It’s Been a While

It’s been just about a month since my last post, begging the question “What the $#(*?”

Well, I’ll tell you what the $#(*.

Life. My best friend’s moving to Seattle in two weeks, an event I found out about around two weeks ago. Aside from being extremely bummed about it, my weekends have been absorbed by various going away functions (and my recovering from those functions). I’ve also been… graced with more responsibility at work, permanently stuck with handling the magazines section (a sad thing; I don’t dislike magazines, but I woefully pass through our genre section, looking at all of the terrible covers and heaving a sigh of loss [Example:

<sigh>

Coupled with that are other creative endeavors (just this Thursday, I spent my morning photographing a ruin with some fellow artists, an oddly exhausting and dangerous hike through a single facility, making me feel more like a Belmont than I ever have). It may not seem like much, but it’s definitely been more than enough to make it extremely hard to belt out more articles, even if ideas for them keep on coming.

I had to write something today though, while editing and posting a new background pic (taken during that Thursday outing), before company arrives. I’ll have another post up before the end of the week, even if it kills me. And then, more posts about the afterlife and why it’s great for writing/gaming.

And Then They Dropped the Ball: The Last 5 Minutes of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Disclaimer: I know. I know. Lords of Shadow is really old news. But this isn’t a review–it’s a lesson. If you’ve already beaten LOS or haven’t and don’t intend to, read on. If you’re even considering playing it and don’t want anything spoiled, then seriously–stop reading now. Spoiler Alert. I repeat, Spoiler Alert.

It’s rough being a Castlevania fan. The 2D installments have been using mostly the same enemy sprites for the past nineteen years, and Konami’s attempt at bringing the franchise into the third dimension have been disastrous time and again, going from the not-quite-Castlevania-enough Castlevania 64 to the downright linear mess of Curse of Darkness. When I heard that Hideo Kojima was involved in the making of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, however, I knew that the tables were about to turn for 3D Castlevania.

And really, they did. Lords of Shadow is a great game. No, it isn’t absolutely perfect, but it has more than enough awesome art, action, and game play to earn the price of admission and make up for those times where you miss a ledge.

And seriously, on the 360, it had to be split onto two discs. You just aren't going to find many better looking games.

But really, like I said, this isn’t a review.

The major tension in the story is within our protagonist, Gabriel Belmont. An orphan and the very first of the famous clan (in this reboot), Gabriel is suffering over the death of his wife, Marie. This shows, more or less, throughout his adventures; we find Gabriel sleeping less and becoming more ruthless in his quest to find all the pieces of the God Mask, a relic that can be used to bring his wife back from the dead. But we also see Gabriel taking other relics that use dark powers from the enemies he defeats and the corpses of members of his Order of Light. He also takes relics from the Lords of Shadow as he defeats them, and although the relics themselves are not evil, the implication is that Gabriel is absorbing and using each Lord’s strength.

Now, by themselves, these details are only kind of interesting. But things get intriguing the further along you go. Particularly when you reach the Vampire’s Castle (not yet called Castlevania) and discover that there’s no Dracula. The name doesn’t even come up; the lord of the castle is a woman–a vampire named Carmilla. So what’s the deal? Gabriel isn’t going to find Dracula and absorb his… Wait a minute…

In classic Castlevania, Dracula’s only real redeeming factor is his love for Lisa, a human and Alucard’s mother. Sure, it was only hinted at in Symphony of the Night, but it was there and it was all the evidence I needed.

Gabriel Belmont is going to become Dracula. I was certain of it pretty early on.

With this possibility in mind, I was ready to tie up the story this morning by defeating the last boss in Chapter XII. I knew who it would be–it was obvious from his last few diary entries that Zobek, a member of Gabriel’s Order of Light who helps you throughout the game, was actually evil.

But that’s where what I expected to happen and what did happen stopped correlating.

What I Expected to Happen

  • Gabriel gets the last piece of the God Mask. He tries to use it but Zobek stops him.
  • Zobek reveals that he’s gone insane from being that one, super badass member of the Order of Light for too long. He’s used Gabriel to get the ultimate power with which he’s going to destroy the world, thus ending the battle between light and darkness forever. I know, it’s cliche, but that’s really what I expected.
  • You fight normal, human Zobek, but then, in a cut scene, Zobek gets the mask from you, puts it on, and becomes some giant monster. But like, a heavenly one. It is the God Mask after all.
  • In order to beat him, Gabriel has to make the ultimate sacrifice, giving himself completely to Dark Magic so that he can defeat Zobek and save the world from this self-proclaimed god.
  • Although he defeats Zobek, Gabriel is forever cursed. He disappears from the land and among the people he saved becomes forever known as the Prince of Darkness.

