). I pickled a lot of home-grown yellow peppers. I took part in Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time and started writing a new novel I'm really excited about during regular NaNoWriMo.

A new friend of mine took her own life, and the only grandfather I've ever known lost his. Two of my friends revealed to me that their significant others were physically abusing them. One of my best friends started fostering two children. A coworker friend revealed to me that he's going to be a father. My wife dealt with repeated sinus infections, back pains, and other afflictions while continuing to be the most wonderful and inspiring partner I could ever hope to have. I swear to all the gods on Mt. Olympus that my dog gets cuter every damn day.

In short, it's been a busy year full of highs and lows.

Resolutions for 2018

Bear with me, but some of these are going to be a bit familiar:

2018 Resolution #1: Finish drafting and seek publication on my latest novel

As I said, I've started writing something new this year that I'm really excited about, so I'd love to make some more real progress on that.

2018 Resolution #2: Write more and post stories online

The 2017 resolution that was very similar to this one (okay, it was the same thing) got bogged down by other projects. In 2018, I hope to be able to focus more on short story writing and making them more accessible to the world.

2018 Resolution #3: Lose weight and get in shape

I've actually recently gotten into the habit of working out more in the last month or so, so hopefully in 2018 I actually meet this goal instead of doing the complete opposite.

2018 Resolution #4: Read most of the books I own that I haven't read

I got a lot of books for last Christmas and my birthday that I still haven't read, and on top of that, my wife went to a huge book clearance event this autumn and bought even more that I haven't read, mostly because I got distracted reading other things this past year. This year I just need to stop reading books I don't own and instead focus on reading the ones I own. Simple.

2018 Resolution #4: Hike More

My wife and I hiked quite a bit in 2016, but then that habit took a back seat this year to finishing part of our basement, which took up most of our weekend free time. It was a total bummer to have to spend so many warm days inside and underground, and no doubt that partially contributed to my weight gain. That being said, I'm excited to be able to get back outside and hike more trails in 2018!

Wish me luck, and I wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2018!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

My Experience Writing for Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!

After working on it for years, Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! (henceforth referred to as CSD2) was finally released on September 13th. The user ratings on Steam are "Very Positive" and according to David (the game's developer), in its first week it sold double the amount of copies that he hoped to sell by the end of the year. By all measures it appears to be a success, and one I'm proud to have been a part of creating.
I've often been described by others as a talkative person, so you can imagine just how happy I am to finally be able to tell you about the whole process of writing for CSD2. I've been keeping my lips shut since April 2015 – there's so much to talk about!

This post is a bit longer than I usually write, so to help you navigate it and/or get to the bits you're most interested in, here's a list of links to everything I talk about:

How I Got Involved with CSD2

I've already blogged about how I became a writer for CSD2, so I'll just quickly summarize it by saying that it came down to having a connection to the developer from many years before, remembering how cool it felt to have contributed a very little bit of writing to the original CSD, and some incredibly lucky timing.

My Experience Writing for CSD2

Writing for CSD2 was unlike any other writing I'd done in my professional or personal life. I had written only seven emails for the original CSD, and they were all admittedly pretty low-effort because I had discovered David's call for contributions on his fan message boards mere days before the deadline, but I had to leave to go to dinner pretty soon and didn't want to forget to contribute, so I quickly churned out as much content as I could. This included gems such as:
Subject Line: Have you seen my cat?
Body: Has anyone seen my cat? He's black and white with a patch on his face.
If you see him, ignore him immediately.
That's probably the best of the seven that I wrote, which should give you a pretty good idea for how surprised I was that David wanted me back for the sequel. Anyway, I was super excited to be a part of the game and very eager to do my best with this amazing creative opportunity – my full-time job at the time had me writing product descriptions for ramps, so the creative freedom offered by writing random emails for a video game was a huge breath of fresh air.

Initial Assignments

My first assignment was to write 25 in-game spam emails. As if my self-imposed pressure to impress wasn't stressful enough, David told me that he had hired another writer as well, but wouldn't offer any further details on who they were or how much better they were than me. Due to various personal events going on in my life (such as moving into my house) I wasn't able to complete and send the batch of emails until a month later. I wanted to really narrow down what David was looking for and willing to include, so my first 25 emails were all over the place and full of experimentation. Some were genuinely annoying spam that was almost unreadable, some were simple jokes, and some referenced pop culture. For most of the emails, however, my style of humor mirrored the above example from CSD1 and was as follows; use a vague but realistic subject line, draw the reader in with some mundane story, and then execute a wacky twist in the last sentence.

David gave me feedback on each individual email, which gave me a really good idea for exactly what type of content he was looking for. Afterwards, David and I brainstormed some ideas for "series" emails we could include – unlike in the first game where the emails were largely disconnected from each other on account of being written by about a dozen volunteers, David wanted the sequel to include emails written to and from recurring characters or referencing similar themes as if to simulate being subscribed to an email service (akin to Kickstarter project updates, weather alerts, and movie reviews), which led to me writing a series of email exchanges between two characters who appeared in the first game's emails; Leo and Dennis. The basic premise was that Leo and Dennis send a series of passive-aggressive emails to the entire building that the game takes place in, in which it is apparent that Leo is an inconsiderate idiot but apparently nobody in the office notices except for Dennis, who responds with a series of escalating pranks targeting Leo.

