Uninstalled. Permanently.

September 4, 2014

Let me say that Ghost Recon: Phantoms is one of the best concepts in FPS that I’ve hit on in a while. I love the slide into cover; I adore the weapons and the class balance; the maps are endlessly frustrating in usually good ways (if often a bit linear).

But I’m uninstalling and forgetting this game forever. The fact I can’t purge it entirely from my Steam account will be a sad gravestone on top of a failed experiment.

And the game, I am sad to say, was murdered.

Because allowing people to buy and use weapons FAR above their rank entirely imbalances the game. And it’s just not good enough for me to buy and buy and buy. I’d have gladly paid thirty for this game with no complaint, if the buy-in on weapons were restricted to rank or a slight rank advantage. I’d be fine with the mystery boxes being exceptions. Camo and aesthetics are of course always welcome free-to-play purchasables.

But you’ve ruined the balance. You could have just kept games matched by weapon power. You could have limited how much above your rank you could equip. You could have just had small power bonuses.

But free-to-play, pay-to-win is not an acceptable strategy, and it hurts a game long run. Because eventually people who want to play without all the mini-transactions, without buying gun after gun, will leave. And then the number of players dips badly. New people dry up, and the game, instead of having the long run that, say, Starcraft had or Everquest or WoW, you’ve got a flash in the pan that could have been something absolutely fantastic – that honestly is fantastic, but gets cut down before it can shine.

Because, UbiSoft, you wanted a fast buck. You played the short game, not the long one. The most common complaint in your forums is based on this imbalance. I scroll and I see suggestion after suggestion about how to fix this, but the high paying players, or “whales”, get treated to a game that utilizes the unsaying or low-paying players as cannon fodder. No wonder the turn over for the game is so high. They claim a huge player base, but it seems that is based entirely on the number of people who’ve downloaded, played, and left the game out of frustration.

I really really enjoyed this game. It was solid. The mechanics deserve, frankly, better.

I won’t be recommending this game. I recommend people who aren’t willing to fork over too much money for too little avoid this game entirely. Game devs: Play this. Play this game. It’s a fantastic set of mechanics. The balance, when right, is amazing. The weapon concepts and classes are brilliant. This game had all I could have wanted,  but burned it.

UbiSoft, you never got a cent from me through this game, and now you never will. If this is how you plan to do Free To Play, I’ll be avoiding this dev team in the future. I wish you better ideas and ethos in the future.


On Depression

August 12, 2014

Let me start by saying I don’t have answers, only questions and challenges. And maybe a few ideas.

Robin Williams, as I’m sure pretty much everyone knows now, committed suicide. I wasn’t surprised, but I was taken aback. He’s been in and out of rehab, and while he got clean, he was still hurting. It seems he finally decided that life just wasn’t enough compared to the darkness. Many of us are very sad.


I’m not asking why he did it. The answer is simple: he didn’t want to wake up to his own life again. And we’ll talk about that, too, in a second. But first, why do we care?

Before you get angry, I’m not saying we shouldn’t. I’m asking why we are, now. The answer is simple: he made us laugh. We are sad because someone important to us is gone. We’re sad because of our loss. And that’s fine, that’s always the truth.

Not to say we aren’t sad about the suffering and pain of the deceased, but the reality is they are gone. They quite literally are beyond mortal misery. We aren’t. We miss them. We have the hole in our lives that we want to fill.

Robin Williams was a touchstone in our lives. His comedic genius was driven by a mad frantic energy which we quietly agreed not to recognize, even when we knew it, was driven by a nearly emotionally violent push back against depression. At times, it was fueled by cocaine or alcohol. Other times, it was fueled by a need to be what we wanted, to garner our appreciation, to make us happy. Someone suffering from depression performing a life of powerful emotional energy is going to burn out.

What I’m saying is Robin Williams, in a very real sense, died for our joy.

And that’s a solid transition to my other point about depression. Depression isn’t being sad. It’s not being mopey. It’s being emotionally empty. It’s having no sense of self-worth or passion. You’re sad, but not too sad. It sounds like being bored, but that’s so far from right.

Imagine none of your food tastes interesting, or it’s all slightly spoiled. People aren’t friends, they’er usually just figures that pass in and out of sight. Movies and books mean little. There’s no motivation. You want these things, you know they’re normal, but you can’t get them. It’s like suffocating.

How could you not see suicide as reasonable? It’s obvious. Depression gives no options, and fighting it is a daily struggle that just doesn’t end. There are a million metaphors but no single one is sufficient. Rather, all of them give you a vague idea combined.

Now, to be clear, I don’t advocate suicide, but I certainly see it as a personal choice. I hear the words “coward” and “selfish” tossed about when I go outside my circle of friends, but I think people saying this don’t see how few options are visible from the bottom of a well. Standing at the top, we see a wide horizon of possibilities. At the bottom of a well, you only see one choice. Stay there or get out, and there’s only one visible out.

So when someone finally acts, we say the words “tragic” and “such a waste”, and talk about them being “too young to be so sad.”

How incredibly blind we are. For that person, this was the final shot at being in control, having some self-sovereignty, and they took it. They had their life in their hands, for the first time in a great while.

The tragedy is that we do so little, that we let people languish at the bottom of their wells. Individually, we can do little. But as a society, we can start lowering ropes. Not everyone can be saved, and offering safe, painless, socially accepted outs would be a great step, I feel, but giving people the support structure in a way that works with individuals, not “diseases”, we can save lives.