Ta-da. If I’d written it, I would’ve reinforced the curse by playing more on Gabriel’s growing insanity, a sub-text that the game touched on a few times. I would have introduced a voice a ways through the game that would help Gabriel–a voice that he would assume was just a part of his broken mind until the end, when it offers him the power to kill Zobek, who’s deceived him and wants to take over the world. Perhaps it would’ve been Satan, perhaps it would’ve just been a nameless demon or something–I dunno–but I would have put the player in a situation where they could not turn the voice down. It would’ve been such a solid way to make Gabriel into Dracula with a nice, stable support structure rooted in the middle of the game–at the very least. And the whole affair would have mirrored one of my favorite alternate origin stories ever–Punisher: Born by Garth Ennis.

Buuuut that’s not what happened…

What Actually Happened

  • Gabriel gets the last piece of the God Mask and makes it whole.
  • Zobek shows up and reveals himself as the Lord of the Dead.
  • You think to yourself, Didn’t I just beat the Lord of the Dead? And then you shrug and think, Well, the way I “defeated” him was kinda off… This is still cool. Zobek is Death and Gabriel is Dracula. Dracula and Death were always friends, so it makes sense. It’s all good.
  • Zobek reveals that you’ve been his pawn for the whole game. It’s not a big surprise, but the next 5 minutes of Zobek talking about it somehow make it less of a surprise.
  • He also reveals that he possessed you and made you kill your wife… which is completely unnecessary outside of supplying shock value. If they’d wanted to go this route, they should’ve given me a cinema that told me exactly how she died. Instead they spring a 3 second clip of the murder on you–which is extra ridiculous because Gabriel is in full armor in the flashback. I mean, sure, maybe when he goes with his wife on picnics to the lake, he does it in full armor. Hell, maybe he bathes in full armor… but seriously? Anyway, this implement falls flat on its face because it seems–and possibly was–very rushed, lacking any dramatic drive whatsoever.
  • Zobek pimp smacks you and takes the God Mask.
  • But before he can use it, Satan shows up.

Wait, what? Satan?… What?

  • Yeah, I know.
And joining us tonight, from left field...
  • Satan burns Zobek with a thought and takes the God Mask.
  • Gabriel’s dead wife brings him back to life.
  • Gabriel honestly beats the shit out of Satan. Well, after you beat him as the last boss (which still is honestly not the hardest fight in the game [fuck you, Pan. I’m glad you’re dead]). Anyway, even though Satan burned Zobek, the Lord of the Dead (remember him? He bitch slapped you) even though Satan burned that guy with a thought, and even though he’s now wearing the super powerful God Mask, Gabriel Belmont Goku’s his ass in about 30 seconds. The Chain Rule means nothing to Belmonts.
  • Now that Satan’s dead and Zobek’s dead, the curse that Zobek placed on the world, cutting earth off from heaven (the official reason why you were on this quest in the first place) has been lifted.
  • Your wife and another person you killed under Zobek’s influence show up in ghost form and express that there’s no hard feelings. Considering how he helped you kill Satan when you asked, it’s safe to assume God also forgave you. You save the world and everything’s great. And sure your wife is still dead, but yo–
  • Gabriel collapses in grief and asks his wife to forgive him as she fades away. This is seconds after she forgives him for killing her and he seems content. You think, Seriously? We’ve been over this, Gabriel.
  • Credit roll.
  • Cut to what must be some time later. Someone enters a chapel. You think, Is that Zobek? And then, a second later, That IS Zobek! And you don’t think, If he’s alive, why did his curse lift? because you’re too busy thinking, This has something to do with Dracula!!
  • Zobek breaks a wall in the chapel and flies up into a room that seems empty. He turns and addresses “the Prince of Darkness.”
  • You think, Holy shit! Holy shit! Yes!
  • Zobek addresses Dracula as Gabriel.
  • You knit your brow.
  • Zobek talks about how Satan’s coming back to take over the world and you need to help Zobek defeat him or he’ll enslave the both of you.
  • You think, What??? And then, Well… Okay. I mean, playing as Dracula would be kind of–
  • Gabriel attacks Zobek and Zobek knocks him out of a window–
  • –into a crowded, modern city street.
  • You think, Oh what the $&*@? And then, SIGH.
  • In the crowded street, while everyone’s staring/listening, Zobek tactlessly makes more of a scene by talking about how Gabriel can’t die, a detail that is definitely just thrown in there. But, hey, Zobek can find a way to kill you if you’ll help him.
  • Gabriel (I’m not calling him Dracula) screams and BAMF’s away.
  • You realize that if there is a sequel, it’s going to be Dracula 2000.
... with... Jonny Lee Miller?

