Monday, October 16, 2017

The JimFear138 Podcast Ep.70 ft. Russell Newquist

Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the podcast! In this one I sit down with Russell Newquist, author of War Demons and head of Silver Empire Publishing! We're also joined halfway or so through the podcast by Russell's wife, Morgon! We talk extensively about his book War Demons (light spoilers, nothing major), Silver Empire Publishing, and I get Russell's take on some drama that happened a couple months ago to satisfy my personal curiosity. Hope y'all enjoy!

MP3 Download of this episode:

Russell Newquist on Twitter:

Russell's website:

War Demons:

Silver Empire:


Morgon Newquist on Twitter:

Social Media Dump:













Opening Music:
Honey Bee by Kevin Macleod:
Honey Bee Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Closing Music:
Crunk Knight by Kevin Macleod:
Crunk Knight Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Friday, October 13, 2017

Alan Moore's WildC.A.T.s: Politics In Comics Done Right

Okay, so this is gonna be a blast from the past, specifically 1995-1997, and is going to require some back story for the uninitiated. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that the WildC.A.T.s is my favorite comics series, but I know that not everyone is at my level of sperg on this particular series. So I'll give you a basic synopsis, enough to understand what I'm talking about. Frankly, this'll be easier than you going and reading the comics series, because it'll take some work to get all the comics you'd need to read, and they're all out of print at this point. So this'll be a good intro to the Wildstorm Universe, and WildC.A.T.s in particular. This also gets really long, so strap in, but it couldn't be helped.

So millenia before the comics take place there was a war between two rival races, the Kherubim and the Daemonites. You can probably guess who the good guys were. Ships from these races crash landed on Earth in the distant, distant past, and the aliens mingled with Earth's native population, because apparently they're biologically compatible. Don't ask me, man, it's comic books. But this led to the descendants of these unions inheriting the special powers of the Kherubim and, as it turns out, the Daemonites. This includes people like Maul (the big purple guy) who can increase his size and mass at will, but at the expense of his thinking capability; Warblade, whose body is made of bio-metal that he can shift into different weapons at will; and Voodoo, who can see and exorcise Daemonites from their human hosts. I probably should've mentioned that Daemonites can possess people. Anyway. 

There are also some original Kherubim still surviving, including Mr. Majestic (basically Superman, he has all the same powers), Zealot (a Coda warrior woman that would make Wonder Woman piss herself in fear), Spartan (a cyborg that turns out to be the mental imprint of one of the Kherubim Lords that originally came to Earth), and Lord Emp/Jacob Marlowe (the wealthy financier of the WildC.A.T.s and Kherubim Lord suffering from a serious case of amnesia). These people are, of course, several thousand years old. I don't know if the Daemonites operating on Earth are the Daemonites from the crash, or just their descendents, except for Helspont. That dude's definitely OG, because his host is in no way a human being.

Anyway, the Daemonites on Earth are keeping the age-old war going, and trying to bring the Daemonites on Daemon (their home planet. Clever, right?) to Earth so they can strip mine it of resources. The WildC.A.T.s are meant to be soldiers in the war to stop them, and along the way they get into various other shenanigans with Wildstorm and Image Comics characters and super teams. 

So the war goes on for about 20 issues or so, and eventually the crew (Jacob/Emp, Spartan, Zealot, Warblade, Maul, Void, and Voodoo; Grifter had left the team before this) find what they think is a Daemonite space ship, but actually turns out to be a Kherubim spaceship, that takes them to the Kherubim home planet, Khera (once again, clever, ain't it?). Back on earth, everyone just kind of assumes they died, because it sure as shit looked like an explosion from where they were sitting. So in the interests of continuing the war against the Daemonites (and bad people in general), Mr. Majestic forms a new team.

These new WildC.A.T.s were comprised of Zealot's "sister" Savant, Majestic himself, Condition Red AKA Max Cash AKA Grifter's brother, Ladytron (a heavily modified cyborg, who is also a psychotic super-criminal), and Tao (the genetically engineered super genius who was grown in a lab). Together, instead of going after the Daemonites, they decide to (for some reason) wage a war on super crime, which escalates into a full-scale gang war, including home invasions, murder, bombings, and raids on funerals. This proceeds to get completely out of hand until most of New York City is engulfed in this war, culminating in a great fight between Overt-kill and Ladytron that has some brilliant dialogue. 

Meanwhile most of the original C.A.T.s are on Khera, which looks to be a veritable paradise. It's a wonderful science fiction Disneyland of exotic food, incredible places, and lovely people. On the surface. The first scratches are when they go through immigration, and Voodoo gets hauled off to a ghetto where they've got a bunch of Daemonites locked away. Turns out Voodoo has Daemonite blood, that's why she's able to see them and drag them out of their possession victims. 

We also discover that Maul is descended from "native Kherubim", the titanothropes that used to live on this planet before Zealot and Emp's people came down from the stars. Now they're being forced to live on reservations below ground. There's also some political intrigue wherein the Coda Sisters and the Pantheon are grooming Zealot and Emp respectively to take over the Senate for them, and Maul has a nice romantic subplot with this titanothrope activist girl. Also there's a bomb somewhere, but I'm not telling you where. I've given away far too much already. I'll link to where you can buy the comic so you can read it yourself, but it was either this or force everybody to shell out $40+ USD just to find out what the shit I'm talking about, so there we are.

Now that I've finished rambling like an insane person, I watch a lot of comic reviews. People like Diversity & Comics, Nerkish, Capn Cummings, Captain Frugal, Mim Headroom, etc. They review a lot of recent comics, specifically new comics from DC and Marvel. Occasionally they'll run into something that they really like. Batman: White Knight was apparently much better than everyone thought it would be, for instance, and the Black Bolt comic is very good, despite the writer being an intolerable leftist jackass on Twitter. But the majority of these comics are just awful, and there's really no getting around that.

