The Present

Slow Show: for Julian

julian 2

My brother.

Julian is, without a doubt, impossible to read. To use a tired quote, he is a riddle wrapped in  an enigma. When you hang out with him in person, he treats you exactly like he treats everyone else around him. His easygoing attitude seems at odds with his seeming indifference, an unlikely juxtaposition between feeling at peace and friendly while also giving everyone the cold shoulder.

There are very few people with whom this is not the case, and who get to know Julian fully and well. I feel I am not one of these people, but I’d like to try to share what I know.


Even though it’s noon, the basement is dark and somber. Shafts of light from the small windows nearby break through the gloom, floating dust statically staying still as if the beams of day had frozen them in place. A futon lies in the middle of the floor. Someone is curled up in a ball, their head buried in the covers. Julian.

Soft music plays from his computer nearby. I don’t know the band, but I like the sound; it takes a minute for me to register it’s indie rock. Honest, earnest music, like a good friend in a bad time.

I ask him if he’s alright.

He grunts.

I leave. Not much else to do; trying to talk to him right now would be like talking to a stone.


It’s fact that Julian feels quite deeply. Despite this, and I have no idea where he learned how, the man has a poker face that’s hard to beat. Talking to someone he likes and to a person he hates, you would barely be able to tell the difference. Most people would be passive aggressive, sarcastic, something. Julian? Nothing.

Even when you’re alone with him, the most he has to say about anyone in private is that they’re some expletive or another, and that’s that. Thing is, Julian is incredibly good at walls. He’s all the tougher and tenacious for it, sure; but sometimes I wonder what else is going on in that head of his.


My nails are chewed down to a stub, two of them are bleeding. It stings a little, but I don’t care. I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack, but I’ll have no idea that’s what it is until 4 years later.

“Yo.” Julian walks in through the doorway, carrying his laptop. He sets up across the table from me, plugs in Jimmers (his computer), and boots up Heroes of Newerth.

“Hey. You playing HoN?”

He grabs a handful of jelly beans from a Costco sized bag of Jelly Bellies.

“Duh.”

He knows something is up, but as per usual, he doesn’t talk. The voices of strangers blare from his speakers; apparently, someone else had called a character and is calling them a little bitch. Charming.

“Hey man, chill,” Julian says through a mouthful of candy, “it’s just a game. Let’s settle down, take it easy.”

The jerk on the other end calls Julian a couple of colourful words not fit for print, and leaves the game.

“How does this not piss you off?” I ask.

Shaking his head, he tells me that it does piss him off.

“But what the hell am I gonna do about it,” he adds, “It’s not like bitching about it will change much.” He grabs another jelly bean, and tells the rest of his team to get their shit together.

An hour later, he ends up winning.


Julian joined the Navy a couple of years ago now. His practical nature and quick wit made him some easy friends and were instrumental in successfully  passing his officer training; either through study, or through convincing the people training him that their test was hot trash.

I know my own brother half as well as I’d like, but I know the important stuff. He’s kind, brave, and practical. He’ll do anything for someone he cares about, and is quick to defend those he deems worthy. Rolling with the punches comes naturally to the man, and he’s just as quick to dish it out when it does something useful.

More importantly than all that, Julian is a good man. I suppose that’s all that I need to know, and knowing more wouldn’t change a thing.


A chill wind blows past me, a bitter English February evening in London, as I walk down the street towards home.

I’d just lost my teaching position at the primary school I’d been working at for six weeks. I wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye to my class; just a quick meeting with the head teacher and bam. Out on my ass, looking for more supply work.

A gust whips at my face, but through the comfortable numbness of oncoming depression and my very scruffy beard, I barely feel a thing. My iPhone plays away, the music turning from the game remix I’d been listening to for the past few minutes into something I’d forgotten about.

It takes me a minute to realize it’s indie rock. I instantly think of Julian, and I recognize the tune from the basement. It had been at least half a decade since then. Since then, Julian had recovered from a terrible memory. Since then, Julian had become an officer in the Navy. Since then, Julian had started seeing a wonderful girl, and was now happier than I’d ever seen him.

I whisper under my breath, “Slow Show.” It’s a song by the National, a group I know Julian liked a lot. I’ve no idea if he still likes them, or anything, but I know he listened to this song once, when he needed a good friend in a bad time.

Thinking about Julian fills me with a sigh, and I start walking with renewed energy. I smile, and think: it’s not like bitching will change much, right?

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Response: Boss Fights

Mike Rugnetta of PBS Idea Channel asked in his latest video about Boss Fights what people thought about… well, boss fights. In games, specifically. In reality, he asked two questions:

  1. What are Boss fights (to you?) and what do they do?
  2. What about games without Boss Fights? Or adversity at all?

Before I start drunkenly answering these questions, you might want to go check out the video for yourselves. Click the link to watch it, then come back; I promise this post isn’t going anywhere.


Alright, welcome back. Let’s talk bosses! Or at least let me blow smoke up your respective asses about bosses!

boss

He’s listening…

Boss fights are, popularly, a test of the skills you have learned. Traditionally, boss fights are staged, closed off skill checks that require a certain amount of mastery over skills learned over the course of a game. Some games test recently acquired skills; a perfect example of this can be found in the more recent Legend of Zelda games, where the means to defeating a boss is found within the dungeon preceding it.

In these kinds of games, the boss fight is very much a licensing test, where the dungeon is a training course and defeating the boss is proof enough for the developers that a player has mastered the item, and can be counted on to figure out when and how to use it.

