Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ruin + Stronghold

Last Week's Poll:
What should I worldbuild next?
  • Winner: Ruin or Stronghold
This week, I took the poll's advise and sketched out a ruin or a stronghold for today's Worldblogger. Because I'm an indecisive son of a bitch, I decided to actually combine them and build a ruined stronghold. There is, however, a little extra exposition that comes along with this one.

The map depicts a location (tentatively) set in a distantly future novel of mine, entitled The Hog King. On the surface, The Hog King's your typical fantasy fare; epic conquest, marching armies, political squabbles. The catch is that it's told from the perspective of orcs. The cheap elevator pitch is "What happened to all of Sauron's forces once he was destroyed?" 
In The Hog King, humanity has, in the distant past, thrown down a Sauron-esque necromantic evil, a great and terrible warlord with dark powers none can guess and armies of monsters marching at his command. To ensure these loosed horrors do not run rampant in the dark lord's absence, the various kingdoms of man take a sacred covenant and erect massive walls between the mountain ranges that encapsulate the Enemy's region. For hundreds of years, all the leaderless monsters – orcs, goblins, giants, trolls, wargs – have been fighting over territory and resources and, most of all, multiplying. 
Their homeland is now dotted with the ruined and ancient fortresses the dark lord once conquered. One of those fortresses was the subject of this week's map. Make sense? Then, behold!

The notion was, before the dark lord's rise, humans built many of the strongholds that could eventually come to dot his country. During the dark lord's rise, however, his armies laid siege and claimed each of the once-human fortresses within his realm. Once the humans were driven out, of course, they remained in terrible disrepair for as long as the orcish armies laired there. As orcs, I don't imagine they've any skill at masonry, stonework or architecture and, over the years and the various occupations, the building's state of repair has only gotten worse.

So, the fortress consists of a curtain wall, now shattered, resting atop a high cliff. It sported eight turrets along that wall, two of which have fallen or been utterly destroyed, three of which are in serious danger of collapsing and three of which are more or less intact. One section of the southern curtain wall was smashed by thrown stones from giants and never repaired, leaving a convenient slope of rubble and skeletons leading up to the gap in the wall. In many other locations along the wall have the thrown stones from the giants left vulnerabilities; most notably, at the gate.

The game is smashed, its portcullis gone and now only a pile of rubble and broken battering rams lay scattered across its choke-point. In order to access the fortress proper, its orcish garrison must clamber awkwardly through the rubble which, after a fashion, serves as an impromptu barricade in its own right.

All the fortress' outbuildings have been burnt or broken; none now remain except as smoldering beams or partial walls. Much of their original purpose has been utterly forgotten by the years. Some orcs continue to lair beneath them, most prefer the comfort of their own yurts.

A pair of stout keeps guard the choke-point but a heavy pelting of giant stones has all but collapsed the northern one. Orcs continue to lair in the halls and chambers of the more intact keep (I imagine their chief or leader holds power here) but the crumbling keep is often avoided or, better yet, used for some fouler purpose. Hmm. I'll need to think on that.

In the absence of the gates proper, the orcs have erected the best possible defense they know how – a palisade of sharpened sticks around the perimeter of their camp. Many of the orcs that currently lair here (around 300 in total number) find the place unnerving, with too much presence of their ancient master still lurking about, corrupting the place. These orcs dwell in animal-skin yurts outside the main fortress, while a decent number do erect their own tents within the fortress walls.

That seems a decent enough summary for the time being. Next week, I'll go into more specific details!

What should I name the fortress?

  • Kogr
  • Tvek
  • Qagga
  • Mzu
Next Week on Worldblogger: The Siege Begins!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Trouble with Clementine

I gave you a shot, Cherie Priest – I really did. And you done squandered it.

On the surface, Clementine by Cherie Priest looks like it can't miss. During a steam-powered revisionist Civil War, a southern belle Confederate spy is sent on the trail of dangerous escaped slave turned sky pirate Croggon Hainey, his all-black crew and his stolen warship, the Free Crow. Along the way, she's forced to team up with the pirate crew to achieve a common goal and they make the strangest of bedfellows.

In one respect, Clementine is successful. It achieves basically what it sets out to do – a safe, predictable adventure, set during a steampunk Civil War, that features mad inventions and airship chases. That's all there.

On the other hand, Clementine is a disatrous misstep and my final nail in the Cherie Priest, Clockwork Century coffin.

The premise of Clementine is so rich; there's a veritable multitude of issues and baggage and opportunities to unpack there. The two protagonist factions – Boyd, the Confederate spy and the all-black pirate crew – should ostensibly have such a fascinating power dynamic, considering all the different axis on which they're unequal.

  • A: Croggon is a freed black slave and Boyd is a wealthy, educated southern belle. According to the social mores of the time, she should consider him stolen property.
  • B: Boyd is a woman during the Civil War, while Croggon and his entire crew are all male. They may be black, but there was no reason they'd respect women anymore than white men of the time.
  • C: They're criminals and she's a law enforcement officer. This puts them at odds and, really, puts Boyd in power, as she's the authority to send them back to prison or slavery.
  • D: There are three pirates and one woman. While a formidable customer in her own right, Boyd couldn't possibly hope to defeat three opponents, should things dissolve into blows.
It's a fascinating pairing, right, and one that seems very deliberately chosen to create a morass of tension and character drama.

