Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

This week I wanted to take a step back from the craft of worldbuilding and look at one of my favorite examples of what it can do for any story. I present: The Elder Scrolls.

The game series just celebrated its 25th anniversary and has gone through 6 full-blown, stand-alone games, some games not numbered in that timeline, various mobile device spin-offs and one huge MMO, there has been a LOT of development. If you’ve read my other blog posts, I may have mentioned that Morrowind, by far, is still my favorite, and that game came out in 2002, so only 8 years of development had been completed at that time, but…

According to Todd Howard (director and head producer at Bethesda Softworks), Patrick Stewart said, upon receiving the reference for the game’s character Emperor Uriel Septim VII: “I got the notes… Never in my life doing any role have I gotten such detailed notes and I loved it.”

First, let me clarify “development” here, as anyone who works with computer systems/games/etc. realizes this word really means to build up the game by creating its functionality, its mechanics, etc. In the case of the Elder Scrolls, it wasn’t just development in this sense, but also a real creation of new things, with ways every piece interacts in the world.

In ESIII: Morrowind, they really knocked the ball out of the park with Alchemy. To make the skill interesting, there had to be ingredients. Ingredients come from varied sources, and this is where the worldbuilding got interesting—they created (intentionally or not) a kind of ecology to support the harvestables within the world. A lot of plants and fungi exist around the massive province of Vvardenfell, with parts to pick that have certain beneficial or detracting effects when eaten or put into potions. But there are also creatures, not to kill just because they attack you (as just about everything does in most of these games) but to gather their parts as ingredients as well. ESIV: Oblivion and ESV: Skyrim would continue this practice, and Skyrim introduced Blacksmithing which enabled the player to build and furnish their own houses, further using the harvestable ingredients. But it goes beyond that. Plants weren’t just ever-present. Players had to find them (which was a major quest in Oblivion and in Skyrim) in their native or preferred habitat, or sometimes in pots around the area of the world which each game covers.

And that’s just the biology.

Its history is rich as well. There are a massive number of in-game books, and just stopping to read some of them not only confers skill points but also a great deal of history and culture developed for the game. Fiction is represented by stories like A Dance in Fire and Poison Song, both of which span multiple volumes. Non-Fiction includes topics like The Real Barenziah, Buoyant Armigers: The Swords of Vivec, The Oblivion Crisis, written, of course, after Oblivion. There are even books of riddles (Red Book of Riddles, Yellow Book of Riddles) and children’s books were introduced in Elder Scrolls Online (Brave Little Shalk). There’s also one tongue-in-cheek book, ABCs for Barbarians. You can check out an overview of them here. One of my personal favorites is the Lusty Argonian Maid, not for its content but for the way in which it’s been inserted into the world. At the time of Morrowind, it was supposedly written by Crassus Curio, a pretty colorful Imperial aligned with House Hlaalu. It was apparently a coveted classic by the time of Skyrim (reference cave of books), but in ESO is claimed to have been a much older work (implying that Curio took the story as his own, as the events of ESO is 800 years before he lived – not to mention that the people of Tamriel’s minds haven’t gotten any cleaner in the 1000+ years, hehehehe).

Let’s not forget some other cultural aspects – whole pantheons of gods and god-like beings were created to be worshipped, shunned, fought over, like the Nine Divines and the Daedra, the latter of which lend their dark shapes to the already very surreal landscape of Vvardenfell. The characters names illustrate the differences in their cultures, with Argonian names such as “Scales-Like-Gold” or Orc names, Gruf gro-Bargh or Hurna gra-Rohk, denoting male and female respectively. Imperials have befittingly Roman-sounding names (like Crassus Curio mentioned above, or Caius Cosades – the developers must have had a thing about using the initials CC to make the weird old guys in the game…). There’s even astrology with its own system (which has sadly gone by the wayside after Oblivion), from which your character can pick the star under which they are born, be they Steed, or the Tower.

I could go on. Really, I could. But you should experience the games for themselves, since most if not all are still available in one way or the other (GOG.com, or Steam, with tons of mods for them on Nexus). Or read here, if you’re not really a gamer, but still want to get the experience of an expansive world.

Normally I don’t post on Mondays, but I really wanted to get this one out, for two reasons. The first one is this:

Holly Lisle’s How To Write a Novel class is discounted for one week only (1 APR-8 APR 2019). After that week, the price goes up and doesn’t come down, nor does she offer sales later on. If you buy now, you get a rough cut of the class, but any updates are forever FREE afterward. I’ve used her classes before, am working my way through this one now, and love the way she teaches. It’s practical with real exercises, not that theory/feely/zen stuff pushed by a lot of so-called writers. If you were considering taking a class like this, do it now. Disclaimer: I recommend it because I use it, but if you click the link below and purchase the class I will get some compensation.

How to Write a Novel – by Holly Lisle

 

The second reason is ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE.

Last week, the Elder Scrolls series of games turned 25. Now, I am old enough to remember when Arena came out, even though I didn’t have my computer with me at the time to play it (I was on active duty then, far from home). Of course the cover of Computer Gaming World garnered a LOT of attention for the title. I wonder why…I’m guessing that at least one of my brothers still has his copy.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary, Bethesda released a free copy of Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Game of the Year Edition. I couldn’t have been more ecstatic. While I still have my old copy that I got when it was on the shelves(!!!), some of the younger members of my family who also love the Elder Scrolls (Skyrim) were able to download it.

See? I even have my well-worn, tabbed copy of the strategy guide, which I dug out in order to play it through again.