In other games (Enter the Gungeon comes to mind, simply because I’ve played/watched it a lot), Bosses are a pure test of in-game skill. The items you’ve acquired and progress you’ve made during a playthrough will make a boss fight easier, no doubt; but if you’re garbage at dodge rolling, you’re still going to hit the ground hard enough to make a 6 foot deep crater.

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More or less; depends on how you died.

In these games, the skills required to beat the game are typically given right at the start, and each progressive boss simply ramps up the difficulty, either by increasing the number of threatening situations or limiting the room for errors, which forces a player to hone their skill to the point where the boss can be defeated.

Boss fights aren’t necessarily one singular entity, though; in Devil Daggers, for instance, there is one boss in the game, somewhere so far into a run that under 2% of all players have ever seen it. Every other “boss” moment is either the introduction of new enemy types, which quickly become a regular and terrifyingly numerous occurrence, or a suddenly large wave of enemies to combat all at once. Moments like these are still tests, but without all the drama of a big baddy. The idea is that, once these moments are mastered, future parts of the game can be accessed and played better, leading to further boss moments.

All of this, however, requires “buy in” from the player, and this is where the second question kicks in. Can games without adversity still have boss fights?

My short answer is ‘yes,’ they can, if we look at boss fights from a different point of view.

Broken down to its essentials, a boss fight in most games is a payout for the gradual structured rise in tension brought on from mounting difficulty and more complex game mechanics. The rising difficulty of challenges designed to make players figure out how to use the bow and arrow in Ocarina of Time’s Forest Temple climaxes with the shadow Ganon fight at the very end of the ordeal. This moment only feels like a proper boss fight so long as the player understands that this moment, this fight, is the ultimate skill check before the reward the player knows is coming; they’re accustomed to having their reward at the end, damnit. In addition, the boss fight itself, being a spike in difficulty, earns its “boss” status in part because of the incredible difficulty spike.

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Now with 2 times the murder!

In short, change and conflict create the emotional buy-in from the player necessary to give it the oomph required of a boss fight. Good boss fights are tough, but not too tough, and you won’t find them in the middle of a section of gameplay (unless it is a “mini” boss, a fight only significant enough to break up the steady pacing of a dungeon and create a mid-point for the player to reference how far along they’ve come).

In non-adversity games the question becomes “how do you create tension when mechanics and mounting difficulty are non-issues?” Unlike more mechanically focused games, where story telling and narrative can help but are ultimately not necessary for building the tension to create a boss fight moment, narrative games create the tension required of “boss” moments through writing and story.

Journey, for example, creates powerful, beautiful moments where the player is invited to experience the adventures of their pilgrim; sand-surfing, for instance, or the terrifying crossing where you have to avoid the large, mechanical snakes lest they… do something.

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Look, don’t ask questions here, I don’t want to know.

Point is, all of these emotions and thoughts the player brings with them start to stack one atop the other in a big, unstable, tension piled mess. When the player reaches the final moments of the pilgrim’s journey, the payoff is palpable; nerves, hope for survival, and the desperate chanting of “come on, you can make it!..” These feelings are practically the same as a boss fight, where instead of the payoff coming from beating a difficult check of abilities learned, payoff comes from narrative resolution from a character overcoming the issues facing them through story and presentation.

At the heart of both of these ideas is one of conflict, and its resolution. Boss fights are just big conflicts; and if there’s one thing that good stories do to the exclusion of all else, it’s conflict and the resolution of them. Instead of boss “fights” you have boss “moments” but in the end, both kinds of games have bosses to cross, moments of gameplay where a player invested in a game will find the same kind of feeling and weight from either one.

 

Dark

dark hallwayThis is the story of one brave (?) boy and his need to go to the bathroom.

The boy lay in the bed, sleeping soundly. His chest rose. It fell. It rose again. The rhythm of a slow pulse, in and out, the coming and going of waves on the shore. Unexpectedly, a sharp intake of air and his eyes, blurry from sleep, cracked open. He was awake, and dimly aware of  one of the most basic needs; the need to go pee.

The nightlight at the far end of his room shone a comforting light, a sunlike glow across the warm peach painted walls and the soft carpet floor.

First things first, under the bed. The boy carefully got to the side of the bed, and like Spiderman hung his head carefully over the edge of the bed. Unlike Spiderman, he realized he did not have sticky hands and began to slip, causing him to scramble for a handhold anywhere on the loose duvet, which of course he didn’t find. A short tumble later, the boy was secure of two things:

  1. No monster under the bed.
  2. He was very awake.

Carefully picking himself back up to avoid the creaky parts of the floor, the boy snuck across the floor of his room to the door bordering his land, and the land of his brother. He guided the door open slowly. The door made all the noise in the world, much his chagrin, but his little brother slept soundly… for now.

Still, the boy knew what to do. He had a lot of practice with these floorboards, the hardwood a path of solid and creaky places to walk. Imagining himself a dashing adventurer, like Indiana Jones, the boy tip toed across the floor avoiding the noisy spaces like his heroes avoided the trapped squares.

*creaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaak* went the floor.

The boy stood stock still. Halfway to the door on the opposite side of the room, and he made the loudest noise he possibly could have, practically thunderous. His brother would surely wake up.

As luck would have it, the brother slept along, and the boy stood still for a whole minute listening to his brother breathe. Just to make sure. Couldn’t be too careful around sleeping people, he thought. When the coast was clear, the boy made sure to be more careful while stepping around.

After carefully navigating the rest of the room with all the agility of a heavy set sumo wrestler on tip toe, the boy finally made it to the door. This part, however, was tricky. Very tricky.

This part had the Dark.darkness-7

On the other side of this door was a long hallway, where the brother’s room was on one end and the parents on the other, both on the long wall. Next to the bedroom the boy stood in was the washroom, not more than 3 feet distance. One small step for man, but several small steps for the boy. During the day, this wasn’t a problem, but at night… the risk was great.

