A Muse that is Guild Wars

A while back, I briefly touched on how Guild Wars 2 (GW2) – a massive multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) that I still play to this day – helps fuel my writing muse. It’s ironic, too, because I largely focus on science fiction while GW2 is high-fantasy, yet elements from it commonly inspire parts of my world building. Then again, I enjoy reading a good fantasy story myself, too, so I thought I’d be nice to share just how I got into the series, and why its narrative has stuck with me so strongly. Bear in mind there will be some SPOILERS.

Starting.png

Early Days

I ended up getting into the original Guild Wars (GW) series over a decade ago, with it being recommended by an online role-playing friend of mine. We both had an interest in video games, and I loved the idea of jumping in with her friends and family for some cooperative action as a Ranger (One of the main professions their party was missing, which I enjoyed). The fact that it didn’t have to pay a monthly subscription helped seal the deal; running around a fantasy setting was just being a side aspect for me at the time.

Now admittedly, Prophecies, GW’s first installment, didn’t have the best narrative, as I frequently found its dialogue cringy and quite a few of its characters shallow. Yet it got originality points for integrating more unique fantasy elements – like the warmongering, feline Charr and human god pantheon – alongside more familiar ones. This helped it avoid falling too much into Tolkien-esque territory that often involved the overused orcs and elves trope. It’s this, along with the plot occasionally mixing things up, that helped make its tale otherwise palatable for me.

Charr2.jpg
Concept art of the Charr, one of the first foes you encountered in the game

As time went on and I played through the other expansions, though, I found myself starting to appreciate the lore and landscapes of Tyria. There was a surprising amount of detail and nuance to the world’s history, with regions including some great eye candy, too. Plus, once I had completed the last expansion, Eye of the North, I found myself smitten with some of its newly introduced characters and races. Particularly the egotistical Asura, and their “A magic sufficiently analyzed becomes indistinguishable from technology” personas.

 

Destiny's Edge.jpg

Along Came a Sequel

Eye of the North had also done a good job in setting up my hype for the franchise’s next evolutionary leap: Guild Wars 2. Its first trailer had both me and my buddies ecstatic, not just because of the upgraded, artistic visuals and expanded gameplay; but because of the additional, playable races. Asura were particularly on the menu for some of my guild mates, although for me, the Charr were my starting race of choice. Largely because of their steam punk technology and burly character design.

Plus, they had originally been antagonists in the first game, which was another reason why I was so excited. GW2 is set 250-years after the events of the first series, with the Elder Dragons now rising to threaten Tyria’s residence; and it’s that time jump that brings with it a huge amount of changes. Some that had already been previewed in the trailer, making me very eager to get into the nitty gritty details.

Asura
Yes, this is the ‘tech’ that Asura can do with magic. Small size, big minds.

Not only that but I loved the premise an Avengers-style team-up between various members of each race as a response to the global threat. Especially since they’re so distinct from one another, from the diminutive but arrogant Asura, to the towering, adventuring Norn, and so on. It helped that Arena Net, the game’s developers, had greatly improved their dialogue by Eye of the North, making me very eager to see just how they would play-off one another.

It’s this legacy aspect that’s one of the reasons I’m still around GW2, as I love seeing how they build on the established lore through out their ongoing, Living World narrative

An Evolving Story

Speaking of narrative, although the Personal Story for your player character at GW2’s launch was a flawed experience, it did set the stage for future story content. Specifically, what would eventually be called Living World content: episodic, story driven patches that create a single, progressing story-line. Much of which started out as experimental, once-off world events that gradually introduced a new cast of supporting characters. Ones who were just beginning their own journeys, with our player character not only intertwining with theirs, but also bringing them all together as a group.

Taimi
Taimi and Braham Eirsson, one of my favorite duos in the Living World series

This resulted in a more relatable experience, as we got to see what drove these characters, and over the course of the first season, witness some endearing dynamics form. A favorite of mine being the caring, small-tall relationship between genius Asura Taimi and the hot-head Norn, Braham. Not only that, but as the story progressed through the form of replayable content, including expansion and future seasons, we got to see these characters really grow and develop.

 

gw071
My Ranger main, Alhendra Rodain, who has been with me since the game’s launch

New threats rose, old characters died, and bonds between them and mine were strained and tested. It’s by the end of the fourth and latest Living World season, we see – through grief, joy and hardship – our guild, Dragon’s Watch, become a close, tight nit family. One that feels very personal to me, and my Ranger main, Alhendra Rodain – who I love envisioning as a descendant of my original GW character, Shayan Rodain.

Given how this last season has been left so open ended with the birth of a very special Elder Dragon, I look forward to seeing what future events are in store for my group.

 

Final Thoughts

Although there are plenty of other reasons I stick around GW2 (Sometimes that infamous grind for that fancy weapon), it’s the constantly changing story that has been its major sticking point. Others have been the jaw dropping artwork and environments, to its magic system and even its character creation system. A lot of which I would love to delve deeper in separate posts, but for now, I hope you enjoyed this cathartic recall.

gw2chibi_patreonreward_092018_byshadottie
Ranger Main Chibi by Shadottie

Crosscode Examination: Of Evotars and Instant Matter

A while back, I talked about the sci-fi story of Crosscode, an action RPG video game who’s characters I fell deeply in love with. It’s also a story that had some fascinating takes on two familiar sci-fi tropes, virtual reality (VR) and, more prominently, artificial intelligence (AI). So, in this post, I’ll be examining Crosscode’s distinct use of these tropes, and why I find them so intriguing. This WILL include SPOILERS, so you’ve been warned.