Also free was Elder Scrolls Online this weekend, so I decided to take the plunge (so to speak) and see what all the fuss was about.

I was underwhelmed.

Now, Morrowind is still my absolute favorite of all of the titles. When it was released, I picked it up thinking, “Hey, this will be fun.” I installed this little gem not expecting anything more than to be entertained with a new RPG.

No words can describe how it blew me away. The first beats of Jeremy Soule’s magnificent somber, soulful theme tugged at me like no other music for a video game had, capturing the essence of the character’s experiences and the otherworldliness of the setting (and still gives me the shivers – it’s far better than Oblivion’s “marching” version and Skyrim’s “war-chant” variation).

Then I got to see the world – floored again. No trees, all mushrooms! I’m something of a novice mycologist (a “fun-gal”, if you will). Virtually all of the creatures are reptilian (and probably another reason the Dunmer so easily turn Argonians into slaves, thinking them of little higher thinking capacity than their kagouti or guar “cousins”). It was true fantasy, a weird, impossible world that no other game, let alone a first-person role-playing-game got close to emulating. The bizarre architecture where the Imperial Forts are the ones that feel very out of place, the crazy, twisting Telvanni towers, the volcanic ashen lands. Swamps, mines with “glass” and “ebony”. You could LEVITATE – that’s right. Levitate. And you had to, in those towers, but if you were good at enchanting you could add it to anything (you could also do it with the tool…) and cross the whole of Vvardenfel from the air. Just watch out for those face-munching cliff racers. Even Bethesda couldn’t recreate that novel weirdness until the Shivering Isles expansion of Oblivion. The caves under the north in Skyrim start to head that way again, the glowing fungi world with the crimson Nirnroot (it’s name escapes me at the moment). We get a real dose – a real tease, actually – with the Dragonborn expansion and a trip to Solstheim, where some of the fallout from trouble at the Red Mountain made its way over to the Nord-occupied island.

And the story! You could, of course, play it any way you liked, but if you go through the main storyline, it feels like you’re experiencing a novel. Humble beginnings, a child born at a certain time of uncertain parents, to discover, and prove, and manifest as the true hero of the story. (Don’t even get to do that in Oblivion, as Martin is the hero and you’re just a tagalong, and in Skyrim, well, everyone is more annoying–oooh, Dragonborn!– than that Arena superfan from Oblivion).

In short (or long, as the case here), Morrowind is an almost insurmountable masterpiece.

I went into ESO with one major goal – wanting to experience Vvardenfell the way I experienced it all those years ago. Boy, was I disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong–the world of ESO is STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL (no, I am not apologizing for all caps). But it is compressed. Like a Reader’s Digest version of MW’s Vvardenfell. And it’s not just my memory expanding on me, because I did a quick play-through of getting to Caius Cosades just to test against it, in case it was my old age. Getting from Seyda Neen to Balmora was a trek, and a dangerous one at that. At any moment, one of those horrid little kwama foragers could jump out at you, or a cliff racer swoop in ready to eat your face. There was real danger, real tension that the trip you were making might be your last, before it even begun. Unless you decided to hop in a Silt Strider and make the trip more safely. In ESO it was like, “Head on the path north from Seyda Neen and… oh, there’s Balmora. Um… yay.” Same for Vivec City. And, if along the way, an alit or nix hound happened to attack you, well, dozens of heroes would just by you and hack/slash, no more critter. Yay. Not. There was a heavy dose of isolation in Morrowind that made the world so wonderful. I get that the Vvardenfell of MW was the entire game, and this one is part of a much larger world, but compressing an already-extant world into a peanut shell ruined that part for me.

You get to experience it fresh, clean. Not the case with ESO, where everyone is a hero, running around with incongruous names, on mounts that don’t look like they belong in the universe of Elder Scrolls let alone on Vvardenfell (with the exception of the guars, who are awesome looking mounts!). All followed by a bunch of nonsensical pets, which only adds to the off-putting impression. To be “fair”, Bethesda seemed to get away from what made their games awesome with each iteration after MW.

In MW, you get to slowly unravel your part in the world. There’s a cryptic dream warning from someone you only much later learn is Azura. In ESO, you get slammed with the knowledge that a Daedric Prince is using you. In MW, you don’t get to meet Vivec until much later in the game. In ESO, you’re chatting like pals after a few short jaunts here and there to serve him (at least there’s the satisfaction that, in MW, you get to end the god-poseur. Gratifying).

The other thing that really bothered me was the “prettification” of the characters. I LOVE character creation, especially when there are a whole bunch of sliders to really tweak the look and make them unique. Morrowind had none of that – you selected a race, a gender, a hairstyle and a face. Oblivion had the sliders, but everyone looked like bloated ticks, no matter what you tweaked (I heard that there were mods that improved the look but I never used them). Skyrim did it right and did it wrong – lots of sliders, but the man races all looked alike as did the mer races. I couldn’t tell a Bosmer from an Altmer, despite them being unmistakable in the previous titles. At least in Skyrim, every last one of them looked like they had a hard life, which is realistic. In ESO, everyone is a supermodel version of themselves. Sure, there are some scars and bits of other physical detractors you can add but the orc females are like idealized elves with green skin paint and stick-in tusks. It’s laughable. As if someone ugly can’t possibly be heroic.

And before you accuse me of being a hater, first, shut it. This is my opinion, and I am fully aware that ESO is meant to attract the lowest-common-denominator paying players, and builds in the mass appeal with all of the ridiculous things that people who used to flock to WoW and other games like it are expecting. Players that just hack and slash in the world ruin the FEEL that made that world wonderful in the first place. Was it fun? Yes, but not in any way that made Morrowind wonderful, or even Oblivion or Skyrim great games. I think I will stick with single-player games.

