Tor.com content by

Brad Kane

Dreams of Disneyland: The Happiest Story World on Earth

Oh Disneyland. How I dreamed of you. As a child, I used to wake up wondering if I was going to Disneyland today. Most of the time, the answer was most definitely no. Yet morning after morning, I still awoke hopeful – and every so often, my dreams would come true. We’d get in the car, drive south on the I-5, and spend the day at the Happiest Place on Earth. Thirty years later, I still often think of my life as a series of long waits between trips to Disneyland. And I’m not alone in my nostalgia.

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Series: Story Worlds

Framing in Gaming: Blitzball and Final Fantasy X

Last week, I took a look at framing devices and nested narratives in books, movies, and TV shows. Today, I’m going to switch gears and take a peek at how framing relates to gaming—and specifically to the upcoming HD remaster of the Square-Enix classic, Final Fantasy X.

FFX was a huge success when it hit the Playstation 2 in 2001. As the first Final Fantasy for Sony’s second-generation system, the game represented a major technological leap forward: it featured voice acting, pre-rendered backdrops, real-time cut scenes, and stunning cinematics. It also had a great story, and the most fully-developed world Square-Enix had ever created. It was a watershed moment in videogame history.

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Series: Story Worlds

Framing Devices and Nested Narratives: Stories (Within Stories (Within Stories))

The movie Titanic begins with an elderly Rose telling the story of her voyage across the Atlantic. As we push in on her eyes, we suddenly find ourselves in 1912, and the movie begins in earnest. Only a few times during the film do we return to the elderly Rose to touch in on her experience—but the movie ends there, just as it began. In storytelling, this is known as a framing device: a story told within the context of another story. Framing devices can be very simple, or very complex, as we’ll see in a moment. In every case, the framing device is a gateway that sets the stage for a deeper journey into story.

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Series: Story Worlds

Frozen Breaks the Ice: The Decline, Fall, and Rebirth of the Disney Musical

In the 1980s, Disney’s imagination was growing stale. During the era of Walt himself, classics such as Cinderella, Pinocchio, and Peter Pan had made Disney the most respected animation company in the world. But its newer movies—titles such as The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company—seemed to lack the timeless magic of those earlier ones. The company’s theme parks, though profitable, relied heavily on aging characters. And while Disney was still a brand to be reckoned with, it needed to do some serious wishing-upon-a-star when it came to new content.

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Series: Story Worlds

How to Time Travel (Without Destroying the Universe) Part Two

Welcome back, time travelers! Last week, we took a look at some common methods of time travel in books, movies, and TV shows—including the “history can be changed” model of Back to the Future, the “time travel without consequence” model of Midnight in Paris, and the “self-fulfilling prophecy” model of The Terminator. This week, we explore some less-conventional theories of time travel, including temporal causality loops, the Multiverse theory, and a look at Einstein’s Theory of Relativity…

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Series: Story Worlds

How to Time Travel (Without Destroying the Universe) Part One

So you want to travel through time, but you’re worried about the consequences. Perhaps you’ve heard of time travelers erasing their family trees, or screwing up world history, or destroying the universe altogether. You’re curious about the fourth dimension, but you don’t want to be “that guy” (or “that gal”) whose obsession with meeting King Tut ruins the future for the rest of us. Well, good news: when it comes to time travel, you’ve got options.

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Series: Story Worlds

The Sandman Cometh: Neil Gaiman’s Epic Masterpiece Returns

Neil Gaiman has never been one for rules. Or rather, he’s never been one for following them: but he certainly loves bending them, breaking them, melting them down into slag, hoisting them up on a flagpole and waving them around for the world to gawk at. Entering a Neil Gaiman story world is like stepping into a dream, where reality unravels and gives way to an eye-popping blend of the mythical, the fantastic, and the plain old strange. His magnum opus, of course, is a story about dreams—and despite breaking every rule in the book, it’s one of the greatest graphic novels ever published.

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Series: Story Worlds

Cloud Atlas One Year Later: Why 2012’s Biggest Flop is Also its Biggest Triumph

Cloud Atlas was never destined to be popular. When David Mitchell published a novel featuring six different stories set in six different time periods, nested one inside the other like Russian dolls, Hollywood said an adaptation was impossible. When the Wachowski Siblings bought the rights to the book, studios were still doubtful. Even after the film had been financed, investors backed out left and right. Nobody but the filmmakers seemed to believe that audiences could handle a movie this big .

