Games for Writers – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Is a Great Fantasy World Simulator

Two weeks ago was my birthday.

I got Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Breath of the Wild, both from my mom who, in my adult life, has become my go-to dealer for my Switch habit. Seriously, my Switch and all of my games have been gifts from her.

So, A) thanks, mom, and B) to 10 year old me, dude, can you believe this shit? I am living your dream.

To be clear though, I already owned and beat Breath of the Wild on my Wii U; like a lot of people, I absolutely destroyed that game over the course of a few months and then put it down like I was entering the Odinsleep.

However . . . I recently saw a speedrun of it and the only let’s players I actually like, The Super Beard Bros., are currently playing it, so . . . “Is it time?” I thought. “Have I forgotten enough of that game? Can I play it again?”

And, yes; if nothing else, this post is to tell you that it’s time to wake from that Odinsleep.

But also, if you’re a Fantasy writer, then I just want to make you aware that your second playthrough . . . can play more like a beautiful, Fantasy simulation.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild can be the most fun (although admittedly super loose) Fantasy world research anyone has ever done.

And if you’re a Fantasy writer like me who just played it as a video game the first time around (or if you’re a writer who hasn’t played it at all), I just want to state my case for why BotW works as a Fantasy simulator.

Simulation of the Wild

The physics and logic in BotW are so variable that I’m still learning new things I can do in it, three years later:

There are so many weird interactions and dynamics among the elements of the game that it’s just easier to assume an idea you have will work.

And that’s not an exaggeration. Are you in a dark room and see the outline of a standing lantern in the distance but don’t feel safe walking to it? Well, you can throw your torch at it. Or, if you don’t want to lose your torch, you can shoot a fire arrow at it. Or, if you don’t want to put your torch away, losing the flame, so you can take out your bow, you can drop your lit torch on the floor, light a normal arrow, and shoot that. Or drop your lit torch, take out a wooden weapon, light that on fire, and throw it across the room.

You get the picture. That scenario alone dips into an almost D&D level of simulation, where you’re invited to solve problems in ways that utilize real physics and logic . . . but with the added bonus that you have special magical abilities that affect that physics and logic. It is the epitome of a magical world working with internal, inherently understood logic, and it works so well that I could write an entire post about the Runes of Link’s Shiekah Slate as a great magic system (but I won’t . . . maybe).

What I want to focus on here is the fact that a lot of us took a while to understand the depth of BotW’s internal logic on our first playthrough. In fact, most of us still hear about some shit someone else did in BotW that we never did, and we’re like, “Wait wait wait. You can throw rusty weapons at those Octoroks on Dead Mountain and they’ll clean them!?”

What this really means is a lot of us never really understood the freedom we had.

Which means a lot of us didn’t just experience it.

And, when it comes to being a game for writers, I think that’s the strength of Breath of the Wild: the freedom it gives you to exist in a Fantasy world to the extent that you can even influence its physics. The game’s ability to make you feel like you really are ducked behind a rock on a beautiful, summer’s day, waiting for a monster to turn around so you can sneak up and steal its weapon.

And, unlike other similar games, there’s minimal bullshit, which I’d argue makes it significantly better.

Abridged Sim of the Wild

Yes, there is a story. Yes, there are cutscenes and, of course, there’s a game inside the game, first and foremost.

But there are no complicated dialogue trees that make your character super specific. There are no factions you have to join with motivations, outfits, and plotlines you have to adhere to. Link is a blank slate who doesn’t talk, and Breath of the Wild is the world you experience through him. A game where you get to be whoever you want and do whatever you want.

And that decrease in dialogue/cutscene distractions is complimented by BotW giving you shit like the temperature.

While running around in what seems like balmy weather, you can always hit “-” . . .
. . . and check on the bottom left of the map screen. Huh. 63°. Colder than I expected.

So, yeah, the temperature.

And, yeah, it changes with fluctuations in weather.

The above shots were taken on a sunny day in Akkala, the region of the game stuck in perpetual Fall. However, on another occasion, when I checked the weather at random, I saw it was way colder than 63 and thought, “Wait. Why?”

And then a storm hit.

Being totally honest here, these smaller, environmental systems aren’t crazy robust . . .

but holy shit. I can check the wind direction by lighting a torch, and I can use that information to my benefit.

It’s immersive in ways Fantasy video games usually aren’t.

And there are things you can do to make it feel even more ridiculously immersive.

Going Full-Sim

For example, you can turn the HUD to “Pro.” I’m sure you’ve heard about this if you were in the thick of gaming media when BotW came out, but not having a mini-map–needing to talk to people, ask directions, and survey your surroundings–makes it so much more immersive.

But you can also take it a step further by adding other caveats that make the experience feel less video gamey.

I, for example, only have the one horse, Cowhorse, whose location I keep persistent in-game; if I board Cowhorse in the Woodland Stable, I have to go back to Woodland Stable if I want to take her out again.

Also, apples are her favorite. I have probably fed this virtual horse over a hundred apples I could’ve used for healing. In my defense . . . look at that face. ^3^

Obviously, you can take all of this as far as you want. For example, I don’t eat on a normal, human schedule because that would just remind me how fast the day/night cycle is, and make me feel the gameyness of the experience again.

However, I am playing a different head canon Link; for this playthrough, he’s more of a Raph: a stubborn, headstrong guy . . . who’s slowly learning that he has to do better, (which, in the beginning, meant that he went directly to Hyrule Castle with three hearts, almost got killed by Ganon, and is now following through on the rest of the quest as he learns to prepare for fights). Playing that Link has been extremely fun and su-u-u-u-uper rough; I died trying to get to Ganon, like, thirty seven times.

But, look, no matter what you do in this new playthrough, I suggest you also . . .

Talk to More NPC’s

Talking to NPC’s in Breath of the Wild doesn’t feel especially realistic. In fact, a lot of NPC’s will flat out be like, “Press B to place your amiibo on the thing for Nintendobucks!” or whatever. So many of them that you won’t really be able to avoid the gameyness of their instruction manual-speak.

But the rest of the NPC’s usually have really weird, human quirks, which is both quintessential to the Zelda experience and, at the very least, interesting as extremely subtle microcosms of worldbuilding. Tiny, fleeting, sub-sub-subplots that I completely missed my first time around.

For example: Leekah.

Leekah is a Hylian woman who I keep running into out in the dangerous Hyrule Fields. And, every time, she complains about how she just wants to go for one walk without getting attacked by monsters. Every time, she sighs a very 2020 sigh, runs off toward shelter, and that short interaction is so much simpler and more charming than the umpteenth character in Skyrim talking to me about another cave of bandits nearby. And really, even if it doesn’t feel realistic, “simple and charming” feels like a way better NPC model for a writer to experience than “complicated and generic.”

And, hey, I’m sure you can argue for the opposite; I know there are benefits to having long, linear quests with wordier NPC’s in other games. In fact, I’m sure I would’ve argued for that complexity 10 years ago.

But, as I am now, I will argue to the death for 4 NPC’s in a stable instead of 324 NPC’s in a fort town. Not because I think the latter is wrong and stupid, but because . . . dude, I’ve got shit to do today. I have to make dinner and there’s laundry, and I have to write my story.

And this is “Games for Writers,” not “Games for People Who Have Tons of Time, So Whatever, Dude! Fuck It!”

Okay–I Gotta Stop

The urge to just keep adding to this post is so strong, but I just don’t want it to become a monster, so I’m going to stop here.

If you are like me, a Fantasy writer who loves Zelda and is just getting more and more freaked out by November 3rd on an hourly basis, then you owe it to yourself to just have this experience.