The last She-Hulk (now just called "Hulk", because why wouldn't it be?) was about her going on dates set up through online dating apps, then finding out that she was ACTUALLY ATTRACTED TO HELLCAT ALL ALONG WOOOOOOOOO LOLSORANDOM. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl continues to be a raging dumpster fire of mental illness, childlike mentalities, memes from 8 years ago, and art fit to make you physically ill. Riri Williams (the new "Iron Man") works better as a villain than a hero, and is constantly emotionally validated by everyone around her for her horrible decisions and complete lack of moral compass. Peter Parker has been turned into a lazy good for nothing, giving up his responsibility to thousands of employees at Parker Industries to become a shiftless layabout, sleeping on Mockingbird's couch after one date and doing nothing to help her around the apartment. And don't even get me started on the Burger King Kid's Club that is The Champions. Just...let's just leave that there. Go watch Nerkish's videos on that particular flaming pile of tires and dogshit if you want my general opinion.

I've gotten so used to seeing how bad these comics are via these videos that when I pulled out my omnibus copy of Moore's WildC.A.T.s I was so riveted that I devoured the entire thing in one night. And this omnibus is fairly large. It's equivalent to reading all of Watchmen, or V for Vendetta (two other excellent Moore books) in one sitting. Seeing as how it's out of print, it's definitely worth the $40 you'd pay for it, and I've got it both ways, individual issues and omnibus. You might be able to find it cheaper by collecting WildC.A.T.s: Homecoming, and WildC.A.T.s: Gang War, but you're still probably looking at a pretty penny, and then you'd have to switch books every other issue or so. If you're looking for the straight collection, go with Moore's omnibus. ANYWAY.

As you've gathered, there are politics in this book. Specifically on Khera. The "Kheran" people that Zealot and Emp are apart of are actively oppressing the Daemonite refugees (REMEMBER: This was written in the mid-90's. There is NO COMMENTARY on current geo-political events as relates to refugees in this book) by keeping them in a run-down, shitty ghetto. This is taking into account the fact that the war has been over for 300 years. The Kherans took in Daemonite refugees after the collapse of Daemon's government, and just kind of shunted them off into a shitty part of Khera and gives them scraps to live on. 

The native Kherans, or titanothropes, are also being mildly oppressed, although not as bad as the Daemonites. This could easily be seen as a commentary on native Americans living on reservations that the colonizing government oh-so-graciously granted them, and to be honest it probably is. From what I know Moore's kind of a lefty, and also a bit of a prick, so I don't think he'd be above doing that kind of commentary. But, the difference between the current crop of political commentary and this is how deftly Moore handles it. In a new Marvel book they'd have a character unsubtly straight up reference Native Americans. Moore doesn't. He lets the oppression of the native Kherans stand on its own, and if you want to compare it to a real life example like Native Americans, then you're welcome to, but it's never explicitly stated in the book itself. You're free to completely ignore the parallels between Kherans and Native Americans, and simply enjoy the story as a science fiction tale about aliens doing bad things to other aliens.

The gang war thing gets a little more explicit with its political commentary, but Moore does an interesting thing here. He compares it, not to, say, the Black Panthers or some other group, but to Ireland. There's actually a specifically Irish character in the book, name of Hellstrike, who finds out that Mr. Majestic's team actually raided a funeral and proceeds to get so angry that he flies down to the Halo Building and picks a fight with them. This comes after they were also guilty of instigating the funeral by "door-stepping" H.A.R.M. (a member of the criminal gang The Troika) and killing him in his own house when he was doing nothing explicitly wrong at the time. So Moore turns the heroes into the villains at this point, and Majestic has a subplot about how wrong this all seems to him, and it's handled very well. It's less subtle than the stuff on Khera, but let's be real here, that wasn't exactly a soft caress either.

Moore is no stranger to putting politics into his fiction. V for Vendetta is strictly about the takedown of a fascistic government by a lone criminal vigilante. There's more to it than that, but at a surface level analysis that's what most people got out of it, and small wonder. The difference, as I've said, between Moore and the current crop of writers is that Moore knows what he's doing. He knows when to be blunt, when to be deft, when to sidestep an issue, and when to hammer it home. The Irish terrorist analogy and allegory in Gang War is hammered in because it's something, quite frankly, most people won't be familiar with, because it's not exactly taught in American schools. The Native American allegory is skirted because it's not necessary to be explicit about it since everyone and their mother (in the parts of the world where these comics were being read at the time) is familiar with it and doesn't need it rubbed in our faces. This, along with his amazing originality, is what makes Moore a great writer, and so well respected in his field. 

There are messages here. "Door-stepping is morally evil" is a good one. "Beware of Utopia, because it's usually chrome plating on shit" is another. There's also that old chestnut, "Racism is bad." 

But the messages never overtake the story. Even when Zealot starts to spurn her friends as half-breeds and damn-near goes full KKK on them, it makes sense within the context of the story. Voodoo has always been the audience touchstone in this world (the world of the WildC.A.T.s in general, not Khera specifically). The character that needs things explained to her because she's new to all this, so that things can be explained to the audience at the same time. So when we see her being treated this way by someone who not only was her friend, but her mentor and teammate, it hits us on a visceral level, especially if we're familiar with the previous 20 or so issues of the comic. 

We don't really need Voodoo to go off on a rant about how Zealot is just a white bitch who hates minorities (which she doesn't, even though Zealot is very clearly "white" phenotypically [technically she's an alien, so not really, but still], and Voodoo is very clearly at least mixed-race, if not totally non-white [at a guess I'd say Hispanic/Latino, but it's not expressly spelled out anywhere I know of]). She just calls her a racist bitch because, quite frankly, she's acting like one, and Voodoo is hurt by that because she thought they were friends. She then proceeds to punk out the entire Coda Sisterhood with her dirty half-breed blood, which was an amazing scene. There's allegory here, but the primary focus isn't the allegory to real life racism, it's the relationship between Voodoo, Zealot, and the rest of the C.A.T.s on Khera. The message doesn't supplant the story. 

Each of the C.A.T.s, from Zealot, to Emp, to Warblade, to Maul, to Voodoo, to Spartan, become emotionally broken by the things that happen to them on Khera, and bringing Moore onto the comic to take it in a more serious direction was a great decision. The first 20 issues or so had some serious plot points going on, but most of their heaviness had to do with the fact that people die, they swear, drink, smoke, etc, you know that edgy shit that 90's comics liked to do to prove that they weren't just for kids. Not that I'm impugning Jim Lee's intentions here. I love these books, specifically because they weren't afraid to tackle issues like that, or include things like that in the books. Warblade actually kills people. Grifter has to deal with the death of his brother, twice, as well as Spartan regaining lost memories and turning into Mr. Steal Yo Gurl. 

