Feb 16

Angels with Scaly Wings

I’ve been spending my latest bit of free time playing the dragon date game Angels with Scaly Wings. Dragons are slowly but surely becoming my all-encompassing brand, so I had no choice in the matter, but also, I was kind of intrigued. It was clearly a very passionate project. And in the end, having played it, I found it really interesting. I really enjoyed it, but I also think it has enough flaws that I probably wouldn’t recommend it. Still, it’s stuck with me, so I want to talk about it for a bit.

First off, I do want to talk about why the game is poorly constructed. The game is clearly pulling inspiration from the likes of things like Zero Escape and Danganronpa. It wants to create this deadly-feeling conspiracy in a world of dragons. The end result of this, though, is something that feels very disconnected. The dragons that you date are only really minimally connected to this main plot, which makes the characters you spend the most time with and care about almost completely incidental to what happens in the “plot” proper. Endings celebrate this plot, and not your connections with characters, which makes it even worse, honestly. And while the game attempts to create a sense of tension by having characters you could date die throughout the story, it doesn’t actually feel driven by the story proper. When someone dies in a Zero Escape game, it is basically straight up your fault, and you have to try to figure out what you could have done better. If someone dies in a Danganronpa game, it’s an important part of the plot. Here, it is literally just an indication that you did not spend enough time with them, and has no real effect on the route you’re working on. Because of how the conspiracy plot makes you loop, you’d think you might also be motivated by having to set up an exacting chain of events to save everyone, but no. Once you’ve seen a character’s good ending, which honestly only feels “good” in a few instances, you can ignore them. They’ll turn out fine.

Perhaps this would be fine if the suspense thriller detective whatever parts of the game were engaging without this character involvement, but it really isn’t. It feels like an author’s early attempt at writing one of those, and while we all have to start somewhere, because the game is set up so everything hangs on it, it just doesn’t land well. The game isn’t really that long, but it still feels bloated, with more ideas tacked into it than was really necessary to get things going. Perhaps this is a “me” problem though, as I’m very much a character over worldbuilding kind of person. However, even if you’re fine with that, there are still occasional immersion-breaking jokes that just should not be there. This whole world has been set up in a specific way, for better or worse. It makes no sense for your character to say lines like “my body is ready.” It’s not even played for humor, like the narrator is making a joke. It’s just kind of there. There are some good things in the writing too, though. The game does some really smart things to establish why your character is of an indistinct gender, for example. But overall: not great.

All that being said, once you finish the game once, a strange thing happens. Usually, in a visual novel, on future runs you can speed up the text to get through parts where you already know the outcome, but you still have to track decisions and many other things. In this game, once you’ve seen it, you’re just given the option to skip sections making all the right choices. It’s pretty fantastic, actually. And what happens is, all that stuff up there, that I wasn’t really excited about? Suddenly it disappears, and you’re just dating dragons.

The game does right by its five lead characters. Even some of the “side date” characters (which I get the feeling were probably kickstarter campaign rewards. I know this was crowdfunded) are treated well. But it’s leads are well thought out, they’re charming, and they feel, for the most part, fully-realized. The passion that I talked about earlier is very clear in these characters. Someone spent a lot of time thinking about them. I really like them all. Once they’re removed from the context of the “main” story, they really shine. Are they the best dategame people ever? No, probably not, but they’re fun.

I want to zoom in most specifically on Bryce, the police chief. I’m not sure if I’ve dated a character quite like him in a dating game before. He’s a horrible flirt and a huge bro, but he really cares about his job and doing well at it. He doesn’t want to settle for “not being good at things,” but instead wants to improve, even if it’s not by much. He’s nice. But what I found unique about him is that you aren’t really dating? I mean, you are. You go on dates, he is the character you most clearly and without a doubt fuck, but the way he approaches it, and the game lets you approach it, is extremely casual. Going on Bryce’s route is not “I’ve found my soulmate.” It’s “I’ve found a fantastic friend and every so often we’re gonna blow each other before cracking open a beer.” It’s this “friends with benefits” dynamic that feels like something that would actually work, and not involve anyone being mislead or being gross. And that’s so rare, I think. You don’t see that kind of thing a lot. I loved it. Of course, if you want more traditional romances, you’ve got those covered too.

Anyway, as I said, I really don’t know if I can recommend the game. If you’re obsessed with dragons like me, you can totally date some cute dragons here! Which is nice! And I really hope whoever made this makes another game, because I feel like there are so many lessons being learned from this that’s gonna make another dating game from them shine. But as it is, yeah. It’s a thing, and there’s some thoughts on it. If that still sounds good to you, go for it, and let’s talk about it!

Jan 1

Here Are The Video Games I Loved in 2016

Hi, everyone!
Oh geez, have I really not posted over here since LAST new years? Oh well. I’ve been posting lots of words over at poetfox.com, so, you know, I think I’m good.
BUT VIDEO GAMES! 2016 had some of them, in theory. Let me talk a bit about what I think about them. BUT FIRST:

Evergreen Games I Cannot Stop Playing
1. Granblue Fantasy – Granblue continues to thrill me with it’s fairly friendly F2P model (it’s still energy-based, but I’ve never felt like I had to spend money, just that it would be a nice bonus), it’s wonderful, cute characters, and it’s well-written storylines that are focused purely on fun. Every month there are new stories to read, new characters to recruit and fall in love with, and more loot to find. This year I recruited two trans characters in the game. Two! And both have been treated with respect! Can you even imagine? I’m at the point of the game where it’s getting really grindy, and I don’t play it constantly like I did when I started. But that’s okay. I come back for every event, and I always love booting the game up. Granblue Fantasy is AMAZING. If you can stand phone game mechanics at all, and love anime and Final Fantasy, you are doing yourself a disservice by not playing Granblue.

2. Hearthstone – At least once a week I try to clear out my Hearthstone quest queue. I don’t really care about being good at Hearthstone? I make decks I think are neat and then lose with them all the time. But playing the game is very relaxing to me. I just put on a podcast and sling cards without thinking too hard about strategy, and I have a great time. I have problems with the game, mostly just because man, Warcraft’s humor kind of sucks sometimes, huh? But I keep coming back. Hearthstone is really, really good.