Except it doesn't. Ever.

The moment they meet, barring some very initial hesitation, both parties work flawlessly together. They both very quickly assess what the more pressing threat is, cooperate fully to overcome that danger and continue to see the benefits of working together the entire book. It's kinda mind-blowing how not a big deal these two groups of people working together are.

The differences between the characters are practically non-existent. We're talking about Scalzi levels of protagonist cloning; they might as well all be the same goddamn character, talking to themselves in fucking circles. Considering the incredible pains Priest goes to separate her characters across every gender, societal, racial and economic line, it's almost hilarious how none of that is ever brought up once.

I wanna know what the fucking Wire would make of this premise.

What's almost more offensive than that is, of the four different dynamics mentioned above, the only one that ever sees any play in the plot, is Boyd's plight as a woman. I'm certainly, certainly not attempting to downplay women's subjugation during as backwards a period as the Civil War – certainly not. But surely we can all agree that if Boyd lives in constant fear of being disregarded or treated unequally, the plight of the fucking escaped slaves maybe deserve a little plot attention, right?

Clementine is very clearly written from the prospective of a modern white woman, only comfortable with the kinds of social issues she's encountered in her life. These are the sections of the book that work best, character-wise – when Boyd is attempting to convince the patriarchy around her that she's a valid, worthwhile and capable operator, regardless of her gender. 

The thing is, I wouldn't know the first thing about writing a story from the perspective of an escaped Civil War slave. Me either, Cherie Priest – I'm just as white and even more privileged than you. But then, I didn't set out to write an entire goddamn book about it.

Beyond that, the plot doesn't get started until halfway through the book, contains entirely too many insipid scenes of booking passage aboard, talking to station agents and traveling to and from Kansas City, Louisville and a number of other flavorless, interchangeable cities in the middle of the country. It's poorly structured, uninterestingly written and worst of all, it's cowardly.

There's nobody who can squander a premise quite like Cherie Priest.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Garme Jurnalizm

Craigslist is a force for neither good nor ill, but rather both. At its worst, it sends me scams, like this one. At its best, it sends me great opportunities, like this one.

Yes, my endearing spambots, its true – I've begun some super minor league freelance video game journalism for a few scattered websites; HD Report and Gameverse, mostly. I have three articles published, at present, and even raked in a little cool pile of cash for them, but it's mostly exciting to see my name at the top of a legitimate new site.

Now, be not mistaken, any of you among the accredited journalists who read this blog. I am little more than an armchair enthusiast in both the video game and journalism fields. I've done little more than watch Jimquisition, Extra Credits, Penny Arcade and read a few scattered sites in the past few years. I have lots of loud opinions on video games and their mechanics, but don't expect to see too many of those. This is strict reporting and, evidently gets a fair amount of traffic.

Wanna see my articles? Well, here you go!

Nintendo Absent, Microsoft and Sony Duke It Out At E3

5 Indie Games I Desperately Want To Play But Probably Won't

No Female Assassins On Ubisoft's Watch

Nothing fancy, of course, but pretty cool! Expect more fascinating articles next week too!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nahmer, City of the Panther

Last Week's Poll:
What's the predominant religion of the city?

  • Monotheism: 1 vote
  • Polytheism: 1 vote
  • Philosophical: 1 vote
  • Irreligious: 0 votes
A big tie this week. Hm. I think, for worldbuilding reasons, I'll choose "Philosophical." Thanks to everyone for voting this week and thanks to deadasdisco for casting the winning vote!

Without further ado...

Nahmer, City of the Panther! 

Welcome to scheming, furtive Nahmer, City of the Panther! To many of the merchants that visit her, Nahmer is no more than a bustling island trading hub, somewhere to trade in silks and spices and grain. To any who venture deeper than her outward market, down her twisting, unfriendly streets, they'll find a furtive and suspicious city, its inhabitants a worry-worn people prone to stalking and scheming like their namesake beast.

Nahmer is an ancient city, one of the oldest in this part of the world. Much of her history is tragic, a deep scar on the psyche of its citizens. Hundreds of years ago, Nahmer was ruled by an iron-fisted tyrant known only as the Autocrat. Very little practical knowledge of the Autocrat's reign remains today. Some say he was a sorcerer of great and wicked power, others claim a bloody-fisted barbarian conqueror. All that is agreed upon is the Autocrat's legendary cruelty. His military detained, beat and harassed the Nahmeri people. His taxes sapped the city's wealth. His greatest endeavor, to construct a massive wall, one hundred feet high, all around his city, spelled the deaths of thousands of laborers every year. From his unassailable island fortress, the Autocrat ruled Nahmer absolutely, without rival.

Much as the Autocrat's rise to power is shrouded in mystery, so too is his fall. One day, the citizenry of Nahmer could no longer withstand the yoke of the Autocrat's tyranny. They arose, their hundreds of thousands, in righteous anger against their overlord and, miraculously, threw him down. His fortress was leveled, his power smashed, all traces of his name or deeds eradicated by a vengeful populace. Ever since, evoking the Autocrat is the foulest curse a Nahmeri can utter and, ever since, the people of the city have conducted their own affairs.