It's non-stop action and drama, and Moore was perfectly willing to take these characters and their universe into some seriously heavy topics that you might not expect from a serialized comic book (as opposed to a graphic novel a la Watchmen) of the day. He also doesn't devolve into retarded social commentary like Kamela Khan actually leading people to the polls to vote for Hillary Clinton. The closest they came that I saw is there was an ad for Rock The Vote in the serialized, individual issue comic. Voodoo didn't get people to sign up to vote for Bill Clinton, or anything. There is a cameo by Dan Quayle in the first few issues, but he's a pawn of the Daemonites (actually possessed by one), and there is zero commentary on his political policies. They could've called him "Vice President Jimbo Johnson" and it would've changed nothing whatsoever about the plot of the book. 

My point with all of this is that the gap between comics of the 90's and comics nowadays is astounding, especially watching reviews and reading along with them, and then going back and reading actual comics from the 90's. I have tons of them. Lots of Wildstorm stuff, but also things like The Birth of Venom omnibus, Spawn, and the Hellboy omnibuses. This kind of political commentary we see from Marvel today is near-totally absent. They didn't turn George H. W. Bush into MODOK, they didn't do stupid gimmicks with characters endorsing candidates, the most you can say is they commented on social issues that have been around for decades. Spawn hanging out with the homeless and protecting them from gangs comes to mind. Ghost Rider dealing with general small-town prejudice against drifters (that's honestly played up far more than it actually exists) is another example. 

Go watch the first 20 minutes of Diversity & Comics' livestream (on the Splatto del Gato channel) of She-Hulk (Hulk) #11, if you don't believe me. Go watch any Nerkish video on Faith, or Squirrel Girl, or really any Nerkish video. Watch Capn Cummings, or Captain Frugal, or Douglas Ernst. They lay this out very clearly, some where you can actually read most of the comic along with them. 

The dialogue is despicable.

The art is atrocious.

The story is simply not there.

While Alan Moore had a political point to make with his stories (he usually does), he allows the politics to serve the story, thereby serving his political message all the further by not putting it first. It's the kind of thing that gets inside your head and makes you think, rather than beating you over the head with it and expecting you to absorb the message by shining it in your eyes with a floodlight. 

My advice to current comics creators is this: Go read some old Moore stuff. Go read old Jim Lee. For god's sake, go read old Stan Lee and Jack Kirby work. Learn to understand subtlety again, because you've completely lost your grip on the concept. 

Here's another quick example. When Zealot talks contemptuously about men, it's because she's a warrior woman who's slaughtered (literally) thousands of men who thought they were better than her. AND, by the by, she has romantic relationships with men. She and Grifter were lovers, despite the fact that Grifter is a con-man and hit man who might have a passing recollection of the concept of honor if it ran up and bit his left ass-cheek off. She's not contemptuous of ALL MEN, like the new Marvel characters very much seem to be. She just thinks she's better than most men, because she actually is for the most part. And sometimes that overconfidence means she gets her ass kicked by a man she underestimated. That is a situation completely unthinkable in SJW Marvel. 

This has gone on for far too long, but if I've gotten some new people into the WildC.A.T.s, as well as demonstrated the proper way to handle political topics in comics, I'll consider this a good deed for the day, despite the length of this post. Ordinarily I'd link to where you could find the omnibus on, but I checked beforehand, and they don't have it in stock. So, in lieu of that, here's a link to where you can buy it on Amazon. I highly recommend it, because as the title of this post says, this is politics in comics done right.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Little Nightmares is a Little Short

So Little Nightmares is a game that I've not heard a lot about before buying, other than it's pretty good and has a cool aesthetic about it. After buying it and playing it through, I can confirm that this is true. The game's like playing a Tim Burton movie, to be quite honest. It's got a great sense of atmosphere, the art direction is spot on, the music is amazing, the lighting is good, and your first playthrough feels like a dead-to-rights horror game. Fair warning, this post is gonna be a bit of a brain dump.

LN tells the story of a nine-year-old girl named Six (yes, really, stop laughing) as she attempts to escape a massive vessel called The Maw (yes, really, stop laughing) that is filled with all kinds of creatures that want to do nasty murderous things to the tiny critters inhabiting this ship. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

Well, it is, the only problem with all this is that I had to read the fucking Wikipedia page to figure ANY OF THAT OUT. If there's one thing this game gets monstrously wrong, it's conveyance. I didn't even know the long armed short monster guy was The Maw's Janitor until I read the wiki. I thought he was a passenger, or something. Don't get me wrong, none of this is necessary knowledge to enjoy the game, it's fun on its own. However, if you're going to plan out all this backstory for your game and the world and the characters in it, it would be nice if all that neat stuff was, you know, in the game. 

It might sound like I'm being harsh, and I am, and it's going to get worse. I'm going in dry, here, so the devs need to bite the pillow on this one. But I can say that I do enjoy playing the game. It's good, I like the atmosphere, the controls are tight, the music is evocative, the sound effects are good (wear headphones, trust me), the art is incredible, and overall the game is a fun and terrifying experience. Buy it on sale, is my verdict, if you want it before I start tearing this game a new asshole.

It might also sound like I'm a little salty, and I am, and there's a good reason for it. I feel like I got taken. This game is too expensive. I payed $30 for the game itself and all the DLC, and that was too much money. That includes 2 different masks for Six to wear, The Depths expansion pack, and the Secrets of The Maw Expansion Pass. I didn't get the original soundtrack, because that was another five bucks, and fuck that noise. This game can be beaten in under an hour. That's actually an achievement. Beat the game in under an hour with no deaths and you get the Hard To The Core achievement. And it's a good thing this game has achievements, because apart from that the only conceivable reason to play it more than once is to enjoy the art style and gameplay. Which is possible, if you're that kind of gamer. I did a couple of times. You don't really get to take everything in during a single playthrough, and the game's short enough to beat multiple times in a night. I did, just last night. 