Down the hall, at the very end, lived the Dark. Again, no issues during the day; the Dark had to hide in the closet hidden in the wall next to the parent’s bedroom. This was fine, the boy thought, except it didn’t stay there. At night, the Dark left the closet and swallowed the end of the hall whole, creating nothing but pitch black emptiness there. The boy gently peeked around the door frame, just his eyes, to see if the coast was clear. It was not.

Even in the briefest second, the boy could tell the Dark saw him, and turned its unknowable being his way. It was aware; not only that, the boy could tell the Dark was famished, too.

The boy hadn’t seen the Dark eat anyone. He didn’t need to, because it was obvious to him what the Dark would do to you. The boy broke into a slight panic. He felt very uncomfortably hot all of a sudden, and his palms began to sweat. Unseen eyes stared at him through the walls, making his skin crawl. It was waiting for him.

With all the care he could muster, the boy pulled the door open again, edging towards the boundaries between where it was safe and where he knew it wasn’t. The moonlight from the window across him lazily illuminated the area in front of him, showing the short-but-altogether-too-long distance between him and the washroom door. Sneaking a peek leftwards again, the boy could see the Dark preparing to move. It already lapped greedily at the moonlight, like a cat licking a bowl of milk. Still, its eyes were set on the boy. and the boy knew that once he’d made his move, he’d have to be fast.

Breathing deeply, skin crawling, the boy counted to three in his head. On one, he locked eyes with the bathroom door. On two, he checked the end of the hall to make sure the Dark was staying still. On three, he made a break for it.

He dared not look back as he practically lept to the washroom, and slammed the door behind him. He wasn’t sure, but the boy thought he heard the silent whisper of shadows slashing at the door. After a few moments, the sounds stopped and the house was deathly quiet again.
With that done, it was a normal routine. A wisp of moonlight peeped into the bathroom through a tiny window high up the far wall. The light bounced around the mirrors that covered almost every surface, allowing him to see many versions of himself in a row. Behind him was another version of him, his face unchanging, and another one behind that until infinite. The boy dared not say a word; in every reflection, the dark of another world hung behind the boy like a shadowy pall. He stared down, away from the disturbing mirrors of other worlds. A quick trip to the sink to wash his hands, and then it was time to go back to bed. scary mirror

He crept to the door and opened it a crack to see the end of the hall. The Dark was still there, waiting for the boy to dare to cross its territory. Little by little, the boy could see the darkness move towards him, and the hallway got darker by the second as the light was swallowed by the nightmarish monster.

Although no one else would hear it, the boy heard the Dark make a hollow growl, a tenebrous noise that chilled his heart. The boy had to move. Now.

He threw the door open and dashed for the bedroom. The Dark pounced, its deep murky threat instantly replaced with sharp, pointed malice as the shadow devoured the moonlight in the hall. Sprinting, the boy ran as fast as he could over the creaky floor of his brother’s room. He felt the cold touch of the Dark on his ankle, a near miss. It chased him still, snarling, swallowing any light in its way.

The boy practically dove into his bed head-first, using his duvet to create a protective dome around him, drawing all the little holes closed and securing any possible weakness. Just in time too; the Dark slammed into duvet, repeatedly. In the dark of the dome, the boy was alone, surrounded, and faintly crying to himself as the assault continued for what felt like hours.

Eventually, the beating at the walls stopped. The boy lay curled in a ball, breathing in his own fear and stress. The lack of oxygen was causing him to feel dizzy, but he dared not lift the duvet. He could still feel where the Dark had touched him, his ankle numb, empty and cold from the experience. The boy would stay like this for a while before finally being forced to surface for air, and eventually start the process of falling asleep again in the glow of his nightlight.

The following morning, the boy’s father would get up and walk to the bathroom. He would look at the door, and with an exasperated sigh make a mental note to grab a can of white paint for the three gashes in the door.5jr64

Staring

28626934_a3d3b6647c_oMonsters exist. They’re incredibly real, and if you don’t believe me just ask a child. Children are smarter than they look, and most will tell you first thing: of course there are monsters! Just look in the closet, or under the bed. Only the ‘brave’ ones don’t see us anymore, and the older humans, like you… you forget.

Sometimes though, you remember. Or you figure out you can see monsters. I’m a good example; I drift from shadow to shadow. Unlike other monsters, all I do is observe. Watch. Listen, and wait. I take my time and look at things as they pass by, taking it all in. Sometimes though, you humans see me, and look right at me.

Like, right at me.

And it’s really uncomfortable. So I drift a little bit and find someplace else; the thing is, once you start seeing without your eyes, you keep finding me. And I get really uncomfortable.

I’m not vanishing. I’m drifting from place to place, shadow to shadow, another dark corner to collect my thoughts in peace.

But sometimes, you get too close, or I get way too uncomfortable; so I hide in your shadow. It’s really squished here, and there’s not much room. I’m pretty big. I also fidget a lot, and don’t luck being stuck. Still, you don’t look at me, and you’re moving fast enough that I can go somewhere else and not get bothered.

My favourite place to hang out, and watch the world, is down dark alleyways, or halls. Long places where I can stretch and I don’t have to be so cramped. I get to look at everyone, at you, walk by and… you’re staring.

Stop staring at me please. It’s rude. And I’m really uncomfortable. Would you please..?

Thanks.

Bedridden

monster bedIt’s a shit job, to be sure. You lie down, wait, and wait some more. You sleep sometimes, and that’s a help ’cause the time goes by faster. Still, you can wait a long time before anything interesting happens; in fact, the last time I had anything to do, clocks still made a ticking noise. Now, they just murmur with a small, almost impossible hum as their circuits flare at almost impossible speeds.