Unveiling the Game and Second Writer

In the midst of writing my third batch of emails, David announced the game to the world through a reveal trailer. It was at this time that I learned that the other writer that David had hired was none other than Nicholas Kraak, another longtime fan of Vertigo Gaming Inc. from David's freeware days, and one whom I had built up a friendship with through the fan message boards and stayed in touch with over the years. It turned out David thought it would be funny to keep each other's identity a secret until we saw our names in the credits somewhere – he was right, it was pretty funny.

From there on, although Nick and I continued to write our own emails, we established a revision phase wherein we would check each other's work for stuff like spelling and grammar, as well as opportunities to improve upon each other's jokes and ideas. It was important to establish that no work was sacred – all of it was subject to improvement or changes. This is an important lesson for any writer or practicer of the creative arts: your creations are not your babies. You should be ready to accept and learn from a better idea at the drop of a hat. Here's an example of one such email that was improved because of such collaboration:

Nicholas Kraak and Ryan Matejka example email from Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!
(click to enlarge)
That being said, Nick's emails were hysterical in their original form, and it honestly took me a while to get over my insecure feelings of jealousy that his were better than mine. I had to learn to understand and appreciate that we both had something different to offer, which would ultimately result in a better game with content that appealed to a wider audience.

Moving On from Emails to Food Descriptions

In December 2016, David approached Nick and I with a problem; he had posted an alpha build screenshot of the new food page in a Steam update, and he was worried that a few people thought the included description for the origin of sub sandwiches was real. His intention was to craft silly fictional origins for all of the foods in the style of a encyclopedia entries, and he was worried about balancing the line between plausibility and absurdity. After Nick and I shared our thoughts, he asked us if we'd be interested in helping to write descriptions for all the foods in the game, which of course we were totally on board for.

This is when things started getting serious. David had a release date in mind and it was time to give us some solid deadlines for our work. The email deadline came first, and because Nick and I had already written so many, we decided to wrap them up where they were and focus all of our attention on the food descriptions.

Crunch Time

The task of writing descriptions for the nearly 200 foods was daunting; unlike the emails for which we had over a year to leisurely create over 500 (surpassing David's initial goal of 300), the food descriptions were due in two and a half months including the time to figure out how to actually write them. On top of all that, given that it was summertime, we had several vacations planned between the three of us during which time we would be unable to work on the game, and Nick was moving to live in a new country and hemisphere! To say things were about to get busy would be an understatement.

For those of you unaware at this point, I'm a writer. I have a day job as a writer and during my lunch break is typically when I work on writing my own fiction stories because I like to use my evenings for relaxing and running errands or doing chores with my wife. Fiction story writing is a huge passion of mine. I tell you this because I need you to understand how difficult it was for me to make time to write for CSD2 on a more regular and consistent basis. I ended up putting my fiction story writing on hold for months to get the job done, which is another lesson for you; sometimes you have to make sacrifices to make things work. At least in this case I was sacrificing doing something that I loved for doing something I really enjoyed that, by the way, also helped me pay for the basement renovation my wife and I were in the middle of.

After a short period of trial and error, Nick and I found our groove with writing food descriptions and became more collaborative than ever; sending each other our work to look over and improve upon as soon as it was complete. Our method typically included first researching the origin of and any noteworthy facts about the food, and then taking the most interesting information learned to craft a fictional origin or story behind those details. In this case, we found that it was very effective to start with something true about the food (typically whatever interesting fact we would base our fiction around), tell a story with ever-increasing absurdity or stakes, and then wrap it all up in a neat punchline or reference that brought the story full-circle. Occasionally, however, and especially in cases where we could find nothing particularly unique and interesting about the food, we would just tell an elaborately ridiculous story.

Here's a great example we collaborated on that blends fact, fiction, and a ridiculous story. Let's see if you can tell what's fact from fiction without consulting the internet:
Pancakes description from Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!
(click to enlarge, or read below)
Pancakes - Origin: Greece
Breakfast pancakes were first invented in Ancient Greece, though they were called “Tagenites” and were made with wheat flour, olive oil, honey, and curdled milk. Despite their incredibly simple composition, many experts now believe pancakes to be among the greatest of the Ancient Greek inventions alongside philosophy, geometry, and alarm clocks. 
Though modern pancakes are often served with syrup, this practice was not widespread until The Great Syrup Flood of January 14, 1919 - an event which has gone by almost completely unheard of due to it being upstaged by the larger Great Molasses Flood a day later - during which a syrup manufacturer’s entire plant erupted into a volcano of syrup, which then slowly traveled down the road to a breakfast diner at the bottom of the hill. First responders described the scene as tragic yet surprisingly delicious. 
Today, syrup is drizzled onto pancakes as a solemn memorial of the lives that were eventually lost by those who fell into the syrup while trying to retrieve their food.
It's probably pretty obvious that putting syrup on pancakes is not the result of something called the Great Syrup Flood, however it is true that January 15, 1919 is the date of the Great Molasses Flood, which, despite how silly it sounds nowadays, was a real tragedy that resulted in 21 lives lost. Furthermore, not only is it true that pancakes were created in Greece, called Tagenites, and made of wheat flour, olive oil, honey, and curdled milk, but the Ancient Greeks actually did invent alarm clocks. Yup, that thing you thought was a punchline at the end of the first paragraph was actually a history lesson. Who says games can't be good for your brain?

As you might guess, due to their length, complexity and the research required, it takes much longer to write food descriptions than emails. Needless to say we were very, very busy for two and a half months drafting them, punching each other's up, getting feedback from David, rewriting them as appropriate, and going through it all again. Yes, we took these silly jokes very, very seriously, and there were several that were heavily rewritten or rejected and restarted outright. But more on that later.