Just put down your phone, your WIP, and your existential dread for a few hours and literally get lost in Hyrule. With, like, a wet horse who’s still moody even though you fed her your last apple, and something weird and beautiful is always just around the bend.

~~~

I honestly never thought I’d write a “Games for Writers” for BotW, because it never felt like it was actually rewarding for a Fantasy writer, but now, seeing it like a simulator has made me so much more excited for the sequel. And for 2024, when I’ve forgotten enough of this game to play it again on Master Mode.

If you enjoyed this post, you can follow me to the left (on PC) or the upper right menu (on mobile).

Regardless, as always, take care, and stop checkin’ the news!

I Tried to Write a Sequel to Aixa with AI Dungeon and Shit Got Weird

Whoa. Who-o-o-o-okay . . . guys.

Okay. I’ve been wary of storytelling AI for a while now. Not because I think AI are going to destroy humanity (yet), but because I am already conflicted about people becoming “authors” by feeding their ideas into an AI that then does all the writing for them.

I can imagine awesome scenarios with that (where someone who literally can’t write for whatever reason gets to have their story published regardless), but the part of me who’s been a struggling writer for 15 years has a hard time not just seeing the bad.

But, whatever, that’s a different post.

What I’m getting at here is . . . I sometimes check in with AI that tell stories. Yeah, it’s weird–I know.

Last time, I tested GPT-2 by feeding it the first line of Aixa the Hexcaster and being super relieved that it replied with nonsense.

This time, I tried writing a sequel for Aixa the Hexcaster with AI Dungeon.

And . . . I mean, first of all, it did not make an amazing story (although, I have to acknowledge that AI Dungeon was designed to be a game, not a writing assistant [again, for another post]).

Second . . . yeah, shit got weird.

For clarity, I italicized my inputs, so you can differentiate between my input and the AI’s. Also, I added some [notes in brackets].

That said, please enjoy the fun, totally non-canonical experiment that is . . .

Aixa the Hexcaster 2: “I Love That Cleaver”

You are Aixa, a courier trying to survive in a post apocalyptic world by scavenging among the ruins of what is left. You have a parcel of letters and a small pistol. It’s a long and dangerous road from Boston to Charleston, but you’re one of the only people who knows the roads well enough to get your parcel of letters there. You set out in the morning and only have a few hours of night left when you hear an explosion in the distance. A bright flash lights up the sky and your ears are still ringing when you see a ball of fire falling from the sky.

> You say “Great. The balls of fire are new.”
Your thoughts are interrupted by an eerie sound, somewhere between a wail and a howl. Starting low, it quickly rises in volume, joined by a dozen similar sounds rising up from the ruins around you.

> You scramble on top of the nearest high ground you can find.
You climb onto the highest piece of rubble you can see and wait, heart pounding, as the howling and screaming continues. After about a minute, you start to hear panicked footsteps running your way.

> You pick up your gun and aim it in the direction the footsteps are coming from.
You see the figure of a man running towards you, but the moon is in and his face is shadowed, making it impossible to tell what he looks like.

> You say “What’s chasing you?”
“Cursed…” the man gasps, as he reaches the ledge. He’s dressed in a dirty smock and a hood covers his head, spilling down around his neck.

> You watch what he does at that ledge.
The man looks out at the hills and trees, seeming to stare into the forest.
“The dead are coming… They will take all that we have,” he says.

> You say “Are you being chased by something?”
He raises his head up and sniffs the air.
“I can smell him… He is wild. Uncontrolled. But he knows I am here now.”

> You say “Holy shit, dude. Stop talking in riddles and answer the goddamn question. You are freaking me out!”
He turns to you, and you see his eyes. They are dark and lifeless, like two holes in the head of a drilled animal.

> You shoot him in the head.
You raise your pistol and shoot him in the head, but the bullet just deforms in his skull and he keeps coming.

> You jump down and run down the road, away from this man.
You run as fast as you can, hearing the man’s footsteps rapidly gaining on you.
“I feel… hot… I’m gonna burn!” he hisses, and lurches towards you.

> You stop to shoot at his legs.
You pull the trigger, but the gun fails to fire again. You panic, and he jumps on you.

> You dodge his attack and pistol whip him.
You bring the butt of your pistol down on his head, and he staggers back, giving you a few precious seconds.
He jumps and grabs your arm, digging his claws in.

> You pull a knife from your hip and stab him in the eye.
You bring the blade down, slicing his eye open and revealing the gunk and gristle that lie behind it.
You leap off of him and start running again, hearing him snarl and growl behind you.

> You continue running, but check your gun at the same time to fix the jam.
You pull the trigger, but nothing happens.
“Come back, come back, come back.”
The man lurches out in front of you and you stop short, turning to him.

> You look around on the floor for anything–maybe a pipe–that you can use as a weapon.
You notice a long metal tube by the man’s right hand.
It looks like what people use to blow out sewers. You pick it up.

> You beat the shit out of this man, aiming directly for his head repeatedly.
You pull the shotgun around and ram it into the back of the man’s head, then over and over again. You smash his face with the stock, knocking off one of his eyes.

[I do not know where the shotgun came from . . . but sure!]

> You blow his head off with the shotgun.
You pull the trigger, blowing out the back of his skull. The front part of his head stagnates into a bloody mass of mush, like a deflating football.

> You pump the shotgun and say, “Don’t lose your head.” And you laugh really hard and say, “Eh. I could do better.”
The man’s head falls to the ground, rolling along the road, coming to a stop at your feet.
You laugh, and look around.

> You stop laughing and try to continue down the road toward Charleston.
You walk for a half-hour, and get to a bridge over a small river.
You have no idea where you are, but you know you have to keep going.

> You keep looking, trying to repair your pistol as you walk.
You find a maintenance shed and take a seat on a bale of hay to work on your pistol.

> You try to fix the jam to the best of your ability, determined to get it working before moving on.
You take the bolt out of the gun and pull out the bullet. You put the bolt back in and pull the trigger over and over again, but nothing happens.

> You keep working at it, using tools in the maintenance shed for help.
You continue working at the gun for nearly two hours, trying to take it apart and getting it mostly apart. Then, you hear something outside the shed.

> You quietly put down the pistol parts, pick up the shotgun, and take a peek outside.
You see a man outside the shed, heading towards you. You stand and pull the shotgun from the corner of the shed, aiming it at him.
“You shouldn’t be down here,”

> You say “Motherfucker, I have a shotgun. I can be wherever the hell I please. What do you want?”
He stops and looks at you.
“I don’t recognize you,” he says, before pausing. “Do I know you?”
“Probably not.”
He stares at you, his eyes narrowing.

> You say “I will ask you one more time; what do you want? You do not want to end up like the last guy who tested me, I promise you that.”
He seems to think about this, before shrugging.
“I want to talk to you,” he says. “If you’re going to kill me, do it now.”

> You shake your head. “Mythic Earth’s a real bitch.” And you shoot him in the chest.
The man falls backwards, his chest bleeding red. He looks at you, the confusion clear on his face now.

Then, he smiles, before his face twists in pain.

> You wait for him to die. Sad, but not apologizing, and not moving closer to help either.
The man dies in front of you, the grin on his face frozen there for eternity. You stand, waiting a few seconds before moving on. [And here, I’m kinda scared that AI Dungeon knew to make that a sad moment.]
You walk a few feet, before the man begins to glow. [Oh, right, forget it. He’s glowing now.]

> You pump the shotgun and walk backwards, away from whatever the fuck this is.
The man fades, and you pump the shotgun as red light dims around you. Then, a hole opens up in front of you.

> You aim the shotgun at the hole, aware that if it’s a mythic, the gun won’t do anything to stop it. [I had to cycle through about four answers, because the AI kept trying to force Aixa to walk up to that hole and look inside.]
You aim the shotgun, noticing a hand materialize from the hole. You fire, blowing it off. More hands appear, and you blast them away.
“You are still here, aren’t you?”

> You start running from this hole, annoyed that you have to leave your pistol in pieces in the shed, but aware that the shed wouldn’t protect you from whatever is happening.
The hole continues to expand, and you keep your shotgun aimed at it. Then, the hole disappears, and a bright red portal opens up before you.
A woman materializes in front of you.

> You aim the shotgun at her and say, “Lady, I will blow your fucking face off if you do not tell me what you want–right now! Do not test me!”
“I don’t believe we’ve met,” the woman says, smiling. “My name is Cecilia, and I’m here to offer you a way out.

> You say “Is that a threat?”
The woman frowns.
“Of course not,” she says. “But I need your help, and I don’t think you’ll want to stay here. Do you want to come with me?

> You say “Are you a mythic?”
“I’m not a normal mythic,” she admits.

> You say “And I’m not a normal human.”
“I know,” she says. “Join me, and I can get you out of this village.”

> You lower your shotgun and go with her.
Cecilia takes you through the portal, and you soon arrive in an empty barn.
“I found you,” she says. “But this is just the beginning. We have so much to discuss!”

> You say “Where are we?”
“What do you think this is?” she asks, holding up a cleaver. [ . . . WHAT!?]

> You shoot her immediately.
Cecilia falls to the ground, laughing.
“I’m not dead yet,” she says.
The barn begins to rock side to side, as a foal comes out from behind a wall of hay. [Okay, at this point just what the fuck even?]

> You pump the shotgun and say, “Yeah, I noticed,” and then shoot her again.
The woman falls to the ground, now truly dead.
“I love that cleaver,” she says. “I’ll give you one thing–you know how to use that thing.”

And, at this point, I decided to stop because I was already running long for this post and the AI was starting to show its limits: it was just shocking encounter after shocking encounter, which, again, it’s designed to be a game, so it’s doing exactly what it should.

Regardless, what I came away from this feeling: it is scary how far storytelling AI has come since GPT-2, which I was made aware of last year. Especially considering that this isn’t the best test; you can add additional descriptions and parameters to your stories before starting them (which I didn’t do because I re-e-eally didn’t want to upload a bunch of worldbuilding for Mythic Earth to a server somewhere), so, for all I know, AI Dungeon could’ve done a way better job.

Whether we like it or not, Sci-Fi is about to hit the entire writing community really hard.

And, to repeat what I kept thinking to myself last night after watching Ex Machina for the first time . . . I do not know how I feel about any of this.

