Time

Tick
Tock

A sorry walking broken I
a fires flaming screaming sky
a wanderlusting staring down
a shiny object in the sand.

Tick
Tock
Tick
Tock

A whispered question answer no
a never ending far to go
a lonely hope that reaches for
a shiny object in the sand.

Tick
Tock
Tick
Tock

A consuming flame a glint of gold
a moment’s blindness a moment’s cold
a wordless silence a spinning gear
a shiny object in my hand.

Tick
Tock
Tick
Tock

A fleeing man just up ahead
a déjà vu of walking dread
a followed course forevermore
a shiny object in the sand.

Tick
Tock

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Global Game Jam 2018: On the Best of Intentions

Another year is just beginning, and that means another Global Game Jam has come and gone. For those who tuned in last year, complications shut my “local” place down, meaning the nearest GGJ was something like three hours away. The idea of going to Minneapolis or Saint Paul had its merits, but my brother and I decided to try something different.

We’d host our own.

However, the title of this little essay is “On the Best of Intentions,” so you should know where it’s going. I’ve yet to have a GGJ experience that wasn’t filled with problems. The tradition continued.

It started as a good idea though: We’d invite our group from last year, turn our apartment into a jam site, and order pizza for everyone. We’d spend half the time playing Smash Bros, watching garbage on Youtube, and drinking beer if I had any say in the matter.

Problem one: People live far away, have jobs, and in general, are bad at communicating.

Problem two: Apartments aren’t appropriate jam sites.

Problem three: Murphy’s Law.

2018’s Game Jam was a lonely one, with only two people instead of five. We did manage to get our apartment turned into a jam site at the very last minute, but with no one here, it felt like a waste of effort. It’s not the same, having a private site. Yes sleeping in a bed is nice, and yes being able to shower in the morning is straight-up divine in comparison, but the lack of people—of enthusiasm and spontaneity—isn’t worth the better living conditions.

I missed the random debates about Star Wars and the trading of portfolios. I missed the encouraging hosts and the curious people trying game development for the first time. I missed the video game talk. Hell, I missed that goofy dude with the cowboy hat and Amon Amarth t-shirt. I still don’t know his name!

It was…an odd weekend.

Typically I’d take a break from game development by listening to music, chatting on Facebook, or going for a short walk. This time, I took breaks to do dishes, clean my apartment, and go grocery shopping of all things. Last year life stopped for this event; this year, life continued. It was just a busier weekend than normal.

I don’t begrudge our friends not being able to make it. They love the spirit of the thing, and for all we had planned, that was the one thing we could not provide.

That being said, I’m still glad we participated. For all the tradition of problems, I still had fun, and when all was said and done, I still helped make a cool thing.

Like the last two years, this one saw me on music and sound. The big difference this time was my instrument choices. I’m used to working with bad midi guitars and orchestral synths; this time I wanted to try my hand at digital sounds—electronic/EDM stuff.

Step one was to find some synths, which is honestly a huge chore. I’m not good enough to make my own, not like I had time to anyhow. That meant diving into FL Studio presets. The good news is FL Studio has like a thousand; the bad news is that FL Studio has like a thousand.

Day one was spent finding the tools I’d need for day two. I tried my hand at digital drums but quickly abandoned that for more traditional ones. Toms and kicks and snares are easier to work with…and the stuff I had put together sounded really, really awful.

I threw an hour into a tune that was shaping up okay only to have my brother reject it outright. I scrapped it, a little miffed at doing so, and then quickly fell in love with my second attempt. My bro has a knack for being right about that sorta thing.

I spent all of Saturday making a four-and-some-change minute song with all kinds of crazy synths, bells, but no whistles. Those sounded too tacky.

Day three was spent on sound effects. I typically do those on day two, so that felt pretty off, like I was very behind. Thankfully we didn’t need many and planned on using the Foley method for the big ones. That went about as well as it normally does.

The result is the game you see below, uploaded with four minutes to spare.

I don’t…I don’t have a real conclusion to this blog-style post. We went into this with the best of intentions and came away with a fun, cozy project made with less stress and back aches than previous jams. I missed the stress though, and I missed the people. Last year I talked about the importance of art, how these events are meaningful as creative outlets. That still holds true, but my perspective has shifted some.

It’s more than art: It’s about community.

