The Dark Elf Trilogy: 14 Years Later

Note: This was originally posted on wethenerdy.com

I have to wonder if the only universal part of adulthood is wondering when you’ve become an actual adult. Perhaps the mark is less having a 401K or excitement at buying a new vacuum, but when you sit down and go, “so am I an adult now?” I mean, as a kid I never asked myself that question.

“Hey, you’re 18 now; that means you’re an adult!” But I’m too stupid to be an adult. That can’t be right. Also, I drink way too irresponsibly.

“Hey, you’re 28 now; you are so an adult.” But I’m still stupid! Also, I only clean my room like once a month when the carpet gets a texture. Cleaning doesn’t include dusting because there are too many Alien toys in the way. Adults dust. They also don’t collect Alien toys.

Yet I can say that I’m a different person than when I was 18. God help me if I wasn’t. I can say my tastes have changed, along with about a thousand other things too.

Now, this is all a really bad way of getting to The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore, which I’ve finally reread as a pretend adult who doesn’t clean his room all that often and still buys toys.

See, I picked up The Thousand Orcs around 2003 and began my journey with Drizzt Du’Urden (I pronounce it Drizzit) when I was a freshman in high school. Drizzt became a huge part of my life. Honestly, he became a friend. So did Bruenor, Regis, Cattie-Brie, Wulfgar, and Guenhwyvar. From 2003 to 2014, a part of me lived in Toril with these characters and their ever-dangerous world filled with orcs, giants, demons, and dragons. And probably the occasional werewolf.

At the end of The Last Threshold, I stopped.

It felt like a milestone, like the end of that booked mark the end of childhood. I was editing my first novel and at a job that, while I didn’t enjoy, at least paid well. I’m also pretty sure I got a blender as a Christmas present and was super happy about that. Like, irrationally happy to have a goddamned blender.

No 401K though. I still don’t have one of those.

Time continues to pass. It seems like every year I look at my bookshelf and pick something to get rid of. It’s shrinking faster than it’s growing, which is really sad. At the same time, no, I’m never going to read the novelization of Aliens vs. Predator ever again. I don’t even know why I read it a first time.

I know why I read Homeland a first time, though why I’ve decided to read it a second is a bit complicated. Suffice to say, here we are.

Homeland2

13 year old me and 28 year old me have different opinions on Homeland and the books that follow. It’s surreal, really. I’m a completely different person than the stupid freshman in high school hiding behind a fantasy novel because he had no friends. (I now hide behind alcohol for that, thank you very much.)

I’ve changed.

Or at least, somewhat. Drizzt showed up and nostalgia hit me so hard that I saw stars. Yet there was a difference to him, something not quite right. I missed him—truly I did—yet he wasn’t the elf I thought I missed. There was more angst, more anger. Something was wrong.

That something was me, of course.

I went through Homeland and Exile in a bit of a haze. I had grown up, but the books hadn’t. Drizzt is whispering, “come on, let’s have a look around this bend to see what adventures await!” and I’m going “But almost none of this makes any sense! Why does the Underdark not have rules?”

Drizzt plays at swords and internal struggles, killing hook horrors and hating his parents like 13 year old me listening to Eminem, and I’m stuck on, well…everything else. I get it, but only intellectually, where it doesn’t matter. I need to get it in my gut.

At the same time, I was having fun. The world of Toril is just kind of conducive to that, execution notwithstanding. I churned through Homeland in a few days, and Exile didn’t take much longer. By the end of Exile, I was starting to feel a bit better about everything, too. Yeah, Zak’s climactic end is anime bullshit, but Drizzt’s whispers of adventure were getting harder to ignore. That, and Sojourn promised a journey to Ten Towns. That’s when THE LEGACY really begins, after all.

I was also beginning to appreciate some aspects to Drizzt and his struggles that I hadn’t noticed when I was 13, which is funny because subtlety doesn’t really exist in the Underdark.

I’m used to black-and-white morality in my fantasy stories. It sucks, but it is what it is. Sauron is evil for the sake of evil and so are his orcs. Drizzt’s world though is a bit greyer. To be sure, Menzoberranzan is largely pants-on-head stupid, but it’s also filled with antiheroes like Zak and Jarlaxle. They bring forth some nice questions about what it is to be good and how one should follow their own morals—or how one fails at following their own morals.

Zak is by all accounts a good character. He’s one of maybe three in the Underdark. But wow does he enjoy killing dark elves. Yeah dark elves suck, but so does murder. It begets some questions that aren’t so easy to answer, such as the roles of nature v nurture and religion as a cultural cornerstone.

Drizzt’s trip through Blindenstone is likewise filled with introspection. It’s not always well written to be sure, but I like that it’s there.

When I was 13, I was all about the sword fights and goofy magic. Now though, it’s the moments between that shine the brightest. Ironically, those are generally moments of deep despair.

Come Sojourn, and the questions keep piling on, as do the character moments. Does Drizzt kill a bunch of giant monsters? Of course. But his interactions with a small farming village and the subsequent chase as he’s framed for killing a family are far more tense.

And for all my complaints, R.A. Salvatore is one of those writers that makes it so easy for me to lose myself, to see through the pages and into the world. I’ll criticize the prose in these novels until I’m blue in the face, but his words are effective. I could see Drizzt fighting alongside Mooshie, shooting arrows into an army of orcs. I could see the darkness spell on Mooshie’s shield, the blind ranger moving around like a black hole of swords and screams.

I mean, it’s stupid, right? Drizzt can throw out globes of darkness and fairy fire, and every time he does—be it the first or the thirtieth—we get an explanation of what and how. It’s frustrating, yet it’s exhilarating too.

