Toxic Masculinity in Den of Thieves

Maaaaassive spoilers for Den of Thieves.

Den of Thieves is a cops and robbers bank-heist film that has be dubbed an inferior version of Heist, the quintessential example of this genre. One of key complaints about Den of Thieves is the amount of raw machismo that’s present, as 99% of the cast look like they’ve walked right out of the WWE. Because of this, a lot of the feedback and reviews of Den of Thieves tend to get lost in all the muscles and gunfire and lose sight of the message the film is actually trying to convey. Despite the apparent muscle-bound bone-headed plot, I’d put forward that there is actually a level of subtly that most people missed or just straight up chose to ignore.

Den of Thieves focuses on three men; Nicholas "Big Nick" O'Brien , a dirty cop who plays by his own rules, and Ray Merrimen, an ex-marine turned bank robber. Both these men are the epitome of Alpha males, they walk into a room and they own it regardless of what’s going on. The third is Donnie Wilson, a shorter, less physically imposing man who works in a bar. While the first two had years in the military or law enforcement and played football, Donnie only had a year and a half in the military, and played soccer. Straight off the bat, this guy is pegged as less masculine than the other two and he’s even told directly that he’s not in the same league as either of them.

“You aren’t the bad guys. We are.”

“You aren’t the bad guys. We are.”

We meet Big Nick when he walks onto a crime scene, clearly hung over, where he pulls a doughnut from the ground before eating half of it and tossing the rest next to the body. Screw procedure, to hell with contaminating the crime scene, Big Nick is a maverick cop who doesn’t give a shit but he gets results, goddamn it! A key part of his character is his attire, you could put him in a biker bar and he would blend right in. The beard, scraggly hair, rings and leather jacket all send the clear message that this is not a man with which you want to fuck.

God-fucking-damn, he’s just so cool…

God-fucking-damn, he’s just so cool…

And then in walks an FBI agent, Lobbin’ Bob, who has been called to the scene of the crime because it involved the theft of an armored car that resulted in the deaths of several police officers. Lobbin’ Bob is smaller, clean shaven with a nice haircut, and he’s wearing a suit. These two know each other and clearly don’t like one another. Lobbin’ Bob is everything that Big Nick is not and the later even makes fun of the former being a vegan. State and Federal law enforcement issues aside, there is a conflict in their different approaches to masculinity.

Big Nick is a man’s man and he likes to stay out all night, drinking and doing drugs with his buddies while banging hookers. We see him slinking home one morning, Everlast’s “What It’s Like” playing in the car, and his wife catches him deleting his call log in the kitchen. He was so drunk or stoned, or both, the night before that he accidentally sent her a text instead of the girl he’d just finished drilling. Needless to say, his wife takes their two daughters and leaves…. but not without mentioning that she’s going to go find a guy that can get his dick hard for her.

Looking at his home life, we can see that he’s surrounded by women which probably contributes to why he’s so married to the job. He probably feels so out of place there that he doesn’t know what to do with himself when he’s around them. Cheating on his wife aside, he is genuinely distraught when he realizes she’s taking their daughters away. On top of this, despite him clearly being able to snap her like a twig, when she begins to lay into him, he just stands there and takes it without hitting back. He may be a piece of shit, but he’s clearly got some principles.

Ray - an ex-marine turned career-criminal… I wonder what happened to him?

Ray - an ex-marine turned career-criminal… I wonder what happened to him?

Ray Merrimen, and a few of his gang of bank robbers, are ex-military. Despite turning to a life of crime, they’ve still kept some of that code of conduct and it’s translated into a sort of honor-among-thieves. While they’re quite content to gun down security personnel and police officers who stand in their way, they chose not to shoot any civilians even if they’re witnesses to the gang’s crimes. They were trained to shoot people in uniforms, not civilians, and so that’s what they do, they repeatedly let innocent bystanders go. Ray is ruthless, but just like Big Nick he’s not without principles.

Just a little chat…

Just a little chat…

While Ray doesn’t have any kids of his own, one of his gang, Levi Enson Levoux, has a wife and two daughters. His eldest daughter is about to go to her prom night, and her date arrives to pick her up. Levi takes the young man into the garage for a chat, where he’s met with half a dozen bodybuilders, Ray included, who could probably pull him apart like a chicken wing. They threaten the young man into treating Levi’s daughter right, and go into great detail about what will happen to him if anything happens to her. The cocky young man who walked through the front door to pick up his date leaves in a decidedly more terrified state.

…with this lot!

…with this lot!

The families of the men, the two who have families that we actually see, being all women is an important part of the film. Because despite these men choosing to surround themselves with other men, in the aspects of their lives where they don’t have any control they’re surrounded by women. As macho as Big Nick and Levi Levoux both are, neither of them have any sons and there will be nobody to carry on their names after they’re gone. As much as these men have tried to rid themselves of anything remotely feminine, they’ve been unable to fully escape it. It’s a hint that no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be able to live in modern society and escape women… because they’re a key part of it too.

As all this is going on, the robbers are planning to rob the federal reserve bank, while the cops are trying to figure out who they are, what they’re up to and how to stop them. Big Nick ends up nabbing Donnie, who wakes up in a hotel room full of police officers and hookers. They make light of the fact that he pissed himself when Big Nick tasered him and then basically torture him into telling them everything they want to know about Ray’s gang. Donnie tells them that he’s their driver and agrees to be a snitch for them. This tiny, unimposing man has suddenly found himself caught between two beasts who will stop at nothing to succeed.

Big Nick gets served divorce papers from his wife, and he tracks her down and actually confronts her while she’s on a double date with some friends and a new man. This new guy is tiny and timid, more so than any other male in the movie, and you can see that his wife has gone for the complete polar opposite of Big Nick. “Metro” would be the right word to describe the two men on this double date. Needless to say, Big Nick walks into the room and despite the fact that one of them is quite well-built, it’s obvious he’s someone who goes to the gym for fitness and isn’t actually tough. Big Nick threatens everyone, forces the man who’s on a date with his wife to hug him, and then signs the divorce papers and leaves. He’s the toughest guy in the room, everyone knows it, but he still leaves defeated.

This is where some of that aforementioned subtly comes into play. In the very next scene when he’s having a meet-up with Donnie to learn about the gangs plans, he’s in a men’swear store looking at suits. He’s been wearing leather the entire film, he made fun of Lobbin’ Bob for wearing a suit at the start, but right after the scene where he dominates the two men his wife was on a double date with he’s trying on a suit of his own. He’s already figuring out that maybe his approach isn’t the only, let alone best, way to deal with life. He’s lost his wife, he couldn’t scare her into taking him back… so he’s going to explore what the other guys are doing, by trying on a suit.

But there are still criminals who are going to rob a bank, so Big Nick goes and has a pissing contest with them, just to let them know he’s onto them. He meets Ray Merriman at the shooting range and starts showing off with his pistol, but then gets shown up himself because he forgot that Ray was a marine and can shoot at center mass like the trained killer he is. Not willing to give up just yet, Big Nick goes to strip club and picks up Ray’s girlfriend and bangs her… but then that was all part of the plan, because Ray told her to go along with it and to feed him some bad information. Neither men really saw this woman as worth anything, she was just a piece of trash to be used to get to the other. Ray doesn’t even care that Big Nick screwed his girl, he just goes ahead and sleeps with her afterwards as well.

