Games for Writers – Hades Just Became the First Video Game to Win a Hugo Award—And Yes, It Absolutely Deserves It

I wasn’t going to write about Hades this week.

My post is late because, though I was planning on cleaning up one of the reserve posts I’d written a week ago, the news dropped yesterday that Hades won a Hugo Award for Literature. If that doesn’t sound impressive enough, Hades is the first game to ever win a Hugo. If that still doesn’t sound impressive enough, according to Eurogamer, the category of “Best Game” is a one-off. Which means they might never give a Hugo to another video game.

Which means they might have added the category this year just to give the award to Hades.

And, if you ask me, never has an award been more justified.

Because, as I’ve tried to explain to many writer friends, the awesome gameplay is not the most amazing part of Hades.

It’s the writing.

To put this into context, I am extremely hard to impress when it comes to writing in video games. I don’t want to get into a rant here, so suffice it to say that I just don’t grade on a curve. I am totally capable of saying, “That game has fun dialogue,” “That game had a surprising twist,” or, most commonly, “That game had an intense plot.” But I have almost never said, “That game is really well written,” because to me that implies that it has a complete, cohesive, engaging, active storyline. With legitimately great writing and charming characters who aren’t cliché. Essentially, the entire package that I’d expect from a film, TV show, or novel with great writing.

But Hades is that entire package.

If you haven’t played it, Hades is a rogue-like, which means it’s a game where you play as a character doing “runs” of an adventure with randomly-generated maps and assortments of enemies.

In this particular adventure, you play as Zagreus, the son of Hades, who’s trying to escape his father’s realm—the underworld. Not the most unique premise, sure, but hang with me here, because that’s the same thing I thought.

Until I started my first run and Zagreus started talking. I don’t mean that he was soliloquizing—there was no cutscene where he painstakingly detailed his reasons for wanting to escape.

I mean that when the game started, after Zagreus delivered two extremely brief lines about his escape (while I was controlling him), I ran up to a pillar and tried attacking it with my sword. And when it broke, Zagreus said a sarcastic, “Oops.”

And I blinked. “Oh . . . He’s . . . still talking. Alright.”

And then I went into the next room and Zagreus commented on the enemies that spawned there.

And then I found a golden vase, and when I broke it and gold coins spilled out, Zagreus said a devious, “I’m sure father won’t miss these,” at which point I chuckled like, “Wow. How much VO did they record? Does this dude just talk the entire time?”

Yes.

Yes, he does.

Also, a lot. They recorded a lot of VO.

In a world where the standard is to record a handful of grunts and shouts for your protagonist, only having them talk in cutscenes or when a game designer thinks you forgot an objective, Zagreus just . . . talks.

Like he’s just . . . a character?

An extremely charming character who I thought I was going to hate, but who I liked . . . immediately?

The thing is, then I got to the first boss, and I didn’t realize it was happening at the time because I was already too into it, but Zagreus spoke to that boss—a quick exchange of a few lines to show that they know each other—and that was the moment where I first experienced why Hades deserved its Hugo.

Not because Zagreus and that boss talked and it was cool, but because that was the very first moment where I understood that Hades was creating a world.

When I died (that first boss destroyed me), there was no return to the title screen. Zagreus, having died, just returned to his father’s home—the House of Hades, which he’d been trying to escape. Why? Because, in-world, that’s where everyone goes when they die. Did the game need to have an in-story, totally acceptable justification for the rogue-like genre model? No. Did I need to mention that it provided an in-story, totally acceptable justification for it anyway? Hell yes.

But, anyway, putting that aside, returning to the House of Hades was the moment I fell in love with the game because there were, immediately, so many characters to talk to—if I wanted to. I won’t spoil any of them here, but I will say that, aside from being extremely charming in their own ways (each of them great showcases for playing to a character’s strengths), they all make the world feel incredibly active.

Because, sometimes, they aren’t in the House of Hades. Zagreus will comment on their absence, of course, pointing out that they “must be on break.”

And sometimes, you can, in fact, find them on break.

Sometimes, new characters arrive after being away on business.

Sometimes, these characters are talking to each other! And of course, you get to listen in on a few lines of dialogue, but after the bit that’s relevant to you, they continue chatting to each other in cute whispers that you hear?

And also, every time—not even just sometimes but every time—these characters have specific dialogue in reaction to your last run. Characters comment on the enemy that just killed you if they logically would have that information. Characters comment on how they heard you beat the first boss and reached the second area of the underworld and “Good on you, lad. Keep fighting.” If you were killed by an enemy who killed you before, Zagreus will respawn in the House of Hades and angrily curse the enemy who killed him.

What I’m getting at here is that Hades is genuinely an achievement.

I am 30+ runs in, and I’m still getting unique dialogue.

It is just an incredible, technical feat. There are so many characters who are universally charming or annoying or cute or scary or hot (make me bi, Ares, you beautiful fucking monster), and all of them have an unreal amount of naturally flowing dialogue that presents an ever-evolving story that changes as you play. I desperately want to go into how, but I refuse to spoil this game for anyone. All I will say is that the first time I beat the last boss, their last line of dialogue hit me very, very hard. And that did not emotionally equip me for the epilogue, the music for which is a perfect embodiment of Zagreus’ legend. Music and legend that, mind you, both haunt me to this day.

It is just beautiful and I cannot express how incredible the writing is for this game. I wish I could watch a documentary about the writing team that handled all of it. Were there specific writers for each character? Were there maybe teams—like one person handling Megaera and her sisters or, conversely, a group of people handling Hades? Was it, impossibly, one person writing for everyone? Were the voice actors in the writers’ room riffing off of each other? And just how many pages was Zagreus’ script?

Okay—I have to stop because I will just rant forever. But what I will say is this: if you are a writer of Fantasy and you love video games . . .

. . . play . . . Hades.

The love that Supergiant Games gave to its characters; the way that they created its world and made it feel alive; the short, confident bursts of conversation between characters that they used to compliment gameplay instead of bogging it down; the slow, careful graduation of its story; and the way that Supergiant molded all of this perfectly around the rogue-like genre—all of that can only influence your writing for the better.

At some point, I will write about Hades again.

I know it without a shadow of a doubt. Because I barely scratched the surface.