I suppose I should wrap this all up with some platitude about being an adult, how knowing when to work and when to just enjoy is the marking of maturity and wisdom or some shit, but I’m not. If I had any answers, I wouldn’t be writing this pseudo-introspective essay about a dumb fantasy novel. Clearly I do not have my shit together.

I could also wrap this up in a review way, giving the series a score and a recommendation, but I won’t do that either. I don’t know if these are good. I’m too attached, even with a 14 year gap.

I am going to read the next three though. And perhaps the next four after that. I might even go the distance and read all 23. Who knows? At this point, I think I’ll just be happy to have a friend back, even if it’s only for a moment.

Maybe tomorrow I won’t be stupid.

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If I Were You

It was too fucking early for this shit, or that’s what Brandon was thinking as he opened the door to the company van. Too fucking early, and too fucking stupid. There was no reason all four of them needed to go on this abysmal four-hour trip to bumfuck Georgia, where the tail end of hurricanes went to sleep, drowning the grass and flooding basements but not actually destroying homes. The town wasn’t even good enough to die by hurricane. Not even God cared.

But his fucking boss sure did! This was going to be one part R&D, one part machining master, one part Engineering guro, and one part Brandon, the dumbass with the camera. Everyone present had a smart phone, but everyone else was important. They had to ask questions! Take notes! That meant ol’ Brandon had to film. “Documentation,” the plant manager had said. “So I don’t have to go,” the plant manager had said. Brandon supposed that made him part of R&D, which was kind of cool, but it was also 5:00 in the morning. That was too early for cool, even if it was chilly for Alabama.

“Everyone ready?” Dave said as he put the van into drive. It hummed and thrummed and did things vans did. Brandon didn’t care because it was time to sleep. At least he’d get paid for that, and he supposed that was kind of cool too.

“Yeah,” Molly said, the engineering guro. This was her idea.

They pulled out of the parking lot, and Brandon did his best to make his forearm into a pillow. It wasn’t quite working, but he was also too tired to really care. His norm was waking up at 7:30, chugging a coffee, and driving to work for his first morning piss. It wasn’t a great routine, but it worked for him. It also started three and a half hours later, but who was counting?

“This is going to be so cool,” Scott said, already tapping away on his laptop. “If this goes well—and I think it will—we’ll be the first machining company to purchase a robot. Well, a real robot. Think about it!” Scott kept talking, but Brandon didn’t want to think about it. It wasn’t important.

Brandon dozed off as Scott went on about robot workings and robot accuracy. Something, something, never missing registration. Something something never getting dirty because the robot wouldn’t ever leave the plant.

The underlying thought was, of course, something something firing half the plant because robots didn’t need insurance, hourly wages, or smoke breaks.

“Hey Brandon!” Molly said from the front, waking Brandon up from a light doze. “You awake back there?”

“Yeah.” Bitch.

“You got everything, right?”

“Yeah.” Two batteries, a notebook, and the company camera. It shot in HD and probably did a thousand other things, but the manual was too long for Brandon to really bother with. He got the point of it; point and click. Just like a video game.

“You sure? No going back now.”

“Yes.”

Molly turned on the radio, finding a political station because she had to be insufferable in every sense of the word, and the whole van listened as Brad Horkson fear mongered about the dangers of Atheism.

Brandon punched at his arm, trying to soften it up like it was a pillow, and began to doze again. A bruise formed where he had hit, blackening his pale skin.

“Hey Brandon,” Molly said, waking him up again. He checked the clock and saw an hour and a half had passed. Well, that wasn’t so bad. Two and a half to go, but he had his phone with him. That had video games. “You awake?”

“Yeah.”

“You ever think about killing yourself?”

What? “What?” There was no way he had heard the question right. He was still half asleep, still groggy.

“Sure,” Molly said, as if she had asked about the weather or the second wall the president was building along the Canadian border. “I mean, it’s normal, right?”

“Yeah,” Scott said. Jeff echoed the sentiment from the front seat.

“Uh,” Brandon said, hoping someone would repeat the question he clearly had not heard right. “I dunno.”

“How can you not know?” Molly asked, performing a lane change without blinking. God she was even a bitch while she drove. “It’s a yes or no question.”

“If I were you,” Jeff said, his face buried in his phone, “I’d kill myself.”

“Only logical,” Scott said.

“What?”

Brandon was stuck between confused as hell and angry as hell. What the fuck was going on?

“If I were you,” Molly repeated, “I’d kill myself. Probably with a knife. Everyone owns knives.”

“I have one if you need it,” Scott said. Brandon heard a click as Dan opened his pocket knife and made to hand it to him. “Here.”

“What…”

“I mean,” Jeff said, “If I were you, I’d kill myself.”

The knife gleamed. At some point during the last half hour, the sun had risen. The sky still had wafts of pink shot through it, though the knife didn’t reflect those. Just the sun.

“Here,” Scott said. “You can borrow it, but I want it back when you’re done.”

“But…”

Brandon took the knife. He didn’t want to, but he also kind of did. He didn’t know why. Yeah sure he was depressed sometimes, but who wasn’t? The country was building a fucking wall on the border of Canada and robots were going to take over the most basic of jobs. The American dream was as dead as a forgotten goldfish won at a carnival. For some fucking reason, the country still had those.

“Fuck you,” Brandon said. “I’m telling HR about this.” Yet took the knife. He held it and watched the sun gleam.

“That’s okay,” Scott said. “That’s what I’d do too. But only after, you know?”

