Armchair Designers Episode 2

The second episode of our podcast is out, and we ramble at some length about stealth games.  It’s a topic that deserves to be revisited at some point in the future.  Get comfortable.  This one clocks in at about 2 hours and 49 minutes.

Show notes:

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Armchair Designers Episode 1

The first episode of a podcast I’ve been helping to try and put together for a while now is finally out.  Welcome to Armchair Designers where we discuss games, mechanics, and design philosophy, “from the comfort of our armchairs!”  I even made a page for it!

This episode deals with introductions in video games, funnily enough.  The conversation was pretty free-flowing, I will say, and so much more could be said than what’s covered here.  We had a little bit of audio trouble, but it’s nothing serious.  Do pardon us.  We’ll figure this out.  Also, I sound like I’m in desperate need of a speech class all throughout the episode.  I really hate it, and I hope you’ll pardon that as well.  I’ll get better at this sort of thing.

Show notes:

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Destiny: 20 Hours In

I was going to save this for my full Destiny review, but my past few play sessions are giving me an urge to rant right now.  What was originally going to be a paragraph or two in the original post turned into a much larger tangent.  This is mostly me narrowing in on what drives me crazy the most about the gameplay and is not necessarily representative of my opinion of the game overall.  I’ll tackle the rest in the other post.

So Bungie is on record for saying that “Destiny is a different game after twenty hours.

Well… well that’s true to an extent.  Hour twenty is not all that comparable to hour one, but it’s not this subtle change from hour to hour.  It’s more of drastic shift after about ten hours.  See, Destiny is unquestionably a shooter with a WoW or LotRO formula applied to it, but you can blow through pretty much everything the game has to offer very quickly.  In about ten or so hours–maybe around twelve–you can complete all the lackluster story missions, get a general sense of each of the four exploreable areas, reach level 20, and dabble in the PvP (I only played five matches; I don’t care for PvP).  Seeing everything the game has to offer is easy.  Reaching level 20 is easy.  Now, I really like that; it means that, unlike LotRO, I don’t have to spend the better part of two years trying to reach the late-game content.  It means I would be more inclined to play it all over again with a new character.  It means the “grinding” is fairly non-existent.  I don’t think I’ve ever gone into an in-depth rant on grinding in games (and MMOs in particular), but I think I’ve mentioned off and on that I pretty much hate it, and generally stay away from games that have it.  Getting back on track: reaching level 20 and experiencing the vast majority of Destiny’s content is relatively quick and easy.  For anyone who has played Destiny, however, you know the game doesn’t cap at level 20, but at 30.  Once you hit 20, after ten to twelve hours of play, that’s when the game drastically changes.  Getting to level 21 isn’t so easy.

What I say next is going to require a bit of set-up.

For your first twenty levels, you progress via experience points like in most games with a leveling system.  After that, it changes a little bit.  Armor in the game can give you bonuses to three stats–Intellect, Discipline, and Strength–used to increase the recharge rate of your abilities so you can use them more often in combat.  Once you max out, a fourth stat called “Light” is introduced, and these Light points are used to get you to levels 21 to 30.  To continue leveling, you need to keep playing the game to find better gear.  The old experience points can also still be used to unlock better stats for your equipment–including a higher Light score–but only up to a certain point before having to find something better and repeating the process.  But how do you find better gear if you’ve already played through most of the content and seen everything there is to see?  And what’s the point?  The answer to the first question is you jump into a random matchmaking playist that contains all the boss instances/raids from the game’s four locations: Earth, the Moon, Venus, and Mars–or you could run through a special PvP playlist.  You then run through all the stuff you’ve done before again.  And again.  And again.  And again.  Until you’ve (hopefully/eventually) found some better gear.  You also get a small amount of faction reputation and special currency which goes towards (eventually) acquiring Legendary-type gear, which is what will ultimately max out your level.  Often times you won’t get anything of use, so you have to jump through these playlists repeatedly.  Now, to answer the second question of what the point is in doing this, well, the answer is you’re doing this solely for the sake of “good loot”.  And also so you can be high enough level to run the next, new raid–whenever that comes.

