Marcus Fenix needs to die

There's this old adage that legends never die. This is great and all, when the legend has a solid conclusion and there's no sequels but not so much when the story keeps going. It could be said that Marcus Fenix is the heart and soul of Gears of War, so much so that even in the spin-off title they managed to give him a little cameo. But what happens when the story keeps going after the legend? What happens to the legend?

 Sergeant Marcus Fenix in his prime.

Sergeant Marcus Fenix in his prime.

That's the great things about stories, they end. You can wrap a little bow around the narrative and it never changes, you just assume the best. Nobody has to worry about the mountain of paperwork, or the pissed off relatives of those you killed, or the crushing alcoholism that results from PTSD. Unlike real life, stories end... and we don't have to worry about the mess that's left behind. 

Gears of War 4 is set 25 years after Gears of War 3, the original protagonist has had a son and this son, JD Fenix, is now the protagonist of the new series. The only problem is that despite it being 25 years later, and him being a venerable 63 years old, Marcus is still in the spotlight.

 Front and centre, with the new protagonists behind him.

Front and centre, with the new protagonists behind him.

For a good portion of the game, you've got Marcus travelling with you as you explore the changed world of Sera. The Locust, the old enemy that Marcus is so familiar with, may be gone but their mutated descendants are emerging from the shadows. It's the new generations continuing the war that their ancestors never truly finished. But with his daddy by his side, it's like JD, and Gears of War 4, have still got their training wheels on.  They're both too scared to let go of their predecessors to strike out on their own. 

 This wouldn't last... there are no happy childhoods in Gears of War.

This wouldn't last... there are no happy childhoods in Gears of War.

There's this moment in Gears of War 4 where Marcus gets taken, and you find him later on in the game encased in this gooey mutant pod. You think he's dead, but it turns out he's actually alive. It was a shitty fake out.

 It could be somewhat poignant for him to die a meaningless death, it would speak to the overall ignoble futility of war, but I doubt that's what's in store for Marcus Fenix

It could be somewhat poignant for him to die a meaningless death, it would speak to the overall ignoble futility of war, but I doubt that's what's in store for Marcus Fenix

While I do think they should have killed him off, I'm glad they didn't give him such a lame death as being suffocated or dissolved in a pod. Gears of War is about epic battles between heroes and monsters. When Marcus goes out it needs to be with the kind of bang the world of Sera will never forget.

Marcus Fenix needs to die, for both JD and the new Gears of War trilogy to find their feet. They're certainly big shoes to fill, but he has to leave before his son, or anyone, can take his place. If the new trilogy wants to be taken as seriously, and be as well received, as the first then it has to move on from the past and establish some independence. 

 They're a solid cast of characters, I don't know why they weren't fully given the reigns. 

They're a solid cast of characters, I don't know why they weren't fully given the reigns. 

It was cool seeing most of Delta Squad appear in Gears of War 4, but the time for fan service has come and gone. JD and his friends need to leave the veterans behind and step into the darkness on their own, because that's where the real story hides.

 More of this awaits, in Gears of War 5...

More of this awaits, in Gears of War 5...

A study in the most commonly used words in Post Apocalyptic Titles

I was mucking around on Amazon last night, checking out the post apocalyptic works of other indie authors, and I decided to check the regularity of which certain words appear in titles. I spent most of yesterday with my butt glued to a chair watching videos on self publishing and one of the topics was book covers. Contrary to popular belief, you don't want a cover that's a unique little snowflake... you want one that's easily recognizable to your readers. This got me thinking about whether or not the same applied to titles. Which is how I ended up on Amazon checking out other peoples works.

Anyway, after a bit of fudging around, I gathered the following list of most commonly used words in the titles of self published post apocalyptic works. Keep in mind, there's something like 30,000 post apocalyptic titles on Amazon so I only grabbed 85-ish titles. This is not a solid representation of what's actually out there, it was just a bit of fun.

  1. Last - 6
  2. Dark - 5
  3. Sky - 4
  4. Day - 4
  5. Surviving - 3
  6. Fall - 3
  7. Stand - 3
  8. Extinction - 2
  9. Rising - 2
  10. Chaos - 2

Not a bad list, there's some fairly evocative words in there, if you were so inclined you could jumble them all about and come up with a few serviceable titles. 

I woke up this morning and thought I'd take it a step further. I jumped onto Wikipedia and grabbed their list of post apocalyptic titles, which can be found here. It's a collection of post apocalyptic books, comics, games and movies... again, it's not 100% comprehensive but there are 958 titles in there so it's quite a step up from the initial test. After ditching filler words, such as 'a,' 'the,' 'when,' etc, I came up with the following list.

  1. World - 30
  2. Last - 28
  3. War - 24
  4. Earth - 21
  5. After - 15
  6. Dead - 15
  7. Time - 14
  8. End - 14
  9. Planet - 13
  10. Apocalypse - 12
  11. Day - 12
  12. City - 11
  13. Dark - 10
  14. Man - 9
  15. Invasion - 9
  16. Star - 8
  17. Night - 8
  18. Dawn - 7
  19. Legend - 7
  20. Machine - 7

Again, obviously not a complete list but we're getting some definite post apocalyptic flavors here. It's good to see words that describe the scale of the event, such as 'world,' 'Earth' & 'planet,' but we're also getting words like 'war,' 'invasion,' & 'dead' that could potentially speak to the cause of the apocalypse in question. To save you the trouble, the only words to appear on both lists are 'dark,' 'day' & 'last.'

