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A Roll of the Dice

Over at Commissioned, they announced the advent of a new comics collective, Gamers Pair of Dice. As someone who recognizes that webcomic collectives are generally a good thing, and being a gamer myself, I dutifully went browsing through several of the strips.

I was… well, I did find myself grinning at some of them. But I’m sad to say that the majority of them left me underwhelmed.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call them Penny Arcade rip-offs. They are simply exploring the same field and making jokes on much the same subject matter, and that is perfectly fine.

But even if I don’t make the accusation, the comparison is inevitable. Penny Arcade mastered that genre of strips before most of them began, and as such, it is hard for them to stand out. The mere presence of the webcomics juggernaut, in some ways, stifles those trying to follow in its footsteps.

On another note entirely, one of the strips – a guest strip, even – left its mark on me. More specifically, it set Gato’s little song running through my head over and over again! I spoke yesterday about my poor memory, and I haven’t played the game for years, but I’ll be damned if simply seeing a virtual screenshot didn’t send the song rampaging through my mind on repeat!

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Matters of the Mind

I have a very bad memory.

I don’t mean that I forget my keys all the time, or miss following up on phone calls or ordinary chores like that. I can keep track of important dates and events. My life may not always be perfectly in order, but I am typically on top of things.

But I have trouble remembering. My high school years are nearly gone from my mind. College, only a year or two behind me now, already starts to fade away.

For quite some time I kept a studious, dedicated, and most of all boring journal of my day to day life. It wasn’t a study in philosophy or sophistication – it was merely a catalogue to help me recall those events that I knew would grow… dim.

My poor memory is, perhaps, the biggest change I would make about myself. That loss of memory, that gaping abyss of thought, is perhaps my greatest fear.

Hmm. This seems to be an awfully dismal post. I may have wandered a bit from my track, but I thought it best to set the stage.

You see, I’ve recently discovered an upside to the leaking sieve that is my mind. Well… not so much discovered, as recognized.

I am a reader. My first great love was fiction. Books, stories, and all they entailed – throughout my youth I partook of them, and read far, far more than was healthy for a boy my age.

I have a tendency, when no new material has caught my attention, to revisit previous works. And I have realized one of the reasons I am able to do so, able to actually enjoy a work for the second, third, or fourth time… is my poor memory.

It isn’t that I forget every last element of a story. Little hints may remain at the outskirts of my mind, vague patterns I may see developing in the tale.

But after a few years – and several hundred more stories crammed into my noggin – I find that I can still experience the same thrill of surprise, excitement, and entertainment as on my first read-through.

I’ve been discovering this while reading back through Tad William’s Otherland, one of my favorite works. It is one of those epic tales that actually convinced me that sci-fi fiction could be, well… serious writing, and not just hokey space-drama.

I was almost afraid to read back through it, since I had recently fallen out of sorts with a lot of writers I had been a fan of when I was younger – Piers Anthony, David Eddings, Ed Greenwood. I had recently realized that much of what I had read when I was younger was… absolute trash.

Fortunately, Tad Williams is the man, and his series remained good writing in more than distant memories. And, as this slowly meandering post is meant to tell you, I discovered that not recalling the details of the plot let me experience the work anew, which was a thrilling discovery all on its own.

Of course, the downside of faulty memory reared its ugly head as well, when I discovered I had lost my copy of the fourth volume, and had no idea whatsover what I had done with it.

But always look on the bright side, as my dear old mom used to say!

…I think.

A mysterious case of the Mondays?

Man, it appears to be one of those days where I’ve got way too much to talk about, and not nearly enough time to do so.

I laughed at Megatokyo today. Man, I miss that.

Sinfest is back, and has a new website! Once upon a time, I thought Sinfest was one of the most solidly updating comics out there. These days, it has its share of occasional absences, but always returns in the end. It has had some very good storylines over the last year, without losing its normal brand of humor. And now seeing the newest comic doesn’t requiring scrolling down the page ten times!

