Sunday, November 27, 2011

Broken Robots, Burning Zeppelins

A... year ago, was it? A year agoish, I played a silly free flash game online. K.O.L.M. Recently, I played the sequel, K.O.L.M. 2. Both games are short, powerful, and incredibly atmospheric, and I recommend them to anyone and everyone, even people who don't normally go in for silly free flash games online.

The premise of K.O.L.M. is that you are a broken robot in a system of underground caves. After an unknown period of time, the voice of your mother prods you into action. You begin by crawling across the floor, the screen a blurry mess, until you find a pair of replacement eyes. Soon you also acquire replacement legs, a gun, the ability to jump, a more powerful gun, the ability to jump even higher, the ability to swim in water, and then in acid, and so on. K.O.L.M. 2 builds on its predecessor with sad little robot's quest to reunite with his father and his sister.

Gameplay focuses on the acquisition of new bits for the little robot. Often you are presented with a puzzle that you just can't solve until you find something that adds some new functionality to the robot. The overall effect is very satisfying - there's nothing quite like watching a puzzle that previously stumped you fall before the awesome might of your new laser or swimming capability - though there are a few moments of frustration.

The game very quickly establishes that something is a bit... off-kilter. I know from passive-agressive mothers, and this mother definitely fits the bill. Definitely much more GLaDOS than Ma Ingalls. The format of the game is classic side-scroller, but instead of the usual smooth transition from frame to frame, each "zone" is a view from a security camera. In addition to being, frankly, just a bit weird, it allows the game to zoom unexpectedly in and out. Trust me - it's hard to explain, but the effect is extremely creepy. Between the mother's creepy dialogue and the weird atmosphere, the game sucks you in very effectively. For best results, play at night. Alone.

I will concede that K.O.L.M. 2 is somewhat weaker than its predecessor. The gameplay introduces two new wrinkles: sunlight pouring in from holes in the ceiling which can harm or even destroy the little robot and, later, the robot and his human sister (now now, that would be telling) cooperating to solve puzzles that the robot couldn't solve on his own. However, the game is much shorter and much more... is linear the right word? Both games are linear, but the first game seemed to have a lot more problem solving and atmospheric wandering, while the second game seemed much more straightforward. Both games - and the third game that I fervently hope for - are certainly worth playing.

I believe that video games are fiction, but I don't normally talk about them because I don't normally play them. The K.O.L.M.s would make a great introduction for someone who doesn't believe. Both games tell a beautiful, sad, and creepy tale that I was very pleased to be a part of.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Myth They Tell in Vandakar

This is the myth they tell in Vandakar – called the Godless City – that ancient and mist-shrouded place where the streets turn in upon themselves and spiral down into the earth, where wicked secrets can be bought and sold for coin and deed:

Five gods stood together at the dawn of time. Four of them were content to divide the world between them, but one stood apart. He declared himself the king of all the gods, and his name was MAN.

The gods strove against each other, and though MAN was stronger than the others, they combined their might against him and defeated him. They decided to sunder MAN into many parts and scatter him across the face of the earth so that could never again seek to set himself above his siblings. Thus were the races of men born.

Each of the gods cursed the new race in turn.

SHA, who is worshipped in the East as Miryama of the Dawn and the Lady of Spring, cursed mankind with Lust. She divided us into male and female and set out hearts and loins to long for each other. She clouded our thoughts with desire and gave us Jealousy, Gluttony, and Greed

ZAR, who is worshipped in the North as the Summerlord and the Burning Eye of Heaven, cursed mankind with rage. He set our hearts against each other, fanning the flames of Ambition and Revenge.

NOR, who is worshipped in the West as Unuyanu and the Shining One, cursed mankind with Pride. He whispers to us of what we were, and what we might one day be, and so we rise above ourselves so that our hopes are always dashed, and we destroy what we love most.

Last, and most terrible, was KAI, who is worshipped in the South as the Pale Lady, the Queen of Ravens, and the Nameless One. She cursed mankind with death, striking us down before we could come into the fullness of our power and challenge the dominion of the gods.

The discerning know that the gods hate mankind for the arrogance of MAN. They hate us, and so they have crafted the world to destroy us. They fear us, for each of us could one day rise to the power that was once MAN's.

Some chose to worship the gods, hoping that by prayer and sacrifice they can prove their submission. They want to convince the gods that we have learned our lesson, and thus earn MAN’s restoration. Others dedicate themselves to one god, hoping to cast off their birthright as part of MAN and pass totally into that god’s power, becoming a part of that god after death.

Others chose to defy the gods.