But as it is, we demand these people be “on”. They’re told to get out, to do things. Be an adult, be responsible. We want them to get over it, to just try living. And doing this takes so much energy, it empties what little emotional reserve they have available and then, well…

We’ll miss you, Robin Williams.


March 6, 2014

Working on another post about the bleed between player and character for later, here’s a very quick flashback for my Dystopia Rising character. The pacing is shite, but it’s a quick exercise more than anything.


“Late night?”

Wolfram looked up to see Pavlo coming down the stairs. “Early morning, every morning.” The two smiled. This had become their daily ritual, going out on the dawn scrap hunt, looking for what they could find before day time scavenging looted it all. Wolfram would scavenge the remains of the time before the fall, Pavlo helped watch his back.

They walked down the building’s ramp, most their block still asleep, save the last night watch guards. The guards waved as the two set out, at ease both with the Yorker they’d known for years and the new member of the block. Pavlo had come in, having helped rescue a group of their scavengers and traders from a pack of bursters they run afoul of. Since then, he’d been taken in as family. He’d saved Wolfram’s life that day, and probably a few others. He’d been pulling his weight hard, and they’d come to treat him as any they’d known for years or life. It was a matter of loyalty.

The scavenger froze at the end of the block, checking left and right. Pavlo watched the rear.

“Pavlo, heard that?”

Pavlo turned and leaned down by Wolfram, listening hard. “Yeah. Voices. Not too far. A lot of ’em. Another gang?”

Wolfram shook his head. “Naw, in our turf? When theys some neutral ground a few blocks away? They’d have to be idiots, we too good with the hoods around us. Must be outsiders. Not raiders, sound smart. And laughing. Trade caravan, prolly.”
The two looked at each other. They could go get more people, but the unknown group could get closer. Going alone was stupid, but better not to possibly lead them right home. They nodded to one another, donned their best pleasantly-unassuming expressions, and walked towards the voices.

After a block, they met the other group. Wolfram scanned the small crowd. Professionals, the lot of them. Common colors, style, good mix of weapons. But they didn’t flinch seeing the two headed towards them. The scavenger called out first.

“Yo! What’s good?”

“S’all good. We comin’ through, lookin’ to trade and find someone.”

Pavlo tensed and Wolfram followed suit, keeping as calm a face as he could. “What you lookin’ to trade? Ain’t got much on me just now.”

Three guns leveled on them and Wolfram and Pavlo drew their weapons.

“You. The Yorker. Relax. We don’t need you. Lucian… you’re coming with us.”

Wolfram glaced to his right. “Pavlo” was sweating. He never sweat. In the worst of York’s summer, he didn’t sweat. “Pavlo, the fuck he mean?”

The speaker for the well-armed group smiled. “His name isn’t Pavlo, it’s Lucian. He’s a slave, he’s worth quite a bit, and he’s a fast runner. And he’s coming back with us. You don’t really figure unless you stop us. Or buy him off.”

Wolfram’s mind cranked into gear. He had to stall for time. “How mu-”

“More than you got.” The leader smiled a razorblade grin. No negotiating, then. They’d have to fight, run back to the block, make a stand on the ramp.

“Wait!” Lucian dropped his weapon, something he’d not done the entire time Wolfram had known him. “This can go differently.” Wolfram grabbed his shoulder.

“Pavlo, no. We can get back.”

The other man that Wolfram had come to call friend shook his head. “You can’t understand. Sorry, man.” He walked towards the other group, slowly, carefully. “They’ve got a poorly defended building. Enough cash, scrap, and food to cover my cost, and enough people who’d make decent slaves to triple your cut of this deal.”

Wolfram’s mind reeled. Pavlo had been like family, and now, this. Anger boiled over and he charged into Pavlo’s back, sending them sprawling into the mercenaries, weapons clattering all over, guns being cocked, general chaos. Wolfram grabbed onto a merc and pulled himself upright, and felt a weight in his hand. Without thinking, he pulled the pin, dropped the grenade, and ran.

The three who survived the blast he finished off, the bleeders he put down. Then he got to Pavlo.

“Lucian, huh?”

Lucian nodded, holding what he could of his guts in his stomach. “Y-yeah. Sorry, man. I-I couldn’t go back. You don-don’t know what it’s like.”

Wolfram sat down next to him, looking him over. “If I don’t shoot you fulla this,” he held up an adrenaline shot, “you gunna die.”

Lucian looked at it, then at Wolfram. The scavenger was threatening him? No, he was…

Wolfram pressed the needle into Lucian’s leg, emptying the brew into the veins of a person he’d called friend these past months. Lucian’s eyes lit, his heart raced as his veins opened up and blood pumped hard and fresh. The infection began working to mend what had been torn apart. The yorker helped this person to his feet, uncertain what even to call him. “You standin’?”

“Yeah, yeah I’m good. Guess I should leave, huh?”

“Yeah, you goin’.” The crunch of bone and flesh and blood against steel ricocheted off the old building walls, and Pavlo fell to the ground, his skull caved in. Wolfram slammed his bat into the body three more times, ensuring that he’d not be getting up – at least, not as himself.

The yorker wiped blood from his face and hands, smears staining his clothing and skin.

At the complex, the guards ran to him, his sister was called, people crowded. Where was Pavlo? What happened? What was that explosion?

Mercenaries, he told them. Mercs that came for slaves. They were all dead now, but Pavlo was killed. But he died on his feet, and that was all that mattered. It was all just about loyalty.

