Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rambling - Face Character Where

Yep, my wizard uses a katana.
I've been playing a metric fuckton of Diablo III, lately.  That's a scientific measurement.  As part of my recent subconscious effort to avoid actually making any progress with my work, I've become more deeply fascinated by games than usual.

For several weeks prior to this week, it was The Old Republic.  I progressed more during those weeks than in the previous two months, and my two main characters there are each at the peak of their power.  I've also explored more areas than I even knew were available to be found, mapping them with stubborn precision.

This week, though, it's demon-smashing.  I'm not really certain why, to be honest.  I do like the game, it's fun in a kind of non-brain way, but I've never been the biggest fan of the Diablo franchise.  For one thing I loathe that people actually call it an RPG, but I'm not going to bother getting into that subject (it's stupid).  I've just never found that the Diablo series has much in the way of gameplay depth.  That's not a crime, by any means, but for whatever reason it ended up diminishing the series in my list of interests.  I didn't have any real problem with the game, but neither did I have any great interest.  It was just there, and fun sometimes.

Wouldn't know it to look at me this week, though.  When I first got the game I beat normal difficulty with my wizard, and played around with each of the other classes.  I made a hardcore monk, of whom I'm strangely fond, and when she died due to a fucking random mob in a random fight due to a simple computer stutter I said fuck it and stopped playing.  Now that I'm back though, I've gone kind of crazy.  My wizard has beaten both Nightmare and Hell difficulties, and has spent a bit of time futzing around in Inferno.

So why am I rambling about Diablo III today?  Because I think it's an interesting example of a previous post I made, wherein I talked about characters being Vessels, Masks, or Personalities.  You can read the whole post if you want, but a brief summary doesn't help.  A Vessel is a game character that is devoid of personality or motivation, and has very little history if any at all; they are an empty space into which the player steps to play the game.  A Mask is a character that carries some personality or motivation, and has a bit of history that's likely vague so the player can fill in details; they're someone the player can experience the game through, but they provide more emotional investment than a Vessel.  Finally, a Personality is a character that has their own motivations and personality (hence the title), and they usually have some type of history to them; they're someone that the player can watch.

I'm bringing this up again because Diablo seems to me an interesting mix of both the Vessel and Personality character types.  There are literally no choices to be made during any point; your character makes decisions which determine your next objective or, more often, other NPCs simply give you instructions to which your character automatically agrees.  This would seem to lean toward the Personality archetype; you're just going through the gameplay elements while your character pursues their own agenda.  At the same time however, the character's complete lack of any real agency in the story leans fairly in the direction of Vessel.  There are very, very few moments where the character actually makes a decision about what to do; nearly every time there is a new objective, it's because one of the NPCs gave instructions.

All that's left of my monk.
This presents an interesting combination; a character with personality and motivation that doesn't direct the story by their own choices.  I'll use my monk as an example.  The game presents the monk as a character in her own right; she has a history, motivation, and a personality.  I can watch all this as I play the game.  Yet at the same time, her lack of decision-making, her part as a simple agent in the story rather than the one who drives it, allows me to interpret her personality and motivations as I see fit.

As presented in-game the monk is dedicated to the pursuit of her studies and furthering the goals of her gods.  She is quick to help the innocent, and is good-hearted, but she expects people who are capable to act accordingly.  Beyond this however, there isn't much to go with.  There are some interactions with the game's NPCs, but I was free to decide who my monk was as I played her.  She was Montesi; raised in a particularly harsh environment where only the strong and the brave survive.  Of particularly strong faith even at a young age, she took to the study of martial arts with a fervor and energy that bordered on the fanatic.  Yet her dedication paid off when, just as she was coming into her own, a star fell from the sky.  So she pursued her destiny, and that began to shape who she was just as much as her training had done already.  Before, she had simply been a servant of her gods; now she was a servant with a very specific purpose, and she would see it done at any cost.

Maybe I'm just having too much fun with it, but I think it's an interesting mix.  Characters with personality who are not the primary motivating agents of the story being told.  It allows for the character to be someone with whom the player can identify, yet frees them to a point where the player can personalize them to a fairly large degree.


Copyright 2012 by J.L. V'Tar
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Monday, February 25, 2013

Rambling - German Pop Clipper Reference

Not sure who I'm stealing this image from.

Fear of everything, that seems to be my problem.  Not saying that I'm all too different from anyone else in this regard, but it's pretty fucking aggravating that I have allowed it to push me this far into inactivity.

I've written a novel, and I even managed to find the courage to publish it.  This was a terrifying act, of course.  The idea that it might sell well was utterly horrifying; as in such a case I would be subject to attention that I detest and criticism of a kind that only the internet can offer.  Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, selling absolutely no copies of my book was an equally horrifying prospect; to put my efforts out there for inspection and to receive no response would seem to be an indicator of my work's complete lack of any intrinsic value.  Somehow though, I managed to get it done.

As it happens, things turned out more the latter than the former; the book has sold a staggeringly small number of copies.  More frustratingly, its time in the Kindle Select program moved exactly zero.  That's right, in Kindle Select, wherein they quite specifically promote my book for me and aim it specifically at people who might be interested, exactly zero people found it interesting enough to actually get a copy.  It was free.