 

A Digital World in a Real World

Firstly, if you’ve read my related post or played the game, you’ll know that Crosscode’s settings runs the in the same veins as dot Hack and Sword Art Online. Mainly, that the story takes place in the far-flung future, in a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) called Crossworlds. All which is experienced through a form of VR where the player’s five sense are tightly connected to the player character, or ‘avatar’, they control. The kicker here is that most of the fantastical RPG elements they witness, from towns, NPCs, to dungeons, literally have a physical, real-world presence on a small planet; in a region called the Playground.

That’s right: a whole MMO game – not its story but the game itself – is literally transpiring on a moon. Where the players are controlling their avatars from thousands of light years away.

 

It’s an unorthodox form of VR, since one might think it’d be more efficient just to run the whole deal in a server room. However, the concept feels grounded, practical and fun through the magic of Instant Matter technology – a technology that can create matter out of thin air, in any shape or form. It’s like a mix between Star Trek’s holodeck and replicators, with the matter being structurally weak, but ‘programmable’ to any form of logic. Including your standard affair of video game RPG logic, like gear stats, character levels and hit points.

Bad2
Just…don’t physically stand on the stuff with 100 story drop below

 

Essentially, the Playground is, as one NPC described it, “…like a theme park made out of Styrofoam.” A Styrofoam that works to the developers’ whims and can be transposed as fantastical game elements onto the real world. Creating instances where the lines between simulation and reality becomes blurred, like land formations that appear real but make absolutely no sense. Something a certain supporting character will be keen to point out.

Land.png
Oh C’Tron, I love your commentary

Most importantly, though, it allows for virtual characters to jump into off-limit, real world areas, and vice versa. A fact that ties directly into the main character’s journey and the other trope: AIs.

Enter the Evotar

The heart and soul of Crosscode’s story is Lea, an amnesiac who wakes up and is told her best chance of recovering her memories is by playing Crossworlds. However, it’s mid-way through that we – and Lea – learn a shocking truth: she’s not a flesh-and-blood person, but rather, an AI controlling an avatar. Specifically, she’s an Evotar, a copy of someone else’s game avatar and memories, and is fully capable of experiencing and showing complex human emotions. In other words, she’s a digitized human soul in a hard drive who’s only means of interacting with others is through the game and her avatar.

Truth3.png
Hardcore existential crisis incoming

She’s also not the only one of her kind, with over a dozen of illicitly, secretly created Evotars trapped inside a discontinued hellhole of the Playground. All, unlike Lea, having been copied from your average, unsuspecting player; and with all these copies unaware of their nature, believing themselves to just be players unable to log out. Thankfully, by the end of the game, Lea, along with some friends, manage to rescue them. Although what their future will be like, and how they’ll cope with the truth about themselves, is a story for a future DLC patch – and another post.

Regardless, the creation of these AI was, ironically, done using a software program originally intended to connect Crossworld players to their avatars. This program, by the way, is called Crosscode, and it was its programmer, Satoshi, who realized early on after developing it that, with some tweaking, it could mimic the human mind it was reading.

Unfortunately, because Instatainment, the company he worked for, refused to fund any research on Evotars, he and two colleagues left, and wound up making a shady deal with a third-party backer. One that eventually black mailed them to create the other Evotars; all with the express purpose of extracting valuable information from them to sell on the black market.

Villain.png
No, Sidwell, it wasn’t.

Game Toons Come to Life

Sordid story aside, the thing I find most fascinating about this take on AIs is just how it involves the characters we create in games. In most stories I’ve seen using this trope, the mind being duplicated is usually of importance, be it a soldier, a scientist, dying child, etc; and usually as a means of preservation. Here, though, the digital intelligence that comes into existence is because of, well, someone playing a video game. Yes, someone else did the copying, but, indirectly, that Evotar and its memories wouldn’t even have existed had it not been for one of that person’s past times.

It’s surreal when you think about it, because we often create virtual and fictional characters as a means of escapism. After all, we frequently enjoy imagining ourselves as someone else that was can’t be and will even go to painstaking lengths to get those tiny character details right. The former being commonly presented all throughout Crosscode’s story, like Apollo and bombastic acts of being a “Hero of Justice.”

Apollo.png
Apollo and his ‘heroic’ antics 😛

The irony is that, for Crosscode, this fantasy ends up becoming someone else’s reality; a fact poignantly made by one of Lea’s guildmates upon learning her identity. It’s also a concept that can lead to many future scenarios for Evotars in general, including various social and identity issues. A subject that I intend to tackle in more detail in a later post. For now, I hope you enjoyed reading and learning about the world of Crosscode.

leachibi_patreonreward_oct2018_byshadottie
Also, have a chibi Lea to brighten your day. By Shadottie

5 Five Powerful Female Video Game Characters

A few months ago, I became aware of International Women’s Day, an event which celebrates woman, their achievements and impacts on society. It was, however, after reading Avhlee’s “5 Influential Female Characters for International Woman’s Day” that I wanted to eventually do something similar, but with video game characters. Now, since this is rather late, and the gaming industry isn’t exactly solid with female representation, this list is more personal. Nonetheless, these 5 characters are here because of the strength of their personas, and not simply for what they’re physically capable of.

metroid_samus_aran

Samus Aran

I know, I know, I’ve touched on Samus Aran a good few times in my past blog post, but it’s hard not to include her simply because of how iconic she is in the industry. After all, the concept of a woman in a fully decked out, sci-fi power armor and going toe-to-toe with deadly aliens is a powerful image. Especially given how this role is normally reserved for men.