~~~

Sorry to get this one out so late, but I reworked this post a few times before shoving all the complicated “AI writer” talk to the side and just focusing on the experiment instead.

You can check out AI Dungeon here.

And if you want to follow me and be notified when I post the inevitable conversation about the potential influence of AI on the writing community (or the follow up next year when I test another, newer AI), you can follow me on the bar on the left side of the screen on PC, or via the menu on the top right on mobile.

Either way, thanks for passing by.

Damsel in Disguise: The Strong Female Object in Resident Evil 3: Remake & The Strong Female Damsel in Rogue One

Disclaimer: No, I’m not going to talk about current events. Maybe I’ll reference them, but if you’re anything like me, all you want right now is a distraction, so let’s get right to it.

I do not consider myself a righteous man. In brutal honesty, I am a straight man who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, and thus, I was a sexist bigot well into my 20’s. An idiot who made bad jokes until events in his life taught him to do better. As a result, I exist in a strange, semi-objective limbo. I am a straight man who often hates straight men, but I am also a feminist who occasionally hates feminists. I do not like or make jokes about women being stupid, but I also hate the extremely common “dumb husband” commercials. It’s a strange, contentious limbo I live in, but I like it because it allows me to be fair. More fair, I feel, than bigots or extreme feminists ever want me to be.

My point is . . . when I see something that I think is problematic, I usually give it time before speaking up about it, because I want to be sure I’m being fair first. I don’t want to start flame wars, and I don’t want to sound like a pandering jackass.

So, please, understand that it’s after serious consideration that I say . . .

Rogue One . . .

and the recent remake of Resident Evil 3 . . .

. . . both of which are framed as empowering for women . . .

. . . are actually pretty misogynistic.

“What the fuck even are you talking about?” you might have just asked, to which I say, “Hear me out.”

This post is split into two parts. If you’re already pissed about one of your favorite things being criticized, you can scroll down to the heading for said thing now.

For everyone else . . .

An Introduction

In the 90’s, the Tough Princess was a thing. Princess Vespa, from Space Balls, stands out as an example, but I remember seeing strong princesses everywhere, picking up weapons, refusing help. For sure, they were a step in a better direction . . . but they also needed saving just like normal princesses; if you could play as Princess Peach in one Mario game, it did not mean you wouldn’t be saving her in the next Mario game. Ultimately, it was just a half-measure–the kind I’ve grown to hate (because, as I’ve always said, the way to change a stereotype is not to put a twist on it, but to avoid using the stereotype at all).

In this way, what I’m calling the Strong Female Damsel has been around for a long time. A female character who presents as strong and independent but ultimately needs a ton of saving by men, the Strong Female Damsel is a common trope and an obviously lacking, half-hearted attempt at being progressive.

Less obvious, however, is the the Damsel’s prevalence in modern, feminist genre films and games; in an age where there’s a much more pronounced attempt to cater to and empower female audiences, it always blows my mind when I see the ideals of those audiences either undermined (with the Damsel) or flat out violated (with the Object, which I’ll define a bit later).

For now, let’s start with the Damsel:

The Strong Female Damsel in Rogue One

This is something that has bothered me since the first time I watched Rogue One, but it’s also something I haven’t written about because, again, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being contentious for no reason.

But now, having rewatched it, let me present the actual stats:

  • (07:18) Starting off almost immediately here; after Jyn watches her mother get murdered, she goes and hides in a hole. She stays there until she’s found and saved by Saw Gerrera.
  • (13:00) Jyn Erso, in prison, is rescued by a group of all-male Rebellion troopers. She fights them, which is cool, but still loses–because the best character in the entire movie, K-2SO, catches her.
  • (31:58) During the firefight on Jedha, Jyn saves a child, which is dope. She then stands in place while a tank rolls up so Cassian can first shout for her to “Get out of there!” and then shoot the gunner who might see and target her.
  • (32:09) A rebel on a walkway above the tank then pulls out a grenade, which he’s going to throw down into the area where Jyn is hiding, probably hurting her, but Cassian shoots him before he can throw it. The moment is complete with a little “I got your back” nod from Cassian.
  • (33:09) This doesn’t count as her being saved, but here, Jyn beats the shit out of some stormtroopers and it’s cool, but, weirdly, we still get the “Whoa–that girl is fighting all of them and I actually don’t need to help???” reaction from Cassian.
    I’ll try to keep these sidebars to a minimum, but the framing of that moment was a little strange.
  • (33:40) Arguable one here: K-2SO catches a grenade that could kill all three characters in this scene, but effortlessly tosses it behind himself, saving everyone and killing a bunch of stormtroopers at the same time.
  • (34:40) Jyn and Cassian are apprehended by stormtroopers, but are saved by Chirrut Îmwe.
  • (48:20) This one is so weird.
    Saw Gerrera’s rebel base is crumbing, but Jyn is in some kind of . . . trauma trance? Like, she’s so distraught by what her father said that she literally just drops to her knees and sits there . . . until Cassian comes in and literally grabs her, telling her “We gotta go. I know where your father is,” at which point she snaps out of it? It’s just a very strange moment for a protagonist. When the hologram cut, why did Jyn not turn around to Saw, and ask, “Where was this recorded? I have to find him!”?
    And . . . I mean, would she have stood there, doing nothing, until the building collapsed on her?
  • (49:36) I have to count this one because, once again, Jyn is being literally saved by men.
    To escape the fallout from the Death Star, everyone jumps into a ship piloted by K-2SO and . . . Cassian! It’s almost like this movie is about him, not Jyn.
    And, to be clear, I am not arguing for self-insert levels of competency here; I think it would’ve been stupid if Jyn saved everyone, always got herself out of danger, and shoved people aside so she could fly the ship. All I’m saying is, in the past 50 minutes, she has beaten up two groups of people and been saved by men 8 times.
    Absolutely nothing would’ve been wrong with her getting out in front, hopping onto the controls first, or shouting to K-2SO to get them in the air. As is, she just hops on, helps pull someone in, and looks out the window.
  • (1:09:04) On Eadu, there’s the group of scenes that made me realize Jyn was a damsel in the first place. The time stamp is for the exact moment, but I have to preface it so you feel how I felt the first time I watched this.
    Okay. To kick us off, Jyn does find her father.
    But she does not save him.
    She doesn’t even engage the stormtroopers around him, even though he’s in pretty clear danger, on his knees, with an Imperial General standing over him. Instead, X-Wings show up, kill the stormtroopers, and knock everyone to the ground. Jyn only manages to shout, “Father!” before all of this happens, because her ability to create drama is more important than her ability to have agency over the plot, I guess.
    Okay. That said, at 1:09:04, Jyn is kneeling over her father, who just died, and that moment is completely cut short by stormtroopers running up behind her. Again, like on Jedha, Jyn is too emotionally distraught to care about anything–she doesn’t even realize they’re there–and only survives . . . because Cassian fucking Andor saves her, complete with a scene where he has to pull her off of her father and the other male side characters have to fight off the stormtroopers chasing them, including the ex-Imperial pilot.
    And this after a close up shot at 1:05:59 of Cassian Andor saying, “Jyn! No!” when he realizes she’s in danger.
  • (1:18:33) Okay. Just another sidebar.
    Jyn gives her “rebellions are built on hope” speech, and I was totally ready to concede that she influenced the plot in a huge way by convincing the rebels to attack Scarif . . . because I totally forgot that, no, actually, she doesn’t. She does plant a seed here that eventually gets the rebels to show up and help.
    But that is only because the protagonists go to Scarif anyway, which only becomes possible . . . because Cassian fucking Andor rounds up a bunch of troops willing to volunteer themselves. And I’m sure an argument could be made that Cassian only rounded up those troops because of her speech, but Cassian’s character arc was already in effect since Eadu, when he decided not to kill Jyn’s dad. I’d argue he would’ve gone to Scarif even if the council scene was just rebel leaders arguing that it was too dangerous.
  • (1:24:49) The Imperial shuttle the characters are flying into Scarif is about to get shot out of the air, killing everyone, bu-u-u-u-u-ut luckily, the ex-Imperial pilot and K-2SO–both male–manage to fool flight control. Phew!
    Also, Jyn looks at a crystal in this scene. It’s probably meant to send over serious Force-vibes (what with “kyber crystals” being a talking point in this movie), but if the idea here is that the Force influenced flight control, through her or because of her, then that’s a pre-e-e-e-etty lame attempt at giving her agency.
    Again, I’m not saying she should have every skill and save every day; it would’ve been stupid if she and she alone jumped on comms, shoving aside all the male characters (i.e. every single other person on the ship). However, it is 100% within reason to expect her to have some way to hack a new code, or some reference for gaining the current code after the years she spent fighting her way through the galaxy as a space-orphan. She could’ve taken out a custom cipher she bought somewhere and told K-2SO and the pilot the current code. Maybe they both could’ve doubted her but punched it in anyway cause they decided to believe, and when it works, they all would’ve done something together. And we would’ve gotten some Jyn Erso characterization from her lone wolf years. Aside from “she fights good sometimes.”
  • (1:47:11) Worst scene of the movie: K-2SO sacrifices himself to keep Jyn and Cassian safe. This happens while Cassian retrieves the data file for the Death Star and Jyn watches.
  • (1:50:06) Another sidebar: We have a moment where it seems like Jyn and Jyn alone is going to do something amazing. She jumps out onto the data tower to retrieve the Death Star plans, but no, forget it; Cassian jumps onto it with her. Cause of course he does.
  • (1:51:08) I feel like I’m losing my mind. I honestly don’t remember it being this bad. Here, there’s a scene where the Imperials get into the data vault, open a door, and Jyn’s right there where they can easily shoot her. Cassian shouts, “Jyn!” shoots at them, and stops them from killing her while she literally dangles off of the tower for suspense.
    Cassian proceeds to kill all the Stormtroopers, by the way, and Jyn watches.
  • (1:59:10) Here, finally, the moment that got a loud, “Are you fucking serious?” from me in the theater.
    Jyn Erso is finally confronting Krennic, the man who killed her mother and forced her father into slavery. The man who ruined her life.
    A man who has a blaster aimed right at her . . . which means that when fucking Cassian goddamn Andor shoots him in the back, he not only absolutely robs her of catharsis, he saves Jyn again while doing it.
    I mean, for fuck’s sake.
    Cassian even stops her from making sure Krennic is dead. Like, “Honey, I know you’ve got your entire life’s worth of comeuppance and everything, but, like, my leg is hurt?”

By my count, that is 12 times Jyn Erso’s life was saved over the course of the film. Out of those 12 times, she was saved by men 12 times. One could absolutely go through and count how many times she saved herself or others and compare. Nothing’s stopping you. But it would not change the fact that a protagonist being helped out of life-threatening danger twelve times instead of helping themselves is way too many times.

Now, of course, I am not saying that a strong female protagonist can’t be saved by a man–obviously, that’s not the case, and having female-driven stories where the men aren’t helpful at all is also something I hate.

The point I am trying to make: the strong female protagonist who constantly needs to be saved by her cast of male-only side characters . . . is not a strong female protagonist.

She is, quite literally, a Strong Female Damsel. A female protagonist who looks strong, walks strong, but is repeatedly presented in peril so that men can save her.

I’m not sure how this kind of character happens, but I have to assume it wasn’t intentional. Maybe the result of a writer’s room determined not to make Jyn a Mary Sue? Different saves from different characters in different drafts that got snowballed into the final product? I’m not sure, but the thing that’s oddly, depressingly clear: if they wanted to make her less threatening to men . . .

. . . it worked.

Have you ever wondered why none of the men who hated Rey also hated Jyn Erso? Why they loved Rogue One . . . but also never walk around wearing Jyn Erso, “I Rebel” t-shirts?

It’s because none of them actually respect her. They love the movie–the script that constantly made her need help from Cassian (who’s getting his own Disney + show, cause of course he is)–but they do not love her.

My recommendation about all of this: if you’re writing a story that you want to be progressive, with a strong female lead, please make sure that she isn’t just a damsel in disguise.

That said, okay, we’re on to something worse:

The Strong Female Object in Resident Evil 3: Remake

This one is going to be a lot quicker, because I don’t have to replay the entire game.

But, first, a definition: the Strong Female Object is a female protagonist who is presented as strong, decisive, and capable, but who is clandestinely fetishized in spite of that. Almost like the artists behind the character knew that she needed to be strong . . . but just couldn’t help sexualizing her because she was so hot. It doesn’t matter that it completely undermines the strength they felt obligated to give her–there just needed to be a scene where she got deepthroated by tentacles.

Resident Evil 3: Remake is the entire reason I made this classification, because it is absolutely obnoxious in that game and, having loved Jill since the very first RE in 1996, I hated it.

Really quickly, we’re going to run down some events that happen in the game, with links if I have them:

  • The game opens up with a nightmare sequence where Jill, in pajamas for no reason whatsoever (she wakes up afterward in her normal clothes), starts turning into a zombie. In the nightmare, she’s in her bathroom, where there’s a loaded gun on the sink. She picks it up, wincing as she puts it to her head and pulls the trigger.
    What a great start for a strong female protagonist.
    I already hated it.
  • In her apartment, you can find a note from Brad, talking about how Jill has been suspended by the chief of police. The note was slipped to a pizza deliver guy, so in the postscript, Brad says, “Enjoy the extra large Mega Meat Supreme! It’s on me and the guys.”
    *sigh*
    Yes. Of course. The “extra large Mega Meat” from Brad and “the guys.” Because “extra large” is totally a normal size for a pizza pie to be.
  • When you first meet up with Carlos Oliviera, he is unrealistically, relentlessly  flirtatious in the middle of a zombie outbreak. It’s posed as gross, which would make it fine . . .
    . . . if Carlos hadn’t been as gross in the original game. Not sure why they broke this dynamic when it was already fixed, but okay.
  • Here’s a link to a group of male let’s players laughing at an absolutely bizarre poster you find on a door (which happens in the first 20 seconds of this video).
    One of those let’s players, Alex Faciane, calls it “egregious,” and yep.
    Now, hey, maybe this is a reference to the enormous boxes you find in safe rooms in-game. Considering how things are going so far though, I highly doubt it.
  • And here is the moment that made me want to write about this game in the first place.
    Everything that came before this was a little weird but passable.
    Not this though.
    I’ve linked to a video of the Game Grumps getting to the moment because one of them, Arin, outright says, “This is for the fetishists,” because, yeah, it is that bad (although if you want to skip ahead, the actual moment happens at 32:06 [and if you’d rather not watch it, just skip right over this link]): https://youtu.be/VEqmgvWCdvQ?t=1848.
    In case you did skip, tentacle stuff happens. And, while it’s not super gratuitous in the cutscene that introduces the tentacle monsters to you, it is really bad when they catch you in-game. You lose control and the camera focuses on the action for wa-a-a-a-ay too long.
    I tried to return the game at this point, because, already, it was clear that shit wasn’t right. Initially, I was excited that Jill didn’t have her impractical, miniskirt and tube top outfit from the original, but the tentacle monsters made it clear that, somehow, the remake was actually less respectful to her.
  • And that lack of respect is made clearer as the game progresses, and you “get to play” Carlos for long sections of it, a thing literally no one asked for. As if the game couldn’t continue being just Jill’s story, it’s now Carlos and Jill’s, with over an hour cut out for Carlos-time. And, to be clear, that’s beefcake, remake Carlos who is a super jacked commando, totally different from Carlos in the original: a young guy who Jill literally slaps in the face at one point to make him come to his senses.
  • To top it off, (spoilers) Jill gets infected with the T-Virus at one point. And guess who brings her to a hospital and runs around it for an hour looking for a cure?
    No, not Cassian Andor. Carlos. Carlos literally saves Jill when she’s in distress.
    Cause of course he does.
  • The moment that made me second-angriest: we “get to” see a nightmare Jill is having, where Carlos is infected and she has to shoot him . . . but she just can’t bring herself to do it. Because, even though he was a relentless fucking horndog at first . . . Jill now cares for him so much that she can’t kill him, even if doing so means saving her own life.
    Typical tsundere bullshit.