Also, Donnie gets a gun in his face… but more on that later.

Also, Donnie gets a gun in his face… but more on that later.

Big Nick gets to see one of his daughters one last time before the big robbery, and he ends up breaking down in his car afterwards. Along with this, there’s a scene with Big Nick standing alone on a beach at sun rise, or sun set. Either way, it’s a moment of reflection for him. He’s not only got time to think about the battle ahead, but he’s got time to think about how he ended up standing there alone instead of being at home in bed with his wife. Den of Thieves does have lulls in the action like this, ones that hint that there’s more going on beneath the surface.

The day of the robbery arrives, and it’s suitably hectic. Big Nick and his team get fooled by a distraction, thanks to the bad intelligence Big Nick was fed by Ray’s girlfriend, where the gang pretend to rob one bank but quickly sneak away undetected to commit the real robbery elsewhere. Ray and his gang succeed in robbing the federal reserve bank, a historical first, but quickly get bogged down in a traffic jam. With Big Nick and his team close behind them, the two groups of men prepare for the inevitable shoot out.

They have this massive shootout between two lanes of stationary cars, and not all the civilians were able to escape the scene in time.

They have this massive shootout between two lanes of stationary cars, and not all the civilians were able to escape the scene in time.

One of Big Nick’s team is killed, most are injured, while most of Ray’s gang are killed. Levi Levoux’s dying words are of regret for his daughters. Once the dust has settled, Big Nick is left with no stolen money and a dead teammate, and it’s up to him to call the man’s wife and explain what happened. Lobbin’ Bob shows up, says he’s sorry about Big Nick’s dead teammate and then tells him that he really needs to stop smoking. He then offers him a piece of organic nicotine gum, and here’s the clincher…

He fucking takes it!

Boom.

Boom.

Big Nick has had nothing but contempt for Lobbin’ Bob the entire film, and every time they’ve met they’ve butted heads. But now, having lost his wife and kids, and having to call a fellow officers wife to explain that he’s been killed in the line of duty, he realizes that he can’t punch or intimidate his way out of every problem. And the guy who’s spent the whole movie eating doughnuts, drinking booze and taking drugs, suddenly takes a piece of organic nicotine gum. It’s not a 180 degree turn, it’s not even a 90 degree turn, but it’s a small step in the right direction. Big Nick managed to survive to the end, and although being the alpha dog has gotten him through the job, it’s left the rest of his life in tatters. Even though we never get to see if it’s successful or not, trying on the suit, breaking down at seeing his daughter, and taking the gum, all hint that he’s at least considering the prospect of changing his ways.

And the thing is, the one man to come out on top was Donnie. The small, unassuming guy that everyone else beat up and pushed around, he outsmarted them all and got away with all the money. He had his own plan going on the whole time, and despite being surrounded by guys twice his size with kill counts that’d make Rambo blush, he beat them all. And this is why I hated that this film got slammed by critics and movie-goers, because nobody fucking understood what it was trying to say.

Den of Thieves is an analysis and exploration of masculinity in the modern age, about how the old school ways don’t work anymore. You can’t be a caveman in the modern age, because we’re not running from saber-toothed tigers any longer. Reviews, articles and blog posts such as this, this, this, this, this and this all focus on the fact that toxic masculinity is present and seem to miss the fact that the movie is actually about toxic masculinity. Being a hyper masculine douche-bag either gets you killed, or leaves you with nothing - that’s the message of this story. The tiny and timid guy gets Big Nick’s wife, the soft and pudgy Donnie gets away with millions of dollars. You can be fit, you can be strong, but the Marlboro Man “tough guy” routine isn’t a surefire path to success anymore.

My problem is that Den of Thieves is a great exploration of this, but people were so quick to tear it down without even trying to figure out what it meant. If they’d actually taken a moment, they would’ve realized that it’s a film that appeals to guys, especially macho guys, but one that ends up showing them that this path isn’t always the best option in life. If they’d given it a chance, they would’ve realized that it’s actually helping bring about the changes they desire. Instead, people just saw the typical macho characters and decided that it was worth more as fuel for the outrage engine, rather than something that would appeal to those they actually want to change. Den of Thieves is a film that’s about men, for men. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it makes it the perfect vehicle to get a message across to them.

“You should listen to us, we know how you should behave as men…'“

“You should listen to us, we know how you should behave as men…'“

Shows like Orange is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale and Wynonna Earp are all shows that are insincere attempts to evoke some sort of social change, because they’re designed to preach to those already converted. Nothing those shows say is ever going to reach the ears of those their creators purport to want to change the opinions of, because they’re not designed for them. What guy, toxic masculinity or no, is gong to watch a film or show with all female leads, where all men are perpetual oppressors and enemies? It’s ridiculous to think such an approach would work, it’s ridiculous to the point of it being literally unbelievable. It’s like trying to catch a mouse with a bullhorn and then complaining when it doesn’t work - at a certain point, you should probably just admit that you don’t really want to catch the mouse.

Toxic Masculinity, or poor mental and emotional health for men, whatever you want to call it, is an important issue. Whether you want to admit it or not, there is something of a identity crisis going on with men in the modern age - we don’t know who to be anymore. Do we be like Don Draper and fuck all the women, or do we be like Conan and crush the skulls of our enemies and then fuck all the women? Or do we play video games and jerk off to porn in our parents basements, complaining that women don’t pay us any attention? Or maybe we should wear skinny jeans, drink soy lattes and try to get her just drunk enough that we can escape the friendzone? The roles of men and women are changing, and have been for the past century, and we’re still unsure where we all want to land when things settle down. I don’t want to backhand my future missus for talking out of turn and then demand she make me a sandwich, but at the same time I don’t want her backhanding me either.

My old man used to travel the world and go on all sorts of crazy adventures for work, while mum stayed at home to raise my sister and I. He had all the money and he would dole it out to her, always asking what she wanted it for and nitpicking over every cent. Also, he was gone for so long so damn often, that it was awkward when he was home. The family wasn’t complete with dad home, there was just an extra person in the house… one you had to tiptoe around. He’s been gone for coming up on eight years now, and let me tell you that you don’t want to be the sort of person whose absence makes life easier.

I’m not saying he was the devil, far from it, and I’m sure as shit not saying that I’m a saint. I’m also not saying that I want to do the complete opposite to him and give my future missus all my money and have her dole it out to me instead. The opposite extreme is just as bad, it’s the same situation only in reverse. You don’t have to become a complete whimp, and reject everything that it means to be a man… that’s just asking for trouble. But there’s gotta be some smarter middle ground that can be found, where things work out for all involved.

It’s a little easier to swallow this pill if you’re hearing it from a guy who’s clearly a successful alpha boss… instead of hearing it from some weak and pathetic failure who’s clearly just trying to lower the bar to the point where he becomes accepted.   Seriously though, Terry Crews is awesome and this is legit the only autobiography I’ve ever read. Check it out.

It’s a little easier to swallow this pill if you’re hearing it from a guy who’s clearly a successful alpha boss… instead of hearing it from some weak and pathetic failure who’s clearly just trying to lower the bar to the point where he becomes accepted.

Seriously though, Terry Crews is awesome and this is legit the only autobiography I’ve ever read. Check it out.