Now, I've managed to get to the point of having an audio book ready to go.  Late last year I put out a call for voice actresses on reddit and received a good number of interested messages.  Of those interested people, a fair percentage of them even sent readings of the book's first chapter for submission.  I could only pick one of them of course, and I decided to work with Rebecca Bedford.  She's been wonderful to work with, and her enthusiasm for the book has been incredibly helpful.

Yet I'm at a point now where fear brings it all, once again, to a grinding halt.  If I throw the audio book out there and it becomes popular, that's horrifying.  Yet of course, if the audio version doesn't move at all that is equally horrible.  See, if I do nothing, then neither horrifying event can ever occur.

I have specific individuals in my life to thank for this over-riding fear that dictates so many aspects of my life. Fortunately, I've also got a tremendous amount of anger and arrogance to push through the fear.  It takes a lot, mind you, but I think at the moment I'm reaching a point where I can manage to make some progress; that happens every once in a while.  It's my failure, of course, to allow this fear to keep me from seeing my goals become reality.  Why I'm afraid is less relevant than the fact I choose not to overcome it.

Still, at least I've managed to get this far, and I'm going to go further.  By the time this blog entry posts, the audio version of my book should be up and available.  It had damn well better be, anyway.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Fiction - Proven

This is a piece of fan fiction, set in the Elder Scrolls world, specifically the Skyrim region.  Bit of context: One of the Skyrim mods I play with is Frostfall, of which I am very fond.  Short version of the mod is that it actually makes Skyrim a dangerous, cold, northern environment like it's supposed to be.  This changes gameplay at a fundamental level in several different ways, because you can't just ignore the world around you.

Just so you have an idea of this character.
Most prominently, it changes some of the quests.  In particular, for this event, I was doing the quest Joining the Stormcloaks.  Normally this is a simple quest; you run to a nearby location, kill a relatively easy enemy, and run back.  With the mods I use however, and playing as I am currently with combat set to Master, everything changes.  A simple quest becomes a challenge just to survive the journey, let alone the enemy that I'm supposed to kill.

What follows is a fan-fiction telling of what happened to my poor beleaguered character.  I've taken some liberties in relation to game mechanics, and for various reasons I removed the fact that she's the Dragonborn.  Oh, and please forgive the character's name; it's one of the weirder character names I've come up with.

For no real reason, I've included pictures of my character.  I call the story "Proven."  Hope somebody enjoys it.  :)


With a heavy roar, Vlga whirled her axe in a deadly arc.  Her swings were on the verge of uncontrolled as she shook from the chill and her muscles ached from weariness; the blade of her dwarven battleaxe struck a nearby rock, sending stone chips flying.  The warrior paid no heed to any of it.  Neither cold, nor weariness were on her mind right now.  The Nord warrior knew only her enemy, and she ducked to the side as the vicious ice wraith lunged at her again.  Though slowed by the cold and a weary body, Vlga’s movement was enough to avoid the wraith’s attack, and the serpentine creature sailed past her and was forced to whirl around in the air.

Turning to face her attacker, Vlga grunted with the effort of doing so.  She was strong and healthy, and full of youthful energy, but the last several days had been very hard on her.  The haft of her battleaxe felt like it was emanating cold all its own, nevermind the cold of the air around her.  Even through the leather gloves that held her bronze-armor gauntlets in place, she could feel the skin-searing cold of her weapon.  Forged of dwarven metal, it seemed to absorb and hold a chill with a vengeance.  Her bronze armor was just as cold, and only the padding underneath served as any kind of protection.

Again the wraith lunged, but this time Vlga didn’t dodge.  Instead she brought her battleaxe up, tried to catch her attacker as it seemed to slither through the air.  She wasn’t quite fast enough, and her axe whistled past the translucent creature as it bit into her arm.  With a cry of rage more than pain, the young warrior lunged to the side and slammed her shoulder against the stone she’d struck just a moment ago, pinning the wraith between herself and the rock.  It screeched and writhed, trying desperately to free itself and fly away.

Behind the mask of her helmet, Vlga gave a grim smile.  She pulled backward quickly and immediately slammed back against the stone, catching the wraith between her shoulder and the rock again as it tried to slither away.  Its movements were slower now, and she could feel it crunch beneath the weight of her strength and her armor.  Again she pulled back and then slammed her shoulder against the rock, and this time the wraith let out one final shriek, flailed for a moment, and then disintegrated into a cloud of frost.

The exhausted woman gave a roar of triumph, and resettled her feet underneath her.  She wanted very much to collapse, to sit down and rest, but right now that would be a terribly bad idea.  Wind howled around her, seemed to rip right through her armor, and her armored feet were sunk into the snow up to the middle of her shins.  No, there would be no sitting down right now.

Vlga looked up toward the top of the little island, where she could see a circle of stones surrounding an ancient standing stone.  There was the image of a serpent carved into it; not surprising, given the island’s name.  She had no interest in the stone.

“I’m sending you to Serpentstone Island.”  She could still hear Galmar’s gravelly voice.  “If you survive, you pass.  If you die, well, you weren’t going to be much use to me anyway.”