It's no secret that CSD2's launch date was delayed, once publicly and several more times privately. David explained to us that, while he was confident he could have a playable build of the game by the original August 24th release date, that build would very likely be riddled with bugs even though he'd be developing the game right up to the hour of its launch. He asked us for our thoughts on delaying the game to give him more time to polish it up, worrying that the fans would be enraged at him breaking his promise of the original release date. Ultimately, we all agreed it was best to delay the game to September 14th rather than deliver a game that's incomplete, especially given the relatively recent No Man's Sky launch debacle.
"A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad." 
 -Shigeru Miyamoto
Fortunately, this delay not only gave David more time to code, promote the game, and test with a closed beta, but it also gave us writers more time to finish writing our food descriptions. We took a deep breath, completed them, and then gave them an extra look-over for shine. And then, on August 31st, David reached out to us with yet another task.

Restaurant Descriptions

In the new game, players are able to work as a "chef for hire" for any of the 30 other restaurants in the fictional Teragon Tower. David wanted descriptions for each of these restaurants, giving us free reign to write them like a wiki article, from the perspective of the customer-hungry business itself, or really any other relevant way we could think of. David had already written a few descriptions, but he needed our help to write the rest.

With the release date fast approaching, I looked over the descriptions that David and Nick had already written, then consulted a local restaurant's actual description of itself to reference when writing a description for a similar establishment in game. I got the hang of the tone and style pretty quickly, and didn't end up consulting any real-world examples for the rest of the descriptions I wrote.

As far as collaboration goes, Nick and I were constantly looking at each other's descriptions and trying to add one more joke or absurd detail. When one of us felt like we were struggling to come up with something clever or interesting, we'd bounce ideas back and forth until we found something unique and funny that worked, then write our own versions based on that idea and take the best parts of each version for the final.

We finished writing the restaurant descriptions in a relatively short time due to how few of them were required compared to the food descriptions and emails. This was great news, especially because David soon told us that he'd unfortunately be unable to include the emails at launch, but the food and restaurant descriptions would be prominently featured on day one.

Post-Launch Reactions

Aside from some poetry and short stories published in my college art and literary magazine, I'd never had any of my writing be made available to a wide audience before, and unlike that magazine, people were going to be responding to CSD2. I was excited to see what the fan reaction to the game would be, and even more excited and nervous to see what the reaction to our months of writing. In the real world, I'm generally considered to be an "odd" person with a "unique" perspective and "interesting" sense of humor. David and Nick enjoyed the content I wrote, but I had to accept the possibility that people wouldn't understand or enjoy my content at all.

Fortunately, that hasn't been the case. CSD2 was launched late at night on September 14th after David spent an inhuman amount of time without sleep so he could focus on bug-squashing up until the very minute of launch.
David Galindo squashing bugs in preparation for the launch of Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!!
David's reaction after squashing a particularly troublesome bug shortly before launch.
Almost immediately, people on Twitter and the official CSD2 Discord server were talking about how funny the food and restaurant descriptions were while sharing their favorites. I went to bed that night feeling invincible, and in the morning I woke up to several messages from Nick (whose timezone permitted him to stay awake for more of the initial reactions) sharing similar messages from fans that he'd read.

"The Gree/Itali description, oh my God"
"The description of Taiwanese shaved ice is fantastic"
"I'm honestly just enjoying the Food descriptions. some of these are rather funny"
"the descriptions are comedy gold"

I simply cannot describe the feeling of knowing that so many people are out there reading and enjoying my creative work.

But Wait, There's More!

Launching the game didn't stop David from development. Not only did he continue to squash bugs (after some much needed rest), but he got to work reading reviews and reactions to determine how the game could be changed or what additions could be made in order to closer align the game with what fans were looking for and expecting. Throughout all of this research, a common complaint and suggestion arose – players wanted more direction. CSD1 was a very linear game where the player started with a small unknown establishment and grew it into a classy 5-star restaurant. In CSD2, however, the bulk of the game on launch day consisted of playing "chef for hire" at the many different restaurants with little guidance as to what order to play them in and no narrative thread pulling the player along. David began brainstorming a game mode with more direction like the first game, and he reached out to let us know that he'd need more writing in order to complete his vision.

Historical Object Emails

David pitched us a few different ideas for how the new mode work and what he would need from us. At least two separate times, Nick and I got to drafting up content for scenarios that ultimately were dropped. In the end, it was decided that emails would be the primary means of introducing and fleshing out the new setting of CSD2.

We got to drafting up an introductory email meant for the player to receive at the start of the game that explained the change in setting without giving too much detail or reading too much like narration. This was great fun, especially since the game takes place in the future after a series of cataclysmic events and something called the Blue War, but the real fun came in writing game-affecting and historical object emails.

David explained to us that he had recovered several visual assets that he thought had been lost forever. These assets were intended to be used by the player as decorations when customizing the look of their own restaurant, and included various seemingly random objects preserved inside of shadowboxes. His idea was that the items would be historically-significant within the setting of the game and be given to the player at random with a story detailing their significance. Given that players were very vocal about enjoying and wanting more information on the background setting of the game, despite it having no impact on gameplay itself, and especially because we knew that the overwhelming majority of the emails we had written which were set to be released soon had little to no reference to the game's setting at all (as a simple result of the setting not being fully determined at the time of writing the emails), Nick and I decided to use this as an opportunity to further flesh out the setting for the player.