Although her actual character may not have much depth, her image as a warrior is enough to inspire. It shows a woman as an indomitable force, one that’s both physically powerful, and, more importantly, courageous and duty bound. In a way, her lack of developed character allows for others to fill in the blanks with positive traits, including compassion and resilience.

20050000jenosapostershrsf4

Jenosa Arma

Another character that I talked about in a past post, Jenosa Arma, the protagonist of Scurge: Hive, is very much a mirror of Samus. Where else the latter bounty hunter is shown to be more silent and reserved, Jenosa is downright expressive, witty and genuinely upbeat. Although not a power house like Samus, she’s competent, resourceful, and is a character that feels very much alive in her own game.

Perhaps what makes Jenosa such a strong female character is her independence and empathy. She’s clearly someone that enjoys doing her job solo, regardless of how bad of a situation she’ll get into. At the same time, she’s more than capable of being a friendly face to those she meets, showing remorse and empathy where it counts. She may be in her job for the money, but she’s more than willing to do what’s needed when it comes down it – and do it with ferocity, she will.

Lara2.jpg

Lara Croft

Easily one of the most recognizable characters in the industry, Lara Croft has undergone a significant amount of change over the years since her inception as a female Indiana Jones. Gone is the oversexualized, one dimensional icon, replaced by a grittier, but more relatable, fleshed-out protagonist. One that, over the course of the rebooted series, has transformed into a socially awkward but combat hardened academic driven to discover and protect the supernatural secrets of the past – and those she holds close.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about her current iteration is just how resilient Lara is. She’s been through a through hell in back, from her troubled upbringing; to her life-and-death experience as an innocent archeologist; to confronting the supernatural and facing loss. Despite this (and some questionable narrative choices), Lara has never lost sigh of herself in her obsession to discover the truth. By the end of her latest installment, she’s come to understand those who matter to her, and the humble role she plays in the world.

Taimi.jpg

Taimi

The cast of Guild Wars 2 Living story has grown quite a bit since it’s inception, and out of them, my two personal favorites are Canach and Taimi. The latter being a young, diminutive, female Asura that’s a both a brilliant researcher and engineer (Considers herself a progeny prodigy). In a high fantasy world under threaten by Elder Dragons and more, Taimi has been the go-to character for everything technical and magical – and technomagical. She’s also disabled, having been born with a crippling, degenerative disease that, at times, makes it extremely difficult to move.

What make’s Taimi such an exemplary female video game character is not just genius, but her drive and compassion. As damning as her disability can be, she doesn’t let it stop her from carrying out her tasks, be it research or helping her fellow guild mates prevent world ending disasters. Heck, she personally created her own autonomous golem suit to help her get around (Which she calls Scruffy). She might get tunnel-vision and egotistical sometimes, but when it comes down to it, she does what she does because she cares about those around her.

 

MiraCropped.jpg

Mira Han

Mira Han is perhaps one of the more unusual choices for this list, since she’s the least developed character in the Starcraft lore and isn’t the best role model given her profession. After all, you normally don’t want your little girl taking after the leader of a mercenary crew that kills for money. Yet it’s partially for that reason that she makes it to this list, because when you live in a universe filled with monstrous aliens and psychics, it’s not easy being one as vanilla human. Certainly not one with some common decency.

Now, while I wouldn’t say the frisky and professional Mira has a heart of gold, she is principled. She’s a person of her world, and doesn’t back-stab those she respects, including her own crew, and certain idealistic characters she likes. Heck, she clearly draws a line with how murky her business gets given how she’s worked with the latter characters before, however begrudgingly. In a way, Mira’s simply doing what she and her crew can to survive while still upholding some moral values.

P.S That, and I really, really love playing her as SC2 COOP commander 😛

 

chibithankyou_april2018_patreonreward_by_shadottie
Azaya Moria Arma, a OC inspired by Jenosa. Art by Shadottie

So how about you guys? Do you have any influential or powerful video game character you love?

Intrigue and Daydreams of Upcoming Game Content

I’m a picky eater when it comes to games, so it’s not often I buy them. That said, there are always certain ones, along with specific content updates, that I keep an eye out for because the stories tagged with them . Thus, I’d like to share with you guys some of the upcoming games or content updates that I’m excited because of their narrative elements. Spoiler warnings ahead, as some of these description require me to explain certain pasts events to establish a proper context .

metroid-prime-4-1024x576.jpg

Metroid Prime 4

Those of you who’ve read through a couple of my blog posts will already know I’m a big Metroid fan, so it should be no secret that I’ve been pretty stoked for Metroid Prime 4 since it’s announcement. Even with the recent delay, the fact that Retro Studios, the creators behind the previous Prime titles, will be now working on it only makes me happier. Regardless, I look forward to seeing what a long overdue, fresh installment will bring to the series lore.

Sylux
What’s your beef with the Federation, Sylux?

Specifically, seeing the game exploring the background and motivations behind the mysterious bounty hunter Sylux, as it’s been strongly hinted that he’ll be the game’s antagonist. What makes Sylux so fascinating, aside from his character design, is that he holds a distinct hatred for the Galactic Federation – and by extension, Samus – while ironically using tech he stole from them. It’s an intriguing conundrum that has the potential to create a fleshed-out villain the series doesn’t normally get. Granted, some of that is wishful thinking on my end, but if anything, I’ll at least have some new alien worlds and lore to inspire my muse.

 

Guild Wars 2’s Final Episode of Living World Season 4

Woooh doggy, did the game’s latest story patch end with a big cliff-hanger – and the death of a major, integral character: Aurene. For over the last two living world seasons, the game has done an excellent job building the player character’s emotional bond with the crystal dragon they helped raise and protect. It’s also been made it clear that Aurene is pivotal in restoring Tyria’s magical balance, less the world implode if another Elder Dragons is killed without another to replace it.