But worse (almost) than that, if Konami sets the sequel in the present, they’ll be shooting themselves in the foot. I know that Lords of Shadow is a reboot–characters like Brauner, Olrox, and Cornell pop up in very different roles than they did in Portrait of Ruin, Symphony of the Night, and (especially) Legacy of Darkness, so the game really asserts its reboot status. But there are still things that people like to see in their reboots; in Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man still fought the Green Goblin. In The Incredible Hulk movie, the Hulk still smashed things. These are staples of those series. Castlevania‘s staple?

Belmont VS Dracula

Sure, after Symphony, Castlevania games gave us nothing but androgynies, none of them true Belmonts (excepts for Leon…

... but we never talk about Leon.)

Lords of Shadow is not only the first solid 3D Castlevania game, but it’s the return of the Belmont Clan, which all real Castlevania fans have been waiting a long, long time for. And now Konami’s going to get rid of them again, right away, and deny us the epic conflict we thought we’d be getting? And they’re going to pull us right out of the incredibly beautiful, myth-heavy, ancient world they set Lords of Shadow in to give us the pile of garbage on the street corner? It’s just bad for business in so many ways.

I would’ve had Gabriel disappear and then would’ve had a cut scene a lot like the one they gave us, only instead of Zobek, it would have clearly been another Belmont. Dracula could have asked for his name, and the Belmont could’ve said “Simon”, or “Trevor” or any other famous Belmont name. They could’ve had a tense chat in which Gabriel as Dracula talks about how God abandoned him and men are full of lies, like he always does, only this time, it would’ve mattered!

And then, before the screen cuts to black, Dracula would’ve stood. Light would’ve touched his face and we would’ve seen that, without a shadow of a doubt, he was Gabriel. He would have thrown his glass of blood at Simon and said,

“But enough talk. Have at you!”

Gamer Quirks

Some time last month, while chatting with a friend of mine (I don’t remember who, but let’s call him Ted) about our favorite games, I mentioned that one of mine was Flashback. To this Ted naturally replied:

“Never heard of it.”

So I explained: Flashback was a PC game that was ported to consoles in ’92. It came out for the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and the Sega CD. And I rented each port about 9 times before we finally bought the Sega CD version, at which point I played nothing but that for a solid year. Of course, Ted was shocked and, assuming he’d missed something, asked what the game was like. I replied:

It was a Prince of Persia-esque side-scroller, only, your guy, Conrad, probably had less flexible controls; it was like trying to control an ent, only the ent’s limbs were on hinges and rails, so it could only move in very specific ways (no nudging, for example; you press left and Conrad takes a perfectly measured step left. You press the button to draw your gun and Conrad stops moving and draws it, always, unless you’re rolling or jumping). There were AI aliens that would kill you in two seconds if they weren’t too busy being complete idiots, getting stuck on very simple obstacles. But all things considered, even though the game worked on pretty solid (if invisible) rails, it still managed to be ridiculously hard and incredibly interesting; one of the stages had you walking around a city called New Washington, doing menial jobs (like delivering packages) to insanely intense ones (like fixing the city’s overloaded power generator before it exploded and killed you and everyone).

“Oh,” Ted replied, mostly because I didn’t tell him exactly what I just wrote. I probably said something like, “There were aliens and you controlled a guy but the controls were kind of retarded… And I loved it.”

I remember later that night, coming home and talking to my brother about it. Really, I’d played the crap out of Flashback, a game most people haven’t even heard of. I felt like such a weird choice for me… Like the black sheep of my gaming career, only it was hilarious to admit it. Yeah, a little embarrassing, but also incredibly nostalgic and oddly empowering; we all have our favorite games of all time and they’re all usually taken from the same handful, but this was something different–something I realized I didn’t have to share with anyone. A gaming experience that, even if it was off kilter and full of faults, was still mine.

My brother smirked and said, “Well,  *I* beat Dracula for the Sega CD… way too many times.”

And I said, “Oh my God, that’s right!”

It was like duplo Castlevania! Only completely unfair! I didn’t remember until my brother reminded me a moment later, but there was a 50% chance the game would crash when you finally reached Dracula!

And man, it was true! He did play the crap out of that game! Determined to beat him, I reminded him that I beat Overblood about 5 times when we rented it, not comparable at all to my weird Flashback obsession (I’m *still* waiting for them to put it on XBL), but yet another of what I started thinking of as “gamer quirks”.