Those games would have been at the top of the list just from pure playtime. They’re fantastic! But it felt like I should separate them. So there, I did. I’m sure I’ll keep playing those two forever, too. Fun times.

But now, let’s do a top 10 or something.

10. Stories: Path of Destinies – This is a game where you play a fox swordsman named Reynardo and Batman fight ravens. The combat and gameplay in the game is fine. But what’s been done here is just an impressive amount of storytelling. You have a narrator who is reading you a story, essentially. They do silly voices for all the characters. They crack dad jokes all the time that make you groan, and insert things into the canon that are obviously bad ad-libs, like “They, uh, met at Sword-Fu School”. It’s like you’re reading a story with someone, and the story itself is interesting! There are only like 4 characters, but they are very well fleshed out. As you see all the bad endings, you really get to know them all, and start to root for them (or against them, for the assholes). And Stories has done something no video game has ever done before: had enough joke lines. The game will make a joke when you do things like open a chest. I played this game a lot, and it probably played a joke when I got a chest 50 times at least. I cannot remember one repeated line. It was amazing. This game has an awful title, but it’s actually pretty fun. A good weekend game.

9. Overwatch – Can I nominate a game based on fanart? I probably spent way more time looking at cute Overwatch art than actually playing the game. I’m just not a competitive sort, and when the playerbase started getting good, I started having less fun. But that’s fine. The game is really, really good! And the characters are super good, for the most part! I really love them all, and I had a really fun few weeks with it, for sure.

8. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright – In this game I married a silly kitsune and had two perfect children. I also learned the lesson that if you get really mad, you turn into a dragon. I should be more angry more often, I guess? But yeah, Fates takes what I liked about Awakening and then makes it way more accessible through the Phoenix mode. I really do not care about difficult fights? I just wanna make the animes kiss. It made me happy that it rewarded me with a super casual difficulty so I could enjoy that part. I meant to play the other two versions as well, but I never got back to them, which is fine. I don’t play a lot of games anymore. But I really enjoyed Birthright. It was quite fun.

7. Hustle Cat – I really like Visual Novels and “dating sims” but let’s face it: a lot of them are kind of too long? There’s too much of them. Hustle Cat is short, and sweet, and very very gay. It is a fun delight, and I truly, truly love every single one of the characters. Some more than others, obviously, but they are all wonderful. Usually in a visual novel, I hate at least one of them! What a wonderful surprise. I wrote about Hustle Cat here, if you want to read more about it. But I love it so much.

6. Picross 3D Round 2 – Picross is the best. After the disappointing kind of bad free to play Pokemon Picross, it was refreshing for Nintendo to just randomly dump Round 2 on the states and get to play through the whole dang thing. It is the most relaxing way to spend your time. The only thing I was disappointed about was amiibo support, of all things. It felt like it would be obscenely easy to make a puzzle for every amiibo. But other than that, the game is just a delight. I mean, you know if you like Picross. If you like Picross and haven’t bought this yet, go get it right now.

5. Kirby: Planet Robobot – This is maybe the best Kirby game since Super Star? Maybe? Robobot takes everything that was fun about Triple Deluxe and then just flat-out improves all of it. The Robot riding mechanic is actually super cool, and gives you lots of good new powers to use. It makes you feel way more powerful, but not in a way that makes it less fun to play normal Kirby. The story is just perfect. It loves Kirby’s weird lore so much, and you can just feel it oozing from every bit of it. I loved every moment of Robobot!

4. Pokemon Sun – It was so refreshing to play a Pokemon game that felt like they had a vision for it instead of “just another one of those.” Sun (and Moon, I would assume, but I only played Sun) is Pokemon, of course, but with a fun, light storyline and a sense of playfulness in the very fights you do that pushes you along. The Trials have so much more personality than gyms ever had, and you get to know the Trial Captains as characters and actually like them! This was the first Pokemon story where I was actually really invested in it as well, which was kind of strange. I have always considered Pokemon stories to be “the thing I do to meet more cute Pokemon,” but I really cared about Lillie and Hau in a way that I can’t remember having ever done with a companion in a previous game. Anyway, Sun is delightful.

3. Stardew Valley – I remember when I first played Harvest Moon on an emulator and my mind was blown. Such a relaxing game of controlling your life and constantly improving, I really loved it. Occasionally I will play another Harvest Moon or a spinoff, and it’ll be fine, but they always feel very stuck in the past in some ways, too clunky to fully enjoy. Stardew Valley, though, takes everything I like about those games and brings them into the present day. It has that exact joy that Harvest Moon gives in working on crops and things, but on a massive scale. There are so many people to meet, and you can date most of them, and there are so many different ways you can build your farm, and so many other tasks you can dig into if you want to take a break from farming. Perhaps some people would find all those things to do overwhelming. But I found it as me never lacking for something new to dive into when I got tired. If I wanted a break from tending crops, I’d go dungeon crawling, or work on mastering the fishing minigame. I played so many hours of this game, and never tried to romance a single character! I skipped that whole part! And it was magnificent, all the way through.

2. Doom – Doom is an acceptable masculinity. It takes all these macho man tropes and then puts them into this ridiculous world where, instead of being horrific or bad, they are hilarious and perfect. I am not an old school Doom fan. I played it, of course, and I recognize how it was revolutionary. But this game transcends nostalgia. It is a game that constantly asks “can we make this more ridiculous? Can we make this more fun?” and then makes it happen. The game makes you feel like a elemental of pure death and then gives you lore files where demons literally describe you that way. It made me care about the story! I want to punch that robot! Oh my goodness, I do. That’s the depth of the story, figuring out who you want to punch, but it’s told so well, that’s just fine. If you have ever enjoyed a gunshoots game, even if you’re tired of them by now like me, you have to, have to play Doom. You will have a blast for like 6 to 8 hours. Trust me.

1. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE – I had to steal a console from my brother to play this game, and I don’t regret it. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is so polished and so smart, and so fun. It’s not serious, but avoids some of the grosser “not serious” anime things. It has a clear theme, and everything in the game is built around that theme. I ranted about all that over on OnTheStick, so take a look if you want? But I really think it is a shame this game is going to be lost to obscurity on the WiiU. It is probably better than Persona 4. I love it to death. If you like jRPGs and you haven’t played it, please, give it a try. Liking Fire Emblem helps, but is not necessary to love this game, so don’t hold back.

And that’s 2016 in games, I guess! Not a bad year at all. In games, I mean. Otherwise, it was a very bad year. But the games? They were pretty good.

Jan 12

Here are the books I read in 2015

Let’s store this here for posterity. I didn’t do as much reading last year, but hey, I read some real good stuff! If you want to see my short opinions on things, please take a look.

January (1)

    Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino

(Another random thing I grabbed in a sale, I think? The story it tells is just mind-boggling. Everything that happened, so much poor judgement, so much misplaced pride… it’s just quite a tale. A fine read if the subject is interesting to you.)

February (3)

    Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

(An amazingly true study on otherness of all sorts, perhaps by accident, but very powerful, emotional, and fun. I see so much of the trans experience in Phina. I wonder what you would see. There is no doubt that this book is excellent, though. Please read it.)

    The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

(The first book was a nice enough romp. This book was the same. Fun, with a cool world. I do worry about the lead’s thought process sometimes, though. Ceony is interesting, but… made a few decisions that felt more plot-motivated than her motivated in this one. Well, in my opinion anyway. Oh well. It was fun.)

    Eight Skilled Gentlemen by Barry Hughart

(Another fun ride. I felt a little less understanding of what was going on than the other two books. But the characters are still a blast. It’s a really fun book. Read this whole series. Thanks.)

March (3)

    The Dead Key by D. M. Pulley

(Oh my goodness this book was SO FRUSTRATING. So many good ideas done SO BADLY. I constantly wanted to slap one of the two protagonists and the author for squandering cool stuff! I can’t really recommend it unless you have a lot of forgiveness in your heart.)

    Prudence by Gail Carriger

(You know already that I loved this, but oh my goodness, already I am in love with many of these new characters just as before. Carriger’s mastery of characterization is just… inspiring. It’s the best. If you haven’t read everything she’s ever written, you are doing it wrong.)

    Shadow Scale: A Companion to Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

(Sometimes the benefit of finding a wonderful book late is that the sequel comes out a month later. Like Seraphina, this book is fantastic. It’s a YA book that brings up such concepts as picking your own pronouns like it’s nothing. The characters are wonderful, the story is sound… it’s just… damn. Read these books, please. Rachel Hartman is easily one of my favorite all time authors at this point.)

April (2)

    The Mermaid’s Sister by Carrie Anne Noble

(I liked this book. It was small and self-contained and hinted at a wide wide world but was almost completely about character interaction and romance, despite being an adventure of sorts. The resolution of the romance angle was a little abrupt, but telegraphed enough I forgave it.)

    Bible Adventures by Gabe Durham

(Another Boss Fight book. This is one of the better ones. This blends information and personal reflection way, way, way better than some other books in the series. It’s really more about Wisdom Tree than just Bible Adventures, but it was a nice enough read.)

Months Of No Reading Because I Was Writing, Mostly

September (2)

    The Master Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

(It was fun! It’s fun. The whole series is fun. It’s not the best? If I wanted to be mean to it, I could. But it’s cute, the world is very interesting, and despite how she’s written I like the lead quite a lot. There’s some cute smooching. It’s a nice little popcorn series.)

    Metal Gear Solid by Ashly and Anthony Burch

(A fun, lighthearted discussion of the many flaws and successes of the original game. It really pulls no punches on what was great and what was awful. They do a good job with having two authors by offering different reads on various elements, from a “as a guy/girl, this says” perspective, as well as just different readings. One of the good Boss Fight entries. Give it a read.)

October (2)

    Baldur’s Gate II by Matt Bell

(The author says this book was an attempt to make him less embarrassed about liking DnD. Good for him, I guess, but I wanted a book about Baldur’s Gate II that actually discussed the game instead of talked about how he writes DnD books? So, you know. I don’t recommend this one. A unfortunate Boss Fight entry.)

    The Chess Queen Enigma: A Stoker and Holmes Novel by Colleen Gleason

(I was pleased that this one didn’t waste as much time re-setting up everything as the last novel did. These continue to be a lot of fun: not particularly deep or groundbreaking, but completely enjoyable. The whole series so far is for sure a recommended read.)

November (1)

    Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger

(You know this is good, so just go read it. That being said, I felt some of the romance stuff ended up a LITTLE rushed. I agreed with a lot of it but felt it needed more time to percolate. Another post-school adventure would have let that go long enough! But eh, that’s a little thing. It’s all very nice. I very much enjoyed it.)

Dec 29

Here Are Games I Liked in 2015

I played some video games this year, and they were very good! Maybe give some of these a try, if you didn’t? Here are some, badly ranked from 10 to 1.

10. The Niflheim : I finally gave in and downloaded this phone Visual Novel and gave it a try. It’s very silly in its construction. There’s PvP? You’re gathering clothes to be better at PvP? It lets you read little tiny chunks of story? The story isn’t particularly deep and has lots of weird little tangents just to draw it out? It’s all a very odd experience. But there’s something very endearing about it. The people making it clearly believe in it, and thought they want my free to play money, they refuse to demand it from me. The characters in the game make it clear they’re happy to wait for me to get more Story Tickets without paying, but they’re excited for me to come back, so spend money, if I want? I haven’t, but I have been playing it for a couple months now, and I can’t imagine stopping yet.