It might not seem like useful information, but there's something to be said for having a title that's easily recognizable as post apocalyptic. Between the 27 words from both lists, you could combine any two of them for a potential of 351 titles. Most of them are going to be rubbish ('Invasion Man'? Ugh...) but the potential is there. Even if you just used one (or more) of these words in a lengthier title, it would still be a title that people will more easily recognize as post apocalyptic. Of course, you could always take one of the variations of the words listed - 'dark' can become 'darker' or 'darkest' for example.

I'm going to play around with these two lists and see what I can come up with, if nothing else it'll be a bit of fun.

Surviving After!

Chaos Star!

Extinction Day?

Dark City... wait, that's actually the title of a pretty good movie.

 

Music Inspiration - Part 1

I listen to a lot of music while I'm writing, which is weird because I was never had a CD collection or went to live shows when I was younger. Somehow Trailer Music became popular with the advent of YouTube, and somehow I stumbled into it... and it's been a pretty happy pairing ever since.

Trailer Music is basically what it sounds like - it's music that's made for movie or television show trailers. It has to emotive because it's usually only going to be used in a quick ad and it needs to really beef up whatever it is the show is trying to convey. This makes it perfect for a writer who is trying to come up with a suitably heavy scene. I love to get this music playing in the background, tap into the feels, and go to town. Whatever emotion you're going for, there is going to be a slew of Trailer songs out there that express it perfectly. 

I don't know about anyone else, but I use YouTube's "like" function as a sort of personal playlist, not to actually show my appreciation or support of creator's content. Which is terrible, now that I've written it down... but anyway! While I've got over 300 likes, I'm not going to drown you in each and every one.

So with that in mind, I've gone through and selected my top 25 Trailer Music songs that I use for inspiration. I'll drip feed them to you over the next... however long, I'm not sure yet. Most of these will be new to you, but it's likely you'll recognize at least some parts of a few of them. They are used in trailers, after all.

Shipping The 100

The 100 is a show that I find problematic. A lot of people around me describe reality television as a "guilty pleasure," well... I can't go so far as to watch reality television and I will continue to wholeheartedly judge those that do, but I can watch The 100 as a guilty pleasure. It's cheesy and the story makes little sense at times, but it's got an interesting cast of characters who go through some serious development across the seasons. The one thing that keeps me coming back though is that it's managed to pull on the old heart strings more than a few times, which is never easy to do. 

A big part of The 100's fanbase is focused on the idea of 'shipping.' Don't freak out if you don't know what that means, when some post apocalyptic pals asked what my favorite 'ship' was I said that it was obviously the Battlestar Galactica.

Oh JJ, poor... blissfully unaware, JJ.

'Shipping' is short for relationships based around TV show characters, and it's one of the driving forces of The 100's popularity. There are whole wiki pages dedicated to the naming of the various couples that could potentially arise on the show. 

Now, personally... I don't care who's banging who in a story. Fictional sex and feely-feels don't really do anything for me. But as a storyteller I can get behind the crafting of compelling relationships between characters, so that's how I've had to frame this fan phenomenon. So without further ado, here's my thoughts on some of the relationships in The 100.

*sigh* what am I doing with my life?

Kabby - Kane & Abby

 They're pretty much the elders of the series.

They're pretty much the elders of the series.

Probably one of the most unexpected relationships in the show, Kane had some surprise character growth early on that set him up to be an interesting character. He's an ex-politician with a religious upbringing who now acts as a diplomat and advocate for peace where ever possible. Abby is the doctor on the show and has been fairly consistent, she lost her first partner in space and mainly cares for her daughter. It's little surprise that they're together, at this point they're the only two characters of that age group that're still alive, but the writers have actually put some effort into the relationship so it never seems forced.

 

Memori - Murphy & Emori

 The freak & the outcast, which is which? You decide...

The freak & the outcast, which is which? You decide...

These two got together because they were both on the outside of society for various reasons and they're both willing to screw anyone else over to survive. They've each got some baggage that influences how they think and react to certain situations and so you could tell that it was more a relationship of convenience than anything more compelling. They were both in similar situations when they first met and so they got together, but by season 5 Emori is trying to improve herself and so they've drifted apart. Sad, but they were each only ever keeping the other company until something better came along for them both. 

 

Bellarke - Bellamy & Clarke

 Two leaders... that's about it.

Two leaders... that's about it.

This is the big one that everyone wants to happen, but personally I hope it never does. These two characters became leaders of the first group of Sky Crew to make it to the ground and while they were at odds most of the time, they quickly came to respect one another. The problem is, because this show is aimed at high school girls there's a lot of fake drama instilled into the narrative and because of this Clarke tends to be a very weak protagonist. She flip-flops around and changes her mind and her world view more times than you can count. Honestly I think she's the weakest part of the show, but the fans love her so they want to see her get together with the leading man.

 

Becho - Bellamy & Echo

 The Sky King and the Ice Warrior

The Sky King and the Ice Warrior

These two have an interesting history together, they first met when she was imprisoned in an old bunker and he managed to save her. Then they had the old back and forth of flirting and betrayal that's so common in this series and finally, after being stuck on a space station for years, they got together. They're both compelling characters in their own right, both comparably powerful and because of the time jump they've already been together for a few years by this point. They're back down on Earth now though, so anything can change at this point.

 

Murven - Murphy & Raven

 The smartass & the hardass

The smartass & the hardass

These two are my favorite characters on The 100. Murphy has got the most compelling backstory and has had some serious character growth, he went from revenge driven psycho to reluctant hero. Raven has been through the grinder as well, she's lost more than most and has been wounded in ways that everyone else is lucky enough to have avoided. They're not together but by season 5 they're stuck on a space station alone together so anything is possible. It's been heavily hinted at that Raven is the only person that Murphy respects and she's got enough clout with him that she can call him out on his bullshit. I think they'd make a good pair, mainly because they've both been through enough and they each deserve a break!