Now, I’m a guy who loves video game culture; the effect of MMO’s on gaming society, the myths gaming society creates and maintains, the slang associated with different games, all of it interests me. So discovering my gamer quirks meant defining them–“An addiction to an unpopular game or a small element of its game play. Also, a particular, ingrained gaming habit.”– and defining them meant immediately asking all of my friends for theirs:

  • Ken, a math professor in training living in Mineola, NY confesses his crime: “Remember that Cool Spot game for the Genesis way back when? Well there was a spinoff of that game for the Gameboy. Except while the Genesis game was a platformer, the Gameboy game was a complete ripoff of the board game Othello. Also, the CPU was a cheating bastard. I could never win a damn game. I got so into my quest to beat the CPU that I actually stole this game right out of my best friend’s bedroom and played it until it stopped working some years later, having never earned a single victory.”
  • Liam, a loss prevention detective in Manhattan tells about his gamer quirk, and, no, it’s not an addiction to an unpopular game, but it is an addiction to one of its errors in programming and, hey, that counts: “I’d just beaten Link’s Awakening for the first time and my brother finally agreed to tell me how to exploit the map glitch. The glitch itself is fairly simple; whenever Link has reached the edge of the gameboy’s screen and the game was about to switch to the next screen you pressed the Select button to bring up the map. If you timed it right when you exited the map you’d be on the next screen but at the far side of where you should have been if you’d entered the screen normally.
    The possibilities with this glitch were numerous. You could use it to access parts of the game that shouldn’t be available to you; awesome and a load of fun, but it was only the tip of the iceberg.  For me, the full potential of the glitch could only be accessed in caves. Caves were fairly limited designs guiding you along a specific path. The beauty of the glitch was that you could warp onto the walls of the cave, where the designers never expected you to be. Because they never figured you’d get onto the walls the designers didn’t put barriers around the edges preventing you from trying to walk onto the next screen. They also didn’t put any terrain there. So what happens when the rules of the game allow you to walk into a room that doesn’t exist? You force the game to create a room for you to enter. Each room was new and unexplored. The same wall could yield different rooms if you leapt off from a different place. It was  like exploring an undiscovered country.
    “I spent hours and hours exploring weird glitched-out rooms that were composites of other terrain in the game mashed together in sometimes grotesque ways, opening chests to find items that didn’t exist and never showed up in the inventory or duplicates of already existing boss items. In fact, I spent more time exploiting this glitch than playing the game the way it’s makers intended.”
  • Joshua Kenney, founder of Professional Misanthropy, explains, “I am a loot whore. I don’t mean that I run end bosses in World of Warcraft until my fingers fall off to get that complete Tier 4 armor set.  I would, ‘cause I do love the shinies, but I’m usually too busy grabbing every single piece of loot every monster I killed has ever dropped. So I guess I’m more a loot kleptomaniac. Perhaps the gamer part of my brain grew up during the Great Depression, because I can’t stand to see perfectly good loot fade away simply because it’s not “worth it” to pick it up and sell it to a vendor back in town. Loot is always worth it.
    “It’s a useful skill early on in these games, when you’re trying to build up a bankroll, but the farther in you get, and the more you find yourself carrying stacks and stacks of loot, the more folly it becomes.  Which is why I’m usually so poor in Diablo-esque loot fests: I spend all my time picking up leather scraps and orc snot, even when that shit is way below my level.”

Okay. So, be honest; do you have one of your own gamer quirk? If so, comment below, or post #MyGamerQuirk on twitter! I’m dying to hear more of these!

The Andrew Garfield Spider-Suit: There’s No Pleasing You, Is There?

On January 13th, everyone got their first look at Andrew Garfield in his Spidey getup. In case you missed it, here it is:

I remember seeing this and thinking, Wow. My brother was right. He looks so weird. I didn’t know what else to think about it, aside from It’s red and blue. That’s a start. In the end, I just put the picture out of mind (which I usually do for anything I’m anticipating) and decided to wait for another shot to sneak up on me. It didn’t take long at all.

This shot from the set of the reboot is one of many that popped up later in January and earlier this month. They give a much better view of the tights and everyone’s pretty unanimous in the decision that he looks stupid, weird, and skinny and that the costume sucks. There’s criticism for every inch of it; people think the color’s off, that he’s too blue, that the texture’s weird, that his spider sneakers look ridiculous, that it’s weird how his crotch is black, that his eyes are too small. The people have spoken and they are just not pleased and all I can think when I hear their complaints is…

There’s no pleasing you, is there?

The costume isn’t perfect. This much I definitely agree with. But, oh my God, they’re trying to give everyone what they go bananas over. Realism. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were chocks full of realism; tons of choices for those movies were based on what Batman would be like in real life. His suit would have to be an adapted combat suit made by Wayne Industries. His car would have to be a combat vehicle designed by Wayne Industries. His grappling hook would have to be magnetic. His love interest would have to be amazingly boring. Why isn’t that approach okay for Spider-Man?

Probably because too few people know/remember enough about Spider-Man to realize that this is what they’re doing. Seriously, maybe you just forgot or maybe you just never knew, but…

He’s Wearing Wrestling Tights

This film is supposed to be based on the Ultimate Spider-Man series of comics. In Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter Parker is given his suit by the head of the wrestling organization he moonlights with.