Since the Autocrat's fall, the Nahmeri people have strived to distance themselves as strenuously as they can from his policies. The people now cleave religiously, fanatically, to the truest expression of democracy. Every week, every Nahmeri citizen visit a poll and casts their vote on any number of issues – taxes, wars, municipal affairs – every conceivable legislative issue within the city. Nahmer elects no representatives, posts no individuals higher than any others; they're too distrustful of authority. Their courts, likewise, are extremely egalitarian and considered some of the greatest in the world in which to conduct one's affairs.

To enforce these policies and, even more vitally to the people of Nahmer, to enforce the voting laws, the city employs a faction of secret police called the Panthers. From the ages of 17-20, every Nahmeri citizen serves as a member of this masked police force. For the three years of their service, the Panther exchanges their whole identity for complete authority to enforce Nahmer's laws. Garbed entirely in black, save their ivory masks, the Panthers are anonymous, ruthless and incorruptible.

Nahmer is a trade state, making the majority of its income on taxes, docking fees and business licenses from the merchants who come to ply their trades within the city's diverse markets. It has few internal industries and relies heavily on trade for food and other raw materials. Economically, they're devout socialists, doling out food, medicine and services to their people with equal and religious fervor. Nahmer has few citizens either extremely wealthy or extremely impoverished, valuing the individual as they do, forcing their middle class to dominate the vast majority of the population.

The Nahmeri view gods as little more than dictators. To them, bending the kneel in reverence and obedience to any higher power smacks too much of their time serving the Autocrat. Rather than a traditional religion, however, the Nahmeri uphold The Obligation, the name they give the cultural importance placed upon voting. To the Nahmeri, voting is not a privilege nor a right; it is a responsibility. A Nahmeri that would squander that responsibility, from neglect or apathy, is tantamount to a blasphemer in a more religiously minded culture. Indeed, such a crime is punishable by jail time and, with enough offenses, death. The Nahmeri take their free will extremely seriously.

As a people, the Nahmeri are private and distrustful. Centuries of living beneath the Autocrat's heel have bred a profound and unquenchable sense of paranoia into them, causing them to mistrust the actions of others. There is no enforced curfew, but the streets of Nahmer are unusually, eerily quiet after dark. Doors are locked, windows are barred and conversations are few. A dislike of foreigners is common among the Nahmeri as well. In their eyes, the other kingdoms, cities and empires of the world have all been cowed by their rulers and are therefore untrustworthy. A visitor to Nahmer would find few friends, no matter their intentions.

The following legend corresponds to the above map:
  • A. Freemarket: The island of Freemarket is an ocean of market stalls, vendors and merchants. Here, ships from all corners of the world congregate to trade their goods within sight of Nahmer's looming walls. Covered shore to shore in free enterprise, the markets are constructed on the uneven ruins of the Autocrat's compound, mostly unrecognizable now from the ravages of time and foot traffic.
  • B. Freewall: During the Autocrat's reign, he sought to construct among the highest, most impregnable wall this corner of the world had ever seen. Its original name forgotten, the Freewall still stands, more or less unchanged – one hundred feet high and twenty-five feet thick, though it was never completed. It was once covered with one hundred thousand carvings of the Autocrat's face, now replaced with an ever-shifting representation of every single face in Nahmer's population.
  • C. Seagate: The weakest point in all the Freewall, the Seagate is where ships sailing up and down the river, the Nahmoi, can exit onto the open sea.
  • D. Bay of Screams: It's said that, when the Autocrat was finally seized, he was chained to a statue of himself and dropped into the center of the Bay of Screams. Known to be several hundred feet deep at its deepest point, people still say the bubbles that continue to rise to the bay's surface are the tyrant's endless screams of agony.
  • E. The Vault of Grain: Here are all the city's food stores kept, to be distributed evenly amongst its citizens. The Vault is guarded greedily, with higher security than any bank, less someone attempt to redistribute the wealth themselves.
  • F. Bridge of Common Sense: For some reason, this particular bridge that spans across the Nahmoi, has become a hotspot of political and philosophical discussion. Every afternoon, hundreds of people gather here to make arguments, advance theories and debate the mysteries of the universe, ranging in education from professors to paupers.
  • G. Kahmud's Menagerie of Wonders: One of Nahmer's few true tourist attractions, the Menagerie of Wonders is a public park that houses many of the world's beasts – lions, elephants, peacocks, manticores, tigers, hippocampus. Kahmud's pride and joy are a mated pair of albino panthers, whom he believe brings the city good luck.
That's all for Nahmer, folks! Hope you enjoyed it!

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger:

What should I worldbuild next?
  • City, Town or Community
  • Major Geographical Feature
  • Ruin or Stronghold

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Grimdark Fatigue

WARNING: The following blog post contains massive spoilers for last night's Game of Thrones finale. If you've neither read the books nor seen the show, you may wish to skip this week.

SECONDARY WARNING: I did very much enjoy the final episode, "The Children." It's marvelously crafted, expertly acted and (with a few little missteps – here's looking at you, Harryhausen skeletons) I don't necessarily know how else you could better represent the events of the book, the events that conclude A Storm of Swords.