 

A lot of the fans were shocked when season 5 came about and Becho was a thing, largely because it seemed to preclude Bellarke from happening. I'm okay with this, like I said I think Bellamy is waaaay better off with Echo than Clarke. They're simply a more interesting couple, their different backgrounds and comparable skill sets make them a solid pair. Bellamy and Echo can stand together as equals, but Bellamy could never stand as an equal to Clarke on account of the fact that she's the protagonist and messiah-like savior of the world so many times over... despite being such a weak goddamn character. Honestly, in terms of narrative I think Clarke's best character outcome is to be doomed to walk alone, like Jaha.

My fear though, is that Echo will be killed off so that Bellamy has a clean excuse to get with Clarke... simply to accommodate and appease the ravenous fans. It's one of those "getting what you want, not what you need" type situations. It's silly and shallow and it will be a weak and unsatisfying ending, so I hope this doesn't come pass. Despite the shoddy world building at times, the writers of The 100 have managed  to make the relationships pretty compelling so I have faith that they'll come up with something appropriate.

There's a whole heap of other relationships that're pretty good too. Monty & Harper are great together, they're probably going to be that background couple that're always together. Clarke was actually pretty good with Lexa, both being leaders of their respective peoples. The world lost it's shit when Lexa was killed and some ridiculous pledge was developed to try and give gay characters perpetual plot armor, which is just dumb. Nathan was with Bryan for most of the series, and they were good together, but Bryan was killed off for some reason. After this, four seasons in, the writers sort of revealed Jackson to be gay... which seemed like a kneejerk reaction to avoid another Lexa situation. More quote filling than an organic narrative choice.  

It's weird, but the relationships in this show are actually one of the main draw cards, even for me. It's always interesting seeing how these people evolve and whether or not they stay together after they do. The drama is a little contrived at times, and the world building is nigh-terrible, but there's enough solid storytelling to keep me interested. I'm never going to give it a free pass but I'll always give it the time of day.

 

PS - Can I just point out that all these people have been fucking for seven years at this point, and yet somehow nobody has been knocked up? It's the post-apocalypse, there's no rubbers... how are they avoiding babies?

Human Cruelty

I got home from work last night and I decided to sit down and watch a movie. I have a lot of free time on my hands that I don't know how to properly fill just yet.... shut up, I'm working on it. Anyway, I randomly thought of that Kurt Russell Western I'd heard about a few years ago, and so I tracked down Bone Tomahawk.

Bloody hell, that was not a good movie to watch right before bed. 

Long story short; a sadistic tribe of Native American cannibals (nicknamed the "Troglodytes") kidnap a few settlers, a posse is formed and a shit storm ensues. I don't want to get into too much detail, because despite this whole blog post it's a great movie and you should totally go watch it, but there's this scene that has really stayed with me. 

 Pretty scary motherfuckers....

Pretty scary motherfuckers....

Gore/Trigger/Puke Warning for the next paragraph. Also, spoilers?

This deputy is stripped naked and held by a pair of Troglodytes while a third scalps him... and he's held so tightly that all he can do is hang there and scream. Then his own scalp is stuffed into his mouth and it's nailed in there with a wooden stake. After that he's spun upside down and the Troglodytes proceed to hack between his legs with a bone axe, and you hear the deputy screaming and then whimpering through his scalp and then he goes mercifully silent just before his legs are pulled and his whole torso splits apart like a chicken wing... 

It was fucking horrific. 

There's another scene where the settlers come across the women of this tribe of cannibals, and they're all pregnant... but also armless, legless and with stakes in their eyes. The film goes to great lengths to both show and tell you that this tribe is a bunch of horrific fucking monsters. There's even an Native American who lives with the settlers who straight up tells the posse that if they go looking for this tribe then they're all going to die.

 Tall Trees - well spoken, with a dire warning. 

Tall Trees - well spoken, with a dire warning. 

Just the sheer brutality of this tribe was enough to turn my stomach. It's not so much the gore, though I'm no fan of torture porn I've seen enough zombie movies to have become used to it by now, no it was the conscious intent and willful disregard for human life and dignity that did me in. How far do you have to stray from any kind of moral system, or even your own innate humanity, to be able to hack apart another person while they're still alive? How do you even dehumanize another human to the point where they're just meat, not even a living thing that needs to be quickly killed and then eaten but tortured to death and then eaten? How do you get to a stage where you can eat people and impregnate women with no arms, legs or eyes? What has to happen to a person for them to accept that kind of behavior? 

It made me think of this story I read back in university, I'm sorry but I can't remember if it was the Aztecs or the Incas... but this king or priest (fuck, I'm butchering this story) had been overthrown and so his former subjects tied him up into a ball. Then they rolled him down the stone steps of the temple and kicked him around until his back broke. Just... the sheer level of malice required to kick someone until their back breaks baffles and horrifies me. How do you actively make someone's life so full of pain and suffering that they'd choose death just to escape it? The fact that someone could do these sorts of things is terrible to think about, because if one of our species can do it then that means that any one of us could do it too.

But Bone Tomahawk had one last card to play, in the form of Matthew Fox's character - a smooth talking, well dressed, ladies man who is dead eye with a six shooter. He's soft spoken, intelligent and funny all the way through the film, and then half way through you find out that he's an Indian Hunter who has killed 116 Indians in his life. He is a fantastic foil for the Troglodytes; they may use bone weapons and eat other humans but this guy, who is wrapped in the finery of civilization, is a mass murderer as well.  He's never married, he doesn't have kids, he lost his mother and sisters to an Indian raid when he was ten and his whole life has just become this hate-fueled quest for vengeance against them.