Just Morning

January 8, 2014

A writing prompt from a friend inspired this story about a normal, boring, and drama-free day in the life of my Dystopia Rising character.

Wolfram stared out the window of the Tap. False dawn was breaking over the horizon. A cold fucking dawn. And no coffee. He’d woke to find himself colder than usual. Probably needed to really pull out the old blanket soon. Can’t sleep shivering, and if you can, you probably don’t wake up.

The scavenger coughed and shook his head. He had always hated this type of weather. Cold was fine, but this was just bitter, and it was always the worse just before the sun broke. Shrugging, he stood up, ignoring the few shuffling feet in the Tap who were actually up at this hour. The cup of hot water in his hands wan’t much, but the chicken bone he’d boiled in it at least added some flavor and could keep him a bit warmer.

Stepping out the door, he felt the cold air immediately bite at his face and ears. The set down the cup, and pulled the hood over his head, the bandana across his face, and resettled his ever-present pack.

“Late night?” he asked himself, picking up the cup again. “Early morning,” he replied as casually, descending the stairs. “Just like every day.”

The trails weren’t exactly littered with scroungables. He walked slowly, down the path and letting his eyes cast about slowly. No rush. Every few seconds he stopped, he feet frozen, and he listened, glanced about and stared hard, looking for movement or signs of something out of place. Maybe the Raiders would just stay home today. Not likely, but you can dream.

His eye caught on a spot where the rain had washed oddly. He bent down and set his cup on the dew-coated grass before hacking at the earth. Nice, he thought, looking around to make sure he was still alone. It wasn’t quality, but it was quantity. And that was it’s own quality. The scraps of metal went into his bag, and he picked up his cup, sipping and walking again. It’d do for the day, but tomorrow might not cover itself, so no rest. As he neared a corner, he heard movement far behind him and quietly darted into the brush and twisted himself low, behind a small stand of trees.

Three people, armed. Weapons aren’t out, and they don’t look aggressive, but they also aren’t familiar. Stay low.

He watched the three pass; they looked like they were probably from Hayven, but he didn’t know them, and alone, before anyone’s awake, was not the time to find out. Once the three were out of earshot, he glanced around, straining to see any sign of trouble. Nothing. The Yorker stood, joints complaining of cold and too many years hard-worked with little kindness or respite. He let the discomfort show, but stretched anyway, and moved from cover, sipping his cup and once again hunting for anything he could turn to scrap, credit, or some good rep.

A plant caught his eye and he bent to examine it. Yeah, edible. Not very good, and close to useless, but edible. He cut it free and slipped it into a leather pouch for use or sale later. Actually, he’d probably just give it to Easy. Unless it went bad before he got the chance. Then it’d be Uncle Chuck’s. Herbs didn’t matter much for the scavenging tinker. Not directly, at least.

Two hours later, Wolfram was tired, sore, and his legs were cramping. He wandered back into the Tap to warm up, get more broth, and sort what he’d do for the day. He had enough to make a new set of armor. He’d bang that out when the Kennel put out the work bench and make sure he made enough noise to annoy Yossarian. Wolfram like Yossarian well enough, respected him, certainly, but it was just the principle of the thing.

“Ah, pardon me… You can make stuff, right?”

Wolfram turned to see someone who looked new. Not dressed heavily enough, a bit lost in the face, and shy. The casually reached over and took the young woman’s weapon from her hand, examining it and silencing her protest with a raised hand. “This is shit. Came here on a caravan?”

The girl looked shocked. “Um… yeah. Got in last night. How’d you know?”

“Decent guess. I can replace this with something better. What do you need?”

The girl’s eyes widened. “Actually, I need armor.”

“What do you do?” Wolfram almost felt bad. She was too easily shaken, and he was still pissed from the cold.

“I’m a doctor. I need a better knife, but I really need armor for my sister. I can pay. But she nearly was killed last night and- what are you doing?”

The Yorker continued to ignore the girl as he set down his bag, took off his jacket and hoodie, and slipped his belts and straps out of the way. He took the armor he was wearing off and handed it to the woman. “Ten cred or scrap, you can mix ‘em if you need to.”

The woman stammered. “I can’t take your armor!” Wolfram shook his head and held up a hand to stop her talking, brow knitted. This girl was giving him a head ache.

“I make the shit, so yes, you can. I don’t charge doctors or medics. Normally I’d charge since it’s not for you, but you’re new and I’m too tired to haggle shit. Credit or scrap, c’mon.” He shrugged the straps back in place, tossed on his outer layers, and slung his bag back on. The girl fumbled and dug into her bag, pulling out the credit he wanted. His eyes lit up.

“Where’d you get that?”

“Get what?” The girl looked terrified she’d done something to anger the Yorker.

“That nice chunk of scrap.”

She held the bag almost protectively. “My sister found it on the way into town.”

Wolfram set his bag down. “Give it over.”

“Excuse you?!”

“Shiiiit. I don’t have the energy for this crap. Look, lady, I got a better weapon for you in my bag; you give me that bit of scrap and that piece of rusted metal you call a knife, it covers the cost of the weapon I’m going to sell you. And this one’s a lot better. I need the scrap to build things, you need a real weapon. Ain’t fuckin’ hard.”

The woman looked at him and at her bag and knife. “Oh… um, alright. I mean… Is that…”

The Yorker held up a hand to stop her again. “Unless you get really good friends who’ll arm you for free, it’s the best price you gonna get. It’s at cost. I don’t normally work for fuckin’ free. Also, I’m tired, cold, and sore. So do the deal or fuck off.”