Referring to a master document with the entire history and setting of the game written out, we got to writing emails explaining each "historical object" with the specific intent of dropping vague hints about the world they were from. A simple pair of shoes revealed the fate of Washington DC, a pink tee shirt hinted to a war that forever changed the world's demeanor, and a french horn warned not to remove from the shadowbox or risk being poisoned by radiation.

Game-Affecting Emails

The other category of emails that David wanted us to write post-launch was actually one that we had intended to write all along, but hectic schedules and shifting priorities had simply resulted in delays. They were emails that would affect the gameplay itself by either boosting buzz, customer patience, or gifting the player with a bit of in-game money.

The "free money" emails were by far the easiest to write of the game-affecting emails, but they still took some time to get used to. Relatively speaking, it had been so long since I wrote an email completely off the top of my head that I struggled to think of anything at first, and obviously I didn't want to re-tread the same ideas that I'd already written. I'm not going to pretend like I had some sort of clever plan to get back on track – I just tried a few ideas until finally one of them worked. The only real restriction I had was that the content of the email had to somehow relate and/or lead to the fictional sender giving the player an unspecified amount of money. The thing is, you'd be surprised how hard it is to think of twenty different and amusing reasons that someone would be sending you money.

I studied advertising in college, so the "added buzz" emails were only slightly more difficult for me to write since they pretty much amounted to several different publicity stunts.

However, the "added patience" emails were much more difficult. You see, everyone exchanges money at some point in their lives, and so everyone has at least some frame of reference for why someone might give someone else money. However, a relative few amount of people are experienced in developing methods to make mass amounts of people more patient. This is why several of the "added patience" emails have to do with something frightening being outside the restaurant that causes people to not be in a hurry to get back to it, like a horde of ferrets or a visiting president. There's just not that many creative reasons that a bunch of people in a restaurant would be particularly relaxed on any given day.

Nonetheless, Nick and I did our best, and before long we had finished not only with the game-affecting emails, but with writing for CSD2 altogether. Funny how things just end anticlimactically like that. Movies make it seem like I should have discovered myself, or fallen in love, or got a huge opportunity out of the experience, but I'm always learning about myself, I'm already married, and huge opportunities continue to show themselves at their own pace.

Further Behind the Curtain

So now you know what happened. It was a thrilling experience for me, even though it consisted entirely of me staring blankly at a computer screen while listening to music and clacking away at my keyboard. Do I have regrets? Sure. I regret not working as hard or as often in the beginning as I did in the end. I regret not looking over each item just one more time to see if there was something else that could be added. I regret not including even more pop culture references and inside jokes.

Hidden References

Speaking of, did you know that I made a conscious effort to include lots of pop culture references and inside jokes? I mean, obviously my humor and creativity is influenced by pop culture, but I also purposely put a few references in there that might totally go over people's heads. I'm not going to tell you exactly what's what, because that would be no fun, but here's all the ones I can remember off the top of my head that you should watch out for:

Pop Culture References:

  • Aliens
  • American Psycho
  • Arrested Development
  • Blade Runner
  • Deadmau5
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
  • Fight Club
  • LOST
  • Machine Man
  • Office Space
  • Portal
  • RedLetterMedia
  • The Shining
There's probably more, and you're going to go insane trying to figure them out!

In addition to pop culture references, I couldn't help but hide some references and inside jokes to my friends and family. Obviously these couldn't be too obscure, since the majority of players are not the people who would get the direct reference. To ensure this was the case, I let David and Nick revise everything before telling them what I was referencing. That way, they could look at the email or description as if it were any other and judge it on its own merit. These references range from the obvious, such as naming a fictional cheese empire after myself and giving my home state a unique backstory, to the incredibly subtle, such as name-dropping people in my life in relation to topics they love and writing a line-by-line parody of my actual marriage proposal, 

My Personal Favorites

As with any project, I have my own opinions on what succeeded and what failed, and they probably don't line up with what you think succeeded or failed. For example, some people loved the original food description for the Taiwanese Shaved Ice that only appeared in the first day or two after the game launched, despite the fact that it was written to be about an entirely different type of shaved ice due to some miscommunication during development, resulting in an immediate rewrite. A failure in my eyes, but a funny joke in yours.

On that note, here are a few of my absolute favorite pieces of content that I myself wrote for CSD2:

"Memo from the CEO" Emails:
Memo from the CEO: I've Transcended email from Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! written by Ryan Matejka
(click to enlarge)

It's kind of a miracle that this series made it into the game at all, since they were literally the last emails I wrote for the game before moving on to food and restaurant descriptions. I say "miracle" because at that point I had written so many emails that it's amazing I was still able to come up with something halfway decent from almost nothing at that point in the process. They weren't even meant to be a series at the outset; I just wrote one called "Memo from the CEO: I’ve Transcended" based loosely on Cave Johnson's ridiculous quotes from Portal 2 and had so much fun with it that I wrote several more from the same perspective. Of all the emails I wrote, these were easily the most fun to write, and continue to be fun to go back and read, probably because we all have worked for or knew someone who just seemed like the most unapologetically punchable person in the world at some point in our lives.