Again the young warrior smiled behind her helmet’s mask, but this was a smile of victory.  She didn’t bother heading up to the island’s top, instead she settled her axe in its clasp across her back.  With hands that shook terribly, she pulled a small vial from a safe pouch on the back of her belt, and knelt to collect some of the strange, glowing blue ice into which the wraith had disintegrated.  This would serve as proof of her kill; now to complete the proof of her dedication.

With a grunt of effort, she stood and hurried back down the little snow-covered trail that lead to the spot she’d first arrived on the island.  She had first set foot on the island late last night, and it was not even midday now.  Her trip to the base of the island wasn’t long, not even an hour she guessed, and her campfire was still right where she’d left it; nestled close to a steep rocky hill that would help the heat emanate in one direction.  Her little impromptu tent was still in place, too.  Bringing her actual tent to the island wasn’t feasible, so she’d had to make do; the top of her fur cloak was tucked into a crevice of the rock face, and its bottom was held in place by a heavy stone.

Vlga hurried to her makeshift campsite and huddled underneath her cloak.  Placed as it was next to her fire, it caught much of the heat and held it fairly well.  Her fire was dying, and so before anything else she poked it with her axe to stir the embers underneath what remained of her firewood.  Not much was there, so she pulled the last two pieces from a nearby oil-slicked leather bag and added them to the fire.  That bag, as much as anything else, had saved her life today; without it to keep her cloak and firewood dry, she’d have died on this island.  As it was, she had a long…very long journey back to Windhelm.

As she removed pieces of her armor, she thought again on why she was here.  The Stormcloaks.  Just thinking the name—about how close she was to her goal—sent a shiver up her spine that was not at all caused by the cold air.  She hadn’t met Ulfric yet, though she’d seen him across the hall when the guard brought her in to meet Galmar Stone-Fist.  Even from a distance, Ulfric had been everything a young Nord warrior could hope to admire; tall, powerful, and proud.  With just the image the man cut, and nothing else to go on, Vlga would have been tempted to join his cause.  Everything else just sealed the deal.

She thought about this—about her goals, about Ulfric and Galmar and the Stormcloaks—as she began to drift off.  The sun was still high in the sky, but weariness and cold had taken their toll on her.  As warmth from her campfire filled her makeshift tent and soaked into her body, she let herself get some rest.  She dreamt of many things, and amongst it all she relived her conversation with Galmar.  Again she heard his speech to her.  It seemed, she remembered, to be a speech he said often.  Likely it was one he’d said once to a potential recruit who needed to be tested, and he liked it so much he now said it to everyone in that position.

Vlga woke with a start.  The sun had dipped very low on the horizon, and it was dangerously close to nightfall.  Her cloak would serve as a tent well enough during the day, but not for too long.  When night fell, and the temperature dropped even further, her cloak wouldn’t do any good at all.  As quickly as she could, she packed her armor away in the oil-slicked bag.  On the swim over to the island it had held her armor, her cloak, and firewood; at least this time it would be much less cumbersome without the firewood.  Once her armor was packed she stripped down completely, since no clothing would help her in this icy water anyway.  Once that was done, she took a deep breath in preparation.

As soon as she pulled her cloak from is place above her, the heat it had capture dissipated.  Cold air seemed to barrel in against her like a physical attack, and she had to grit her teeth against the shock.  She quickly tucked her cloak away in the bag with her armor, and tied it shut with a heavy yank to ensure no water would get inside; she’d need that cloak badly on the other side.  With a look to the water—the dark, choppy, freezing water—she didn’t let herself hesitate.  She grabbed the leather bag in a fierce grip of determination, and before she had a chance to think twice she ran toward the water and charged headlong into it.

The cold of it knocked the breath from her lungs in a heavy gasp, just as it had done before, but she didn’t let herself stop.  Now she was committed; now there was no turning back if she wanted to live.  As she hurried forward she tied the bag to her back, wrapping its cord swiftly around her waist and shoulders and slipping her battleaxe into the makeshift holster along the side of the bag.  When the water was waist deep she dove forward and began to swim.  The cold was unbearable; even as a Nord, raised in this frigid land, it was nearly too much.  She could feel it sapping the heat from her body like blood from a wound.

Doggedly, she continued on.  She swam with all her might, which was considerable as a lifelong warrior accustomed to wearing the heaviest of armor and wielding heavy weapons.  Every sweep of her arms pulled her forward a considerable distance, and each time her head broke the choppy surface of the water she could see the chunks of ice ahead were that much nearer.  Again and again she swept her arms and kicked her feet, willing that she could pull the entire ocean with her efforts.

An eternity later, as the freezing black cold began to crush in on her, she felt her hand hit the slush of ice that surrounded the large chunks that were her goal.  This was no relief for the freezing warrior, only acknowledgement that she had achieved one stage of her goal to survive this day.  She swept forward several more times, pulling herself through the ice slush until she could grip one of the giant chunks of ice that floated around this small chain of islands.  With fingers that didn’t feel anything, and arms that were very quickly losing their strength, she pulled herself up onto the ice chunk.  She crawled up atop it, and wanted to rest.  Everything in her body wanted to stop, even here naked in the snow, on a chunk of ice, and just rest.