 Look at him, you wouldn't think it but he's just as much a broken psychopath as the Troglodytes! 

Look at him, you wouldn't think it but he's just as much a broken psychopath as the Troglodytes! 

The shit we people can do to one another keeps me up at night. I'm used to post apocalyptic stories where people are forced into terrible circumstances and are pushed beyond the limits of morality, I deal with fictional stories about this stuff on a daily basis. But then I go an open a history book and I'm absolutely appalled at some of the things people have done, some of this shit makes you ashamed of the human species.

I hate to end this with a cliche, but they say that truth is stranger than fiction. Well, it's also infinitely more horrific as well. I can pull some twisted shit out of my arse (metaphorically speaking, of course) but it will never compare to some of the horrors that have really happened. The French Revolution, The Raft of the Medusa, Colonial Australia, literally any place communism has come into power, the horrors of fiction can never match these horrors... because they actually happened. 

Post Apocalyptic Music

A lot of authors have this thing where they've spent so long working with a character, that they start to hear songs that they use to help define them. If an author spends long enough working on a project then they're likely to end up with a whole goddamn mixtape that they think perfectly defines their character and their fictional struggles. 

 Funnily enough, Britney's post apocalyptic song was released just ten days after the world ended in my story.

Funnily enough, Britney's post apocalyptic song was released just ten days after the world ended in my story.

Well, as some of you know I spent the worse part of 7-ish (I forget exactly) years on Days Too Dark, and during that time I encountered quite a few songs that I thought fit quite well with the story and themes I was trying to put forward. Some of the songs were actually mentioned in the book itself for this reason, others were just songs that worked really well with the overly angsty crap that the main character is drowning himself in. 

Below is a list of songs that I felt meshed well with Mars and Days Too Dark as a whole, the specific number of them is curious and not just because there's almost enough for a stand alone album here. So, without further ado... the Maralinga Marquardt Mixtape!

  1. Battle Cry - Imagine Dragons
  2. New Divide - Linkin Park
  3. Down Under - Men at Work
  4. What I've Done - Linkin Park
  5. Atlantic City - Bruce Springsteen
  6. Thunderstruck - ACDC
  7. In the Air Tonight - Phil Collins
  8. Paint it, Black - The Rolling Stones
  9. Monster - Imagine Dragons
  10. The Unforgiven - Metallica
  11. Carry on Wayward Son - Kansas
  12. House of the Rising Sun - The Animals
  13. Back in Black - ACDC
  14. Demons - Imagine Dragons
  15. Nine Inch Nails - Hurt
  16. Gary Jules - Mad World
  17. Knocking on Heavens Door - Guns'n'Roses
  18. Silence - Marshmello

Now... there's an obvious theme there, one that I'll get into at a later date. But even with a cursory glance one could tell that these songs speak of conflict, torment and a shitty self-esteem. There's a few hints in there at where the story is going to go too, so if one were to listen to each of these songs they might have an idea of the roads that Mars is doomed to walk.

 Imagine Dragons' song 'Radioactive' is a great post apocalyptic song, with a video that's a little more lighthearted than you'd inititally suspect.

Imagine Dragons' song 'Radioactive' is a great post apocalyptic song, with a video that's a little more lighthearted than you'd inititally suspect.

Funnily enough though, the song that I think speaks for Mars the best is the last addition - Silence, by Marshmello. There's a kind of sorrow about things that've happened, but also a regret about the choices that've been made in response to those troubling events. That's exactly the kind of mood I was going for with Mars, he's someone who has legitimately been through some seriously fucked up shit, but his own choices haven't made his situation any better. It's a great song, and if you haven't heard it then you should definitely give it a listen.   

These are just the songs that have lyrics that I think suit what I was going for with Days Too Dark, and will be going for with the subsequent books in the series. There's a whole other slew of songs that I've got saved on YouTube that're pure inspiration, but I'll get to them in another blog post.

Fallout, Halo and Gears of War

Contrary to the popular opinion of most fans, I actually really enjoyed Fallout Tactics. Whether you prefer Fallout 4 or Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout Tactics was a step away from the norm that brought a breath of fresh air to the franchise while simultaneously expanding the lore. Fallout Brotherhood of Steel can still go die in a ditch though...

 Seriously, how do you fuck up Fallout?

Seriously, how do you fuck up Fallout?

What was great about Fallout Tactics was that it took a series that was originally a single character experience and made it squad based. You weren't just a Vault Dweller or a Chosen One, you were an entire squad within the Midwestern Brotherhood of Steel. One on one, or one on many, combat is great; it's always fun to rush into a mob of Super Mutants with a Minigun and just tear shit up... but Fallout Tactics required, well, tactics. 

 Holding the high ground is very imporant... even against Baby Deathclaws.

Holding the high ground is very imporant... even against Baby Deathclaws.

The setting was roughly the same, the world of Fallout Tactics sort of did away with the Retro Futurism typically found within the Fallout franchise and went with straight Futurism. The key element that differentiated it from the rest of the series was the fact that you had a whole group of soldiers to work with, which gave you gameplay options. But it wasn't just an option, you actually had to rely on setting up your squad strategically for an encounter otherwise half of them were likely to end up as ground chuck. It terms of gameplay you could switch between turn based and real time strategy, which allowed you to set up for those aforementioned encounters and slow things down to act with a bit more precision... or to go in guns blazing. It was a great game, and if you're a fan of the series then I wholeheartedly recommend you give it a go.