When the job’s good though, it’s real good. Nothing better than a job well done. You’re lying there when, for the first time in years, something lands on top of your bed. Then you go through the steps.

First step, wait until night. Has to be nice and dark, otherwise they’ll not see you coming.

Second step, slowly check to see who’s in the bed. This time, it’s a child; 5 years old, no older. This doesn’t happen all the time. If you get someone that’s older than 11, usually it’s no good and you go back and wait some more. I mean, you could try to go to the next step but most times you’ll be wasting your energy. Still, the boy’s 5, and we’ve got a catch.

Step 3, and watch carefully now, you gently grab the kid. If they’re too old, they won’t see you; which means you can’t do anything. Monsters can only be felt if they’re seen, and can only be heard if they’re thought of. Didn’t your parents teach you anything?

So once you’ve grabbed the little thing, you just gotta… there we go, yank them underneath the bed. Our job was easy this time; the bed didn’t have bars at the foot of the bed. We didn’t have to pull the bastard through the bars; I had to do that once, was cleaning the stains off the underside of the bed for a week!

Once you got the kid here, it’s easy pickings, easy to prepare. We’ve got claws after all, and they should be sharp.

You can always sharpen them some more while you’re waiting for the next one.

Story idea: Windeye

I was sitting down and had an idea of story. I thought I’d write down what ran in my head.


There’s a saying that goes “eyes are the window to the soul,” as if one could see every facet of someone’s life through something the size of an iris.

Henry never understood why, but he was different. To describe Henry in one word, most would use ‘observant,’ as he was always looking. Gazing. Searching and staring his way through the world. As a baby, people Henry spoke with would come away feeling a little uncomfortable, a sense of unease seeping into them as if someone had laid them out on a table and dissected them, which wasn’t fully far from the truth.

People tend to wear clothes, put on perfume, smile or scowl to give off an impression, but most of all people try to fit in. For all the oddities in the world (and there are a great many), it seems a main preoccupation is to hide in the crowd. Henry had the strange and altogether unique ability to see past that; to him, quite literally, the eye was a way for him to see people as they truly were. To him it was like seeing a different colour.


Henry, a small boy, gets lost in the city on his own. He’ll experience different adventures relying on people, a collection of short ideas and stories.

Nothing past that; just an idea.

To Mom

Audio;

To mom;

How’s it going? It’s not often that I talk to you like this. Honestly that’s my fault, and if one were to be precise, a laudable and likable thing to be, then I would like to add it’s my mistake.

I had a brainwave the other day where I thought about all the things I wanted. Young men want a lot of things; a beautiful partner, a glorious career, an impact on the world, and excitement; but only to the point where excitement no longer breeds boredom through inundation, an overload of one’s being. This is who I am, still and currently, for at least a while. This attitude is what led me to leave home; the necessity for a life experience that could at least be said to rival the idea of a good life. Through whose terms is another question, maybe answered by someone a lot smarter than I am.

As I sat in my room one hot July day, sweltering not only under the heat of a mid-Toronto afternoon’s haze but under the scrutiny of an uncaring depressed mind, I saw a branch to help me out of my darkness, a stick that struck towards England as a place of opportunity and a way to find the glorious life I mentioned above.

Self doubt tried to cripple my confidence, laziness sabotaged my ambitions, and complacency quashed any sense of adventure that sparked in July. Despite these things, or perhaps to spite them actively, you helped me. You bolstered my courage, spurred my spirits, and moved me to move myself towards a future I myself could make.

It wasn’t until today, when I realized that I hadn’t made the chance to thank you.

Up until the day I left, denial reassured me I wasn’t going anywhere; While going through security, grief informed me I’d never be back, and while living here? Loneliness reminded me just where I was, with whom, and to what end: me, myself, and I. From there, I pushed myself not because of any sensibility but from a misled ideology of only I can help myself.

I had a brainwave the other day about how all the things I wanted would not be possible without someone very special; you. And I hadn’t the courage to see past my own failings to notice how, through my denial, my deceit and my disgust, you continued to push me, to help me, and to care, even if it meant I moved further away.

Today, on Mother’s Day of all days, I wanted to, at long last, thank you for your care, your help, and your love; your untiring belief in what I want to do, even if I don’t know what to do. Without you, I wouldn’t be half the man I am today.

Thank you

Love,
Phil

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | Parts 19, 20

Rick had seconds to make a plan. They were in the middle of what they had for a town square: not a spec of cover in sight. To his left he saw a row of upturned tables and rocks that made a great place to advance. Not too far behind him, he remembered there being the stones that made the symbol of the Lamb, which would do in a pinch for picking stuff off from afar. With the citizenry safely inside the buildings, he thought that made the best plan; let the woman, Skie, do her thing on the front lines while he supported her from behind.

He pointed to the rocks next to the door. “You go there. Wait ‘til you’ve got their asses!” She nodded, and bolted for the cover and the hiding spot. Rick spotted Cat on the ground, still nursing her face where she was slapped. Rick ran forward and grabbed her by the arm, shaking Cat out of whatever place her mind was in.

“Rick, we have to go!” She cried, suddenly getting to her feet and running towards the town buildings. “They’re all in there in preparation for our arrival!”

Rick ran after her. “I can fucking hear that Cat, get to safety! Skie and I have this covered, you make sure everyone else is alright.” He broke off from her path to slide behind cover. He brought up his rifle and covered the door, waiting patiently for the first idiot to walk through.