Those who defy SHA are the Ascetics. They deny the desires of the flesh, and so achieve mastery of it. They are powerful warriors, striding across the field of battle with skin like plates of iron and muscles like the roots of trees. They are mighty, but they are not the most mighty.

Those who defy ZAR are the Menders. They cast out rage and fill their hearts with peace, learning to accept the world they see. In the power of their peace, they can still violence in the hearts of others and unmake the consequences of violence. They can heal even the most grievous wounds with a touch. Many dismiss them, for peace does not lend itself to rash and overt action, but the Menders are mighty. And yet, they are not the most mighty. 

Those who defy NOR are the Adepts. They break their own minds with humiliation and service and until they cast out the poison of pride within themselves, and thus they achieve mastery of the mind. They can pick secrets from the minds of their enemies and plant false thoughts. They can walk unseen among crowds, hiding themselves from the pride-addled minds of the masses. Though they are mighty, they are not the most mighty.

Those who defy KAI are those who defy death. They are the Necromancers, practitioners of the Dark Art. The dead rise to serve them and the living flee before them. They craft eternal bodies to house their spirits and persist forever, growing more powerful with every passing century. They are the Necromancers and they are the most mighty of those who defy the gods.

That is the myth they tell in Vandakar, the City of the Dead.

• • •

And now, back to NaNo.

Now THAT Was a NaNo Post

Sweet mother of lizards, that was a NaNo post. Was that even mildly coherent? Does it actually mean anything?

I'm tempted to take it down, but... nah. Let's just leave it there. It will stand as a testament of what NaNo does to a body.

For those of you who read it - and maybe even gleaned some meaning out of it? Maybe? - I offer sincere apologies. Hopefully you at least had a laugh.

Watch this space for a review of my latest literary conquest, The Curse of Chalion.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Happy Accidents

I am happy to report that at the end of yesterday (Day 14) of National Novel Writing Month I had 23,945 words - a little more than six hundred words ahead of schedule. Over the course of Day 14, I came up from a significant deficit, writing a little more than four thousand words in a single day. As a result, the last thing I want to do is write - which is why I'm blogging - and the last thing I want to blog about is writing.

So, instead, I'll blog about minis.

But when I blog about minis, I'm really blogging about writing.

When I first got into wargames, I was disappointed to discover that most games use plastic minis instead of metal. There is something deeply satisfying about metal minis. They have a powerful 'clunk' when they hit the table. It's kind of like Go - in ancient Japan, Go boards were designed to produce a satisfying sound when pieces were placed, making the game a full audiovisual experience - but with more death.

Later, after I started playing Warmachine and Hordes and actually had a chance to work with metal, I was happy to discover that most games use plastic minis. Metal is a pain in the ass to work with. It's heavy, so glue isn't enough and you have to pin stuff in place. Pinning stuff in place means drilling holes, in metal, which is also, unfortunately, hard to drill in.

Because, you know, it's metal.

As a result, if you're inexperienced - like I am - the result is often a little hit-or-miss. You aren't quite sure what a model is going to look like until you're done. If a pin settles in oddly, or a piece doesn't quite fit right, you could end up with nearly any kind of pose, from the totally awesome to the... kind of strange. Sometimes you need to work with what you've got, adapting a weirdly assembled model so it will turn out as well as possible.

Plastic, by the way, is much easier to work with. Glue usually does the trick. On the rare occasion that you have to pin it or adjust the shape of a piece, plastic cuts and drills like a dream.

The trick is to be open to happy accidents. A happy accident, as my 6th grade teacher taught me, is when something in art turns out differently than you expected, but in a way you can still work with. You don't see a lot of happy accidents in writing, but in visual art - including, yes, making minis - you see them a lot more often. I've got a metal Ravagore (horrible flame-spitting monster) that will end up in a really awesome pose, all because I was willing to change my plans after a series of drastic failures.

Anyway, it seems to me that NaNo is a lot like a metal model - oddly shaped chunks of narrative falling out of your brain as fast as you can squeeze them out of your fingers (wow, I'm sorry for that metaphor already). Later, when you have time, you can go back over your creation with a more critical, discerning eye, fitting the pieces together into something beautiful.

So be open to happy accidents. Look out for the weird bits of beauty your brain spits out when you aren't looking.

Speaking of which, I'd probably better get back to writing. Tell then...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Na Na NaNo, Na Na NaNo

Yeah yeah yeah, go write.

In other words, it's November, and November means National Novel Writing Month. That means that I won't be blogging a lot this month, but I will be writing like the shit. If you still want to hang out, find me on the NaNoWriMo site. I go by Burning Zeppelin. Friend me. We'll chat. We'll bug each other about wordcount. We'll meet up and slave over hot computers together.

Yeah yeah yeah, go write.