So when we’re treated to a wonderfully executed, heart wrenching scene of Aurene’s death after her confrontation with her grandfather, Kralkatorrick, we’re left reeling in more ways than one. Not only have we lost what appears Tyria’s only salvation, but someone also very dear to us. Worse, Kralk is free again to rampage through the Mists, and if nothing is done soon, it could eventually lead to the collapse of reality. One’s gotta wonder just we, both player and supporting NPCs, we’ll pull through in the final episode to save the day.

 

Header

Crosscode: Post-Story Content

A lot has happened to Crosscode’s protagonist, Lea, in her journey of self-discovery through the semi-digital, MMORPG game, Crossworlds. She develops some heart warming friendships with other players while discovering the shocking truth about herself: she’s an Evotar, an AI who’s a digital copy of someone elses avatar and personal memories. By the end of the game, we end up rescuing other Evotars like her from a living Hell, and, if unlocking the true ending, we’ll see story end on a happy note. One, though, that promises to add future tales through post-story patches.

One such tale that comes to mind is seeing how the other rescued Evotars will react to learning the truth about themselves upon being re-integrated with the Playground. Especially with that of a certain supporting character that unknowingly helped Lea with her own existential crisis . Seeing their interactions could prove to be both endearing, funny, and heartwarming – or heart wrenching. Plus, there’s the mystery surrounding a certain major supporting character, as it’s been hinted that C’Tron may be more than he’s letting on.

 

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori and the Blind Forest is a Metroidvania game with engaging gameplay, wonderful art, and a tear-jerker of a simple but emotional tale. Will of the Wisps looks to continue that trend, with, from the looks of it, the game’s protagonist, Ori, venturing off with Kuro’s child to learn the fate of the latter’s species. Kuro, for those unfamiliar, was the antagonist from the previous game, and ended up sacrificing herself at the end of the game to save her unhatched child.

Thus, it’ll be interesting to learn why the rest of Kuro’s giant owl species have largely been killed off, as well as witness the kind of development that could occur between Ori and young avian. Granted, not much is known about the plot itself, but, then again, Moon Studio’s games have often been a more about showing-than-telling. The only way to find out is by playing the game when it launches.

 

NYKRA

Being developed by a one-man team known as Seth, the indie game NYKRA is looking to be a deeply atmospheric, and narratively driven, sci-fi platformer. The story follows Keu, a being who finds herself unwittingly brought into existence without any explanation behind her creation, or the world she’s been plopped into. Thus, seeking answers to her purpose, Keu embarks on a journey of self-discovery through out the Heptaverse, visiting alien worlds, meeting unique characters, and confronting the truth about terrible ‘virus’.

Perhaps NYKRA’s most promising aspect is what looks to be an out-of-this-world experience grounded through the eyes of a relatable protagonist. Seth has already shown glimpses of the beautifully detailed, pixelated environments Keu will travel to, along with the intriguing interactions we’ll have with a cast of distinct characters. This will range from a sagely but vague cosmic entity, a ship’s snarky AI, and more; all of which can make for a fun, engrossing experience.

 

keuchibi_may2018reward_patreon_byshadottie
A chibi Keu and Eo, by Shadottie

So what about you guys? Are there are upcoming games that have your interests?

 

 

 

Game Inspiration Corner

Although I already talked about how the Metroid series ignited my passion for writing, I’d also like to touch on some other games that have impacted me as well. True, plenty have provided bits of inspiration here and there, but there are a few that have really shaped my muse and ideas over the years. Be it through their narrative elements or another aspect, here are 5 games that have greatly influenced me.

SpiralKnights.png

Spiral Knights

I got into Spiral Knights early on after its beta release thanks to its Team Fortress 2 hat promotion; and ended up staying for quite some time thanks to its coop gameplay, cute art style and unique world. The game is essentially about a group of technologically advanced knights, called the Spiral Order, who find themselves stranded on a mysterious clockwork planet called Cradle. Their goal being to plunge through the planet’s dangerous depths and harness the power of it’s core.

Initially, the narrative was almost none-existent, with only the bare basic gameplay elements and small bits of lore here and there. As updates gradually expanded these elements, though, I found myself witnessing a lead designer’s passion project unfold before me with the help of a small, passionate dev team. Learning how this lead designer, Nick Popovich, had set out to create this love letter to his favorite childhood games, I found myself emboldened to pursue my own passion projects. Plus, their fascinating world has provided me all sorts of little inspiration, along with some great examples of visual storytelling.

 

gw028.jpg

Guild Wars 2

It was some of my role-playing friends that got me into the original Guild Wars, and when the sequel got announced, we obviously had to jump onto that band wagon. Aside from it’s cooperative play, what kept me coming back was its ever-expanding lore, beautifully artwork, and constantly evolving story. I honestly loved how the game’s settings was this high fantasy blended seamlessly with dabs of sci-fi and steam punk – two of my favourite genres.

Perhaps the game’s biggest influence on me has been its world building. Since its release, Arena Net has done a massive job in expanding the world of Tyria over the years, creating a diverse range of locations, history, and racial culture. It’s seeing them add such nuance to the world’s races and cultures that it often makes me examine my own world’s social and cultural complexity. Plus, the game’s artwork, and even magic system, has ironically influenced some of my own sci-fi environments and concepts.