 Lots of Easter Eggs in this game. You could even find Riddick... and Harold... and Vault Boy!

Lots of Easter Eggs in this game. You could even find Riddick... and Harold... and Vault Boy!

Now, let's take a slight jump to Halo and Gears of War. Both are Microsoft franchises and both had exactly the same story in their initial trilogies. Humans have been at war with (Covenant/Locust) for a while, eventually humanity discovers that the enemies have been having issues with zombies (Flood/Lambent) and soon these zombies start infecting humanity as well. Eventually humanity finds a way to not only push back the (Covenant/Locust) but the (Flood/Lambent) as well. They've seriously got the exact same story, it's just that one's a bit more sci-fi while the other is more of a gritty war movie.

 So many Spartans in one place... how can they lose?!

So many Spartans in one place... how can they lose?!

The reason I bring this up is that the Halo franchise eventually got a Real-Time Strategy series called Halo: Wars. You played as this group of humans that were flung far off into the galaxy where they went on this whole adventure that didn't really have any impact on the greater plot of the original trilogy. The game was pretty well received, it was Halo after all, and eventually it even got a sequel.

Now we get to the crux of this whole blog post - this is exactly what Gears of War needs. Fallout got a squad based tactical role playing game while Halo got a real time strategy game. Gears of War needs something similar, because if it can work for Halo then it can most certainly work for Gears of War.

The story of Gears of War allows for this, perfectly. Gears are soldiers that fight in squads, for the survival of all mankind, against the ever encroaching hordes of Locust. These monstrous humanoids can pop up anywhere from below the ground and have a tendency to attack in mass with a retinue of horrifically gargantuan beasts by their side. The entire series you've fought through campaigns with squads of 2-5 members, so the tactical squad based combat would suit. Also, there have been countless massive wars fought with primarily infantry units in the series canon... because it's right there in the name - Gears of *War!*

 Delta Squad rolling strong!

Delta Squad rolling strong!

Seriously though, the way the creators have woven perpetual conflict into the very fabric of the setting is fantastic. 

For those who don't know, there's actually a few comics and novels set within the Gears of War universe. They really flesh the setting out a whole lot more than the games ever do, I cannot recommend them enough. My point is that there are countless conflicts within the timeline of the original trilogy that could be the basis of an entire games worth of content, or you could just do like Fallout and Halo did and create an all new campaign in a previously unexplored area.

I would literally burn down an orphanage full of sick children to get a game set in the early days of the Pendulum Wars. You'd start out fighting the Indies (other humans) then somehow get lost down in the Hollows and end up fighting the Locust long before the Human/Locust War ever even began... and you'd know your characters are all going to die at the end because you already know what's going to happen in the future!

Oh man, that'd be so cool.  #nerdgasm

The thing is - this idea isn't even mine. There was actually a game like this already planned for the Gears of War series, it's just that it was never completed. There's a very basic version in the video below, with a lot of assets taken from the original trilogy. Take a look and see for yourself, at the very least the idea has merit. 

It worked for Fallout and it worked for Halo, it could totally work for Gears of War as well. At some point the series should take a small step away from 3rd person shooters and into the more complex realm of real time strategy or squad based tactics games. It might not have the same capacity for multiplayer that the core games do but the series is certainly robust enough that it could manage a strong single player experience.

As I've previously stated, Gears of War is one of those series that I love, it's my Star Wars and/or Star Trek. I not only hope to experience it for years to come, I hope to see it diversify what it has to offer and spread out into different game types. 

What we really need is a Gears of War role playing game... but that's a post for another day.

Mad Max - Mental Health in the Post Apocalypse

There is this scene in Mad Max Fury Road that resonated with me, much more so than the rest of the film already did. Max and Furiosa have led the escape from Immortan Joe and Max is driving the War-Rig through the desert. It's a long journey but eventually the group comes across a transmission tower. The ruins of the old world are already sparse in the Wasteland, we saw some oil derricks and flare stacks at the start of the film but that's it, so this relic of the old world already stands out. What makes the situation even more strange is the fact that there's a naked woman atop the tower.

 It's Megan Gale, butt-naked, in the middle of no where... if that doesn't set off alarm bells.

It's Megan Gale, butt-naked, in the middle of no where... if that doesn't set off alarm bells.

The thing is, Max takes one look at this scene and shakes his head... because he's not having any of it. 

 Nope!

Nope!

Now, you could pass if off as Max's survival instincts being so finely tuned that he can spot a trap a mile away, but I think there's more to it than that. See, if this whole scene was to simply showcase how crafty Max is, they could have placed anything as bait - food, fuel or weapons. The sorts of things that Max, and any man, would *need.* But the trap wasn't set with a bait that a man would need, it was set with a bait that most men would *want.* This is where the writers got it right and where the Vuvalini got it wrong.

(Side note - Can I just point out how bad it is that this trap was even set in the first place? You never really stop to think about it while watching the movie, because the outcome is averted... but look at the intended situation. There's a woman as bait, which means the intended victim was a man. This man would walk along, see a naked woman (who was screaming for help, mind you... so, as unlikely as it is in the Wasteland, he could genuinely want to help her) and go towards her. The trap would spring, Valkyrie would cease to be a helpless maiden and become the warrior-goddess she is and, backed up by the other Vuvalini, would proceed to kill this random guy. It's a subtle nod to the fact that the Vuvalini aren't much better than any of the men in the film. This is backed up by something The Dag says later on, but I'll get to that another day.)