9. Nintendo Badge Arcade : When Nintendo wants to, it’s real good at Free to Play. I love the pink shopbunny so much. This game is just incredibly adorable, and doesn’t pressure you into paying money. Whenever it asks you for money, and you say no, you’re told that that’s fine, no big deal, I’ll see you soon! And you want to come back, because of the cute conversations with this rabbit you have. Getting a Tom Nook to replace my 3DS Shop Icon was just icing on the cake. It’s a fun 5 minute experience every day I very much enjoy.

8. Code: Realize : A Steampunk adventure smoochy game? What’s not to like! This is a really great story that sticks to its premise, which I appreciate. The game is set up like an adventure novel, and while it is a romance, for sure, you have a series of adventures with your would-be boyfriends in true steampunk style, and you know I’m into that. The protagonist is fairly well realized in most routes, and they do interesting things with the fact that she’s made of poison, and can’t be touched, which I found really fun. I’m not hot on all routes *cough*Van Helsing*cough* but it’s all a lot of fun, and the big ending with the final route is totally worth the journey.

7. Tales from the Borderlands : Who knew I’d ever give a shit about Borderlands? I mean, I played the original because I was in long-distance relationships and it was co-op. It was fine. But this game is everything that truly makes Telltale great. It’s oozing with charm, and swapping between the two protagonists makes the whole scenario interesting. I genuinely like all the characters as well. This really raises the bar from the source material and turns it into a surprisingly inclusive and fun journey. I still need to play the last episode, but the first four were totally worth it.

6. Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls : This game is pure Danganronpa fan service, but I’m not complaining. It’s fun fanservice, and while the gameplay leaves a LOT to the desired, the dialog and everything is just as wonderful as the other games, and it’s totally worth your time. I thought the game did a fantastic job of making Toko into someone actually interesting instead of a weird joke, and I really appreciated that.

5. Read Only Memories : ROM creates a world filled with queer people that never questions why they’re there. They’re just part of the landscape. It’s pretty great like that. It certainly doesn’t hurt that these characters are very easy to like and interact with. Turing, especially, is really well written, and you care about your little robot friend a lot by the end of it, but every bit of the game is enjoyable. It’s a world I would for sure visit again, and a nice story that carries you through it.

4. Amnesia: Memories : Though less romantic than other VNs, this is a game with a great story. Having lost your memory due to a collision with a spirit, you find yourself in the world’s worst relationships, and have to figure out why you’re there and why they’re worthwhile. This game puts you into a murder mystery, a horror game, and just poor relationships. It goes really far with its premise, and it’s fun seeing how things are different and the same in the various alternate universes. I also really like how the game just says “Fine, just pick one,” at the beginning and is then free to tell a more fully-realized story without tracking stats with each guy. Each story is very self-contained and worth it, even the super creepy one with Toma. It’s a great play, especially if you want more depth in your VNs.

3. Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star : I LOVE THESE BIRDS SO MUCH. A collection of vaguely-holiday-themed short stories, Holiday Star is more Hatoful Boyfriend, and that’s a very, very good thing. The game is even more comedic than Hatoful Boyfriend, if you can believe it, since it’s playing with characters you already know, but it’s wonderful for it. It gave me emotions all over again, and I laughed a lot. Play Hatoful Boyfriend, and then for sure play this afterwards. And give Ryouta a hug for me. My poor sweet little birdie…

2. Hearthstone : Fuck, I played a lot of Hearthstone this year. I am the least serious Hearthstone player, though. I put on a podcast, and I play turns in three seconds, and I just clear my head. It’s perfect for that. There’s a lot of depth there I don’t always engage with, but I appreciate it’s there when I want it, as well. Since I got back into it this year, I haven’t spent a cent on it, but I’ve had a lot of fun slowly unlocking cards anyway. It’s just so polished, it’s hard not to like it, and it’s eaten TONS of my time this year.

1. Undertale : Pretend to be surprised. Undertale is amazing. Undertale made me rethink elements of my life. Undertale made me more emotional than any media experience I can recall. Undertale has created characters that I know will stick with me for a long, long time to come. Undertale made me laugh, but most of all, it made me invest in its world, more than any game I can remember. It asks that of you, and makes it so easy to do, and before you know it, you’re fully lost in it. I have had so many long discussions about Undertale and what it means and how to interpret it this year, something that so rarely happens with video games. Undertale is an experience I want everyone to have. Of course it’s the best game of the year.

Dec 1

A Reverse Correlation

I’ve been thinking about doing a No Mercy run.

When I was younger, I would write a lot of self-insert Mary Sue kinda stories. I don’t think that’s particularly weird? I’m sure all writers start there. All characters are your weird little children born of bits and pieces of you. But I can remember, in late grade school and junior high just filling notebooks with these probably awful stories about me. I would go on scout trips and everyone else would be doing manly man stuff and I’d be sitting there writing about kissing in this notebook I wouldn’t let anyone see.

The thing about these stories, though, was that I was always the villain. Or if I wasn’t the villain, there was someone who was “me” with a different name, and the person with my name was the villain. I would cast my friends as heroes, fighting against all odds, and myself being those odds. I’d create little versions of myself that might be a hero, but pit them against me. I was normally a very reluctant villain at least? I’d apologize for what I was going to do before I’d try to kill people, or kill people. But I was always bad. I was the problem.

I guess it’s not really that surprising, given where I was as myself. I was deep in depression (it got worse, but it was there) and couldn’t help but think of myself, my real self, as anything but a problem. The idea of me existing was one that my parents and even my best friend at the time pushed back extremely hard against. I was a problem, a roadblock, to their happiness. I was a villain, or so my depression told me.

I remember in high school having this revelation where, if I was always going to be awful, a problem, a villain, I could at least raise people up while I crashed down. If I was doomed, and at that point I thought about killing myself basically constantly so it seemed likely, I could at least help others not be doomed, and be better. I could be a catalyst for raising people up. So I started to approach personal interactions this way. I put others before myself not in a “how nice, how helpful” way but in a self destructive way, most of the time. I made myself miserable doing it. I made a lot of mistakes. But just like in those stories I wrote, where I was the evil in the world, I could make others shine. There’s no light without dark, right? I did evil in those stories to make those important to me look better, looking back on them. And I did the same thing here.