"SubSolutions" Restaurant Description:
SubSolutions restaurant description from Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! written by Ryan Matejka
(click to enlarge)
Does this restaurant description make it obvious that I've had several jobs in the food service industry? Because I have and it's kind of gross. More to the point, I actually spent my college years working at a place that made submarine sandwiches. I know what it's like to serve a cold turkey sandwich on white bread to an upper-middle-class adult who could make the same thing, except tastier and for a tenth of the price, in the comfort of their own home. I knew how fresh the ingredients are. I knew how hygienic, sober, and smart the employees are. It was impossible not to draw on my own experiences for this sarcastic restaurant description.

"Pulled Pork Sandwich" Food Description:
Pulled Pork description screenshot from Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! written by Ryan Matejka
(due to length, screenshot does not include full description)
(also, click to enlarge)
Does this food description make it obvious that I love fiction writing? Because I do and it's kind of amazing. The longest food description in the game at a whopping 437 words, the pulled pork sandwich description takes players through a short and silly yet engaging detective noir story – at least I hope it does. I remember writing this one during my lunch break in the middle of a particularly stressful day at work, and I was just staring at the empty page with the header "Pulled Pork Sandwich" without an ounce of motivation or inspiration in me to come up with yet another unique and clever food origin story.

I found myself fantasizing about getting paid to write my fiction stories, when it occurred to me that David was so open to ideas that he probably wouldn't mind having one in his game. I had never written a noir or mystery/detective story before, but it seemed like a hardcore cooking simulation video game was as good a place as any to try. The original ending to this description was actually terrible, as I had lazily tried to wrap everything up with some vague supernatural nonsense. Fortunately, David disliked the ending and asked me to rewrite it, and I somehow managed to come up with a much better ending that made sense while retaining the grounded setting and tone.

Funds Here email from Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! written by David Galindo
(click to enlarge)
Okay, David actually wrote this one, and it probably will never be as funny to you as it always will be to me. You see, I had been practically ripping my hair out trying to think of clever reasons that a person would send the player in-game money, and then David came along with this gem that totally and effortlessly subverted all that hair-ripping work I was doing. This email is the equivalent of me spending four hours trying to fix a lawn mower that won't start, only to have David stroll by and casually say "you forgot to put gasoline in." It's simple and freaking brilliant.

My Favorite Jokes that Didn't Make the Cut

As with any project, lots of fun content didn't make it into the final game for various reasons. In two specific cases, I was especially bummed to have my ideas be kept from the masses. Here are those two cases:

"Salad" Food Description Joke:
The description for salad that I had originally wrote ended on a much more edgy joke, which was ultimately cut by David for being too off-tone with the rest of the game. It was the right decision not to include it, but I can't help but wonder how it would have gone over with players to read the original ending.

You see, I wanted to end the description with a list of different types of salads, ending on on a "salad" that had nothing to do with food. For full effect of context, here's the original draft:

Although salads are often thought of as a mixture of vegetables, the term can be used to apply to just about any dish with a mixture of small food ingredients. Although quite vague, this definition of a salad is actually one of the reasons that salads have endured the test of time; without any strict definition, the salad has been free to evolve with the changing times, tastes, and available ingredients. Examples include the Greek salad, Caesar salad, pasta salad, potato salad, meat salad, and lead salad that killed Tupac.
You get it? Because it's a lead salad! That's another term for a whole bunch of bullets!

Okay, yeah, it's definitely best that we changed it to "word salad," but I still like how the original version turns around and quickly goes from silly to very, very dark. In fact, if you're wondering who wrote which items, you can probably assume that anything where the tone gets very dark very quickly at the end was written by me. For some reason I find that fun.

"Tamale" Food Description:
Honestly, the tamale food description is my absolute favorite of all the food descriptions I wrote. Unfortunately, the food was ultimately completely axed from the game, though David has told me he may include it in later updates. The tamale food description is just one of the silliest bits of content in the game with one of the absolute funniest twists I've written, if you ask me. If you want to read it, however, you'll have to beg David to put the food into the game, because I simply do not want to spoil it for you here, outside of the context in which it was written to be.

The Hard Data

For those of you who like data, here is some hard data:

39,000 words written for emails
30,000 words written for descriptions
4,000 words written for restaurant bios
73,000 total words written

556 Emails
190 Food Descriptions
30 Restaurant Descriptions

But Why Bother with Any of This?

CSD2 is an independent cooking simulation game. The bulk of the gameplay takes place inside a two-dimensional restaurant where you take, prepare, and serve orders for your customers, and outside of that you can manage your own restaurant and its menu as you try to build it up into something great. These are the primary reasons that people buy CSD2 – for the gameplay. So, that all being the case, why are spam emails, food histories, and restaurant descriptions included at all? You could take all of it out of the game and it's still a really good and fun cooking simulation. On top of that, it cost a considerable amount of time and money to include.

And yet, David felt that the writing was so important to the players' experience that he hired us two nobodies, because simply put, the writing is important. It makes the game better. And I'm not just saying that because I've got a massive bias.
The writing in CSD2 makes the game feel bigger. It makes it feel like there's a living, breathing world outside of your little two-dimensional restaurant. That things are happening. For a relatively "little" game, the writing helps to make the game feel big.

The writing also adds to the tone and the mood of the game. It helps establish the game as a silly, fun, and absurd romp. It shows you that the game doesn't take itself too seriously. On top of that, it offers players a fun break from the sometimes stressful gameplay of taking, preparing, and serving hundreds of perfect orders. Finishing the day not only gives the players a sense of personal accomplishment (or failure – I'm not judging) but it rewards them with an opportunity to laugh at the wacky hijinks and history of the world inside the game.