The woman silently handed over the weapon and the scrap. Not the best stuff, but he had enough of that for the moment. Oddly, it was the slightly more common quality scrap he needed a lot of now. He dug into his bag and handed her a Skewer. “There. Good shit. Don’t lose it, I don’t do refunds.”

The doctor turned to leave, looking somewhat scared and upset. Shit. “Hold on, take this.” He placed a snake oil in her hand. “In case you don’t have time to work.”

The woman looked at it. “Wait, how much?”

The yorker shrugged as callously as he could. “Don’t worry about it, just take care of my ass if I go down, yeah?”

The woman looked it over. “Thank you.” She leaned in and kissed his cheek before walking off.

Wolfram shook his head and gathered his gear, headed for the kitchen. Still needed to get that broth. No one had better have seen that shit, that sort of bullshit rumor could fuck with his rep.

Two Years, and Still Reeling

November 15, 2013

The plan for today had originally been to write about my feelings on being Asian and American and how I’m trying to deal with those thoughts. It’s heavy stuff, and I’m only just beginning to try and discover myself in this identity. But something came up that takes precedence.

I was just reminded that two years ago, today, they tried with outright force to end the Occupation at Liberty Plaza (I blanch at thinking of calling it “Zuccotti Park”. Look at the fucking address across the fucking street for fuck’s sake).

I remember I’d been spending a lot of time at the camp. Sometimes I look back on it and feel it wasn’t enough. I feel that as much as I hate how the world turns, I don’t do enough to change its course. That I should have been there more. That I should have been there when the raid started.

Getting ahead of myself.

It’d been cold. Bitter as hell, really. And wet. I was a volunteer on the medical team at OWS. The Black and Red Cross. We were arrested often, but not scared off. Hell, only a month earlier I’d been arrested on the Brooklyn bridge, and I wasn’t even supposed to be “working” that day. We’ve been injured, scared, and run until we were falling asleep on our feet. My first full weekend at the camp, I didn’t sleep. Once. But none of us were intimidated or detered. Cynical? Sure. Smoking too damn much? Absolutely. But we were not moved.

Most of our time had been spent keeping trench foot at bay, from never having enough clean socks to go around for the camp, and dealing with blisters. Occasionally there’d be more excitement in the camp, but, really? It was remarkably calm and safe, all told. Troubles, to be sure, but I’d gone in believing these “clueless kids” would cave in a month, tops. They’d just never be able to keep it together. But they did. The camp was cleaner than anyone outside it seemed willing to admit (Disorganized as hell, but our Sanitation crew worked around the clock, literally). People knew each other. We formed an actual community, whether Bloomberg wants to admit it or not.

I handed out lots of cough drops, ant-acids, vitamins, bandaids. We cared for people on a level that I’d never experienced before. It set me on the track of becoming an EMT; now I want to spend my life in the medical field. I felt… right, helping people. Caring for them. I didn’t need to be the voice or the actor, others could do it better and take bigger risks and go further. I’d just be behind them, keeping them fighting. That was good enough. I loved it, I’m not gonna lie.

The thanks as a medic was minimal. But I’m honestly not complaining; I didn’t want thanks. I still don’t. I want people to keep fighting. Ignore me, let me stay in the background and help. That’s where the medics want to be. Where we’re happiest. The occasional verbal abuse was just ignored. Part of being there and doing the job. The police, though. They could be terrible. I remember in Times Square, as we were leaving and our medic group was together, one cop with a helmet and a baton called out to us, smiling, “You got anything in those bags to fix a broken skull?”

You pig. I hope one day you read this, and I’m sure you’ll smile thinking you were being so clever. The answer is yes, we do. Cameras and cell phones. And I’d gladly use them both to save a life and take your badge. Excuse the swearing, it’s not the usual fare for this blog – none of this post is – but it is apropos to the words.

But then that night two years ago. I was home, comfortable. I think I’d been out the night before at the camp, and that morning, and was home with my boyfriend, now my fiance, and we were having our evening smoke on the porch, chatting about something that I forget, when my phone buzzes.

I don’t remember the exact text. But I knew the park was being raided. That I was already late to the party, and living in Staten Island, so I was and hour and a half out, maybe two. But I didn’t even think about it. I grabbed my kit, my helmet, my jacket, and laced my boots. I ran to the ferry. I ran harder to get to that boat than I’d ever run and I caught it by a couple minutes. It’s usually a half-hour walk. I sprinted the whole way, coughing in fits and wheezing by the time I got there. I could have taken a bit more time, I suppose thirty minutes wouldn’t have made much difference. But I had to be there. I was terrified something would happen that I could have been there for.

They destroyed the camp, and everything in it. They gave us no time, no chance to even wake people. Some people were injured as they broke down tents with them still in them, just waking to the chaos. They used a chainsaw to rip apart our tents. The medical bay was torn to pieces while there were people in it, including a patient. The library, our beautiful library, was destroyed, ruined callously. All the effort of cataloging, organizing, and protecting it lost. Our medical equipment was gone. Just, ruined and misssng. Our medical kits were emptied and the contents never recovered. Every single laptop taken was destroyed. not bay haphazard destruction when compacted the garbage trucks they told us later had only been used to transport our property (You don’t compact things to transport them), but each very clearly broken in half. Cameras just went “missing”. The press was kept far away from having any chance to document what happened, for their own safety, of course.

Someone’s dog was “destroyed” (read: taken from them and later killed) by the police.

