When presented with the invitation to write a guest blog for the “12 Days of Christmas” thing on the Angry Robot blog, I must admit I floundered a bit. I’m very new to the blogosphere (my college whine-o-blog notwithstanding) and not at all comfortable in my blogger skin. It’s lumpy, it fits too tightly in certain places and isn’t quite snug enough in others, and it smells vaguely of old cheese.
The first idea I had (and the one I toyed with the most) was to write a Christmas-type story starring The Dead of Winter protagonist Cora Oglesby, possibly depicting her hunting down something like David Tallerman’s Santa Thing. However, given that I was slogging through the trenches of She Returns From War, popping my head up every now and again to fire off a few dozen words, the thought of expanding on a universe that was already screaming and exploding in my head didn’t quite suit my palate. I wanted to stretch myself in another direction, to take a quick breather from the novel to write in a completely different style. I’d been reading some nineteenth-century ghost stories in an anthology and wanted to try my hand at writing one myself. I love the exaggerated narrative common to writing from that time period, and I’ve found that writing in that style can be a great exercise in playing with words and how they can flow and crash together. Mixing this excessive verbosity with a story idea I’d had for awhile, one about a teenage girl confronting the paranormal in the wake of her father’s death, seemed natural. The result, which you can read for yourself, was “The Shadow in the Hall.”
I have not had the luxury of playing Skyrim, but I don’t believe that little deterrence should prevent me from joining in on the blogosphere’s great Skyrim dialogues. I have not read any of these blog reviews (or indeed, any reviews at all) because I do not wish to let them influence my own unique perspective on the many tweets and Facebook updates I have experienced with the game. I will, however, allow the Internet-standard list system into my review because it is funny.
1. Skyrim doesn’t support the sanctity of marriage.
Bear in mind that my issue is not with the ability for dudes to marry dudes in-game, though I am somewhat curious how the game deals with homosexuality in its high-fantasy Norse setting.
No, this first gripe is based on a single tweet I read at some point. My concern centers around some guy not caring that his bride-to-be was murdered by a roving band of NPCs during the wedding ceremony. The callous, unfeeling man apparently just stood there while his wife was cut to bloody ribbons. Is this the sort of love we want our children to be learning? Had I a child, I would most certainly teach it to value the life of each individual tavern wench, no matter how generically her face may be rendered. The player spoke of murdering the cold-hearted groom on the spot, however, so I must conclude that justice is a force to be reckoned with in Skyrimdia.
2. The game does not respect women.
According to one post on one blog, you can apparently throw the bodies of naked women around. Said woman may have been a nameless peasant or your loyal companion; it makes no difference. The video on this blog showed the player tossing a naked dead woman onto a rock and electrocuting the corpse with some sort of spell (under the feeble guise of attempting a resurrection). This same person also laughed uncontrollably at his female companion for being repeatedly bashed by a spiked gate device. This sort of rampant sexism sickens me. Rest assured, women of the game: when I finally have a chance to play it, I will buy each and every one of you a donkey to ride around on because I am a gentleman.
Also, I guess there’s a mod somewhere that makes all the women naked, forcing them to freeze to death in the harsh Skyrimdia winters. So that’s not cool, either.
3. In-game tradeskills are amazing.
A friend of mine said that he could spend all day doing the blacksmithing tradeskill minigame thing.
4. Strong Biblical allusions.
Judging by the sheer number of videos on the subject, I am forced to conclude that a main storyline mission involves using “code” magic to summon Messianic amounts of cheese wheels while standing on a mountain. Assuming that this miracle is designed to let you feed a multitude while they listen to your character pontificate on how one is to live life, I must tip my hat to Bethesda for having the balls to work a Norse version of the Sermon on the Mount into a game whose market may or may not include many angry atheists. What’s next for this edgy company? Will the first DLC feature a Norse-style crucifixion of the player character?
As a final thought, I want to salute the game developers for creating a near-perfect facsimile of the sovereign nation of Norway. Time and again, I have seen people tweet or post status updates about how the game essentially functions as a simulator of day-to-day life in this Scandinavian country. Although I have never visited Norway, I do have it on fairly good authority that it does have both snow and trees, so it is not a long stretch to say the other game elements are present there as well. This revelation has ignited a burning desire to visit Oslo so I might better appreciate the game’s nuances when I finally get to play it.
In summation, I believe Skyrim is blazing new trails in the sandbox RPG genre. Whether it is through the seamless intertwining of Norse and Christian mythology, the visceral thrill of hitting hot metal with a hammer, or the labor of love that is the recreation of the Norwegian countryside, I can truly say it is one of the best games I’ve never played. Sure, it still clings to a few vestiges of patriarchal thinking (see the part about naked women getting slaughtered at their weddings), but I’m confident that Bethesda will soon release a patch that fixes everything.
I am an MMO enthusiast. When I was 19, I was an MMO junkie hooked on EverQuest for a summer. Since my introduction to them, I’ve dedicated a small but not inconsequential amount of my life to rollicking around immersive, colorful, enormous worlds with a trusty sword/railgun/laser strapped to my back/hull. Not surprisingly, my longest single affair with such a game was in World of WarCraft, where Tori and I rolled a pair of warriors (mine for tanking, hers for cutting a swath of bloodshed and destruction across the land with an arsenal of ever-more-gargantuan weapons).