DnDorks has been getting back to its original cast of characters. This is cool and all, but I still find myself inexplicably confused by the previous arc, despite still thinking the story was awesome. However, things seem to indicate we’ll get some explanation for stuff. Maybe. I dunno. Eh, whatever. It’s a cool comic and captures the gaming experience well. That’s pretty much all I care about.

Man, my posts today seem faintly bitter, and I’m not sure why – I was actually really happy about all these comics today.

Let’s try some focusing here. On a completely upbeat note, Girly has been rocking out of late, and the upcoming storyline looks to have something to do with Policeguy, one of my favorite characters. So that’s awesome.

Anyway, time to get back to work! Tune in tomorrow, when I don’t talk about webcomics at all. Oooo, mysterious.

Ok, maybe not so much.

World of BananaCraft!

So I got into work this morning, and found a notice that a coworker had placed “Banana Bars” on the free-for-all table. I’d never heard of such things… but man, I do like bananas, so I went over to check them out and find out what they are.

For the record? What banana bars are? Is supremely delicious.

Anyway, on to serious stuff. I’d like to take a few moments to talk about World of Warcraft.

(Ok, not so serious.)

I’m sure many people have heard of WoW. World-reknowned best-selling Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game, blah blah blah.

But what I’d like to talk about it isn’t what most conversations generally revolve around. Rather, I’d like to talk about the story.

I like playing WoW. Like many, I probably play it a bit more than I should. And I enjoy the aspect of the game that involves taking on the most challenging encounters, and walking around in the shiniest loot. Not due to the elitism of it all, but due to the sense of accomplishment.

But that isn’t what got me into the game. What got me into the game was the story. The lore. I had played Warcraft 2 in my youth, and enjoyed it as a game – but when I played Warcraft 3, it transcended into something beyond that.

And so, despite my oath to avoid the dangers of MMORPGs at all cost… I delved into WoW.

Now, for all that “RPG” comes in the title, many people avoid the roleplaying aspect. It is a game of numbers, of strategy, and immersing themselves in the fantasy has no place in that.

But the fantasy remains there regardless, and even if all my in-game banter is completely OOC, I still value the background behind it all – from a personal standpoint, if nothing else. I have a sneaking suspicion many others are the same – they enjoy visualizing their character as a triumphant hero, even if they enjoy spending most of the time just sitting around chatting with their friends.

Recently Blizzard has been releasing information on the upcoming expansion to the game – and with it, of course, more story. More lore.

Some of it is good. Some of it is interesting. And some of it is sadly flawed.

The long and short of it is as follows: When writing the background for a new race being introduced into the game (a race of demon-descended paladins, which is certainly a fun concept to start from), a number of mistakes were made.

Mistake number 1 was an emphasis on technology that scared those attached to the full fantasy elements, and this mistake was more a measure of the terminology used. The game already has a measure of steampunk tech, and the new technology being introduced could easily fit alongside it all – but the language could have been worded better than to say: “Their dimensional ship crash-landed on the planet.”

That imagery?

Just a bit too forceful.

I don’t think we’ll have guys running around with laser pistols and space ships. I think the reality will be far, far different.

But presentation counts for a lot, and tossing out such a quick little gimmick threw a lot of people into a state of concern.

In any case, the other mistake is one of the big ones, the one that really had everyone up in arms. The writing team at Blizzard simply fucked up. They took the lore, and made a completely amateur mistake, and screwed up the continuity.

This new race, who were one known as the Eredar, were peaceful and wise until visited by Sargeras, lord of the Burning Legion, a fallen Titan who now seeks to bring destruction across all the universe. He tempted many of them into demonic magics, and made them into a race of evil.

The problem?

The backstory for Sargeras himself is that he was once a goodly Titan charged with keeping the worlds free of bad guys. Upon encountering the demonic Eredar, he slowly grew disillusioned with his cause…

So, basic paradox mistake. Blizzard forgot to check their backstory, and left a gaping plot hole that needs fixing.

The writers are ashamed. The fans are up in arms.

Myself? In a way, I am almost perversely pleased by it all.