Never before have I required a break from Game of Thrones this badly. The television show, mind – watching the show has really, really ignited my desire to re-read the actual novels. After watching the Season Four finale, I'm just emotionally drained, head-to-toe.

Watching the fantasy pendulum swing has been an interesting experience, growing up immersed in the genre. When I was a child in the 90s, "grimdark" fantasy world was just blossoming in the Song of Ice and Fire series, a series I was much too young for. No, I grew up reading Brian Jacques, R.A. Salvatore and, of course, Tolkien, where fantasy was pulpy, mythical and formulaic.

As I grew older, Ice & Fire grew in popularity and the aesthetic of a gritty, realer, more authentic fantasy experience grew on me like a fungus. Much of my early writing and D&D – particularly the story that would eventually become Cutthroat Ragtime – was influenced heavily by Martin, Lynch and Abercrombie's wave of gross, vile and profanity spattered fiction. These were shocking, brutal world, ripe with murder, rape and institutional cruelty. Ice & Fire, particularly, thrives from floating between tragedy after tragedy for its characters.

While I'd openly admit that A Storm of Swords is probably the best book in the series, I remember reading the thing to be an absolute slog. Everything was becoming bleaker and more hopeless and more desperate for the few remaining characters that struggled through the narrative. Thinking about all that happens in the book – Jamie's hand, Mormont's death, the Unsullied, Tyrion and Sansa's wedding, the Red Wedding, Joffrey's death, Tyrion's trial, Jorah's banishment, the Mountain versus the Red Viper, Lysa Arryn's death, the battle at the Wall, Tywin's death, the Hound's death, Shae's death – it's kind of ridiculous.

In the show, however, all of these events climax much, much more rapidly. There's no padding in between them. You slalom between shocking twist to shocking twist and, while all the scenes in and of themselves, are compelling and well-executed, you begin to be weighed down beneath the sheer tragedy and blood and gore of everything.

This also doesn't take into account the show's obsession with the more violent, sexual or scatological aspects of Martin's narrative. Westeros is a violent, cruel and disgusting place – absolutely it is, but it's also a world of wonder and complexity and nuance and all too often, the show chooses only to highlight what's mean or gross or raunchy about the world. There's a way to show texture without being vulgar and Martin does this expertly in the books; you want a good afternoon? Go fuck around this place for an hour or two. Actually, start someplace random, say, here, and in one hour, see where you end up. It's never, ever boring.

That's what I love about the books. The sex and shit and guts enhance that, but it's the goddamn depth that's what make those books so great. The depth of character, the depth of world, the depth of storytelling.

What I need now, from my fantasy, is a little more fun, a little more joy and a little more positivity, weirdly. I've spoken in this vein before and, ironically, the place I'm getting the most of that is from Scott Lynch, another pee, vomit and penis-laden fantasist. The missus and I are re-reading The Republic of Thieves and several of the play-within-a-play stuff was like a balm to our shellshocked consciences following the GoT season finale.

Also, it's maybe a good thing that my NaNo this year is a young adult fantasy epic about talking gorillas. Yeah, you heard me.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Go Home, Screenplay, You're Drunk: Pacific Rim

Following in the footsteps of my international sensation "Scenes I'll Never Write In Screenplays," I've decided to start a new segment here on The Fabulist, wherein I take the basic storytelling elements of movies I enjoy or admire (usually big blockbusters) and attempt to restructure or slim them down into more understandable, more digestible versions thereof.

I'm calling it "Go Home, Screenplay, You're Drunk" and, for my inaugural post, I'm starting with a very popular movie from 2013, especially among the "Timothy's girlfriend" demo. That's right, it's time to do some unasked-for script work on:

So, spoiler warning, obviously.
The film opens in Tokyo, 2016. We follow a 10-year-old Japanese girl as she runs frightened and crying through the streets, pursued by an enormous, building-destroying monster. As she does, we hear voice-over narration from an unknown voice (Charlie Hunnam), explaining the film's basic premise; massive monsters, known as kaiju, started appearing out of a portal in the Pacific Ocean, attacking coastal cities. We were defenseless against them.

As the little girl hides down an alley, suddenly a massive robot appears, which the V.O. describes as a Jaeger – a weapon designed by humanity to finally start battling the kaiju back. We watch a brief, exciting tussle between machine and monster, while the child cowers beneath a dumpster. Finally, when the monster is defeated, the girl emerges from hiding and is summarily rescued.

Title drop.

Flash forward to the Shatterdome, the headquarters of the underfunded Jaeger progam in Hong Kong. Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), now an adult, works to repair on a decrepit old Jaeger by the name of Gipsy Danger. She's summoned by her superior, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), to report for physical compatibility training. As she hustles to the training room, we see her cross the Shatterdome, revealing its three massive Jaegers. Along the way, she briefly banters with the crews of Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha, the Chinese and Russian Jaegers, respectively, hoping today will be the day she finds a co-pilot for Gipsy Danger.

In the training room, Mako roundly defeats all her challengers in unarmed combat. Pentecost is not pleased, however, explaining that the purpose of the training isn't to best your opponent, but to anticipate their moves. He explains that piloting a Jaeger takes teamwork, requires a partner who's drift compatible and who shares some underlying experiences. Pentecost claims to have rounded up other survivors of that initial attack on Tokyo for her to train against, but none of them seem to be compatible with her. She's technically proficient, but very emotionally walled-off. This seems to give him an idea.