With a heavy roar, a battle cry, she surged to her feet with every ounce of strength she could muster before she had another instant to think about laying down.  She reached one hand back to hold the leather bag in a firm grip, and the other to hold her battleaxe steady across her back, and she ran.  Her blue eyes scanned the ground ahead, as she carefully picked every step, and she ran.  The snow actually aided her here, since without it the ice chunks likely would have been impossible to run across with bare feet.  She ran across the chunks, leaping from one to another with quiet effort as snowflakes began to fall from the sky.  Paying them no heed, she ran.

The shoreline was far away, and she had to cross another small island before she ever reached her destination.  It was even tinier than Serpentstone Island, and she never allowed herself to stop running.  On the other side, more ice chunks provided her with a way to run, but the cold of her swim, and the air, was taking its toll.  Every breath was ragged now, and her limbs were shaking terribly.  She felt like she was weak, certainly not strong and healthy; she felt like she couldn’t possibly go on.  She just wanted to stop, to take a break and catch her breath.

Vlga gave another ragged battle cry.  She hadn’t been bested in battle, and she would not be defeated by the cold of her own homeland!  Rather than stop, rather than give in to her weariness and slow down, she sped up.  Each stride was longer now, and faster, as she forced herself to run even more swiftly across the chunks of ice.  Her footing was unsteady, and she risked everything, but she couldn’t slow down now if she wanted to live.

Ice chunks gave way to narrow strips of frozen muddy ground as she drew nearer to the shore.  Only the harsh, rough sounds of horkers nearby caught her attention, and she risked a glance to the side.  Though she wasn’t terribly concerned about the horkers, there had been a sabre cat stalking them last night when she had made the trip out to the island.  Sure enough, just ahead, she could see the telltale white fur of that same cat as it worked its way around a fallen log out of the horkers’ field of vision.

With a curse, Vlga came to a halt.  There was no way she could fight a sabre cat right now; it would be a great challenge even in ideal circumstances, and here she was naked and freezing to death.  Her feet seemed to settle into the ground of their own accord, and she could feel her body eagerly giving in to its own weariness.  There was no time to stop and ponder; she just picked a direction and resumed her run.  Her legs were sluggish, but she gritted her teeth and forced herself to move.  Circling around to the side, behind the sabre cat, she hoped that if she took a wide enough route the cat would be too interested in its horker prey to give chase.

She skirted along the edge of the little strip of land for some distance, moving behind the sabre cat, until she came again to chunks of ice and leapt out onto them without hesitation.  One chunk after another, as wind howled through her ears, and she leapt from one unstable perch to another with faltering, shaking strides, the freezing warrior suddenly found herself running across the beach she had so desperately sought.  Up ahead, the small campsite of someone she hadn’t met remained just where it had been yesterday.  With a ragged cry of relief, she veered direction toward the camp, exhausted steps brought forward until she crashed painfully onto the rocky ground in front of one of the tents.

Yesterday, before making the trip out to the island, she’d moved one of the tents closer in to the campfire in preparation for just this occasion.  Her firewood was still there, covered by a log to keep it free of snow.  Vlga dropped the bag and the axe from her back, and ripped the leather cover off her campfire.  Picking up the flint and tinder was difficult; she could barely feel them in her shaking hands, and couldn’t get a decent grip on them at all.  Shaking violently, it took her many tries to get any kind of spark, but somehow she got her fire lit.

Her exhaustion and the cold was rapidly overtaking her now, as she struggled to open her oil-slicked leather bag.  Pulling at the cord with numb fingers, it took her great effort to pry it open and reach in for her thick fur cloak.  She pulled it out with sore arms, wrapped it over her shoulders, and huddled close to the fire to let its warmth gather in the area of her cloak.  Warmth began to slowly fill the tent she was crouched in, and the cloak around her shoulders, as night fell like a hammer.

-Time Passes-

The next morning, Vlga woke very slowly.  Her eyelids were heavy, and her limbs felt as if they were made of metal.  She opened her eyes very gradually, to see that the sun had come up but it was not shining brightly.  Snow still fell outside her tent, and her campfire had died sometime during the night.  She groaned, and curled up in her cloak for warmth, but she knew that she had to move.  There was residual heat in her tent and her cloak right now, but it would not last and she had no more firewood.

Though she was still cold and weak, she was not shaking as she had been last night.  She pulled her bag into the tent, and donned her armor padding as quickly as she could.  For a few moments she debated whether or not to put on the rest of her armor, but eventually decided it was better to have it than not.  Without aid, and in the cramped confines of a tent, donning the armor was more difficult than it should have been, but she managed.  As the last piece, she donned her helmet and fitted it securely, giving a heavy sigh as she did.  It seemed that just putting on her armor had taken every bit of strength she had, and she wanted to curl up and sleep again.

Without firewood, staying was not an option.  Still, she had warmed up at least a little bit, and she was certain she could continue.  With a quick check to make sure her axe was secure on her back, Vlga left the tent and headed out into the cold again.  The sky was overcast today, and the snow was falling heavily.  Her footsteps up the hill away from the water were difficult—each step slipped and just lifting her legs was tiring—but she managed to reach the top.