“Sure,” Jeff said. He was still looking at his phone.

“Did you know AI will do whatever we tell it, because the A stands for artificial?” Molly said from the front seat. She made another lane change without blinking. “Cool huh?”

Brandon looked at the knife. He didn’t want to use it, didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want about a million things, but he wasn’t sure if that mattered.

“Fuck off,” he said as he closed the knife then flicked it back open.

“If I were you, I’d kill myself” Scott repeated. “And then give me my knife back. It’s a good knife, you know?”

Brandon did. It was sharp.

Jeff put his phone down and turned to look at Brandon from the front seat. There was something off about his face, something twisted and broken. He didn’t look real.

“Do you want to do it?” Jeff asked. “Kill yourself, I mean?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Molly said from the front. She was speeding now, zooming by everyone at 20 mph over the limit. On the radio, Brad Horkson talked about the horrors of atheism and the wonders of AI because they believe everything they are told. The A stands for artificial.

“I don’t want to,” Brandon whispered.

“I wonder what that’s like,” Jeff said, now going back to his phone. Brandon saw that he was playing Angry Birds. “Not wanting to do something.”

“If I were you,” the Molly and Scott said together. “I’d kill myself.”

Brandon pressed the knife to his left wrist. He didn’t want to, but he realized that even though he was himself, he’d do it too.

 

Lawbreakers Review

Developer: Boss Key

Publisher: Nexon

Release Date: August 8, 2017

Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4

Me and arena shooters go back to 2001 with Aliens vs Predator 2. That was the game that seduced me to the genre, to the exhilarating fragfest of twitch aiming and explosions—and Xenomorph pouncing. After that came Unreal Tournament: 2004 and then Team Fortress 2, but by then, I was starting to play a wider variety of games on a wider variety of systems. This lead to a gradual falling out with the genre as playerbases dwindled alongside my free time.

Those good memories never left though, and I’ve been on this lazy hunt for another arena shooter in the same vein of AvP2 and UT2k4 for what feels like a long time. TF2 is great, but it doesn’t have the speed I want.

Cue Boss Key’s Lawbreakers hitting the scene in 2017. My search is over.

In a way, Lawbreakers is a combination of two of the aforementioned arena shooters. It has the class system of TF2 mixed with the massive gunplay and wild speed of UT2k4. It’s just as addictive as both.

Yet the game isn’t a simple A + B = C. Lawbreakers throws enough twists and turns at the genre to stand on its own and succeed at everything it tries to do. It’s the best of old-school mechanics with all the shiny polish of 2017.

The biggest twist is the zero-gravity bubbles that reside in the middle of every map. Lawbreakers demands its audience go vertical when fighting, and that means getting off the ground and into the air. It makes for a strong learning curve, but once it clicks it feels absolutely amazing. It helps that most characters have their own ways to zip around the map, either through actual flight or things like grappling hooks and teleportation.

Lawbreakers is its own animal when it comes to combat, because attacks can come from any direction.

lawbreaker screen2

The game is class based, featuring a cast of nine characters to play, each coming with two special moves and an ultimate on a timer. There’s a lot of personality to each of them, though not quite as much as TF2 or Overwatch. Still, the little things help set them apart, such as the Battle Medic barking, “Here comes health!” or Juggernaut going, “Remember when I told you I’d kill you last? I lied!” I’m quite fond of most of them.

Before we continue, here’s a quick rundown of the cast:

  • Assassin: Glass-cannon, melee-DPS class with two swords and a shotgun side arm
  • Battle Medic: Healing class equipped with a grenade launcher and capable of flight
  • Enforcer: Support soldier class with a nice machine gun and grenade
  • Gunslinger: Precision class with two handguns, the first precision the second auto
  • Harrier: Support class complete with a laser rifle, laser boots, and a small heal
  • Juggernaut: Tank class with a big shotgun, a big health pool, and the ability to deploy barriers
  • Titan: Heavy DPS class with a rocket launcher and a electric flamethrower-style side arm
  • Vanguard: Glass-cannon DPS class equipped with a Gatling gun and flight
  • Wraith: DPS class mixing melee abilities, gunplay, and speed

On first look, there are a lot of classes that can play supporting roles (Battle Medic, Enforcer, Harrier, and Juggernaut); however, what most class-based arena shooters call support and what Lawbreakers calls support are different levels of violence.

In Lawbreakers, you help the team by being fast and killing regardless of who you’re playing as.

The Battle Medic, for example, has fire-and-forget heals, meaning you’re spending most of the game flying above everyone else and raining down grenades or picking off stragglers with her pistol. I do a lot of healing sure, but I also do a ton of damage. She’s an absolute joy to play and probably my favorite healing class in a video game ever.

The other supporting classes follow in a similar line, with the Enforcer and Harrier packing fairly high-DPS weapons despite offering team buffs. Juggernaut is the only one who really feels more like a tank, but he offsets that by being able to deploy shields that can stop enemies from scoring objectives or entering healing stations.

As someone who loves arena shooters but isn’t very good at them, I love that the supporting roles are just as viable and fun to play as the DPS ones.

The DPS ones, meanwhile, are absolutely insane. Aside from the lumbering Titan, movement is nonstop speed and action, with teleports, grapples, and a lady that’s half fighter jet. Everyone feels good to play as, especially the Vanguard and Assassin classes who have more erratic movements. The Vanguard really does feel like you’re flying an airplane complete with machine guns and cluster bombs, and the Assassin feels like a cross between Spider Man and Ryu friggen Hayabusa.

Every time I jump into another match of Lawbreakers, I’m always surprised at how good and fun the general movement is.