Closing Thoughts

Phew. That was quite a long story. I originally intended for this to be a one of my average-length blog posts, but as I outlined everything that happened and started writing it just became apparent that there was too much to tell. I want to thank those of you who made it all the way until the end, and for laughing at my dumb, stupid, idiotic jokes.

I'd be remiss if I didn't also take this moment to thank Nick for punching up my jokes, telling me when something didn't work, helping me with ideas, and trusting me to do all the same for him. A huge thanks needs to go out to David as well, since he's the reason that all of this happened. It's funny to think that this big thing that spans over two years of my adult life wouldn't have been possible had I not discovered David's freeware video games and signed up for the Vertigo Gaming Inc. forums on Tuesday December 21, 2004 at 5:06 pm.
Profile page for Ryan Matejka's account on the now-defunct Vertigo Gaming Inc. community forums
(click to enlarge)
A lot has happened since then, but if you had told me back then that in the year 2015 I'd get a job working on the sequel to the retail-version of what was then known as Ore no Ryomi, my jaw probably would have hit the floor and then I would have asked you how it is you traveled through time.
Ryan Matejka credited on the bottom of the Cook, Serve, Delicious! 2!! webpage
(click to enlarge)
So what's next for me? Well, there's nothing big and official that I can talk about right now, but I'm proud to say that my career as a writer will continues in one form or another. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @RyanMatejka for updates, and until I get the best ones imported over to my incoming new website, you can currently read several of my short stories over on Reddit at r/Yackemflaber. You can also feel free to comment below if you have any thoughts.

Thanks for reading. It's been fun.

    Tuesday, December 19, 2017

    Movie Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

    My wife and I went to see a pre-screening of "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" last night, and I never thought in my life that I would say this, but the sequel to Jumanji is really, really good.

    The Actors:

    Jack Black steals the movie. His performance as a teenaged selfie-obsessed pretty girl was easily the best "one sex trapped in another sex's body" performance I've ever seen (which is probably a low bar, but stay with me here). He was so incredibly good, that I was actually 100% convinced that I was not watching Jack Black, but an actual teenaged girl. He just completely disappeared into the role, and it was amazing to watch him work.

    Dwayne Johnson was also fantastic playing a fantastic parody of himself. Though he didn't disappear into the role as much as Jack Black, his portrayal of an awkward nerd in a huge handsome muscular body was fresh and fun through the whole film. Special shout-out to Alex Wolff, who plays the real world kid who becomes Dwayne Johnson. Through Wolff's limited screentime, he portrays some great acting and comedic ability that left me wishing he'd been in more of the film.

    Karen Gillan was the main actor I'm the least familiar with (I only know her from GotG), and I'm glad to say her acting was a pleasant surprise. Like Johnson, she's playing a social outcast girl in an athletic pretty girl's body, and she does it wonderfully. For the entire film she seems awkward in her body – often slouching over, crossing her arms, etc. – but even the facial expressions she'd make when she wasn't meant to be the center of the shot's focus were 100% in line with the concept of her character. Also of note is that, despite some controversy awhile back over the reveal of her tight and small outfit in this family film, her appearance is a part of the character's story arc and she's shot tastefully and not at all sexually.

    Kevin Hart was Kevin Hart. I enjoyed his performance and he had plenty of laughs, but in the end he was the only one of the core four characters that didn't surprise me. He's supposed to be playing a big football player trapped in a small man's body, but Kevin Hart plays this like he does any other role where he shouts about how short he is. It never really felt to me like his identity was based on a life of being a tall muscular athlete.

    Nick Jonas was in this movie. He shows up about halfway through and he does a good job. Nothing special, but he didn't pull me out of the experience.

    The Story & Directing:

    I went into this movie skeptical. For me, the original movie was fun because of Robin Williams but ultimately forgettable. The trailers for this movie, however, had piqued my interest enough for me to wait an hour in line for a chance to see it (and it turned out my wife and I were the last two people the theater had room for, because the two in front of us left when they found out the remaining seats were not together).

    The story is a straight-up sequel and it was incredibly solid, coherent, and fun. This movie is the opposite of Jurassic World, in that almost everything mentioned in the first act is made relevant later in the film, including each of the avatar's listed strengths and weaknesses and the real-world character's faults, which ultimately makes it a very tight and competent story that feels like there's no wasted space or time. It was also really, really funny. The types of humor were pleasantly varied so that there were things I laughed at that nobody else did and vice-versa. There's something for everyone here. The bad guy was one-dimensional but it worked well for the setting.

    This is also probably the best "video game movie" I've seen. It adapts video game tropes such as the idea of NPCs, levels, and multiple lives very well. Gamers will especially get a kick out of some of these gags.


    (Click and drag your mouse to read)
    The movie picks up where the last one left off. A dad in the 1990's is out for a jog on the beach, hears the drumming of the Jumanji board game, digs it out of the sand and brings it home to his son. His son opens the box, then laments "who plays board games anymore" then tosses it aside to play Playstation (I think it was Twisted Metal, specifically). Overnight, a bright green light emits from the board game and the boy wakes up to hear the iconic drumbeat. He opens the box to find that inside is now a cartridge of a Jumanji video game. He puts it into a console (resembling but not exactly a NES) and is sucked into the game. Cut to modern day and four kids are given detention (after some nice but quick character building), during which they find the game, select their characters, and are sucked into the game. Inside, they are represented by avatars that juxtapose their real-life selves, and realize they have to work together to win the game in order to escape. About halfway through they run into Nick Jonas, who is the avatar of the kid from the 1990s and lives in a shack built by none other than the original film's Alan Parrish (Robin Williams). They reveal to him that he's been in the game for 20 years and team up with him to escape. After beating the game by returning a magical crystal to where it was stolen from (which gives the guy who first removed it the ability to control all the animals in the jungle and a tendency to be evil), they are all returned to the real world, where they're all friends now (and the two nerds who developed a relationship during the game are now a couple) and find out that Nick Jonas' character returned back to his time and has lived out a great life for the past 20 years and named his daughter after Jack Black's character since she saved his life. The group returns to school on Monday and again hears the drumming of the game, so they smash it with a bowling ball that was mentioned earlier in the film.