See, it is a mistake, sure – but one within their capabilities to correct. The head writer, after apologizing for screwing up, has said he intends to leave the new lore, but also to find ways to integrate it with the old. I can see plenty of ways myself. Fans have given out any number of suggestions, many of which would make for even more engaging history.

No lasting harm done, I suspect. What pleases me, though, is the response to such a thing as this.

Because it is easy to think of the game a collection of numbers. Of the players as powergamers out for loot and nothing more.

So seeing so much support thrown behind the lore, the story, the background… it is refreshing. Seeing that to so many playing the game, whether they delve deep into the roleplaying or not, they believe in the setting, in the tale being told. Seeing the writers accept that concern, and showing a genuine willingness to address it.

At the core of it all, I play the game for the same reason I read books and comics, watch movies and anime, and play most of the other games I play – for the story.

And sometimes, amidst all the worries over class balance, styles of play, guild drama and the like – it’s nice to know that others feel the same.

Build Your Own Government

Several of my friends recently directed me to NationStates.

The site is based off of a book, Jennifer Government, wherein corporations run the world. It looks like an engaging book, but that is neither here nor there.

What the website itself allows one to do is to create a country. Upon creation, you define it by answering a variety of questions – and from there, it calculates how your country does, in terms of civil rights, economy, political freedoms, and so forth. You continue to recieve issues that you must take a stance on (though that stance can be to ignore them outright.)

Based on your decision, your country changes in the appropriate fashion.

I like it. I don’t know, persay, how accurate the calculations behind it all are. But it is a nice conceptual game, and I thought I would direct others to it.

Whatever code runs the show, however, does seem to have a distinct lack of knowledge regarding habitation, as it announced that my country’s national animal, the dolphin, “frolics freely in the nation’s many lush forests.”

But you can’t win them all, I suppose.

A Confession

So, I just finished watching Firefly the other day.

Yeah, I know. I know!

Anyway, now that I’ve completely destroyed my nerd credibility here, I’m going to try and regain some ground by returning to geeking out over Kingdom Hearts 2.

Brevity

Just a few quick thoughts before I dash off for more of my wild life of adventure and excitement~

1) I thought the idea of the Inside Joker to be totally awesome, and “Butterfly” continues to be a hella fun strip.

2) Despite never having been able to enjoy reading Achewood, and steadfastly refusing to read a story arc without full immersion in background plot, I’ve been keeping abreast of the Great Outdoor Fight. It’s big, it’s brutal, and all the other bloggers have gone into more educated discussion of it than I ever could.

3) The final panel from yesterday’s strip of the Green Avenger was really, really funny. The facial expression are just perfect. I keep going back to that strip and giggling at it.

4) Mr. Milholland is done with his play, and comics are back not just for Something Positive… but also Midnight Macabre! Not only that, but I was struck by one quote from the recent strip: “Viewer’s aren’t going to give me that kinda money. People don’t pay for what they are used to getting for free.”

The similarity between Gaspar’s situation and Randy’s own from a few years back… well, I have no idea what it means. But I was definitely struck by it, I tell you what! Definitely eager to see where the strip is going from there.

5) And now to distract you all with kittens whilst I make mine exit. Caio!

Morality Undone

So I’m right in the middle of a very enjoyable fantasy series.

Stop me if any of this sounds familiar:

So the world is threatened by a god of darkness, who was cast out from his own kind for his defiance against them.

Ages have come and past, and his power has been held back every time by the combined forces of men and elves.

Once again he is a threat, and a Company goes forth to lead the Bearer into the heart of his lair, where they will perform a small task to defeat him.

Along the way the Company is split up, and the Bearer must continue on his quest with only one companion for support.

The Wizard is lost, but returns reborn as the White Rider. He rejoins the armies of men and elves, who are led under the banner of a King without a land, the last son of his line who will lead the armies agains the Enemy and usher in a new age of peace.

Only…. the Company, the Wizard, the King, and all those folks above?

They’re the bad guys.

The Sundering, by Jacqueline Carey, is an excellent story that takes place over two novels. Despite the similarities, it isn’t simply The Lord of the Rings told from the enemy’s perspective. The similarities are there, but they are superficial at best.