It seemed like they were taking ages, which caused his mind to wander. Why on earth had he shot the man? Ora maybe? he thought. Still, he couldn’t remember why he suddenly lit him up, the sharp memory of the slugs hitting home replaying constantly. It wasn’t regret he felt, Ora was fucking bastard who didn’t really deserve to live. He could tell that much from the little bit that he had met the man. No, what he felt was confusion as to his own state of mind. Rick was used to knowing what he was thinking at almost all times, a job like his necessitated it really. But at the time he felt an overwhelming anger, like nothing else he’d ever felt.

Still, that didn’t matter right now. He had a situation that needed solving, with preferably less dead people this time. Granted, if it wasn’t for that kid…

A swell of heat rose in him and coloured his vision just as the first member of the Lamb ran out of the temple. His head completely overtook all Rick’s vision. Rick could hear his pulse slowly thump in his ear as he squeezed the trigger and saw the head in his sights explode in charred crimson, and topple out of his scope. Another two members took the place of the first, their weapons searching for the hunter.

The look of surprise on his target’s face when they realized where he was lasted a moment before it caved inwards in a plume of blood. The second ducked behind the pillars of the temple. Five more members spilled from the temple, their weapons firing. Rick ducked behind cover, and moved along to the right to get a better angle on his attackers. Bullets sang above where he was moments before, smashing into the dirt behind or the rubble in front. Rick heard several shouts, and the telltale sound of people running closer to him. Rick pulled out his repeater and vaulted over the wall, taking aim at the first two bodies he could see. Their robes caught fire as slug after slug tore into their unprotected chests. They fell over as Rick rolled from his landing and shot another one in the back as they tried to turn, sending the body toppling face first into the dirt.

Rick got up and leapt backwards over the stones, but not before taking a shot to the shoulder. The shot screwed up Rick’s momentum, and he landed hard on his now wounded shoulder. So much for that arm, he thought as he put his back to the rocks and waiting for the hail of fire to subside. Dull aches permeated his shoulder, but he could barely feel his arm at all. The bullet punched into his armor but didn’t make it through, which was a good sign.

He peeked to see the enemy, and was rewarded with another smattering of gunfire; still, he saw what he needed to. There were about ten of them outside the temple, and still more inside waiting to see what would happen out in the square. It was up to the woman, Skie, to do some work and divert their attention.


Skie listened carefully to the fight going on just beyond her meagre cover. A rattling of slugs, smashing stone, the thump of bodies hitting the floor. Rick was pissing them off, that much was for sure. He definitely knew how to fight when he needed to, she reckoned. Granted, that was his job, so she sure hoped he knew how to handle himself.

Still, it had been a couple of seconds since she’d heard slug fire. He was pinned, and that was her cue. She could try to take them by surprise from the side.

She booted up her wrist module and looked to the power field settings, her eyes skimming. None of the options looked super prevalent right now, she thought. Just as she was about to leave it well enough alone, she spied the ‘auto’ setting. “Royce said I would need practice with it, but what a better time than in an actual fight?” She hit the button, and starting moving behind her cover towards the temple.

Peeking out from the rocks, she saw a group of five of the bastards moving towards where Rick was. The remaining five close to where she was stood by the door, their backs to her, covering their comrades.

It was now or never.

Pulling out her hand cannon, she barreled forward, blasting the furthest enemy in their back, blowing a burnt crater in their lower spine. Before the nearest one could react, she reached out with her prosthesis to grab them by the neck. Her hand clenched, a sickening crunch ending their life. Skie threw the corpse at the nearest one, their reaction time being just too slow to doge the morbid missile. As they slammed to the ground, Skie brought her cannon to bear on another member.

A bullet tore into her left shoulder, lancing her mind with pain. Her vision went red with blazing agony, as she dropped her cannon, leaving her disarmed. Except… she brought her hand to bear on the attacker. She imagined her arm turning into a blaster, and tried to fire on her attacker.

Nothing happened. In that moment, that long agonizing moment, Skie was certain her life was over.

The front of the cultists face blew out in a gory mess, and the smell of burnt flesh filled the air in front of her. She didn’t hesitate, grabbed her cannon, and broke for her cover just as another bullet found its mark in her mechanical shoulder. The projectile flattened harmlessly and fell into the dirt. She dove and found safety just as several more bullets chipped stone and tore up the soil where she was.

She took a moment to look at her wound. Despite the pain, she was happy that her shoulder plating had taken the brunt of the attack, The bullet wasn’t too far in, and would come out easily later, when there was time to deal with the blood. For the moment, it was a better plug anything she had on hand. Still, it was a great deal of pain to raise her arm, making it impractical to rely on her left hand.

The blaster didn’t work as intended, so she decided that ‘auto’ needed more practice than maybe a couple of seconds of wishful thinking. She changed the settings, and her arm glowed a light blue with a point on the end. ‘Sword’ mode.

Her speed was her greatest asset. She could move faster than anyone, and so long as Rick kept up the pressure, she could cut through them like so much paper. The memory of the red hot stone fueled her morbid curiosity to see what would happen to someone struck with the blade.


Rick just managed to make out that Skie had made it safely behind cover again. The bodies of several more cultists littered the ground, and the rich blood had mixed into the soil in the square. It was a bloodbath.

He had never been in large fights like this before. Between all of his missions, he’s had to subdue maybe a couple bandits at a time, but this was something new. There was an adrenaline here that he had never experienced before. His veins hummed to the tune of the battle, and his mind was murky with fear, yet resolute knowing his ultimate goal. Every time he stood up and blasted another cultist he risked being shot, but every dead body was one step closer to intimidating them into stopping altogether. Or maybe just another dead body in another long line of them. He had no way of knowing for sure.