Although she and I quit WoW for good back in February, I remain a very enthusiastic fan of the genre (I still have an active EVE Online account). What was my reaction, then, when I learned that EA/BioWare offered me a beta invite for Star Wars: The Old Republic? I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since I developed the fine motor skills to coordinate swooshing sounds with swinging imaginary lightsabers at things, I love MMOs, and high production values can make for some very pretty things. However, contrary to expectations (except for those who read my AT gripe), I did not need to change my underthings or even contain a squee of glee. Instead, I smirked, accepted the invite, and began the colossal download. Creating a generic Sith warrior toon, I embarked on my journey into the Star Wars universe.
And quit about 90 minutes later. My reasons?
1. Ennui. For all its flashing lights, crisp sound, and smooth animation, the game still failed to hold my interest. Granted, I went into it not expecting much, but I was still hoping for a few hours of entertainment. What I found instead was a linear series of soft-boiled MMO standby quests (go fetch the ancient weapon from the dangerous tomb of a long-dead hero) interrupted by Bioware-brand (TM) cutscenes filled with Bioware-brand (TM) robots. Stapling dialogue wheels and good-cop/bad-cop points to an ordinary MMO doesn’t give you an epic, sweeping game any more than stapling feathers to my pet snake gave me one of those winged snake creatures from Kid Icarus. The much-touted story of The Old Republic, fourth pillar though it may be, was too thinly-spread and not engaging enough to disguise the mid-2000’s MMO lurking beneath. I played World of WarCraft for four years; I’m done with rigid class barriers, courier missions, and levels. I quit that game for a reason, and TOR will not sell me on that stale model by wrapping it in a Hutt’s fleshy folds. And lest you think I’m setting my standards for excitement too high, let me remind you that I play EVE.
2. Star Wars lore. Granted, this one isn’t EA/Bioware’s fault, but it’s still something that bothered me about the game. TOR is set hundreds (or is it thousands?) of years before Darth Vader began his galaxy-spanning, bitch-choking tour of duty. Yet, in all those years, there were apparently no notable advances in technology. People are still using blasters/lightsabers, the functional level of droids has remained static, and even the goddamn space superiority fighters sound exactly the same. How am I to believe that, in roughly the same amount of time that it took Europe to go from wearing animal skins to showing us the Higgs-Boson, the denizens of that far away galaxy have only managed to update some of their starship models? Yes, I’m sure there are unheralded advances the size of the Executor hiding in the EU stuff, but it isn’t apparent. Were I a casual observer, I would never be able to tell that centuries are supposed to separate the game from the movies. Ordinarily, this sort of thing would only be a minor irritation and the butt of many jokes, but when a company has such a gaudy reputation for telling amazing stories in their games, I expect amazing internal consistency and a logical progression of society. With TOR, one gets the feeling that the Star Wars galaxy simply warbled into being at the very pinnacle of its technological achievement.
So there it is, my one-two punch at $100,000,000 worth of development, planning, execution, and delivery. I suppose I am being shallow, hypocritical, and judgmental. Even now, I can sense fanboys squirming in their chairs, just aching for the chance to Force-choke the life out of me. They are selecting the bottom option of their dialogue wheels, ready to give me a vague description of a piece of their minds.
Having now completed my second (non-consecutive) NaNoWriMo during a month in which I worked full-time, was enrolled in three credits of pre-calculus math courses, celebrated Thanksgiving with two different families, and nursed an ailing girlfriend through an abscessed wisdom tooth and its extraction, I am now firmly of the belief that The Office of Letters and Light should issue a pamphlet of post-operational instructions to guide participants through the rehabilitation process. Chuck Wendig has graciously offered us a list of suggestions which alludes to that Robert Frost poem about suicide. Sound advice for all NaNo participants (well, maybe not the suicide bit) delivered in his usual monkey-fist-to-your-windpipe method; I highly recommend taking it.
Were I to add to his list, I might also advise allowing yourself a small slackening of pace for the remainder of your journey. I myself plan on dialing back the throttle from 1,667 to 1,500 per day. Huge difference, amirite? Maybe not, but the friendly zeroes and easily-divisible nature of 1,500 put me at ease. Nothing against prime numbers, mind you, but 1,667 is an erratic, unstable entity that might suddenly shift beneath you, throwing you headlong into an ocean of sulfuric acid so you can watch the flesh slough from your bones to a soundtrack of your own agonizing screams. However, you certainly deserve no more cheerful a fate if you just let your project rot once December’s rent comes due. If you do, you are abandoning your characters and their world to the horrors of nonbeing. They will forever suffer in a state of quantum uncertainty, not knowing if they are even alive at all. After spending an entire month with them, nurturing them, laughing with them, screaming obscenities at them, killing them in non-ambiguous ways, you can’t just leave them staring into the churning abyss from whence comes all madness and despair.
Though your hands may feel like the above image (courtesy of one Roberta Scalvini), you must not let a day pass without adding even a little to the creature now spread out upon the operating table of your imagination. Splice genes, add limbs, nip/tuck, arc electric currents through sensitive tissues, and do whatever else you need to do (to yourself) to get that thing viable and functional. It may only be 500 words per day, but hold to your guns and see the battle through. If you do, you may end up with a book on shelves one day. After all, my 2009 NaNo project became my debut novel The Dead of Winter, and this year’s project is the first (half of the first) draft of the sequel She Returns From War. You never know what may happen with a finished manuscript, but you can always know with absolute certainty what happens with an unfinished one: nothing. And not the awesome kind of nothing government agents convince you you saw that night in the sky. This is a boring, terrible, shame-inducing nothing that will make you sound lame at cocktail parties. If you’re as socially adroit as I am, you don’t need any help in that regard, so do yourself a favor and finish the goddamn manuscript.