Guys, if you’re reading this and ever had the inkling to make a video game, then see if you have a global game jam site near you. Join up. Talk games and movies and music with strangers. Make a thing. It’s really, really awesome. If you can’t wait, hit up the internet. I hear there are people on there that might share your interests.

B.A. Paris’ Behind Closed Doors Review

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris is a bad book that I read in two sittings because I couldn’t put the stupid thing down. I am confused by this. Normally I have to force myself through bad books, and normally I’ll derive at least some pleasure between starting and finishing, even if it’s at the book’s expense. There’s a glimmer of value to be found.

Not so here.

This is like…you know when you stumble upon some awful movie on The Hallmark channel because someone—not you—left it on, and then you go to change the channel yet somehow end up watching the entire thing? Behind Closed Doors is like that. It’s disposable, joyless, yet just well-crafted enough with a hint of mystery to keep your attention.

I don’t know. Let’s see if we can figure this out together.

So our plot is idiot #1, Grace, marries idiot #2, Jack, despite only knowing him for like six months. Jack is not subtle. He spends the next few weeks systematically cutting Grace off from the life she’s worked hard to achieve for reasons that don’t hold up under any kind of scrutiny, but she falls for them because she’s an idiot. Jack is overbearing and kind of creepy. Grace is hopeless.

Jack then entraps his newly-wed wife so he can abuse her. The catch is that Jack is a lawyer (who helps battered women because hahahah irony!) with friends, so he’s forced to be social with his wife, who has to pretend to love him lest people find out she’s married to an abusive idiot. Also if she doesn’t pretend well enough she gets abused.

Now, I’ll concede that I’m being reductive as hell here, but every character in this book is so blitheringly, frustratingly, completely, and freakishly stupid that I can’t really help it.

Grace walks headfirst into what is obviously a bad deal in such a glorious fashion that I’m reminded of that old lie about chickens staring up at the rain and drowning. Her attempts to leave are equally stupid because she is an idiot.

Also, why is John Wick the only character in fiction to double-tap? Did no one watch Zombieland?

Jack sets himself up for failure because he’s an idiot. There’s no way any of his plans are going to last because even though his friends are stupid, they aren’t dumb. You can’t control your wife for over a year in such an obvious fashion and not raise some eyebrows.

I mean, in a way the two were probably made for each other.

Grace’s motives are pretty straightforward: escape. She also has a sister with Down’s Syndrome named Mille that she needs to protect because eventually Millie will move in with her and Jack. It should be noted that Millie is the smartest character in the whole book and actually has to convince her sister—who has been kept prisoner for over a year and tortured mentally and physically—that killing Jack is in her best interesting.

Because Grace is a fucking idiot.

Jack’s motives, meanwhile, are boring as hell. He’s a bad guy because he’s a bad guy. One could argue that sociopaths and sadists exist in real life and don’t have any other motives than “I like hurting people,” but that doesn’t fly in fiction. I need more than evil for the sake of evil. That he enjoys being evil like its some badge of honor doesn’t do him any favors. He’s so transparent that Photoshop lost the layer.

(Yes that was a bad joke. Sorry.)

The book is written in first person, jumping between first-person present and first-person past in alternating chapters. To B.A. Paris’s credit, she handles the style pretty elegantly, or at least better than I’ve seen in quite some time. Grace’s thoughts and actions come quick and naturally, focusing only on what needs to be focused on. They feel like a real internal monologue as events are happening.

The problem is that there’s not much going on to the writing save dialogue and basic movements. The writing works, but it doesn’t do anything more than work. There are no grand descriptions of anything, no fun metaphors or similes. It’s just words. I appreciate a logical handling to first-person present, but even then, the book is just another example of why the style should not be used in long-form fiction.

As to the dialogue, it’s mostly bad. That Grace talks mechanically makes sense in that she’s acting like she loves her husband through most of the novel, but Jack’s verbiage comes off as forced and unnatural. Everything he says is so on the nose that there’s almost no personality to it.

The side characters fair a bit better, but they’re not really around long enough to offset the other two.

Problems continue with the jumps between past and present chapters. The present ones are the only ones with any real tension because you don’t know what’s going to happen next, but the past ones only act as either exposition dumps or Grace failing at escaping her predicament because she’s an idiot.

What we’re left with is a pair of unbelievable characters in an unbelievable situation that’s executed competently. The question remains: Why was it so engaging?