But even the DLC, which is about a third as long as the actual game itself, I'm told, the masks that Six can wear (an upside-down teacup and a scarecrow mask, both of which are adorable), and the achievements, I overpaid for this game. Like I said, get it on sale, otherwise you, like me, will be forced to play it through thirty times trying to get all the achievements so you can justify your purchase (also it's too late for me to refund the thing, I've played it longer than 2 hours). Bottom line, this is not enough game for a $30 price tag, DLC included. 

And, as I said before, this game has a serious conveyance problem. Not the actual goings on in the gameplay itself, all of that is neatly laid out, and if you can't work something out, it's generally your fault. I'm not the best with puzzle games, and I didn't have to look up a guide on how to beat parts of this game. I just sat there and worked it out based on the clues on the screen at any given time. It's not a hard game, which is probably why I don't recall any game journos pitching a bitch fit over it. 

But if I have to read your game's Wikipedia page to get the backstory, you're doing it wrong. After my first three playthroughs of this game, I was left with more than a few questions. I had seen the name of the main character and the ship The Maw in comments on Steam and assumed those people knew what they were talking about, so my questions tended towards a more...I guess esoteric bent.

Who is Six?
What is The Maw and where did it come from?
What are The Nomes?
Where is this place where humans are so tiny?
Who is The Lady (the Geisha) and why is Six afraid of her to the point of having nightmares about her?
Who are the obese monsters in suits and dresses in the galley?
Why does Six eat the Nome instead of the sausage it was offering her?

Oh, yeah, that's another thing. Six is periodically struck by hunger pains, which usually mean that you're near the end of a chapter of the game. [B E G I N  S P O I L E R S, SKIP AHEAD TO THE NEXT BRACKETS IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS] This starts off innocently enough, with Six being given a piece of bread by a shadowy figure about her size. It progresses to a scene of her being lured by food and captured, and eventually she is struck by the pains and all that's around is a rat caught by the neck in a spring-activated mousetrap, which she eats alive. As I mentioned in my list of questions, she next runs into a Nome that offers her a sausage, and instead of taking the sausage, she tackles the Nome and eats him alive as well. Then, after the fight with The Lady, Six eats her and gains her magical powers, which she then uses to kill a shitload of the obese monsters as they try to eat her while she's calmly walking to the stairs to escape. [E N D  S P O I L E R S]

This makes no real sense to me. Maybe it's meant to show that Six is becoming more monstrous as her surroundings grow bleaker and bleaker, but if that's the case why does she seem so happy, or at least innocent, in the ending cinematic? There's no real consequence for it, it's just confusing, and it makes her look like as much a ravening monster as the creatures she's fighting and escaping from. It seems like the game is trying to show you something instead of tell you, but I'll be damned if I can work out what that something is. 

It's a shame that the game wound up like this, because the world is beautifully presented and seems very deep. I wouldn't have all these questions if everything were surface level. There are a lot of words of praise I can give to this game, but I have to couch them in my complaints. I recommend you pick it up and give it a couple playthroughs, but be sure to get it on sale. It's available on Steam and GOG, so wishlist it and wait for them to email you about it. In the meantime I'd avoid watching YouTube videos of this game, because something like this is meant to be experienced rather than watched.

It's a competent puzzle-platformer with tight controls and some of the best atmosphere I've seen since Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Outlast (which are terrible games in their own rights, but they have incredible atmosphere). The puzzles can be challenging but aren't overly hard to solve, the art direction is phenomenal, like I say, overall it's worth a purchase. Just not for the money they're asking up front.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The JimFear138 Podcast Ep.69 - Cuphead, Useless Politicians, & SFF Conspiracies

Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of the podcast! This time I go on for an obscene amount of time about game journalists and Cuphead (which is a really good game you should go buy, link below), talk a bit about how the right wing can reframe their narrative to appear more compassionate, and share an article by Benjamin Cheah (Castalia author & guy currently trying to make short fiction great again) about the whisper campaign trying to destroy the career of your friend and mine, Jon Del Arroz. Hope y'all enjoy!

War Demons Review:

War Demons on Amazon:

Appabend PEAC SUCC:

Polygon When Is Exclusion A Valid Design Choice:

Polygon Cuphead Review:

The Whisper Campaign Against Jon Del Arroz by Ben Cheah:

Ben Cheah on Steemit:

Cuphead on GOG:

Primordia on GOG:

Jon Del Arroz Books:

Star Realms Rescue Run:

For Steam And Country:

The Gravity of the Game:

Social Media Dump:













Opening Music:
Honey Bee by Kevin Macleod:
Honey Bee Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Game Journos Don't Understand Video Games

There's been a lot of hoopla on twitter recently about this recent Rock Paper Shotgun article (archive link here) about how games should let people skip combat and boss fights, because the writer doesn't like them. Now there are numerous problems with this article, not the least of which is the tone of smug superiority that permeates every single sentence. But, and you may want to sit down for this, I'm of two minds on this. Before you pull out your torches and pitchforks, hear me out. I'm firmly on the side of, "Git gud, you fucking pussy." However, I can see the guy's point. I read the whole thing, and you should too before reading my response. Use the archive link, don't give these idiots anymore clicks. I gave them at least two finding the article, and even having my ad blocker up thanks to the Brave browser, that's far too many for this dreck. 

So, what's his main contention? Well, it's mostly that he doesn't like boss fights, so he should be allowed to skip them. This actually doesn't seem to be an egregious request. The way he phrases it is completely out of bounds, and the smug aura of self-congratulation in this post is beyond disgusting. However, skipping boss fights and combat doesn't seem too bad to me. Honestly, I have a couple of games that I keep installed on my computer because I can get absolutely blitzed out of my head (read: so drunk I have trouble seeing straight) and still play the game and have a good time. Viscera: Cleanup Detail is a good example, and the vast majority of the time I've spent in that game was spent so drunk I could barely see or so hungover I can't think beyond simple tasks like "clean this room". 

So I understand where dude is coming from. However, I also subscribe to the idea that video games are not books, movies, or tv shows, and should not be treated as such. To my understanding game design and development is fiendishly difficult, and adding this mode into the game is not as simple as people believe it to be. And above and beyond the extra strain on the developers, video games should not be treated like other media, because they're not like other media. 