This all stems back to my own book, Days Too Dark. I wanted a character that was so down on himself and wrapped up in his own shit that he didn’t realize how much harm he was causing himself and others. You can get so twisted up by the expectations of yourself and others that you become this warped shadow of what you’re meant to be, one that is… dare I say “toxic” to the surrounding world. That’s what I wanted to explore with Days Too Dark - a story about a man, for men. It’s only part one, so things are going to progress from there and without ruining things - obviously he learns the error of his ways, all for the betterment of others, but also for himself.

Men have the ability to fuck shit up when needed, we used to hunt and chase down wild game and fight off the warriors of enemy tribes. We can either use that strength to lift up those around us and make them feel safe and secure, or we can push them down and make them feel scared and weak. The thing is, we all die eventually and nobody is intimated by a corpse. If you’ve spent your whole life making those closest to you feel intimidated and afraid, they’ll breathe a sigh of relief once you’re gone and never have a nice word to say about you… if they ever speak of you at all.

Films like Den of Thieves are needed, because they analyse the male archetype in a way that men will find appealing. But if they’re always torn to shreds because they’re not more female-focused, then the message will never get across and the desired change will never be achieved. Everyone knows you get better results when you change things from the inside, rather that from the outside. You can get a show like Orange is the New Black to screech at men about how shit they are, or you can get a film like Den of Thieves to show them that there’s a better way of doing things... in a language and manner they’ll actually understand. Both have Pablo Schreiber in them, so take your pick.


“God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes,
'Cause then you really might know what it's like to sing the blues “









Fallout 76 - a Post-Apocalyptic Playground

I hit level 50 in Fallout 76 recently, so I finally feel ready to write about the game. I’ve explored the world and seen most, but not all, it has to offer. Fallout 76 has been a buggy mess since release, but I’m not going to focus on that. Despite the obvious fact that a game should be as solid as possible upon release, bugs can be fixed and I’m sure Bethesda will get to them all eventually. This write up will be about the game as a whole, so there’s going to be some good as well as some bad.

I was worried when the game was announced, you can even read my initial impressions back here, but this trailer was the major red flag. The lighthearted, “fun” tone is totally at odds with what Fallout has always been about. Well, with what it was originally about. On one of my many Twitter rants, I likened it to the frog in boiling water. Fallout has been changing ever so slightly since Bethesda took over and it’s only now that we can see how far it’s drifted away from its original course. Gone are the days of bleak, gallows humor about the worlds end - now it’s all about the carefree romp through the wasteland with your friends.

Nothing showcases this shift in focus from “the dark horrors of war” to “fun with friends” so much as having the ability to launch nukes of your own. No more philosophical debate about whether humanity deserves to live on as the masters of earth after such a monumental act of collective stupidity as the Great War.  Fuck it, nuke your friends camp for shits and giggles!

Nothing showcases this shift in focus from “the dark horrors of war” to “fun with friends” so much as having the ability to launch nukes of your own. No more philosophical debate about whether humanity deserves to live on as the masters of earth after such a monumental act of collective stupidity as the Great War.

Fuck it, nuke your friends camp for shits and giggles!

Fallout 76 is fun, I’ve played it long enough to get to level 50 and I’ll likely continue to play it, but it’s a kids version of Fallout. Remember when you were a kid and you’d play with whatever toys you had on hand? Leonardo would team up with Cobra Commando to take on Funshine Bear and his legion of Bratz dolls. It was your own version of Toy Story. Well, that’s what Fallout has become. It’s a world that’s pretending to be Fallout, and although it’s got all the right bits it doesn’t make any sense. I’m going to have to tap into some serious lore-snobbery here, but it’ll pay off so just indulge me.

Come on, I had to…

Come on, I had to…

First off, the setting. Fallout 76 has some beautiful looking environments, and they’re all very different from one another. You know when you’re standing in Cranberry Bog as opposed to the Toxic Valley, they’ve each got their own character and it really shows. Appalachia as a whole is a diverse environment and it’s great to explore, the only problem is that it was never hit with a nuclear weapon. For a series about a post-nuclear Armageddon, that’s kind of important. The rest of the world, and every other fallout game, is a radioactive desert due to direct nuclear strikes but Appalachia is lush and vibrant and only received some secondary radiation at worst. Why would you make a game about post-nuclear war, and then set it in the one location that wasn’t nuked?

It looks pretty… but has Fallout ever been pretty?

It looks pretty… but has Fallout ever been pretty?

Originally, the Brotherhood of Steel didn’t even know that Super Mutants existed until 2161 but in Fallout 76 they’re fighting them in 2102. It sounds trivial, but it’s a discrepancy of 59 years. It’d be similar to a historical fiction story about Australia getting involved in the American Revolutionary War, or Israel fighting in World War 2. Sure, all parties are technically around, in one form or another, but it’s a pretty big stretch for them to meet at said points in time. Fallout 76 has had to bend over backwards to try to explain why all these groups and monsters are present when it doesn’t really make sense for them to be.

The Brotherhood of Steel had a chapter in Appalachia who joined via satellite, even though the Brotherhood were traitors who went through some serious character altering shit. Never mind the fact that no loyal military unit would join traitors, why would the Brotherhood want to bring in people who hadn’t been through the same ordeals as them? Ever tried to get into a military bar when you’ve never served? Those motherfuckers are so cliquey they make high school cheerleaders look open and inviting.

The worst part is that they turned the founder of the Brotherhood of Steel into a whiny, idealistic bitch…and turned his son into the hardass who made them isolationist. They weakened the setting as a whole, just to get this game out…

The worst part is that they turned the founder of the Brotherhood of Steel into a whiny, idealistic bitch…and turned his son into the hardass who made them isolationist. They weakened the setting as a whole, just to get this game out…

Super Mutants are present, but they were created before the war because a company decided to test out the Forced Evolutionary Virus on a town. This totally breaks canon because the FEV was taken from them a year before the Great War, and that’s all tied in with the Brotherhood of Steels origins. Similarly, Deathclaws are this mythological nightmare that’s whispered about around campfires in 2161, but decades earlier in Fallout 76 they’re common as mud. How did they even get there? The Enclave are present, and they’re probably the only pre-existing faction that has an honest reason to be present.

But then it doesn’t matter anyway, because all humans and ghouls are dead. Which is the next major issue with Fallout 76, the fact that there are only robot NPC’s. Bethesda came up with a contrived pretext as to why they didn’t need to include human or ghoul NPC’s and it’s weak as piss. A plague killed them all, juuuust before you came out of the vault. The big moral of the story is that the different groups didn’t work together and so they got wiped out one by one - so you should learn to play nice with your fellow Vault Dwellers and develop some teamwork skills.

The second you leave the vault - dead body. And it just spirals from there.

The second you leave the vault - dead body. And it just spirals from there.

We could have come out of Vault 76 at the height of the Scorch Plague - with all the different groups at each others throats while trying to survive or solve the situation. Towns could be getting overrun with refugees, with Responders and the Free-States helping out where they could. The Brotherhood could’ve been fighting Scorchbeasts head on and the Enclave could’ve been trying to help out and profit from the shadows. Hell, even the Raiders could’ve been convinced that it was in their best interests to help out against the larger threat. We could’ve been the unifying element that worked with all of them and saved Appalachia… but instead we walk into a dead world and we save a dead world.

Who gives a shit?