She continued upwards, climbing the shallow hill for several hours, without incident.  The world seemed very quiet, without even much of a breeze to move the snow that fell around her.  Up ahead, her destination was visible at the top of the hill.  Surrounded by small copses of trees, she could just make out the rounded top of the ancient ruins which was her next waypoint.  She didn’t know what the old place was called, only that it was an ancient stone structure shaped like an upside-down bowl, with an opening at its top.  Within that structure, she could find a bit of respite from the elements.  There was a doorway in the ruins, and she had tried it when she first arrived, but it was locked and built very sturdy; she doubted she had any real chance of getting inside.

It wasn’t long before she reached the ruin, and with faltering steps she descended the spiral staircase along the inside of the cylinder-shaped opening at the center of the structure.  At the bottom, her own personal tent was still standing just as she had left it, sitting next to another campfire left with firewood and covered with leather just as she’d done with the other one.  This tent even held the rest of her belongings; a fur backpack full of food, and everything else she brought on her travels.  Eagerly, the young warrior hurried to light her fire, and as it crackled to life she sat down to pull some dried meat from her backpack.  She hadn’t eaten since yesterday morning before she fought the ice wraith, and now she dug into the meat ration like only a hungry warrior can.

With a sigh as she ate, she began to relax; the hard parts were over.  Now all she had to do was return to Windhelm, and—

The terrible roar echoed through her little stone shelter like the sound of Oblivion itself.  She could feel it vibrate through the ground, the stone around her, and her very bones.  It was a sound that she had come to know well in the past few weeks, a sound that had been described in legends for as long as she could remember.  With a sinking feeling in her stomach, Vlga looked up to see the trail of smoke from her campfire arcing up into the sky, a beacon for hungry dragons.  The beast roared again, nearer this time; it sounded eager and vicious.

There was no time to think, and Vlga didn’t hesitate.  She grabbed her helmet, thudding it onto her head even as she stood.  One hand grabbed her axe and backpack, and she slung the latter onto her back as she ran.  As she climbed the steps, lifting each leg with effort, she secured her helmet by the time she reached the top.  Looking to the sky, sure enough there was a dragon swooping down right for her.  The beast was not using subtlety—they never did—but was bellowing that terrible roar again as it hurtled toward her.  She gripped her axe, and wanted to stand her ground; there was no greater victory than to best a dragon.  Yet in the weak grip was able to hold on her axe, Vlga felt the truth of this situation.  She couldn’t beat a dragon on a good day; perhaps someday, when she was ready…but not today.

She waited, just a few seconds longer, as the beast swooped down toward her.  It opened its mouth to bellow, and shot a giant gout of flame.  Without any more hesitation, Vlga leapt straight down the side of the domed structure, rolling across its hard surface painfully as flames scorched the air above her and the spot where she had been standing.  When she hit the snowy ground, she surged back to her feet in a roll and lunged forward in a full sprint.  She slowed only for an instant to secure her battleaxe on her back, and then she was sprinting again.

The dragon was right behind her, and it was eager for the kill.  Vlga heard the rush of wind as its wings stirred mightily and brought the tremendous beast around in a great arc.  Just ahead, she could see a small ridge that might provide some cover, and she ran toward it with all her strength.  The beast roared again, and Vlga jumped off the ridge blindly, just as the dragon landed with a heavy thud where she had just been, its weight and its claws tearing apart earth and stone.  She landed heavily on the ground below in a shower of snow and rock, but didn’t allow herself a moment to stop.

Back on her feet again she ran, and this time she headed for a nearby copse of trees.  The dragon was right behind; a giant burst of flame barely missed roasting the woman in her armor as she pounded her feet through the snow.  At the copse she began to weave between trees, trying to give the dragon a more difficult target.  Flame roasted several trees to her right as she did, and she heard other trees shattering with loud sounds of splintering wood as the dragon ripped them out of its way with mighty claws.

Still she ran, and the dragon pursued.  The walls of Windhelm were in sight, and so Vlga did not allow herself anything but to run, and to watch for the next spot that might make the dragon’s pursuit more difficult.  She dodged around every tree she could, as the dragon tore them apart; she jumped and rolled down every ridge and small outcropping she found, as the dragon tore stone from the earth trying to reach her; she ran, and she did not let her body slow.  Her heart felt like it would burst through her armor itself, her lungs were on fire, and her muscles felt like they were going to tear themselves to shreds, but she did not have the luxury of giving in to pain or weariness.  The Nord warrior ran, and she neared Windhelm with every desperate stride.

In the distance, she heard the cry of the Windhelm guards.  Whether or not they saw Vlga amid the shower of snow, stone, earth, and wood that the dragon caused in its rending charge, she had no idea.  She did not doubt that they saw the dragon.  Hope soared in her heart as she ran, and she veered toward one edge of the Windhelm wall that would take her around the eastern edge, just past the water, into the city harbor district.  She saw guards on the wall, hurrying to battlements as they rallied to defend their city.