On the whole, the game is pretty balanced, with one or two ultimates being a little more powerful than they need to be. Still, given the wide disparity in health values, I very rarely find myself exploding with no reason behind it. There’s always that little chance I can exit a bad fight and grab more health.

I’d say the TTK is about perfect, or as perfect as a class-based shooter can be.

The game modes themselves offer another twist on the arena-shooter genre in that there is no Death Match or Team Death Match. Everything is objective based, which is something I really, really appreciate. Objectives breed more variety than simple run-and-gun, and I feel less bad about dying left and right when I’m helping guard a battery or cap a blitz ball.

Lawbreakers comes with five modes, two based off of King of the Hill, two off of Capture the Flag, and one off of Assault. The two King of the Hill type modes are standard, but the others act as an evolution of their predecessors. The two CTF modes involve holding a battery at your base to charge, meaning capping isn’t just about retrieving the battery—you have to defend it too. I’m not sure that’s an inspired change or not, but it does add a new dynamic (and a new level of tension) to a tried-and-true game mode.

Blitz Ball is the Assault-style mode, though it’s more of a sport than an assault. The ball has to be taken to the enemy base, but given how fast Lawbreakers is, it typically winds up shooting everywhere like a deranged game of soccer where everyone has a gun. When a Titan or Juggernaut grabs it, the mode slows down to a tense trudge ala football.

Suffice to say, it’s an absolute blast.

It should also be noted that while Lawbreakers is $30, it comes with a lot of content. There are nine characters, five game modes, and eight maps. There are also tons of unlockables, though they’re all found in loot ‘Staches that have to be found our purchased via real money. Thankfully, they only contain cosmetic items such as weapon skins and decals, so you don’t have to worry about any pay-to-win mechanics here.

lawbreaker screen

While fun can be had in spades, Lawbreakers isn’t without its few quirks and problems. The first big one is that it wastes the player’s time. Time between matches can last up to a minute and a half, even when the lobby is full and everyone is ready. There’s no “Ready” system to speed things along. What’s worse is you can’t open ‘Stache boxes while waiting, so you’re stuck watching the clock tick down.

‘Staches open very, very slowly I might add. There’s no reason for it.

There’s also no way to pick what maps or modes you’ll be playing. Quick matches means it’s all random. I honestly don’t know why there isn’t a voting system with even two or three choices to pick from, as games like Halo have been doing that for ages. It’s one of the few times where Lawbreakers doesn’t feel modern at all.

Finally, the game does come with a very hefty skill ceiling. That’s less of a complaint and more of a fact of life, but there are a lot of little things to learn. The game doesn’t always do a great job of teaching those things, either. Some characters have side arms while others don’t, and none of that is effectively communicated.

I didn’t learn the Assassin had a shotgun until someone told me, for example. (Admittedly, I’ve never touched the tutorial area.)

That all being said, Lawbreakers is a fantastic arena shooter with a lot to love. It aims for fast, frantic, and fun, and it hits all three consistently. The classes are all fun to play, but the way it treats its supporting roles is really what I find shines the best. No one feels left out. Everyone feels viable. Little twists and turns abound, both in the gunplay and the game modes themselves, and while I have some small gripes, they’re just that: small.

I’ve been looking for a new arena shooter for what feels like a long time. I’ve finally found one.

The Dark Tower Review

I can see why Hollywood would want to adapt The Dark Tower into a movie series. It’s seven books, or eight movies, and Stephen King’s name is on the cover. That’s an easy sell. The problem is, the source material is anything but easy to adapt. It’s thick and dense, the characters aren’t always chatty, and the books tend to get Stephen King weird.

Really Stephen King weird. His best kind, but you know, hard to put to film. To faithfully adapt this series would mean hundreds of millions of dollars, which means general audience buy-in, which means major cuts, changes, the removal of Stephen King weird, and a new ending.

At that point, why even bother?

As someone who has read and loves the series, I don’t think it’s suited for the big screen. I’m not sure I’d put it on the silver screen, either. There’s a reason King’s books are hard to adapt.

But first we have to take a step back, because calling this an adaptation is being disingenuous. The Dark Tower is The Dark Tower in name only. Yeah Roland, Jake, and Walter are here, but their characterization, their plot, and their conclusion are so different from the novels that I’m left wondering why anyone even bothered.

The Dark Tower novels are about obsession first and everything second. Roland is searching for the tower, and it’s not made him a good person. Obsession is the key word. His quest only turns cosmic and world ending in the later books, and while he’s changed some by then, he’s still obsessed. Saving the world is always less important than simply finding the tower.

The Dark Tower movie is about a young boy who is having nightmares about the coming apocalypse and his quest to stop it. Along the way, he meets Roland, develops psychic powers, and becomes the key to both saving and ending the world.

It’s a young adult movie.

I suppose the question is: Is it a good young adult movie, but that’s a hard one to answer because I don’t really know. I saw The Dark Tower a few hours ago; however, I don’t remember much. It’s very generic—or the exact opposite of the source material.

The movie runs wild with young adult tropes, such as Jake hating his step father, the step father hating Jake, bad dreams that become prophetic, black-and-white morality, Jake getting super powers, and then some generic acclimation to a new world. In the books, Jake’s entrance into Mid World is an accident; in the movie, he goes there on purpose.

It’s up to him to find and convince the last Gunslinger that there’s still hope left.

If you take the adaptation away from the movie, I suppose nothing here is inherently bad. The acting ranges from fine to Matthew Mcconaughey, the action scenes are pretty cool, and the movie is shot competently. The problem is, it never goes beyond “fine” in anything it tries to do save Matthew Mcconaughey as Walter, who is wonderful to watch.