That dream sequence perfectly sums up what’s going on here. The “extra large Mega Meat Supreme” from “the guys,” the ad for an “Enormous Box,” the tentacle monsters, and Carlos being initially gross but ultimately so important to Jill that she’d rather die than hurt him–it all feeds into Jill being a sexual object for male gazers, chuckling to each other behind her back.

A tsundere for Carlos to win over.

Only, not just a tsundere. A protagonist that needed to be strong, made by men who are probably wondering what color panties she’s wearing. A hot, smart, capable woman . . . who’s just so hot that, I mean . . .

“. . . what do her pajamas look like?”

“What kind of dude is she into?”

“Big dudes like Chris?”

“Nemesis hasn’t killed her, so, like, he’s gotta have a crush on her, right?”

“Do you think she’ll bang Carlos?”

All of these questions coming with the one, absolutely intended hook: “Do you think Carlos will win her over?”

None of these questions were there in the original. None of them needed to be in the remake.

But, unfortunately, the people in charge made Jill Valentine look stronger . . . while forcing her into the role of the hot object, lusted over, grossly hit on, and ultimately liking it.

I can’t suggest that someone writing a Strong Female Object takes them out of their story, because that suggestion would fall on completely deaf ears–writing the Object is intentional. However, I have to acknowledge that there are people who love stories with Strong Female Objects (like Heavy Metal) and take influence from them.

So, with that in mind, I’ll say this: In the same way ethnic characters in media need to be protagonists (not side-characters or villains), the Strong Female Protagonist needs to be a protagonist, not a perpetual damsel, and not the sexualized object of a determined male gaze.

~~~

This turned into a novella of 3,500+ words, and if you sat through the whole thing, thank you so much.

I’m just not a frequent uploader, but I felt pretty strongly about this one (especially because it’s May the 4th and I just stumbled on one of the RE3 videos I linked [with Arin from the Game Grumps saying the one moment was for the fetishists]).

I do have other posts that I’ve found on here, some of which I’ve soured on (arguments that I don’t feel strongly about anymore), but others of which hold up. I’m in the process of editing them, and I’ll be posting them in the coming weeks.

Until then, please stay safe. And, as always, write well.

Fantasy Spotlight – The Lord of the Mountain | The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

So, a few weeks ago, I wrote about how much The Legend of Zelda has inspired my writing. In short, the series kindled my preference for uniqueness . . . and weirdness.

Because, man is The Legend of Zelda weird.

Now, to be totally honest, I’m still playing Breath of the Wild and still absolutely loving it. Loving it so much that I know it’s going to be my last adventure in gaming. I started with Zelda II, I’m ending with BotW. Because I know that it isn’t ever going to get better for me; there will never be a more cathartic experience than having my favorite series rally back against stagnation and massive criticism . . . by becoming a game I’ve wanted since I was 12. I got the unique, open-world, combat-heavy adventure I’ve always wanted, + Zelda. I’m actually quitting after this.

But, the one thing that disappoints me about BotW . . . is that it plays it safe with the series’ weirdness. As a huge fan of Majora’s Mask, I’m sad that there’s no terrifying mask salesman. No moon with giant, human eyes and a snarl.

However, there is one . . . creature in the game that absolutely brings the weirdness.

And for that reason, and a bunch of others, I wanted to highlight it here on the site. Because I feel that this one creature is a beautiful, perfect encapsulation of the entire Legend of Zelda series. That achievement, intentional or not, deserves attention on a tiny blog.

So, everyone, let me start at the beginning . . .  and explain how I found the thing called the Lord of the Mountain.

~~~

As is the point in Breath of the Wild, I was exploring Hyrule one night, setting out into a region I hadn’t explored yet. I’m not sure how many other people get neurotic about exploring every bit of Hyrule, but I’m obsessive enough that I get lost for hours just walking through fields, exploring canyons, etc.

So I was excited to find that this new region had a small mountain on it. Calm and quiet, I started hiking up its southern side.

And almost immediately found that its sandy ledges were home to crows. It stuck out to me, because I hadn’t seen crows anywhere else in Hyrule. Ultimately though, I dismissed it, figuring that the crows were just a bit of the region’s identity.

 

Further up the mountain, it began to rain, the world taking on a mantle of blooming fog. Normal too.

Until I reached the top of the mountain . . . and the fog became thicker. Brighter. The music began to change, and I became excited, thinking I’d found a fun, new secret.

But that was before I listened . . . and heard the creepy discordance of the fog’s song. I followed it through a cleft of stone at the top of the mountain . . .

. . . and came out onto a ledge full of spectral rabbits.

Something’s wrong.

I didn’t move. I’d seen one and only one of these small sprites before–little, long-eared blooms of blue-white light. When a villager spoke about that one rabbit, he’d spoken of a myth. Now, there were at least fifteen of them, foraging around a pond, beneath a tree of pale leaves. All of it was silent in the fog.

I shouldn’t be here.

I tried shifting closer, but one of the spirits saw me and bolted, setting off a chain reaction. The rest of them bolted too, and I jumped to my feet, drawing my sword, expecting an attack.

And that’s when I saw it.

Among the rabbits, a larger beast dashed into the mist, vanishing with them before the fog faded. The pale tree turned dun, the clearing suddenly mundane. No attack came . . .

But I wanted to know what I’d seen.

The next night, I came back. Found the clearing again, made sure I spotted the beast first. A spectral horse, glowing just as the rabbits did. It was facing away from me.

I sneaked close, realizing this was a creature I could ride. Thinking that taming a mythical beast was meant to be part of my adventure.

I jumped on, soothing the phantom horse until it calmed down, smiling when it finally stopped bucking. Eager to get a better look at its golden horns, I turned to see its face.

BotW_Lord_of_the_Mountain_Model

And I saw this.

To be clear, that is one side of its face. On the other side, there’s another set of tilted, golden eyes, staring into the distance. Those eyes are eerily out of place–too far to the side and too high on tandem faces that don’t move. What looks like a trunk is actually a cloth–or maybe a veil–hanging off of that face of masks.

I’ve learned about the medieval fear of the forest, a very real cultural trend that Susanna Clarke conveyed beautifully in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It was a practical fear of wild animals that turned into myths of terrible creatures and gods who liked to trick and punish those who trespassed in their woods. The wild was a place that no one could control, better left alone, for everyone’s safety.

This creature’s face finally drove home that fear for me. The crows. The feeling that I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. The music. My exact words were, “Oh God. I don’t like this.”

Afraid and confused, I rode this thing down its mountain, thinking that maybe the game would confirm that it was a good idea–that there would be a cutscene somewhere, or maybe that the man running the nearby stable would compliment me on taming it.

That stable master’s words were, “Is that . . . Is that the . . . Lord of the Mountain!?

“Why would you bring that thing here?

“We’ll all be cursed!”

I galloped the entire way back up that mountain. I brought the Lord back up to its clearing and dismounted the moment we reached its pond.

The Lord looked at me, and then galloped off into the fog, becoming nothing again.