Oh, and that next raid can only be played with friends, and not in a matchmaking playlist.  So hopefully, you know five other people who play the game, otherwise you are some poor schmuck who spent the better part of a week trying to acquire new levels for absolutely no reason!

This is the point of the game I have hit.  I have reach hour twenty (I’m actually pretty sure I’m in hour thirty-something).  Destiny has switched hard and fast into a long, drawn-out grinding and waiting game with nothing much else to do.  I’m grinding the same handful of Strikes, and shooting the same, crummy, bullet-sponge bosses that can kill you in one hit and make you start from the beginning.  Have I told you about the Strike bosses?  Oh, let me tell you about the Strike bosses.  They are undoubtedly one of the worst parts of the game–right there with the grinding and time-wasting.  There’s no actual “challenge” to them.  They have no interesting behaviors, weak points, or telegraphed moves.  They barely react to you shooting them, blowing them up with grenades or rockets, or nuking them with super Space Magic abilities.  They easily have 700,000 hitpoints and upward with lots of armor so that no matter what you do, you’re whole team will be shooting at them for the better part of a week.  They also have one-hit KO attacks you’re constantly dodging while also trying to deal with the armies of mooks who occasionally come to help Mr. Large In-Charge.  In a freaking first person shooter.  That’s the game’s idea of a “challenging, team-coordinated effort”–lazily made enemies who are arbitrarily tougher than their counterparts just as an excuse to need teammates.  When the whole team dies after knocking the boss down to his last few hitpoints and has to start the whole fight all over again, there are no cries of, “Aw man, you guys!  That was so close!  We can do it this time!”  Everyone groans.  When you finally beat the boss, there are no cries of victory or accomplishment, but sighs of, “Oh thank God that’s finally over.”  After a harrowing experience of fighting a particularly unpleasant boss three times in a row (in a playlist that chooses Strikes randomly), you realize you still haven’t gotten anything worthwhile, so you go back in for a fourth, fifth, and sixth time.

Then there are bounties–those special missions you perform for bonus XP and faction rep.  You have a limited number of bounties you can complete each day before waiting 24 hours for the next set.  The number of bounties a day appears to be about seven for single player and another seven for PvP; you can have up to five at a time.  There is also a cap placed on how much special faction currency you can acquire in a week from grinding the Strike playlist, but the amount you’re also earning even at the highest levels is a paltry sum.  Playing a level 24 Strike, for example, will net you 6 “marks” per session.  Legendary gear costs between 65 and 120 of these marks.  The cap per week is 100.  Earning reputation itself, fortunately, does not have a cap, and doesn’t come in the same small amounts.  On average you earn 10 rep per fetch quest–sometimes 25–and bounties will net you 50-100.  A rank with a faction is starts at 1500, increases in increments of 500 with each rank, and there are (so far) a maximum of three ranks.  So it’s really not terrible considering the other hoops you jump through, but it’s still slow going.

All you can do is grind and wait, then wait until you can play whatever new content may come along.  Sure, the gameplay itself is still fun, but I’m doing nothing compelling with it.  There is no “history” that I have built up with my character.  He has better equipment and powers than when I started, sure, but he’s very much the same as he was before.  He has no character and no personality.  No one sings his praises in the Tower, much less gives any indication they recognize him.  Speaking of people in the world of Destiny not reacting to you, no one seems to even react to the world they inhabit.  You don’t get a sense of who any of these people are.  You don’t know who the Speaker is, or what exactly he does, and the game tells you NOTHING about who these various political faction people are.  What if I’m earning reputation points with a psycho?  Who are these people?  Dead Orbit?  The Future War Cult?  They sound like they’re maybe psychos, but I don’t know.  The game couldn’t even be bothered to fill you in on who exactly you are fighting other than that they are “servants of the Darkness!”  The empty world gives you nothing to “immerse” yourself in, so that statement by Bungie Executive Producer Patrick O’Kelley is laughable.  I’ve built up no community of players, because I don’t really have any friends who play Destiny, or anyone who can play at the same time as me.  I generally prefer single player games because I can’t and don’t want to be dependent on others for my video game entertainment.  Almost every time I try to play with random people over the internet, they’ve been obnoxious jerks.  If I’m lucky, the one person I know who plays might have enough friends of his own to make up the difference for me so I might do a level 26 raid at some point in the future (and the raid is supposed to be harder and longer than any of the Strikes?  Good grief)–all so I can hopefully maybe see another small sliver of half-baked world-building that I wouldn’t get to see otherwise; all because I’m a pathetic nerd who likes the universe Bungie sort of made and wants to see more of it.  The game knows it has nothing to offer beyond getting the next best toy, so on top of the work you already have to do to get that toy, they make you wait by giving you lots of vendor trash to draw it out as long as possible.