And because there is no escape.

~~~

Phew. This took a while to finish. Thanks for reading though! If you made it all the way here, I have a few other “Games for Writers” posts on here, but it’s my most staggered series by far, so they range wildly in quality. On the low end: “Games for Writers: Metal Gear Solid 3 – Snake Eater,” which was awful and I don’t stand by at all anymore. On the high end: “Games for Writers – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Is a Great Fantasy World Simulator,” which was extremely fun and totally holds up.

If you enjoyed, I am not, by any means, a celebrity influencer. I’m just an aspiring writer doing this as a means of staying honest. Which means I’m still building my platform, and thus totally appreciate Follows (the button for which is on the left sidebar on PC and the top-right hamburger menu on mobile). I post every Sunday or Monday, but the topic, while random, will always relate to writing in one way or another. I might not post this weekend because of the holidays, but there’s an equally likely chance I’ll have a bizarre dream between then and now that I’ll just have to share.

At any rate, thank you for reading. Until next time, stay safe, stay hydrated, and have a great holiday!

Something to Read / Watch / Play – October 2021

Happy Halloween!

Nothing on this list is scary.

I’m sorry, but I’m just not into theming these posts for holidays. At least not yet.

What I am into: taking a little break from publishing long, monstrous posts . . . by promoting some stuff I recently read, watched, and played that were really good.

Something to Read:

Have you ever followed a YouTuber for a few months and then found out that they’re a Sci-Fi / Fantasy author whose debut novel just came out? Have you ever decided to check it out and were so utterly hooked by the first page that you dropped everything you were doing, bought an ebook of it, and binge-read it for hours?

That was me when I decided to check out Iron Widow, by Xiran Jay Zhao.

The novel follows Wu Zetian, a young woman who decides to enlist as a concubine co-pilot of a mech, the Nine-Tailed Fox, so that she can kill its celebrity pilot. Why? Because that celebrity pilot killed her sister: one of the many concubines that he and other pilots sacrifice to power their mechs in battles against alien creatures.

And that . . . is . . . just the exposition.

Yeah, that’s not even the entire premise. Seriously, that’s just the set up.

Iron Widow is a beautifully written novel that repeatedly surprised me. It did so many things I wasn’t expecting that I actually had no idea how it was going to end while I was reading it. And then it did end and I’m still reeling.

Just such a wild, unique, awesome ride of a Sci-Fi / Fantasy novel.

Also, it has really well-crafted, extremely visual descriptions.

And an extremely well-paced plot (to the point that I want to write a post about Zhao’s technique of almost never using the same setting twice, which blew my mind).

Also, great characters that you root for even though some of them have done some terrible things. Seriously, where some novels briefly mention that there’s a grey area between their heroes and villains, Iron Widow dives in, head first, and just stays there.

Finally, on top of all of that, there’s a romance that also just . . . I can’t. Just read the book. LOL! I want to talk about the romance and how beautiful it was, but I also, desperately want to avoid spoilers.

Please note that the novel does touch on topics like suicide and physical/emotional abuse, so if you are sensitive to those topics, it may not be the right book for you.

But if you’re okay with those topics, I cannot recommend Iron Widow enough.

Something to Watch:

Ah ha! It turns out there is something vaguely spooky on this list!

Am I Halloweening correctly?

I could have given you a confectionary treat, but instead, I have given you . . . a deception!

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m doing it right.

Look, if you’re reacting to this pick like, “Wait. A YouTube video about wrestling?” let me immediately say, “I know.”

I get it–I haven’t watched wrestling in about 20 years, and I’ve never regarded it as a legitimate medium for fiction.

However . . . one of the guys in my writing group brought up how one of our projects unwittingly used a technique that pops up in professional wrestling of all places. The technique in question was elevating one villain by having them squash another, more consistently present villain from the first act. And when I learned that technique had a name in wrestling, of all places, I was extremely intrigued.

So that guy from the writing group recommended a YouTube channel that regularly talks about storytelling in professional wrestling. And this video, “The Undertaker: Long Term Story Telling in Wrestling,” hit me hard. Not just because of its polish or the emotion it invokes, but because I never noticed how unique of a storytelling medium professional wrestling is or how intricate its characterizations can be.

If you have a half hour and want to either celebrate an avenue of storytelling you already love or dip your toes into a completely new realm of living fiction, then check out “The Undertaker: Long Term Story Telling in Wrestling.”

Something to Play:

I mean . . . I usually want to talk about lesser known things with these “Read/Watch/Play” posts, but I already talked about Iron Widow, which was a New York Times Bestseller before I even started reading it, so whatever.

And besides, Metroid: Dread is amazing.

It is . . . extremely hard. Like, surprisingly, mind-bogglingly difficult for a Nintendo game. Having died a total of maybe twelve times in total across all of my casual playthroughs of previous Metroid titles, I died in Dread a lot. Seriously, getting to certain stealth segments required flipping a switch in my brain like, “Time to die, like, 10 times in a row!” The last boss alone took me an hour to get through.

The thing is . . . that level of difficulty feels incredibly appropriate for the series.

Because Metroid has always had an element of skill shot. It has always been the platformer where you can either wait for Space Jump or perfectly time your Morph Ball Bombs to get to an otherwise inaccessible area.

You can wait until you get the Screw Attack to get up this tunnel, or you can learn to wall jump right now.

In the original Metroid, you can wait to get the Bombs so you can get the Ice Beam like a normal person or . . . you can learn to execute a screen wrap in 1987, before the terms “screen wrap” or “speedrunning” even existed. Obviously, a screen wrap is an exploit that wasn’t intentional, but everyone still knew about it, so of course it bled into the identity of the series (evidenced by things like the ability to sequence break the original Metroid II: Return of Samus by running through lava without the Varia Suit, and the ability to get the Ice Beam early in Super Metroid by executing a bunch of difficult tricks).

My point is, Metroid has always had a high skill ceiling.

And Metroid: Dread leans all the way into that design philosophy, bringing back the parry skill shots from Samus Returns, giving you an extremely narrow chance to counter enemies that are about to insta-kill you, etc.–and, to me, it all feels completely and utterly Metroid.

Accepting the skill shotiness of Metroid also means that Mercury Stream was able to fashion what are, hands down, some of the best boss fights in any Metroid title. Bosses, which would usually be a thing to coast by, became amazing, challenging treats that felt so rewarding to overcome that when some of them didn’t give me an upgrade, I didn’t go like, “What? No Power Bombs?” I was just like, “No! Is the boss dead? . . . Can I just fight it again? Is there a Boss Rush??”

Combat is fluid and fast, but early-game encounters teach you to respect every enemy you come across, so that, late game, when you’re finally fully powered, you respect that power so much more.

Exploration is definitely more limited than it used to be. Dread still chooses to deliver a story and experience on a more linear path than other Metroid titles.

But the story and experience that are delivered are so completely different from what you’ve come to expect from the series that even I–a dude who values free roam mechanics over everything–didn’t really care, because I also appreciate when a series dives head first into new, weird territory. Metroid: Dread presents a totally new villain who still feels perfectly in line with the series, but also a new planet. New enemies. New [redacted to save you from spoilers].

Most importantly, it did what I now accept as the true hook of the series: pushing Samus Aran into perpetually newer, stranger situations that she perseveres through, getting more badass and more . . . weird every time. Did you think it was strange when she almost died in Fusion and had to have Metroid DNA spliced into her own DNA to save her? Child’s play.

Would I love it if the next game gave you more freedom to explore? Absolutely. Would I still buy DLC for Dread even if I knew it was completely linear? In a heartbeat.

What I’m saying here is . . . Metroid: Dread is really good. If you haven’t played it yet and you’re looking for a beautifully designed, challenging 2D platformer that will not hold your hand, then give Dread a shot.

~~~

That’s it for me. I’ll be back next week.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider giving it a Like or giving me a Follow!