Matthew Mcconaughey is great. He kind of reminds me of Nicholas Cage, in that he can play some really strange, twisted characters and sell it all, even if the script is rather rote.

And to give credit to The Dark Tower movie, adding more Walter isn’t a bad idea. He’s pretty much a background character in the books, an unseen agent that we’re told is dangerous but is hardly ever shown. It works to a point, but seeing him cast actual spells and go toe-to-toe with Roland does a better job of selling him as a villain. Matthew Mcconaughey is deliciously evil in the role, and genuinely threatening to boot.

The rest is, as I said, fine. Idris Elba makes for a wonderful Roland, but he doesn’t get near enough screen time. Save for a dream sequence, it takes maybe twenty minutes for him to show up, and when he does, he doesn’t always feel like Roland. He’s obsessed sure, but it’s not the forefront. He cares too much about those around him, and he’s after Walter to kill him, not for information. Plus, seeing him enter Keystone Earth so quickly doesn’t jive with me, even if some of the plot points from The Drawing of the Three do show up.

That in itself is its own mess. If you know the books at all, you’ll be seeing little bits and pieces of every novel here, typically in the wrong order and with the wrong execution. It makes for a fascinating watch, because The Dark Tower movie is by and large a Frankenstein monster of parts. Roland gets a bad infection and needs antibiotics is from the second book, Jake’s mental nonsense is from the third, breakers show up, and that’s either book six or seven, and we get a bit of Roland’s past, which is book four. I believe there are elements of five in here as well, though no wolves.

All of this makes the movie a very strange animal, especially when it comes to pacing. It clocks in at 90 minutes, but often times it feels slower than that. A lot happens—basically every young-adult story beat you can think of is here—but it’s less rushed and more…plodding.

Never once is it confusing though, and given the development turmoil, that’s more interesting than the film itself.

Also of interest is how Jake’s powers show up; or rather, it’s less that they show up and more that “The Shine” is used in other Stephen King novels, so him having it feels less plot-stupid than it really should. I was less upset with the young-adult protagonist developing super powers and more with the fact that Jake doesn’t have The Shine in the books. It’s bad storytelling, but because it’s rooted in Stephen King mythology, it gets a pass.

Which is maybe the one thing the whole movie gets right, even if it does it in the wrong way.

The Dark Tower is a bad The Dark Tower movie. It does everything wrong, from the pot to the characters. I don’t know who asked for this or why anyone bothered. As a film on its own, it’s fine. It doesn’t do anything interesting, but the action is okay and Matthew Mcconaughey is a joy. I’m not sure if I’m more offended in that it’s a poor adaptation or that it’s so inoffensive in everything it does, but either way, I’d say skip it.

Lawbreakers Open Beta Impressions

Note: This was originally published on WeTheNerdy on 7-5-17

Before we begin, it must be noted that I have never played Overwatch. The last class-based first-person shooter I played was Team Fortress 2, and Lawbreakers is an entirely different animal from Valve’s popular hat-based economy. The best I can compare it to is maybe the new DooM or Unreal Tournament, though neither have class systems. It’s all about the speed!

Because the thing is, those are really good games to be compared to.

My hand-eye coordination seems to die a little more every year, and the muscle memory my fingers once knew in high school has faded, but I still love arena shooters. I suck at them full stop, but I love them. There’s just something about the high-octane speed and the insanity that comes with big guns and even bigger explosions that’s hard to beat. Yeah I dig Halo in its various forms, but it doesn’t compete.

Lawbreakers competes.

lawbreaker screen

How it competes is with a high emphasis on verticality.  Each map in Lawbreakers has a center fighting arena with large, zero-gravity bubbles that, combined with sprinting, flying, and swinging, means everyone is zipping through the air like gun-toting dragonflies. Being on the ground feels nice because you know how to running works, but it also makes you an easy target for bullets. If you want to succeed, you best get to flying.

Granted, extra verticality does come with a few downsides, like sometimes flying off the map like a dumbass or getting lost mid fight, but oh well. At least jetpacking off the map because you’re trying to coward power away from a giant robot with a shotgun is funny.

The game’s combat and movement have an unashamedly high skill ceiling, is what I’m getting at.

Which leads me to the classes. There are eight that I can remember, but because I don’t remember their names off the top of my head, you’ll have to settle on what I call them in game.

  • Airplane Lady: She’s flies super fast and has a Gatling gun. She’s the glass cannon with a lot of cannon to her name, and my favorite to play.
  • Soldier: The soldier class. He’s got guns and grenades, and in truth, is a bit bland. I mean, he’s fun, but there are so many more interesting people.
  • Gunslinger: There are no snipers in this game, but Lawbreakers does have the Gunslinger. He’s got a semiauto pistol in one hand and a high-damage, slow-firing pistol in the other. I’m so bad with him that it’s sort of sad.
  • Rocket Man: Guy with rocket launcher, or woman. I can’t remember. He/she is another fairly standard class that in some ways doesn’t work because of how vertical this game is. Leading rockets is hard enough without people floating through space.
  • Battle Medic: A medic whose primary weapon isn’t a healing gun but a grenade launcher. Probably the most fun I’ve had playing a medic class in…forever. This is how you do it.
  • Ninja: A lady with a sword in one hand, a hookshot on the other, and a shotgun as a backup. She swings around like Spiderman, which is pretty awesome. She’s another character that’s very hard to play as, but unlike the Gunslinger, still fun despite the high ceiling cap.
  • Rowbit: He’s the tank class. His primary is a shotgun, his secondary is a bayonet on the shotgun. What he lacks in forward movement he makes up for in vertical. The dude has hops! Also fun to play.
  • Douche Canoe: Another ninja class but with more health than he needs and an insane damage output. He’s also one of the fastest characters, if not the fastest.