Pentecost is quickly accosted by a pair of scientists, Newton (Charlie Day) and Hermann (Burn Gorman), who present their competing theories about the kaiju's origin. Hermann explains the physics of the Rift and his theory that a properly placed bomb would succeed in severing the link between the dimensions. Newt's theory, however, is deemed substantially more dangerous – using the technology that allow Jaeger pilots to meld minds to drift with a kaiju. Pentecost dismisses this idea, tells Hermann to begin development on a bomb and flies off to Alaska to follow a hunch.

In Alaska, Pentecost unearths Raleigh Becket, a scruffy, partially crazed former Jaeger pilot, revealed to be one of Gipsy Danger's original pilot. Raleigh's exact past is kept mysterious, but he's offered a life rope and a chance to once again pilot a Jaeger. Raleigh is skeptical, claiming that no one on earth could possibly drift with him again. Pentecost says he's got someone in mind.

Pentecost and Raleigh arrive back at the Shatterdome and he's introduced to Mako and the other pilots. Upon returning, Pentecost learns that, against his orders, Newt went and drifted with the kaiju anyway. He explains what he learned – the kaiju are merely weapons, tools of colonization used by their intelligent designers in the parallel dimension. Claiming he could learn more, Newt is sent on a side mission; locate a man named Hannibal Chou, acquire a second kaiju brain and gather what intelligence he can.

After a short series of tests, Mako and Raleigh are proven to be physically compatible. During a dry run aboard Gipsy Danger, however, Raleigh loses his cool and Mako is given a glimpse of his flashback; during his last run in Gipsy Danger, Raleigh's brother Yancy was killed mid-drift. In this heightened emotional state, Raleigh nearly destroys the whole Shatterdome, but Mako manages to calm him down. Afterwards, they have a conversation about his past, about how there's a hole in Raleigh's mind that, with the tragedy Mako's also suffered, only she can fill. They talk about grieving and moving on and some real emotional shit.

Newt travels through the scummy streets of Hong Kong, seeking out Hannibal Chou. When he finally
locates the gangster, we learn a little bit about the kaiju black market and Newt must convince Chou to help the war effort by lending him a brain. Fortunately for Newt, there's about to be a kaiju attack – a powerful motivator.

Back at the Shatterdome, an alarm goes off – a double event! Two kaiju are coming to attack the city and all three jaegers are scrambled to defend Hong Kong. Crimson Typhoon, Cherno Alpha and Gipsy Danger all rush out to the bay's defense. The two more experienced Jaegers take point, while Gipsy Danger hangs back to defend the city. On account of their nationalistic rivalry, Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha have a difficult time working together and are nearly destroyed, but Gipsy Danger rushes to their air. In the ensuing melee, Crimson Typhoon loses one of its three arms and one of its three pilots. Cherno Alpha is also sunk, its pilots drowned but its rig more or less in tact.

Alone, then, Gipsy Danger must defeat both kaiju and save Hong Kong. Scene plays out pretty much the same as it does in the film.

Gipsy Danger is victorious, but there's no time to celebrate. According to Hermann's calculations, there's a triple event due any moment. While the crews hastily repair Crimson Typhoon and retrieve Cherno Alpha, Newt returns with a kajiu brain. When he and Hermann drift with the creature, they learn an important secret – the rift will only open for a kaiju. Meanwhile, Raleigh has a brief scene with the crew of Crimson Typhoon, telling them there's life after a drift partner is killed.

Gearing up, the two remaining Jaegers prepare to march towards the breach and deliver Hermann's bomb. Originally, Gipsy Danger attempts to claim the responsibility for the bomb, but Pentecost reveals that he can pilot Cherno Alpha alone and carry the bomb. He's revealed to be the man who rescued Mako, back in the day when the Jaegers only had one pilot. Mako begs him not too, saying the strain will be too much and he'll die. Pentecost disregards her and climbs into the Jaeger all the same.

Together, all three Jaeger move towards the breach. Two kaiju emerge and give them battle before they can arrive however. Crimson Typhoon manages to hold both of them off long enough for Gipsy Danger and Cherno Alpha to slip past, sacrificing themselves in the process. Before they can deliver the bomb, however, a Category 5 comes through the breach, the biggest kaiju we've yet seen. It summons the one surviving kaiju from Typhoon's battle back, which Gipsy Danger slays, tosses to Cherno Alpha and Pentecost leaps into the breach.

As Pentecost and Alpha fall between the dimensions, Raleigh and Mako do battle with the Category 5. Over the course of the battle, Mako and Pentecost talk briefly on the radio, about what he sees and the life Mako should lead now that he, her adopted father, will be gone. Eventually, Gipsy Danger defeats the Category 5 and they debate leaping in after Pentecost. Suddenly, however, the breach closes!

The shockwave destroys Gipsy Danger and ejects both pilots onto the surface of the ocean. They're revealed to both be fine and are rescued by incoming helicopters.