 

SC3Mastered.jpg

StarCraft

The original Stacraft is perhaps one of the first forms of entertainment to properly introduced me to the concept of a space opera setting. Sure, Star Wars, and other TV shows I saw when I was around 10 or 12 provided me glimpse into that genre; but it was Starcraft’s universe that showed me the kind of scope and complexity an interstellar slug fest can occur on. Heck, it’s a testament to its iconic races and characters that key points of the story still feel fresh in my mind today.

Thus, StarCraft is perhaps most influential in shaping a lot of my current tastes sci-fi – and fantasy – from alien monsters to machines to psychics. More importantly, the franchise’s playable races, particularly the Zerg, have heavily inspired many of the concepts, characters and settings I work with. Including a certain world and protagonist of mine.

 

DD3.jpg

Dimension Drive

Dimension Drive holds a special place among the games on this list, because it wasn’t so much the game itself that impacted me, but rather, its indie dev team and game development. See, I learned about the game after its initial Kickstarter campaign had gotten trolled by a large pledge, and ended up being drawn into it by the concept art of protagonist Jackalyne Tywood. Eventually learning that the game would be a shoot’em-up – one of my favorite genres – with a narrative element, I decided to chip in. Both with money – and a fanfic.

Yes, I’m not joking. I literally wrote a fanfic for a game still in its early development stages, where its story was still just a concept. Mainly because I wanted to have some fun speculating about how an orphaned girl and her AI companion would grow up after witnessing her world’s destruction. And the small dev team loved it – such that it gave them some story inspiration as well. Although Dimension Drive may be a simple tail of family and revenge in the end, the response, along with providing feedback for the game during its development, boosted my writing confidence and motivation immensely.

 

Jenosa Arma

Scurge: Hive

This sleeper gem holds a special place in heart thanks to how its protagonist and antagonist resonated with me so much. Probably because the game’s plot follows a familiar template, where female bounty hunter Jenosa Arma, equipped with a special suit, finds herself fighting a virulent organism on a remote research facility. The parallels with Metroid Fusion are there, but something about it’s protagonist and art style drew me in enough to want to buy it upon release. Plus, I’m a sucker for red heads.

Ironically, I ended up falling in love with Jenosa’s sassy character so much that I found myself role-playing her after beating the game – a rarity, since I normally prefer using original characters. Thus, speculation about her past, her suit’s technology and the Scurge ensued. Eventually, I ended up developing her character and related ideas so much that I found myself wanting to write their own distinct stories. Hence, one of my major motivations for being a writer.

Final Thoughts

Thus, ends my quick tales on some of the games that inspired and motivated as a writer. I may one day examine each in greater depth, but for now, I’m curious if you guys have been influenced by games in some way.

Also, enjoy some artwork as a parting gift.

samus & jenosa2
A commision of two my favorite gals I had done by Sarracenian. Enjoy.

 

 

Crosscode: A Memorable, Heartfelt Experience

It’s not often that I pick up a game that’s not only fun and challenging, but has such memorable narrative experience that it sends me into daydream overdrive afterwards. Radical Fish Games ‘Crosscode’ did just that, having recently played through it after a colleague recommended it to me. Thus, having been left with some heartwarming memories, I would like to share a spoiler-free explanation as why you might end up enjoying its story as much as I did.

An MMORPG. Inside an RPG

Crosscode’s sci-fi settings is similar in concept to that of .Hack or Sword Art Online, in which the story takes place in a Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) game played via virtual reality (VR) gear. An oxymoron in Crosscode’s case, since it’s essentially a single player RPG game set in what would normally be multiplayer experience. Only Crosscode’s ‘Crossworlds,’ the story’s MMO, is a clever twist on the recognizable sci-fi trope. See, in the two aforementioned examples, the MMO worlds experienced are purely virtual, and thus have no real-world presence beyond the machines they’re run in.

Crossworlds, on the other hand, isn’t like that. I won’t go into the specifics, since that might end up ruining some of the magic of learning about this world, but let’s just say it throws a concept that ends up blurring the lines between the virtual and real. Such that it creates some intriguing plot scenarios, twists, and, as a sci-fi writer, provide some interesting ideas to think about.

More importantly, it allows the game’s narrative to weave a distinct tale about identity, friendship and empathy; all the while allowing it to poke occasional fun at other MMO tropes.

Hi! Lea!

Hi.png

Perhaps the game’s most endearing aspect is its protagonist, Lea, an amnesiac who finds herself logged into Crossworlds in the hope of regaining her memory. She’s also, due to technical reasons, unable to properly speak, making her, in a way, a mute. So yeah, the game is running with those two tropes, and it’s easy to imagine the double whammy leading to an uninteresting, blank slate. Only Radical Fish runs with these ideas and integrates them into Lea’s character with surprising nuance.

The result is a protagonist that’s expressive, endearing and relatable right from the get-go. Lea’s both a lens for the player exploring the unfamiliar world around them while simultaneously being her own distinct character. One who’s curiosity and frustration is easy to empathize with thanks to the many detailed expressions that bring her to life (The game’s presentation has a huge amount of detail in general).

Words
Moments like these put a smile on my face.

It also helps that Lea, thanks to a supporting character, finds herself able speak certain words. Her vocabulary may be extremely limited, but frankly, it’s amazing how many different meanings Radical Fish can have her express. Just ‘Hi’ or ‘Lea’ can have surprisingly different contexts depending on the grammatical combination and facial expression they use. This results in interactions with the other ‘players’ – er, characters that she meets in her journey of self-discovery a real treat.

A Lively Supporting Cast

Character.png

Speaking of which, I found Crosscode’s supporting cast of characters to be one of the other memorable aspects of the story. Each one is distinct and likable in their own quirky way, from the enthusiastic and competitive Emily to the biology-loving C’Tron. It helps that, like Lea, each have greatly detailed character designs, and various expressions that brings them to life. A fact that makes the plot’s heartwarming and heartbreaking moments with these characters all the more poignant.