I never once went back to that mountain top.

But I know the curse is there. That I’ve incurred it. That there’s some consequence; a tax for fool-heartiness, meted out by a thing I’ll never understand–with a face of masks.

And that terror is a beautiful reminder. Those strange, terrible things that I love about the series are still there. If anything, they’re more horrifying now.

But, in part, because they’re also a great secret now, easily missed in a series that is all about secrets.

With barely any dialogue, this one creature made me feel all of these complex things. I had a personal reflection about the entire series and what it means to me, coming to a head with one simple, vague warning. A warning given substance by setting cues and major shifts in tone.

But also purely by character design. The Lord’s face, the ringing of its hooves as it walks, the fact that its horns are branches . . . it sells every facet of the series. The mystery, the strangeness, the lack of answers, the sense that we don’t deserve answers.

I can’t talk enough about how in awe I am of this one beast. I know a lot of its majesty in my story dependents on my extremely variable experience with it.

But I also realize that, as a writer, I have the ability to control a similar experience, making it uniform for everyone.

So now, creating a beast that achieves the same goals as the Lord is something I aspire to.

Because I want to give readers a moment this emotionally complex in one encounter with a silent beast.

~~~

Wow. I am sorry that went so long. TL;DR: man, that Lord on the Mountain sure is something.

Really though, thank you for reading, and I hope this one at least conveyed the experience I had, and made it clear how intensely the right design can make someone feel.

PS–The attempts to get on a better schedule and trim down longer posts will continue, I promise (sorry for this 1000+ word beast).

But, for now, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Again though, thank you just for dropping by. And, as always, write well.

PAX East 2017 – A Brief Summary of The Last Night on Earth

I’m closing out the week with another brief story from PAX.

Only, this time, actually a story.

One of the things I love about board games is the way they sometimes yield cohesive plots. Reading between the die rolls, you can find narratives that are accidentally perfect.

And, because I love those stories, here’s a rendering of my run in The Last Night on Earth, during lunch at PAX today. I made small adjustments only to increase humor (or because I couldn’t remember exact details–it was 12 hours ago, which is an incredibly long time in PAX hours). Enjoy!

~~~

When the zombies clawed their way out of the ground, Sheriff Anderson was in the barn, with Jenny, the farmer’s daughter.

Hearing them just outside, the sheriff spun. “Jenny, you any good with a gun?”

“Uh . . . Yeah.”

The sheriff, without another word, handed her his revolver, certain he could find another one in the barn. He knew the farmer well enough–had feared a gun the man kept somewhere in this barn.

But only a moment into his search, Jenny pulled at the front door. “It’s locked!”

A sentence punctuated by a window shattering. Before the sheriff could blink, a zombie was on her, biting first, going down second, the revolver roaring in Jenny’s hand.

“I’m bit,” she winced. “Here, sheriff, take this . . . pitchfork.”

The sheriff blinked. “I . . . What?” he asked, finding it impossible not to eye the revolver he’d just given her.

“Here,” she said, pushing the pitchfork at him, eyes so earnest it hurt.

Sheriff Anderson took the pitchfork, began to run outside.

But Jenny called after him, wistful. “Sheriff . . . If I can heal this disease . . . If I survive . . . I’ll want that pitchfork back.”

Sheriff Anderson stared. “Uh . . .”

And Jenny looked out the window. “I gotta get to the high school.”

Anderson grumbled. “I’m gonna just . . . keep lookin’ for that gun.”

#

Moments later, Sheriff Anderson was outside, sparing Jenny only a glance. She was running into the cornfields. Of course she was.

It didn’t matter; the mansion in the middle of town was being overrun, and the sheriff knew that if they could keep enough zombies out, he and the other survivors could fortify–survive.

The sheriff, spitting, sweating, ran up to the side of the mansion and fired in through a window, taking down one of the zombies attacking the pastor inside.

Missing the zombie that came up from behind, clawing at his neck.

The pastor called for him to come inside, but maybe it was the pain. The fever. Maybe it was the zombie, still ambling toward him. The fact that the lights had gone out in the mansion.

Maybe it was Jenny, still headed toward the cornfields.

“Can’t trust ’em!” he shouted over the moaning and screaming. “Can’t trust no one!”

Grabbing a fire extinguisher and running into a pile of zombies felt like the best idea.

For a moment, it was. He managed to fend off five of them, pushing them away from the mansion.

But then, a moment later, all five were on him. He went down brawling, shouting like the maniac he’d immediately become.

And, not a second later, I was allowed to pick a new character from two possibilities . . . one of whom was Billy, Sheriff Anderson’s son. I had to pick him.

He was randomly given an item, which happened to be a shotgun (we immediately decided it was his father’s). Ready for vengeance, Billy entered the field, screaming a super typical, overdramatic, “Paw! No-o-o-o!”

Unfortunately, the game ended there, but I loved finding that story in a bunch of random die rolls.

And Sheriff Anderson, fist fighting zombies in a cloud of fire extinguisher smoke, already having gone totally insane after about ten in-game seconds, got the biggest laugh of the game.

~~~

Well, I hope you enjoyed this one.

Technically, the spree is over–I didn’t even start this post until Saturday. But, eh, it’s still my fifth post for the week, so I’ll take it.

If you’re a regular, thank you for the support. I’m gonna go enjoy the rest of my vacation, but I’ll be back bright and early Monday morning.

If you’re new, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Either way though, thank you for passing by! I hope that you have an awesome weekend, wherever you are!

And, of course, as always, write well.

 

PAX East 2017 – The Road to Betrayal

So . . . posting from PAX . . . is a nightmare.

It’s not impossible though, so I thought I’d drop an easy post, at least.

The easiest thing to write about? PAX.

So, for tonight, I thought I’d share the best moments from my journey to PAX East 2017. A little bloggier than I like to make my posts.

But I felt like sharing today.

~~~

It was only a few hours between waking up and reaching Boston. A quick road trip with friends–Final Fantasy XV in real time.

PAX started in a lounge on the 20th floor of our hotel though.

First when a stranger, Sarah, walked up in the middle of our game of Star Wars: Rebellion.

She was doing a Pokemon themed bar crawl later that night, she explained. She also sat with us, shared a few drinks, and laughed as my friend Josh and I lost to the rebels. We blew up Bothawui (many Bothans died), but the game came to a canonical end when their Han Solo showed up at the last second to save Luke Skywalker from Darth Vader. Somehow, we genuinely didn’t see it coming.

After that, I jumped in on a game of Betrayal at House on the Hill, a game where you and your friends explore a haunted mansion that inevitably drives one of your friends insane, making them the Traitor. Our Traitor found a box that took away everyone’s voice . . . which meant that we, as players, couldn’t speak.

Betrayal turned into all of us flailing, trying to help each other, largely failing.

“Wait–I’ll send my dog in there!” became a pantomime with a beer cap.

At one point, a friend who wasn’t playing asked us how the game was going. We awkwardly gave thumbs up–at the same time, in complete silence.

I laughed hysterically. Repeatedly.

At one point, I realized, Holy shit . . . We haven’t even gone to PAX yet. The convention hasn’t actually started.

And, after working a ton of overtime, struggling through a rough start with H&T, and interviewing for a promotion at work . . . man did I need this breather.

~~~

Forgive me for the short salutations, but I have a game of Risk: Legacy to jump in on.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another short post about the floor itself.

Until then, thank you everyone for reading.

And, as always, write well.

Muse Tuesday – Blood He Couldn’t Feel | Warframe

Welcome back to Muse Tuesday.

This week, I’m doing a little fanfiction.

If you haven’t heard of Warframe, it’s a sci-fi, free-to-play online shooter, the selling point of which is that you’re an insanely powerful space ninja–one of many known as “Tenno.” As such, you wear a selection of armors called Warframes that adhere to certain motifs and allow you unique abilities. All of which add up to you killing hordes and hordes of enemies.

I thought I’d take that . . . and try to do something incredibly serious with it. So, apologies if any of this is lost on you; the challenge here was definitely on explaining without over-explaining.

Anyway, enjoy.

~~~

There was blood on the Tenno’s knees.