I don’t even want to know what the final injury count was.

I ran from the ferry and in moments I was engulfed in the chaos. The park was barricaded by police on all sides. The physical aspect of our community was being torn apart, and then further destroyed, before our eyes. It felt like a war. I shut down emotionally, all save for occasional panic which I tried to keep reeled in, and I tried to do my job. I pulled people clear of chaos, help people find safe directions to get away. Treated pepper spray victims – they were using it perhaps a bit too liberally that night. By which I mean they were not showing any real restraint. And tried to keep people from falling and being trampled when police would suddenly rush a group of stationary people with their batons swinging and hands grabbing.

The night quickly became a blur. Groups scattered in every direction. Eventually, dawn came and it became quieter. I don’t even remember where we fell back to. Working groups were talking to the crowd, we were organizing again. Even in the chaos, the Occupation pushed forward, getting back on its feet. We made our report: almost a complete loss for the Medical team. What little we had on us was all we had. And that, not much.

Someone’s small travel first aid kit bag sailed over the crowd and landed at our feet. Before we’d even rejoined the other medics, people, many of whom had just lost literally everything in the world they owned that wasn’t in their pockets, gave us money to fund our equipment stock. We had over a hundred, well over, just trying to get back through the crowd. No panhandling needed; they came to us.

I’ve never told anyone this, not even my fiance, but I managed to slip away some time in the morning, just, some side street while people were stationary. I got out of view, and I sobbed. I didn’t stop myself or try to keep it in. I sat against a wall, pulled my knees up, buried my face, and cried like a child.I wasn’t hurt or injured. I wasn’t scared, or sad. It wasn’t even the stress.

Dear Ghu, their faces. All of those faces. The emotions had no mask when the sun came up. The fear and sorrow and anger and pain and confusion and kindness… It was just too much. For a few moments, I couldn’t take it. It was too many people’s souls bared to the world, stripped of any shame or caution, and I felt as if I experienced all of it. I had a home to come back to. I was only beginning to politicize radically. I didn’t really socialize much, so most these people were little more than strangers I felt a kinship with and need to care for. I’d only really lost some sleep, all told. But they’d gotten separated from loved ones they had no means of contacting. They’d seen friends and allies beaten or injured. They comforted each other though they were hurting, too. They’d been dealt a tremendous shock. Some had practically lost everything.

And for a moment, I felt like I had too, and I felt small, and weak, and overwhelmed.

A lot continued to happen, I think I came home very late that night, exhausted and ready to sleep standing. I was sore, my joints were screaming, and the best thing I could say about the whole ordeal was that I had watched people I now called allies demonstrate some of the best in humanity in the face of some of the ugliest. It was a painful, destructive experience that was also moving and enriching, in a way.

A week later I would wake from a nightmare that I can still remember perfectly. A protestor takes a vicious baton to the head. I see blood the moment she’s hit, and I watch her head bounce on the pavement. I run and I can’t find a pulse and cover her body with mine and they’re beating me, kicking and hitting and screaming. I’m on the phone, calling 911. “Help me, I think my patient is dead, they’re hurting us! Help me!” I can hear myself screaming for help at a phone that says nothing. Just thinking of this nightmare makes my stomach twist, my eyes burn with tears I forbid, and my heart pound in my ears.I was raised to trust police officers, but now they honestly terrify me, and that makes me incredibly sad, and incredibly angry.

But, two years, later, and there is no forgiveness. And I will not apologize for that. because they will not.

Character Development

June 2, 2013

My friend over at The Wrathful Blogger had a post about approaching character building, so I thought I’d touch on that. More, I started to write an essay in his comments section and decided instead to make my own post.

I think there are a lot of ways to approach character building, much like world building. I won’t speak for others, but for me I like the character I play to be a strong departure from myself. The character I create will naturally have some elements of myself, but I like to get far from playing “myself”.I try to write a person, and I don’t worry about what goes into portraying them very often. I’ve played many heritages, male and female and other, and had to do quite a bit of research for some, even going so far as to reading multiple books about a subject just to have the correct seeming familiarity that my persona would.

Once I’ve built a person, I shed who I am and step into their skin, so to speak. This is the most comfortable method for myself. And while most start from some interest of mine, others will begin as vague ideas that evolve out of a random idea and compound into a person. The character I will be bringing into the Camarilla Club’s new Changeling chronicle shares effectively only my race and interest in Korean pop music. Beyond that, we have little in common-I doubt we’d like each other much, in fact. A previous character was a type study of a much more aggressive form of my own issues as discussed in this previous blog entry.

And what I am doing in creating a character is trying to explore something specific, or experiment with a specific concept. I’m used PCs to explore homelessness, gender identity and religion, cultural displacement, and my current Changeling character is an examination of combat-induced post traumatic stress disorder. Characters are each stories, in my eyes, and a good story needs a point, a theme. But it needs more than that, it needs subplots and nuances.

Doing that requires work, and a lot of thought. For portrayal and preparation, I focus on three layers of character design which I’ll explain by building a character from scratch, as I write this post:


1: Big things.


These are the themes and what I’m trying to really explore. In our example, we’ll create apolitical who is wrapped up in his identity as a public official. Being in this office is this person’s, we’ll say male, entire world. He maintains an appearance of being “a man of the people” and the dissociation with this assumed identity is eating at him, and the mask is becoming harder and harder to maintain. He is an honest family man, though, and the strain of maintaining his office and his family, keeping the two in balance, is taking it’s toll on his will power.