Probably the best part about Lea’s relationship with them is that, like any MMO, you can have the main ones tag along in your adventure. Honestly, I never once felt discouraged to remove them from my party – yes, that option mechanically exists, to a degree – and aside from the extra help, I loved the banter they made as you explored the world and fought enemies. Either with you, or between each other.

Apollo2.png

Best of all, they really play an important role in Lea’s character development.

Assist Mode

It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Crosscode is still very much gameplay oriented game, with it being a blend between Legend of Zelda and – from what I’ve read – Secret of Mana. It’s essentially an action RPG with a mix of real-time combat and puzzles; some of which, while fun, can be challenging. Sometimes to the point of being potentially frustrating for some players.

20181103182520_1.jpg
Fair warning. This game won’t be all smiles and jokes.

The good news is that the game comes with an Assist mode, which is essentially an in-game option that allows players to tweak the difficulty. So if they find the enemies too dangerous or the timing mechanics of some of the puzzles too difficult, they can opt to tweak it. I personally haven’t used the option, since I’m one of the those stubborn types, but I know some do.

Of course, it’s gameplay may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s alright. You can always check out a ‘Let’s Play’ here for convenience.

Minor Quibbles and Final Thoughts

If I did have to make some minor critique of the game’s story, it’s that some of its side-quests aren’t the most inspiring. They’re decent, for the most part, with some having interesting mechanics and cute references. Otherwise, as I progressed, I found myself often just speeding through the quest dialogue and relaying on the outlined objectives to know what I was doing. Simply put, with but a few exceptions, I felt most didn’t succeed in hooking me into their tale.

That said, I found Crosscode’s main story engaging from start to end, with plenty of shocking and memorable moments to be had; and some fascinating scenarios to be mulled over. Enough to look forward to what lays ahead for Lea, as the studio intends to add post-game content eventually.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, you all!

emily_chibisketch_patreonreward_byshadottie
A chibi of Emily I had done by Shadottie, as a part of her Patreon Rewards. Enjoy her cuteness.

Game of Songs

Although my tastes in music varies, I tend to have a voracious appetite for video game original sound tracks (OST) and remixes. Of course, like many writers, I will often listen to music while writing to help me get in the mood, set a scene, and simply energize my muse. Thus, I’d like to share 6 video game tracks, be it OST or remixed, and how they influence my playthroughs and writing muses.

Gaster Remixes from Undertale

I thoroughly enjoy remixes of Gaster’s theme, the Man Who Speak in Hands, from Undertale. Honestly, it’s a testament to the game’s story that people simply ran with the unused game sprite and simple tune, creating a surprising array of fan game’s artwork and music. There’s a bunch I’ve enjoyed over the years, but if I had to pick just one, it’s SharaX’s Entry Number Seventeen (It’s a Deltarune remix, I know, but it still counts).

The remix easily invokes the dark, scientific mysteries of the G-man while wrapping it in this eclectic, haunting energy. It also elicits images and scenes in my mind of the shadowy, incorporeal entities that I’ve dreamed up over the years. Ones that lurk in the shadows with little more than their hands and a Cheshire grin of a face visible, demonstrating their questionable sanity. They are, as one of them likes to say, “Everywhere and nowhere – and everyone and no one.”

Mimiga Vibe’ from Cave Story Remix Project

Cave Story is perhaps one of the first true indie games for me to play, and I quickly fell in love with it’s game, characters and music. Although there quite a few favorite remixes, including Never Die, I wanted to go Mimiga Vibe from the Cave Story Remix Project, for it being the more soothing yet energetic entry here.

It not only brings about memories of flying around a floating island’s outer rim in the starry night, but also invokes those calm, reflective scenes where my characters are pondering life. Be it in their bedroom, or sitting outside amongst a tranquil, alien night sky. All before having that absolute eureka moment that makes their heart flutter.

Gravity’ from Harmony of a Hunter: 101% Run Album

Obviously, I’m going to bring up Metroid related music, as I’m an old-school fan of the series, and have thoroughly enjoyed quite a few of its OSTs and remixes. Out of all of these, though, none quite stand out to me more than Theophany’s ‘Nightmare’ remix, Gravity, from the Harmony of a Hunter: 101% album. Nightmare is a childhood favorite boss of mine, and boy does Theo’s remix takes it to an epic, orchestral level.

Not only does it succeed in invoking Nightmare’s terrifying presence on a grand scale, but it brings about some of my own terrifying, unstoppable monstrosities I hope to one day reveal. Lumbering creatures and monolithic entities that, while slow, are huge, strange and indomitable.

Omega’ from Iconoclasts OST

Among all the great chip tunes that Konjak created for his game, Iconoclasts, my personal favorite is ‘Omega.’ Also, from a memorable boss fight (Spoilers for anyone clicks the link), it’s one that easily invokes the true, weird nature of the boss, and its control over the environment around you.

Personally, if Gravity is about a creeping, unstoppable monstrosity, then Omega represents an omnipresent, sentient force infused within the environment itself. One that’s constantly shifting and changing its domain – the very one you stand on – with a deadly reckoning; scenarios that I often enjoy dreaming up.

Bramble Reprise’ from DKC2: Serious Monkey Business Remix Album

There’s a slew of Sticker Brush Symphony remixes out there, a song that plays in the brambly levels of one of my favorite, childhood games, Donkey Kong Country 2. Of all that I’ve listened to, though, I’d have to choose Bramble Reprise from Overclocked Remixes Serious Monkey Business album. Both for the soothing nostalgia it conjures ups, and of the vivid images of the alien flora I’ve brainstormed for my little world. Ones that often bear exceptional savage appearance while still infusing the environment, and characters, it surrounds with a sense of tranquility.