Video games are a diverse entertainment media. There are games like Dark Souls (that really isn't as hard as people make it out to be) which focus on combat and storyline, and the gameplay is tight as shit. There are games like Primordia, that are more focused on puzzle solving and point-and-click adventures. There are games like Red Faction, that are straight-up first person shooters. There are platformers like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon. There are stealth games like Thief and Styx: Master of Shadows. There are RPG's like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and The Elder Scrolls. There are JRPG's like the Final Fantasy series. There are strategy games like Stronghold Crusader, Civilization, and Endless Legend. There are visual novels like Katawa Shoujo and the Sakura series. There is a near endless range of genres of games to choose from, and many that mix genres and do it very well.

With the exception of visual novels (which I honestly don't have much experience with), most of these game genres expect a basic level of competency from the player. It's not quite so bad as in the old days of the NES, SNES, and consoles like them, whose games were built on the arcade model which was specifically designed to get kids to cough up quarters into machines at arcades, rather than be easily beatable. But even the games on those consoles taught me valuable lessons about overcoming challenges and the inherent worth in working for something.

I grew up with a NES, upgraded to a SNES, and then got a PSX. I'm very familiar with the difficulty level of games like Contra, Kung Fu, Ninja Gaiden, and other classics of the NES catalogue. Some of these games were so difficult that I couldn't beat them. I never did beat the original Super Mario Bros. I got to the level where you have to work out the top, middle, bottom sequence and couldn't work it out as a kid. But I did get to Wiley's Fortress on Mega Man X as a kid, and just getting that far in the game made me feel very good. Like I'd actually accomplished something. 

That feeling of working for something, applying the lessons the game had taught me, using my skill and knowledge and luck to get past the boss is a part of what gaming is about. It's not a hobby for everyone. What this writer at RPS is asking for is the ability to put the disk into their machine and watch a long play. Before Let's Plays, there were long plays, where someone would play a game, record it, and put the video up on YouTube with zero commentary or facecam. People still do these, and the footage is very useful for people who want to see a game before they buy it, or don't want to play the game but want to see the story. 

Games are meant to be challenging on a certain level. That's why walking simulators get deservedly panned by gamers. They're barely games, they require minimal input from the person playing the game, and they're primarily story driven. They're essentially first-person visual novels. There's no inherent challenge, they're easily beatable by someone with no functional knowledge of video games, and they have a very low satisfaction level for completing the game. This is why I avoid visual novels. I've played a couple, and they're just not interesting or entertaining. That's not to say the story isn't interesting, but the progression of the game happens something like this:

Click through dialogue for a few minutes
Battle happens off-screen
Click through dialogue for a few minutes
Make a choice in dialogue options
Click through dialogue for a few minutes
Make another dialogue choice
Click through more dialogue

And so on. It's not entertaining to play, because there's no actual "play" happening. I'm just clicking the mouse and reading. I could go to my kindle and get the exact same experience. Albeit with fewer sexy pictures. Apart from the "visual" part of a visual novel, there's fundamentally no difference between playing one of those types of game and reading a book on my kindle. When I play a video game, I don't want to just click through dialogue and not watch while all the action happens off-screen.

What this game journo is asking is for all games to have a "visual novel mode". This I find fundamentally abhorrent because I value learning and struggling to achieve, and the final achievement I get after the struggle is a basic part of why I love video games so much. Playing through Thief, I loved the tension and challenge in getting around the guards and figuring out what I have to do to progress in the game. The challenge is rewarding because I was able to work it out and progress. I was the equal of the challenge, and that brings a sense of accomplishment that other entertainment media doesn't bring and at base level isn't designed to bring. 

Movies are passive. Books are passive. TV shows are passive. You are not taking active part in the goings on of the story. Video games are fundamentally an active entertainment storytelling medium. The player is part of the story. Even if the player is railroaded by the story, they are participating. They affect the outcome via their choices. 

Dark Souls is a good example here. In Dark Souls, there is the legend of the Chosen Undead that may or may not be the player. Over the course of the game you go through a journey that makes you the Chosen Undead. You were not actually Chosen, you just happened to be there and have the determination to complete all the challenges and earn the right to decide the fate of the world. You became the Chosen Undead by right of trial by combat, and through your choices along the course of the game. The only way you can not become the Chosen Undead in Dark Souls (and thereby "lose" the game) is to stop playing. 

Much the same, in other video games you need to show a competent level of skill to progress. This is intrinsic to the medium. It is not the same as books, movies, or tv shows. All gamers have a game that we love above most others, but there's THAT ONE PART that drives us fucking crazy. But we play through it because getting through that infuriating section of the game not only allows us to experience the rest of the story, but gives us the feeling of accomplishment that comes with completing a difficult task thanks to our own ability, pluck, and ingenuity. 

While I'm not against a "tourist mode" in video games, it does undermine the medium because video games are not meant to just give you anything. You're supposed to earn it. It's an interactive storytelling medium. It has been since shortly after the very beginning. Even with games like Pong there's no "Press X To Win" mechanic, and there shouldn't be. You win Pong by being good at the game, and giving Pong a "Press X To Win" mechanic would cheapen the experience. Not just for me, but for anyone who plays the game.

This is one of this person's breakdowns. That the people complaining about the "tourist mode" would somehow be negatively affected by the inclusion of this mode and other people using it. That's not the case with me.

I think the people using it will be negatively affected by it. 

It matters not one whit to me if I decide to buy AssCreed Origins, play it through properly, enjoy it, and someone else decides to use the tourism mode. If it's in the game, it's the player's decision to use it. But the player who uses the option will not get the sense of achievement that people like me receive from playing the game properly. They're just watching the game at that point.

And, really, you can find a long play, or a let's play, that will do the exact same thing for you. You can get the entire story in the same amount of time, and it will require no effort on your part apart from finding the video on YouTube. So why not just do that? Why request that every developer in the foreseeable future include this mode in their games? Which, I remind you, will require more development time and effort on the part of the developers. 

This approach to game design also inherently undermines the entire point of excellent games like Undertale. I bought it, and genuinely enjoyed it, but I stopped playing because the bullet hell approach to the battles annoyed the shit out of me. I'm not a fan of bullet hell games, so I quit playing. And because of that I didn't get to see the rest of the game. This game is designed around player input. Your choices matter on such an intrinsic level in this game that almost no two people's playthroughs will be exactly alike. Adding a "tourist mode" to the game would undermine everything about the way the game's storyline is supposed to develop based on player choice. 