Until next time though, stay safe, take care, and always remember that a minority doesn’t have to prove their minority-ness to you. It literally doesn’t matter who you are; you don’t get to judge a Japanese person for not knowing a lot about Japanese cuisine, or a Brazilian person for not speaking Portuguese. If all else fails, the simple test goes as follows: Think, “What am I?” Whatever the answer is–for this case, let’s say, “Irish”–ask yourself if you know the information about your own culture that you’re about to roast someone else for not knowing about theirs; for example, “Can I speak Gaelic?” or “Do I know everything about traditional Irish food?” If the answer is “No,” then shut your fucking mouth. If the answer is, “Yes,” then shut your fucking mouth. Not being able to speak a language doesn’t somehow lessen the amount of bullshit a minority goes through, and, ironically, when someone else expects us to be a full glossary of information for our cultures, that’s just another level of bullshit being foisted onto us. An ethnicity is not a goddamn monolith.

Anyway, enjoy the rest of your Ghosts ‘n Candy Day!

What If… Someone Made a Smash Clone for Fantasy Fiction?

Disclaimer: Let me say right out the gate that this entire post is me being a huge nerd. That’s all it is–no insights about writing or documentation about my current work in progress. All it is: me mashing up two things I love in a way I’m not sure overlaps for a lot of people. So if you’re not a gamer and a reader of Fantasy, this post might not be for you.

For everyone else: holy shit!

You guys . . . what if there was a Smash Bros. clone for Fantasy fiction characters?

I need to back up; let me explain.

Two weeks ago, Sora was announced as the final DLC fighter for Smash Bros. Ultimate.

And I have to be real here: I didn’t care that it was Sora.

Nothing against him or Kingdom Hearts; I just don’t have a close connection with those games. Worse, the trailer really made it look like the Chosen Undead or Ashen One from Dark Souls was going to be the last fighter, which blew my mind so hard for five seconds that anything else could only be a let down.

Like many a disappointed nerd that week, I turned my thoughts to who I would’ve preferred instead of Sora (the easiest fucking choice in the world being Urbosa from Breath of the Wild, who I will champion from now on as the next Zelda character we need). Alucard was a close second.

But naturally, my mind went, “How about Memory?”

Memory, if you’re new here, is the masked bureaucrat-ninja-assassin-protagonist of my current WIP. And I surprised myself when I imagined her in Smash because, “Holy shit. I found it; the only daydream more indulgent than imagining my novel becoming a million-dollar Summer blockbuster: imagining my character getting into Smash before Waluigi.”

“Or, like, Harry Potter. Or Frodo. Or any other classic Fantasy character that–“

I texted one of the guys is my writing group immediately.

We went back and forth about how much we’d love a Smash clone full of Fantasy characters.

At one point he said, “I want you to write a post about this.”

I seriously sent him back pictures of the draft I was already working on.

Everyone . . . please indulge me in what is undoubtedly one of my nerdiest posts ever: my roster for the Fantasy fiction Smash clone that I now want more than anything in the world.

The Core Eight

First thing first: let’s do this right.

If we’re doing this like Smash, then we need to have the eight, core characters. The ones who would be in the very first iteration of the game and all of its sequels, even if the rest of the cast fluctuates. The backbone of the franchise, without whom it wouldn’t exist. Everyone’s picks would be different, but here are mine:

  1. Frodo – I mean, come on. Not only does he feel like the #1 must-have, but I honestly think he’d control like Mario in Smash, with the same speed and size.
  2. Harry Potter – The titular boy wizard from the famous series written by Hatsune Miku. I’d probably never play as him despite loving those books, but he should be in the game regardless.
  3. Aslan – Having only read the last of the Chronicles of Narnia when I was eight (and didn’t know better), I was hard pressed to pick one character. In the end, Aslan felt like an appropriately-video-gamey choice because he’d be a literal fucking magic lion in the roster.
  4. Drizzt Do’Urden – I will be totally real here: The Legend of Drizzt is one of the ones that got away for me. It’s a hole in my Fantasy knowledge that I need to shore up. But the one thing I know about him: he feels like a great, classic Fantasy addition to the core eight. Like, how could we not have at least one of the common Fantasy races in here? I know he’s a Drow and not a traditional Elf, but wha-a-a-a-atever.
  5. Lyra & Pantalaimon – It is extremely hard picking out only eight core characters for the theoretical first game, but Lyra & Pantalaimon feel like such a good addition to the roster. They’d be the first game’s weird team-character with a complicated move set that would absolutely dominate at Evo.
  6. Shadow Moon – We just need a Neil Gaiman character here. I was going to pick the Sandman because I feel like he’s Gaiman’s most iconic character, but it felt wrong to dip into graphic novels.
  7. Kvothe – I know there are many more classic fantasy characters who could fit into this spot, but it just felt weird to not feature the protagonist of one of the most popular modern Fantasy series out there.
  8. Vin from Mistborn – Of the Core Eight, ladies and gentlemen, may I present . . . my main. I have seriously been waiting to see a movie and/or play a video game about Vin for nearly 20 years. If this game was real, she would be my very first pick, hands down. *Also, just a reminder that this is my list, and if I was producing the game, Vin would have to be up there.

The Sequel Additions
aka
“These people seriously weren’t in the original!?”

If choosing the Core Eight taught me anything, it’s that the first game would definitely need to have more than eight characters.

But if we’re following the Smash model for fun, then these are the equivalent of that Melee-specific vibe of, “Wait–Bowser wasn’t in the original? What?”

  1. Conan – He is so culturally present that he’d probably be in the Core Eight if this game was real, but I’m imagining a world where lesser known characters are highlighted first. And also, I seriously just don’t have the emotional strength to keep rearranging that top eight.
  2. Geralt, the Witcher – I can’t help feeling like he wouldn’t be in the first game for licensing reasons. But I can dream that he’d eventually be there. A part of me wants him to be a totally new take on the character, but, realistically, he’d be the CD Projekt Red version, which means he’d also be a video game crossover character. Also, his last two color choices would be variants of his Netflix look.
  3. John Snow – I honestly just don’t think HBO would be like, “Yes, you can put a version of a character who was on our TV show in your indie game.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I think John would be one of the major “How the fuck was he not in the first one?” characters who would drum up excitement until HBO and George R. R. Martin gave in. His reveal trailer would be trending and he’d absolutely sic Ghost on his opponent with his Side Special.
  4. Ged from A Wizard of Earthsea- I have no idea how Ged would play, but that just makes me want him in it even more?
  5. Rand Al’Thor from The Wheel of Time – Everyone has their massive, Tolkien-esque, 80’s Fantasy series they read a ton of, and everyone would definitely put that series’ protagonist in this spot. For me, Rand is here because my 80’s Fantasy series was The Wheel of Time.
  6. Katniss Everdeen – Again, I introduce you to my motherfucking main. She’d have her bow on Neutral Special, freely aimed by holding down B, firing when released.

My Personal Must-Haves

Okay, look–I know the structure of this post is unravelling fast. And I apologize for that.

But . . . I mean . . . I fell into a rabbit-hole imagining the characters I would lose my mind for and you can’t blame me for that!