As someone who has written an epistolary novel, check it out here if you feel like, I can tell you that this style of storytelling has some serious limitations. It’s great to find letters and recordings of characters scattered about the world, it can certainly add depth to a setting, but overall it can get real old. The mere fact of the document already existing in the world, means that someone had to make it which means it’s a past tense document that can only ever really deal with the past. Bethesda had to do some narrative acrobatics to have dead characters recording instructions on how to complete missions. But even then, these characters aren’t talking to you - they’re talking to a recorder in the hope that someone, someday, will listen and opt to follow the instructions of a dead person.

Prerecorded Holotape - “Feral Ghouls have overrun the town, go kill them!”

Me - “Why? Nobody lives here…”

Prerecorded Holotape - *No answer because it’s a prerecorded holotape*

The thing is that all these epistolary documents give Fallout 76 a pretty amazing backstory, but that’s not the same thing as a story. The backstory is part of the setting, it’s the worlds history and it’s what grounds the story and gives events and your own actions some weight. Story is what actually happens through the game and although the world of Fallout 76 (despite its inconsistencies) is pretty damn detailed, the story is severely lacking.

Basically, you run around and join all these factions that have been wiped out and you pick up their individual pieces of the puzzle and combine them to “save” Appalachia. Never mind the fact that Taggerdy’s Thunder, a unit of Army Rangers, shouldn’t have joined the Brotherhood of Steel, you can then go and join the Brotherhood of Steel through them. There’s no connection to the original faction 3000 miles to the west, because the satellites went down ages ago, and everyone in Appalachia is dead. But, somehow, you can still call yourself a part of the Brotherhood of Steel. Cool, in that case, can I be a Viking? They’re all dead, and I’m in Taiwan, but apparently time and distance don’t really matter for membership these days.

The Brotherhood could’ve been any military based organisation, they were already “Taggerdy’s Thunder” so they could’ve just stayed that and there wouldn’t have been an issue.

The Brotherhood could’ve been any military based organisation, they were already “Taggerdy’s Thunder” so they could’ve just stayed that and there wouldn’t have been an issue.

The thing is that the bones of a great game are here, they’re just buried under this weird mutant flesh that doesn’t look right. The Scorched are a kinda cool faction… they’re basically just feral ghouls who can use weapons, but over all the idea is pretty good when you take into account the fact that the plague can affect other creatures too. And Scorchbeasts are awesome, as long as you look past the fact that they’re basically just bat versions of Skyrim’s dragons. The automation that Appalachia was going through before the Great War makes for a great setting. Not only are there still robots buzzing around the dead world, but you can explore what was happening as miners were losing their jobs left and right to robots.

Not only that, but there was political upheaval on a grander scale as well, and that’s why we had the Free States - a group of secessionist survivalists who built bunkers and fled from the world. Also, the Responders were a great faction, they were emergency services personnel who banded together to help people and they kept helping them long after the Great War ended. Even the Raiders had a cool twist from the usual bottom feeders who raid out of necessity. They were the rich elite who were just a bunch of dicks, raiding Appalachia from a luxury resort in the mountains because they felt entitled to what everyone else had. Then there’s the Mole Miners - miners who were trapped underground during the Great War. They’ve mutated into hunched over freaks who need breathing apparatus just to survive, and they’ve got some weird connection with Mole Rats. The makings of a great game are here, Bethesda just didn’t follow through with it.

The Snallygaster is one of the few original creations for Fallout 76 and it’s legitimately awesome. This thing is terrifying to behold!

The Snallygaster is one of the few original creations for Fallout 76 and it’s legitimately awesome. This thing is terrifying to behold!

It’s pretty obvious that Fallout 76 was a cash grab, rather than a true attempt to make something creatively original or worthwhile. You can see it in the reused assets from Fallout 4, the factions and creatures included for brand recognition at the cost of lore integrity, players replacing NPC’s as a way to get out of having to pay people to write and voice NPC dialogue, you can see it in the repetitively mundane and inane fetch quests and you can certainly see it in the micro-transactions. This is surface level Fallout, a shallow attempt to cash in on the brand name and I’m honestly glad it’s failed so spectacularly. If a company as large as Bethesda can fuck up this bad, and have fans turn on them so readily, it should serve as a warning to others to take their series’ more seriously.

For the most part, the game is passably fun. The core mechanics of Fallout 4 are there, with a lot of varied biomes and great gun play. I personally love running around as a survivalist, collecting scrap and working on my base camp. Because Fallout 76, more so than any other modern Fallout game, is a sandbox. You run around and play make believe, and it’s a fun way to kill a few hours. Try not to worry about the fact that the world doesn’t make sense, just enjoy your time there. I’ll keep it, but Far Cry New Dawn just got announced and so I’m already thinking of picking up Far Cry 5 in preparation for that. I’m someone who has played the Fallout series since the late 90’s, and Fallout 76 is already falling off my radar… that’s not good.

Far Cry New Dawn is to Far Cry 5 what Fallout 76 is to Fallout 4 - an extension of the game with a lot of reused assets. The only difference is, Ubisoft don’t treat these projects as a chance to save money - rather as a chance to get great content out quickly. It worked for Far Cry Primal, which had basically the same map as Far Cry 4, so it’ll work here too.

Far Cry New Dawn is to Far Cry 5 what Fallout 76 is to Fallout 4 - an extension of the game with a lot of reused assets. The only difference is, Ubisoft don’t treat these projects as a chance to save money - rather as a chance to get great content out quickly. It worked for Far Cry Primal, which had basically the same map as Far Cry 4, so it’ll work here too.

There’s a bunch of other titles in the Fallout series that generally aren’t considered canon; Fallout Brotherhood of Steel 1 & 2 and Fallout Tactics. I think Fallout 76 will end up being considered like them. It’s fun, the bugs will be fixed, but overall it weakens the series as a whole and should probably be kept at a distance. I seriously hope that Bethesda learn from their mistakes and try harder, instead of just shelving the series to let things cool off. Because I always want more Fallout, most of us do, but that doesn’t mean that I’m willing to accept shit just to get it.

Congratulations Fallout 76, you’re among good company…

Congratulations Fallout 76, you’re among good company…

Fallout Deconstructed - East Coast Super Mutants

(You can check out my previous look at West Coast Super Mutants here.)

When Fallout 3 was released in 2008, Bethesda set the series on a course that would take it in a whole new direction. Some would call it a derailment, and that the calamitous train wreck has been skidding to an inevitable halt ever since, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that by setting the series on the East Coast, as opposed to the West Coast where the original creators had first developed the series, they were given an open field to create their own unique spin on the series. Except they didn’t really do that, and one of the areas that this is most obvious is with the Super Mutants.

East Coast Super Mutants can be broken into three distinct factions; the Vault 87 Super Mutants from Fallout 3, the Institute Super Mutants from Fallout 4 and the Huntersville Super Mutants from Fallout 76. While the West Coast Super Mutants have a rich backstory and deep roots within the lore of the series, their East Coast cousins were given a bare bones backstory that barely justifiied their existence as cannibalistic monsters that exist purely for your character to kill without a second thought. They’re just there. They want to kill you. You’d better kill them.

KILL. LOOT. RETURN.

KILL. LOOT. RETURN.

East Coast Super Mutants are each created with a variant strain of the Forced Evolutionary Virus, it’s a little narrative element that allows Bethesda to tweak their appearance a little in each game. As video game graphics improve, development teams and artistic styles change, it’s inevitable that creatures will start to look a little different. It also allows these Super Mutants to be a little different from those Super Mutants, which gives you a little wiggle room in terms of the lore. A variant strain of FEV accounts for all of this. It’s probably the greatest choice Bethesda made in regards to their inclusion of the Super Mutants, which… is saying something.