My theory is this game journalist, and by extension most people calling for a "tourist mode" in video games, has (have) never had to work for things in their life. They've had things given to them. 

They're entitled. 

They think they're entitled to see the rest of the story of the game, despite the fact that they haven't absorbed the proper information or developed the proper skills to progress, or actually tried to beat it. They want it given to them, and this is the heart of the breakdown between game journos like this person and gamers. Gamers have spent their lifetimes earning their achievements, be those achievements simply beating an NES game, or the more modern, conventionally understood meaning of "achievements" on Steam or various other gaming platforms. 

This mindset is inherently alien to me. I like earning what I have, be it the money I make off of the books I write (or help write), the audiobooks I produce, or the simple pleasure of beating a video game I like. I don't understand how people can find satisfaction in having everything given to them. Even with movies, books, and tv shows, you have to watch through the "boring parts" to get to the fun bits. There's no skill involved, but you have to invest the time, at the very least. Even people who like the sports games that EA pumps out every year like to play the games. Otherwise they'd just go watch football, or soccer, or whatever.

This article serves to underline the divide between the games press and the gamers, the people who support the hobby and keep it on its feet. Video games are built upon (sometimes) hard work and achieving through struggle, persevering through adversity, winning through impossible odds to the final goal. Be that adversity puzzles, hordes of enemies, boss fights, what have you.

I get the feeling that game journos just do not understand this, because they are not gamers. They have not been playing games since they were young, they have no understanding of the roots of the medium, and they do not enjoy video games. They are journalism majors who got into games journalism because they thought it would be easy, because really who cares about the biggest entertainment industry on the face of the earth? They do not understand the hobby, and therefore they do not understand the backlash they get when they print horrifyingly smug articles like this. 

All I can say to them is: Go play something more your speed. Play visual novels, or walking simulators, or point-and-click adventure games (although p&c adventure games do have puzzles, and that might tax your brain a bit and force you to actually work for something, so they may throw you off a bit). But there are games out there to cater to your non-play style of...playing games. Go play those, and stop pretending you represent a serious segment of the hobby, because you don't.

Most of us enjoy a challenge.

Where the fuck do you think Gamergate came from?

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

War Demons: The Best Urban Fantasy Since Jim Butcher


Before I get into the review, I have some disclosing to do, and an apology to make. Russell Newquist came to me and offered me a free copy of this book specifically for this review, and I interact with him reasonably frequently on Twitter. As for the apology, this review is late as shit, and that's nobody's fault but mine. I'm a slow reader on a good day, but this is ridiculous, and I hope Russell will forgive me for not getting this up sooner. With that out of the way, let's get into my review of this book.

As you can probably tell by the title of this post, it's going to be a fairly glowing review. Not because Russell is a friend, and I should've had this up faster, but because I actually did enjoy the hell out of this book. So let's dive into a short plot synopsis to start things off.

After the death of his fiancee in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Michael Alexander joined the military to personally avenge her death. During his time in Afghanistan, his helicopter crashed, and he was attacked by a demon with a yellow nose. It ate his friend, and almost killed him, but he made it out, and now is home in Georgia, still unable to forgive himself for the death of Katie (his dead fiancee). He discovers that the demon has followed him in the possessed body of his dead friend, and then things get really out of hand when a wizard shows up with his pet dragon. 

And that should be enough to whet your appetite, so if you want the non-spoiler synopsis, there you go. That'll take you to about a quarter of the way through the book or so, while glossing over a whole shitload of important details. I'll try my best to keep further spoilers out of the review, but if you're looking for a short review with a recommendation right here: Go buy it, it's good stuff. It's $3 USD on kindle, and for as good as this book is you can't beat that with a stick. Here's the (non-affiliate) link to the book.

There's a 2-star review for this book on Amazon that says it "resembles a brainless action flick." While I agree that this book does indeed read like an action flick, it is anything but brainless. Maybe I'm the brainless one here, but this book threw me for a loop a couple times. Maybe I should back up.

It starts as a mystery, and then evolves into a full blown Die Hard With A Dragon action story. The first half of the book involves a very accurate portrayal of PTSD, Michael wrestling with his guilt over the death of Katie, and a search for knowledge about the yellow-nosed demon that ate his friend. Then, as I say, once the dragon shows up everything kind of goes to hell in a hand basket really fast. The change happened so fast it almost gave me whiplash. I don't know what I was expecting given the first half of this book, but it most definitely wasn't for a dragon to show up. At that point I kind of stopped trying to guess where this story was going and buckled in for the ride. 

The mystery side of things is presented very well. I have no understanding of how mysteries are written, but I love reading and watching them, and Michael's search for information constantly coming up with bupkis is an interesting one to follow. I think that in the transition from mystery to action book, a couple of loose ends weren't tied up. For example, I don't remember getting a conclusive explanation on the yellow-nosed demon revenant thing. Maybe I just missed it, but like I said before, I'm a slow reader. However, there are other books in this series, so I'll pick those up when I'm able and see if anything else gets explained. 

The action is just plain breakneck fucking awesome. When it gets rolling, it does not let up. I don't know how he kept up that level of intensity for the better part of 30 chapters, but he did, and I stand gobsmacked at how much I enjoyed it. The mystery bits are interesting, but slow in comparison to the rest of the book. It's as if it's building up speed, and then when it hits top speed it refuses to let up until we hit the conclusion. It really is like watching an action movie.

The characters are also all distinct, which is what any writer worth his salt does with his characters, but I feel it necessary to mention because I've read fiction where everyone sounds the same, and it's important to compliment good work when it makes itself apparent. And boy howdy does it in this. All of these characters are individuals with their own speech patterns and even accents. Sometimes there was a slip and, for instance, Connor (the Irishman) winds up sounding a little more American than he should, but those instances are few and far between. I loved all the characters in this book, to the point where I couldn't pick a favorite. Maybe Peter, but that would be for reasons I can't divulge to you because [S P O I L E R S  R E D A C T E D]. Just trust me, Peter's great. 