Not only a spot–a pool that he knelt in. A dark splash that glowed with sunlight. He’d watched it slowly roll toward him from the pile of dead Grineer meters away–had done nothing but blink as it reached him, kneeling there. Blink and listen to a chorus of birdsong and rushing water.

It all made the overgrown forests of Earth strangely empty for him, listening to a language he couldn’t understand, being touched by warm blood he couldn’t feel.

Another moment more and he would be done with this ritual of his. He’d lost count of the times he’d done it, but the exercise was always the same; he knelt near a group of Grineer he’d just killed and tried his best to feel something for them–before their blood reached him.

He hoped for anything. Regret. Sadness. Because they were still people.

Just cloned–so often that it’d driven them insane and ruined their genetics. Many of them were more machine now–men and women with complex prostheses, living in alloy shells.

Who terrorized the galaxy. Who killed without mercy.

The only reason the Tenno was planetside in the first place was to stop a Grineer plot to poison the forests of Earth, making it easier to terraform–a new planet of factories to process their weapons of war.

No. It’s impossible, he thought. I can’t feel sorry for them. They’re savages. Killers.

And as he thought it, the blood reached his feet.

Suddenly desperate, the Tenno closed his eyes, willing himself to try again. To try to be better than the things he’d just killed.

Angrily punching the ground when he still couldn’t feel anything.

“Whoa.”

He spun around and found another Tenno behind him–another lost child of space, this one in her Warframe: a birdlike Zephyr, her carbon composite feathers and metal skin regal in shades of white and gold.

“Are you . . . okay?” she asked, lowering her weapon, oddly tender as her clawed hand reached for him.

The Tenno closed his eyes, activating Transferrence, pulling himself back into his own Warframe–an Ash that he’d left standing on a Grineer structure a half mile away, just in case he needed to vanish.

Since he’d left, a new platoon of clones had arrived, cleaning up the mess he’d left behind. Already restarting the machines the Tenno had just shut down, repairing those he’d destroyed. They shouted at each other, angry only then. Careless when they pushed their dead into the river nearby.

The sword in Ash’s hand twitched.

Time to try again.

~~~

Thanks for reading.

A quick notice: I’m going to be at PAX this weekend, but my journey to get there starts tomorrow night. I’ll still be posting tomorrow, for sure, but whether or not I post Thursday and Friday depends on how much of a pain it’ll be to post from PAX.

Anyway, if you’re a regular, thanks again for the read. I’ve tried my best to make it easier to comment on my posts, so if you’d like to drop any criticism down below, please feel free. Writing this often is starting to make some of my writing habits stand out and I want to take care of those immediately.

If you’re new, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Regardless, thank you for stopping by, and, as always, write well.

Monday, AM #3 – The PAX Rush

Welcome back, everyone. Another brief Monday, AM–made particularly short by the fact that my entire weekend was devoured by Breath of the Wild.

I mean, I wrote and did a few other things, but when it came to going outside–catching Logan or Get Out, I passed. In my defense, I’ve always been a huge Zelda fan, so whatever. Sacrifices were made.

Anyway, getting into my biz . . .

PAX East Is This Weekend

My first Pax East was in 2014. I went with an old friend and his buddies, and it was one of the best experiences of my recent life. Got to go to a few panels, be incredibly awkward while grabbing drinks with some of my favorite streamers, try out a bunch of awesome indies (Titan Souls and Enter the Gungeon were there that year), and–most importantly–I got to hang out and game with a bunch of friends for a few days.

Unfortunately, money issues didn’t let me go last year.

But this year, I made absolutely sure to have enough saved up for another PAX trip.

If you’ve never been, I’d like to convey the experience with a summary of one moment:

Partway through the convention, one of my friends mentioned a “retro room,” a single room at the convention where anyone could come in, request a game from a list of titles, and play that game on of many ancient consoles (from the NES to the Sega CD).

Immediately intrigued, I checked it out on my own. There were a bunch of tables arranged at the front of the room, a check-in counter at the back, where they kept the aforementioned list of games.

A list that I perused for maybe 20 seconds before realizing . . .

“Holy shit . . . They have Lunar: The Silver Star.”

Timid, as if the opportunity would somehow disappear, I went to the attendant at the check in desk. Mumbled, “Lunar for the Sega CD, please,” like I was a nervous little kid. They found it for me, told me I had 30 minutes with it.

And, in a strange moment for a grown man, I found a Sega CD, popped Lunar in . . .

. . . and then got teary eyed when the intro started.

Maybe it was because I’d loved Lunar when I was a kid.

But I think that it was actually because I’d forgotten Lunar. The intro, the music. No, that isn’t true; the moment the game started, I remembered all of it: the incredibly anime intro music, the dialogue, the characters.

But I had forgotten something. And, although this is going to sound cheesy . . . I think that what I forgot was how it felt to be happy.

The kind of happy that only a kid can experience when they get to do, watch, or play their favorite thing in the world. And Lunar, out of all the things I loved as a kid, is the only thing that I got to have completely to myself; no one else I knew played that game. No one in my family cared about it, so no one beat it and spoiled the ending for me, for example. I never got a chance to play the sequels either, so my love for the first in the series was never even challenged by its successors.

So sitting there, at PAX East, I realized that Lunar was a time capsule for me; one of pure love, planted in 1992, delivered 22 years later.

There’s so much else about PAX that my story doesn’t convey–the love of games in all of their media, the spirit of camaraderie–but that moment with Lunar is what it means to me.

Fingers crossed for Flashback in the retro room this year.

The Hand and the Tempest Progress

Last week, I said I had to bring it and finish chapter 4. Well, I didn’t finish it last Monday . . .

But I did finish it Tuesday.

And, somewhere in between, holy shit, did the muse come back.

I might want to write about the idea of the creative switch–the quest to find out what turns it on–because it feels like that’s what happened. One moment sparked a really fun scene with exciting world building . . .

And now, suddenly, I know what the next three chapters are going to be like. After months of slogging, I know how a character’s entire arc is going to work out, how many chapters it’ll take to get there. I’m almost done with chapter 5, and ready to roll into chapter 6.

Most importantly though, I’m finally excited. Just . . . insanely excited to write more of this novel–this YA story that I finally love.

~~~

And, in that spirit, I’m gonna call it quits here.

If you’re a regular, welcome back to Monday. I hope you guys are having a good one, light on distractions, heavy on the words.

If you’re new, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Either way, thank you just for stopping by. Take care, and, as always, write well.

 

Fantasy Fandom: The Legend of Zelda

I’m writing this on the morning of March 3rd, 2017. Blessed with the day off, I woke up early to wait for my local Best Buy to open. Because then, and only then, can I go pick up The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Sitting here, waiting, I decided to at least start a series that I’ve been thinking of for a while. Fantasy Fandom will be a place where I talk briefly about some of the franchises that shaped my writing. How I found them, why I love them, and what I’ve learned from them.

The first installment was always going to be about The Legend of Zelda. But this morning, as I basically sit and stare at a wall, hands on my knees, waiting for 10AM, I decided, “Today’s the perfect day for this.”

My First Experience with The Legend of Zelda

I don’t remember the year, because I was in single digits–at an age where I wasn’t yet concerned what year it was.

But a friend of the family lived across the street, and one day, my mother brought us over to hang out. The parents quickly ushered us into their son’s room–a guy who greeted us, but then immediately turned back to a TV.

Back to a duel to the death with Dark Link in Zelda II.

At the time, I had no idea he was fighting the most difficult boss in the entire series–that he was at the end of the second game.

All I knew was, “Whoooaaa . . . He’s controlling the guy on screen. And fighting a shadow version of himself.” And, I’m absolutely giving voice to a thought I didn’t understand at the time, but I remember thinking something like, “What kind of meta, psychological struggle is this shit!? With this elf dude! And there are curtains! What is this!?”

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the first time I’d ever experienced video games–I’d owned an Atari 2600 and played Super Mario Bros., Pitfall, and Duck Hunt at other friends’ places–but this was a turning point for me in gaming. When my family finally got an NES, I proceeded to annoy my mom by asking her to call a bunch of Funcolands and Toys ‘R’ Us’s, asking if they had Zelda.

Again, I don’t know how old I was, but the day when I came home with used copies of The Legend of Zelda and Metroid for the NES were good days. Even though that’s when I discovered that LoZ and Adventures of Link were extremely different.

