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.

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.