Rick knew that in the short term, though, he had to keep pressure off of Skie to give her the time she needed to recuperate and get back in the action. He brought up the repeater with a click, and burst out of cover.

He powered into a sprint, making for the archway of the temple. A spray of slug fire caught one cultist across the chest, and he slid underneath a volley of fire. Sliding to one knee, he took aim and blasted another cultist, sending them flailing back into the stones. Just when he was going to get to his feet, something heavy hit him in the back of the head.

The last thing Rick remembered was the feel and taste of sand in his mouth as he hit the ground hard.


Skie got up just in time to see one of the cultists slam a large rock across the back of Rick’s head. The shock of seeing him get taken out paled in comparison to the bloodlust that immediately flowed through her tired limbs.

“No.” She could no longer feel the pain in her shoulder as it was dulled by the serene anger she felt. Suddenly, all that was in her sight was the attacker, the rock in his hand. The tens of other cultists in the temple. Damien’s shitty little face. That was too much, she raged, to get to this point and have it be ended by that little fuckwit.

She broke into a run, leaping over a body, sliding underneath the clumsily thrown rock. Leaping out of the slide, she punched her hand into the man’s gut.

A sudden mess came out of him as his gut blew apart from the change in temperature and pressure caused by the power field blade. Skie spun around and swung again at his head. It split, sending vitae and skull fragments across the area. She was drenched, but had no mind to heed it. Sounds and cries came from the temple as more targets took positions around the area. One voice in particular, a high pitched boyish wail, caught her attention.

“You!” she shouted, bolting towards the temple. Shots flew by her, another one caught her prosthesis as she readied it, and none of it mattered. She plunged the sword into one exploding ribcage, leaping towards another fucker and shoving her fist directly into his mouth before the top of their head popped. Someone tried to bring a candlestick down on her, but it was caught by her arm, causing it to split into two slagged metal sticks.

Still, there were too many. Another one came from behind and threw a rock which slammed into her back. She fell forward, and caught the ground with her hands just as something else hit her in the side. She flipped over to see a ground of three of the bastards surrounding her, with more coming.

Just as they raised their weapons to finish her off, something blurred past them. In an instant of confusion, a large claw tore through one of their midsections, and split the fucker in half. Behind the toppling torso was a face, grotesque, with blaring pustules for eyes and bleeding gums for teeth. The other two cultists brought their weapons on the monster, but it leapt at them with a claw for an arm. She heard screams just above her head, and felt a warm spray of blood.

Shaking off the daze of her injuries, she got onto her knees. The battlefield was a butchery, and now the monsters were here to make the most of the carnage. She turned around to see gums-for-teeth trying to stuff half a person in its mouth, its slobbering gums drenching the robes of its meal in caustic blood. Screaming and shouting came from the temple.

She crawled away slowly, keeping the currently meal-happy monster in her sight. Just as she was about to run away, the temple door slammed to her right. She stopped, her heart skipped, and she couldn’t breathe. The monster turned around slowly, it’s large, round bulk rotating to see what caused the noise. It was staring directly at her.

Seconds passed, with her not breathing and the monster still staring. Sweat tickled down her brow, and her lungs screamed in pain as they begged for air. Still she wouldn’t dare take a breath. She was as good as dead should that happen.

A screech from in front of her pierced the air as a wiry creature with three long arms leapt up on the stone, and tried to grab one of the body parts near the rotund abomination, who turned around and neatly knocked it into the wall. The abomination then raised his sword arm up, and brought it down in a sickening crunch amidst the wails of the monster, who was still screaming. It went up and down over, and over, and the monster on the receiving end eventually stopped screaming after one sickening crunch.

Skie was so enthralled, and so scared, she hardly realized the opportunity she had. She got up, and took stock of her surroundings. There was the temple, which was full of murderers and assholes, or the open square and Rick… if he was even still alive.

Still, she couldn’t leave him out here. That would guarantee his death.

She broke into a dead run towards Rick’s body as if a horde of the monsters were behind her; for all she knew, that was the case. Once she got to Rick, she got down and grabbed him underneath the shoulder. A groan escaped his lips, and hope flared in Skie’s mind. A shout, like metal on metal mixed with thunder, came from the temple, and there was no doubt in Skie’s mind as to what was doing the shouting.

Dragging Rick like a heavy sack, she made for the nearest building as the monster lumbered towards her, the sound of its heavy club feet coming closer and closer. The distance between her and the building she was aiming for was seemingly getting longer and longer as the monster came closer and closer. She was running out of time. In her frantic get away, she suddenly came to a sobering conclusion; she wasn’t going to make it.

She dropped Rick, only a few feet from the door of the nearest building, and turned around to see the monster right in front of her. Its rank breath defied all sense of smell, a turbulent gut rotten smell of cadavers and corpses. Blood flew out of it’s diseased mouth as it jumped at her, mouth wide open, its pus filled eyes popping out in anticipation. Its dark abyss of a mouth promised a horrible death.

She brought her fist back, and let loose a haymaker towards the monster’s face. Just as her punch was about to land, it suddenly covered itself in the blue green glow of a power field.

The monster’s eyes popped as her fist literally blew apart its face. The combined power of her mechanical punch, the power field, and the momentum of the beast forced her punch through the back of the monster, causing an explosion of gore to completely surround her. Body parts simply flew away from the quickly expanding explosion, a blossom of bone and gristle, of blood and pus.

The sound of flesh ripping itself apart and of all the bones in its body breaking filled the air, and the world turned red. Just like that, the monster was no more.

Skie fell to her hands and knees as she blinked away the blood. Her fist hummed pleasantly in the silence afterwards, and was the only thing completely spotless in the carnage. Her heart pounded, her breathing was heavy, and she was incredibly aware that she was still very much alive.