 Brutal survivalists to the last, nobody is innocent in the Wasteland.

Brutal survivalists to the last, nobody is innocent in the Wasteland.

Max is someone who is haunted by his past, by the things he's done and by the things done to him, hence the title of the franchise. All throughout Fury Road we see him being hounded by visions of friends and family, those he's lost along his journey. In particular, there is a little girl that haunts him every step of the way. The only hint we get at Max's relationship with this little girl is when Immortan Joe's favorite wife, Splendid, falls from the War-Rig and is run over by Immortan Joe himself. There is a momentary flash, to Max's past.

 This is what we see - Max cradling the little girl, as she lay dead or dying. 

This is what we see - Max cradling the little girl, as she lay dead or dying. 

This is actually a very important scene in the movie, with the apparent death of one character bringing back memories of the death of another character. Throughout the film we're hearing whispers and seeing flashes of people who are long dead, they meld into the world and seem to harry and haunt at Max at every turn and this scene shows them for what they are - invasive thoughts. Max is someone who is traumatized by his past, to the extent that memories of his past will flash in his brain continuously and without warning. He's lost people close to him, so losing more people makes him think of the people he's already lost, and so he avoids people at all cost. 

"Here they come again. Worming their way into the black matter of my brain. I tell myself they cannot touch me. They are long dead. I am the one who runs from both the living and the dead. Hunted by scavengers. Haunted by those I could not protect. So I exist in this wasteland. A man reduced to a single instinct - survive."

When Max sees Valkyrie standing naked atop the transmission tower, he's not making an intellectual observation about it being a trap. His brain is activating self defense protocols and throwing up walls, telling him it's a trap to protect him from potentially getting close to someone only to lose them later on. There's a reason the Vuvalini used a naked woman as bait, they know that most men will want a woman - as a potential partner, for base physical release or even simply as a meal. The problem here is that Max is having none of that, we can see this early on in the film when he first meets Furiosa and the Wives.

 Six babes... and all he can see is the water.

Six babes... and all he can see is the water.

Max is not interested in getting close to any of these people, he even tries to ditch them before being forced to let them on the War-Rig with him. It's part of his whole story arc; having to learn to stop running, face what happened to him, and let others get close to him again. Max's brain isn't allowing him to even remotely consider relationships, let alone sex, at this stage in his life. He's been so traumatized by losing others that his brain is operating under the assumption that the safest path now is to avoid all emotional connections, for fear of subsequent pain.

So when he saw Valkyrie sitting there, he thought the same thing that any guy would think. But then that thought was overridden by the urge to get as far away from that as possible, simply to escape the possibility of more pain in his life. It takes a certain level of trauma for a guy to see a naked woman and think "threat" instead of "awesome!" And this is why this scene resonated with me, because I've actually been through something similar. Anyone who has read my book, Days Too Dark, probably knows that it's largely based on my life - which, as I always put it, has been "interesting." 

Back when I was eighteen I came home from work one night, I stepped into my bedroom and found two random girls in bikinis laying on my bed. I would like to say that I turned on the charm and tried my best to woo them, because that's what any normal teenage guy should have done... but that just wasn't what I was. No, my initial reaction was spin around and throw up my fists, then stalk through the house looking for the people that were obviously trying to kill me. I saw two scantly clad babes laying on my bed and alarm bells started blaring in my head.

 "Threat! Threat! Threat!" 

"Threat! Threat! Threat!" 

You lose people, you get betrayed, you get abused - your brain blows any potential risk way out of proportion and does it's best to protect you. And why shouldn't it? That's what it's there for. If our ancestors saw a sabertooth tiger out in the wilds, they didn't stop to wonder if it was dangerous, they just fucking ran. This is because those that didn't run never got the chance to breed, simply because they were too busy getting shat out a few days later. Our brains are good at making shortcuts to save time and increase our chances of survival... which sometimes leads to overreactions in the modern world. If a situation, perhaps one involving other people, consistently results in mass amounts of pain and suffering then your brain is going to do it's best to get you out of similar situations.

The problem here is that once those shortcuts are ingrained they're very hard to get rid of, and this is where mental and emotional health issues result. You still want a connection with others, but your brain is operating under the assumption that it's going to result in pain and/or suffering, so it puts a stop to it. Max saw a naked woman standing alone in the desert and his brain perceived the situation as a threat. I saw two hot chicks in bikinis on my bed and my brain perceived the situation as a threat. Both of these reactions are the result of past traumas and they take a lot of time and effort to work through, to undo the lines of defense that your brain has erected... for your protection. 

I'd tell you what happened with the two girls in the bikinis, but that will ruin a part of the story in the sequel to Days Too Dark... needless to say, it didn't go how you'd expect. Although I didn't get the movie treatment, where a character can move on from all their issues within the time-frame of a single movie, I did spend the time, effort and money to move on from a lot of these issues. And I think that's important, because without help it's entirely possible to end up as someone like Mad Max - someone who runs from the living, and the dead. And I can tell you from personal experiences, that it's not as cool or as badass as it sounds. 

 There's nothing cool about always looking over your shoulder for something that's never there.

There's nothing cool about always looking over your shoulder for something that's never there.

Mad Max Fury Road was a fantastic film that had so many layers of plot and backstory written into it, I truly believe that it's one of those films that will stand the test of time. Max's character was so well written, I keep coming back to him over and over just to bask in how flawed he is and how meaningful his character growth is. Far too often we see characters, such as Wolverine and Batman, that are said to have deep-seeded issues resulting from personal trauma... but then they're also shown to be these suave love machines that bed almost every woman they meet. You can't have it both ways, you can't have the cause without the effect... if they're not fucked up by what happened, then it obviously wasn't that big of a deal. Trauma isn't just a trait you can throw onto a character to make them seem dark and brooding, it has to have real and debilitating consequences in the story. Trauma has to be something that characters need to overcome... otherwise, what's the point? 