East Coast Super Mutants have lost all sexual characteristics, they’re more green in color and their mutations look more uniform and less haphazardly deformed than their West Coast kin. While they’re all still drastically stronger than humans, the intelligence of West Coast Super Mutants depended on their levels of radiation exposure, but the Vault 87 Super Mutants are uniformly stupid (bar one) while the Institute and Huntersville Super Mutants are still fairly intelligent. While they’re all sterile like those on the West Coast, East Coast Super Mutants have the unique trait of continuing to grow as they age. This results in the gargantuan, and painfully stupid, Super Mutant Behemoths.

Do they explore the existential horror that goes along with never dying but continuing to grow while becoming every more senile?   No…

Do they explore the existential horror that goes along with never dying but continuing to grow while becoming every more senile?

No…

The weird thing about East Coast Super Mutants is that they’re all basically created as monsters for your characters to kill. Whatever paper-thin story is attached to them is there to justify their presence, rather than add any depth to them as a faction or build the greater story of the series. Gone are the Super Mutants who were created to replace humanity as superior mutated beings, now we have literal man-eating monsters who have no leadership, no background and attack you because that’s just what monsters do. Bethesda have included the odd intelligent Super Mutant in each of their games, but it’s always an aberrant being who has no clear reason for being smarter and less violent than their mutated brethren. They’re 2D monsters that want to take over the radioactive wasteland, because that’s the surface level villainy that Bethesda deals in.

Don’t get me wrong, Erikson is a cool character… but he’s literally made calm by a mist that turns humans savage and violent.   Zero sense = made.

Don’t get me wrong, Erikson is a cool character… but he’s literally made calm by a mist that turns humans savage and violent.

Zero sense = made.

Vault 87 was built in D.C., which places it in the Capital Wasteland of Fallout 3. The original clandestine project of Vault 87 was the Evolutionary Experimentation Program (EEP) where researchers would test the effects of a unique strain of FEV on the inhabitants of the vault. How Vault-Tec got their hands on FEV we’ll never know, but they did. So there. The main thing with Vault 87 is that these experiments were going on before the Great War, as noted by pressure for results from Mariposa and Vault-Tec’s head office. Vault 87 was directly hit by a nuclear weapon during the Great War, and so the inhabitants were sealed inside and unable to leave due to extreme radiation.

Obviously, the mutation process didn’t always go according to plan…

Obviously, the mutation process didn’t always go according to plan…

All of this is problematic, for various reasons.

First of all, why were there people living in a Vault before the Great War began? You fled to a Vault in the event of the Great War kicking off, you didn’t just rent a room and live there for the great views. When Vault Dwellers were snatched away to be experimented upon, the researchers tried to cover up their deaths by listing them as “Undefined/Unexplained.” After dozens of unexplained deaths, you’d think the other Vault Dwellers would catch wise and just leave the Vault, especially if the Great War hadn’t even happened yet.

West Coast Super Mutants had a military base under their control, so their heavy weapons made sense.   But this?

West Coast Super Mutants had a military base under their control, so their heavy weapons made sense.

But this?

Second, the Vault was directly hit by a nuclear weapon so the Vault door was damaged and could no longer be used. The inhabitants of Vault 87 weren’t so much “safe” in a Vault, as they were “trapped” in one… but they kept on doing the experiments anyway, I guess? The only way in and out of the Vault was this emergency exit that links to a cave system known as Little Lamplight. The problem here is that children have been living in Little Lamplight since the Great War, and if that’s the only exit from Vault 87 then how have the Super Mutants been kidnapping people and bringing them back to the Vault for 200 years? How are there kids living in the only exit from the Vault? It doesn’t make any sense.

Either those wooden supports survived the direct nuclear blast… or the radiation wasn’t bad enough to stop someone setting them up afterwards.

Either those wooden supports survived the direct nuclear blast… or the radiation wasn’t bad enough to stop someone setting them up afterwards.

And that’s the main thing, Vault 87 is the source of Super Mutants in the Capital Wasteland. The original test subjects must have overthrown the scientists at some point and escaped the Vault, somehow, and started bringing Wastelanders back to the Vault to put through the same process that they went through. Never mind the fact that there’s no logical way for them to come in and out of the Vault, they’ve been going out into the Capital Wasteland and kidnapping people for 200 years because that’s just what they’ve always done? There’s no leadership directing them, they locked up the one Super Mutant smart enough to be a leader, so how and why have they maintained this bizarre mission for over two centuries?

Who put the radiation signs up?

Who put the radiation signs up?

Even worse than the Vault 87 Super Mutants of Fallout 3, are the Institute Super Mutants of Fallout 4. They’ve been plaguing the Commonwealth since the Great War, and it’s only after you access the Institute that you discover that they’re to blame… but their reason for creating the Super Mutants are as weak as the milk of human kindness.

Test tube Super Mutants… why?!

Test tube Super Mutants… why?!

The Institute have been experimenting on FEV since the Great War, they tweaked it around a lot to see what different results they could get and after they were done with each experiment they dumped the test subject on the surface. At a certain point they decided that they’d learnt all they could from FEV, and so Wastelanders that were kidnapped and replaced with Synths were mutated with FEV simply to get rid of them in a fashion that was useful. That’s right, instead of getting rid of their experiments after they were done with them, and even after they’d learnt all they could from FEV, the Institute was growing the Commonwealth Wasteland’s Super Mutant population one Super Mutant at a time by letting them loose on the surface.

As far as reasons for a species to existence go, this is an absolute joke. On the one hand the Institute claims to want peace for the Commonwealth and strives for the betterment of mankind, saying that they’re humanities last and best hope. On the other hand they’re dumping mutant monsters on the surface… because reasons? It flies in the face of the Institutes entire character as a faction, and it’s an absurd reason for the Super Mutants to exist in Fallout 4. They’re nothing more than rampaging monsters that have no way to increase their own population, they only ever grow whenever the Institute does another experiment and dumps more of their number on the surface.

They have an innate understanding of crafting armor and defenses… somehow?

They have an innate understanding of crafting armor and defenses… somehow?

We could of had something of a culture for the Super Mutants that hinted at their true origins from within the Institute. Super Mutants could all whisper of the white rooms of their birth, the Institute labs, followed by magically appearing on the surface after they were teleported there. Super Mutants could pray for more of their number to appear before a big battle or after a terrible defeat. Anything at all to hint at their origins but also to hint at some sort of culture beyond being man-eating monsters. Because as it stands, they’re literally just created for shits and giggles. The Institute creates them to cause problems on the surface, they have no deeper purpose beyond being there for your character to kill.

The Huntersville Super Mutants of Appalachia from Fallout 76 are just as weak in terms of story as the rest of their East Coast counterparts. Despite the fact that the military seized control of the FEV experiments from West-Tek a year before the Great War, and built the Mariposa military base specifically to house and research FEV, West-Tek decided to experiment on the town of Huntersville by dumping FEV into their water supply. Why build an underground military base to contain a virus on one side of the country, and then dump it into a town’s water supply on the other side of the country? I get that you need to do research on the virus, but those seem like mutually exclusive approaches and one of them is being conducted by a company that shouldn’t even have the virus.

