That thing, of course, is Metroid Metal.
I’ve finally finished my first draft of She Returns From War. Over half of this draft was written with their wailing riffs and pounding bass lines pouring through my headphones. I couldn’t really say why. While drafting The Dead of Winter, I listened to a much more diverse selection of music through my Nightwish Pandora channel, supplemented by VNV Nation. For this book, though, I was so thoroughly enamored with this group’s interpretations of Metroid themes that I listened to little else during the months of November and December. Mad props to Rob Haines for guiding me to their shrine.
This drafting process differed from my experience with The Dead of Winter in other ways as well. Most notably, the pressure of the deadline removed nearly all of the casual, just-for-shits feeling of drafting my first book. Ironic when you consider that She Returns From War took me over a month longer to write despite both books being nearly identical in length, but there it is. I wasn’t just drafting in response to some vague, largely ignorant ambition of becoming a novelist; I was drafting in response to a very real contract in which I agreed to write a book. That thought has gnawed at the back of my mind since I first signed on with Angry Robot, whittling away at my security, sanity, and laziness like some giant, meth-addled rodent with an antisocial complex.
I suppose my single greatest apprehension
iswas the fear that this book will somehow not measure up to The Dead of Winter. I found myself constantly questioning its quality, deathly afraid that, had their places been switched, this novel would not have landed me the deal. It’s hardly fair to compare a first draft with a manuscript I’d spent a year polishing, but insecurities care not for justice. Knowing that this book will be held up to a standard and that it will be published adds entire new dimensions of obsessing over quality, even in the first draft. I fully recognize that I’m far too close to the manuscript now to have any hope of making an objective-ish assessment of its quality. All I see are the flaws, the parts that extracted wails of misery from my inner editor, the short sections of prose that took me far too many hours to choke out. Whether or not my beta readers pick up on these chinks in the armor remains to be seen.
Fortunately, I simultaneously operated under the
delusionimpression that I was incorporating the lessons I’d learned from The Dead of Winter into this draft. These were mostly on a compositional level–sentence construction and dialogue and whatnot–rather than esoteric things like pacing and theme and tension. Wordcraft rather than storycraft, if you will. I’m hoping that, if successful, this increased attention to the mechanics during the first draft will free me up to pay more attention to abstracts in the revising stages, but that remains to be seen. I’m sure beta readers will look back at this post and howl with laughter after finding all of my typos, misused words, and clunky flow.
Yes, this is the beginning of a trend. Such a trend, in fact, that I am already in negotiations with a VERY BIG PUBLISHER for rights to my “First Impressions” series. It will be like “Stuff White People Like” in its scope, tone, and appeal. What makes it special is that it will actually continue to update after the book deal has been signed.
The Darkness II demo does a good job of pulling the player into the story right away. It achieves this by crucifying said player and having Two-Face’s working-class cousin growl semi-coherent drivel about “giving up the darkness” to him. Were the main character a woman, I imagine this tirade would be met with great umbrage by campus feminist alliances nationwide. The Saw-style interrogation is interrupted by playable flashbacks featuring a classic mobster dustup in what appears to be New York City. The faceless protagonist, Johnny Estacado, arrives at a posh restaurant for a nice supper with two identical examples of puberty’s generosity. Before he can take the proper time to ogle, a truck crashes through the wall, splattering the women’s overzealous pituitary glands all over our hero. Guys in bright orange overalls pour through the windows, and the shooting begins. A short time later, a bomb explodes, and little Johnny grows two hideous demonic snake things out of his shoulders.
More shooting and screaming and grabbing of guys with evil snake jaws ensue as Johnny fights through the crowded back alleys with his faithful Cockney demon monkey at his side. The bad mobsters employ limited vocabularies to taunt him, he rips them in half, civilians scream and hide. In a reversal of Alan Wake logic, Johnny must shoot out the lights in the alley and metro station to survive; his toothy appendages apparently don’t flourish beneath compact fluorescents. In addition to the snake arms, Johnny has access to standard gangland armaments: pistols, Uzis, and shotguns. The firearms come in handy when the sinister orange jumpsuits are beyond the reach of the vicious black tumors.
Things I Enjoyed
-The combination of regular FPS pew pew with the om-nom-nom of Medusa’s assertive wig collection make for some pleasant diversion from the genre standard. There’s also a touch of Dead Rising in the left-hand snake’s ability to weaponize a lot of objects in the environment. Car doors, corpses, dumpster, and steel rods may all be used to rack up “essence” kills–the gorier the better–for unlocking new powers.
-The story itself seemed like a plot one might see in the Illuminati branch of The Secret World. I’m a sucker for anything that looks like it belongs in that game, so great is my anticipation for it.
Things I Didn’t Enjoy
-While the combat is fun, I could see it getting very repetitive very quickly. The five-taunt list given to the bad guys–which they fire off as energetically and frequently as their bullets–grows tiresome before you get through the first flashback. If the fight scenarios follow suit, I can’t see this title holding my interest for long.
