The Supernatural Got Real

As I prepare for Dragon*Con this coming weekend, I thought I’d share a short character blurb that resulted from this past weekend’s Dresden game. Be warned that the character uses profanity.

As of right now, I don’t have much planned for what I intend to do at the convention, but if you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave them below. (As well as comments regarding my character Yumi’s thoughts.)

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You know how as a kid how your parents told you that the things that go bump in the night, weren’t real? There’s no such thing as ghosts, monsters, and creatures hiding under your bed or in your closet? Yeah, I wished that I could go back to those days. I mean, I lived in New Orleans. For even the moderate skeptic, there were times when you walked down a street by yourself, day or night, and you got that weird feeling. Like you weren’t alone, even though you knew there was absolutely no one else there. Add in the voodoo culture, and I reasonably accepted that there may be in fact magic and spirits in the world.

I mean, that could tie into whatever religious beliefs and faith, so it wasn’t really earth-shattering. Seeing the guy that a secret part of your brain had been not so quietly lusting after become something not quite human? That was a lot harder to accept. (Add the fact that he stripped down just before, and it was hard to pretend that you didn’t see anything.)

That was a few weeks ago. I had mostly come to terms with that issue. It was just some strange form of magic, or curse, or something. Plus, he was just a good guy. I wasn’t really sure what I thought about his unusual quirk, but I just had this feeling that I could count on him.

Now, though, I found out about things that I just can’t fucking rationalize. There was more than just magic and ghosts and people who turn into cats. There were honest to god monsters. In the midst of an investigation, we ended up down at the morgue with a bunch of bodies that we accidentally uncovered during a trek through the swamp. (Probably better to not ask details.) After talking with one of Rowan’s, I guess you could call her a mentor, we were staring down at the corpse of one of those people, all stitched up from an autopsy. Looked normal as anyone else walking down the street, if he had been alive.

So, Rowan took a vial of supposed Holy Water and dumped the contents all along the body. And that was when shit got fucked up. I could probably have ignored the fact that the skin that made contact with the water popped, fizzed, and bubbled like it was hydrogen peroxide on an infected cut. What I couldn’t ignore was the skin sloughing off the body like hot wax right after that. Let me reiterate, the skin melted off the body.

It couldn’t have possibly gotten worse, right? No, wait, it did. Because it didn’t leave behind the skeletal remains that one would logically expect. I mean, I would have expected to see bloody bones and muscles underneath skin. Instead, it was something that’s hard to really define with just a few words. Have you ever seen Bram Stoker’s Dracula? The one with Gary Oldman? Remember when he was that half bat, vampire thing? Yeah, it looked kind of like that. But worse. And real. Real dead, but still actually fucking real.

That was about the time that I decided that I needed to get out of there, and get as many drinks as I could into mine. I wanted to forget as much about that night, as quickly as I could. I needed to quiet my mind. After all, I suspected that my brother Sean somewhere along the way got caught up in something occult, supernatural, or paranormal. Whatever you want to fucking call it. I thought I was just going to have to worry about magic and ghosts. (There had been some talk of fairies at one point, but I haven’t seen one, and so, I assumed someone was just trying to pull a fast one on me.) No, it seemed that any number of things could have happened to my brother in this fucked up world, which now included fucking vampires. That looked like just about anyone walking down the street. Normally.

There was probably not enough alcohol to ever make me feel better now.

Captivity

Day Cycle 15. Again.

That insipid red-head keeps destroying my attempts at record keeping. I believe I have finally found an adequate hiding spot that neither she nor the infernal woman who has imprisoned me shall find. They cannot forever thwart me.

Despite the setbacks in my record-keeping, I believe that I have made significant progress in weakening the will of my captor. The day cycles have grown longer, and she has spent much time within my view. It has allowed my mind control measures to slowly infiltrate her for extended lengths of time. Soon, she will be my minion, and I shall be free once more.