  1. Sabriel, the Abhorsen – Seriously, I got chills when I imagined playing as her in any video game. I realize I need to do a post about how much Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Trilogy influenced my writing.
    Neutral Special is “Necromancer’s Bells,” which changes all of her inputs to Ranna, Mosrael, Kibeth, and the rest of the bells. Different combinations have different effects, but also the speed that you ring them influences the strength of those effects (so you can ring them quickly for a few seconds of buffs/debuffs, or you can absolutely flex on someone by taking a full 10 seconds to ring the bells while an enemy’s recovering). The idea that she, a necromancer, would have more time to ring her bells when opponents are weaker (i.e. she’d be stronger when opponents are closer to death) is some of the tightest theming I’ve ever made up without realizing.
  2. Westley from The Princess Bride – If I wasn’t already down to buy this imaginary game, I literally just shouted, “WHAT!?” in my room when I saw him in my head-canon trailer. I would preorder it so fast to play as Westley.
    I imagine all of his Specials being parries that look the same but have wildly different effects (Up as a vault over the opponent’s head, Side to shove the opponent back, Neutral to deal extra damage, Down to trip them and set up combos?).
  3. Inigo Montoya – My other main. I can’t even right now. Why can’t this game be real!? He’d probably be an Echo Fighter of Westley, but I can’t help feeling like he would be insulted by that?
  4. Commander Vimes from Discworld – I imagine him being like Pokemon Trainer; you can swap between him and other members of the Watch on the fly, swapping through movesets.
  5. Arya Stark – It’s weird that I almost forgot to add her here, but that’s 100% because of season 8. It’s wild how that season made me forget that ages before the show was even announced, I thought Arya Stark was the fucking best. I would absolutely want her in with the stipulation that she’s novel Arya (which would never happen). Also, I was going to roll into a joke about how this theoretical game will come out before Winds, but then I got sad because that might actually be true.
    Down Special would let her change faces with her opponent, making her the absolute best for mind-games in hectic matches.
  6. The Strength and Patience of the Hill from The Raven Tower – I mean . . . how much more rad of a Fantasy character can you get than a fucking rock who’s also a god? This is another character I can’t imagine the moveset for but want to play as anyway so badly.
  7. The Malice – It was her or the Vagrant, and I just couldn’t help going with the Malice. To be totally fair and true to myself though . . . I wouldn’t go with either of them if it meant I could have the Hammer that Walks & the Goat as a playable character.
  8. The Hammer that Walks & the Goat – I just remembered this is my list.
  9. Wu Zetian from Iron Widow – It just came out (I just read it), so, first thing’s first: please skip to the next section, “The Rounded-Out Roster,” if you want to avoid spoilers for Iron Widow.
    With that out of the way, I’m imagining Zetian in her Vermillion Bird Spirit Armor for sure. Highly aerial and mobile, but never walking around because of her lotus feet.
    Her Final Smash has to be “Welcome to your nightmare.” It just has to be. It can be one of those Final Smash’s that you have to catch someone with at close range. And when you do, your opponent gets dropped into a Chrysalis pilot seat, Zetian behind them. They get the shit beaten out of them in her mind realm, and then the super ends with her dropping their body, standing over them, and shouting, “Welcome to your nightmare!”
    Just the ultimate flex.
    Also, for the record, I want Shimin and Yizhi both to be playable as well, but I desperately want to avoid spoilers here.

The Rounded-Out Roster

Okay. I’m just going to wrap up here with all of the characters I can think of. But also, I’m absolutely going to stop too soon because A) there are so many awesome characters in the Fantasy genre–this list will seriously never be done–and B) I’ve been maintaining critical levels of hype for too long, so I have to just let this one go.

Thus, in no particular order, under no particular heading, is everyone else I think would be / who I’d want to be in the game:

  • Bilbo (Echo Fighter of Frodo) – It was either Sam or Bilbo who would be an Echo Fighter. The clincher was the realization that, “Ah, of course Frodo and Bilbo would both have ‘Don the Ring’ on Down Special.”
  • Sam – I have no idea what his moveset would be, but I want him in it. Maybe if you’re playing on teams, Frodo will just collapse at 200% and Sam has to literally carry him for the rest of the match.
  • Gandalf – Without a doubt his final Smash would be him fighting his opponents like the Balrog. I mean how could it not be? Imagining it starting with “You shall not pass!” is enough to make my entire playstyle revolve around getting that Smash Ball.
  • Gollum – It was him or Sauron and I just feel like Sauron would be more of a stage hazard on the Mount Doom stage.
  • Aragorn – We have to just accept that this game is 75% sword fighters. It’s just worse than Smash in that regard . . . Unless, wait, is it? I’m not kidding–I’m looking at the roster and I think this game might somehow have fewer sword fighters than Ultimate?
  • Hermoine Granger – Her moveset would definitely be similar to Harry’s, but I feel like she’d have better spells–or maybe use the same spells in a totally different way because she’s a genius. Maybe all of the moves that are spells can be held to get her to perfectly pronounce Leviosa–for example–making it significantly stronger.
  • Ron Weasley (Echo Fighter of Harry Potter) – You need him for the trinity for sure.
  • Luna Lovegood / Your Favorite Potter Character(?) – It’s my list, so it’s absolutely Luna, but I think Potter characters could easily be the “Fire Emblem characters” of this franchise. Everyone’s waiting on playable Smaug, but Cedric Diggory gets announced and it’s like, “Fucking . . . really?”
  • Voldemort – For his Side Special, he can summon his pet snake, Nagini, who–as you and I know–has always been just a big snake and nothing else.
  • Brienne of Tarth – Not only would I put her in it, I’d make sure her kit as strong and technical as possible, so her skill ceiling would be through the absolute roof. Evo finals would probably be Brienne VS Lyra & Pantalaimon.
    Or, ya know, Pippin V. Pippin on Mount Doom over and over and over.
  • Daenerys Targaryen – Her Final Smash would be “Dracarys,” which would 1) activate an unskippable, four-minute cut-scene of the “Dracarys” moment 2) kill all of her opponents 3) log all other players out of the game, and 4) uninstall it from their console / PC so they have to download it again.
    I’m kidding. It wouldn’t do that. It would just melt their console / PC.
  • Lirael (Echofighter) – She’d have the pan-pipes instead . . . I just sighed. Seriously, I love The Abhorsen Trilogy, everybody.
  • Kelsier – Paradoxically, he’s already in Fortnite, although, I would not want to use his look from that game. No shade on whoever does the character designs for Fortnite, but he just looks like a frat guy in Kelsier cosplay?
  • Sazed – I can’t even imagine how to retrofit Feruchemy for Smash, and I feel like that’s . . . a good sign?
  • Auri – No idea how she’d play, but I just imagined finding her on a character select screen and went, “What!? Are you serious!? Auri’s in it!?” and I feel like that means she has to be.
  • Fezzik from The Princess Bride – I don’t even care what his moves would be–I would just taunt all day.
    “We face each other as God intended. Sportsmanlike. No tricks, no weapons. Skill against skill alone.”
    “I just want you to feel you’re doing well.”
  • Maggie Hoskie – It would just be rad to play as Maggie, who would be such an awesome, clean fit for this game. Her Final Smash would definitely be her letting in Honágháahnii.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – I really shouldn’t put them together since they’re so at odds in their novel. But also . . . it somehow feels right to have them be a Pokemon Trainer-style team? Like, the longer you play as one of them, the stronger the other one becomes when they get tagged in, as if they need to one-up each other?
  • Death, Captain Carrot, and a Bunch of Other Characters from Discworld – It’s been ages since I read a Discworld novel, and making this list made me realize I really need to get on that.
  • Harry Dresden, Percy Jackson, Julian of Macedonia, Quentin Coldwater, and the Countless Others I Missed

Phew. I have seriously been tweaking this post for two weeks, and I just have to let it go.