  • Mako is the protagonist, rather than another boring white American male.
  • Mako is devoid of troubling "I'll defend her honor" implications in the original.
  • The Australian rivalry is entirely removed because of its numerous plot-holes including, but not limited to: Who cares? A dog doesn't make you more sympathetic. How petty are you, random Australian tough guy, that you'd bully a fellow pilot over exactly nothing? Why the fuck doesn't Leatherback just destroy Striker Eureka after its EMP knocks the Jaeger out?
  • The Newt/Kaiju brain plotline doesn't include that weird "hive mind" subplot that randomly dead-ends.
  • The compatibility thing isn't just thrown away towards the end of the movie when we suddenly need to have Pentecost pilot a Jaeger.
  • Also, no fucking GLaDOS. I'm glad he got permission, I guess, but the whole idea's just creatively bankrupt. I like Portal, let's put Portal stuff in my movie too, rather than coming up with my own idea? Sloppy.
Thoughts? Complaints? Angry defense of del Toro? Leave 'em below!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

And Now For Something Completely Different

This Week on Worldblogger:
After my hiatus, I found myself unenergized by the world I'd previously been creating. On further reflection, I think I was approaching it from too cosmic a standpoint. What really interests me about worldbuilding are the details. I was so hopelessly far from details on my previous world that I had a difficult time dragging myself back to the keyboard each week.
This week, then, I've decided to do something drastically different. This week, I simply drew a map of a city and, based on that map, I'm going to brainstorm some ideas. Next Wednesday, I'll write a detailed description of the city – which you can insert, whole-cloth, into your novel, D&D setting, what have you. Let's see how this goes!
The Map:

Obviously a populous city – I imagine all the interior brown boxes represent small neighborhoods, rather than actual buildings. Many criss-crossing streets, one major river that streams through the center of the city and empties into the ocean. Seven bridges cross the river and seemingly random intersections. Large walls with circular, turreted towers. It's interesting that the wall doesn't seem to encompass the entire city – does it serve some other purpose than defense? Was it never completed?

The most salient detail of the map, perhaps, is the large island some distance off the shore. When I was drawing the map, I imagined it was something like neutral territory for the citizens, where they could trade and exchange goods without some negative influence – either government or societal – over their mercantile enterprises. Hence, I drew all the colored stall tops (again, meant to represent the idea symbolically, rather than literally). Lost of docks and jetties too, which probably means many people to trade with. Ostensibly, the city's not very isolated, but those high walls might disagree.

When I was drawing, I'd sorta imagined a rich, populous Middle Eastern/Mediterranean city, the kind of place Fafhrd, Conan and the Grey Mouser would frequent. I imagine the place a spiritual cousin to the Free Cities in Martin's Essos, with more than a little influence borrowed from Gentlemen of the Road too. Maybe the land to the south is wild, expansive steppe or desert, populated by raiding hordes of nomads, who bring the goods they pillage and conquest here for trade. Perhaps bearded, red-shirted savages come down from the north, to similarly trade raided goods.

As for the city itself, I imagine it teeming, crowded and full of strange and exotic goods. The smells of cinnamon, cardamon, fresh fish, stale piss, spilled wine – all mingling together. Bravos walk the streets, urchins ply the crowd's pockets, great and unusual beasts of burden trundle through the narrow alleyways.

I'm currently toying with an unusual or atypical system of government. All the time, places like these are depicted as brutal dictatorships, like the Overlord of Lankhmar, where the common people are worthless trash than the nobles grind into the dust. What if this city was a democracy? Not even a republic like we are, but an actual Athenian democracy. What if voting was a regular, even weekly part of life? Imagine the more interesting corruption and graft you could play with in a democracy like that.

A strictly democratic, richly mercantile desert port, where much of the city's wealth is traded outside and the citizens fiercely protect their voice in civic matters? Sounds like a good starting point!

Let's maybe try one more thing – what if every week, I conclude with some question, something you spambots can vote on or suggest ideas for, that would determine some important facet of the city?

What's the predominant religion of the city?

  • Monotheism (devoted to one, all-powerful deity)
  • Polytheism (devoted to many smaller, less powerful deities)
  • Philosophical (devoted to an ideal, a concept, a way of life)
  • Irreligious (devoid of higher beliefs, an atheistic or even blasphemous state)
  • Other (leave your suggestions in comments)
Feel free to vote or suggest ideas in the comments!

Next Week on Worldblogger: The City Is Named!

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Banner Saga Review

Name: The Banner Saga
Developer: Stoic Studios
Negative Review Title: The Banner Slog-a
Porn Title: The Boner Saga
Rating: 6 / 10

I purchased The Banner Saga as a post-Galactic Menace reward for finishing the book. For me, personally, a $25 sticker price represents a huge investment on my part. The promise of bleak, sprawling, turn-based Viking epic, however, was more than enough.

In the end, I got my money's worth. Just barely.

The Game:
Humans and giants struggle for survival in a forbidding frozen landscape. Steeped in Norse mythology, The Banner Saga is a ponderous, plodding game of moral choices, turn-based-combat and rich worldbuilding, with a heavy dose of resource management and tactical deployment.