Just in case you need to see to believe, here are panels from pages 17 and 18 of Ultimate Spider-Man #3.

Now, as you can see, in Ultimate Spider-Man, the only things the outfit was missing when it was handed off were its webs and spider symbol, which, if we’re being really honest with ourselves, we realize is ridiculously convenient. Sure, it’s specially made, but do you even know of a specialty costume designer that can make those perfect, sock-slipper red booties? Okay, maybe you do, but, do you know of any wrestling organization that’s going to order boots like those instead of the traditional laces-to-the-knees wrestling boots? Seriously. Spider-Man’s boots don’t exist in the real world–the only idea more ludicrous than the thought that his stingy, freelance employer shelled out a ton of money to have an extremely creative outfit custom-made for Peter Parker is the idea that Tobey Maguire made his movie duds all by his lonesome. I mean… sure, why wouldn’t a dude with spider powers be good at knitting/sewing/weaving/whatever, but the idea that Peter Parker was given a wrestling outfit that actually looks like a wrestling outfit just makes sense.

I’m betting this doesn’t sell you regardless. He still looks weird and different is what you’re thinking. Well, as a Spider-Man fan, I’m pretty damn grateful that he does. Ya know why?…

Spider-Man Has Looked Exactly the Same Since the 60’s

Let’s take a picture break:

Wow. Haven’t they changed? Eh? I don’t even have to explain how! Isn’t that awesome?

Now…
Let’s take a moment here. This collage features Spider-Man as he’s appeared in several forms of media. What’s different? His eyes are kind of different, yeah. The blue is different shades here and there. The webbing on his suit is straight sometimes. He’s small in some pics, beefy in others. All of these things can be attributed to different artists’ whims and periodic make-overs though. Putting these things aside, can you tell me what else is different? That’s right! You got it!

Nothing.

Yes, Spider-Man has had different costumes. The Black Suit, the Iron Spider costume, a few others. But do you know what those costumes have in common? They go away. Quickly. Only the Black Suit has found any long-lasting success, but given what it represents these days, it’s just become an unintentional tease; Spider-Man dons it to go AWOL for five panels before someone reminds him, “Hey, Spider-Man, you’re being really hardcore and you look a lot cooler. No one likes that, some shit about responsibility, here’s the ol’ red and blue.”

To boot, these costumes aren’t subtle changes. Only Spidey’s House of M suit, which, of course, only existed in an alternate reality, gave the red and blue a twist. A small twist, but apparently not small enough.

 

It was really just the same suit with different gloves, but I'm sure purists still vomited all over themselves when they saw it.

My point here is, let the man evolve a little. Let them try something new with the costume–something new that makes a lot of sense. Because if they don’t, we’re just going to get the same look we’ve been stuck with for the last 50 years.

Do you want this? Again?
Or can you just calm down and accept that this only looks different, not bad?

Sighclops

Last week, we were treated to the reveal of Marvel Vs. Capcom 3‘s final boss–Galactus. The reveal meant many important things for me:

– I definitely wouldn’t be getting the game (because, really, I fought Onslaught enough, thanks).

– Now it’s even sillier that none of the Fantastic Four made the cut (*again*).

– And, finally, the game’s roster is probably, finally, full. Sure, maybe it’s not, but even so, it doesn’t change the fact that the other two members of my Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 team aren’t making the cut.

Definitely not Guile, because, hey, why bring him back when we can add Evil Ryu instead? Or Evil Sakura? Or Ken’s jacket? (Or go the Marvel route and add that one guy with the glasses in that one panel of Squirrel Girl #2. Remember him? Neither do I.)

And definitely, definitely not Cyclops, because… Well… <sigh>

Because he’s Cyclops.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of *those* MVC2 players; I didn’t pick Cyclops (without having any prior knowledge of or love for the character) just so I could run Optic Blast supers every three seconds. I chose him because I’ve always loved Cyclops’ dedication to the X-Men and ability to lead despite pretty terrible conditions, because I’ve always thought his power was really awesome, and because, when it boils down to it, I always root for the underdog. And also because, yeah, I always loved playing Cyclops in X-Men Vs. Street Fighter (which is still my favorite Vs. game and apparently always will be).

 

I already miss catching spamming morons with a Mega Optic Blast and then shouting "Come on!" <sigh>... clops.

 

But my love for Cyclops is definitely a rare thing. To understand exactly why 49 in every group of 50 think Cyclops sucks (why they’d make, say, She-Hulk playable before bringing Slim Summers back), let’s look at Cyclops’ terrible, terrible public image.

Oh My God, Shut Up About Jean!