Along with this, it was just the towns original inhabitants that were infected, because there are terminal logs that tell the story of how the FEV was neutralized by the researchers after the Great War. Once those original Super Mutants are all dead, that’s in for the Huntersville Super Mutants. Considering the real world town of Huntersville only had a population of 73 in the last census, how many Super Mutants could their possibly be in Appalachia? I’m sure each player will kill dozens, if not hundreds, of Super Mutants while playing Fallout 76… how many will we have to kill before their set and non-renewable number is inevitably wiped out?

In terms of the lore, the Huntersville Super Mutants don’t only not work well with the lore from Fallout 1 and 2, but they don’t even work with Bethesda’s own lore from Fallout 3 and 4. If East Coast Super Mutants continue to grow and turn into Behemoths as they age, and we’ve already got Behemoths in Fallout 76 which is only 25 years after they were created, then why aren’t half the Super Mutants in Fallout 3 and 4 Behemoths as well? If it takes less than 25 years to turn into a Behemoth, and both those games are set over 200 years after the Great War, then both the Capital Wasteland and Commonwealth should be right-royally fucked by Behemoths.

Look at its form, it doesn’t even look like a mutation… It looks like it was born like this.   West Coast Super Mutants were visibly imperfect, which was the whole point!

Look at its form, it doesn’t even look like a mutation… It looks like it was born like this.

West Coast Super Mutants were visibly imperfect, which was the whole point!

This is the problem with Bethesda, they’re so focused on brand recognition that they’re refusing to move away from what made Fallout great in the first place… even when it doesn’t make sense. They don’t want to take a risk and try to make anything original and great, so instead they’re pandering to fanboy nostalgia and casual gamers with the attention span of gnats. They’re like the old royalty of Europe who were so obsessed with the purity of lineage that they started inbreeding, and before they knew it they had these mutated freaks on the throne who shouldn’t have existed. That’s what Fallout is today, it’s still Fallout but it’s a little too much Fallout with not enough fresh genes in the mix to make it something good, let alone stable. We’ve got Deathclaws, the Brotherhood of Steel, the Enclave and Super Mutants where they shouldn’t be, all because Bethesda is too scared to try something new.

Instead of going out and trying to find a girlfriend, and risk rejection, Bethesda just stays at home and bangs its cousin…

Radiation ain’t the only thing that causes mutations…

Radiation ain’t the only thing that causes mutations…

Fallout Deconstructed - West Coast Super Mutants

When Fallout first arrived back in 1997, it was the Super Mutants that were the primary threat in the Wasteland. But the Super Mutants actually had an appropriately horrific and sordid history before the events of Fallout 1, and they would continue along this trend for over a century until Fallout: New Vegas. The Super Mutants, like the Brotherhood of Steel, have deep roots within the Fallout canon that stretch back to before the Great War. These roots were tapped into by the original creators, and largely ignored by the developers that followed. Because of this, there are primarily two distinct types of Super Mutants - West Coast and East coast. This post will focus on the original, and the best, West Coast Super Mutants.

They’re big and they’re heavily armed.

They’re big and they’re heavily armed.

Standing on average at ten and a half feet tall, Super Mutants tend weigh in at around 800 pounds, or 363 kilograms, of pure muscle. Although typically greyish/green in color, there was an elite faction of West Coast Super Mutants, dubbed ‘Nightkin’, who have blue due to prolonged use of Stealth Boys. Super Mutant mutations have done away with recessive genes that generally cause genetic issues in humans, and their DNA has been modified to bring about the optimum combination of traits on a genetic level. They heal from wounds much faster than humans and are all but immune to radiation and death from old age. When they’re created perfectly, a Super Mutant maintains the intelligence they had in their former lives as a human and tends to begin life as an all round superior being.

Lou - super intelligent, well spoken, and a leader of the Super Mutants.

Lou - super intelligent, well spoken, and a leader of the Super Mutants.

Things don’t always go perfectly, however, and when an inferior Super Mutant is created they still get all the physical traits but they lose most of their intelligence. A primary drawback of the mutation process is that the Super Mutants are made infertile, and despite not dying of old age they are prone to senility. Along with this, those elite Nightkin who turned blue due to prolonged use of Stealth Boys also developed some serious mental disorders as a result of being invisible for such long periods of time. Super Mutants may be strong and near unkillable, but they’re also deeply flawed and imperfect beings. They’re less a genetically viable race and more super solider mules that’re created specifically for war and not much else. They may be well suited to the harsh life of the wasteland but they don’t exactly have it easy. It’s not just their genetic drawbacks that make this the case either, because they’ve got quite the checkered history.

The Nightkin… most of these guys were batshit insane.

The Nightkin… most of these guys were batshit insane.

Before the Great War, in 2073, there was a company called West-Tek that was researching a way to make the American population immune to any sort of biological attack that might be instigated by China. This was called the Pan-Immunity Virion Project, or PVP for short. It was an attempt to fill out an individuals DNA to make them immune to any sort of pathogens. While it did work, there were some noticeable side effects among the animal test subjects. Both the test subject’s size and intelligence dramatically increased, as well as their aggression levels. The virus was re-dubbed the Forced Evolutionary Virus, or FEV for short, and the scientists began delving into these side effects. It didn’t take long for the government to notice the possible military applications for this project and so they seized control of the project, to capitalize on these possible applications as well as from fear of potential espionage.

All roads lead to Mariposa…

All roads lead to Mariposa…

Mariposa Military base was built specifically to house and work on the FEV Project. And nine months before the Great War, at the start of 2077, the military started doing human testing on military volunteers. The horrors that transpired within Mariposa were such that once the military personnel stationed there learnt of their extent, they executed all the scientists involved and went rogue. This is the beginning of the Brotherhood of Steel. The Great War kicked off a few days later.

Decades later, in 2102, a man by the name of Richard Grey breaks into Mariposa Military Base to try to discover the source of the brutal attacks on his caravans. While most of his group is killed, Richard is knocked into a vat of FEV and spends a good while submerged in the mutagenic goop. He may have fallen in a man of rather dubious character, but upon his eventual escape he became the unhinged mutant freak known as The Master. He started out absorbing the flesh and minds of anything that wandered into Mariposa while simultaneously merging with the base’s computer network via a neural up-link. Eventually he started experimenting with the FEV, “dipping” other humans into it and studying the results. This is the birth of the Super Mutants as we knew them in the first Fallout game.

You can bring a plank of wood to a gun fight when you’re a genetically superior being…

You can bring a plank of wood to a gun fight when you’re a genetically superior being…

The Super Mutants were mostly dumb, brutish hulks that increased in size and strength but also lost most of their intelligence. A rare few, roughly one in six, were able to retain their intelligence though, and so The Master theorized that the deciding factor was the subjects radiation exposure. He himself was originally an exile from Vault 8, far to the north, and so his radiation levels were far lower than most wastelanders. Subjects with minimal exposure to radiation tended to yield far better results than those who had a lifetime of radiation stored in their flesh. For anyone who knows Fallout the meaning of this should be clear, those who lived in Vaults would make far better Super Mutants than those who grew up in the Wasteland.