Here’s the thing: bosses, grinding, and waiting aside, Destiny is an enjoyable game.  It just doesn’t have a lot going for it.  The lack of grinding (for the first 20 levels) and the lack of artificially extended content (for the first 20 levels) is great, and I think that’s the best approach for games in general.  The problem is that Bungie tried to apply an MMORPG formula onto it.  A formula specifically designed for massive games with loads and loads of filler content spread out over large areas and blocking the next relevant plot point, reward, or whatever else.  And that doesn’t work with a game like Destiny that wasn’t designed with the scope of WoW or LotRO.  If the game had a compelling story and environments that I could immerse myself in over and over again the same way I did with the Halo games over the last decade, that would be different.  I, and I think others, would have a reason to stick around.  But the game doesn’t have that.  The story is thin, disjointed, and confused; the missions and enemies are lackluster, and the world-building is non-existent.

What I’m trying to get at is that something needs to change.  Destiny is going to need filler content on the scale of other MMOs to offset how dense and impenetrable the grinding feels, which probably isn’t going to happen, even with the two planned expansion packs–unless they’re really big and actually contain proper narratives with characters, exposition, and world-building of their own.  Completely redesigning the system is, practically speaking, out of the question; too much time and money was spent building this thing.  And honestly, it just needs a few tweaks and no major redesigning.  Ideally, I don’t want these games to be long, drawn-out, and grindy.  What Bungie needs to do, come Destiny 2, is more or less keep the game they have.  Rework the bosses, and cut the late-game grind.  Then, do what they didn’t do in this first game and build a proper world with characters and lore, as well as interesting level and AI design so that the franchise has a sense of richness and substance that will keep players around the same way people have been playing the original Halo games all these years later.

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Shadow Warrior Shenanigans

I thought I’d kick off my return to the blog with a short recording of me (trying to) play Shadow Warrior.  This is the first video I have ever published on YouTube.

Shadow Warrior is a first person sword fighting (and shooting) game where you use fancy sword skills, magic, and other weapons to fight demons.  It prides itself on being a modern take on old-school shooters and action games.  The game has a bunch of silly, low brow humor (which is honestly hit-and-miss) and comes incredibly close to breaking the fourth wall.  There’s also gratuitous gore, shameless promotions for other games, and Easter Eggs for which I can only assume reference the original Shadow Warrior game.

Anyway, a friend gifted this to me over Steam, and it is a real blast to play.  The moment captured in the above video was just one of those I had to share.

While exploring, I bumped into the two large demons and tried to get some distance between me and them (as you can see).  These particular demons have Scorpion-style “GET OVER HERE” move, which they used to pull me back.  After breaking free of that, and getting grazed by their fiery arc attack, I tried to use a ranged shockwave ability of my own to take out the truck and hopefully do some damage.  What I didn’t realize was the area was full of explosive objects.  I tried to get away, but… as you can see, that didn’t go so well.  That’s what you get for running blind.

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Site Resurrection

So yeah, I am making my return to the blog, and only after… eight months?  Has it really been eight months since I published anything on this site?  What happened?  Where did time go?

The short version is I was busy.  I was working on various drafts until maybe April or May, which is probably why me being away didn’t feel as long as it did (even though 5-6 months is still a while to not publish anything).  Even so, I struggled with writing of any kind, and on top of all the craziness that was going on in my life, I ended up really discouraging myself.  Then you tell yourself you’ll pick up that writing thing you were doing tomorrow, then tomorrow comes and the process repeats until you just… stop.  Then you completely lose all track of time until, eight months later, you surprise yourself.  But I really want to make an effort to get back into this blog.