Cyclops is a mutant who does a lot of things right. He’s a great leader. He’s in great physical shape. He’s pretty responsible and does well under pressure. He isn’t claustrophobic.  However, there are two very major character flaws that plague him, one of which makes him just about the most annoying X-Man ever. That failure can be summed up in one word:

In this part of X-Men 3: The Last Stand, Cyclops didn't actually shout "Jean!!" but that probably would've been a good use of his thirteen whole seconds of air time (known to X-Men movie makers as "Wolverine Time") before he was killed--off screen.

Now, before you jump the gun, no I’m not blaming Jean. But Cyclops saying her name is *the* embodiment of his biggest flaw–the way he’s a retard with women. I understand, Scott; everyone’s awkward with at least one love interest at some point, and to boot, you were orphaned at a young age. But man, how can you expect people to like you when you’re *that* guy?

– Jean stubs her toe. Cyclops has bandages that he’s kept in his visor for just such an occasion. Wolverine is off in a corner, smoking. Cyclops somehow counts all of this as a victory.

– Jean gets knocked down by a Sentinel. Cyclops drops everything to run to her side. Meanwhile, Wolverine claws through the Sentinel’s crotch, straight through its body, to it’s head, at which point he eats his way out because his rage is just that complete. When Jean comes to, Cyclops immediately observes that Wolverine is nowhere to be found.

Unnecessarily clingy, insecure to the point that it makes him an ass, Cyclops easily embodies the worst of every guy/girl. A lot of us find it hard to like him because we see ourselves in him; every time he runs to Jean with a band-aid, a lot of us think of high school and/or that boyfriend/girlfriend who had us wrapped around their finger, maybe not because they wanted it that way, but just because we puppy loved them *that* much. Or, for those of us who never experienced puppy love, we see a grown, team leading man who can shoot lasers out of his eyes acting like a high school kid. Granted, my scenarios above never happened, but read or watch any X-Men in which Jean is alive and tell me his shouting “Jean!” or being so obviously insecure about Wolverine doesn’t drive you up a wall.

The truly sad thing? He doesn’t get better without her:

– Jean dies and Cyclops leaves the X-Men.

– Cyclops marries another woman, Madelyne Pryor. Madelyne Pryor, who turns out to be Jean’s clone. Of course.

– However, when the real Jean comes back to life, Cyclops immediately leaves both Madelyne and their son.

– Then, after marrying Jean, Cyclops starts having a “psychic affair” with Emma Frost.

– Jean dies *again* and Cyclops starts dating Emma, a psychic and former super-villain, btw. Even Cyclops assumed she was controlling his mind.

Maybe–hopefully–Cyclops will change sometime soon. But considering that any major changes to his character (like Whedon’s removing his inability to control his powers) are retconned, it seems unlikely that Cyclops will, say, become the full Headmaster of the Xavier Institute, get his own movie or, ya know, become a round character.

Oh, and rewinding for a second…

Oh My God! Handle Your #$*%, Cyclops!

Like I mentioned before, Cyclops can’t control his powers. At first, it was because he hit his head during the plane crash that supposedly killed his parents. It was later revealed that he can’t control his powers because of a self-imposed mental block–a mechanism for coping with the loss of his parents, separation from his brother, and the manifestation of his mutant powers.

Man that’s crap. If Pikachu can handle his electric cheeks, Scott Summers, you have no excuse. Again, orphan–I got it. Traumatic plane crash–I got it. You became a mutant–I got it. But seriously, pretty much every other mutant in the world has experienced those same problems… Well, excepts for the plane crash (but other mutants have stupid names! That’s pretty traumatic. Just ask the Stepford Cuckoos). Really, getting over the trauma and learning to control his powers is the very first thing Cyclops should have done, because that’s what Xavier’s School for the Gifted *is for!* And even otherwise, honestly, that kink should’ve worked itself out after *years* of being team leader, dating extremely attractive X-Women, and saving the world. Instead, everyone gets a guy who’s a danger to everyone if his glasses fall off–a kind of doomsday nerd, if you will. Only, on the outside, he looks like a super religious uberjock.

How can anyone not dislike him after realizing all of this, right? The thing is, I don’t dislike Cyclops over this stuff because, unlike a lot of people that hate him, I see him from a writer’s perspective: Cyclops is a staple of the X-Men. Back in the 60’s, he was the very first member of the team. Thus, he, in the classic Marvel way, has to stay pretty much exactly the same way he was. Like Spider-Man (who’s one and only bout of drinking was retconned [his roommate gave him apple juice and Peter convinced himself he was drunk. How absolutely sickening] because fans complained), Cyclops can’t stop being a moron with relationships or learn to control his powers because that, in Marvel’s and purists’ eyes, just wouldn’t be Cyclops.