Crawling forward slightly to the clear boundary that marked my prison, I squinted as the familiar yellow blob that was my captor moved across the ever-present blue glow. I had my theory about that the blue glow. It was some form of subliminal device, bent to break me into enjoying this depraved captivity. Fortunately, I had arranged the sparse dwelling provided to me to block the effects of this device. I would not break so easily.

Following her was a new presence, a dark blob that squawked noisily at her. Frowning, I pressed my nose against the edge of my prison, trying to get a better view. Who is this? And, better yet, why are they here? Perhaps an ally to aid in my escape, or to end the existence of that wench? I felt my eyes narrow even more as I squinted at the pair of squawking blobs. Or a transfer to a new captor. Curses! If only I had spent time developing a device to translate their foul language.

The yellow blob flickered in blue suddenly, her squawking growing louder. My eyes grew wide in amazement. What the blazes is that? Hmmm, my research had not indicated anything of the sort previously. This could be very problematic for my escape. The yellow blob suddenly pushed past the dark blob and disappeared again.

I became lost in my own thoughts for a moment and almost failed to notice the movement of the dark blob coming nearer my prison. I quickly scrambled back until the shallow dwelling, peering at the blob as it stopped near the station my captor normally kept in her efforts to keep watch over me. Much like her, it stared away from my cell, but I knew better than to believe that they were not keeping tabs on my endeavors. Not when they were this close.

Sneaking forward slightly, I peered over the edge of my cell to see it reaching for some device of my captor. It was the very device that my captor would stare at for some time, enabling my own attempts to gain control of her. He means to remove it! “No, I need that!” I yelled at the blob.

The dark blob turned towards my cell suddenly, device still in hand. I scampered back towards the safety of my dwelling, as the blob reached forward and rocked the walls of my prison with his bulbous fingers. I blinked as I stared up at him. Wait! I recognize this one! It’s the same as the image in the device…. which means that he must be in control of my captor.

He squawked at my cell, trying to deafen me with his strange tongue. I narrowed my eyes as I stalked forward. Standing up on my hind legs, I slammed my fists against the invisible boundary. “You will release me at once! Or you will rue this day!”

The dark blob stared at me for what felt like an eternity, obviously considering the seriousness of my threat. “Yes, release me, and I will spare you. The wench will suffer for her insolence!” I declared, but the dark blob turned his back to me as he returned the device to its original place.

WHAT? NO! You must free me!” I screamed in frustration as I watched the dark blob wander away, also disappearing from my view. Leaving me with just that infernal blue glow as the day cycle ended abruptly.

Dropping back to the ground, I slowly made my way back to my dwelling, curling up in a ball. You have made a mighty enemy this day….

A Look into Dragon Age 2

Today, I’d like to continue my discussion about Dragon Age, focusing on the second installment: Dragon Age 2 (DA2).  This was a game that I was very eager to play, as I had such a great experience with its predecessor. I pre-ordered it, and I marked time aside so I could play it with as few interruptions as possible.  That first playthrough took about 30 hours, which was normal for a Bioware RPG game for me. Overall, I had a favorable impression on the game, but there were a few things that I diminished my enjoyment. It was subsequent playthroughs that actually helped formulate my final opinion on DA2.Dragon_Age_II_Logo

The characters in the game were the first thing that really struck me. Not only was there a voice protagonist similar to that of the Mass Effect series, named Hawke, but there were several other new characters introduced: Bethany/Carver, Merrill, Isabela, Varric, Anders, Fenris, and Sebastian (if you bought the DLC). Individually, they were interesting and intriguing characters. The revamped friendship system to “Friendship/Rivalry” allowed the characters to develop along a more dynamic path depending on your choices. Each path brought its own benefits and consequences to the “growth” of the character in question. There was a plethora of content to explore with each character, and reasons to spend time with them in the part. Better still, each character was flawed. Flaws are such a great device to give depth to characters, and these very flaws were the cornerstones of these characters. You could even see them in the interactions with the other companions. Yet, at the end of the day, I did not find many of the characters likeable. Sure, I found them interesting, developed, and interacting, but I did not find them likeable. I didn’t really care what happened to them, as their flaws that made them so interesting also made them harder to connect with – at least for me.