The Pros:
The art is unreasonably beautiful and the first thing everyone mentions. The 60s-era Disney movie aesthetic really, really translates to this setting, with vibrant colors and sharp, storybook characters that only help to enhance the epic quality of the narrative. For me, though, it was the landscapes that were the most breathtaking part. Since so much of the game is spent in travel, you're really treated to a wide array of fucking gorgeous Nordic vistas and frosty mountainsides.

The worldbuilding, similarly, is nearly as rich and vibrant. The narrative plops you into a textured world that, in many ways, specifically recalls Middle Earth and Tolkien's Nordic influence, detailing the ancient work of gods now absent and the strained relationships between two similar, but diametrically opposed races. For all the exposition there is, it's hardly ever dumped on you; you're simply placed in the midst of all the swirling political tension. For not being Martin,  they sure manage to facsimile a decent Westerosi vibe.

It's the map, for me, that's really the strength of the worldbuilding, though. A sprawling, Jackson-era film nod, it's immense and filled with hundreds of locations, nations, geographical features and names, each one outfitted with a tiny slice of lore. I loved whenever I could make an excuse to pour over the map. (That gives me an ideal, actually...)

The combat, having played my fair share of Banner Saga: Factions, I continue to enjoy, mostly for its extreme difficulty. It's very punishing to lose and has set me swearing and stomping angrily around the apartment more than once but, when you do win, you feel clever – you feel like a tactician.

There are elements of the narrative that I enjoyed. I legitimately felt for many of the supporting cast (supporting cast exclusively – the main players bugged me) and I was heartbroken when many of them died, partially because of how unfair their deaths seemed to me. I do think, for the cast of thousands aesthetic they're going for, the game really succeeds at distinguishing the individual characters.

Hakon is a bodyguard thrust into a leadership position. Ubin is a world-weary tax collector. Oddleif is a chieftain's wife, never given the opportunity to shine until her husband's death. Some of the side characters – Ekkil and Ludin, specifically – are shockingly complex, I thought, considering how little they're used in the story. Overall, the character sketching was excellent, if the narrative less so.

The Cons:
I found Rook, the game's painful Aragon-meets-William Wallace protagonist, to be a bore and I found the game's main relationship, between Rook and his daughter Alette, to be even more boring. The game warns you early on that moral choices will define the scope of the story (more on this later), but then plants you into a character with a predefined set of principles – help people, most of all his daughter.

The empty vessel character really works best in games where I'm expected to insert my own ethics and reflect on them. If I'm trying to accurately play Rook – who only comes with half a personality – I can't really explore or address how I'd face these problems.

And that's the real tragedy of The Banner Saga; there are no moral choices. The game seems to pride itself on its divergent narrative, on the freedom it gives the player. I understand the illusion of choice as well as anyone, but not since that absolute horseshit "decision" at the end of Arkham City have I observed a game dangle choice meaninglessly out of my reach.

At one point in the game, all my forces were sequestered in a stronghold, accessible only by a narrow bridge, Khazad-Dûm style. A massive enemy army was marshaling on the opposite side of the bridge and the characters were uncertain how to proceed. At the time, there were two opposing factions within the stronghold; those who wished to blow the bridge and those who wished to preserve it. Personally, since the king of the stronghold wanted the bridge in tact and I was his guest, it was my inclination to keep the bridge in tact.

I therefore refused to destroy the bridge and, instead, waded out into what I expected would simply be a much harder battle. On its face a good choice; preserving your good reputation with the king requires a harder battle, whereas an easy victory costs you points with the king.

However, instead, the game informed me in a cutscene that a valuable member of my party was slain in battle because I refused to destroy the bridge. It then asked me a second time: wanna blow up the bridge now? Fearful of losing more characters, I complied and the train continuing chugging down the railroad it always intended to lead me down.

It only adds insult to injury, then, that battle is actually the safest place for your characters. While they can become wounded and require rest, the act of fighting the enemy won't ever actually endanger your characters. If a character dies in The Banner Saga, they die unexpectedly in a cut-scene, as an unforeseen consequence to one of your decisions. This always, always feels like punishment for choosing the wrong path, is never communicated to be inevitable and worst of all, it's telegraphed as the worst option.

The game, at points, is uninterestingly, unimaginatively bleak. There's a long stretch where your wounded and demoralized caravan is trekking through a succession of burnt and destroyed towns, all identical, all filled with more enemies and all lacking anything more interesting to do that starve. The fifth time I arrive hopeful to a village, expecting some story or at least a refueling station, only to find the place ransacked and filled with enemies, grows old very quickly.

Beyond this, the stakes of resources and morale are more or less pointless. There doesn't seem to be any real consequence to morale beyond player guilt and there's no more consequence to lack of resources than the starving of several unnamed extras, literally relegated to numbers flashing on your screen. The notion of dragging a massive caravan around is an interesting one but, if there's no enforcement of the consequences, I guess I don't really care if they die, especially when I could be using the money I would've spent on resources to outfit the heroes, the characters that actually deserve names.

My final grief is how abrupt the ending comes. Maybe I'm naive, but $25 for 10 hours of playtime is pretty egregious, in my opinion. Plus, the game simply throws up a title at the end of a pivotal battle, makes no point of suggesting any further episodes or games and doesn't conclude 90% of the story lines introduced. I was frankly shocked and appalled to see rolling credits, since I honestly felt the game was merely beginning.