Right there, we’ve defined his major traits, the things that will come across the most powerfully in his story. And we’ve chosen what this story will be about, it’s a story of a person who’s “Identity” is a mask, and a destructive one-something which Jung would argue we all have to be wary of and deal with to some extent

This is important, that a character have the “Big things” about them. You have to have something to make you worth interacting with-something that makes the character fulfilling to role-play with. If your “Big thing” is that you hate talking to people and you’re a lone wolf and don’t play well with others, that’s at once really tiresomely overplayed and boring, and also going to mean you get very little engagement with other players. you may handle a lot with NPCs, but is that really the goal? Are our LARPs not social events? Make your “Big things” something that you’d want to interact with if you were someone else.

Another note, “I have a huge secret no one must ever know and there’s no way anyone could ever discover it” is just as boring and trite. Secrets are fine. But if they are your “Big thing” there are really two results: someone finds the secret out, and secrets rarely stay that way once multiple people know and your “Big thing” stops existing. Or you never lose the secret, and your “Big thing never comes into play. More on this in a bit.


2: Motive things.


You need something going on when you aren’t engaging the “Big things”. This is your subplot, the important, character shaping and moving details that maybe aren’t the core of who you are, but are a bulk of your day. Our politician is actually brilliant at making groups work together.in his district, he’s seen as the political firefighter, calming disagreements between parties and mediating issues before they can break the party or inter-party dialogues. He also does some volunteer work with his wife, but his ever shifting schedule puts a lot of strain on their marriage as he has to cancel a lot of appointments to attend sudden problems. He’s also a devout Methodist and pushes a number of social justice platforms as ouch as he can without alienating his constituency-another point of contention in his marriage as his wife would like him to do more, and so would he.

Now you’ve rounded the character. He has depth and personality. The “Big things” might leave us with the impression of some soulless bureaucrat with a failing marriage, but now we have a person who has a good heart, a social-minded individual who’s relationship is suffering though he works very hard at it all because his identity has become too wrapped up in a mask he feels trapped into maintaining.

Perhaps more than your “Big things”, your “Motive things” are essential to creating a real person. There are characters who “Discover” a “Big thing” as time moves on, but our “Motive things” change slowly and less drastically. This is how a character lives, what they do most of their life. This is the face people get to see when they take more than a glance, and is important to keeping role-play going after the “Big things” have drawn other players in.

On secrets: this is the place for them! If you’re going to have a secret, it can be a “Big thing” so long as keeping it a secret is a “Motive thing”. If your character is secretly racist, having that discovered negates the secret, not the racism. Now you create a new “Motive thing” to confront the “Big thing” being public. Bam, character development. But if your character’s concept is keeping the secret, you’ve got nowhere to go. You’ll need a new “Big thing” when you’re discovered.


3: Flavor things.


Our politician is a big Yankees fan, he loves baseball in fact. He’s got season tickets but usually lends them to friends as he can’t make most games. His favorite color is, unsurprisingly, Yankee Blue. He’s a fan of the Rolling Stones and never really got into newer music except by contemporary artists. He’s left handed, but pretends to be right-handed for the most part, since that plays better. He was born in July. The sound of metal on metal makes him cringe.

These are little things, they don’t matter much, they won’t usually, if ever, really come into play. But they can be included in small ways that make the character feel more like a person and less like you in a vague costume. For myself these little details, the small things, help me “find” the character, rather than express them. “Flavor things” are just that, they add a bit of flavor, a touch of context for the character as a person.

Never expect these things to be noticed. They’re small, and are only noticeable to those looking for them and many not even then. That’s fine. These shouldn’t be plot items, this ought to be something that someone notices is different about you when you’re out of character. All of a sudden you don’t have that subtle limp or that nervous flick. You cross your legs differently. Small things fill a character’s reality out.


A note about scale before we move on. Props should be big to small in terms of importance as well to an extent. Really important props should never be small. That tiny ring is never going to be noticed amongst all the costuming. The Yankees cap or cauldrons with the Lorraine Cross on them will be noticed. If it’s character essential and to be noticed, make it big. If it’s a minor character prop, something for flavor, it can be small. Unimportant things can be big, though. The pouches you wear, if pouches are common in your game, won’t matter (if they aren’t common, that says something else). If your character likes a particular color and wears it often, that’s fine. But if your character is incredibly fanatic about something, and the prop to represent that is small I can guarantee it’ll usually be missed unless you point it out often, which comes across as fairly boorish.

So now we have our character concept rounded. From there, I tend to build my sheet based on what the character would have balanced against what I can afford in XP. It is important to now what your spendable XP allowance will be at creation, so you know how advanced you concept work ought to be. If you have a small amount of XP to work with, bringing in someone who’s supposed to be a master warrior is a poor choice since you’ll not have the stats to back up the backstory.

Further, you may have certain skills your character might have by your concept, but aren’t mechanically very valuable and others might take precedence. Balance carefully. Min-maxing (starving some areas just to have one ability over-powered) is often looked down upon simply because it breaks the immersive and realistic feel of the characters.

I’m not going to get into much of the mechanical build process simply because every game has remarkably different needs, but hopefully this possibly too long analysis will be something that you can use to help build fuller, more fulfilling characters to play.

Check this out.

Using LARP as an exploration of gender politics by removing male/female and making it about whether you are a “Morning” person or an “Evening” person. I’d have liked to see them explore a lot more, but this was fantastic. I’d love to engage this experiment. Also, a fantastic idea of making a LARP solely about love, not conflict.