Now I feel is a good time to bring up the religiosity of the book. This book is capital letters CHRISTIAN. Catholic, specifically. Which makes sense, Russell is a Catholic, and his handling of the topic in this book is exquisite. I grew up Baptist (currently a godless atheist heathen), and I have some familiarity with Christian literature. Enough to tell you with some authority that most of it is just awfully written. There's no real saving the majority of it, because they're trying to preach a message, not tell a story.

Russell is here to tell a story. 

And he does so very well. The inclusion of the Catholic symbolism felt completely natural, and it serves the story rather than the other way around, thereby amplifying the message. It's not about to make a convert out of me, but respect and credit where it's due. Also, as an atheist who's read his fair share of anti-god science fiction and fantasy, it's refreshing to see someone tackle the topic without treating believers like morons, and without alienating atheists. At least if you're not the constantly ass-pained, arrogant, "I have to be a cunt to religious people at all times" kind of atheist. 

God is very real in this story, and most of the main characters are expressly Catholic. There's even a squad of holy knights straight from the Vatican, and they wound up being some of my favorite characters. It's not overbearing, it's simply there. Michael is Catholic, and trying to find peace, so it makes sense for him to attend Mass. The Vatican knights are, well, knights from the Vatican. Holy water hurts vampires (yes there are vampires in the story...well, kind of), a crucifix staves off the yellow-nosed demon revenant thing, and there's a crazy homeless prophet who shows up to make a nuisance of himself and deliver cryptic warnings. It's handled respectfully, it's not overbearing, and it's all in service of the overall story. When these characters pray, it's not because they feel like they have to pray before they do anything, it's because they need God's help. Usually due to the overwhelming presence of enemies in their immediate vicinity. If you want to know how to put Christian symbolism and plots into a book and have it not suck ass, read this and take serious notes. It's on the level of Dracula by Bram Stoker in that respect.

It was also refreshing to see a writer take a down to earth approach to social dynamics. The interactions feel natural, the men act like men, the women act like women, and it takes an honest look at how people actually interact with one another. In this day of Strong Empowered Women (with no actual personality) it's nice to see someone actually give the women in the story real motivations, and have them act like people instead of archetypes built on years of gender studies classes. Ordinarily something like this isn't worth mentioning, but the portrayal of the male dominance hierarchy and the female attraction to the guy at the top of it was very honest, and it surprised me when I got to the parts where Michael is interacting with his college peers. The characters are believable every step of the way, I even know people like some of them in real life, and I'd like to thank Russell for giving us real people with real motivations and real problems in his book. After all the Mary Sues and Gary Stu's I've had to put up with over the years, War Demons was like cold water to the face in this respect. 

If I had one problem with this book, it's that some of the action scenes in the second half feel a little flat. They're fighting wave after wave of "undead", and they just kind of cut through them with ridiculous ease, barely getting hurt. Which, I'm not saying that they have to be completely beat to shit and back before they fight the Big Bad, but some of the action scenes could've been fleshed out a bit better in my opinion. I don't need a punch-for-punch, bullet-for-bullet recap of the action, and in some scenes he gives exactly that, but the battle scenes seemed a bit flat in places. Then again, they are using modern weaponry on what amounts to zombies, and lots of these characters are combat veterans, so the almost glossing over of the thousandth zombie they kill can be completely forgiven with no lingering distaste.

And that's the only problem I had with this book. Well, that and not finding out what the yellow-nosed thing was. But really these are minor personal nitpicks that you may or may not find mildly annoying. Your mileage may vary, but you will in no wise be bored by this book. It has everything you could want out of a good urban fantasy story and then some. I wasn't exactly expecting it to take such a heavy religious bent, but as I say I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to not be there for messaging purposes, and thoroughly enjoyed every page. 

This has gone on for too long, so I'll wrap it up by saying that this is the most fun I've had with the urban fantasy sub-genre since I read Storm Front by Jim Butcher (in The Dresden Files series), and that's no kind of exaggeration. I'm seriously considering getting this one in paperback just so I can have it on my shelf and loan it out to people. The mystery is interesting, the action is straight out of a kick ass 80's movie, the characters are fun and personable, and the plot twists will knock your socks off. If that reviewer on Amazon is right, and it is "brainless" fun, then it's the best kind of brainless fun. 

My final verdict: Go buy it. The three dollars for the kindle version is well worth the price of admission, and if your tastes are anything like mine you'll have trouble putting it down once you actually start reading it.

And I once again apologize to Russell for the lateness of this review. Should there be a next one, it'll damn sure be up sooner. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Valiant Has Split-Personality Disorder

Okay after a couple of hours of dicking around in Gimp and MSPaint, we're going with this image. I'm not a graphic designer or artist, and I have no idea what I'm doing. I apologize for the overhang on the right side of the image, but I'm a writer/voice actor, not a graphic designer. Not even a little bit. 

That being said, Valiant is a comic company I've had my eye on for a while now. I'm familiar with their comic X-0 Manowar from the 90's back when I was a kid, but apart from that I really don't know many of their properties. I know that they're running the goofy fat acceptance super hero Faith, which fine, whatever, I'm not gonna read that. 

But I find myself judging things by their covers quite frequently. More often than not I'm right. I've bought several albums, books, and comics based on cover alone, and usually I've got a good nose for that kind of thing. If there's a quality cover, there's more than likely a quality product underneath it. 

So, after following Valiant Comics on twitter, and becoming exposed to several of their covers for upcoming comics runs, I was getting very excited. I didn't know who Quantum & Woody were, but I wanted to read their comic. It looked fun, and funny. On the same tack, Bloodshot looked badass, with tons of action and gun fights, which I'm always up for. Well, I received some news that makes me think that someone at Valiant might be a few cans short of a six pack.

Few side dishes short of a Thanksgiving dinner.

Few comics short of a full run.

Insert your own metaphor here.

What I'm talking about are these articles, archives of which I'll link here and here, because one is Washington Post and they don't deserve any more attention than they already get, if they even deserve that much. The reason I'm bringing these to your attention is because it's two very different approaches to writing comics from the same company, and Valiant seems to be giving their writers quite a bit of rope. 