    Closing Thoughts:

    Overall, this is a good movie and I recommend people go see it with some family and/or friends if they're looking for a good fun time at the theater. It continues the spirit of the original movie and surprised me with its quality. The acting, directing, and writing is all solid. The jokes are funny and varied, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the lines from this movie became popular quotes or memes. The action is fun and well-shot.

    This review was first posted on Reddit by me.

    Friday, October 13, 2017

    NaNoWriMo 2017: Announcing My Science Fiction Story

    I'm proud to reveal the cover and synopsis for my upcoming National Novel Writing Month science fiction story, Adrift!

    cover for Adrift

    Hurtling through vast, empty space as it flees from a slaughter, the small interplanetary vessel called Spero is barely keeping its six crew members alive. With the engine badly damaged, the navigation, scanning, communication, and weapons systems – all but the vital life support systems are inoperable, leaving the ship unable to stop or change course. It's only a matter of time before it collides with an asteroid, encounters a fully-operational enemy ship, or completely runs out of power, leaving its inhabitants to suffocate and freeze to death. The only thing standing between a chance for survival and certain death is the crew, as long as they don't succumb to clashing ideals, shifting loyalty, and the knowledge that they may already be standing in their very own coffin.

    Until then, everything is adrift.

    I've dabbled with sci-fi in short story form, and one of my previous years' NaNoWriMo stories could maybe technically be called sci-fi, but this is going to be my first full-length full-fledged science fiction story and I couldn't be more excited to try and do this genre half as well as I've experienced it done by others!

    Thursday, August 17, 2017

    Revisiting My Childhood Comic Book Collection 13 Years Later

    After 13 years, I've started collecting comic books again.

    How I First Got Into Comic Books

    Sometime around the year 2000, I played a demo of the Spider-Man video game on a Playstation Underground Jampack disc. Prior to this, I had little to no knowledge of the world of comic books or the super heroes that populated them, and I just assumed such were the things that "lame nerds" were into. Little did I realize at the time that I was a lame nerd who had been avoiding my destiny.

    I immediately fell in love with the demo, and more importantly, with Spider-Man. I had no idea that a super hero could be so fun, and playing as one tickled a part of my brain that made me yearn to be something more spectacular and amazing than I ever could be  I wanted to be Spider-Man. I wanted to shoot webbing at foes, jump thirty feet in the air, sling across the city, and climb walls with ease.

    I bought the game (under the pretense of it being a birthday gift for my brother - but I swear it was on his wishlist!) and played it often. Not only was the gameplay top-notch for the time, but the story and characters really resonated with me. I needed more Spider-Man, and eventually I figured out how to get it.

    After presumably hearing me talk endlessly about how cool Spider-Man was, my dad helped me to locate and dust off the phone book and find if there were any comic stores in the area. As fortune would have it, there was one called Collector's Edge Comics that was within driving distance. He took me there, where I bought my first ever comic book.

    I'm fairly certain that comic book was Ultimate Spider-Man volume 1 issue 12, which featured a new and badass-looking version of Electro on the cover.

    Ultimate Spider-Man issue #12 (2001)
    Ultimate Spider-Man issue #12 (2001)

    I didn't realize until later how lucky I was to have picked that issue up at random, because it's pretty much the first issue of the Ultimate Spider-Man series in which Peter gets to really be Spider-Man in all his glory. He fights bad guys, he makes jokes, and he saves the day.

    Later, the first Spider-Man movie came out. I postponed my birthday party several months in order to spend it taking my friends to go see the movie on the first Saturday of its release. The movie was amazing (and shattered records and expectations at the time). My birthday cake was Spider-Man themed. I was gifted two Spider-Man tee shirts and several other Spider-Man related gifts.

    By this time, I had already purchased a Spider-Man encyclopedia so I could learn everything possible about the wall-crawler, because Wikipedia was barely a thing yet.

    I went on purchasing new issues at random, until I eventually found another comic book store in the area called Lost World of Wonders, which had huge bins full of older issues. (I later realized that the other, smaller comic book store had old issues as well, but they were less-invitingly kept hidden in shut boxes behind the counter.) I couldn't believe how many there were, and having learned more about the history of Spider-Man from the encyclopedia, I became obsessed with the idea of finding and collecting issues from storylines that I'd read about.

    That's when I really became a collector. I was obsessed. I told my friends about the comic book stores and my latest purchases, and we'd talk about comics and our favorite heroes endlessly, eventually writing and drawing our own comic books to share with each other.

    But then something changed, and I wasn't thinking about and collecting comic books as much, until I eventually stopped almost entirely. Puberty has a way of making you reprioritize your childhood obsessions.