Ironicus, on a podcast, talked about the No Mercy run of UNDERTALE as interesting because it lets you see the same characters in a different situation. It lets you be the villain, and see how everyone else would stand up to be heroes. I’m not doing too well mentally recently, and I find myself once again brushing up against these “anyone else but me” self-destructive tendencies, as I often fall back on when I’m not doing well. And I put on the UNDERTALE soundtrack, and I hear all the songs I didn’t hear because they’re not for Mercy. And I think about the tidbits I’ve picked up about all the fights, and all the things that happen in a No Mercy run. And I find myself thinking, what IF they were the heroes? What if all these wonderful characters I really, truly love didn’t need me, because who am I? Why do I get to help SAVE the world? What makes me so special? Wouldn’t it be better if I helped prop them up, and saw them shine?

It’s an appealing thought.

The problem is, of course, if I played No Mercy, I’d have to win, on character after character. I’d have to kill. I don’t want to do that, and I don’t want to put Frisk through that. I don’t want to put anyone through that. But it’s necessary, to be the villain. To see a True Hero. Isn’t it?

It’s a silly thought, and I know I won’t do it. But I keep thinking about it.

I worked really hard to see myself as the hero in my own story. I still work on it, every day, this idea that I am worth having a story. I am worth being something. That I’m interesting, and capable. It’s really important to do, and I wonder how much other people struggle with that feeling. Or if they do at all. I’m going to keep working on it, and be the hero, don’t worry. I mean, it’s a real fucking weird story I’m the hero of, but I’m going to keep on it. I can be the hero, AND help my friends. I can have a good life.

But I don’t know if I’m ever going to shake that feeling of being the villain.

I don’t know.

Oct 31

Horror Game Curse Roundup!

Hello!
Sorry I haven’t written in awhile, blog. I’ve been writing other things. Novels and such.

I’ve also been writing Horror Game Essays for On the Stick!
You remember how I’ve always done that, right? This year was no exception!

Anyway, I just wanted to put them all here, to have them all in one place, in case you missed some of them. I wrote a lot of nice things, I think!

First off, I wrote about Danganronpa 2, and how the game’s use of gamification in all of its interactions helps to create the proper sense of both closeness and distance for it to really make you care about everyone.

I wrote an article about Ultra Despair Girls, and how it works to turn a fairly one-note character of questionable stereotypes into a well-rounded character you care a whole lot for.

I wrote a very difficult and personal essay about UNDERTALE, specifically Toriel, and why the game reflected so heavily on some of the hardships in my life. This contains spoilers for a lot of the game, though I don’t get into a lot of specifics.

I wrote about the recent Visual Novel Amnesia: Memories, specifically one of the routes, Diamond World, and it’s fairly upsetting portrayal of Big/little, Dom/sub dynamics.

I wrote about Monsterhearts, a tabletop roleplaying game I really, really, really like. It captures that teenager feeling so well, and it plays with themes anyone can pick up, and I tried to explain why.

Finally, I wrote about Hylics, and why a game about face melting and weird creatures is really all about being able to relax.

Phew, that’s a lot of stuff to read, huh? If you go back and take a look at any of it, I hope you like it. It was fun, as always, to pretend to be a games writer for a month! You should also check out everyone else’s videos and essays and whatnot! Tons of cool stuff on there.
Anyway, back to all my usual writing. Short Stories and Novels! Huzzah!
Happy Halloween!

Mar 24

Some Honesty About My Issues

Hi.

This is hard to write, and a part of me doesn’t want to. I spend a lot of effort on the illusion that everything is okay, and that I am happy, and when I pull that mask off, I tend to fall apart in spectacular ways. It’s scary, to be honest. But all this building up a facade is not solving the problem. Another year has passed, and I still struggle with all this garbage, again and again. I should face it head on, and I should be honest. And if you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly my friend, and I owe it to you to be honest.

When I say that, I don’t mean I’ve been lying, exactly. You’re my friends. I’m not lying to you. It’s not a lie, the things I talk about and do and care about and get excited about. I am all those things, no doubt. But I am often throwing them up in front of you as a distraction, making them more public than I perhaps should, and praying that you don’t see the depressed ball behind the curtain. If I do lie, it’s only by omission, and it’s only about this stuff, really. I’m sorry if that’s painful to hear.

So last night, for hours, I basically argued with my boyfriend. I was going to kill myself, and he needed to promise me he’d take care of Mr. Q. He wouldn’t promise that, of course. Not while I was like that. But we talked and fought and finally I tired myself out and went to sleep. I woke up today not much better, though I’m getting stuff done, I suppose. I think back on last night and it is just… I am horrible for doing those things. For thinking them, and saying them out loud, and making them real. I shouldn’t have. But there it is.

I wish I could say that was uncommon, but honestly, it’s really not. Last night was especially bad, yes. Normally I have suicidal thoughts, but I am not motivated to go through with them. Last night I had nothing like that holding me back. But I have these sorts of nights, moments, periods, or what have you, fairly regularly. I often call them panic attacks, or just attacks, but I don’t know what they are, perse. Maybe there’s a specific name for them. I don’t know. They’re often triggered by my anxiety (I’m always anxious about everything) getting out of control, often because a plan or a schedule I have set up doesn’t work out or is otherwise changed. I know it’s going to happen before it does, usually. I can feel myself start to fall apart. There’s a pressure in the back of my head a lot of the time, or I just get really tense. If I can, I go to bed when this happens, to quarantine myself, and because when I sleep it’s normally gone after. That’s not always an option. Sometimes I try to read, to refocus. This doesn’t always work, but sometimes it helps me hold off until I can go to sleep.