Now, I am just waiting for Bethesda to recognize that Morrowind is such a masterpiece that all it really needs is a new-graphics/physics overhaul, with maybe a few tweaks to bring the character/inventory interface up to speed. Oh, wait, Bethesda’s not, but someone else is… TESRenewal.com

Hurry up, guys. This gal’s getting old!

Hello, my name is T. R. Neff, and I am a world building junkie. Yes, I admit it, and I am happy to say that I am far from being the only one.

I started early in life, too. I loved those maps in the front of the fantasy novels in my brothers’ book collections. I drew my own maps and landscapes from those places (some of which were good, some of them pretty terrible and thankfully no longer extant). As I got a little older I was drawn to the tables in the Dungeons & Dragons books—the ones that helped to create worlds and environments on the fly. Thus comes my first reference:

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons World Builder’s Guidebook.

  1. This was one of those seminal works that helped dungeon masters create entire worlds for their campaigns. While I did play the game (you know, before computer role-playing games, where you had to use pencil, paper, dice and a whole lotta imagination!), my main interest was on the dozens of tables that helped to create randomization of continents, of geography, of cities/towns/hamlets, etc. There was even a table that helped figure the likelihood of certain fantasy-game staple professions inhabiting a city. Included with it was a pad of different kind of blank maps on which you could draw the entire world or focus in on regions. Many of these were hex maps, which any old-school role-playing enthusiast recognizes as the very best way of calculating distances for your traveling heroes. (The AD&D Boxed set had some really nice maps with clear acetate hex-map overlays for figuring travel, and was a marvelous tool for those who wanted a “clean” map but still needed a way to calculate if the hero could really reach Jemia from Roscor in less than a day…)

Why random? After all, we authors create worlds, right? Well, sometimes when we create them we conform them to all the things we know and like, and don’t let anything get too brutal for the characters we create. If we introduce tables like this, we can create a world of adversity that our characters have to deal with. We can pit them against unknowns, and see how they react. After all, that IS “character”.

 

 

Not content to settle for just the entire world that was possible from using the WBG, I remember coming across this gem:

ARES Magazine – Article on New Worlds of the Solar System

It was a series of tables for the Star Frontiers science fiction role-playing games that helped create solar systems on the fly. I used them constantly to create not only the world (using the above book) but put it in a whole system that could have things like eclipses and conjunctions and even some weird things like binary stars or twin planets. The systems could tell you how many planets and of what approximate size would be the most realistic for the types of star or stars. Water, weather, even life/technology levels could be randomized from the tables, although for most of my worlds I didn’t bother with the last several, especially if it was a fantasy world. The article was thoroughly indespensible for my worlds in space, and dictated the rather “difficult” planet in one of my stories yet to be published (set in the same universe as Clones Are People Two).

I think I even have the magazine somewhere around here, but if you could get yourself a copy, or if the article is available legally online for free, it’s worth taking a peek the next time you want to create a solar system for the world your characters are inhabiting.

 

And now, one of my new favorites, Holly Lisle’s Create a World Clinic (No Picture)

(Disclaimer: I am not an affiliate of Holly Lisle’s work, and particularly love this book. If you click on the link above and end up purchasing a copy for yourself, I will be compensated).

I don’t always agree with Holly[1], but here in World Building I discovered by reading her work that we are very much alike. As any other world-building junkie knows, and she points out, there’s an inherent danger in overbuilding (if you’re doing it for writing. If you do it as a hobby, build to your heart’s content!)

Why?

A) We –yes, I absolutely include myself here– never start writing because there’s always more world to create before we start.

B) It’s stealing time from writing other things we should be writing (like any other geek-thick hobby) and

C) We want to use EVERYTHING we create, somehow.

I won’t go into detail with my favorite part of the clinic, but if you purchase a copy for yourself I am sure you will guess what it is. THAT exercise alone was worth the price for me, and helped me have a whole lot of fun world-building but keeping it THIN enough to not let it impede the writing process.

WHEW! That’s a lot for me on world-building, and it turns out I have even more to say. But it will have to wait until next week… Hope to see you again!

 

[1] If you find yourself agreeing with any mortal being all of the time, you risk becoming a sycophant of the major ass-kissing variety, and you cease to be you because you start conforming to whatever you think THEY want you to be. I am NOT saying that Holly does this, as she absolutely does NOT and is the furthest thing from being a sycophant/conformist/ass-kisser, and one of the major reasons I respect her even if our opinions on a few things aren’t even close to being similar.

Perhaps you need to set a tone for a scene that’s a  little dark, a little hopeless. Maybe your characters are starting to feel each others’ chemistry, and you find yourself trying to write something subtle and seductive. Or is it a case of writer’s block, where nothing seems to stimulate your fingertips into their keyboard dance and light up the page?

How can you get there with a little help from your friends? In this case, make music your friend. But just how can they help?

Songs and music influence mood. Picking the right songs can get you into the right groove for whatever scene you happen to be writing.  Years ago when I was still in grade school (more years than I would prefer to admit), I played a computer game on my Commodore 64 called Wasteland. It was fantastic but, like many other games of its age, it lacked something that is so ubiquitous in games now you would miss it if it wasn’t there–a soundtrack. So I made my own: Alice in Chains’ Facelift, Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine and that gem-of-a-lifetime Pink Floyd’s The Wall. To this day, I can listen to The Wall and instead of seeing the movie (which is fantastic in its own right), I am right back there with my Desert Rangers in the warhead-riddled American Southwest.