In 2155, with the aid of a cult he’d aligned himself with, Richard Grey would eventually move south to the L.A. Boneyard where he would take up residence in a Vault of his own. Super Mutants are great and all but even the intelligent ones couldn’t do what a fanatical human cultist could; infiltrate wasteland settlements and bring them down from within. And what self-respecting villain would forego the chance at an underground lair? Eventually The Master would build a cathedral atop the Vault and forevermore the cult was presented as an honest religion dubbed “Children of the Cathedral.” Few knew of the Cathedral’s connection to The Master, his Super Mutant army or his grand designs of wasteland Unification.

Would you want to be part of any Utopian plan that this thing cooked up?

Would you want to be part of any Utopian plan that this thing cooked up?

The thing with the Super Mutants is that they’re a direct threat to your character, the Vault Dweller, and his whole community Vault 13. The Master and his Super Mutants are looking for pure humans with minimal radiation exposure, which means that the Vault Dweller’s Vault is a prime target. With this in mind, even if you complete your initial goal of repairing your Vault’s water purification chip, you’re sent back out to take care of the far more dangerous threat that The Master and his Super Mutants pose. To keep this from spiraling any further, in 2161 the Vault Dweller eventually destroys Mariposa as well as the Cathedral and The Master’s Vault beneath it. The source of the Super Mutant threat, as far as the wasteland is aware of, is taken care of.

After the events of Fallout 1, the Super Mutants are scattered. Many form roving war-bands or even armies of their own, going on to become a scourge on the wasteland. A massive force wanders across the mountains far to the east, which leads to the events of Fallout Tactics. For the most part though, with their creator dead and their sole method of their creation seemingly destroyed, the Super Mutants faded into the background of wasteland normalcy. Like humans, some were good, most were bad and they just started living life as best they could. A prime example of this was the town of Broken Hills, a mining town comprised of humans, Ghouls and Super Mutants. Broken Hills was founded by a Super Mutant and a Brotherhood of Steel Paladin, a sure enough narrative nod to the fact that the conflict between the two factions was a thing of the past by this point. Life was never easy in Broken Hills, and tensions always ran high, but the town could survive as long as level heads prevailed… and as long as there was still uranium to mine.

Spoilers - the uranium eventually, inevitably, ran out.

Spoilers - the uranium eventually, inevitably, ran out.

Jump forward to 2236, five years before the events of Fallout 2. The ruins of Mariposa are discovered by the Enclave. They’re a faction that’s a continuation of the US government, so they’ve got access to some seriously high-tech weapons and armor, as well as all the old pre-war records. With the aid of human and Super Mutant slaves, they begin excavation of the ruins and eventually discover some of the still-potent FEV. Mutations begin to occur among the human slaves, as well as some of the Enclave personnel and eventually Mariposa is abandoned. After a slight altercation with a squad of Enclave soldiers left behind to kill everything within the base, the new Super Mutant community begins in earnest. Remnants of the first-generation Super Mutants, as well as the newly created second generation, just wanted to stay down in the ruins of Mariposa and live in peace… and they did… until the Chosen One, the protagonist of Fallout 2, showed up.

By the time of Fallout: New Vegas, in 2281, the Super Mutants have openly been a part of the wasteland for over a century. They’re not exactly accepted, often being treated worse than Ghouls, but they’re not instantly shot on sight either. Sometimes a Super Mutant might live peacefully with humans, or they might live together in their own Super Mutant communities and try their best to maintain peaceful relations with their human and Ghoul neighbors. They’re just trying to survive in the wasteland like everyone else, some may do so as peacefully as possible while others take a more violent and selfish path.

Broken Hills may have died, but it’s Super Mutant founder, Marcus, moved to the Mojave Wasteland and started over.

Broken Hills may have died, but it’s Super Mutant founder, Marcus, moved to the Mojave Wasteland and started over.

This is the thing about Super Mutants, they’re not just mindless monsters for your characters to kill. They’re an imperfect species that’s going to die out unless they find a way to propagate, either through use of FEV or by solving their sterility issues. In Fallout 1, 2 and New Vegas (and Tactics, as well, if you accept it as canon) they’re a fully fleshed out and flawed people that have drives and a history of their own. They’ve got a sorry past, being created by The Master as tools to bring about his demented vision of a genetically unified wasteland… but they’ve moved beyond that. They’re not all good and they’re not all bad, neither are they haphazardly created idiotic brutes that eat humans... like Bethesda turned them into on the East Coast.

Okay… technically, the split-personality Super Mutant Dog/God will eat corpses, but they’re just such well written characters!

Okay… technically, the split-personality Super Mutant Dog/God will eat corpses, but they’re just such well written characters!

Take a look at my break down of East Coast Super Mutants here.

Fucking Annoying Frequently Asked Questions

A while back I wrote a book, Days Too Dark, and while it’s been pretty well received there are a few questions about it that keep popping up. While I’m always down for some creative critique, answering the same questions over and over becomes a little tiresome.

So that’s why I’ve written this handy FAQ for people who’re reading Days Too Dark! If you’ve got any questions, then check this before you come and ask me…

Is Mars you?

Ugh… yes! How is that not clear at this point? There’s literally a photo of me in the damn book.

You just wish you were as badarse and cool as Mars is!

Did you even understand the point of the book? Does he seem like he’s happy, about anything?

A protagonist who’s a straight white male? That’s sooo original… you Alt-Right Nazi!

Well, it’d be weird if I wrote a story about myself… but then I wasn’t who I am in the real world.

Also, just FYI - there’re multiple fleshed out characters who aren’t straight, aren’t white and aren’t male. There’s also a heap of handicapped characters, too. They’re all in there, I just don’t make a big deal out of it.

So, basically… #FOAD

Did you really kill someone and take their lungs?

No, but then the whole world didn’t end in 2011 either… because that’s the point of divergence.

Why is this written so weirdly?

Have you ever heard Australians talk? We’ve got a pretty weird accent and most people have trouble understanding our lingo. I figured that after two decades of no outside influences (like American television) the dialect would only become more pronounced.

If you don’t like it, then ya shit outta luck ya bloody drongo!

Why did you call it “the Gloom”?

It’s a metaphor for depression!

Did you really get in a car crash?

Yes!

Did your mum really drive you through a bus fire?

Yes!!

Were you really in a cyclone?

YES!

Did you reeeeeeea-

YEEEEEESSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Why do mushrooms grow from corpses?

Ever heard of “waiting until the sequel”?

A spear, a bayonet and a trench knife… pretty weird weapons for a post-apocalyptic story, don’t you think?

They’re symbolic. One was his fathers, the other his grandfathers and the final belonged to his great-grandfather. He’s inherited their weapons, as well as their demons, and he’s carrying on their fight.

But why a spear?

It’s the most widely used weapon in human history.

The spear looks totally different in different pictures, you fucked up!

I know it does. No, I didn’t.

Brisbane is on the east coast of Australia, not the south. Wtf is going on?!

Just read the bloody book.

Mars is such a Mary Sue, he even has different colored eyes!

1)      I don’t think you know what Mary Sue means…

2)      I have different colored eyes, hence Mars having different colored eyes.

Mars is sleeping with a woman who is fifteen years younger than him, that’s nothing more than disgusting wish-fulfillment!

There’s not a lot of options for either of them, and neither are mentally or emotionally healthy enough to be in a relationship. It’s not an ideal situation for either of them, which is kind of the point.

Why do all the characters have such weird names?

They’re not weird, they’re just not Western European. Russians have Russian names and Pacific Islanders have Islander names, etc. The only character who’s got a truly weird name is Maralinga, and even then it’s a name that’s found in the country of his birth and it has narrative significance. So basically, shut up.