I still don’t know, to be honest. Maybe people just need mental junk food now and then, and it’s better to have junk food that’s well put together—think a Snickers bar—than junk food that’s just bad—think gummy worms.

Or maybe it’s fun being frustrated and mentally shouting, “you idiot what is wrong with you?” for a few hours. I mean, there has to be some truth there given how people act when they watch the Packers play the Vikings. It’s kind of cathartic, really. Certainly writing this review has been cathartic.

I’m normally a little more professional.

Regardless, Behind Closed Doors isn’t a book I recommend unless you plan on taking a six hour plane flight. You’ll be done with it right as you touch down, and then you’ll forget it as you go about the rest of your day.

Top-5 Movies of 2017

Note: This was originally written and posted on wethenerdy.com

The top-ten season continues, this week with movies. 2017 has been an interesting year for film, mostly in that I frontloaded the amount of movies I saw and didn’t like most of them. The ones I did like, I feel like didn’t like enough? Or that’s the impression I’ve been given. The Internet has a strange way of skewing perspective with discourse, hype, and general trolling, and I don’t think I moderated that enough this year.

The negative feedback cycle that was 2017 is perhaps its own conversation though.

As to this conversation, I’ve decided to frame it as a top-five affair instead of a top-ten. The reason for that is simple: The bottom half of my top-ten is boring. It’s all the big Marvel and action movies that we’ve all spent hours talking about already. More intelligent people than myself have explained why Wonder Woman is loads of fun and worthy of all the praise it received, and no one is going to miss another paragraph praising Star Wars: The Last Jedi, though I’m still tempted to write one.

And if I’m being really honest, my top-five makes me feel a bit more intelligent. I’m an insecure man at heart. I love vapid action movies and stupid fantasy novels and bad things with the best of them, but I feel guilty about it, like I shouldn’t.

It’s stupid, but hang-ups are hang-ups. I can admit I have them, which is probably a step in the right direction. Perhaps I’ll worry about the alcoholism next year when I feel the need to be introspective again.

So with all this nonsense out of the way, here are my top-five movies of 2017!

5: John Wick Chapter 2

Okay, so I know this is funny coming off that insecure paragraph, but damnit, John Wick: Chapter 2 is more than just a shooty-shooty, bang-bang action flick. Yeah a lot of people get shot and die, but the characterization and storytelling on display while that happens is really impressive.

We learn more about John Wick when he’s killing than when he’s talking.

He’s such a compelling character in these subtle ways that involve gunshots, stabs, and crashing cars. It’s a wonderful dichotomy that then gets continued on to the other assassins that live in this huge world. Talking leads to lies; fighting leads to truth. It’s a storytelling device I wish more action movies would use, because it absolutely fits the genre.

Pair that with some of the best action sequences I’ve seen all year and an amazing amount of world building, and you have one of the best action movies in a long time—certainly one of the best of 2017.

4: IT

The IT film had a lot to live up to, because the novel is one of my favorites. It’s Stephen King at his best character writing, and it’s Stephen King at his best horror. IT lives up to the novel in all the ways it needs to while sacrificing little (what it does sacrifice I’ll forgive. The book is like 1200 pages long).

The Losers Club depicted on screen is perfect. Perfect. The casting, the acting, and the rapport is straight out of the book, with plenty of heart, horror, and humor. I cannot believe how well and believable everyone is. Meanwhile, Pennywise is perfect too. Bill Skarsgård nailed the otherworldly aspect to him, where he’s just a little funny and a lot dangerous. I knew how this would ultimately end, yet Pennywise always unnerved and surprised me.

I will admit to being more giddy than scared throughout the whole thing though, but given how much the book plays on old, schlocky horror, I honestly call that a plus. The movie is fun in the way a good horror movie should be.

3: Underworld: Blood Wars

Okay, so this really comes off as funny given that insecure paragraph above, but damnit…okay Underworld: Blood Wars is kind of a bad movie. I reviewed it for the site and gave it a 7, but that was being very generous. There are a ton of flaws with this one, especially a twenty minutes segment in the middle which is just dumb even by Underworld standards.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t care.

Underworld holds a very special place in my heart. It reminds me of being in high school in one of the few ways that doesn’t make me cringe in pain or embarrassment. It reminds me of staying up late and drinking 40oz Mountain Dews and playing World of Warcraft. It reminds me of hanging out with my best friend when the biggest worry I had was the homework I didn’t feel like doing. It reminds me o

f being a kid and enjoying bombastic bloodshed via B-movie monsters.