Consequently, when I started writing my novel, Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery, I turned back to my Wasteland staples and found the same gritty, dark influence I needed for certain scenes. That’s not to say I didn’t turn toward more modern music, and that was when I tripped over a serendipitous find.

Have you ever listened to a song that struck so close to the mark that you would swear the musician crawled into your head and took your own thoughts and feelings to turn into a song? That happened with the same novel, Umbra, when I was finishing up the revision. I’d already named my main character ‘Vera’ after the (real-life) woman in the Pink Floyd song from The Wall * (she’d been ‘Vera’ through about ten iterations of the lone woman in a post-apoc world until she finally emerged as the mystery-solving protagonist in Umbra), when I saw there was another song with the same name by Ebba Forsberg. I couldn’t believe how much the song’s theme hit on the same themes and happenings my character was going through. That impetus really helped me finish my revision and get it out there, and Forsberg’s song became Vera’s theme.

Sometimes the lyrics themselves can inspire the story. I have an as-yet-unpublished science fiction romance based on Cinderella-meets-Enemy Mine, which all stemmed from two dancing-themed songs: Celine Dion’s Refuse to Dance and macabre humor of Heads We’re Dancing written by the brilliant, quirky Kate Bush. (Apparently, Pink Floyd held some sway over Kate Bush too. I just looked up the wiki on her post-nuclear song Breathing and it says she cites The Wall as an influence! David Gilmour also did some production on her album The Kick Inside). The Omen-Eyes short story collection and The Opal Necklace (in revision) had Dead Can Dance and Lisa Gerard as their soundtrack. For the SHARC collection (also in revision), I listened to a lot of electronica, dubstep and Imogen Heap. For the current draft of my new Ennid the Havoc story, I discovered Thrice’s The Alchemy Index (particularly Volume II, covering the element Water).

Whatever your writing dilemma, try listening to some tunes to spur your creativity or set your mind at the right tone.

*There are quite a few Pink Floyd and popular culture references in my novel. I’d love to know which ones you found, so post them here (with spoiler alerts where necessary).

Hey, Bethesda! How about “Customizable Survival Mode?”

I admit it—I’ve been slipping away from my writing to get a little Fallout 4 time in, especially now since Survival Mode has arrived. I couldn’t wait to get some of that New Vegas-style goodness back into the game, add an extra dimension of a challenge.

Now, see, I’m not a hardcore gamer that spends countless hours of my life parked in a dark room on the couch next to a bowl of Doritos and a case of Mountain Dew escaping from the reality of things like a job and taking out the trash. I love video games, but I don’t plan my life around them. That’s why I’ve broken from my normal blog to rant. Yes, it is a bit of a rant, but there’s also, unlike a true rant, a suggestion to solve the problems I am pointing out.

And that’s where Fallout 4’s survival mode falls short. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start with each of the new aspects that have been blanket-foisted upon us.

No Blips on the Compass: Awesome. I really like this challenge, as who knows where the bad guys are… It makes traveling with Dogmeat more meaningful as well. My only suggested change is make it a perk that you have hyper-awareness, as the blips become a substitute for more refined senses. (A friend argued that the blips take the place of other senses we lose in the meta-gaming fashion, for example, we have a much greater field of vision in real life than can otherwise be afforded on even the largest screens. Nor can we smell in-game, thank God!) AND… it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have your mechanical friends show up, you know, since they might have technology that could pinpoint their location imbedded in their chassis and/or power armor.

Tougher Mechanics: Yes and no. Frankly, I was tired of striking a sack-headed raider in the skull eight or nine times with a .45 before they dropped. There was no REALISM in that. However, the ghouls are still somehow able to penetrate my power armor and do serious damage to my body. Don’t tell me they miraculously, with every hit, manage to strike a rubberized joint area. That wouldn’t just wound me, it would cripple me. And see my footnote below about Alphas/Skulls showing up all over the place. I mean, they’ve already become overpowered… That’s just overkill (pun intended). So, just follow my Ultimate Suggestion offered later in the programming.

Crippled Limbs, Sickness and Disease: Yes. Another good thing for the game dynamic. I pretty much ignored the doctors in-game, and took care of everything with a stimpak. Now that part of the world makes sense, and makes you think twice and weigh options on drinking that possibly-contaminated water. I’ve also been finding myself at the Chemistry station with a purpose, too.

Food, Water, Sleep: Just what the doctor ordered. Sort of. Another challenge I enjoy, as it makes the settlements more important to get up and running. I would tweak the frequency. I don’t get that hungry or thirsty or tired, and when I’m peckish in real life, I DO get cranky (-1 CHR). And finding a safe place to sleep because I get grew exhausted from all of the ghoul-dicing, sure. Love it. Even more reason to keep my main squeeze as a companion, too. However…

Sleep on Save: This is where it gets irritating. Earlier in my rant, I mentioned that I am not a hardcore gamer. This means that I have only so much time to play. Playing should be moving the narrative along, experiencing the game, not “Crap, I have to hunt for a bed because I need to save so I can sleep in real life to get up for work” or even constantly seeking them just to save before I head into the seriously dangerous territories. Traveling from bed to bed isn’t experiencing the story. It’s purely annoying. Plus… You mean to say I can MAKE a bed out of five cigarettes and the business end of a shovel (there’s REALISM for you…), but somehow I am unable to craft a bedroll or even improvise one where I could catch some shuteye? How about making some of those cars that still have their upholstery in it a place where I can sleep? I’m sure many people have done that before, curled up in the back seat to get a few winks. There’s REALISM for you… if you are tired enough, you can sleep just about anywhere. The sleep-on-save isn’t a challenge; it is a narrative-killing annoyance. So, suggestion: portable bedrolls and more logical-if-not-comfortable places to “sleep” in order to save. Or just follow my Ultimate Suggestion offered later in the programming.