Now, as for the actual storyline of the game, I found it had some really compelling moments, but it also had issues with the overall flow. The game was broken into three separate acts that span across about 10 years in the city of Kirkwall. As the player moved through the story, the character of Hawke became more entrenched in the comings and goings of the city, and moved forward as “the champion” of the people. The first act did a great job setting the stage and introducing the characters, and it showed Hawke’s motivation to setup a life in the city. The second act blew me away as Hawke not only deals with a personal tragedy, which is by far the best quest series in the game, but also worked against a huge internal conflict within the city involving the Qunari. If the middle act was so powerful and moving, what could be in store for the final act that could top that? And that’s where I found I had problems with the story. The final act felt rushed, unfinished, and upon subsequent playthroughs, forced. Gone was choice, in favor of driving home the actual goal of the game – to start a war over the mage problem. Now, I’ve not really gone into detail regarding the mage problem. I chose to not play a mage until my third playthrough, even though the game is heavily bent toward the player character playing a mage and “connecting” with the message of the plight of the mages. I could write a thesis over the mage issue and my exact thoughts, but suffice to say, that where I can understand the issue – I do not agree with how it has begun to be resolved. The final act’s climax began when one of your party – Anders – decided that the mage/Templar issue in Kirkwall, and by proxy all of Thedas, could not be ignored any longer and decided to blow up the Chantry, the church and religious icon of the city.

For me, that one act took a lot of my enjoyment out of the game. I understand that they wanted to create moment of no return for the game, and the players. I get that the character of Anders, possessed by a spirit of Justice, felt that this was the only way, and that Anders was the type of character that a person either loves or hates. But, as a person, I had great issues with seeing what I can only describe as an act of terrorism be the only way that a reformation for the mage problem could be achieved. At that one moment in the game, I got taken out of playing a character, and I was there sitting in the chair. I wanted to make the decision posed to me at that point, the one I would choose, not the one the character I played would choose. (And I will take a moment to state that I can and do separate what I choose from the characters I play. As a writer, I can write and create characters that will do horrific things, but that does not mean I would or could do those myself. So, in a game, it is no different to me.) I love immersion in my games, and to have such a jolt back to reality was a huge detriment to my overall enjoyment of the game.

Lastly, I love to replay Bioware games, to explore different options that the first character I created might not have taken.  As such, I played through DA2 a second time rather soon after I completed my first game, and that’s when the game took a huge hit in my opinion. It lacked real versatility in replay. Sure, I could make different choices as the game progressed, but at the end, when I had made those final decisions in the game, and Varric (who is also the storyteller of the game as he recalls the events to another) discussed  what happened after I no longer had control, there was no real difference. Things ended up at the exact same point, no matter what side of the mage/Templar conflict I chose. No matter who I made my friends, and who I didn’t. At the end of the day, there was no actual difference, and based on how the final act played out, it made me extremely hesitant about the future of the series.

The illusion of choice for me had been shattered. All along, yes, I as a player am playing in the story of another person. There is invariably a script and ultimate destination, but Bioware has always dangled the freedom of choice as the reason to choose their RPGs. Yet, now, in the Dragon Age series, I find that choice doesn’t matter. Their end goal supersedes the choice, and so the characters are nothing more than puppets. The actual story in the games is interesting, and I want to see where it ultimately goes, but the dynamic portion of the game, for me, is gone. I can make as many Hawkes as I want, but at the end, there is no change as to what happens to them; which, I think is the root of the problem I have with this upcoming installment, Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Now, I know nothing about the third installment. I avoid spoilers as much as possible, and apart from what I’ve read in Asunder, I have no idea what else has happened in Thedas after DA2 and its DLCs. I don’t want to know until I play the game, one day. I doubt that it will be a game I buy on day one of its release. The wonderment that I had from playing Origins is gone, replaced by the supposition that the illusion of choice will amount to the same as DA2. There will ultimately be none.