I’ve given every class but Douche Canoe a try, and while I do like all of them, I certainly have my preferences. Airplane Lady, Soldier, and Rowbit are probably the easiest to just pick up and play because they feel the most like arena-shooter characters. Rowbit is a lot slower than the norm, but his high health pool makes him very forgiving.

That he’s a giant robot with a shotgun is also very inviting.

The problem with the class system isn’t the system itself but the bombardment of information that comes with it. In its current state, Lawbreakers doesn’t do a very good job of introducing you to its cast. There are tutorial videos that can be found, but they stream from Youtube and watching a four minute how-to-play video isn’t fun.

lawbreaker screen2

I tried to learn as I played, but that wound up being impossible. Each character has three abilities, and some of them are on high cooldowns. They aren’t something you can experiment with mid combat. That meant Youtube videos or asking in game chat between deaths. It wasn’t ideal.

Once I did learn, however, Lawbreakers became highly addictive. This game is straight up fun. The gunplay feels great, the balance is mostly on point save Douche Canoe, and even though it’s an arena shooter, I feel like the health pools are all high enough to add some wiggle room during combat. Very rarely did I ever just explode out of the blue, and if that did happen, it was because of a special ability and not just a random rocket.

The game modes currently on display are all very team focused, which is another highlight. Yeah I love your standard frag fest as much as the next guy, but objective-based gameplay is where I shine, especially since I enjoy support classes. What Lawbreakers offers then is nice twists to capturing and delivering.

I’ve only put about six or seven hours into the Lawbreakers open beta, but I’ve come away a fan. I will be picking this thing up when it’s out next month, and I’ll probably be reviewing it too. If you like arena shooters and missed out this 4th of July weekend, I’d say keep an eye on this one. If you don’t like arena shooters, then I guess go back to Overwatch or something, you filthy casual.

The Hollow Girl

The Hollow Girl

The hollow girl
She swallowed a fly
It buzzed and buzzed
And tickled her eyes

The hollow girl
She swallowed a spider
It spun a web
Goss’mer inside her
Caught the fly
Drained the fly
Found her heart
And began to bite her

The hollow girl
She swallowed a rat
Drooled its rabies
Twitching and scratch
Caught the spider
Ate the spider
Found her lungs
And began to attack

The hollow girl
She swallowed a snake
A hissing venom
Rattling quake
Bit the rat
Ate the rat
Found her stomach
And began to serrate

The hollow girl
She swallowed an owl
The fiercest bird
Tallons that prowl
Ripped the snake
Tore the snake
Found her brain
And began to afoul

The hollow girl
Fed up and torn
Swallowed a human
A screaming worm
Humans die
Girls they smile
For the hollow girl
Was no longer hollow

Dev Blog–Scarfoam Coast: Water, Kings, and Falls

So it has once again been way too long since I updated our dev blog. It’s funny, I’m looking at that progress report from four months ago and thinking, “a lot of those numbers now read 100%.” Progress is happening, and it’s going quicker than slower to boot! All of the levels are done save some little details here and there, we have battle maps for every level but the one I’m about to talk about, we’re maybe two songs away from having a full soundtrack, and all the dialogue is done save for one final round of editing.

We don’t have a specific release date yet, but you know, soon.

However, we’re here to talk about the Scarfoam Coast, or the water level in Land of Glass. This was the level I think both my brother and myself were dreading to make, partly because we had no idea what it should look like, and partly because the water engine can be finicky to work with. It does a lot with a little, but you have to know how to make it work to get the best out of it. Thankfully, I know the guy who made it.

Also, I made him do all the water.

water4

I spent a good amount of time looking at other water levels from games and anime because I wasn’t sure where to start. The majority of this game is pretty grounded as far as magical landscapes go. Yeah a city wedged between a few active volcanoes is a stretch, but the layout itself doesn’t have any floating bridges or the like.

The rest of the levels follow suit. A city in the trees? Yeah! But it has to make some kind of sense.

The Scarfoam Coast sort of breaks that rule a bit. The big city I landed on for inspiration came ended up being Altissa from Final Fantasy, and that place doesn’t make any sense! It’s waterfalls into waterfalls into waterfalls. The city is somehow set between all the big layers of water.

I liked the idea though–a lot–so here we are. I also looked at this big water city from One Piece and maybe took some building inspiration there too.

Now, here’s a gallery of pictures.

water1water2water3water5

There’s a lot of lore to The Land of Glass that goes into making these levels; however, most of it doesn’t end up in the game. The characters take the story where they will, and sometimes that means not noticing important things or not asking the right questions.

I went into the societal structure of the Scarfoam Coast with the idea that every man is a king aboard his ship, a line I probably picked up from A Song of Ice and Fire. I like it though! What if everyone who owned a boat had a big say in the government? That would be interesting given that this is a city on the water.

That tidbit isn’t in the game though. Maybe it’ll get there between now and release, but I doubt it.

Release is creeping up on us.

Alien: Covenant Review

SPOILER WARNING: PLOT AND ENDING DETAILS FOLLOW

So I’m that weird guy at the party who, when the topic of the Alien franchise comes up, will swear up and down that Prometheus is one of the best movies in it. Depending on how much alcohol I’ve had, I’ll say it’s the best one. I adore that movie and what it tried to do, and while it may have missed the mark here and there, it ultimately is a gorgeous flick with some really compelling questions at heart.