When it happens, I lose a lot of control. I shiver and shake. I often can’t talk. I repeat words and phrases over and over again when I try. Some common ones are “I’m sorry,” or “I’m awful,” or “No,” or “I can’t.” I can sing though, and I often sing songs about how happy everyone will be when I’m dead and how much I deserve it. If I can talk, I am normally constantly mumbling about my many imagined slights against the world and my own uselessness. I twitch my hands constantly, contort them hard, kind of painfully, because it makes me feel like I have some control. If I’m hiding a hand behind my back, I am probably doing this. I cry over nothing, so hard that I can’t breathe, and panic even more. I often try to bash my head against the wall out of some strange belief that this will make me calm down. I succeed more than I should, especially when I think I won’t get caught. It doesn’t normally calm me down for more than a few seconds. I’m kind of glad that’s all I do, because I’m sure if I didn’t have a fear of knives I’d probably do worse.

My life is a lot better than it used to be. This used to happen almost nightly, and I’d lock myself in my room and just shiver and cry. Nowadays, I’d put it at maybe once every two weeks? But sometimes I have little chain combos of several nights in a row, when life is hard, and I’ll often have close calls, where I feel it happening, but manage to calm down in time.

There’s not a lot my boyfriend can do when this is going on. He tries. He puts up with a lot, and I owe him a lot. I do a lot better because he is there, and I have something to focus on, and he has basically figured out when I am going to have problems and will just tell me I should go to bed before things happen. He’s often notices me mumbling, or my breathing messing up, before I do. I can’t believe he puts up with this, but he does. It means more to me than I know.

When I’m around people, I hide this. Even if I am having a bad day, I bury it, most of the time. I can’t let myself be seen out of it. I want to be someone who is not a burden. This stuff will make my friends sad. It will make them upset. I have to keep it together around them, so they don’t know. I have no problem acting. I will be panicking, be around someone and seem perfectly fine for hours, but the moment I’m alone again, I will go right back to panic. I don’t know what that says about me. Maybe that’s a really bad sign that I can do that, and hide everything so easily.

But I need to be honest. I need to be honest about my problems.

I’m not really okay. Not as often as I should be. It’s not all the time, and I stopped it from controlling all of my life a long time ago, and that’s why I’m here today. But I’m not okay a lot of the time. I wanted you to know. You’re my friends. I love you.

I’m not going to give up, and I have wonderful people here in person to support me. You don’t need to worry about me, I promise. But I just wanted to remove one more mask that I used to need to survive, but does me no good now. One more coping mechanism that has persisted, but probably has no place in the life I’m trying to build. I hope that’s okay.

Again, I love you. Thanks for listening and caring about me. It means more to me than I can say.

Feb 25

Those Who Came Before: Transistor and Community

In a lot of ways, games are power fantasies. Okay, okay, not all games, but many of them hinge on that sort of power trip. It’s you, the player, who are the center, who the world revolves around. It’s you, by your own power, who solves the problem and saves the day. There’s a real joy in that, too. But it’s often losing sight of how these things really work. Behind every hero of any type, there is an almost indescribable amount of support and help. For every leader, there’s a script writer, or a team of advisors, for example. Games don’t often represent that very well. There’s often a network of other characters represented, whether in your party or in the world, and perhaps they give you quests, but in the end, it’s the character’s strength that gets them through. You get the feeling that even without them being around, this hero would succeed, and even if that wasn’t the case, if the boss wouldn’t be beaten without the other party members, it’s still the hero giving the orders and calling the shots. It’s their victory.

In Transistor, it’s the social connection to those who came before and those we know that forms the backbone of true power. Transistor represents this in its mechanics, art, and music the entire way through, and in doing so it creates a hero in Red that feels real. Or at least as real as a lady with a magic cybersword with her boyfriend in it can feel. And that means something, at least to me.

Transistor’s mechanics and combat are based upon functions. These functions are all tied to someone, some character from the past or present. Some of these characters Red knows, like her lover, but many of them she does not. It doesn’t matter. She gathers power from all of them, and it is because of these people, and what they represent, that she succeeds.

Alone, Red only has Crash(). Crash() is fine. A useful tool. But with just Crash(), battles would be much harder to downright impossible. So she gets help. Bounce() from her lover. Spark() from Lillian Platt. And so on and so forth. And as she learns the other ways their influence can help her, equipped in different slots, she learns more about them. What they did and why they are important open up to her, and she understands.

We’re all built up like this. I am the product of many influences. There is a strength that is uniquely my own, but many of my good qualities come from those around me and those who came before me. It’s easy to know how those people who are close to me, my family and friends, have affected me. It’s clear how they help me everyday and inspire me. But I am helped as well by those in the past, who fought for things I now take for granted. An author I never read touches an author I did, and my life enriched. Someone fighting against oppression before my time has influence that still makes my life better, whether I know it or not. It’s only as I learn about how much they’ve done for me that I even know they exist. And even those I don’t know have done so much for me, I can’t even say. If I have any power, it’s from them. And it’s this kind of structure that gives Red her power in the game.

The entire world of Transistor is built around this. Cloudbank is a city that is powered by the thoughts and actions of its citizens. Everything, from the structure of the city to the weather, is done, in theory, together. It’s an impressive power, this lineage. You see no other people in the game besides the villains, but Red is never alone. Red walks with this strength of those behind her. She doesn’t wield the Transistor. It drags behind her, doing the best impression of walking hand in hand with her that a sword can manage. It’s teamwork, through and through.

The Camerata, of course, figures they can control that power and that lineage, and use it for what they want. Royce doesn’t walk hand in hand with what the Transistor represents. He holds it like a sword. He uses it as a weapon. But the Camerata fail, even before Red is in the picture, and they fail because they trusted in their own power, and theirs alone. They were alone, and thus, they were powerless. Red, even with her voice gone, makes change happen because she is not alone. It’s really wonderful.

In the end, Red could take full control of Cloudbank. It would be easy. But she doesn’t, because it’s not her power. It belongs to everyone. And in the end, she joins everyone, and adds her power to the multitude of voices in the Transistor and in Cloudbank. She leaves the flaws and the problems just as they are, and it’s from those flaws that people will continue to grow.