    A lot has changed since then. I've finished school, gotten married, bought a house, have a full-time job with benefits, and I stress about all that fun grown-up stuff like money and not having enough of it. Throughout everything, I hadn't really thought about comic books much. Honestly, I actively tried to distance myself from the nerds in high school because I desperately didn't want to be associated with that label. I avoided the very things that I would later realize defined who I was.

    Revisiting My Childhood

    Only recently, I've realized that it's stupid for me to avoid that part of my personality. I've realized that it's possible to be a huge nerd and be cool at the same time. I've realized that life is too short to deny myself the things I love.

    Admittedly, it helps that nerdy things are cool now, too.

    So I dug up my old collection of comic books and made a spreadsheet to document every single one, with columns for publisher, starring character(s), series, issue, year of publication, and any significant notes. Because it turns out I also love organizing things and making spreadsheets. Yup. I'm a huge nerd. No turning back now.

    Here's the resulting data organized into neat little graphs:

    As you can see, my three most collected characters are Spider-Man, Venom, and Spawn. If you know the basics of those three characters you'll think that's kind of funny, because Venom is basically a more badass and evil (most of the time) version of Spider-Man, and Spawn is basically Venom if he was a demon from hell. Each one is a mere stepping stone away from the last.

    Although it seems like I collected a lot of comic books in 2003 and suddenly stopped, I most likely collected new issues in that year and then moved on to old issues in 2004, eventually stopping collecting altogether sometime late 2004 or early 2005.
    This last one is pretty self-explanatory. I had a heavy bias toward Marvel, mostly because of my obsession with Spider-Man, including buying "What If?" issues featuring him, as well as my collection of Venom comics. Interestingly, most of my DC comics were ones I simply grabbed on various Free Comic Book Days because they were free, though I have a Superman issue that I bought simply because I was really curious how such a "perfect" character could be written interestingly at all. If I were to go back in time I'd probably tell my younger self to check out Batman in particular, but it should be noted that the movie Batman Begins didn't come out and make Batman cool again until 2005 so my younger self would probably laugh at my current self for suggesting something so absurd.

    I Take Pride in My Collection

    Even now, I don't feel like any of the time or money I spent on comic books could be considered a waste. I'm actually really proud of myself for some of the issues I managed to get my hands on. I especially had an affinity for grabbing first issues of some cool series, including:

    • Biker Mice From Mars issue #1
    • Predator issue #1
    • Spawn #1
    • Spider-Man (1990) issue #1
    • Spider-Man 2099 issue #1
    • Web of Spider-Man issue #1
    And more. Though I need to draw special attention to the issue #1 I'm most proud of, because it happens to be the first issue of one of my favorite series, features my favorite character, and is the oldest comic book I own:

    What If? issue #1 (1977)
    What If? issue #1 (1977)
    That thing originally sold for 50 cents to some lucky kid, and I had to spend $15 to get it 27 years later. I remember the purchase fondly, because my dad took my friend and I to a miniature comic book convention/pop-up market in town with only $20 in my pocket to spend. I wandered off to check out some vendors on my own and came back with this beauty and almost none of my money left. My dad was confused why I had spent almost all my money on a single issue instead of trying to get a couple different ones for less, and I explained to him that this was the holy grail for me. What If? issue #1, which happened to feature Spider-Man, from 1977. Wow.

    I've only ever opened and read it once.

    The Start of Another Era

    As you can probably expect, revisiting my childhood passion also reignited my passion for it. This is in part because comic books are just cool, but also because there are some holes in my collection that my organization-loving brain desperately needs to fill.

    To celebrate my golden birthday, my parents took me out to eat at a restaurant in Bay View, which is an area of Wisconsin that I have very little familiarity with. On the walk to the restaurant, I noticed that there was a little comic book shop just down the block called, you guessed it, Collector's Edge Comics. It was one of their three locations that I hadn't been to yet because the one I grew up going to was much closer. Well, after dinner I mentioned it a few times and how cool it would be to go in and "just look around."

    Folks, comic books have changed since I was 14 years old. There's just so many of them, and so many versions of each one. I walked into Collector's Edge and my head started spinning.

    My wife had previously expressed an interest in comic books, so I focused on looking for something for her first, since that seemed like a more focused task than looking for any of the dozens of things I would want to find for myself. I decided to look for a strong female hero that odds were she would enjoy, so naturally I looked for Gwenpool and Spider-Gwen, because I knew for a fact she would like Gwenpool's Deadpool-like humor and that she could relate to Spider-Gwen. My wife really wanted to start at the beginning (duh) and the store didn't have a copy of Gwenpool issue #1 in stock, but they did have Spider-Gwen issue #1, so I suggested that to her, and she held onto it.

    Now it was time to look for something for myself. Where oh where could I start? I desperately needed to find issue #4 of the 1995 comic Venom: Separation Anxiety, because I own issues #1-3 and it's a 4-part series. The only problem was I couldn't remember if it was that series I needed or Venom: Lethal Protector (of which I later remembered I own issue #1 but not #2-6), and I was having trouble finding those anyway. So I checked out the crate full of Spider-Man comics, and that's where I found issue #1 of the 2016 ongoing series Spider-Man/Deadpool.

    Spider-Man/Deadpool issue #1 & Spider-Gwen issue #1
    Spider-Man/Deadpool issue #1 & Spider-Gwen issue #1
    And so officially begins my second era of collecting comic books, as well as my wife's first.

    Final Thought: Why couldn't all this nerdy stuff have been cool when I was a teenager?