Alien: Covenant is the direct sequel and everything its predecessor is not, which includes being good.

I’m honestly not sure where to start. It’s hard to separate Alien: Covenant from Prometheus because both try to do the same things, just one fails while the other succeeds. Both look at the Alien mythos and aim to expand upon it and answer questions, and both try to tackle themes that the previous movies never considered.

Answering questions is a very bold—and honestly very stupid—goal when it comes to horror. Monsters are scary because we know so little about them. The Alien is terrifying because it is this brutal force of space  outside our realm of thought and maybe time itself. It is the OTHER.

The Engineer, the Space Jockey, is scary because it has even less going for it. Here is this THING affixed to a chair with its belly blown open and calcified. It’s old, it’s dead, and the cargo that presumably killed it is not. Where was it going and why? Not knowing is better than knowing.

Or so I thought.

See, I believe Prometheus succeeds at answering questions first because its focus isn’t on the Alien but on the Engineers themselves. That dead transporter plays such a little role in the series that he’s fair game to work with. He’s a divergent path, and he’s why the film is called Prometheus and not Alien: Prometheus.

Second, every question Prometheus answers brings bigger and more terrifying questions to the forefront. The few hard answers we do get—and there are very few—only serve to enhance the Alien universe and make it bigger. There are devils as we have seen, but there are gods too. The problem is, they might also be devils. Kicking that question could doom more than just the bit characters stuck on LV223.

Alien: Covenant isn’t interested in asking more questions, only answering them. It doesn’t make the Alien universe bigger but smaller, and in doing so, it hurts the Alien and every question Prometheus asked in the process.

Perhaps this is why I’m so disappointed (and have hardly talked about Alien: Covenant so far in this review). I’m less upset that Alien: Covenant is a bad movie and more that it killed everything amazing about Prometheus.

We started an odyssey with Shaw and David off to figure out who created humans and why, and then we fast forward ten years and not only do those questions not matter, but Shaw has gone the way of Hicks and Newt and David has gone from morally grey to mad-scientist villain.

Alien: Covenant gives us a new cast of characters, a new cargo ship, and the mission of finding a habitable planet and planting new life. Their cargo is a thousand bodies and another thousand embryos.

That’s…fine, I guess. It’s a soft reboot away from Shaw and David, but I can work with it. However, I just need to stop again, because the goal here is just way less impactful and interesting than in Prometheus. The size of our character cast is pretty much the same, but finding God is so much bigger than just making more humans that I feel like we’ve taken a massive step backwards before we’ve even started. By scifi standards, our plot is pretty tired.

The first twenty or so minutes are also just straight boring. We get a parallel view of Walter (oi Ridley, why not name him Eric and continue the tradition?) walking through the ship and checking on his crew much like David did, only for Walter, something goes wrong long before they get to their destination. He has to wake everyone up, and wouldn’t you know it, they intercept a distress beacon.

I’m not sure if this is boring because we’ve seen it before in Alien or because the characters just don’t have anything gripping about them, but watching everyone debate what to do holds no real weight. We all know they’re going to the damned planet even if it’s literally the dumbest idea on the table.

You have a cargo of humans bound for a specific planet to kickstart a new colony of life. You’ve done scans and probably thousands of hours of research, but because this planet is closer, it’s cool to jet over and maybe live there instead?

At least the captain has faith!

The rest we’ve all seen before. We’re now six movies deep not counting the Alien vs Predator flicks, and that means that half of the Alien films have featured a different set of characters finding an Engineer ship, walking through it, and then something really bad happening.

Half of these films have had this exact same sequence. Let’s let that sink in.

The heart of Prometheus was creation, and that continues in Alien: Covenant, though in a very different way. The first had hope at its core, while this movie is just bitterly cynical and even misanthropic at times. Shaw wanted to better our understanding of the universe, and David is just a bored guy on an empty planet with nothing better to do.

His creating the Aliens through experimentation is also woefully bad for the Alien mythos as a whole. The mysterious OTHER outside of space and maybe time itself is the result of a bored dude with too much time on his hands! Real scary there.

There are, thankfully, some great moments to be found. Ridley Scott needed another few rounds of script editing sure, but man is he a master of visuals. Alien: Covenant is a gorgeous movie with some wicked-awesome monsters, and its only real flaw is that you can tell some of the stuff on screen is CGI. There’s a lot less practical work here, which feels odd, but none of it is by any means bad.

The Aliens look good, and the other creatures do too. They even bring a few nice scares to the table, though the movie is ultimately not scary or all that tense.

And despite my qualms with David, he really is the star of the show here. His interactions with Walter are especially great, shoving him somewhere into the uncanny valley with his AI-driven logic and human sociopathy. Fassbender really does phenomenal work. It is a shame that his motives don’t always work and the actual timeline of events falls apart when scrutinized for even a little bit. Or maybe he’s just not as smart as he thinks he is.

Speaking of which, if you were upset with stupid decisions made in Prometheus, you’ll have a right fit here. Yeah, Milburn and Fifield getting high and petting an alien snake ain’t smart, but they were fodder characters. We knew going in they’d die because horror movies need bodies. With Alien: Covenant, the smart people are just as stupid as the fodder.

Our ship’s captain gladly looks into a facehugger egg when David tells him to, even though David had just spent the last five minutes explaining why he was the bad guy.

“No, it’s totally safe. Please ignore my macabre museum of dissected and crucified monsters.”

“Well, I did just get done calling you the devil, but okay!”