“Look there!”  She heard one of the guards shout, and with a glance she saw that he was pointing at her.  She did not wave, or respond, but continued her run at maximum speed.  The guards began to fire; she heard arrows whistling through the air and heard the dragon roar in fury at their interference.  Now, finally, it felt wrong to run.  The Nord warrior refused to run any more, not when her kinsmen were battling the creature that was chasing her.

“Skyrim for the Nords!”  Her throat was raw, but her battle cry was loud and powerful, as she reached to her back and drew her battleaxe.  In the same motion, she slowed her run and whirled around, feet sliding to a halt on the snowy ground.  Axe held firmly in two numb hands, she resumed her run in the opposite direction, charging at the dragon with a roar.  She raised her axe, even as she saw that the beast has halted its own charge.  Under a hail of arrows, the dragon’s easy lunch had clearly been spoiled.  It roared in frustrated anger, belched a bright hot flame at the archers on the wall, and turned to fly away.  Vlga never had a clear shot at the dragon, but she took a heavy swing that landed a glancing blow on the dragon’s tail as it soared into the air.  She roared one more time, waving her axe in the dragon’s direction, and fell to her knees with the last of her energy.

She stayed that way, kneeling, resting her axe handle against the ground and barely holding herself upright.  Her breaths came in deep, ragged gulps of air until she began to recover.  By the time she did, three Windhelm guards had arrived at her location.  She reached up with a shaking hand to pull the helmet from her head, letting snow fall on her sweat-drenched blonde hair.

“Are you alright?”  One of the guards asked, as the trio arrived.  “Who are you?”

Vlga smiled, through her exhaustion and the cold that still ached in her bones, a smile of victory.  She reached to her belt and held up the vile of ice that she had collected from the ice wraith.  “I am Vlga Bronze-Helm.  I am a Stormcloak, tested and proven, and I am here to fight the Empire.”

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Rambling - Fuck Tick Disc Wall

Caesar is one of my greatest heroes.  Not the title, or the family line, but the original.  The man himself; Gaius Julius Caesar.

Other great conquerors, scientists, and artists are people whom I place on pedestals as well, but none quite as much as Gaius.  Alexander the Great, Alan Turing, and Frédéric Chopin all stand high within my personal sphere of delusional and likely over-bearing reverence.  There should be some females in there as well, and my preference would be an all-female list of all-stars such as that, but history and the writing thereof has not been kind to the feminine aspect of our species.  Suffice that, for purposes of my own particular cause and style of reverence, females do not stand high.  Not for what I revere.

Revere isn’t even really the right word.  Hero isn’t even appropriate if I'm going to be honest.  I don’t have heroes in the standard sense of idolization, imitation, and glorification.  Gaius Julius Caesar was a man of his time and, thus, he was a brutal unforgiving mass-murderer that used the politics and wars of his era to make a name for himself.  Yet that, right there, is what I find most powerful.

Every single human being from now back to the day the first and earliest version of us ever thought the words “I am” has been searching for some way to remain an “am” instead of becoming a “was.”  We’re all going to die, and we all know it.  We pretend we’re not going to, or we try to think about other stupid shit that lets us forget we’re going to die, but it’s always there.  Everyone has ways of coping.  For some people, the silly little idea that they’ll get to live forever in some form of afterlife is enough (though I’ll not get into the massive ego-fuck that entails).  For others, they intend to live on through the memories of their children and friends…which doesn’t last any longer than their equally short lives.

Yet for just one man that I have ever read about, there came the closest a human being has yet come to immortality.  He didn’t just get himself written into history books; many people have done that, some even with greater accomplishments.  No, Caesar made himself unforgettable in practically every way possible, even if we don’t know who we’re talking about.  There’s a method of birth that, if not actually named after him, bears the idea of having been named after him.  Those of us in the English speaking world (and much of the western world in general) frequently refer to the month of his name.  The entire western calendar is based off his own calendar.  His name is a fucking title.

Many people get their names written down in the history books, but I don’t personally know of anyone else whose name became a title.  There was no one named Pharaoh, or Tsar, or King.  No John S. President ever existed for whom the position was named.  Gaius Julius Caesar reigned for a very brief period and was murdered by those who built their success on his…and then his successors took his name as their own.  They continued to do so, until it became simply a matter of fact that anyone in that particular position of power bore the name Caesar.  Eventually, it became a title.  The name Caesar is not viewed as a family name, lineage, or even a dynasty.  It is a title on par with Pharaoh, Tsar, King, President, Emperor, and more.

I don’t look up to Caesar because he was a conqueror; there were greater warlords (though, in defense of my self-professed hero, there aren’t many on that list).  I don’t revere him because he was a tremendous politician; that’s a dubious title at best, and one claimed many times over throughout history.  No, I call Caesar my hero because he did what every human wants.  We remember him, well over two thousand years after his death.  More importantly, since we also remember other even older people, we still use his name in everyday conversation, and he is still a figure that means something to Joe Fuckshmuck on the street.  You can name Genghis Khan, Mozart, Hannibal, Einstein, or any other legendary historical figure, and the person on the street will know who they are.  How many of their names are used in daily conversation?


Copyright 2012 by J.L. V'Tar
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Friday, December 28, 2012

Rambling - Non-Orbital Entertainment Dragons

Easily one of my favorite cinematic moments.
Powerful, memorable, and few words to muck it up.