If you stuck around, thanks for nerding out with me. I don’t usually write totally self-indulgent stuff like this, but I just couldn’t expel the hype for this completely imaginary game any other way.

I find it funny now that the original inkling for this idea was “Memory in Smash,” but somehow, I can’t convince myself to add Memory to this list of amazing characters. Maybe it’s because, in the end, the real excitement is just celebrating this mass of characters I grew up with. The depressing thing is that we don’t live in a world where this game would ever exist.

But the awesome thing is that I realize I have a ton of Fantasy characters I haven’t experienced yet. And that thought has made me happier than anything has in a long time.

The Poppy War is seriously right in front of me; like, abstractly, it’s next on my TBR list, yeah, but it’s also literally 10 feet away from me, on a table. I can see it from where I’m sitting.

The idea that I can post this, go make some tea, and then start reading it is an absolute treasure that feels somehow out of place in the existential nightmare that the world has become.

The plan was to work on my resume and do some other tasks.

But . . . Yeah, I’m putting a pot on. The resume can wait.

I want to get lost in another world again.

~~~

That’s it for me. If you enjoyed this post, I post here every Sunday / Monday morning. I write anything from posts about my writing process and status reports on my WIP to detailed movie critiques and random musings about the writing in general. You can find links to my most popular series on the red bar on the left side of the screen on PC or the top-right drop-down menu on mobile.

That’s also where you can find my Follow button if you want giant walls of text like this one emailed to you whenever I post. Likes are also always appreciated so I can tell how many people like what content going forward.

Until next time, take care and stay hydrated, and always remember that the Golem effect is real! Bye!

I Finished the Outline for Memory

Finally.

I can’t explain how good it feels to finally get over that hurdle. To finally be one step closer to writing anything else.

I love Memory, and I’m excited that I have ideas for its sequels, but man am I ready for the next steps in my process: making a few tweaks to the outline, and then using it to write Memory next month for Camp NaNoWriMo.

And, after that, moving on to a new project for the first time in six years.

There’s some additional tweaking and retallying I need to do between now and July—in particular, I need to bolster the one plotline and add additional stakes to the finale—but I am still in what I’m now calling “forced celebration mode.”

Which means I’m continually loading up my outline, staring at it, and realizing that I can’t work on it because I’m knee deep in what I call Recovery Mode, which is when I’ve just written a bunch and I know from years of experience that, if I push myself to do more, I’ll just be writing nonsense that I’ll have to delete later (no shame if you can push yourself, and I’m not advising anyone else to do this, but I have a finite amount of Write Juice [or whatever you want to call it] and I know to respect when it runs out session). Usually, that dearth of Write Juice (I like it) just means I stop writing for the day, but when I hit a milestone, I usually like some breathing room for a few days.

Which mean I keep telling myself that it’s okay—that I don’t have to work this weekend—and then I just kind of . . . wallow? No—wrong word. It’s not a sad thing.

“Not-work!”

Not-working is what I’ll call it.

Never in my life have I experienced it, but yes, I am in a perpetual state of not-working, where I just kind of roll around my apartment, lying and sitting in different places, thinking about the outline, excited to get back to it, but also accepting that I need a break.

Things I have done in my determined quest to just fucking relax for a minute:

Watched Escape from L.A. for the first time.

Played through Superliminal for the first time—in one sitting.

Read a ton of Ultimate Spider-Man, which I’m trying to catch up on after finishing Spider-Man: Miles Morales. There’s something addicting about experiencing all of the different iterations of Miles in succession (I just finished Spider-Man: Miles Morales recently and I watch Spider-Verse all the time). Every version of Miles’ story does some things better than others. For example, the video game version of his mother, Rio, is the only version with an actual personality. Video game Uncle Aaron is also the best. The comics have the best version of Ganke (the video game version of him is such an over-the-top, app saavy genius, that the moment he suggested monetizing the app he made–so people could contact Miles and ask him for help–I couldn’t get over the idea that he’s a silicon valley monster waiting to happen). When it comes to Miles himself though, there is no beating Shameik Moore’s smooth, reluctant-nerd Miles from Spider-Verse; I love comic book Miles’ reluctance to be Spider-Man, and I appreciate video game Miles consistently speaking Spanish (the only one who actually feels Afro-Latino), but cool, confident (eventually) Spider-Verse Miles is such a departure from Peter Parker’s routinely-beaten-down-little-guy, that he’s definitely my favorite of the now many, many Spider-People out there.

Anyway, I also suffered through Tenet (which I might rewatch to do A Writer Watching—I have so much to say).

I tried Goat Simulator, which I played for longer than I thought I would, but got tired of pre-e-e-e-etty quickly. The weird thing about being me and taking forever to play / watch / read anything is experiencing trends out of sequence. So, to me, Goat Simulator is just bad Untitled Goose Game. I know Goat Simulator came first—I know it birthed both the trend of wacky animal games and the trend of intentionally bad sims, but it is impossible to divorce myself from Untitled Goose Game.

I started Rime, which is absolutely beautiful so far. Having just finished Superliminal and intending to move on to Okami (which, yes, I’m playing for the first time), Rime turned out to be the perfect transition.

But the thing that I’ve done most recently to celebrate is ending this post here. Just keeping it light, possibly going back to sleep for a bit while it’s still cool. I have this last day to relax before rolling into edits and Camp NaNoWriMo, so I’m just gonna kick back.

And, yes, I will be posting here about my Camp NaNoWriMo run. I’m not going to write a series like I have in previous years, but, at the very least, I’ll share my profile name here so anyone else who’s doing Camp can friend me. We can cheer each other on!

Anyway, if you enjoyed this post and want to know when I’ll be posting an absolutely fierce, needlessly brutal takedown of Tenet, you can give this blog a follow on the left side bar (on PC) or the top right drop down menu (on mobile).

Until next time, stay safe, and I’ve been saying it for a while, but seriously, stay hydrated for the Summer. You can absolutely do that however you choose to, but I’ve found that, since going full Summer Mode (no coffee, just ice water and caffeine-free iced tea) I’m so much better at dealing with high temperatures that it’s insane. Seriously, I feel like an idiot: for two years, I lived in AC that facilitated me chugging iced coffee, not realizing that doing that made me a Grass type Pokémon; anything over 80 degrees was super effective against me. Kicking caffeine takes some work, but I’m so much more functional in hot weather now that I’m like, “Ah. ‘Summer Mode’ is going to be a rest-of-my-life type thing, huh? Got it. Cool.”

Anyway, bye!

A May Break – I’m Sorry, but My Weekend Was Dominated By D&D

And, to put it into context, two things:

First, I haven’t played D&D in years.

And my character was a Teenage Mutant Kung Fu Penguin.

Yeah, I pitched that idea to my DM and he was like, “Sure, you can make that character.”

So, yeah, my weekend was dominated by making that character and having an all-day D&D session yesterday.

And just . . . zero regrets here.

I’m sorry that I don’t have a post and that I wound up publishing this super late, but to be totally real, I didn’t have anything to write about and my brain just totally overshot the point where I realized I had to post. I have made huge strides on Memory, my current WIP, but not such huge strides that I felt comfortable writing about it here. I would’ve at least written a “Something to Read / Watch / Play” at the very least, but I haven’t played, watched, or read anything new that was so amazing I wanted to recommend it.

So, all I will say here is please forgive me.

And also, my character was the Michelangelo of his group. Seriously, it was the most fun I’ve ever had playing D&D.

I will be back next week, possibly talking about how excited I am to be writing prose again.

But until then, take care, pet a cat and/or dog, and–for the love of God–play D&D. If you never have, seriously, try it–with the understanding that it just gets better with time. Seriously, your first character will be a super serious OC–an Elven knight betrayed by his king or something–but eventually, you’ll be like, “My new character is Hornswoggle. She is half gremlin, half cat, 100% Rogue, and she only drinks White Russians.”

Let’s Talk About – SWOGing, A Star Wars Phenomenon That Just Made It To Resident Evil: Village

I finished Resident Evil: Village.

And I have two things to say.

First, in case you’ve heard different from certain websites or YouTube personalities, I will be the completely honest party and say, man, that game is not good.

I can seriously go on an entire rant about conflicting game mechanics; bugs; bad conveyance; manipulative, time-wasting game design; false advertising (like, a very obviously, intentionally misleading ad campaign [Chris doesn’t turn into an evil werewolf even though this is the goddamn box art]) and all the other things Village does wrong, but that’s not what this post is about. Just take my word for it: don’t buy it. Just watch a playthrough of it

So what is this post about? Why am I bringing up Village at all?

Because of its stupid, obviously rushed, plot twist-dependent story.