No Fast Travel: This I like and hate at the same time. The reason I like it? REALISM. Experiencing the world of FO4 is entirely different when you are forced to experience it. However… I dislike that I cannot FT when I want for two reasons. The first being that, yet again I iterate, I don’t have the time to spend just traveling somewhere, especially when, instead of engaging in the narrative when I reach my destination, I am more concerned about looking for a flippin’ bed to get sleep AND save the game because *poof* there went all of my game time just moving from Point A to Point B. Worse, I get all the way there and end up dead in one shot from either a ridiculously overpowered Feral Ghoul, or one of the Alphas that seem to be everywhere in my game[1] so I end up having to start from the one mattress I DID find, waaaaaaaaaay back home. Second, there’s a weird meta-gaming thing I love to do; because I don’t have all of my life to devote to playing the game twenty times through for all of the variations, when I hit a cool dialogue spot I like to revert to the closest previous save, then drag each of my companions back to that spot to get to hear what they say when the spot is triggered[2]. Without Fast Travel, that is all gone. To quote my favorite dialogue in the game, “Pfft!”[3]. It shouldn’t be a travel game, it should be a story, like reading a book. Chapters and scene break with jumps in time. We don’t hear about every minute of every day or we’d put the book down. Same with the unfolding story in Fallout.

Another drawback? Settlement rescues. How about when those settlements are being attacked? Will we actually reach them in time? And who has time to divert from travel to head all the way back? The settlement rescues will be ignored because who has time (other than Steam-blooded gamers) to run and rescue them? It just takes too long.

Companions Returning: Another very, very bad addition. How far is “abandoned?” Heck, some of my companions run off on their own after the enemy, and if I happen to go a step too far, not only is my backup support gone, but possibly a lot of my essential gear. With Fast Travel turned off, this makes it another annoyance factor instead of an actual challenge. For REALISM… you think your companion, in bad shape, would maybe cry out? Or if they were in that bad of a condition, like with a crippled limb, they would STAY WHERE THEY ARE. Suggestion: One of the few I suggest seriously altering this dynamic so that they remain in place, cry out, show up as a blip, or just getting rid of it altogether and having them behave the way they used to.

Weighted Ammo and Carry Weight: It’s another winner, not being able to carry so much. In fact, I think what you are allowed to carry in-game is MORE than generous. On a good day, even our most fit troops can only ruck about 110 pounds. 60 pounds is about the average, for a soldier. That means while Nate could probably get away with rucking 60-110, but Nora would be hard-pressed to get to that level even with enough time spent honing her strength in the wasteland.

Short Digression: Let’s not kid ourselves. Any argument of REALISM you throw at us to justify why this or that is in the game the way it is is countered with other REALISM that wasn’t considered or inserted. Example: it is a fact that people can go without food for a long time, several weeks. They can go without water for several days. Now, we have Nate and Nora, who lived in an idyllic past, may take a while to get used to not eating as often, but as they experience the wasteland, they will grow more accustomed to doing without so much food—their bodies will grow harder, leaner[4] and far more efficient. This is a corollary with the foot/water/rest, as in the REALISM you would have us believe is that we get famished quickly and need two or three cans of beans. Two or three cans?! We didn’t really need that before all the destruction. Is it some psychological need to consume all we can because all we see around is need and want? If it is REALISM you want to convey, have us need less and less the higher level attained. Basically, if all things are considered, there would be too much REALISM to program, so the argument boils down to a null value. Make it fum with some “realism”. I ask that you please just follow my Ultimate Suggestion offered later in the programming.

Console Disabling: I know this only effects PC users, but, let’s face it: the game is buggy. With the Saves and Fast Travel turned off, and the console disabled, there’s no way to “un-stick” myself by traveling elsewhere or reloading the game. Disabling the console was the trifecta of a evil horse race. Not all of us used it to cheat or to circumvent the game REALISM (god mode). Some of us just wanted to NOT be frustrated with the bugginess of the game, knowing we have a quick fix that won’t cause us to completely waste our time re-doing a portion of it because we fell into a crevice in somewhere in the Glowing Sea…

Now we come to the Ultimate Suggestion Offered Later in the Programming: Those of us who only play an hour or so a day are gamers too, even if we don’t devote 5/6 of our lives hooked up to the Steam-dialysis machine. We already suffer through the Cable TV crap of wanting a channel or two but having to deal with a whole package just to get the few things we want. Here it is: Customizable Survival Mode. Isn’t that what makes Fallout 4 the AMAZING game that it is? Making decisions and performing actions that make the world the way WE want it to be? We get to choose which faction ends up the victor, and which ones get wiped from the face of the wasteland. Some love to explore, others like to build and renovate, while others love the thrill of capping ghouls at 200 yards. Instead of lumping the current Survival Mode all together and ramming it down our throats as a package, let us select which challenges we want and forget the rest, make the whole game and the world in it our own? Why should we have to sacrifice the experience of the cooler challenges in Survival Mode because we would have to accept the tedious or annoying aspects that make it “not a game” for the sake of REALISM?