At its heart, it is its own story. It is filled with unique and flavorful characters, many of whom remind us of typical fantasy archetypes, but many of whom are also developed and distinct beyond that. Good and evil are turned on their head, and the reader is rooting for the ‘forces of darkness’ to prevail.

The idea of perverting darkness and light is not a new one – it has been done before, both in the extreme and in the specific.

Villains by Necessity, by Eve Forward, takes such a role to the extreme – a handful of villains must band together, as the world is in danger of being consumed by the goodness that has overtaken it, and utterly destroyed. They must fight their way to the place where the armies of evil were sealed away, and release them and restore the balance. It is a very good read, and above all a fun book – clever, humorous, and quick with the action. But at the same time, such a perversion of good and evil is much easier to handle when placed in such a light-hearted setting.

Anti-heroes, and redeemed villains, are also present all over the place – from the Punisher, a hero who murders those who do wrong, to Drizzt Do’Urden, the inspiration for countless bland ‘dark elves who have seen the light’ in role-playing games everywhere. These characters have become archetypes in and of themselves, just like the villain who ‘was just trying to do the right thing’.

And these aren’t bad characters, of course. Roles of such built-in conflict present massive potential for character development, especially when done well.

Which is why it is all the more impressive when an entire world is turned on its head in the self-same way.

The Sundering is a well-written story. It is a serious fantasy work, and a genuinely enjoyable literary read. And while many other tales have toyed with twisting the idea of good and evil, very few have done it on such a level, or done it so well. The fact that I can only recall one other such novel off the top of my head (Villains by Necessity) emphasizes this.

One of the curses that has come upon me since pursuing a career in writing has been gaining much more knowledge and awareness of books – and thus I was forced to admit that many of the books I read were not actually all that good. I am now all too aware of when I read bad writing – or writing that was put out just to cater to the masses. And in many ways I miss being able to just grab some of the random shlocky pulp fantasy works that are mass produced, and enjoy the read.

But at the same time, I am that much more able to appreciate good writing.

And regardless of what definitions of good or evil are being used, I certainly find that I can very much appreciate the work of Jacqueline Carey.

On This Blog: An Introduction

Well, now that I’ve been rambling on this thing for about a week now, I suppose a proper introduction is called for.

The goal of this blog, by and large, is to give me a place to put down all the random thoughts and emotions that webcomics (and other works) inspire in me.

It will not be entirely limited to webcomics alone, though they are far more often to be the subject of discussion than books or movies. There are a variety of reasons for this – webcomics move faster than most other forms of media. Even normal comics come out on a monthly, rather than daily basis, and even when they have crossovers spanning dozens of comic titles, they will still be moving at a slower pace than most webcomics.

Webcomics are constant output of information, from a lot of different sources – not necessarily a great deal from any single one at any given time, but enough different products fed at a pace such that it is very easy, on any given day, to have several strips ring emotional chords, or inspire analysis and discussion.

It is also a media that we have directly at our fingertips for commentary. I can say, hey, how about that plot twist, eh? Some crazy stuff, amirite?

And bam! The reader can directly go and see what I’m talking about. If it is something new to them, they can find out about it. If it is something they are familiar with, they can refresh themselves on it while I discuss it. A very handy tool, this internet thing, yes indeedy.

So… webcomics are likely to be discussed quite a bit. However, other topics will arise, and hopefully those will be interesting reads too.

I’ll be updating on a fairly regular schedule, if only because my mind can only handle pondering so much crap before I need to unleash my meanderings on you lucky folk. But circumstances can never be predicted, so there will be times I may have other concerns at hand. Fair warning given, in any case!

Finally, I’m welcome to comments and criticism. I’m perfectly glad to have people let me know they like what I have to say – but I’m also glad to have discussion and disagreement. Just, you know, do it nicely. I’m looking for respectful dialogue, not just blind flaming.

So those are some of my thoughts on what this page is about. Take them for what they’re worth, and hopefully they won’t set up any false assumptions.

See you in the funny pages, people!