Emotion, from the perspective of a writer, is an interesting thing; at once inescapably critical to most kinds of fiction and simultaneously impossible to actually describe.

The kind of fiction I’m talking about, of course, is narrative fiction involving specific characters and intended to make the reader feel certain ways and possibly think about certain things.  More vague, broad, or meta-based fiction might not involve emotion, or might only hint at small amounts of emotion; it might simply describe a fictional world, or the ever-famous mid-millennium book which describes fictional flora and fauna.  Yet nearly any book which tells a story about characters must inevitably involve emotion at some level, most often at its core.  We can’t be fully invested in a story if we don’t care about the characters in its telling, and we can’t really care about them if we don’t understand what they’re going through.  Without emotion, more specifically without the reader’s emotions in empathy for the book’s characters, a fictional narrative is stripped of any power it might have had.

Yet at the same time, emotion is impossible to actually describe.  I can describe what a character looks like to the last exacting detail.  I can describe their environment far and near.  I can detail every political, economic, and cultural movement of their world.  I can even describe every last second of a character’s background if necessary.  None of that, however, has any way of ever describing the emotions that a character, or any other character in their world, goes through.

An emotion is not actually a thing which can be described.  When I feel anguish I know exactly what it is and I can identify it, but I can never describe it to someone else.  I can, of course, say “the anguish was crushing, I barely ate for days,” but that doesn’t describe my anguish.  It only describes my reaction to my anguish.  There is no set of stimuli that I can point to and say “that is anguish,” there is no physical representation of anguish with which other people can identify, and therefore nothing for me to describe.  It’s the same principle as color, really; I have no way of knowing whether or not the color purple I see is the same color that you see.  Just like I can never describe purple without saying “it had a dark purple hue that shimmered bright violet in the right light,” or just “it was purple,” I can never describe an emotion.

So what is a writer to do?  For starters, a character’s reactions are literally everything.  If emotion is the core of a good piece of fictional narrative, yet we can’t describe the emotions themselves, then each character’s reactions to their own emotions are the most important tool in any writer’s skillset.  To overdo it makes the emotion unbelievable or perhaps gives the impression of the wrong emotion.  To underdo it leaves only bland emptiness, and lack of emotion is what kills a story.  Yet if I do things correctly, if my characters react just right, then I don’t have to be able to describe an emotion itself.  If everything is right then a reader will understand the anguish being felt by a character or, in a perfect world, feel an echo of that anguish in response.  When my words work correctly, I don’t have to describe joy, hate, love, fear, anguish, curiosity, depression, or any other emotion that a character goes through; their reactions should tell my reader everything.


Copyright 2012 by J.L. V'Tar
Like my words?  Buy my stuff!
More importantly; tell other people about my work!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Excerpt - Short Fire (Working Draft)

What follows is an excerpt from the book I'm currently writing.  This represents a work very very much in progress, and may not represent anything about the final product.


Captain Inga Mironovna
"Pull in close, find cover," Inga broadcast to her remaining frigates.  Each quickly maneuvered to match her trajectory and fired their primary propulsion.  As they continued forward, each drifted close to the Drückend, taking position between firing arcs of the dreadnaught’s powerful weaponry.  The Protectorate frigates had no defenses that could withstand the sheer energy output of a dreadnaught, and had no chance but to retreat for the moment.

"Captain, with a slight adjustment we’ll have a shot at the Chronos," spoke up an Ensign at tactical.  He opened up a display that Inga could see, and tossed it over to her for inspection.  She saw their current trajectory, saw the Ensign’s recommended course adjustment, and recognized it as a clear shot to hit the Chronos directly on his port starboard quarter, just along the ventral line as he drifted upward for a clear shot at the only dreadnaught already on station at the giant station behind them.

She couldn’t tell if the Chronos had a shot just yet, that wouldn’t become clear for another few seconds, but she didn’t have time to find out.  What she did know was that hitting the Chronos would force the Protectorate dreadnaughts to turn and face her, when what she wanted was to push them closer to the target that none of them wanted to hurt.

"Negative, Ensign," Inga said, and dismissed the new holo-display with a wave of her hand.  She spoke to the Drückend then.  "Drift port, eight degrees, turn starboard three, up two, tell me when you have a firing solution this cruiser," she pointed at the main holo-display.  Her finger touched the image of a fleet cruiser hovering just above and behind the three Protectorate dreadnaughts that was supporting them with a blistering wave of missiles against the CSN defensive group.  "Tactical, fire cannons one and four the instant Drückend reports we have a firing solution."

"Aye Captain," the lead tactical officer replied, and even as she spoke she sat up straight in her seat.  "Incoming heavy!"

"Brace!"  Commander Graves shouted, but the order was unnecessary as everyone saw the holo-display of swarms of missiles coming in.  The frigate group had mustered their efforts and fired a single barrage of missiles all at once.  Watching the Drückend maneuver to fire on its sister ship, one of the Protectorate missile cruisers had also added its firepower to the mix; launching more missiles alone than the frigates managed all together.  Everyone on the bridge grabbed onto something, Inga held onto a bit of railing with a firm grip.  She and Graves exchanged a look, and within a heartbeat the ship began to rock with heavy missile fire.