There’s also a couple of big projects I’ve been trying to get off the ground all year that have been stuck in development hell.  One of them I’ve been very keen to announce, but I’d like to wait until I actually have something substantial to show you.  But it’s big, and it will be great (hopefully).

Actually, you know what?  I talk about “big secret projects” repeatedly here on this blog that NEVER get announced.  I mean, are these “secret projects” I keep referring to all the same things, or is each new and unrelated?  So I’ll go ahead and mention that the big project I’m “keen to announce” which is also “stuck in development hell” is a podcast I’ve been trying to put together with some people.  We’ve gotten together several times and have recorded and re-recorded our first episode but something always ends up setting us back.  Anyway, that will get its own separate page on this site when I actually have a freaking episode to show for it.

Otherwise, there’s so much that’s been going on in the gaming scene that I’ve wanted to talk about that I’m not sure if I can catch up, or if it’s worth bringing some of this stuff up at this point.  I played the Destiny beta and had a big spiel on that, but since the game comes out Tuesday, I’m not sure it’s worth bringing that up since it’s all based on the beta.

There was also a whole other spiel I had on the upcoming Shadow of Mordor game, and I was going to take the opportunity to make a Tolkien lore lecture out of it.  That will hopefully be a thing though.

I also want to get back into a bunch of Halo stuff I started working on a while ago.

So yeah, we’ll see how this all goes.

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God Only Knows – Beach Boys and Bioshock Infinite

So God Only Knows is one of my favorite songs in Bioshock Infinite.

When I first heard it, I assumed it was either an original, or (more probably) an actual Barbershop Quartet.  Because I managed to miss the whole thing about Infinite’s world having all this warped music from other eras, I only recently discovered it was, in fact, not a Barbershop, but a different kind of song from some group called the Beach Boys.

Hey, don’t you start.  There’s a lot about music bands I don’t know, period.  If I knew nothing about the original “God Only Knows” how am I suppose to know who the Beach Boys are?  At any rate, I’m familiar with them now.  So.  Mleh.  You simultaneously discovered I didn’t know them and now do all at once.

“Simultaneously” and “all at once” are for serious emphasis business and no ineptitude on my part.  Mleh.

Moving on.

Anyway, having no frame of reference for who these guys were, I then assumed the original song would sound vastly different from the Infinite version because… well… it’s a Barbershop Quartet.  Those have a way of using a… very unique structure.  Barbershop Quartets are one of the greatest things since sliced bread, don’t get me wrong, but they’re different.  You think the progression is going to do when thing, then it does something else entirely.

So when I finally listened to the actual song by the Beach Boys, it was very eerie how similar to two versions actually are to each other.

Eerie in a good way, that is.

So yeah.  Thought I’d just share these really.

Look at dem vidyer garmes teaching us all this stuff.

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New Puppy

There have been whispers about this sort of thing among my folks all year, and my father in particular: the talk of getting a new puppy.  In late October/early November it officially became a thing, and a new member of the family would be welcomed into our home just before Christmas.  The 21st of December was that day.  I meant to get this out sooner but the stomach flu took me down for the whole week of Christmas, and I’m only just now returning to normal.

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Meet Koby Jock Ben Nevis, or just Koby.  He’s between eight and nine weeks old, weighs… I dunno… next to nothing, and is a Shetland Sheepdog just like Nessie and the late Wee Jock.  The only white on him is his front legs and the rest of his hair is more of a blonde color than the usual brown.  He has a gammy back-right leg which does something between a twist and drag as he walks or runs around.  It’s unclear whether or not this is something he will grow out of as he gets older or if he will have it the rest of his life; it doesn’t seem to bother him, however, as he constantly runs and jumps around when he plays.

And ohhh boy, is he ever playful.

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Bringing him home.