That. Is. AMAZING.

From the YouTube Description:

Uploaded on 28 Feb 2011

Emma Wieslander works with development of organizational management and leadership in social economy and non-profit organizations. Much of these theories has evolved from her years as a chair person of Sverok, the Swedish organization for role-playing, LARP, computer-gaming etc. She was the conceptual designer of the multi art production Mellan himmel och Hav (Between heaven and sea) that combined roleplay with light art and modern art music at Swedens national theater. The game was highly political and deconstructed the idea of gender as we know it. She is currently working on a new political vision focusing on environment issues among other things.

From Nordic Larp Talks Stockholm 2010.

Dystopia Rising

May 23, 2013

I’ll post more on FFVII soon, I’ve been insanely busy! My poor, neglected blog… -_-;;

But this post will be about a game, specifically the New Jersey chapter of a game, called Dystopia Rising.

Now, I’ll be honest, I had low expectations for this game. Not because it didn’t look professionally done or well thought-out, but rather I had made quite a few assumptions solely based on the genre: Post-Apocalyptic Zombie LARP. I, and maybe upon reading that you as well, made the assumption this would be a role-play-light, heavy-combat game focused on fighting and very little on character interaction.

Phew, was I wrong!

Right away, I spent time NPCing. Dystopia Rising (DR) allows you to play the weekend for free, if you’re NPCing the whole time. Well, only NPCing. You do get to sleep and eat, of course! Not that I did the first two months. -_-;; I knew, just from NPCing, that this game was going to throw a lot of Roleplay at the players, not just combat. I honestly expected just to spend hours slogging through waves of zed, having a fairly dull time and getting little player interaction.

NOPE. I played more zed than roleplay NPCs, but I was surprised by the sheer quantity of roleplay mods sent out! Moreover, I was shocked to see how many mods weren’t puzzles or scavenging or killing, but straight up simple things like “move object A to site B under the cover of night, and don’t get killed.” It sounds boring, but just trying to move around at night half expecting to have zed drop out of the shadows and start wailing on you was brilliantly terrifying.

Oh, right, this game is big on horror. Silly it can be, but also downright terrifying. At one point, I walked into a building filled with antagonists, expecting to have to talk my way through, only to discover every last one of them slaughtered in the bar. I honestly felt my heart rate jump, my throat tightened, and I froze. Something wiped a group of people that forced the town from its central building.

Walking in on that, alone, and being completely convinced something would kill me? Horror done right. No jump scares, nothing actually coming at me, just a great deal of uncertainty.

So, is that what makes DR good? Well, that’s part of it.

Mostly, it’s the people, and how they exist within the system. DR is built around making people work together. The Zed are overwhelming in number, they could easily swamp the town if people didn’t work together. Plus, you have Raiders, who are like Firefly’s Reavers only… No, no. they’re Reavers. Kill them or RUN. And there are human threats. That can quite frankly be the most dangerous. Scratch that. They are absolutely the most dangerous.

But beyond that, you have to work together to get things done. Need a better weapon? You’ll have to trade to get the components together, then find someone who can build it, and probably pay them since they’re burning power stats and time on the crafting. Low on Mind Points (Your “mana” or power stat)? You need to find someone who can heal yours or find a meal with stats or a brew with the same. Of course, if you’re not careful, someone could easily drug you. “Check Compound” is a useful little trick.

And you need to be trained to learn new skills. Talk to the right people and that training will be awesome. You have to RP the time to learn the new skill, and it can be wonderful seeing how different people “teach” their skills, how they see what they do. I recently picked up “Tinker”, and now I need to be taught to read and build and repair. I actually look forward to the RP time to do these, not just to the skills themselves. That’s something special, I think.

And then there’s the players themselves. I know it sounds like I’m gushing, but I’m actually holding back. But it’s easy to gush about a game in which a player will sit and roleplay a conversation with an unimportant NPC to try and heal their mental illness, and go over the required time simply because the roleplay works. DR has been one of the best Roleplay experiences I’ve had, which was startling.

But beyond that, what about the system? Oh, it’s hardly perfect. I had packet archery, but in a world that allows Nerf™ blasters as physical representations of firearms, it makes sense. Having arrows outrange, badly, firearms just doesn’t work. It’s a good scaling compromise.

Moreover, I enjoy the flurry system they have in effect. You can only strike three times, in a ninety degree arch, and in different spots each time. This makes the strikes play more realistically, and gives less experience players a better chance in the boffer area. The combat is easier to track as well. As an NPC, keeping track of three people sending a hail of strikes at you is virtually impossible.

DR is also very good at preventing Power Creep. Power Creep is what happens, especially for long-running games, when Player Characters manage not to die for an extended period, and just accumulate so much on their sheet and inventory. In Dystopia, it is very easy to die. A lot. You’d think this is bad, but it makes combat more present, more engaging. It is so easy to lose the immediacy of fear for yourself when you’ve gotten to the point you cans stomp anything into the ground. But when no matter how good you are there is still plenty out there to make your life difficult, plenty of NPC skills that can put you into a very bad place, every confrontation becomes a “thing.”

The different Strains (Races) and Professions also diversify the game quite well. I’d like to see more, but there’s always more I’d like, and DR is still very good at giving you options that fit the universe. For the veteran Fantasy LARPer, it’ll be a bit of a shock, since many of the standards just aren’t here. The game’s world doesn’t work the same way, and it’s less shiny. Figuratively and literally the world is darker, grimier, and rougher. “Pretty” becomes a relative term in a world where fragile things just don’t tend to survive and your enemies don’t just want to kill you-some want to eat your or skin you. If you arrive expecting to play an elf, you are entirely out of lucky. If you want to play a dwarf, try being a Bay Walker (kidding, kidding!).