The Drückend bristled with many point-defense cannons, but there were simply too many missiles to pick off all at once.  Deflector arrays served well, sending some missiles careening off into space, but still some got through even that.  Nuclear fire erupted across the ship’s armor, billowing out in massive spheres of white-hot energy.  CSN frigates were already peeling away to escape the blasts, but some caught enough of the blasts to suffer considerable damage, and the Drückend rocked heavily.  The ship’s armor held, but all throughout the ship crew that hadn’t braced were thrown about like trash, some bulkheads and decks buckled, and alarms began to scream through the corridors.

"Firing solution," the Drückend announced calmly above the din in its hybrid voice.

"Fire!"  Inga shouted above the din of explosions, even as the tactical officer was already slamming her hand on the firing ring.

Just as the ship had rocked under the missile explosions, now it surged with the energy of firing two of its main guns.  Every person on board felt the power of just two of the Drückend’s six cannons as it hurtled from the aft engines through the length of the ship and out the nose; bright white light erupted from the ship’s front as two of the charged-particle rails launched their payload.  So incredible was the force of the launch, that the dreadnaught’s forward momentum was severely reduced.  Inga’s eyes never left the points of light that launched from her ship, watching as they streaked across the battlespace, incinerated a small cluster of Protectorate fighters, and ripped into the enemy cruiser.

The cruiser’s defensive shields failed, its deflector arrays were ignored, and its armor plating buckled under the sheer energy and impact of those two shots.  The ship practically imploded, knocked to the side by the impact and folded nearly in half as the shots caught it amidships.  Less than a second later the ship’s reactors erupted, and all that remained of the ship burst into a bright blue ball of energy that sent chunks of the giant starship careening through the stars.  Other nearby craft were blown away from the ship by the force of the explosion, or turned away in fear, as all were bombarded by pieces of armor plating, interior structure, and shredded chunks of crew.

"Adjust heading, fire at will!"  Inga cried above the din, pointing her finger at the missile cruiser that had launched its salvo at her ship.

The Drückend’s port and ventral particle cannons opened fire, sending a withering barrage of energy at the offending missile frigate, while the starboard and dorsal cannons followed suit and ripped into the Protectorate frigate formation.  Still holding strong against the barrage of missiles, the dreadnaught began to turn toward its new target.


Copyright 2012 J.L. V'Tar
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More importantly; tell other people about my work!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Rambling - Cut Tong Relaxing

It happened, finally.  After more than three decades of thought, the vast majority of which was spent dreaming and wishing and scheming and flailing and failing, I got paid money for my words.  The Amazon deposit hit my account.  Thirteen United States dollars, and fifteen cents.

No, it isn't much.  It's practically nothing, and yet it's everything.  Thirteen dollars is everything I've ever wanted.  Some people tell me I shouldn't care about whether or not anyone likes my work, buys it, or even reads it.  They tell me I should write for myself and everyone else be damned.  I say that, with all due disrespect, everyone who has told me that can go sit on a spike.  Sit on it and like it.

Because I don't write for the money.  I write so I can write.  So I don't have to do anything else, because everything else drives me to death.  When I write I feel everything, I'm happy and excited and sad, I'm overjoyed, I'm terrified, I'm everything necessary for my books, because I feel my characters.  It's a strange place when I write, in my head, where I can be terrified or enraged and enjoy every second of it, because it's the moment of framing a story that I can see so clearly, the joy of trying to put it to words in a way other people can follow and participate in their own telling.

Writing code, and designing games, give me the same sense of satisfaction and glory (sure, that was a bit hyperbolic, but I'm allowed to indulge right now).

They're different from how I feel when I do anything else.  Any so-called "productive" activity that I am expected to perform for one reason or another.  Because I need to earn money, because I'm worth less if I don't, because I've been given responsibility.  It's all part of a silly little mass-mind machine we've created for ourselves and I want no part in it.  I can feel it around me when I work a day job, any day job.  I can see the wheels turning, the gears grinding, the oil slicking it all to work with such imperfect motion.  If a machine could be a zombie, it would be our current society.  I want no part of it.

Well today I was paid money for my creativity.  It isn't much.  It's pathetic, unhelpful, and it won't go very far at all, but I got it for my words.  I didn't get it by smiling at people I hate, doing things for people when I'd rather spit in their faces and tell them what I think of their ridiculous little expectations.  I got it by telling one of the so very many stories in my head.

Looking at my bank statement, it's painful to see that little deposit sitting there, sandwiched so inconveniently as it is between a deposit from my day job (2,122% of my writing money) and one of several bills that I have to pay every month (725% of my writing money).

It's not a start.  It's not even the starting line.  That happened about fifteen years ago, and I've been in the thick of it ever since.  I just didn't know it until now.  Didn't know that this is what I do.  Everything else is just a maddening, insulting thing that must be endured.  My writing money will equal the money from shit day jobs, eventually.  Then it will exceed.

I don't write for validation, or because I want people to like me.  I write because I can't tolerate what the rest of you seem perfectly content to tolerate.  I'm not built like you.  Sometimes it burns, and I hope you enjoy that enough to buy it.