For all my griping and its serious narrative issues, The Banner Saga is a singular, enjoyable and addicting game. Even describing its flaws, I want to neglect the rest of my chores for the day and run off to play again. I eagerly await the next installment and my earliest opportunity to explore more of the game's rich tapestry.

Recommended, but with serious reservations.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Do Us A Kindie

So, Galactic Menace is up on Barnes & Noble today. Huzzah!

And, in light of this, I was wondering if you might be able to help a fellow out.

Currently, Amazon is selling Galactic Menace for $0.99 since they, a business, refuse to market free ebooks. They will, however, price match other websites who sell the book for free. The only way they'll do this, of course, is if you send them links.

Here's what I need everyone reading this to do:

1. Copy each of these links

Each of these links takes you to a different site (Smashwords, iBooks and Barnes & Noble) where Galactic Menace is available for free.

2. Go to the Galactic Menace Amazon page and scroll to "tell us about a better price" link

On the Galactic Menace's Amazon Page, scroll down, find the "tell us about a lower price" link at the bottom of the product details section and click.

3. Fill out the form

Choose the Website (Online) option, paste each address into the URL box, fill out the price info as "0.00" and the shipping also as "0.00" and click submit feedback.

And that's that! If you wouldn't mind submitting all three addresses – Smashwords, iBooks and B&N – that would make a galaxy of difference to me!

Thanks, space pirates and spambots! With your help, we can make Galactic Menace free for everyone to read!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Back to Tatooine

Disclaimer: If you're wisely attempting to avoid leaked footage from Episode 7, you may wanna skip this week. I should probably take your advise, but they got me right where I'm weakest – scummy Tatooine spaceports.

As an avid Star Wars fan, I'm exhilarated at the prospect of more films. As heart-rendingly terrible as the prequels proved, as universally despised as they are and as much as I agree with all those sentiments, they still expended the Star Wars universe an incredible amount, adding planets, species, organizations and ideas to the setting's rich tapestry.

Gungans? Can be interesting. Jango Fett? Parsecs more interesting than Boba. Kashyyyk? Where were you my whole life? Dugs, podracing, Geonosis – much as I love to rag on them, there's some solid stuff for the worldbuilder in me.

Therefore, I don't share many people's skepticism about Abrams. I'm frustrated that he effectively called out Lucas' name while in bed with Rodenberry, but that doesn't mean that, when reunited with his true love, he won't still make the film everyone wanted Episode One to be.

And everything I've seen suggests that's exactly what's gonna happen. Puppets, practical effects, real costumes. It's all there.

Naysayers, your opinions been noted, but you may wanna leave, 'cause this grown man's about to squee over some blurry leaked set photos.

Everybody else? Wanna check deez out with me?

The main action seems to be encircling this massive bowl-like structure.
Open-air bazaar? Pitfighting arena? Uncertain

Everything seems to be fenced into this one circular area, but the interior
is mostly empty. It's like a vacated junkyard or something. Weird.
It's wholly possible this says "Warning" in Aurebesh.
I may have translated that myself. Reports vary.

Surrounding the arena is a makeshift bazaar, complete with
flapping tents, animal cages and hooded locals.

Is that a fire?
My theory, at this time, is actually a demolition derby.*
Could the podracer engine support that theory?
 And, of course, the pièce de résistance:

 Reports indicate this giant alien pachyderm is a full-size puppet, featured in two scene and, that's right, crewed by five individual people, riding around inside its belly. There's literally never been a better sign that Episode VI will return to form than this goddamn puppet.

Well, maybe except for this.
*I suddenly hoping it's not a demolition derby because how have I never even thought of a demolition derby in Bad Space

Psst! You downloaded Galactic Meance yet? Go now, while everyone's distracted!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Galactic Menace Released!

Greetings, neglected readership!

I'm posting today to inform all your spambots that Galactic Menace, Book II of the embarrassingly popular Bad Space Trilogy, was released on June 1st! It's currently free for download from Smashwords, the iBookstore and our own humble website ( and shall soon be free from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

We're off to a pretty good weekend, with 100+ downloads on Smashwords alone and about a dozen generous purchases on Amazon. Please, spambots, go forth – read, rate and review!

Book II of the Bad Space Trilogy

Their coffers are comparatively full. Their spaceship is actually in one piece for a change. Their bounties, however, remain astronomically high.

During the explosive events of the previous book, the monomaniac Captain Nemo and his crew of spacefaring swashbucklers were plucked from the ranks of criminal obscurity and into the crosshairs of the underworld's high and mighty. Gone from surviving to thriving, the wanted space pirates now hatch a plan to collect one quiet payday, cover their tracks and go to the mattresses until the heat dies down some.

All that changes with the "piracy is pointless" gaffe. Those three little words, when spoken by an official Imperium mouthpiece, threaten to flip Bad Space on its head.

Before they can entirely react, the crew of The Unconstant Lover find themselves unwittingly set back onto a collision course with galactic politics, underworld intrigue and, most surprisingly, interstellar celebrity. Where once they sought a means to slink into the shadows, they're instead thrown quite spectacularly into the limelight. Standing at the swirling center of all this danger and destruction is, predictably, Captain Nemo.