Which is incredibly sad because he has so much potential. Cyclops should be hyper lethal because he can hit you the moment he sees you. Cyclops should be one of the greatest fighters and strategists in Marvel history because  he’s been training in the Danger Room since he was a teen. Cyclops should be a badass. He should have his own comic, his own movie, his own life. But he doesn’t and he never will because he’s never going to be allowed to grow. And people are never going to stop blaming him for that.

A New Methodology

Writing used to be a feel good, hobby-ish thing for me. I would sit down and stare at my computer and brainstorm about what would happen next. And more often than not, an answer would not come. But that was always okay–cause it would come in time! As long as I was getting something done at all–as long as I was at least sitting at the computer with the intent–I was doing alright for myself. And to an extent, that’s true; just sitting down and clocking in is the first test of all writers.

 

But, that approach wound up leading to some major issues. First and foremost, I was way too laid back about what was happening in my story; things would feel right and I would throw them on the page, always going with my gut, never wondering how often my instinct matched what was happening or the tone I’d already set. More crucial than that though, plot lines got completely out of control; my first edit took months because I was just trying to close loopholes. I remember thinking, say, in the middle of my first draft, “Hey! This should happen! I’m going to write it in even though it hasn’t been mentioned anywhere else in the book yet! I’ll just catch it later and smooth it all out!” When I reached one of those moments during my first edit, I remember stopping, sighing, and (probably) saying aloud, “You bastard.” Tack on the countless switch-ups of characters’ moods and logic and the zig zagging plot (products of my returning to the computer completely clueless after weeks of not reading a word of my book), and the first draft of my manuscript was kind of a nightmare. And yeah, maybe it was a nightmare that would’ve sold–cause, sadly, I’ve seen worse in published Fantasy–but not something I’d want to produce.

So, really, the only option was to rewrite the whole thing, but the question became, “What can I do to keep everything from falling apart again?” The answer is probably too bureaucratic and neurotic  for everyone’s taste, but, hey, I’m just explaining how I do things.

 

An Outline, for lack of a better word. A single master file that compiles all of the post-it notes, standalone files, and thoughts I ever had about any snippet of my book, including the full outline of the plot. I’m not going to post a sample of the Outline here, but I will give a vague example of its set-up.

Chapter Number / Chapter Title

Main Characters: A list of all of the characters who are present in the chapter. But not just Name, Age, and Place of Origin; we’re talking everything about them, from what they’re wearing and thinking in this chapter, to whether or not the wound they took two chapters ago is still sore.

Side Characters: The same, only I add side characters’ back stories (I have a Foreword detailing all of my main characters’ stories).

Locations: A full description of all the major areas featured in the chapter.

Plot Lines: A list of plot lines, keeping close track of what I’m revealing, what I’m hinting at, and what I’m saving for later.

Bullets: The full outline for the chapter in bullet portions that are as simple or complex as I want.

 

This is a very streamlined, boring summary, but I have to add, before you bail on me, that it has a lot of great advantages if you use it correctly:

  • First off, approach the Outline chapter by chapter in solid, helpful steps. This is your chance to experiment and work out all the details of your story. To make sure I’ve worked out the initial kinks, I start with the Bullets written by hand in a notebook. Writing by hand keeps me from correcting or even caring about corrections because I can’t free-hand half as quickly as I can correct in my mind; I give up and just get the plot down, bullet by bullet. Here I take my time, deciding what happens on a ton of different criteria (“Is this too boring?” “Does this make sense?” “Would my character actually do this, or is it just from that one movie?” “Is this to simple / predictable / cliche?”) After I finish the Bullets by hand, I look them over and find every character, location, or thing I’m going to talk about in the chapter. With these points of interest, I return to the Outline and that’s where my supplemental info (Main Characters, Side Characters, etc.) comes from. After I have all of the supplemental info down, I copy my handwritten bullets onto the Outline, using the info to improve what I already have and, thus, making sure what remains is as solid of a first draft as it can be.
  • Actually write the supplemental info. All of it. When I was rewriting the first chapter, I decided I’d use a town called Mycelston. But it wasn’t until writing supplemental info that I realized Mycelston had a mine. And, hey, wait, if it has a mine, I could use that at the end of the first chapter… and it’d be awesome. Since doing this, I’ve found a healthy terror in the amount of things I know about my world that I’ve never, ever realized. But also, right there with it was some frustration; that first draft would’ve been a lot better if I’d known Mycelston had a mine. Or that Dawnspear has outlying farms up and down the Dawn Coast. But, hey, how was I supposed to know these things about my fantasy world if I didn’t write or even think about them? More importantly for you, what do you know about your fantasy world that you haven’t realized? You’d be surprised, I bet. Take the info dumps as opportunities to explore your world; don’t sell your it short by rushing through this step.
  • Treat the Outline as a very rough first draft. The bullets are there for you to explore and express your story without you getting bogged down by things like writing style and narration. You’ll have all the time in the world to work with those–give your plot its own attention and see where it takes you.
  • And stay on point with your plot. I know tracking all of your plot points for each chapter sounds tedious, and, yeah, it totally is. But the only thing that’s worse is losing hold of something or forgetting a very important but very minor detail 230 pages into a 461 page book.