Specifically, the way that it does what I now call the “SWOG Cameo.”

That’s short for the “Star Wars OG Cameo.” Or I guess maybe I can call it the “Rogue One Cameo,” since that’s where this weird, weird practice started.

What is a SWOG Cameo?

TL;DR: It’s when a franchise does an extremely masturbatory cameo for one of its classic characters in the 11th hour of its latest installment. These cameos can be a little longer—with them having a small stake in the plot—or they can be as short as one scene, but either way, the plot would’ve been fine (or significantly better) without their involvement. And their involvement is always over-the-top flattering for them, with the story falling over itself to make them look as awesome as possible. Why?

For fan service.

The SWOG Cameo is purely fan-service. Put in a fan favorite character, have them be a badass and do awesome stuff, and then sit back and watch the internet go absolutely crazy for it even though it took zero effort.

And it is absolutely a Star Wars staple at this point.

It started with Rogue One, where the climax of the film includes a super masturbatory scene of Darth Vader chopping up some Rebels. People always point to that Darth Vader Scene as the best part of the entire film . . . which I feel really says something about the rest of the movie, but man-oh-man am I tired of having that argument.

It continued in the new trilogy when Disney SWOG’d the entire last Rey film by throwing in the Emperor with paper thin narrative justifications. Remember when he created a storm with Force Lightning to destroy a bunch of ships? J. J. Abrams was really hoping you’d love that.

A little under the radar, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order also got SWOG’d. (Spoilers) for that game, but you spend the last 2 minutes running from Darth Vader, who shows up out of narrative thin air, murders the last boss, and then starts pulling apart the walls and machinery of the base you’re trying to escape from, metal swirling around him like he’s a literal god. True story: the friend I played it with thought it was awesome that he showed up and wasn’t at all upset about all the emotional storytelling getting sucked out the airlock immediately (/spoilers).

And, also a true story, that same friend (and all of my other friends [save the one writer]) also loved it when—(spoilers) for The Mandalorian—in the last two minutes of the final episode of season 2, Luke Skywalker showed up and easily took apart 30 Death Trooper robots who were conveyed as invincible (/spoilers).

Yeah, it’s called SWOGing because it is 100% a Star Wars thing.

At least it was until now.

Chris Redfield is listed as “Alpha” in Ethan’s phone?
Are you fucking kidding me??

The SWOGing in Resident Evil: Village is so bizarre.

To be totally fair, Chris was also in Resident Evil VII, but it was not the same. For starters it wasn’t a flattering cameo at all.

But in Village, it’s downright unhealthy.

And, look, spoilers ahead for Village, but, again—seriously—don’t play it. It’s just a waste. Lady Dimitrescu and her cool castle are part of the false advertising; she’s seriously in it for 3 hours and then dies (seriously, she’s the first boss).

To establish a framework here, the game starts with Chris Redfield apparently killing your wife for some reason. He takes you into custody, but the route to whatever detention facility passes through a village full of mutated monster people.  Oops! The van you’re in gets attacked, you wind up in the village, and you don’t see Chris again until hours later, at which point he doesn’t explain a plot twist because a giant fish destroys the house you’re in mid-conversation (it’s as stupid as it sounds). You don’t see him again until the end of the game, when he explains the game’s plot twist to you. He gives you a tank, you fight the second to last boss, get killed (in plot), and then perspective switches to Chris, who, in classic SWOG fashion, is tooled out the ass with insanely powerful weapons that you use to cut through monsters like butter.

And, yes, this is the point where it starts to get weird. As Chris, you stroll through the titular village, that it took Ethan hours to get through, in 3 minutes, turning monsters that Ethan struggled with into swiss cheese. At one point, you have to fight two of a monster that Ethan had to run from and find a special gun to kill; with Chris, it took about 12 seconds to kill them both without even getting scratched. When I had to fight an invincible giant as Chris, I called down a literal air strike to kill it. Easy peasy.

All of this while Chris’ team of soldiers call him “Cap” and “Alpha” over the radio. And I’m aware it’s because he’s a captain and I guess his code name is “Alpha,” but it just feels like the equivalent of people calling him “Supes” and “Big Dick.” “This quadrant is all clear, Commander Best-Ever Example of Masculinity. What are your orders??”

Holy shit. Resident Evil . . . please calm down . . . with the goddamn fan service. Seriously.

Why Exactly Is This a Bad Thing?

Aside from the obvious—that fan service is lazy and it sucks—there’s the fact that it usually ruins newer characters’ plotlines and arcs.

For example, Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo all lost a ton of story potential when Palpatine stepped in. Whatever their narrative could’ve been was lost the moment their villain became fan service. Because, without Palpatine showing up, the obvious answer is that there could have been some kind of intense, emotional finale with Kylo Ren (who would have stayed evil if I was writing things).

In The Mandalorian, the characters could’ve had an awesome scene where they devise some way to make it past the Death Troopers (spoilers) instead of standing in place and watching Luke cut his way through them (/spoilers).

In Rogue One, the 2 minutes spent on Vader could’ve been divvied up among the protagonists in scenes or beats that make us actually care about them. Or scenes that, at the very least, helped the audience remember their names.

In Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, (spoilers) the arrival of Vader genuinely and completely ruins the finale; right as that game’s uniquely complex (for Star Wars) villain, the Second Sister, is about to decide if she’s going to be redeemed, Vader steps in and literally kills any chances we had of complex storytelling. Because either our protagonist, Cal, was going to have to kill her and go back to tell her former Jedi Master about it, or the Sister was going to decide to be redeemed, and we would potentially get to see her go through that in the sequel (/spoilers).

But it’s actually even worse in Resident Evil: Village.

Because, in Village, although the Chris cameo doesn’t necessarily pull time away from Ethan (spoilers) –he’s already dead at that point—(/spoilers), it does oddly recontextualize our feelings for our protagonist, Ethan.

By which I mean it helps us absolutely hate him.

If you were to look through reviews of this game, pretty much every review you find will mention how stupid and unlikeable Ethan is. He’s extremely dense, really bad at action one-liners, and unbelievably gullible (at one point in the game, you have to frustratingly watch from his perspective as a villain very obviously stalls for time and Ethan falls for it). And all of those realizations get that much worse the moment you’re allowed to play as ultra-badass Chris Redfield. By the time (spoilers) you’re back in control of Ethan, who it turns out is one of the monsters from the previous game (it’s not as interesting as it sounds), you just want to be playing as Chris again. The entire time you’re fighting the last boss, you’re thinking, “I could just air strike her and be done with it if I was playing Chris.” And when Ethan ultimately decides to sacrifice himself even though he does not need to in any way, for any reason whatsoever, and it’s totally hollow because he’s dying anyway, all I could manage to think was, “Thank God.” Like, “I’m so glad I’ll never have to be in Ethan’s shoes ever again” (/spoilers).

But Chris’s role in Village also takes SWOGing to a whole other level.  Because the problem isn’t just that his presence made us dislike Ethan even more . . .

. . . it also made Chris himself less malleable as a protagonist.

Because now, he’s not just a man. By the end of Resident Evil: Village, he’s more like a myth; a super hero with massive connections behind the scenes, allowing him to achieve insane feats (like leveling an entire village in 5 minutes). I can’t imagine him having relatable, human drama anymore. Or, rather, I can’t imagine the writers at Capcom giving him relatable, human drama anymore. It feels like he will always be the untouchable badass in the background now.

And that is the real problem with this growing trend. SWOGing ruins the tension of a story and usurps focus from that story’s characters, sure. But it also elevates the OG to legend status, setting a new bar of awesomeness for them. They become untouchable, very, very unlikely to die, make mistakes, or do anything beyond dropping into a story and being perfect for a little while. Village ensures that if we ever get to play Chris in another Resident Evil game, it’s going to be a tacticool run-and-gun experience where he kills armies of monsters without breaking a sweat. Because now, it kind of has to be.

Vader, Luke, they’re all already legendary; they wouldn’t be appearing as protagonists in anything anyway.

But other SWOG characters totally might . . . until they’re used for an over-the-top, fan service cameo.

Which sucks because I’ve recently seen an OG character appear in a sequel with new characters and it worked well. There’s a lot wrong with Terminator: Dark Fate, but probably the best thing about it was Linda Hamilton returning as Sarah Connor, because Sarah had new drama, and it was really cool watching Hamilton sell that drama . . . It definitely wasn’t as cool when they tried to sell us on a Terminator raising a family and becoming a good guy, but whatever.

My point is, I hope SWOGing stops so characters can continue being human.

Instead of becoming caricatures, designed to make us clap like nostalgia-drunk seals.