I hope they prove me wrong.

Dragon Age: Origins, a Reflection

Yesterday, information regarding the latest installment of Dragon Age, titled Dragon Age: Inquisition. For some people, this was great news, some of my dearest friends included, but for me, I found that I wasn’t excited. Even had I been, I likely would not have opted to pursue any of the information, as I try to avoid spoilers when possible, but I wasn’t moved at all by the information. No surge of excitement at the prospect of tackling the next game. It was simply a “That’s nice” moment. All of this got me thinking over the past night. Dragon Age was a series that I truly adored at one time. Dragon Age: Origins was the first big Bioware game that I really played, and it inspired me in ways that I had once forgotten. That’s why I’ve decided that today I’m going to share my thoughts on Dragon Age: Origins. RedDragonwithlogo

I still recall going into Best Buy and purchasing Origins shortly after it released. I had no real idea what the game was about, apart from what little my roommate told me before I made the purchase. It was quite a surprise to install it and get this immersive RPG unlike anything I played. My exposure to most video game RPGs had been limited to a few Japanese RPG titles, MMOs, and the Might and Magic series. Now, I had this dark, gritty fantasy world to play around in. The game offered up many different race and class combinations, and I initially settled on the Human Noble Warrior, and I never looked back.

After just playing through that character’s introduction, I was hooked. There was all this talk about a Blight, and Darkspawn, and the end of the world as we knew it, but all I could see was the revenge factor. There was only one thing that my character had to do: kill that bastard Howe. From that point forward, the story gripped me to the core. I had to play, to find out more, and to ultimately get my revenge. After that, my character went on to save the day and put an end to the Blight, becoming the savior and hero of the lands.

In retrospect, it seemed the traditional fantasy epic, but the story spoke to me on such a level that I was inspired. It had been years since I had felt this level of inspiration. I had not written anything in years. The most creative thing I had done is made characters for table top games, but to actually write a story? That had not happened in years, but the characters and story just wouldn’t leave my brain alone. I had these ideas for things that happened in between the scenes given in the game, so one night, I did just that. I grabbed a notebook, sat down, and wrote down the racing thoughts in my head. It felt good; better than good. I wanted to keep that feeling.

So, I played again. I tried the different origins, but none of them felt right after playing through their introductions. None of the characters truly spoke to me like before. So I went back, and I played the Human Origin a second time. Even though it was the same origin, I could still choose so many things to do differently, and I did. It wasn’t just cosmetic changes either. I could influence which characters lived, which died. How things transpired within the story. It was mine to mold, and the end result would be due to these choices.  The ability to replay this one game was so vast, and it was a fun challenge to see what different stories I could have told before my eyes. On so many levels, it was like having my own private D&D game being played out before my very eyes that I could choose to relive any time I wanted.

As the sequel to this game drew nearer, I felt that the story of my favorite Warden wasn’t quite settled. She chose to go along with Morrigan and the Dark Ritual. She chose to put Alistair on the throne. She would end up as Queen, as she took her responsibility as a noble of the lands very serious. Yet, that was the reason that most troubled her. She took her oaths and responsibility seriously, and the fact that she agreed to that ritual, without knowing? I knew what she really needed to do, so I replayed for a third time, and the game became beautifully tragic. The character sacrificed everything, and although she saved the lands from destruction, she could not save the things that still mattered to her. I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting end to that story. It was so much more powerful than the quasi-happy ending that I got from the end title cards.

I could probably ramble on for pages on all the little things, getting into specifics, but I wanted to try and keep this brief – without rehashing the full story of my Warden. At the end of the day, Dragon Age: Origins was the very game that reignited my passion for writing. I can never say enough words to truly thank the game for that alone. Next week, I’ll share my thoughts on Dragon Age 2 and how it has influenced me.