So, just like with the Fancy Lads Snack Cakes, there’s more than one in the package, so I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to have our cake and eat it too. How about it, Bethesda? Make FO4 awesome for everyone.

 

[1] I’m not sure if this is a glitch or not. I mean, if my enemies are already tougher, why is damn-near every random encounter I’m having with an Alpha/Skull-level enemy?

[2] That’s how I found the gem of dialogue, when Piper goes on about “The Treasure is You!”

[3] That’s from the same bit of dialogue from Piper. Seriously, take her to find the Treasure.

[4] Nora already looks to be in pretty good shape, considering that, when the story commenced, she had an infant still young enough to put up with swaddling. Nate, it could be argued, already spent time doing without a decent meal while he was serving in the Army. Unless he was a pencil pusher instead of someone actually involved in combat, in which case he had no business giving a speech that begins “War… war never changes.”

I found out through the the grapevine that earlier this week (or was it last week?) we had National Haiku Day. So, I’m a little late to the game, but decided to write a fee in honour of some of my favourite stories.

 

Won the lottery?

Get your Gateway tickets here!

Beware the black holes

 

They must have children

Now my body is not mine own

But saints need their sins

 

Snakebitten, alone

Surviving, rebuild the world

Soon even that fades

 

Hot food and good fights

Okay, maybe my mare too

Watch out for demons!

 

Think you can guess them? (Not that my poems do them justice)–I’ll have the answers next week.

DISCLAIMER: Unapologetic Spoilers (If you read on, don’t blame me. You’ve been warned)

My obsession with the post-apocalypse began decades ago with George Miller’s genre-defining films, and the Wasteland and Fallout video games. Enough so, that last year (2014) I published two collections that feature some post-apoc stories (“Treasure” in Morsels and the “Ain’t No Coffee” chapter of Melange[1]) as well as a PA mystery novel, Umbra.

They pale in comparison to the mighty prosthetic strength of George Miller.

Completely skeptical in many arenas, I had been hearing about Fury Road for years, when it was an on-again, off-again project for the Happy Feet / Witches of Eastwick / Babe, Pig in the City director. He explored anime as a possible avenue, and there were brief rumors about Shia LeBouf taking the role of Max’s kid (I’m glad he failed that experiment with Indiana Jones instead). I also wasn’t sure what to make of a Mad Max who wasn’t going to be played by Mel Gibson. Remake after remake shows they don’t often get better, and most of the time are worse for all of the gimmicks and none of the story-meat.

So, I watched the trailers, and wasn’t completely turned off. Good sign.

First, the movie NEVER LETS UP. There are scarce moments to breathe, and the “slow” points in the movie don’t really drop its pace. Like downshifting, but the car is still rolling a pace that could snap your neck if you braked too hard. Except for an extremely short introduction in the very beginning (rather like The Road Warrior, but without the montage) you are dumped into the chase. Period. Miller is a master of showing, not telling, with only one very tiny, practically gasped “info-dump”. Otherwise, you glean the narrative organically as the story unfolds through action. This IS a car/rig movie, however, so those of you who just wanted to see souped-up, weaponized and apocalyptisized (yes, I just made that up) versions of vintage cars, look no further.

It also gives no quarter—just when you thought you came up for air, you find yourself smothered in dust cloud. Not everyone gets the happy ending, and one of the most heart-breaking moments in the movie comes in one of these gasps.

Anyway…

Storytellers and directors, take note: THIS is the way to do strong women in movies. Don’t insert them where they don’t belong just to 1) appeal to a young female audience and 2) bring sex incidentally into a film. Not that there’s any sex involved, at least not overtly, and not in the act of pleasure kind of way. Mostly, it’s for procreation. Or lack of. (the chastity belts worn by the brides are positively feral looking, although I think I would have kept it on until I reached my destination. Talk about your rape deterrant!). Believe it or not, there is a tiny romance subplot between a bride and one of the half-life War boys, and it’s handled a little too roughly to start, but it “moves” into its own. But the women here are strong, supportive and determined to escape and survive without having to be glammed up to do it. I could easily see myself as one of the Vuvalini (assuming I would want to survive in a post-apocalypse).

A few gimmicky moments exist to play up on the 3D version of the film (most notably the shot near the end with the guitar and the flying steering wheel), but these can be forgiven. George Miller always did have a little fun in his films, with the odd juxtaposition of the ultra-violent and quirky humor (see the exchange between Papagallo and the Mechanic).

Was there a soundtrack? Yes, there was, but the frenetic energy is so pervasive that the “music” is lost. Except for one well-placed, drop-of-the-bass dub invasion. Thanks, Junkie XL.

There are plenty of moments that call back the older movies, such as when Max, wielding a short-barreled side-by-side shotgun goes to blow some guy’s hand off and the round fizzles.[2] There is a moment when one of the brides is playing with the innards of a music box.[3] Hugh Keays-Byrne, as everyone who knows Mad Max knows, played the Toecutter in that film.[4]

Toecutter2-1

There’s even a momentary, overt nod to another director’s film, The Dark Crystal, by having people on long stilts very much reminiscent of the landstriders ridden by Jen and Kira (don’t have a still from MM:FR, so if you want to see it, BUY A TICKET!!!!).