The rest is, as I said, stuff we’ve seen before. The first act is boring scifi, and the third act is a blatant callback to Alien, though with way less finesse. At this point, I’d call it just lazy instead of homage. Act two is okay with some good scares and some fun moments with David, but ultimately it holds no weight, and the more questions answered, the smaller the Alien universe becomes.

The quest to find God died with Shaw.

I was nervous going into this movie because I knew we weren’t doing a straight sequel with Shaw and David finding the Engineer homeworld. Someone at Fox or in Ridley’s head said, “no this has to be Alien and not Paradise,” and we were bound to get something lesser in return. That David and Shaw might show up did keep my hopes up, though. I was excited.

Then this movie did literally everything I had hoped it wouldn’t. It then did a bunch of stuff I had never figured it would try because you shouldn’t have that many bad ideas in one script.

Small Favors Review (NSFW)

Note, I wrote this review for WeTheNerdy.com but like how it turned out. I figured I’d repost it here.

Also note, Small Favors is porn.

Welp, I’m reviewing a porn comic for WeTheNerdy because I wanted to see what rock bottom was like. As it turns out, it’s not regular darkness but advanced darkness, you can’t tell the men’s bathroom from the women’s, the accents are strange, the bus schedule is absurd, and I’ve lost my Gloveworld balloon. Patrick is also gone.

Okay. Now I’ve hit rock bottom.

The hardcover edition of Small Favors is 258 pages of porn, specifically girl on girl. Sometimes it’s multiple girls on multiple girls. It is 100% unashamedly porn, and binging all of it in two settings is maybe not the right way to read it. Like, it’s porn. The ideal way to consume porn is just enough to get off so you can get on with your day—in this case, that would be a chapter at a time unless you’re really quick to fire. You could potentially get a lot of mileage out of this thing if you play your hands right.

Our general plot is that Annie is a chronic masturbator, so much so that her own subconscious is upset with her. Like, deep inside she’s real mad that she keeps going deep inside herself. She’s magically sent to her inner mind, scolded for having no morals, and given a manifestation of herself to make sure she remains chaste and pure. This manifestation is named Nibble. Guess what Nibble likes to nibble on?

Girls. She likes to nibble on girls.

The best thing going for Small Favors is that tonally, it knows what it is and it wants you to enjoy it. It’s fun. It’s quirky and silly, and it does its damndest to let the world know that sex and masturbation are fun and should be treated as fun things. It’s cute most of the time, sexy some of the time, and in general…well, porn.

But it’s also a 258-page comic, and as a stuffy critic, I want more than that. Small Favors doesn’t deliver more than that. The characters don’t change, they all sound the same, and personal boundaries do not matter at all in this world of theirs. Every girl Annie and Nibble run into turns out to be a cute lesbian, and every one of them is game for all types of sex.

No one ever has to think twice about going down on someone else; thus, orgies happen at the drop of a pair of panties.

No one ever has to think twice about diseases or general cleanliness, which is why Annie and Nibble lick a stranger’s dildo clean so they can use it. The internal germophobe in me screamed so loud it woke the neighbors.

It doesn’t sound like a problem because it’s porn, but it kind of is. You can’t have the same tone and energy for an entire book without the whole thing getting old. Horror doesn’t work without moments of safety, action doesn’t work without moments of peace, and I guess porn doesn’t work without moments of actual character development.

I never knew that until today, so yeah for me for learning something new.

It would have helped if some of these characters would have at least acted surprised or questioned what was going on, because it’s not like all of the sex in this book is conventional. Most of it is, but there’s some light bondage, rimjobs, anal, and size play because Nibble can shrink, and I can’t believe Annie and Nibble would bat a thousand in that department. Like, at some point having Nibble shrink and crawl into places that people can’t actually crawl into would have to raise an alarm bell.

It would have also helped if the comic had toned down the amount of sex and made what was there last longer. It’s more a collage of parts rubbing against parts than any real buildup, and not only does that get tiring, it leaves any real intimacy at the door. For a comic that’s fine with genitals and penetration, it certainly wasn’t fine with holding a shot. One position would smashcut into another without any transition, making it more busy than sexy.

And color me white privileged, but the comic hits some creepy points that are actually pretty offputting. Small Favors opens up with Annie peeping on her neighbor and going down on herself at the same time, and while the two obviously get together later on, the idea of that just doesn’t sit right.

Maybe I’m being a prude. I certainly don’t want to kink shame anyone because hey, consenting adults and all that, but that above example is missing some consent, right?

Nibble isn’t any better. She has zero understanding of personal boundaries, and honestly, comes off as a bit stupid. It’s weird in a bad way. At one point, she’s in a grocery store and asks a clerk which wine would go best with Annie’s pussy, and I can’t help but find that a bit terrifying. It’s certainly not sexy. Like, that’s the kind of thing someone whose diet consisted of gerbils and human liver would say.

It’s also, sadly, a prime example of the dialogue on display. I think the word pussy averages out to like once every other page, though I didn’t personally count. Wet shows up more than it needs to as well. Taste too.

Finally, I once again have to wonder who this is for. It’s a $20 hardcover…of porn. Those aren’t small, and most people don’t put porn next to their Shakespeare and young-adult dystopias. You can also find better on DeviantArt or FurAffinity for free, and I’ll guarantee there’ll be more character work and better pacing.

At the same time, Small Favors is porn that works as porn and unlike Sunstone, isn’t ashamed to be porn. It’s cute and quirky, and I’m probably the only person on the planet who cares about logic while two people are taking turns licking each other’s assholes.

Enjoy your wanks, everyone.