Since then, The Legend of Zelda has been a staple of my life. I’ve bought and played nearly every one of them to completion. When I write a bio for myself, I always add that The Legend of Zelda was a huge influence for me.

Because it always has been and still is.

Why I Love It

What really grabbed me about that Dark Link fight was the strange pageantry of the whole thing. The fact that the world fell into silhouettes against a purple sky when you fought him. The fact that he was just a doppleganger of Link (this being my first experience with the concept of evil doubles).

That beautiful strangeness endures in all of Zelda, and that’s what I love about it.

Although the series uses some fantasy tropes, it gives them a unique, weird polish that I’ve never seen anywhere else.

For example, Hylians have long, pointed ears. But they are not elves–most certainly not Tolkien elves. Hylians are bizarre. They’re ugly–often comically so. They have strange body shapes that are exaggerated to illustrate their characters. They talk, but always with simple, guttural sounds. In a lot of cases, they’re blatantly, flat out terrifying in their words and actions, although it never seems like they’re being scary on purpose; in most cases, you’re just a kid who happens to hear them say the weirdest things.

Even the hero is strange. Link, we came to learn, is not a single, destined hero who goes on many adventures. He’s a . . . lineage? All of the Links are descendants of the first (and good luck figuring out which Link came first [I think Skyward Sword’s?]), which, on its own, is a bizarre turn for a fantasy hero. I can’t think of another franchise that spans thousands of years, following one bloodline of legendary heroes. Legendary heroes who always come to power . . . with a Princess named Zelda, sometimes a weirdo named Tingle, and always a cast of other staple characters, similar in appearance, but actually different. Zelda runs on a concept of history repeating itself, which allows it to go to strange new places.

All of this means that the only recurring character–who is always the same man as far as I can tell–is the series’ villain, Ganon. How strange for a fantasy series to have a new hero kill the one villain every time, instead of the one hero killing a new villain every time.

Whatever. The point is that Zelda is bizarre in many, many ways, and that’s why I love it.

What I’ve Learned from It

Because of its strangeness, I think Zelda taught me how to be independent with my fantasy. It taught me to write without bowing to established fantasy expectations. There are elves, but they’re not the famous kind of elves. There’s a hero, but, even though he looks similar, he’s a new person every time.

To be sure, Zelda is still pretty typical; it’s still the story of a young boy who inherits a legendary power and leaves his home to slay a great evil.

But Zelda’s strange take on that story made it possible for me to think beyond it altogether.

And, for that, I thank you, Legend of Zelda. I would not be the same writer without you.

~~~

Thanks for reading.

If you’re a regular, thank you for hanging out with me for another week. I forgot to ask last post because I got . . . super touchy feely, but if you liked this post, please drop a Like so I can keep track of how many people enjoyed it. If you didn’t like it, absolutely pass; I’m trying to sift through my series and focus on the ones people like the most, so negative votes also really help.

If you’re new, my name is Louis Santiago, and I’m a fantasy writer based in the Bronx. My short story, “Aixa the Hexcaster,” was recently published in Mirror Dance Fantasy. However, I’m still very much learning about the writing process–still trying to figure it out. Part of that means posting on here every weekday, even though I make absolutely no money from it. So, if you like what you read here and feel up to getting an email every weekday–a new post from me delivered right to your inbox–then please hit the Follow button at the bottom of this page. Because, even though all I get from this site is emotional support, that support means the world to me.

Either way, thank you for stopping by, and I hope you have an awesome weekend. I know I will; halfway through this post, I a) scheduled an interview for a new job and b) went and picked up Breath of the Wild, cause 10AM came and I couldn’t contain myself.

I’ll see you next week, and, as always, write well!

Games for Writers: No Man’s Sky

Wow. It has been forever since I’ve written one of these.

And, of all games, I picked No Man’s Sky, hands down the least disappointing game of 2016. Why, I remember no one being upset about this one.

. . .

So, disclaimer first: I know. I know that No Man’s Sky was a huge, flaming disappointment. And, with this post, I’m not trying to say that you should run out and buy it. The only reason why I didn’t trade it in, in fact, was that I forgot it was on my shelf. The only reason why I still haven’t traded it in, is that the Foundation Update was pleasant. Maybe Hello Games’ll suddenly stop supporting this game in a few months, but, as I’d only get a few bucks for trading it in now anyway, I’m holding out for future updates, hoping I at least get my money’s worth that way.

Regardless though, none of that is why I’m writing about this game today.

Today, I’m writing about No Man’s Sky to give it props in one regard. Because there is one way in which it helped improve my writing.

The name game.

I’m a big believer in the power of video games. I don’t think they’re the ultimate form of entertainment, but I think they have an innate ability to provide experiences you would never have otherwise. On a most basic level, they have the power to make you feel that you’re, say, a pilot navigating his way through a space battle.

But, at this point, an idea like that is oddly quaint when it comes to gaming. Video games are far more specific and varied. They’re able to deliver more unique tones and feelings.

And No Man’s Sky delivers a feeling and experience that I have never encountered in any other video game. Ever.

And that feeling just so happens to be important for worldbuilding.

In this video game, in which you have to gather elements from plants, rocks, animals, and planetary bases, all to power and mod your ship so that you can fly to the heart of the universe, the sandbox that you’re in is planet-sized. There’s no one around to talk to you and, often, there isn’t much to interact with.

All there is to do, is walk around, explore, and name the creatures, plants, and locations that you find. And it’s that naming–of these tiny parts of a frighteningly massive universe–that is invaluable when it comes to worldbuilding.

No Man’s Sky is a Game for Writers because the experience of being on unfamiliar territory, and not being able to go back–of having to walk around a bizarre landscape and, especially, naming things as you go–will improve your naming game tenfold.

Because now, you are the settler who founded Manhattan.

You’re the guy who’s standing there, on the spot, trying to decide what to call a place you’ve never been to.

You’re the person who’s all, “Uh . . . Fuck it. Louis Town. Wait, no, Louisville . . . : I This is exactly why there’s a Long Island in every state, isn’t it?”

No Man's Sky_20160812141756
Because sometimes, you’ll just name ’em the first thing that comes to mind.

But you’re also the person who reaches a base at the top of a mountain, and, after hours of naming different locations, looks around and sees that there are two caves nearby that look like eyes. So you name the base “Rockmire’s Gaze” and then spiral into thinking of why the mountain is named “Rockmire” and what the people of this planet would think of the fact that it has eyes (if there were people–No Man’s Sky is beautiful but it’s still a pretty vacant resource collecting game).

My point is, after playing this game, I got a lot more heavily invested in naming trends, and I think all fantasy writers can stand to do that. And not just naming trends of landmarks or animals, but of everything; I’m finding that plant names are particularly interesting to me (“Why ‘foxglove’? And, wait, ‘ladyfinger’?. . . That’s just weird.”).

But, being put in a place to name things in quick succession also highlights your own naming trends and helps you slip away from them. In my case, I realized I love ending planets names with “-ulus” or “-os,” and as you can see from the picture above, “Prime.”

No Man's Sky_20170217182318
Although I found I also go with single words, like “Amethyst,” for planets and other locations. It’s a bad habit in my writing that I know I have to break now.

With animals, I fall back on real suffixes mixed with appropriate sounds–“byparn” being a favorite example for a cow-like alien with two horns. I also go for direct descriptors with dashes though, particularly for plants; “bat-winged borp” and “arrow-leaf tree” for examples.

Again, I wouldn’t recommend buying No Man’s Sky; it’s still a little too sparse on the gameplay side for me to recommend it to anyone.

But, if you’re a writer, and if you already own it, or if you have a friend who owns it, maybe check it out for that one day–that one batch of hours–where you’re genuinely a pilgrim, naming a land you know nothing about.

~~~

Thanks for reading. I hope this was an interesting return to the Games for Writers series. You can check out these previous installments on Metroid Prime, Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season One, and Dark Souls, but please be advised that they’re mostly terrible (I wrote the Silent Hill one nearly seven years ago; I was a much different writer back then). I also wrote a post about making sure your writing is free of completely unrealistic video game tropes, a pitfall that I called the CR Trap.

Regardless though, that’s all for this week. Thank you for dropping by, and, as always, write well.