-The monkey-demon thing is rather out-of-place, even in a game about a guy who has Satanic monsters living in his shoulders. The sidekick insists Johnny created him out of his own head, but we’re given no explanation beyond that. He doesn’t add much combat utility and seems only to serve as crude comic relief. Given that I had no intense emotional investment in the culling of the Pumpkin Patch Punks, seeing the monkey piss on their corpses didn’t do a whole lot for me.
Verdict: not a full-price purchase, not even a priority discount purchase. Had it come out this time last year, I may have been more interested. With 2012’s fantastic lineup, however, I’m afraid this one will fall by the wayside. Soon enough, I shall have no more need for Secret World surrogates. Soon enough.
No, I don’t know what the diametric opposite of blood is on the black magic scale. I left Jowan to snivel and mope in Redcliffe’s dungeon, so he can’t tell me, either. If science can get away with “antimatter”, I’m calling “antiblood” valid.
In the two weeks since I posted my reasoning for taking a break from novelizing prior to the completion of the first draft, I have since resumed work on the manuscript, edging it 5,000 words closer to completion. Why the sudden burst of productivity? Can 5,000 words in two weeks really be called a “burst of productivity”?
To dodge the second question: I attribute the abrupt forward momentum after three weeks of stalled progress to a few things. The first of these is the public declaration of my failure. By announcing that I’d stopped work on the book, I suddenly felt much more ashamed of my failure. The guilt had already been lacerating my viscera like coked-up scorpions with throwing stars, and the post about it added tiny screaming monkeys on the backs of the scorpions.
Aside from the (possibly) metaphoric internal hemorrhaging, I was simply stuck on how best to approach the book’s conclusion. The ending is one I’ve had in mind for over a year, and I like it quite a bit. However, liking it doesn’t make it easy to write. Quite the opposite, in fact. Despite the wisdom of “write now, revise later”, I want to get it as close to right as I can the first time around. True, it still won’t be very close, but rushing through this part wouldn’t feel fair to the characters. They deserve the very best of my horrid first-draft prose.
This is the part of the research article (you did know that’s what this is, right?) where I discuss implications and limitations of these results. However, given the extent of rigor and precision with which this study was conducted, I believe the above image will suffice. Really, I only pretend I know what I’m doing.
Faithful followers of this blog might be familiar with my stance on this generation of Bioware RPGs.
However, as much as they would like to think otherwise, Bioware isn’t actually synonymous with WRPG. The term “WRPG” is even somewhat misleading, as many people equate it solely with American RPG giants Bioware and Bethesda. Lesser-known (but arguably more skillful) studios like CCP, CD Projekt RED–to whom PC gamers owe limitless fealty for their brainchild Good Old Games–or Runic Games aren’t often considered in the great WRPG vs. JRPG debates.
I’m resisting the urge to pull out the “just play what you enjoy” copout here; this is the Internet, and people expect uninformed, half-baked opinions. This past winter, I’ve watched Tori play through both 360 and PS2 RPGs while immersed in The Witcher 2 and Skyrim. This experience has outlined what to me seem like the key differences between the genres: WRPG fans favor engaging gameplay and
the illusion of choice, and JRPG fans choose epic stories and dynamic characterization. YES I KNOW THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS AND CLICHES SHUTTHEFUCKUP. I am making a generalization. For every Geralt of Rivia, there is at least one BrickShep. For every Auron, there is a Yuffie Kisaragi. Nothing is perfect.
Why do I say JRPGs are better with story and character in the face of OMGMEGASTORY Mass Effect? Quite simply, I never felt emotionally invested in any of BrickShep’s crew during my playthrough, to say nothing of the dead-faced automaton himself. Making the gut-wrenching choice between Kaidan and Ashley boiled down to simple utility. Ashley was useful in combat; Kaidan used up valuable oxygen on the Normandy to whine about being bullied. Choice made, chuckle had at the image of Kaidan disintegrating in that nuclear fireball, reflection that if the game really did allow freedom of choice, it would have let me chain Joker to the bomb as well because fuck that guy.
By contrast, while watching Tori play through sleeper JRPG Nier (as fantastic a game as ever there was), I felt myself choking up when one of the characters sacrifices himself to save the others. The event is 100% scripted, unavoidable, no you do not get a goddamn fucking choice in the matter, and it was far more powerful than any option on any dialogue wheel ever made has ever been.
I suppose the bottom line is this: I view the video game RPG (not pen-and-paper RPGs) as an electronic, interactive novel. I want the story to be so amazing that I am willing to grind for hours on trash mobs to see how it ends. With Mass Effect and most of the rest of the WRPG line, I feel as though I am reading a choose-your-own-adventure book. Story length and depth are sacrificed to write in alternate paths and endings that really don’t matter all that much. Combat tends to be more engaging (Fable is loads more fun than Final Fantasy XII, for example), yes, but I don’t play RPGs for gameplay. If I want fast-paced, enjoyable combat, I’ll pop in Arkham Asylum. If I want a sweeping storyline full of memorable characters and fantastic music, I’ve learned to put up with squeaky voices and big eyes.