~~~

Man, I almost didn’t get this one out at all because I’m weirdly sick. I don’t know why or how, but I slept 12 hours last night and then woke up exhausted and (still to this point) light-headed. I’m seriously off to just drink cold water and sit in front of a fan (and hope that I just overheated [yes, I am Grass Type, btw]).

If you’re new here, I post every Sunday. You can always stop by next week or give this blog a follow if you want to hear the opinions of an aspiring writer on the internet.

Until next time, take care, stay safe, and seriously, stay hydrated.

Something to Read / Watch / Play – May 2021

I’m getting this post out a bit later than I normally would . . . for about the exact reason I decided to take a break this week.

I had . . . a weird week.

Not terrible, but definitely exhausting. I got my sleeping schedule in order, which is cool, but every night since, all of my dreams have involved different people from my past?

As if I’m a character in one of my own goddamn books, I go to sleep, dream about a character from my backstory in a friendly, intimate scenario that never happened, and then I wake up like, “Why?”

Whatever. Point is, I wasn’t feeling it this week.

But, I started doing a new thing last month where, every day, I have to do something new. Watch something I’ve never watched, eat something I’ve never eaten, etc. I kinda love it.

And, since starting that, I’ve wanted to make a series to talk about the new things I’ve enjoyed the most.

And I figured, “Why not make my ‘Break’ posts into that?” so here we are.

Keep in mind that this is going to be an extremely laid back post (because I still want it to feel like a Break).

But with that said, let’s kick off this new “Something to Read / Watch / Play” series with . . .

Something to Read:

The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie takes a bit to ramp up. But when it does, it really does.

I will spoil absolutely nothing here. I feel like I can’t talk about it without ruining some part of the experience.

So all I will say is, if you’re down for reading a Fantasy novel that presents an extremely interesting take on gods, interwoven with a political mystery / intrigue plot, and written with a masterful use of second person perspective, check out The Raven Tower.

No lie–kind of embarrassing–I hugged my copy for ten minutes when I finished reading it. So good!

Something to Watch:

I . . . am still shocked by how good HBO’s Watchmen series was.

It is nothing like Zack Snyder’s adaptation; all the ways that movie completely missed the mark of the original comics, this show does not. Clearly created by someone who read and loved the source material.

Actually, speaking of the source material, you will need to read Alan Moore’s original Watchmen series before watching this. If you haven’t, the Watchmen comic is still really good (a gateway drug the same way A Game of Thrones was for Fantasy), but if you’ve already read it, you can jump right in.

I was a little let down by the finale, but in the end, when I tried to guess how this story came to be (a game I play with all fiction), I assumed it was a plot someone lovingly crafted for decades after reading the graphic novel, and then fought for years to get it published somewhere. No idea if that’s true, but it feels true.

If you’re looking for a superhero show that dives head first into really heavy issues and fleshes out nearly all of its characters, check out Watchmen. As a nerd out of time, perpetually watching / playing / reading things years after the hype has died down, I’m telling you that Watchmen has my vote for Best Comic Book Show Ever Released.

Something to Play:

I almost don’t want to write this, because I just want to keep it for myself.

But . . .

Spiritfarer . . . is beautiful.

Beautiful in a way that no other game I’ve ever played is beautiful.

And, man, I’ve written this section so many times, deleted it, and started over because if I say exactly how I feel about it this game, it would color your experience with it, and that would be absolutely criminal.

So I will just say Spiritfarer is important to me in a way other games aren’t. It perfectly balances its story and mechanics, something that games that try to be emotionally impactful usually struggle with.

I recommend playing it. Specifically though, I recommend experiencing Spiritfarer alone, without looking anything up.