Koby is undeniably an adventurous go-getter, and it wouldn’t surprise me if his exterior was nothing more than a facade of fuzz covering an entity of pure energy.  As a puppy, Jock was playful and got into places or things he shouldn’t, oh yes, but he always had a degree of reservation, especially when he got older (even though he did become a bit of a smart-aleck later in life).  Nessie?  Nessie, while needy (and greedy), has always been timid, passive, dainty, and sweet.  She’s like our little lady.  Koby is rowdy and stubborn.  If you were to let him, he’d go where he’d wish and play, chew, or take whatever he’d wish.  I have no doubt a big part of this is just him being an eight week old puppy, so we’ll see what stays with him as he grows, but he is definitely stubborn and adventurous.  He wakes up before the crack of dawn, and the rest of the day is a cycle of wearing him out for his next nap–also making sure he doesn’t pee everywhere because GOL-LY that bladder.  It’s entirely possible I am misremembering this because it was twelve years ago, but I don’t remember Jock being this hyper as a puppy.

When we brought him home, Nessie’s reactions could be summed up to something akin to: “Whoa!  What is that thing?  I want to check it out!  Oh, it’s a puppy.  Okay, I’m done now.”

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Introducing Nessie to the new family member.

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Nessie seems to be okay around the puppy, but she can only take him in small doses, trying to avoid him the rest of the time, and baring her teeth and growling when she can’t–a whole new side of her we’ve never seen before.  Oh, if only she realized how Jock felt the same way about her when we brought her home.  She’ll get used to him

Koby is also a bit of a whiner.  If he thinks nothing interesting is happening withing a couple of minutes, he whines.  If he thinks you’re not paying attention to him, he whines.  If he’s hungry, he whines, but typically only after he’s had his morning pee, for which he will whine.  If you’re lucky, he may whine when he needs to go potty other times (though we have him “on a schedule” anyway).

There was one instance a day or so after we brought him home when we were trying to get him to calm down and eat his food, so we put him and the bowl in the crate.  He didn’t want to be in his crate.  He started whining and pouting.  Then he started (what sounded like) howling.  Then a had what sounded like a kind of tantrum and tossed his little food bowl over in the crate.  I’d be lying if I said it was neither funny nor cute.

Koby is a handful to be sure, but he is undoubtedly one of the most adorable puppies I’ve ever seen.  AND he’s a cuddler; he’ll happily snuggle and fall asleep in your arms, or even over your shoulder like a human baby.  You can’t not love him.

Picking a name proved to be a challenge, and we deliberated on it in the couple of months before he was ready to be picked up.  We decided it was best to wait until we actually saw him, but even on the day he came home we deliberated for another day.  With Jock and Nessie, it was easy for some reason–the names just came naturally.  In the end though, Koby was it.

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He’s named after Coby, Jock’s father, who was a world champion in tournaments, in memory of Jock.  It is also in thanks to the wonderful breeder who brought us such joy with the dogs she gave us, and in honor of her legacy as a breeder of world champion Shelties.  I say, “in honor of her legacy” because Koby is the last puppy she will probably ever sell as she is bring her career as a breeder to a close.  The whole thing is bittersweet.  Finally, because we have to be fancy with our pet names, like we did for Jock (Wee Jock Albion’s Heir) and Nessie (Princess Inverness), Koby’s surname is Ben Nevis which is a mountain in Scotland–and the tallest in the British Isles.  The name is almost a monument in and of itself.

The name was originally going to be spelled “Coby” but Dad wanted to change the “C” to a “K” and add “Jock” to the name as both a more direct reference and so he could refer to the puppy as “KJ” (his own father’s initials were “KJ”).  The name is now approaching the complexity of a Hobbit movie.

The story behind our breeder’s last litter is a sad one.  There were only three puppies: one was born with a cleft palate and wasn’t going to survive, so it had to be put down after five days.  The one who would be Koby she planned to keep for herself because he was apparently a perfect build for a tournament dog, and she was going to give us the third.  The problem, however, was that particular puppy had a neurological disorder where it wouldn’t stop running around in circles.  She didn’t think anyone would buy that dog, but the doctor she took it to found someone who was able and willing to give it the care and therapy it needed.  In the end, she insisted on selling the last puppy–the one she planned to keep–to us.  Bittersweet indeed.