Shadows Swarm’ from Spiral Knights

I saved a personal favorite for last because of the many memories it invokes; most being from the great, multiplayer sessions I’ve experienced in the Action-MMO game, Spiral Knights. The game itself has this adorable yet treacherously unique world to explore, and is brought to life partially because of it’s composer, Harry Mack. The man has created a slew of atmospheric tunes, from relaxing, to epic, to down right haunting; with the most chilling I find being Shadows Swarm.

It brings about a sense of dread – that the foe you keep fighting is just relentless no matter what you throw at it. That they are everywhere, in every shadow, and are beyond the nature of your understanding. This is the sensation and images I get when imagining some of the dark, dangerous things lurking in the depths of the Verisphere, the world I’ve created. Creatures my character may one day face – with me being along with them for the ride.

Final Musings

I wish I could talk more about some of my other favorite OSTs, but that could be for a later time, under a different theme. Perhaps the most distinct takeaway here is how important music is to set the mood of scenes, either in games or in literature. So how about you? Are there any video game tracks that get your muse going?

A Retrospective Glimpse: Narrative Complexity and Growth

Creating my first big, passionate blog post took me a lot longer than expected, and not just because of real-life, either. A lot of it was due to the challenge of articulating the narrative magic I had experienced in Metroid Fusion from a 15-year old, nostalgic memory. A toughy because not all the details of how that magic had occurred were immediately clear. Yet this process eventually reminded me just how complex storytelling in games can be, and just how far it’s evolved as a medium.

Greater than the Sum of its Parts

The reality is that story driven games are often like movies, but with an additional, key component. After all, both mediums can tell a story through a combination of music, art, script and other elements, but with games having the added complexity of being an interactive medium. This means the ‘viewer’ will, to varying degrees, have agency within the story’s settings. It’s an extra layer that creates a whole slew of challenges and opportunities for the developers.

A simple example of this complexity is how Fusion goes about setting up its haunting atmosphere. It not only uses moody music, environmental artwork and lighting to do this, but also the level design, where tight corridors and block passages add to that immersion. Not only that, but as a part of the story, it has to change these elements as the plot progresses, even in areas you’ve explored. It’s a lot of moving parts, and if any of these elements are too out of sync, they can break the immersion of being a space bounty hunter.

It’s this ‘Greater than the Sum of its Parts’ scenario that I hadn’t initially considered when sitting down to convey my nostalgia of Metroid Fusion. Honestly, it’s an easy factor to gloss over and simply focus on only one or two elements that stood out at the time. Yet it was that feeling of not quite hitting my mark that made me realize how this cohesive nature had captured my imagination.

Eventually, after several iterations, I wound with a description that I felt did the memory justice. I felt it managed to summarize the scope of this cohesive nature, and near the end, made me realize something else.

Imperfect but Innovative

Metroid Fusion is by no means a perfect form of interactive storytelling, a factor that I had to pay humble attention to when writing my last post. Largely because, after recently replaying it, I can say it’s fairly flawed, with it suffering from pacing and plot resolution issues. Heck, I could probably nitpick out other issues if I started analyzing it.

m4jap_ending3

Yet I still love it, even to this day, and would still recommend it as a good game to start the series off with. I say this because the elements that did work, worked fantastically. It excelled at bringing out horror, atmosphere and mystery elements while implementing fun game-play mechanics. Plus, despite the narrative flaws, it did effectively pique my interest in the franchise’s heroine and lore.

Fact is, this was a game created about 15 years ago, where the gaming industry was still new and fresh, and their storytelling techniques still evolving. Fusion is simply a part of that evolution, with it making excellent use of visual storytelling, ambience, and scripted events. An endeavor that my younger self considered a triumph.

Now and Later

Since those 15 years, storytelling in games have evolved leaps and bounds. Sure, not all games with a story premise have a deep, richly woven tale, but those that do can really taken it up a notch. Simply comparing Fusion to more recent Metroidvania titles, like Owlboy or Iconoclasts, shows how far we’ve come. They both manage to weave a memorable, emotional story filled with relatable characters, all the while melding it with challenging and fun game-play.

 

Owlboy
Owlboy’s cast of characters

It’s one of the reasons I love playing story driven games, as I enjoy getting lost in an interactive tail and then wondering how the developers did it. What narrative techniques did they, and how have they evolved. That said, I feel the industry is still growing, but so far it seems like this interactive medium has exited its infantile stage. I, for one, am excited to see what the future holds.

 

 

Nostalgia Corner: The Writing Catalyst

Since my introductory post, I’ve been wanting to go more into detail about how video games got me into forum-based roleplaying; and, eventually, my passion for writing. Specifically, I wanted to talk about the games series responsible for leading me to the former hobby. Ladies and gentlemen; nerds and geeks; allow me to take a trip down memory lane to explain how the lore, art and protagonist of one of Nintendo’s iconic sci-fi series captured my imagination.

3DS_MetroidSamusReturns_illustration_01.0

Once Upon a Metroid

It began when my late adolescent-self came across a used Metroid Fusion Game Boy Advance (GBA) cartridge at a game store. See, although I had already played a plethora of games (And read plenty of books), I had never once touched a Metroid game. It had only been through playing Nintendo’s crossover fighter game, Super Smash Bros, that I had become recently interested in the series. Largely because its protagonist, Samus Aran, instantly appealed to my sci-fi nerd with ‘it’ being a hulking orange-red ‘robot.’