A scrape of metal on stone came from her right as a doorway opened. She heard a voice call out to her, but she was numb to the sound. She collapsed and almost hit the ground before several hands stopped her from hitting the dirt. All at once, the pain in her left shoulder, the burn in every muscle in her body, and the recoil in the bone and tissue surrounding her prosthesis overcame her.

She passed out just as she felt someone dragging her through the doorway, and into darkness.


“Dr. Camrata, we will not negotiate with you. You have conducted a hostile takeover of a notional corporation! That is an act of treason, do you understand?” The vid screen showed a woman, purple in the face with fury and indignation.

“Minister, I did no such thing.” Royce slipped into his computer, dragged the necessary files to the front of his mind, and sent the found data over. “What you see here are all the illegal actions of my predecessor. In these files are detailed reports of hundreds of missions condoning illegal experimentation. Horrible, horrible things really. There’s an awful amount of genetic… rewiring, yes.”

Fury turned to disgust in the moments that followed. She spent several minutes looking over the reports, and her visage turned more dour with every passing moment.

“This is horrible, and had we been made aware of this… monstrous activity, we would have intervened.” The woman looked up from her other display with the reports. “That does not excuse your actions, doctor. You still are charged with treason, at the very least!”

Royce shook his head. “No, no. This… this is all wrong. I expected something of a different reaction. All I want to do is run this organization the way it is meant to be run, minister. The more I read about the imperfections and dirty nature of this place, the more I needed to fix and clean that. You do realize that’s true? That there was a need to clean the CBI of corruption?”

“Corruption is one thing. Terrorism is another, doctor.”

“Is it?” Royce sat forward in his chair and knit his fingers together. “Had I been acting under your instructions, we would not be having this conversation. Not at all. I would be praised right now, and the CBI would be moving forwards, upwards, to a better future without the empty threats and potential loss of life.”

“You have already killed several people, including the director!” The woman on the vid screen shook, from rage or fear Royce could not guess.

“Necessary. You would have done the same thing, I expect. Yes. You would need to. Unless…” His vision slipped into his computer world once more as he sifted through data. Eventually he found was he was looking for. “Oh, it seems you knew the director quite well. Too well.” He copied the data and sent a copy to the woman. As she opened the files, her face fell.

“How did you find these?”

“It’s no matter. What does matter is that you are implicated in all this. In fact…” Taking another look, he found a few more files, copied them, and sent a copy to her again. “You could be directly tied to all of the previous director’s wrongdoings. Turning a blind eye to his tests, his ugly and brutal tests. That’s no good, no good at all.”

She looked down, her shoulders slumped in defeat. “No one can no about this, doctor. It was supposed to help usher in our golden age, our rebirth.”

Royce did not smile. It was unfortunate he had to resort to this base form of convincing people to work with you, but it seemed easiest. “We can still do that. Let me continue to run the CBI, and we can build something better, safer, and cleaner for everyone. We can make the old city a new place for everyone to live.”

The minister sat in silence as the clock in Royce’s new office ticked on. After a long time, she nodded her head. Royce was disgusted with how low he had to strike a blow to make this work, but work it did.

“Alright. Thank you minister. This’ll turn out for the better, you’ll see. I’ll be sending hourly reports, as per our agreement.” Royce turned off the screen. Although the methods used were not to his liking, Royce had effectively kept the government off his back. Instead, they’d be working with him. This will make things much easier, he thought as he marched his way out of the office. As he stepped through the door, two tripodal robots flanked his sides an guarded him on his way down to his labs. Their porcelain white plates clicked along the floor, and their big, scanning eyes glowed blue from within as they searched the environs for dangers of any kind. Royce was quite pleased with how they turned out, to be honest.

Once in his lab, he sat down at his chair and let out a big sigh. It had been a long number of hours, and things had already changed for the better. Security detail was now completely controlled by him, a legion of machines. The scientists in the building were back to work, and now the government was off his back. He grabbed his cup of coffee and drank some before spitting it out.

It was glacially cold.

Unimpressed with his old coffee, he made himself a new cup and checked his messages for anything from the woman.

In the many, many hours he’d been away, no report. Worry crept into Royce’s mind, and he immediately began composing a message.


End of Parts 20, 21

Face First

As I turn off the light,
And crawl into bed,
I fall face first to the sheets.

They’re blue, dark and deep;
Like the calm of an ocean at new-moon.
The darkness of the room
Only adds to the gloom
As my eyes struggle against sleep.

I ponder the world,
What’s the point of it all?
It’s so massively tiny
Hurtling at 108k/h?
In the emptiness of space,
A breakneck pace,

Fuck it, sleep awaits.

DS Backlog: Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies & tLoZ: A Link Between Worlds

So with my time away from home, I’ve been able to work on my game backlog for my DS. It’s been a great experience so far, and I’ve gotten the two games done I’ve had on my list the longest.

Here are my thoughts.

Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies

Property of CapCom

Property of CapCom

If you’re unfamiliar with the Phoenix Wright games, then there’s going to be a lot of information to absorb before playing this game. Building on the (ludicrous) story from the previous games, Dual Destinies really pushes the crazy envelope. Between one case involving japanese demons, and another where your courtroom explodes, you run the full gamut. As per usual the characters offer most of the craziness available in the game. Honestly, going into any details about the many characters would be futile: after playing, I couldn’t tell the gonzo apart.

But, if you’re a fan of anime, which I’m normally not, then this will be pretty normal for you. The protagonists are still relatable and hilarious, though playing as Phoenix Wright again after so long felt really odd.