To be perfectly honest, I was not crazy about the notion of another dog.  I didn’t feel like owning two pets again.  I just wanted us to take care of the one we had left, Nessie, and be there for her since Jock passed away last year.  Now mind you, this isn’t some story about me fearing Jock would be replaced in my heart by another dog, only to come to the realization that a new puppy would never replace him or make me forget about him.  I’ve always understood that, but I think I would be lying if I said wasn’t entirely ready to let go.  More than anything though, I think I was ready to retire as a pet owner and concentrate on Nessie.  But Nessie was lonely, and it was beginning to show.  Plus, everyone else in the house felt differently than I did about another dog.  And that’s fine.  I’m willing to give it another go, and welcome and love a new member of the family.  I think we all agree that Koby will probably be our last though.  But here’s to a new family member and new beginnings.

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Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  If I’m being perfectly honest, because of the food: the turkey, the mash potatoes, gravy, stuffing, apple pie….  But it’s also a good reminder for me to be… well… thankful.  It’s way too easy for us to sink into our comforts, forget that we even have those comforts, and what it took to get those comforts.  And while there are still so many people in want and need, never before has the standard of living been so high for so many people than in our present age.  So as an exercise, I took to Twitter and listed off as many things I was thankful for as I could before the small writer in me ran out of steam and/or I needed to move about the Thanksgiving day with friends and family.

To start off, I’m grateful for Man’s creative nature.  The stories we tell and share–that influence our lives, and our inventiveness that makes those lives better and easier to live.  So much of what I want to share revolves around these two things, and I think that is true for most of us as well.

These days, I rage against LotRO (and other MMOs), but I’m grateful for my time with it.  I never would have met some fantastic people otherwise: people like Mark, John Di Bartolo, and so many others.  Without them I probably never would have been a part of the Middle-earth Network, certainly not before it’s birth.  I still remember the day Mark spoke after who knows how long, and he laid his plans out.  I never would have imagined that this would become the things that it has.  And of course, I’m grateful for Tolkien.  Without him, there would never have been a LotRO for such meetings between such people to take place.  Without him, there wouldn’t have been the stories which have inspired so many people to do so much.  And without the inventive minds behind our computers and the internet, stuff like these games, and these meetings, also never would’ve happened.  Storytelling and overall creativity: these things made even my typing this right now, to be read and shared by people across the world, possible.

And as much as Halo tries to give me grief, I am grateful for Halo, for Bungie, and for Xbox.  Without these I never would have met a person who is now one of my good friends.  Our meeting was a million to one chance (if chance you call it!), and it is a good story.  It is also a story with sadness in it.  Nevertheless, it is still a good story, and that sadness is part of what makes it good, and the story it is.  And for those of you wondering, if I ever decide to share that story, it probably won’t be on this blog.

I’m grateful for Shamus Young, his family, and his blog, which have taught me so much about games, stories, and the various issues within the games industry.  He has also been a great source of laughs and entertainment.  Furthermore, I am grateful that because of Middle-earth Network, I got to actually speak with him on two or three occasions!  I’m also grateful that, through blogging, I’ve gotten to see Mrs. Young, Shamus’ wife,  share her family experiences, and how God always comes through for them when they need it most.  And through Shamus’s blog I never would have met all the people I have and gotten to talk video games with–the Twentysiders (after Shamus’ blog).  I’m grateful for Twitter and how it has allowed myself and my friends to all easily follow and interact with each other (and abuse its reply system horribly!).

I’m grateful I have ten fingers with which I can convey all this to you–no seriously.  Have you ever stopped to think that you have hands that are whole, which allow you to do all the things you do?  Seriously where would we be without our hands?  Let’s be grateful for our hands!  Some people don’t have hands or fingers (anymore).

I’m grateful for all the websites I use: WordPress and Middle-earth Network, which host our blogs, Twitter, and the wonderful digital gaming distribution websites like Steam and Good Old Games.  And I’m grateful for the people who work around the clock, even on holidays to keep these sites up and running for our convenience.  Because of these sites, gaming has never been better or cheaper, and communication has never been easier.