1610895a.jpg

Count on George Miller to introduce characters with medical issues and/or prosthetics. We know the post-apoc “look” which he created in The Road Warrior went on to infect 80’s hair bands with the feathers and football gear as armor, but his inclusions called on his former career as an emergency room physician. In Mad Max it was the young cop forced to use the electrolarynx after his chase of the Nightrider leaves him with a shard of windshield glass in his throat. In the second, the most notable is the Mechanic, not confined to a wheelchair but held aloft by a cherry-picker like device cobbled together to get him around the equipment. In the third, there is Master-Blaster, a duo whose brain makes up for his lack of stature, and the brawn of which he rides to make up for his weakness for which he serves (and loves) paternally. Then, there is this movie, when it becomes a staple. Imperator Furiosa is the first notable, with her prosthetic arm, and Immortan Joe of course, but then there are the myriads of those with tumors and missing limbs, etc.

Tom Hardy’s Max is an extremely worthy successor to Mel Gibson’s Officer Rockatansky.[5] There’s more than a little nod to Bane there, George, in his and Immortan Joe’s get-ups.[6] Enough said.

latest Hugh-Keays-ByrneImmortan-Joe-Mad-Max-Fury-Road

So, this one is already going to be on my shelf the moment it is released on Blu-Ray.

AND… I have heard there is already a second/fifth one planned, called Mad Max: The Wasteland. I, for one, am looking forward to it

 

 

[1] Which are available for free on Smashwords, and possibly Amazon if they caught up. Read them and let me know what you think!

[2] From The Road Warrior, during the rig battle, when Max discovers the shell he picked up in the beginning of the movie from the dead man on the “Meek Shall Inherit” truck is a dud.

[3] Also from The Road Warrior, and also during the beginning after the battle with Wez, when he finds the music movement and later gives to the Feral Kid.

[4] Calling up of course that George Miller borrows actors from his own movies as well. I address this in another post, here.

[5] That name shows up, by the way, in House of God, Samuel Shem’s novel about a teaching hospital. George Miller finished medical school before he became a director, so might have some interest in reading that novel. Coincidence? I leave you to decide.

[6] Then again, isn’t Bane a little more “Road Warrior” than “Batman” anyway?

I fight through the gila monsters, hordes of raiders and a few desert dwellers, turning them all into a thin, red paste in order to retain my claim to the treasure tucked carefully away inside my backpack.  I’ve been waiting for this for ALMOST 30 YEARS!  At last, the prize is mine!

As I reach my cozy little bunker, far away from the radiation zones where my Geiger counter sits silent instead of clacking away, the excitement and tension are palpable in the cloistered air.  Booting up the old kitbashed Commodore 64, I remove the carefully wrapped package, pop in the disk and proceed to install WASTELAND 2.

*****************************

So I purchased this some time ago, but my writing schedule did not permit me to play it.  I admit freely that I can be easily sucked into playing a video game for hours, but I have plenty of self-discipline to not let it turn me into the freak that lives off of cheese puffs and Mountain Dew in their mother’s basement whose only exposure is a trip to answer the door when the UPS or FedEx guy drops off that special collector’s edition Mad Meltdown Mayhem III.  However, I had been eagerly awaiting this one, as stated, for 30 YEARS!  Not that the Fallout series wasn’t fabulous (all of the games are), but Wasteland was the one that got me started, back in the day.  I was a young girl then, and when my brother bought the game and installed it on his Commodore 64 (two disks, double-sided, had to be copied*), I couldn’t wait to get my fingers on that keyboard.

And so it is…

First, I made a team loosely based on my characters from Umbra.  [The following may contain some SPOILERS, if you haven’t read the novel or played either of the games.]  There’s Shaw with his beard and boonie, Mance with his youthful stature and mussed hair, without the robes he wore in the novel, however.  And there’s Vera.  I am absolutely delighted to say that within three minutes of starting the game, she had her goat following her.  Now, Aberforth isn’t Casey, but I can’t get everything I want.  And to round out the team, I included hefty meatsmasher Deergut to give my team a little heavy weapons and brute force.  Deergut wasn’t in Umbra, but he will showing up in one of the sequels…

 WL2 Umbra

It was nice to see the “old faces” in the game, namely General Vargas (‘Snake’), Angela Death**, Thrasher and Hell Razor, and sadly, Ace as a corpse. Makes me wonder who else I am going to see***…

What also got me excited was that they tried to stay true to the locations, as well.  The Ag Center map is much like the map from the original Wasteland, with its desk area at the front, the long corridor in the center and the two garden areas off to the side, complete with the satellite dishes. The Ranger Center, now moved to the Citadel where they originally fought off hordes of evil nuns, even has the museum room with the Secpass in the display. (I guess the Quasar key you found there was left behind at Cochise.)

As for the soundtrack, they get extra kudos for bringing in Mark Morgan who created the music for Fallout 1 & 2.  Anyone who reads me knows I am very picky about soundtracks for games/movies like these, but I can’t say enough about Mark Morgan’s work. “Radiation Storm”, the track played during the Vault Dweller‘s trip to The Glow, still gives me the chills when I hear it.  Talk about creeptastic.  If anything, I am looking to progress through the game not just for the storyline and entertainment of playing an RPG, but for the music Morgan brings to the game.

I was really happy to be playing an isometric style game.  I loved the original Wasteland with its sprite-ful overhead view and the combat screens with portraits and descriptors (note that ‘thin, red paste’ I inserted above. And don’t forget to bring the blood sausage!), and I really grew to love the visuals of Fallout.  This game is no different, giving it a retro but not too retro feel.  I am able to accomplish a lot of tactics that I enjoyed setting up, like the crouch and headshot (headshots! woot!) for my sniper in order to get the ‘party’ started, and I like the ambush function.  My only gripe with that feature, however, is that they ALL shoot/aim for the same target on the ambush.  I wouldn’t mind having a simple “wait” so that my sniper, for example, could use her turn on the high-value targets instead of the fodder that can be cleaned up with a club or a simple burst from an SMG when they wander into firing range.  If they change this in an update (which they may already have, but my internet connection is spotty so getting the old computer to a place to DL them is a trip rather than a normal occurence), I will be one happy camper.