It reminds me of fun.

To the movie’s credit, it is fun. Selene is back and as badass as ever, and the last half hour gives one of the better action scenes in the entire series. It’s big and cool and if you don’t think about it, pretty awesome.

I also think it has some of the best sound design of 2017. Say what you will about the writing, but the audio technicians earned their pay this go around. The cuts sound gnarly, the gunshots sound massive, and the explosions are ground-shaking.

The day I don’t get excited about an Underworld movie is the day I’ve become a boring adult. I avoided that this year, and that’s why this is in my top five.

2: Get Out

Get Out is one of those movies that has thousands of pages of text already written about its importance, relevance, and exceptional storytelling, so me adding to that isn’t really doing much. I do want to say that it’s the most tense movie I’ve seen since The Green Room, walking the line between suspense, horror, and humor with expert footsteps.

It’s absolutely engrossing is what it is.

The rest of my praise is everything you’ve heard before: It’s smart, it’s important, the premise is exceptional, the twists are out of left field yet believable, the cinematography is great, the acting is great, etc, etc, etc.

Go see this one.

1: mother!

mother! is the most jaw-dropping, fucked up experience I’ve ever had at a movie theater. I went in knowing nothing save who was directing it, and I came out feeling like I had been through something akin to an alien abduction. I was affected but in a way that was hard to explain.

Primal dread and exhilaration don’t really mix, you know?

Everything about mother! is unnerving, from the first shot to the last. The way the camera follows Mother around in this close, claustrophobic way means you only get her perspective but in a way that’s too close for comfort. She’s the only person that acts like a real person in the entire movie, yet there’s still something off about her too. You can tell she’s otherworldly because she’s not insane.

You want to pull back to breathe, and you can’t. The movie won’t let you.

I could spend pages talking about the point to mother!, but there are so many ways to read the movie that I’d more than likely be wrong. I saw the relationship between author and creation first and a damning accusation of humanity and religion second, but what do I know? Both might be wrong!

That we can have that conversation is why I like this movie, though.

mother! is a wild ride, the kind of rollercoaster that only ever goes down. It’s clever and smart and wonderfully scary in ways that most horror movies never think to be. It is the best film I watched this year, and my favorite too.

Top-10 Comics of 2017

Note: This was originally written/posted on wethenerdy.com

2017 has been one of those years that’s best described with words like “shitburger” or “awful” or “suicide pact? Suicide pact!” However, the good folks at Image, DC, IDW, Dark Horse, and Oni have made it bearable by releasing some of the best comic books I’ve ever read. I’m here with a list of ten, but man, ten is a really small sample of what this year had to offer.

I mean good God we got three Donnie Cates books. Three!

Now, similar to 2016, I’m approaching this list with two rules. The first is that I will not be repeating books from the last two years, so no Glitterbomb, Black Monday Murders, Black Hammer, or Wayward. Sorry guys, but I mean, at this point I’d just be repeating myself over and over again, and that’s not fun.

The second rule is that an issue needs to have either finished its arc or have four issues to its name. This is to make sure what I’m recommending has enough of a track record to recommend it. We’ll save Kid Lobotomy for next year, then.

Godspeed, and happy reading!

10: Extremity

Written By: Daniel Warren Johnson

Art By: Daniel Warren Johnson & Mike Spicer

Published By: Image

Extremity is this awesome sleeper hit in that it’s a big dystopian YA thing, and I almost always hate those, but then Danial Warren came in and said, “Now hold on there, sport. What if the writing was good, the world building was better, and the art style was this gritty, steampunk showcase with lots of dragons crossed with giant insects?” I mean yeah, you do those things and you’ll probably make my top ten. Fancy that.

9: Kill or Be Killed

Written by: Ed Brubaker

Art by: Sean Phillips

Publisher: Image

Kill or Be Killed is the kind of book that creates an unreliable narrator, makes him reliable, and then makes him very unreliable just when you think you can trust him. Dylan is an absolute mess, and I adore him. He uses philosophy 101 to justify murder because he’s a stupid college kid in way over his head who sees stuff that isn’t there. Also drugs! Also the Russian mob! Combine that with an amazing voice, tone, and art style that utilizes dark colors in an exceptional way and bam, here we are. This is a crime-noir story like no other.