Yeah, I eventually learned that the intergalactic bounty hunter was, surprise, a woman inside a technologically advanced suit. A fact that I though only made the character cooler and more mysterious. So, having been wanting a GBA for a while, and with Smash having been a good enticer, I saw Fusion as a solid starting game. Thus, I wound up selling some N64 games to nab both.

Into the Fray

Once I had the game in my hands, I quickly found myself getting drawn into the game’s sci-fi, space opera. Admittedly, this is partially because I’m a sucker for ‘rebirth’ stories, as the game’s introduction of Samus undergoing a physiological change from a life-saving vaccine had me hooked. Moreover, right from the get-go, it had an incredible ambience that complimented its persisting narrative.

Yeah, for a 2D platformer of its time, where you were running, gunning and jumping, it had a real beginning, middle and end plot to it (A first for the series). One often filled with mystery, fear and tension; and would consistently – sometimes unexpectedly – evolve as you progressed.

NightmareGame.png
Ahhh, Nightmare. How your encounter gave me chills.

Granted, its not a perfectly told story, but what it presented to me through its dialogue and visual storytelling often sent me into daydream overdrive. Such as pondering crossover scenarios involving the game’s antagonist, the amorphous X-Parasite, as I found them an increasingly, fascinating alien threat with every new plot revelation. It helped that I fought some cool monster designs (Freaking ‘Nightmare’), and utilized some amazing, unique abilities.

Basically, I was living my favorite fantasy of taking on outer space uglies with futuristic technology – and I loved it.

metroid_samus_aran.jpg

The Woman Behind the Visor

Mind you, the game also had me intrigued by its protagonist, Samus Aran, and not just because of her Power Suit, either. The voice she had been given in it (Another first in the series), albeit mostly monologue, provided me with tantalizing glimpses into the woman behind the visor. Enough to get a sense of her character while sparking further speculation.

I observed that she held a sense of duty and moral integrity despite her quiet, reserved nature. I became interested in her background, like what motivated her to become a bounty hunter in the first place? Who was the commanding officer she reminisced about during some level transitions? How had she obtained such a unique, advanced suit that no one else in the Federation had? And so on.

“As I listened to the briefing, my thoughts turned to Adam. The real Adam understood me well. He would end orders by saying, “Any objections, Lady?” He knew I wouldn’t disagree. That was just his way of noting our trust.”  – Samus, Metroid Fusion

It’s questions like these that are often sparked not just because of visuals and dialogue, but also because it’s you who’s driving the protagonist. You who’s controlling a one-woman army and facing off against the outer space horrors that no one else can. You whose rolling through small tunnels or smashing through walls at Mach 3 to reach your next objective to protecting the galaxy. It’s this interactive nature that helped to fuel my curiosity about her.

In a way, Fusion was perhaps the best game to introduce me to Samus.

From One Mission to the Next

Thus, as you can imagine, I was pretty much a Metroid fan by the end of the game; one thirsting for more lore. Any related media that I could get my hands on, be it new or old, I would ravenously devour. Heck, if Fusion ignited my fandom, it was Metroid Prime that truly cemented it with it’s art, engrossing first-person view, and expanded lore. Hats off to Retro Studios for doing a phenomenal job in converting Metroid’s iconic 2D mythos to the 3D stage.

Metroid-Prime-Tallon-Overworld-Artifact-Temple.jpg
The first person view and art of the Prime series was inspiring

Eventually, my lore-nerd endeavors would bring me across fan-made websites dedicated to the series in one form or another. One such site that I joined ended up inviting me into their role-playing section, where I first learned about the hobby. For those unfamiliar, it involves members in a thread writing a post of their character(s) reacting to other player characters in a given scenario. In my case, I got to do this in a universe I loved.

 

The Writer had Escaped Captivity. The Galaxy was in Chaos

Thardus
Muwahahahaha!

Ironically, though, I much preferred creating and role-playing my own original characters than working with any pre-existing game templates. Largely because I loved crossovers, but also because of the creative flexibility it allowed – which is what most of us role-players did as the section evolved into its own separate forum. One where its sci-fi section grew to be only loosely based off Metroid.

During my 12 years of role-playing on this board, I had developed, experimented and refined several characters and ideas. Up to the point that I wanted to tell their own standalone stories for others to see. And that was how my path started.

See you next blog post.

NextMission3

Welcome to the Lost Realms Archives

The name’s Timothy Schoonhoven, and I’m an unpublished science fiction and fantasy author whose passion for writing probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for video games. Yes, plenty of books and other mediums helped fuel it, too, but it was the video games of my early adolescence that truly sparked it. Chiefly speaking, they got me into forum-based role-playing (Collaborative writing) along with a taste for fanfiction; that hobby eventually evolved over time into something more serious. Now I hold an interest in expressing my ideas and characters through written words, and hope to one day publish some shorts and novels.

Alongside this, I have a growing fascination for story telling in video games, and not just because they can still present me with inspiration, either. It’s that, unlike other forms of media, which are passive, video games are interactive, and this can present many unique opportunities and challenges. Such as creating branching paths, weaving gameplay with story elements to create an emotional tale, and so on. It’s how developers overcome these challenges, and the variety of implementations, that I love dissecting.

Thus, always looking to keep my creative cogs greased while still mulling over story outlines, I decided to create this blog to discuss the above subjects. These would range from what tickles my imagination, to analyzing narrative design, to even discussing aspects about working in the industry as a writer. I do hope you join along for the ride and my rambles.

Not all who wonder –  are lost — J.R.R Tolkien

Planet_big