Additionally, it has been swell getting to know Tyler Michael Jonsson, AKA “the American Gollum”, as a person.  He is a fantastic individual, and it has been a pleasure both talking and sharing video games with one another.  I’m also grateful for my Twentysider friend, Krellen, who gifted me my first Dawn of War game for Warhammer 40,000 (which also happens to be the first DoW game. (Yes, my 40k post is coming, I promise!)).  I’m also grateful for my other Twentysider friend, Varewulf, who gifted me the fantastic game Dust: An Elysian Tail (and also taught me a few Norwegian words)!  Then there’s my other other Twentysider friend, Justin–the guy who got me to play the first Deus Ex!  I don’t want to forget the other other other Twentysider, “Time Pyradox“, who throws together a pretty sweet tabletop RPG!  There are many other friends whom I have talked and exchanged games with, and they are too many to mention.

Back to Middle-earth Network, I’m grateful that it has allowed me to meet fellow Tolkien scholars like Joseph Bradford, AKA “LotR Lore”, Britta Siemen, AKA “Tolkien Britta”, and even Dr. Cory Olsen, the Tolkien Professor!

I’m also grateful for my professor back at my old community college who taught many fantastic history and Tolkien courses!  And because of him I also got to meet Colin Havard, the son of one of the Inklings.  Not only that, but Mr. Havard lives in my home town–how crazy is that???

I could go on for days, listing off all the things I am thankful for, but at that point, I was running out of steam listing stuff on Twitter.  Plus it was time to eat.  And the food was wonderful.  I’m grateful for that too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Eowyn and Chauvinism

Back in July, Middle-earth News published the first article in a series of analytical articles on women and chauvinism in Tolkien works, starting with the character of Eowyn.  So for the uninitiated, what is Chauvinism anyway?  The term is actually a bit broader than some make it out to be, with Merriam-Webster describing it as “excessive or blind patriotism” or the belief that your country, race, or sex is superior to others.  In my personal experience, I’ve seen people use it solely as a synonym for a kind of sexism, and that’s how the term is used in this article.

You often get someone who knows little about Tolkien making all kinds of eye-rolling accusations, and as tiring or uncomfortable as it may be, it’s worth having counter-responses prepared.

I never got around to finishing this series, but this first piece was absolutely fantastic.  Go read it now.  I’ll wait.

The author makes FANTASTIC observations; the one that stood out to me was how whenever, Eowyn seems to be pushed to the wayside in the story, it is from the perspective of a character like King Theoden, her uncle–even though he has the best intentions at heart (he even treats Merrry the same way).  How great Eowyn is is always brought to the forefront by other characters like Aragorn, or even minor ones like Hama.

There’s another point concerning this character which was not brought up in the article, that I also feel is important to address, which is in the Houses of Healing with Eowyn and Faramir’s relationship.  Eowyn decides to put down the sword and take up things like gardening.  Some have criticized this as a tough women throwing away her ideals to submit to a man.  This is not the case.  Eowyn comes from a society, modeled after Anglo-Saxon tribes, where war is glorified and is commonly seen as the only way to win any kind of renown.  This can be taken to the extreme that a person has to be a warrior to be of importance or worth.  Theoden, for example, sees himself as a lesser son of greater sires who has let his people down.  His idea of redeeming this fact is to have a glorious death in battle.

In other words: Eowyn believes that to be of worth, she has to be a killer or to be killed; she expresses this herself (not in these exact words, but it’s close–I’m too lazy to crack open the book myself for direct quotes).  She longs for death at the end of a sword rather than to grow old doing “nothing of importance” and can’t seem to see that she is surrounded by people who love her and want her to lead them.

The long story short is this is not Tolkien’s view of war (another fascinating topic worth going in depth about), and Eowyn’s view is a narrow and even poisonous one.  Aragorn even says a shadow was upon her long before her encounter with the Lord of the Nazgul.  So while Eowyn’s (and Merry’s!) role in the battle was extremely important, and a lot of good came from it, war itself is still not a good thing.  It is also very important to mention that Faramir himself had no love for war, and desired to take up the same things as Eowyn: to garden.  Faramir is opening the Shield Maiden’s eyes and showing her war is not all it is cracked up to be.  Indeed while her disobedience to Theoden is seen as a good thing, there was still consequence for her actions–her disobedience: the harm she suffered from the Black Breath, coupled with her own personal “shadow”, leading to her near death experience (requiring not only a physical healing, but a spiritual one as well).  What Tolkien is dealing with here in the story is a completely different theme of war and violence (and even redemption), which is often mistaken for chauvinism, or the theme of such.