It was nice to finally see a male character with emotional issues portrayed in a fashion that's more realistic, and it was nice to see him make some headway towards better mental health.  

 He's still got a long road ahead of him, but it's a start.

He's still got a long road ahead of him, but it's a start.

Days Too Dark - Price Drop

Like most things in my life, annoyingly, this involves booze.

I sell booze for a day job, I only recently started drinking again because I hit 5 years sober and my new partner said she'd like to have wine with me on occasion. So I do that, but I'm still not that much of a drinker, which is pretty weird considering I'm around alcohol all the time.

What I see, as someone who sells booze, is the patterns that people go through when they're making their purchases. I never thought this would be useful to me in my actual career as a writer, but then the best lessons in life always sneak up on you. 

We'll take two different beers, Hollandia and 150 Lashes. Hollandia is a cheap shitty Lager that sells for $30 a carton and never goes on sale, while 150 Lashes is a popular Pale Ale that hovers around $50-$60 depending on the sales. Now, without a doubt, 150 Lashes is better than Hollandia, some might even go so far as to say it's twice as good. A shitty beer for $30 or one that's twice as good for $60, it seems like they should be selling at roughly the same rate when quality and price are taken into account.

But the thing is, Hollandia is outselling 150 Lashes like crazy... because most people, even those who can afford it, just aren't willing to pay $60 for a carton of beer. It doesn't matter how much time and effort when into its development and manufacturing, how much it costs to produce it - people just don't want to pay that much money. 

Especially when you take into account the fact that you can get two cartons of Hollandia for the same price as a single carton of 150 Lashes.

Hollandia is "good enough," and there-in lies the issue. You drink beer to get drunk, you can try to make it fancy with your craft beers and what not but at the end of the day it was developed to keep the peasants in line and it's always going to taste like shit compared to what else is out there. 150 Lashes may taste marginally better than Hollandia, but it's the same percentage of alcohol so it's not going to get you any more drunk.

 Lol who drinks beer while reading a book?

Lol who drinks beer while reading a book?

It was something of a shock, as I was standing at work watching the regulars walk in to buy their 3rd carton of Hollandia for the week, when I realized that this applies to eBooks as well.

It doesn't matter how much time and effort you've put into a project, people just want something that's going to distract them for a few hours. This is especially true in the indie-market, where the bar is so low. Low quality isn't just what people are expecting when they purchase an indie author's ebook, they expect to pay low quality prices. 

Now, obviously everyone thinks their own work is great, but you can look at a project and gauge how much time and effort has gone into it. That's never going to be a perfectly fool proof method of sorting the good from then bad, but generally speaking, the more time a creator has spent polishing and perfecting something then the higher quality it's going to be. 

But just like with the booze, the customers don't care how much time, effort and money you pumped into a project, they just want a distraction. And a distraction that costs $10 may be great, but there's a $2.99 distraction over there that's just good enough and that's a whole lot cheaper. 

I've spoken to a few other indie authors over Twitter and some of them are hard working and talented, they put their heart and souls into their work and it really shows. I love talking to these people who are really passionate about the craft of writing, I always learn something when I have a conversation with one of these people.

But then there are others, they talk of writing a single draft, editing it and then publishing. That just sounds fucking horrific to me. I may be coming at this from an artistic standing rather than a money making one, but putting out a product that quickly just sounds lazy and cheap and I honestly don't know how anyone could publish such a rushed creation and comfortably put their name on it.

 I guess that's what pseudonyms are for?

I guess that's what pseudonyms are for?

But that's what we're dealing with, you can put all the time and effort into a project but if people aren't buying it then nobody is ever going to read it.  Of course, everyone would prefer the 150 Lashes to the Hollandia, it's just that they're not willing to pay for it. If they cost the same then they'd no doubt chose 150 Lashes, but they don't so they go for the cheaper option. As much as I'd like to say that I'm solely doing this for the art, I would also like to live off this art as a full time job some day so I do have to learn to play the game. 

Nobody cares how much it cost me to pay for the editing and the artwork of Days Too Dark, nobody cares that I literally spent years of my life writing and re-writing this story. The truth is that the vast majority of my friends and family can't even be fucked buying a copy, let alone going online afterwards to give it a review. The amount of people, so called friends, that have asked me for a free copy of my book is absolutely sickening. If I can't even get people I know to pay for the book at full price, what hope do I have of getting the wider world to give enough of a shit to dip into their pockets? 

I'm never going to be the type of indie author who pumps out trash in the hopes of making a quick buck. I'll keep taking the hard road and putting in the effort, I'll take the time to work my plots and make sure everything is water tight and if I find errors then I'll go back and fix them, even after release. Because that's what I need to do to be able to look at myself in the mirror and call myself, not just a writer, an artist. The only difference is that I'll be lowering all my prices to the bare minimum, to compete with those that don't put in the time... or the effort. 

It's my fault for assuming that people would be willing to pay more for my work, definitely a sobering lesson in humility that I won't forget. From what I can see, even those who have been in the game for a long time still mostly sell their content for pennies. It seems that that's just the way it is these days, indie-stories are the new pulp fiction. Cheaply bought and quickly forgotten. It seems like a hard industry to adjust to, but it's what I've been aiming towards, because I appreciate the creative freedom it affords me.