So in the first we find out that the writer for the upcoming Quantum & Woody series is, wait for it, brace yourself, a writer for Stephen Colbert's The Late Show. Now, if you've been keeping up, since Colbert took over and the primaries last year, The Late Show hasn't had a funny joke within five miles of the studio it's filmed in. It is a black hole of anti-humor and political messaging that is so embarrassing and cringeworthy I'm amazed that Colbert can sleep at night. Hiring one of the architects of that abortion of comedy to write comic books seems to me like a quick way to tank your numbers into the Earth's mantle. 

Just look at IDW. They reported a 91% loss in net income this year after they decided to do some dumb shit and put lots of political messaging in their comics, and hire an anti-military/anti-government/anti-cop SOCIALIST to write for G.I. JOE. Here's the article if you think I'm shitting you. Not to mention the numbers over at comichron for August of this year, wherein Marvel can barely get a book to top 86K, while DC has 3 books over 100K, and one of those is a 1st issue! Social justice, politics, cultural marxism, whatever you want to call it, kills industries, and it kills businesses. We have definitive proof of it. This is irrefutable at this point.

So why, in the name of everything good and decent, you would hire someone who writes for the social justice wankfest that The Late Show has become to write for your comic books when Valiant is already a small publisher is completely beyond me. If word of this gets out, thanks to people like me talking about it, you're already looking at low starting sales. Then, on top of that, if the man goes through with his plan to do social commentary and political jokes (because the comic is going to take place mostly in Washington, D.C.), you're going to watch those sales fall drastically over the next five issues, until nobody is reading it, and it gets quietly cancelled and Kibblesmith gets shunted out the backdoor so they can reboot it in five years when hopefully no one remembers this horrendously stupid decision they're making.


I could be wrong. Maybe Kibblesmith will do an excellent job, the story will be interesting and funny, the comic well-drawn, and the political jokes will be understated and non-partisan. It might be a perfectly wonderful series that will blow me away, and if it is I'll happily eat crow over it. 

I just sincerely doubt that's going to happen. And it's up to Kibblesmith to prove me wrong. Either way, I'm going to give the new Quantum & Woody a shot. It looks fun, and if he keeps his raging I-HATE-DRUMPF boner in his fucking pants he'll probably do at the very least a decent job. We'll see.

Now on the other side of this company suffering from split-personality disorder, we have Bloodshot. This is another one I'm not familiar with, but the leaked covers from Valiant's twitter feed of Bloodshot Salvation look cool as shit. And, in the second article I linked above, it seems that somewhere along the way the writer grew a brain, or at the very least a sense of self-awareness. I'm going to quote him here:

“The more I worked on the book, the more the political aspects I had planned just started to feel obvious and forced,” Lemire told IGN. “So, Bloodshot will not longer be going up against the alt-right or any white supremacists in this series. That stuff was feeling very heavy-handed. And I also felt that including the white supremacist/alt-right angle was just distracting from the story I really wanted to tell with Salvation. So I have removed many of those elements from the series altogether. That's the joy of working really far ahead, it allows me to get a sense of the series as a whole and shift things.
“I know, personally, I get enough politics on a day-to-day basis and know that it's the last thing I want to read about in my comics. And if I wasn't feeling it, I knew the reader wouldn't either. So instead I've adapted and adjusted things and focused more on the aspects of the story that excited me. Salvation will be a series that explores faith, revenge and parenthood, which is what I originally wanted to focus on anyway.”

 Hat tip to Jon Del Arroz for showing me this interview, and making my night better after the Quantum & Woody news was so disappointing.

This is how people should be thinking, in my extremely arrogant opinion. But, as they say, it's not bragging if you're telling the truth, and I'm right on this. If you're concentrating on political messaging, you're not concentrating on story. If you're not concentrating on story, you're not writing something for fans to enjoy, you're jerking off. Stop it. It's bad for sales, and it's bad for your portfolio. You really don't want to be known as "The Person Who Killed [Insert Comic Franchise Here]". Or at least I wouldn't. 

For example, I don't envy Dan Slott his position of "The Guy Trying To Kill Spider-Man," and I don't envy Aubrey Sitterson his position of "The Guy Trying To Kill G.I. JOE," and I don't envy Maggs Visagio in any way, shape or form.

But, because the Bloodshot writer, Jeff Lemire, has decided to remove all the screeching about white nationalism, the alt-right, the KKK, and all these other imaginary problems, and concentrate on "faith, revenge, and parenthood" I'm fully confident he's going to tell a much better story that will appeal to a much wider audience. Bloodshot Salvation is probably going to do very well because of this. I'm going to be picking it up, and if it's good I'll be recommending it to people.

Now, I'm not an artist, I don't know from good art, I can't explain to you why one drawing is better than another. But I know good storytelling, and I know a good comic when I read it. So while I won't be able to critique from an artistic point of view, I'll be telling you guys if I like it or not. And given what I've seen so far, I think I'm going to.

But so far as Valiant goes as a company, they seem to be straddling a fine line wherein they let their writers just...kind of get away with whatever they want. They have Faith, the fat acceptance "super hero", they have X-0 Manowar, the man in the mechanical suit who spends his days ass-raping robots to defend humanity, Quantum & Woody, the night and day brothers with unstable powers trying to find out who killed their fathers (Woody was adopted), and Bloodshot, the nanite infested super soldier. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of editorial oversight at Valiant, and as a result they have a very eclectic catalogue, with more titles than I've listed here. 

Nobody went and told Lemire that he had to include all the political dreck he was originally going to, and likewise I'd imagine nobody told Kibblesmith that he had to tone the political shit down. They seem to have a serious amount of creative freedom, which means that we're going to have a real-life example of which approach is more beneficial to an entertainment business. That is, of course, if Kibblesmith goes full SJW with Q&W, which I fully expect him to but hope he won't. Faith appears to be selling well enough that they haven't cancelled it yet, so really who can say?

All I know is that Valiant is a very interesting company, with a very confusing case of split-personality disorder, and I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with. The article on Q&W is disheartening, and gives me an acute sense of dread about what I might be spending my money on, but I'm willing to dole out some dosh and see what happens. You'll have to make up your own mind. But it's clear to me that Valiant is a company to watch very closely over the next year. 

Very closely.