That’s all I have for now.

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Past Blast: My Mini-interview with the Tolkien Professor

It’s Past Blast!  A blast from the past!  Wherein the past blasts down the front door of my blog and leaves something I wrote forever ago in a pathetic attempt to fill space on this site.  I could’ve done this forever ago, but my memory sucks.

Once upon a time, I (yes, I) had the privilege of conducting a mini-interview of sorts with Dr. Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor, who makes the best Tolkien/Lord of the Rings related podcasts this side of the internet–and the other side of the internet too.

It was just a chat, really, back when Middle-earth Network was still very much in its infancy.  Our social website was still in beta–its URL only in its first (or maybe even second) iteration out of the many it would be (I think it was “mymiddle-earth.net”?)–Middle-earth Network Specials were known as “The Bird and Baby Podcast”, and we were just an all around smaller community, which made such interactions with “famous types” easy.  It started as me copying the IM conversation, cleaning it up for presentation purposes, and sharing it with my friends as a Facebook Note.  Then our old news director decided she loved it and offered to share it on Middle-earth News.  I thought, “Heck yeah.  Great opportunity.”

And here we are.

The whole discussion centered around the infamous How Lord of the Rings Should have Ended–which is not in the actual news article, despite being in the original note (could’ve sworn it was, but whatever):

The summary is I enjoyed the video, I thought it was funny, but it bothers me that there are people who seriously see this as a major undoing of the entire story.  And I think that is flat out wrong.  I had my own thoughts on the matter but I wanted to see what Dr. Olsen had to say.

Also, I’m immature and want validation from a scholar, so I can go “haha” or something.

But I loved the major point the professor brought up: in wanting the great eagles to fly Frodo and the Ring to Mordor, people have stopped thinking about the story and are trying to circumvent it with their own.  It’s not the story Tolkien wanted to tell, it wouldn’t have actually worked (haha), and above all, it circumvents everything Tolkien’s mythos was about.

See, the great eagles were spirits, and the servants of the Manwë, chief of the Valar.  The Valar rarely intervened in the affairs of Middle-earth, and forbid Gandalf and the Istari from simply fighting the war against Sauron for the Free Peoples themselves.  As Dr. Olsen mentions in the interview:

If the Valar wanted to help in the destruction of the Ring, heck, they wouldn’t even need the eagles.  They could have just vaporized the Ring, or whatever.  […]  When people are thinking only “what would be easiest?” they are not really thinking of the story at all and as I said, that isn’t easiest anyway.  “God unmakes the Ring, destroys Sauron, and undoes all evil everywhere in the blink of an eye” is really much easier still, and simpler.  But that isn’t the world that we live in or that Tolkien wrote about or that anyone would actually want to read about, either.

Making a similar remark as the one I make later in the interview, for the intents and purposes of Tolkien’s mythos: asking why the eagles don’t fly the Fellowship to Mordor is like asking why doesn’t God snap His fingers at eliminate all evil forever?  The two are connected and if you ask for one, you may as well be asking for the other instead.  Yet the eagles always manage to appear in dire situations.  To that end, they are a physical representation of divine providence within Tolkien’s mythos–the Eucatastrophe: the “good catastrophe”.  That sudden, happy turn in a story that comes unhoped and unlooked for, which is set up in the Ainulindalë, the creation myth in the history of Middle-earth, with Melkor’s first defiance of Iluvatar, and which pervades throughout the mythos afterwards:

Then Iluvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Iluvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done.  And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite.  For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’ (The Silmarillion)

Which is a fancy way of saying that since before even the thought of rebellion crept into Melkor’s mind, Evil would lose.  Anything bad Melkor could do would only be ultimately turned around in victory and glory of Good.  The irony of the One Ring’s power, for example, is that everything it did to get back to Sauron was its undoing.  It betrayed Isildur to his death, made Smeagol kill Deagol, slipped from Gollum to the hands of Bilbo, and got Frodo to take it to Morder… to its destruction.  Quite the dichotomy.

For all intents and purposes it had already lost before it started.  The eagles represent a piece of that in a great, unwinding tale, not instant gratification from which there is no struggle, triumph, or ultimately tale.

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