 Fuck it... I'm in it for the long haul.

Fuck it... I'm in it for the long haul.

It's a tough pill to swallow, but I've got to take the good with the bad. The good thing is though; I can afford to play this game because I currently have a day job, where people buy the inferior of two products simply because it's cheaper... because one distraction is just as good as another.

If you want to check out Days Too Dark then head on over to the Amazon page, it's now a whole lot cheaper that it initially was. 

 Madnatory Post Apocalyptic reference...

Madnatory Post Apocalyptic reference...

Van Helsing - poorly executed Post Apocalyptic Feminism

So I was chatting with a mate on Twitter about Van Helsing, it's a Post Apocalyptic TV series about vampires. He's been trying to get me to watch it for a while now and I finally caved and started watching it with my girlfriend. We're only up to the second episode and I took issue with a scene in particular. Don't worry, I'll still watch it all the way through... my girlfriend loves it, and I need to study it.

 This is ahead of where I'm up to, but the cast is actually pretty interesting thus far. 

This is ahead of where I'm up to, but the cast is actually pretty interesting thus far. 

Basically, Vanessa, the protagonist, arrives home and we hear a domestic going on in one of the other apartments. A couple is arguing, we hear strikes, then a man storms out into the hallway. After a short altercation with Vanessa, the man proceeds to get his arse handed to him.

Now, as previously stated over and over, I've got no problem with strong female leads. You couldn't have a show like this without the main character being a badass, so that's not the issue. My issue is that we learn she's a badass by way of seeing her kick the shit out of a guy who is clearly an abusive partner. It's not enough for her to be able to beat the crap out of a guy who is much larger than her, she's got to beat the crap out of a guy who is proven to be abusive towards women. 

That's my issue.

I get what the show is trying to do but the whole thing, to me, lacks subtly. The writers want to show off Vanessa as being a competent fighter and someone who is willing to step into harms way in order to protect the ones she cares about, that's fine. But they took it a step too far in their attempt to virtue signal, because now Vanessa isn't just protecting her friend... she's beating a guy who beats women, she's "striking back against the patriarchy" so to speak.

 Yellowstone National Park went boom, which explains why the sky is blacked out... which in turn allows the vampires to get around. From what I've seen thus far, it's actually a pretty good set up.

Yellowstone National Park went boom, which explains why the sky is blacked out... which in turn allows the vampires to get around. From what I've seen thus far, it's actually a pretty good set up.

But in the scene before this one, she's rebuffing a guy who asks her out while she's giving blood, so straight off the bat we've got this anti-male sentiment that has a high probability of turning away male viewers. Now, we could go down the road of "the show isn't written for you, a straight, white male, so stop complaining!" but I'd say that it should be written specifically for me. It's me, and people like me, that you want to convince to watch this show!

There's no use in preaching to people who already believe the same things you do, that's just wasted breath. What you want is to convey your message to people who don't believe the same things you do, to try and sway them to your way of thinking. But to do that, you've got to deliver your message in a way that's palatable enough for them to sit through and willingly swallow. Annoying your intended audience by forcing them to roll their eyes in amusement or disgust is not a good way to get your message across. 

Vanessa is a badass, there's a female doctor who's her sister works for the military in some capacity, while the leader of the military unit that comes to secure the hospital is also female. All of these female characters are great representations of strong and capable women, one of them even has a whole unit of trained men who follow her orders. That's how you get your message across, with subtly and nuance, by simply having women who are clearly competent, respected and holding positions of power. This is not a hard pill to swallow because it's not in your face with some "girls rule boys suck rah rah rah" message, it just is. 

Have your female protagonist beat the crap out of a guy, that's awesome. Have a whole bunch of men defer to her trained judgment, that's cool too. But the second you make her beat a guy who's an abusive partner, that's saying something. It crosses the line into the territory of moralized preaching... and nothing turns viewers away quicker. 

I've got no problem with the message these shows are trying to convey, there's been a serious shortage of great female leads in shows and movies - especially in action roles. But there's gotta be a smarter way of going about it than what I've been seeing. You don't need to pull men down to raise women up, that's only going to foster resentment and resistance to the idea of seeing women as equal. Which, if I'm not mistaken, is kind of the opposite of what the creators of these shows would like to happen.

As I stated at the start of this post, I was talking to a mate about this over Twitter and one of the writers of the show popped in, then the showrunner did as well. We all kind of got into it and I got accused of mansplaining (which is just the weakest form of rebuttal) and pretty much told that my subjective views weren't viable.  The sad part is, we're all wanting the same thing, better representation and an improved society. But judging from the fact that I got told by the show runner that "this is TV, not Tolstoy" they evidently don't care enough about their own show to put in the effort required to tell a half decent story.

 First they try to convince me the character wasn't an abusive partner, then they tell me to lower my standards for shows... that's a really shitty attitude for a Showrunner to have. 

First they try to convince me the character wasn't an abusive partner, then they tell me to lower my standards for shows... that's a really shitty attitude for a Showrunner to have. 

I want better stories. I want shows that manage to stay on the air for more than two seasons to take more care in the manner in which they deliver their messages. Considering how easily great shows get cancelled these days, it's almost a responsibility to tell a good story and to convey the right message. Considering how many people watch television these days, it's not something to be taken lightly. 

But of course, it's far easier to take the populist route and reinforce the opinions of the baying masses who already agree with you, rather than challenge and attempt to change the opinions of those who stand against you. So maybe they're less interested in social change than they purport themselves to be and are in fact simply interested in appealing to as many people as possibly to maximize revenue...

...yeah, that's probably it.