Red is a hero who is not a chosen one. She doesn’t have some special thing about her that makes her the only person who can save Cloudbank. But what she does have is a trust in those who fought before her, and still fight, through the echos of their actions. That is a power way better than her own personal strength. “We All Become One,” the song goes. Our actions, our struggles, combine to create something greater than us. Transistor is about that, and that celebration of community is a welcome sight.

Feb 14

The Showroom: Relationships and Robotics

Happy Valentine’s Day! Perhaps you’d like a book about romances and relationships. It’s been a long time coming. There were a lot of setbacks, mostly emotional, but it’s done, and here it is.

The Showroom: Relationships and Robotics

Welcome to The Showroom.

The Showroom was my first long-length writing project. It started from nothing. I was trying to write something sexy and throwaway and it quickly became a completely different beast that was still obsessed with sex and romance, but was something more, in my opinion. It became this study on relationships, and how we connect to and interact with people. It became an exploration on how we create friendships, boyfriends, girlfriends, and everything in between. It became this look at a city, and the connections that link people, and The Showroom, which threw them all into turmoil. It’s a collection of short stories (well, one of them is more like a novella) that builds a world by slowly pulling back curtains and illuminating corners.

Perhaps that’s a little too dramatic. But that’s what The Showroom is about, to me. I hope you see something in it like that. The book has some sex scenes, but not as many as you’d expect. Still, it’s dealing with mature stuff, so keep that in mind.

You can buy The Showroom here. It’s $5. And if you’re reading this quickly, I put my novella project, A Shuffled Pack, out there for a dollar on sale starting Monday. If you do take a look at these, I hope you enjoy them, and let me know what you think. It would also be useful if you’d review them on Amazon. Then more random people might give them a chance.

Thank you for taking a look!

Jan 2

Here Are The Books I Read In 2014

Hey, here again are the books I read last year, along with some short descriptions of what I thought. If you are one to think I have even a vague good taste, maybe this’ll be good to look at? WHO KNOWS. Anyway, 31 books in a year! I guess that’s a thing I did! Whee!

January (2)

    Sorcery and Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede

(I started the year out with just a fantastic and fun novel. Some great, strong characters, and a just plain fun story. The whole thing is told through letters, and while that could be a really horrible gimmick, the book really makes it work. Apparently they wrote the novel actually sending letters to each other, with each of them roleplaying one main character, which kinda rules. But yeah, just a lot of fun. Don’t be shocked when the next two books on the list are the other two in the series.)

    The Grand Tour: or the Purloined Coronation Regalia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

(A fitting and enjoyable sequel. They had to get rid of the whole letter gimmick, in a way, but it was actually nicer to see the two main characters interact much more directly, so I minded not at all. Just a fun little story, seriously.)

February (4)

    The Mislaid Magician: or Ten Years Later by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

(Another wonderful book! And now the series is over. Aww. Apparently it seems this one was written second even though it takes place last in chronological order? And the ebooks I bought were ordered chronologically but I guess that was not how they were written. Eh, it worked either way. Anyway, this is a great series, with super-fantastic characters, and you should read it. That is all.)

    Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

(A book about James Bond’s fight against misandry and the idea that a woman might not be attracted to him. But luckily, Fleming has his back, and Bond gets to fuck the super cool lesbian gang leader anyway, because Bond has to get everything he wants, because he’s a man, right? Right. Uh, anyway, another Bond book, basically.)

    Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica edited by Tristan Taormino

(This book is the best book. I wrote about why it is over here. But yeah, man, I would overwhelmingly recommend this to anyone. So fantastic.)

    Full Blooded by Amanda Carlson

(I think I bought this at some point because it was a dollar? I dunno. I would not call this book good. But it was kinda pointless fun popcorn fare and I wanted to read something meaningless in a fun way. I didn’t hate it. I wouldn’t recommend it. It just kinda stops at a place that makes no sense and says “BUY ANOTHER BOOK!” but the other books are not a dollar! So. Guess I’ll never know what happens! (Spoilers: probably sex with a cat))

March (4)

    Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

(Hey, look, it’s the other series by my new favorite author! This one is more YA, so it’s less steamy, and it’s a lot more fun times and less drama, but it’s still a fantastic read, and has some of the best-executed fanservice-y cameo type deals I have ever seen, so that’s pretty awesome.)

    Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

(Even more fun! I rather like Sophronia. Carriger is so damn good at this stuff. So much fun, for serious. It’s definitely got more of a YA bent than the Parasol Protectorate, but it continues to be fantastic.)

    Butch Fatale, Dyke Dick – Double D Double Cross by Christa Faust

(Oh man. Boyfriend linked me this and said “just read the sample, trust me” and before I knew it I had bought it and read it and it is just so much fun. Over the top from beginning to end. Just serious fun.)

    Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show by John Hench with Peggy Van Pelt

(Yeah, I’m still obsessed with this stuff. Basically a kind of “Imagineering Philosophy” book. Most of it I had learned about in bits and pieces elsewhere, but it’s kinda cool to have it all there, in one document. Really makes me think about the stumbles and successes of the parks throughout the years, and how most of them could be considered refusals to use these ideas, or at least the misapplication of them. But I dunno, I think way too much about this stuff in general.)

April (1)

    The Story of the Stone by Barry Hughart

(Another wonderful book. Silly, exciting, and extremely enjoyable to read. One more to go, but if the last book is as fun at the first two, I expect myself to be very entertained when I get around to it.)

May (2)

    Chrono Trigger by Michael P. Williams

(The first of the Boss Fight Books thing, Earthbound, was this horrible disappointment to me that barely talked about the game at all and used such quality sources as TV Tropes when it did. So I was worried I’d hate this one too. But no, this one actually did some analysis and stuff! I could imagine a version of the book that was better, and perhaps deeper, but it was an interesting read, and I certainly learned things I didn’t know, and thought about the game in new ways. That’s all I can ask for.)

    The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely

(I think I bought this for a dollar in a Kindle sale at some point. It was pretty interestingly put together. Very approachable. Gives you some stuff to think about. Not really a “self help” book but more a book sharing some interesting social science stuff. Almost all the examples seemed to be about a man dealing with a woman, though, which eventually got tiring when it got to a damsel in distress scenario and I’m like “Come on now, book. At least pretend to mix things up.” But yeah, can’t complain that much. Not a must read, but I enjoyed it.)