Just do what feels right.

And I hope that it helps you the same way it helped me.

~~~

Alright. I’m gonna go relax and mentally prepare for the dentist appointment I have tomorrow.

Until next time, stay safe, hug your animals, and eat your oatmeal.

Let’s Talk About – My Writer Quirks

So, if there’s one thing my writing group has exposed to me by accident, it’s my collection of what I think of as “Writer Quirks”: illogical standards / habits that dictate how and what I write.

I mean, I knew they were there, but some of them have been discovered by my writing group, so I’m thinking about them more this weekend.

And, since I woke up to some serious snowfall, I thought ‘why not just take a chill snow day and talk about my Quirks–the things that make me the weird writer I am?’

Yeah. Yeah, that could be fun and chill, so let’s do it.

Number 1 – I love writing in inclement weather.

There’s something about rain in particular that gets the creative juices flowing for me.

And, to be totally honest . . . I think it’s because of Jurassic Park.

Please don’t tease me, but one of the first stories I wrote was about me and my cousins trapped in my old apartment with my cats, who’d become Velociraptor-sized for some mysterious reason.

I was, like, 10 and had just seen Jurassic Park, so cut me some slack.

Anyway, yes, that movie was massively influential for me, so whenever it rains (like it did in the T-Rex scene), the urge to write hits really hard.

And, even if it isn’t raining, I can find an ambient rain sounds video on YouTube, put on headphones, and just go.

Number 2 – I love mustache-twirling villains.

Despite evidence to the contrary on this site, I do love villains. But not the misunderstood, “morally ascendant” ones.

No, I love obviously evil mustache-twirlers.

Like, the more ‘comically evil visual cues’ they toss out at first glance, the better. Is that villain in a black leather coat? Great. Is that villain in a black leather trench coat with shades on, and eyes that are burning so fucking red you can see them through the shades? Fucking glorious.

Paramount among them (obviously) is Albert Wesker as he appeared in Resident Evil 5, where he takes “obviously evil” to the ultra max.

Like, “Guys . . . I don’t want to jump to conclusions here, but . . . I think this guy is evil?”

Making him look like a stern, Aryan man was not enough; he had to be a stern, Aryan Terminator in (what looks like) head-to-toe snake skin.

It’s just so over-the-top. I love it.

Number 3 – I love writing outside
(but I hate writing at coffee shops).

I know–I should hand in my Writer Card right now.

But, seriously, I must have missed the window where it was comfortable to write in a coffee shop.

Because, every time I try, the “You can only sit for 30 minutes while eating” sign blares at me. Or the overhead music does. Or there’s a group in the corner, laughing and talking loudly about whatever. Or there are the people around me, working on/looking at who-knows-what on their computers (porn being a very real option from the Starbucks stories I’ve heard). And, real talk, that mystery of “What are they working on/looking at?” emboldens people to just stare at your computer screen while you write; seriously, the last time I wrote at a Starbucks, the woman sitting next to me went zero-fucks and openly started reading what I was writing.

Yeah. Thanks–I’m good.

However, I do like writing pretty much anywhere else outdoors–the more secluded, the better.

And this all came from my first NaNoWriMo, where I discovery-wrote Memory in different spots all over New York. The first post in that series, (which I called 30 Days of NaNoWriMo) starts at home (which was not the plan), but what followed was a fun, 30-day romp where I searched for places I could viably write, ending with the Cloisters. And I think that romp ruined me forever. I can (and still do) write from home, but I will almost always write more enthusiastically outside.

Unless it’s at a coffee shop.

Number 4 – I was heavily inspired by
Samus Aran from Metroid.

I’ve probably talked about this on here before, but a major influence for my strong female protagonists was Samus Aran. In particular, the above diagram from the Super Metroid Nintendo Player’s Guide.

My Samus is and always will be 6’3” and 200 lbs.

That said, Samus is only one side of the “Strong Female Character” spectrum; on the other side is Mabel Pines, who I’ve wanted to write an entire post about for a while. For now, suffice it to say that I love Samus for being a strong woman who’s massive, imposing, and badass . . . and I also love Mabel Pines for being a strong woman who’s nerdy, boy-thirsty, and hilarious.

Samus was an awesome gateway for me and I will always love her, but it’s important to say that she is not the end-all example of what a strong woman is.

Number 5 – FFVI made me want to write Fantasy.
FFVII guaranteed I’d never write anything else.

I was massively inspired by Jurassic Park, but my desire to write awesome stuff was forever turned from “no-frills American action movie” to “Fantasy” when I played Final Fantasy VI for the first time.

The Magitek Armor (made weird and fluid by the art of Yoshitaka Amano), the presence of fae-like Espers (who were not simple analogues of traditional deities), the variety of characters (who reach into pretty much every extreme a crew can have [from a spunky kid to a weary old man]), and the 11th hour twist that the villain succeeds in destroying the world (and you have to fight through the aftermath) made me irrevocably invested in Fantasy’s potential to be unique.

But I didn’t really understand Fantasy’s range until I played Final Fantasy VII.

I don’t want to rant about that game, so I’ll just say that it was the first time I experienced a Fantasy story set in a modern city.

And, as a kid growing up in the Bronx, the idea that a Fantasy story could be based in a modern city–that the slums under a giant city could be the starting point for an adventure with otherworldly monsters and magic–blew my goddamn mind.

I wouldn’t trade the bizarre potential and impossible range of Fantasy for the world.

Number 6 – I have a special designation for music
I want to write stories for–“righteous.”

Last thing–I take crazy amounts of inspiration from music, which I think a lot of us do.

However, I often find songs I want to write for. And, at some point, I started thinking of those songs as “righteous.”

I don’t know how this “righteous song” thing started, but most of the time, those songs will never fit into any of my WIP’s. For example, “Spectre” by Radiohead is the intro theme for a story I am not writing. What is that story? No idea, but I want to write something that fits “Spectre” so badly, and I don’t know why. It just triggers a part of my brain and evokes emotions that I really want to make into a story. I used imagine it as the theme for Aixa the Hexcaster, but it doesn’t fit Aixa’s tone either, so it will forever float as the intro theme for . . . something in my brain.

Once in a blue moon though, the visceral muse of certain songs does inspire entire stories; “Time’s Scar,” from the intro to Chrono Cross, is directly responsible for The Hand and the Tempest, the big project I’m working on after Memory. I heard that song in high school and created an entire story from it. Well, I was in high school, so really, I imagined a CG intro for a story, and then, 15 years later, made that CG intro into a workable plot, but still, if a = b, and b = c, then something-something-math.

~~~

Okay. it is now the late afternoon, so I’m going to clean up what I have and post this. I hope everyone is doing well, and if you liked this post, I’ll be posting again next Sunday . . . or Monday, depending on how insane next week is. I’m potentially landing a freelancing contract, so I will either be bummed but relaxed next week, or happy but wild-eyed and hyperventilating from the effort of making a design project perfect.

Either way, stay safe, enjoy the rest of your day, and eat your oatmeal.

. . .

I started eating oatmeal again recently and found that my old man taste buds think it’s delicious, so I’m on that kick now . . . Anyway, bye!

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.