There are four DR games I know of thus far, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Feel free to check out their site at Dystopia Rising LARP and join the fun! I’ll be happy to loot your corpse later.

Final Fantasy VII Part 1

January 17, 2013

Or, “My Boyfriend Wouldn’t Let Me Rename Cloud to Tidus” (AKA “My Boyfriend Wouldn’t Shut Up Until I Played It)

So, I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game. This month I turn twenty-nine, and in my nearly three decades, dozens of JRPGs, and familiarity with the PlayStation console I’ve never played a Final Fantasy Game. Not even the side games. The “closest” I’ve ever come is watching “The Spirits Within” and I’ve no reason to relive those traumas, thanks.

I picked up FFVII for the boy for Christmas, and he starts in on me to play it. Eh. I like JRPGs, and this is somewhat the archetype, so I might as well. And, I figure that I might as well keep tabs on the progress in my Blog.

Let’s be SUPER clear, I’ll be posting my take on the game, the entire game, so expect spoilers. SPOILERS ALL OVER. I will ruin the plot for you, if you haven’t played it. You’ve been warned.

And before we go further, let me say I was not allowed to rename Cloud “Tidus”, Barret “Ballsack”, or Aeris “Kebab”. The boy did let me rename Tifa “Derpina.” I am thus satisfied.

So the first thing I realize is that the current cast of misfit “heros” are, essentially, ecoterrorists as presented. The main character, Cloud, is a merc they hired. Keen. And we (AVALANCHE) are going to stop the evil organization (SHINRA) from draining the planet of it’s life force (Mako) by blowing up a reactor and killing untold numbers of presumably innocent workers who probably think they’re providing harmless power to their fellow citizens.

And the controls are kinda wonky. Yeah, alright.

We have a few bosses, some random encounters, stores to check out, and Aeris to meet. Oh, and Cloud gets to cross-dress and it was fabulous. Somewhere around here I joking say “Couldn’t AVALANCHE just take out the plate and destroy the reactor?” “Yeah, but it’d kill everyone.” “But save the planet. Win some, lose some.” Very tongue in cheek, very clever, until it happens. But it’s SHINRA setting up AVALANCHE to take the blame.

Biggs, Wedge, and the almost love interest Jessie all bite it in this scene. We’ll talk about them in a bit. The heros fight valiantly, but fail to stop the plate from falling. Everyone on the plate, everyone below it, dies. Watching it immediately brought 9-11 to mind, which was somewhat uncomfortable (though not triggering for me). It was a decent scene, they’d set it up well, and it kinda fell flat. Well, no, it didn’t, but it should have.

Lemme explain.

The characterization at this point has not impressed me. Cloud is your standard roguish young hero with a troubled and mysterious past. and it’s not a very interesting past, even with his pseudo mental illness I’m also going to touch on later. Biggs and Wedge? Those two never get interesting enough for their deaths to be emotionally impactful. Jessie, the cute, awkward girl that like Cloud should have been more of a gut punch, but we barely got to know her so her death was also pretty empty. Barret is a fascinating character, but his characterization is dull as dirt. “Derpina” is less interesting that watery, cold oatmeal.

But Aeris actually shines. Within a few conversations, we get her personality. her drive. Who she is comes across quickly, fully, and elegantly. Rarely do I see characters so quickly and perfectly laid out. Oh, and there are lots of other people who show up once or twice with all the personality of “third guy at the bar, scene 12, take 6”.

Barret I want to be interesting. You’ve got a guy who clearly grew up tough and bad ass, but responsible and caring, in the slums under the plate of Midgar, and he gets caught up in the conflict between the desire to be with his daughter or fight for her future. DAMN that’s good. But his dialogue? His screen time? Mediocre.

Cloud…. aaahhhhh, I’m sure it gets better. He fits the standard trope, but he’s part of the reason for that trope. Hardly the origin, but he helped make it a “thing”. His voices are interesting, though. Hearing voices has no single diagnosis. It’s one of those odd things that we aren’t really sure of. Right now, i don’t know enough about Cloud to say why he’s hearing voices, but I’m very interested in how they handle that.

But that’s all we’ve got for characters. This great tragedy occurs, half the characters we’ve met die or are kidnapped, and except for the weird echo of 9-11, which I wouldn’t have had had I played this back in ’97, there was simply no emotional resonance. Presumably thousands of people just died, and I just wanted to move the game along. In terms of story telling, FFVII is not scoring high just yet.

So now we have to climb back up to the floating city. There have been parts that feel very gimmicky (the timed “escapes”, for one), but there are also parts that work tremendously well-the Materia system is probably the magic system I will be saddest to let go of when i finish the game, and I’ll comment on that in another post when i’ve had more time to play with it. Thus far it’s a solid JRPG, nothing mind blowing, but very rich, lots of depth. I’m only three hours in, so don’t nail me to the wall yet, fan boys.

First Time at Knight Realms

November 30, 2012

I’ll be joining Knight Realms ( http://www.knightrealms.com/ ) tonight, doing the NPC thing all tonight, tomorrow, and tomorrow night. I’ve got a ride, and a desire to shoot things with padded arrows.


Report of my weekend after I get back and have time-I won’t do a review until I’ve had the chance to play for a while. Cheers!

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