8: Rat Queens

Written by: Kurtis J. Wiebe

Art by: Owen Gieni

Publisher: Image

It’s funny. I don’t smoke weed, steal stuff, or go on adventures, but I feel like Betty is my spirit animal—like I should have a WWBD rubber bracelet the color of psilocybin mushrooms. Rat Queens is an exceptional combination of Dungeons and Dragons with crass, over-the-top humor. It’s tons of fantasy tropes you know and love but with a wicked sense of comedic timing, a hint of satire, and some wonderful character work and world building. We’re all here to have a laugh, but we’re given an excellent story on top of that. That and Kurtis’s ability to swear turns “fuck” into high art. Oh, and Owen’s artwork is really, really awesome. Goddamn.

7: The Wild Storm

Written by: Warren Ellis

Art by: Jon Davis-Hunt & Steve Buccellato

Publisher: DC

The Wild Storm is one of those books where I don’t always know what’s going on, but I’m genuinely not unhappy about that because it’s just so stupid pretty. The visual storytelling on display is something fierce, and Jon Davis-Hunt and Steve Buccellato’s ability to craft movement is some of the best I’ve seen this year. Everything is just fluid! Mix that with exceptional world building and characters that feel very real because the little details are everywhere, and you have yourself one hellova cool scifi story.

6: Mr. Miracle

Written by: Tom King

Art by: Mitch Gerards

Published by: DC

Speaking of don’t always know what’s going on with fantastic visual storytelling, Mr. Miracle is really, really good, isn’t it? I love how this book can mesh the insane with the mundane, and I love the artwork—even if it is nothing but nine-panel grids. Every twist and turn feels unexpected because Mr. Miracle is Mr. Miracle, and I love the dark sense of humor because Mr. Miracle is Mr. Miracle. Darkseid is, everyone.

5: Snotgirl

Written by: Bryan Lee O’Malley

Art by: Leslie Hung & Rachel Cohen

Published by: Image

The theme of 2017 might be surreal and strange, because Snotgirl is absolutely that. It’s a controlled surreal and strange though, one where people act consistently. They just don’t act like real people. It makes for a fascinating experience, especially since Lottie and company are absolute train wrecks. Bryan Lee O’Malley has crafted some of the most compelling and least likable characters I’ve seen since Joffrey Baratheon. And Snotgirl gets some major bonus points for having the best lettering I’ve seen this year. If you want a wild story about the Internet, surrealism, and fashion, you should pick this up.

4: Royal City

Written by: Jeff Lemire

Art by: Jeff Lemire

Publisher: Image

It’s a Jeff Lemire book. Of course it’s fucking exceptional.

3: Underwinter

Written by: Ray Fawkes

Art by: Ray Fawkes

Published by: Image

Underwinter is the best thing to happen to Lovecraftian horror since Stephen King’s Revival, and it’s easily the best I’ve ever seen Lovecraft’s brand of insanity handled. The way Ray Fawkes paints the eldritch is inspired, the kind of thing that cements comic books as an important medium telling important stories. The fragility of both the human psyche and reality itself is on full display here, done up in Raw Fawkes brilliant artstyle. There isn’t a page that isn’t unsettling in one way or another; there isn’t a page that isn’t beautiful.

2: A.D. After Death

Written by: Scott Snyder

Art by: Jeff Lemire

Publisher: Image

A.D. After Death is Neil Gaiman levels of writing. It’s jaw-dropping. It’s gorgeous. It’s fantastic. The book combines comic books with prose in a way that feels so damn fluid and engaging, like you’re not reading anything at all but experiencing. The story is a weave of immortality and theft, of forgetting and remembering, of coming to terms with your own character flaws while you watch the world stumble along its path around the sun. The character work is phenomenal, the artwork is phenomenal, and the payoff transcends it all into an absolute work of literature.

1: God Country

Written by: Donnie Cates

Art by: Geoff Shaw, Jason Wordie & Dee Cunniffe

Publisher: Image

God Country is an inspired work of art, a fantasy story with a talking sword that’s not about the fantasy or the sword. No, it’s about Alzheimer’s and loss; it’s about family and people. It’s crushing in its brutality and inspiring in its handling of people and emotions. It’s one of those kinds of stories I know is fiction, yet it’s played in such a way that I could believe it happening. Somewhere in Texas, long ago, a talking sword really did come to Earth and caused a ruckus that only four people experienced. It’s easily the best writing I’ve read in 2017.

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.

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.