When I think about it, playing might be the wrong word though. Fans of the series, myself included, will more likely describe it as an interactive manga. Unlike TellTale Games and their games which feature choices (or the illusion thereof), the game’s story is linear. It’s your job to make the right choices to advance. However, figuring out some of the choices can be difficult. It’s resolving those issues in the court cases that make the game so satisfying, and the music does an excellent job of reinforcing a correct choice. I did feel like the game made it a bit more obvious this time around, but maybe I’m just catching on to how the Phoenix Wright stories work out.

The new look, revamped music, new cases, and bananas characters all pale in comparison to the best change compared to earlier games: the streamlined investigation. The most stale parts of the earlier games involved running around like a headless chicken trying to figure out what in the world you are trying to click on, then showing the right evidence to the right people. Not a single person I know likes those parts, and it was a relief to see them smoothed out the way they did in Dual Destinies. A sticking point for some old fashioned folks might be that the game holds your hand too much during the investigations, but I have two words for that.

Screw investigations. Seriously, the court sections were the best parts, and being able to get the story and evidence you want out of the investigations without all the pointless and frustrating running around is awesome!

As a final bonus, the game brings back some references and older characters from early in the series… and hints at even more of the same in a sequel. For instance (SPOILER?), Pearl makes a return, and there are heavy hints that Maya might come back. In addition, the mechanics unique to each character you play, such as Phoenix’s Magatama, Apollo’s Bracelet, and now Athena’s Widget combine together to make an interesting game dynamic. I wish there were more off all three of the mechanics, and that they weren’t AS scripted.

Which brings me to my biggest downside: the courtroom was really not difficult. I would really have appreciated more complex and interesting evidence: but it was rare that I had to really look thoroughly through the court record to find what I was looking for.

Overall, anyone that liked the previous games would still love it, as I did. If you wanted to get started playing Phoenix Wright games though, do NOT start with this one. Seriously, go back to the first one. It’s still my favourite, and you really do need to know the story so far before you pick up the latest one.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Property of Nintendo

Property of Nintendo

I love this game.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts. I haven’t loved adventuring this much in ever. Let’s go over why.

1. Renting items. In the beginning, you have no items as per the usual. So to get items, you go through dungeons in a listed order and get the items you need to advance… yeah, never mind that crap, just rent them.

Seriously, this was off-putting at first, but in hindsight was one of the best decisions I’ve seen Nintendo make. Instead of having to do Dungeon A first and Dungeon B second, I could rent the gear I wanted to and just… go out. Explore. I had access to EVERYTHING from the start, meaning I could choose to go places and have a blast. So long as I didn’t die (and I only died 2 times throughout the whole game), those items were as good as mine. Eventually you can get to a point where you buy them for good, and it’s not hard to do. Just adventuring around, you get a LOT of rupees in this game, so renting and buying isn’t too hard to do. Heck, I had FUN doing it. That’s the point right?

2. MUSIC SO GOOD IT MAKES MY FACE GO SLACK You think I am kidding. I am not. Everything that you know and love has been re-orchestrated beautifully. I love tLoZ music a TONNE, and this game didn’t disappoint at all.

For reference, try some of these on for size.

Hyrule Field
Zelda’s Lullaby (Milk Bar)
Hyrule Castle
Lorule Field (AKA Dark World)
Death Mountain
Lorule Castle

It was an eargasm for me. It was the first thing I noticed. It was beautiful.

3. Top Down Zelda at its Finest I am a sucker for Top Down Zelda games. This has smooth gameplay, open world, fun exploration, fun characters, no dead uncles, huge amounts of stuff to do and explore, and even collecting 100 annoying squid babies was fun, not frustrating. I cannot stress enough how fucking solid this game is thanks to the wall mechanic (which forces you to think differently about the world) and renting your equipment early on. Exploration was a JOY. And normally, I HATE IT.

Most games I play that feature “exploration” feature one thing in order to make worlds seem big: waiting. Lots of it. That, or barriers that purposefully hinder your progress unless you get an item from a different dungeon… it’s jumpin’ through hoops. You know what? Watch Egoraptor’s Sequelitis on Ocarina of time, and his thoughts on Link between worlds while you’re at it. He explains everything pretty damn well about an adventuring games that have non-sensical wait times.

Link Between Worlds has none. Because of the “rent-an-item” system and a bunch of extra little things to make the whole process more fun and less tedious (stuff as little as sound hints when getting closer to a certain kind of collectible, for instance), it’s great to just wander around Hyrule and Lorule, slaying monsters, finding loot, and doing hero stuff. Not because you have to, not because “COME SAVE ME” but because it’s legit good times.

Well, there’s one thing… The game’s maps are ripped right out of Link to the Past. Though Beautifully restored and redone for the 3DS, this might be a sticking point for some. If those same people bought the remake for Ocarina of Time for the 3DS, but are unwilling to buy this because “Maps”, then they are stupid. I want to be clear: this game is a NEW game. It is different from Link to the Past in feel and play, while being familiar enough that it feels like putting on your most comfortable boxers. Yes, the ones with all the holes in it.

I loved Link Between Worlds. Seriously, if you like adventure games and have a 3DS, this game is amazing in every way I wanted it to be.

That’s all for now. I still have a backlog (Luigi’s Mansion, you’re next!), but these two titles are now finished. Phoenix Wright is gonna hit the shelf, and will have to wait until I play through the rest of the series before I pick it back up again.

Link Between World’s still has a lot of stuff for me to discover. I have 8 pieces of heart left to collect, another piece of ore for my sword, and a hard mode left to play. I have a feeling I’m going to die a lot more than twice before I’m done with that game.

So long for now. You’re all wonderful.

-Phil