June (3)

    Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

(Mary Roach is the best nonfiction author. I love her to death. She’s willing to ask all the questions people want to ask but are too embarrassed to. She’s always a joy to read, even if she’s making you a bit squeamish. Another extremely engaging book by her. I need to get around to reading all her stuff.)

    ZZT by Anna Anthropy

(Another Bossfightbook, this one is very well put together. It’s a strange portrait of a game I knew nothing about and the people wrapped around that game. It’s a dive into an old internet community. I enjoyed it. I think it hit the “personal experience” side way better than Earthbound, which felt masturbatory, whereas her personal experiences helped shed light on why this thing was so important. Then again, I clearly connect with her past a bit more, so maybe that’s all it was.)

    Mary Poppins Comes Back by P. L. Travers

(Another part of a pointless reading quest I’ve embarked on. Someday I will complete all my reading quests and wonder why I started them at all. Anyway, it’s more Mary Poppins, only now I know she is literally so powerful that the planets themselves bow down to her and the seasons don’t change without her. She is literally a god. All hail Mary Poppins, lest she smite you down with her bird umbrella!)

July (0)

August (5)

    Shadow Magic by Patricia C. Wrede

(Checking up on the books that my literary hero when I was real small wrote. This book is alright? I don’t read a lot of pure fantasy, and I felt a bit overwhelmed by seeing fantasy jargon again, but I feel that’s my problem, not the book’s. The romance seemed a bit forced, too. But eh, it was fun enough.)

    “The Curious Case of the Werewolf That Wasn’t, the Mummy That Was, and the Cat in the Jar” by Gail Carriger

(This isn’t a novel, just a short story, so I’m not going to count it, but I wanted to talk about it, so there. If I were to create a dream story starring Sandy, there would be way more smooching in it, but this is a fun look into his life for fans and will mean absolutely nothing to anyone else.)

    Galaga by Michael Kimball

(Well, this book is terrible. It has this horrible format with a ton of little one paragraph chapters that just jump about. Many chapters lie to you. Many chapters are lists of things the author saw on Google Images. It just… no, don’t read this.)

    The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

(I’m just kind of impressed that he keeps making sequels to books that don’t need sequels. I feel like a lot of this was a LITTLE forced. There was a bit of retcon feeling in there. But dammit, I love these characters so much it didn’t really matter and I really enjoyed it nonetheless. If you’ve read the last two, you’ll love it like I did.)

    Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones

(I think I got this in a random sale? I don’t know. In any case, a fun read. Very different from the film that I saw like a long time ago. I don’t know if I have a lot to say about it, though. It kind of just flowed over me, for better or worse.)

    The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

(Some things sort of rushed, some things kind of forced, but a really fun little read with some really fun ideas about how magic works in that world. A good time.)

September (4)

    Shotguns v Cthulhu edited by Robin D Laws

(I feel like I’m not much of a horror person, and so some of these stories fell flat for me. There was a lot of really fun stories in here though, and pretty well all of them were really well written. It’s probably worth your time if you like more action-oriented horror writing.)

    Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf

(Really, really fun time all around. Quite different from the movie in a way that almost makes the whodunit way way better. A lot of weird race issue sorta things in here though that I didn’t know what to make of. Probably part of trying to ape a style and a time, but man, it was REALLY going for it. I dunno.)

    Jagged Alliance 2 by Darius Kazemi

(Fantastic criticism from an historical perspective. The best Boss Fight Book yet, or at least tied with ZZT. Didn’t appreciate his pointless jab at Killing is Harmless and Reader-Response Crit, though. Reader-Response is my jam. But a fantastic book regardless.)

    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

(At first, the book is overwrought. It feels like a very fun idea given too much intensity, treated as something much more important than it is. But by the end, none of that matters. You are wrapped up, and it is lovely. I’m sure, once the moment of the end has past, I’ll pick at it. But it’s a lovely book, and a lovely read, and I am extremely happy to have read it. Thanks to shivam for suggesting it a long time ago.)

October (0)

November (6)

    For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming

(I feel like Bond short stories are worse than the novels because it has all the stuff I rant about being frustrated by, like how he complains constantly about his extremely affluent lifestyle and his feelings about women, front and center in every intro, and there’s little other stuff to make up for it.)

    The Clockwork Scarab: A Stoker & Holmes Novel by Colleen Gleason

(I think I’m training Amazon pretty well, because it keeps suggesting interesting things. The general conceit of the novel could have fallen flat on its face, as a gimmick, and at first it feels that way, but as the story progresses the characters find life, and I was pretty hooked. I especially liked how the book treated men as sexualized figures for the leads in a realistic way, especially in a YA context like this. Was nice to see. Will certainly read the sequel.)

    Waistcoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger

(I care about these characters and this world SO MUCH. SO MUCH. SO, SO MUCH. SO MUCH IT HURTS. The fact that this ends in the middle of things is frustrating because of this. But it’s a wonderful read.)

    The Spiritglass Charade: A Stoker and Holmes Novel by Colleen Gleason

(Goodness, did it really have to retread things very clearly established in the first book? Was I really expected to have forgotten like… every single thing that happened in book one? I mean, come on. It is quite fun, though. I enjoyed it.)

    Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

(I saw a lot of a past me in this narrator. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It does that wonderful thing I envy where the book is about very little as far as plot is concerned, but is really about a lot. It feels significant, but if prompted to explain where the action comes from, it’s hard to explain. This is a book you should read.)

    Super Mario Bros. 2 by Jon Irwin

(The final Boss Fight Book of season one. It was alright. Certainly some interesting info gained from some interviews, though it lost focus near the end. But all that doesn’t matter. The author disrespected Birdetta by misgendering her, so I hate the book. (It’s honestly fine, but that was annoying.))

December (0)

Here’s to another year of me devouring books whenever I’m nervous yaaaaaaaay.