I could go on and on, but I think a full play-through will be necessary, and probably more than one, since the very beginning of the game sets it up for multiple playthroughs with different outcomes.  I’ve been having a grand time getting in an hour of gametime a day, so I see this one keeping my schedule occupied for quite a while.  So far, I am going to give the game 4-1/2 out of 5 mushroom clouds.

 

*This was done so that changes made during gameplay were maintained throughout the world, something few if any other games did at the time.  You couldn’t go blow a place up, leave the local map and come back to find everything intact.  Your actions mattered.  This is fairly standard now, but a lot of credit goes to the developers for the persistence of behavior and consequences in Wasteland.  Of course, if I wanted to play the same area over again, I could make another copy of that side of the disk and play ‘fresh’.  I suspect that was how a lot of people, myself included, got their Rangers absurdly high promotions.

**Minor break in continuity, if you had the Strategy Guide from the original Wasteland like I do (yes, I still have my copy).  Angela gets fatally gutted and they leave her behind, and SOMEONE is an android.  Good reading though.

***I hope the reference to the ‘blue woman’ is actually ‘purple’ and happens to be Charmaine, one of my favorite characters from the original game.

I’m still here and working on my novel. Lot of major life changes – got married (my now-husband [Editor’s Note: ex-husband as of this reposting] bought me a Benelli M4 as an engagement present. How awesome was that!?!), settled down in NoVa and am once again on the long trek of the job-seeker (life was so much easier in the wastelands, when you could plug a couple of raiders waiting to jump a merchant caravan and loot their stuff, but I digress…).

Since that time, a ton of new games, movies and books on the apocalypse have flooded the market. I got to see The Book of Eli (yes, I said that as if it is a new movie but it has been that long since my last blog). Can’t say I was thoroughly impressed, but it was an interesting premise nonetheless, and I enjoyed it. Not every movie reaches the ranks of sheer brilliance like The Road Warrior, but it entertained, so it is forgiven. The Road, however, I just couldn’t swallow. They twisted the novel’s story around just so they could squeeze more of Charlize Theron in there. Silly Hollywood. (Also saw No Country for Old Men and I was wowed by it, but that’s a subject for another blog. Cormac McCarthy’s stories can hold their own with the right cast and script-writers. Charlize is beautiful, sure, but a beautiful face does not a good movie make).

I’d been indoctrinated into shows like The Walking Dead, which I enjoyed for the first season but I felt got rather hokey for the second. That could be because they fired everyone and started fresh, and now it seems to be morphing into a “who gets kidnapped this time?” series. And the woman who got a Glock from her daddy but tries to fit the magazine into the slide when the weapon is disassembled and she’s trying to put it back together? Seriously? (For those of you who may not know, there are only essentially four moving parts. Easiest thing to disassemble. Daddy probably gave her lessons when he gave it to her… Where are the technical advisers?) My advice to the others in the group: she’s a liability.

As for books… Since I moved to NoVa and joined the library, I sat down at the computer and scanned the catalog for post-apoc books. Imagine my excitement when I came across a novel with the line “A Mystery of Post-Apocalyptic America.” My two favorite genres – together! With much anticipation, I read Ashes of the Earth by Eliot Pattison.

At least I read the first chapter, then took it back to the library.

The author’s sentences run on and meander all over the place like a drunken marathoner, from the very first. He failed to follow the rule that he must hook me from with something meaningful and punchy. That story decayed as rapidly as a newly sprung Egyptian mummy and I couldn’t return it fast enough. The only mystery I found with the book is why I initially felt the excitement to read such drivel. I am glad some people liked it, because that can only mean they might pick up mine in a brick-and-mortar (if they still exist by the time I complete it and get it published. Everyone knows about the demise of Borders by now).

I’ll go into more detail in the coming days, now that I am back.

And being back feels good.

Oh yeah, and Fallout: New Vegas. That’s definitely another hit, and another blog for another day.

(Originally published on The Meltdown Cafe, 28 OCT 2011)

I’m going to start right off by saying I haven’t even purchased the game yet. Do you know why? Because it’s so deliciously yummy looking that there’s NO way I couldn’t head right for the “dessert” of playing for days on end instead if getting my Ennid out on schedule. Brian Fargo, you and your team have outdone yourselves with eye candy alone.

I used to be a huge gamer – addicted. I’ve since weaned myself and haven’t been too excited about anything in the last several years, until I heard about this one. I even dig out my original Wasteland copy just to have the orange cover nearby. And I reread the entire paragraph book again. (I’m going to admit that when I played the game as a kid, over and over, it didn’t take me long to memorize all the correct passwords revealed within it.)

What I’ve decided to do is reward myself only when it’s done. I’ve been waiting for this game for 26 years. (Yeah, I’m old enough to have played the original on its original platform. It’s what sucked me into the genre in the first place, next to The Road Warrior.) So what’s a few more days?

Besides, I have a feeling after playing it for awhile, I’m going to throw a tactical nuke at my schedule to rearrange it for the second Umbra novel, I’ll be too immersed and inspired to let Vera and Shaw and Harris go for long.

Bottom line is, I’m already sold. I’ll add my thoughts later, when I’m playing. If I remember to pull myself away long enough.