As it turns out, the naysayers were right. Cloud Atlas flopped at the domestic box office, earning a paltry $9.6M its opening weekend against a $100M+ production budget. The film polarized critics; it barely scraped the 60% mark on Rotten Tomatoes; and it earned the wrath of many a movie-goer who found the three-hour film too long and confusing. Exploring the continuity of transmigrating souls across the centuries is not typical Hollywood fare, especially not for a Tom Hanks film. If the Wachowskis had been gunning for a new Matrix, what they seemed to get was another Speed Racer.

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Series: Story Worlds

Filmmaking Visionaries: The Top Ten Writer-Directors

Watching Gravity in IMAX 3D this weekend, I was struck by the audacity of Alfonso Cuarón. From the precise attention to zero-gravity physics to the heart-pounding interplay of noise and silence, this movie wasn’t simply written—it was authored, from start to finish, by a visionary. In the film world, such adepts are known as “auteurs”—creatives who don’t simply write or direct a film but conjure the entire thing wholesale. While only a small number of projects are made this way, they include some of the most successful and beloved movies.

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Series: Story Worlds

It’s Not About the Zombies: How The Walking Dead Became the Most-Watched Show on TV

Thirty years ago, Michael Jackson rocked the music world with a 13-minute music video for his hit song, Thriller. The video was a love letter to zombie horror—zombies crawled out of the ground, zombies sang, zombies danced—and Michael was their flesh-eating leader. The story was bolstered by creepy make-up, ragged costumes, and chilling narration by Vincent Price, securing Thriller’s place as one of the most influential music videos of all time.

Oddly enough, Thriller debuted before a crowd of kids who had gone to see the Disney movie, Fantasia. The producers were trying to send a message: these zombies aren’t scary, they’re fun. At some level, this must have been true, because I watched that music video over and over again (I was six) and never once feeling a twinge of fear—Michael Jackson’s music video taught kids everywhere that zombies were just a bunch of song and dance.

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Series: Story Worlds

Beyond: Two Souls and The Quandary of Interactive Storytelling

“True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure. The greater the pressure… the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.”Robert McKee, creative writing instructor

On Tuesday, October 8th Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls will hit the PS3. This highly-anticipated follow-up to 2010’s Heavy Rain—which won multiple “Game of the Year” awards for its groundbreaking approach to interactive storytelling—stars Hollywood actress Ellen Page, and is likely to become the fastest-selling interactive narrative ever created.

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Series: Story Worlds

Seven Kingdoms and Beyond: World-Building in Game of Thrones

We’re approaching halftime, folks—halftime in the year-long wait between season premieres of Game of Thrones, that is. If you’re among the show’s millions of fans, you probably start craving another fix as soon as the show goes off the air—so I figure it’s never too soon to interrupt the hiatus and jump back into Westeros.

But before we go there, let’s talk about California wine country. I was married there last year. My wife walked the aisle to Canon in D, a classic composition by Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel. For my own walk, I choose a modern tune by a composer named Ramin Djiwadi. Played on the violin, you might not recognize his sweet, powerful notes as the opening of Game of Thrones—but the guests who did loved it, and so it was that I was happily married in sight of the Old Gods and the New.

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Series: Story Worlds

A Scary Good Prequel: How Pixar Nailed Monsters University

Be honest: are you afraid of prequels? If so, you’re not alone.

The Star Wars prequels were an all-time low for many movie-goers, leaving a whole generation of Jedi-aficianados with psychological scars. The first of the Hobbit films, though not as bad a misstep, certainly lacked the power of its awe-inspiring predecessors. Prequels in general (which are just a special case of the much-feared sequel) have left many a bitter taste over the years, and you’d be justified to have developed a full-fledged case of prequel-phobia.

[But can it be done right?]

Series: Story Worlds

Forget the Facts, Tell a Story: Why Braveheart is a Classic Despite its Inaccuracies

I recently watched the movie Anonymous, a historical thriller with an intellectual twist. The premise is that Shakespeare’s plays may not have been written by Shakespeare at all, but by a contemporary, the Earl of Oxford, and that Shakespeare was an illiterate drunk, a liar, and a murderer. The movie makes clever use of Shakespeare’s works and motifs, as well the historical details of Elizabethan London, to craft a smart and suspenseful tale about the man we think we know as William Shakespeare.

Just one problem: it’s all a lie.

[This relates to Braveheart, I swear…]

Series: Story Worlds

One World to Rule Them All: The Six Pillars of Middle Earth (Part 2 of 2)

If you’re just catching up, this is the second part of a two-part look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. We’re using the book to explore something I’m calling the Six Pillars of a Story World—basically an overview of the essential ingredients of a great story. If you want to get the most out of the article, I recommend starting with Part One.

So far, we’ve talked about three pillars: world-building, characters, and plot. Now let’s step back from the story itself to look at some broader points.

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Series: Story Worlds