Overall, is an outline like mine insanely time consuming? Yes. Will it require you to create a ton of content that (and this is necessary) isn’t even mentioned in your book? Yes. But will your world feel that much more complete? Will you have (as Ron Carlson calls it) more fuel for your story when you create that content? Of course. And when you’re done, will you have enough fuel left over for a collection of short stories set in the same world? Ohhhh, you betcha. Try it out is all I’m saying. I haven’t gotten anything published yet so I’m no guru and there’s a great chance this approach is just a crazy, Louis thing, but if you’re struggling, I hope this helps.

At any rate, I’m going to keep working it. Right now, I’m almost on chapter three. It is, in fact, taking forever. But really, all I ever have to do is compare the old draft to what I already have now and the time and effort are immediately so, so worth it.

Sigh

After chatting with friends I decided to take down the Character Art page. I’ll have it back up when my book is actually out, but for now it’s just me getting ahead of myself. Also, I’d rather have fully colored pieces on show, and not sketches. The Ink Abstracts will remain up and I will post more of those and some of my photography, but I’ll save characters for when everyone will have a book to identify them with.

I was going to write a far, far longer post about all of this, but the internet was out for two days in my building because of the snow storm here in New York.

The good thing about the storm: there’s a car parked on my sidewalk. Well, “parked” is a generous way to put it; it’s on my sidewalk. From the looks of it, someone was trying to turn at my corner but failed and nearly drove straight into my building. And–of course–I’m really glad they didn’t crash, but leaving my place earlier at 4:30 AM and finding a car on my corner, mere feet from the edge of my building, was pretty interesting. A better way to wake up than coffee, I think.

2nd Draft Prologue Down

Today I cleaned up a few more things on the website. Primarily, I added links at the bottom of the page. Aside from that, I took back the War of Exiles Prologue I’d been so proud to show off a few months ago. I know–no backsies–but I had to; the new draft is so different in tone that leaving the old intro there felt like me posting my high school yearbook photo for everyone to see. And no, I’m not that brave.

At any rate, I’ll make up for the pull with a bunch more posts on the Photography, Inkwork, and Character Art pages. Stay tuned.

“Hey! Look at you!”

Finally a new look for the site and a few pieces up for your viewing pleasure. Nothing too major–mostly old, old inkwork. But there are two character sketches up as well–one of mine and one by Peter John. Check them out and expect more soon.

Also coming up in the near future–a look at my new writing methodology–lovingly called THE OUTLINE: for friends and family, a solid excuse for why the new draft is taking so, so long.

A Split in the Road

I remember finishing the second draft of my book. I made the last corrections and was content. My friends and I had a barbeque over it and I was pretty certain I was about to achieve total victory; there was just one edit left–the one where I would spruce up all of the writing and tie up any holes.

Only, the agent I had an eye on wanted books that were about one hundred pages shorter than mine, so major cuts had to happen. But facing that challenge, I didn’t shrink away; I knew immediately what would go. At the time, it just felt like I was being prudent. I looked at parts I’d earmarked for deletion and thought, “These chapters aren’t really important to the story.” “This scene kind of annoyed me.” “I didn’t really think this should have happened anyway.”

And then a friend linked me to a post on Patrick Rothfuss’ blog where he explained his editing process. And from there, things kind of snowballed. I found myself wondering why I was ready to send out something that had multiple nonessential chapters. I realized, really, that a few parts of my own book made me cringe because they were so campy. Most important though, I realized why these things happened: I started writing the book in 2005. Such a long, long time ago. I was 22, I was conceited, and I was a completely different writer with a whole different set of priorities. I remembered wanting things to look good and be fun, never giving enough thought to how original and different everything was. I had the ground work set for something interesting, but then dropped in old cliches because I didn’t know better back then. The result was something I enjoyed, sure-probably something that a lot of people would enjoy-but not something I wanted to submit.

So I told a coworker of mine one morning that I’d completely rewrite War of Exiles only if I could imagine a better, more original version of it’s prologue. I began plotting it out at 6:30 AM. By about 7:20, I knew there was nothing to be done. It was too much better. And there were too many other possibilities-chances to make changes that were too complicated for simple edits.

So, here I am-back to square one. My goal: to finish my “first draft” before 2012.