The military being the bad guys is such a cliché, this story sucks!

I know it’s a cliché…

What’s with all the roses?

Inside joke. Count them and then google it.

There’s an awful lot of 9’s in this book.

There’s a good chance that there’s a lot more than you think there is…

What’s with the cover?

It’s one of the cards from the Rorschach test. Can you guess which one?

This is a blatant rip-off of The Last of Us!

Why? Because it’s got an arsehole protagonist and lots of mushrooms?

I started writing this before the Last of Us was even announced. I did a university speech on the Cordyceps Virus jumping to humans and creating fungi-zombies before The Last of Us was even announced. Trust me, I don’t need to steal anything from The Last of Us.

The Last of Us is one of those interesting titles that achieved such mainstream success, that people start to see shadows of it’s influence where ever they look… regardless of whether or not the connection is actually there. They’re both character driven, Post-Apocalyptic stories that focus on broken men and their relationships with those around them. It’s easy enough to see how people could think I was “inspired” by The Last of Us, but that simply isn’t the case.

That’s it, probably only for now though… I’m sure there will probably be more questions that get asked over and over and I’ll update this FAQ accordingly.

Twitter Poll Project

At the start of September I had this random idea that I didn’t really put much thought into and it sort of sprawled in such a fashion that it’s totally fucked up my schedule. I put out a poll on Twitter asking what sort of protagonist people would like to see in a new Post Apocalyptic story, and so people voted.

Poll the 1st!

Poll the 1st!

I didn’t actually think anyone would vote, but it turns out a decent amount did. I chose a bunch of random character ideas, some would say they’re cliche but I’d just call them bare boned at this point, and threw them all together on a poll. We ended up with a Professional Criminal as a protagonist, which is certainly a character that allows for a lot of possibilities - especially in a Post Apocalyptic story.

But then I did a second poll…

Poll the 2nd…

Poll the 2nd…

Instant. Fucking. Derailment.

While I was hoping for a single category of post apocalyptic scenarios to choose from, this poll ended up in a three way draw that meant I’d need another three polls just to get the basics of the plot down. While it’s true that an apocalypse is never simply a single event, you’re pretty much always going to get an Economic Collapse as well as whatever primary scenario you’re working with, this was far more than I was expecting. But then a multifaceted apocalypse is always going to be pretty damn interesting, and so I jumped into it.

3rd poll

3rd poll

The first category I asked about was the Environmental category; ends of the world that tend to be about the physical world itself, while not being anything supernatural or overly strange. They’re you more down to earth, mundane apocalypses. In the end, the public wanted an Environmental Collapse. Crops fail, whole species go extinct and in general the natural world starts falling apart at the seams. That’s not a bad start, but let’s see what happened in the Social/Political scenario!

4th poll

4th poll


Social Decay.

This is a difficult one to nail down, because typically in Post Apocalyptic stories the social bonds fall apart in response to the apocalypse. In this scenario, however, the actual apocalypse is the breaking of those very social bonds. Humanity loses any sense of cohesion for whatever reason and tears itself apart. Politics, religion, some new technology, whatever the reason is we just can’t go on together and so turn on one another.

So the natural world is collapsing and so is the human world… okay, interesting. Let’s see what the final poll comes up with from the Reality scenarios and maybe we can tie it all together?

5th and final poll

5th and final poll

Shit…

Reality scenarios are the ends of the world that are just bat shit insane; gods giving up on us, reality breaking or time itself fracturing. With that in mind, somehow we managed to get two of them. So that’s totally not going to complicate things at all, is it? We ended up with Forces from Outer Reality and Paranormal apocalypses. So we’ve got Lovecraftian creatures from beyond time and space coming in to cause madness at every turn, as well as ghosts and the afterlife to deal with.

So, just to recap. We’ve got a Professional Criminal who survived a Environmental Collapse/Social Decay/Forces from Outer Reality/Paranormal Apocalypse… that it some complicated shit right there!

If you look back at the dates of the polls, they went from September 1st to September 6th. At the time of writing this it’s the 23rd of September, so clearly it’s been a few weeks since I did the polls and there’s still been nothing written. That’s because this is a seriously complicated set up that I wanted to properly tackle, so I took some time and thought about it. I caught up with some mates last night at a bar and a song came on that gave me the keystone I needed to lock all these disparate building blocks into place.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it’s still going to be a short story though I don’t know the exact length. It’s going to be a mindfuck, I know that much. Any story with elder gods and ghosts is sure to be a little weird in parts, so we’re going to have something of a less than conventional Post Apocalyptic story. I’m okay with that.

I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to complete, but this is going to be something that I’m publishing so it’s going to need a cover and everything so despite its low word count it’s not going to be a quick release. On the same page it’s not going to be a Days Too Dark-esque 7-years-in-the-making situation either. So this whole post is basically just a status update. I am actually working on the project and I have made significant progress.

Fret not, those irritating polls weren’t for naught!




The True Horror of Vault 11

Anyone who has played a Fallout game knows of the dickish douchebaggery of Vault-Tec - the pre-Great War American company that was meant to protect people but ended up experimenting on them. Long time fans will also be aware of Vault 11, of Fallout New Vegas, which has arguably the most fucked up vault experiment ever conceived.

In Vault 11, the residents are told that they need to sacrifice one of their members each year in order to survive. When the first Overseer comes down at tells the first batch of people, who had just escaped a nuclear apocalypse, this, they get pissed and force him down into the sacrificial tunnel. From that point forward, whoever was elected Overseer was effectively being elected to make the sacrifice. So unlike in every other vault, and unlike in every other democratic society, you really did *not* want to get elected leader of the vault. 

That’s… odd.

That’s… odd.

By the time your character gets down there, the vault is, as usual, in ruins and you see rotting election banners all over the place. Except, instead of people trying to get themselves elected they're trying to get the other guy elected. You make your way through the vault and see all the nasty tricks that people pulled to try and avoid being elected Overseer. Eventually, after going through the sacrificial chamber yourself and coming out alive, you find out that all the residents had to do to escape was to *not* sacrifice someone.

They figured it out eventually, but arguably it was too little and far too late.

They figured it out eventually, but arguably it was too little and far too late.

By the time they'd figured this out though, there were only five residents left, and four couldn't live with the guilt so they killed themselves. It's peak Vault-Tec maliciousness and makes you wonder if the CEO of Vault-Tec was that proverbial kid that your parents stopped you playing with after all those pets on your street started showing up dead. It's horrific, and you can understand why four of the five that got out alive couldn't go on living with what they'd done.

But the thing that gets me, that sent literal shivers down my spine - is a coffee mug.

When you're walking down into the sacrificial tunnel, where countless people have gone to their deaths, you walk down some stairs and there's this door. There's a blood stain on the floor, which speaks to the less than voluntary nature of the sacrifice, but there's also a coffee mug.

Rusty and forgotten, this tunnel hasn’t been opened in years… but what’s that?

Rusty and forgotten, this tunnel hasn’t been opened in years… but what’s that?

Now, to me, there's a whole story right there. While many of the Overseers were forced down there, one of them went down there on their own. Maybe they'd just finished their breakfast and then they set out to commit suicide so that all the people who’d elected them could live. However it happened, the person was still drinking their cup of coffee when they went down to die.... they got to the door and realized they wouldn't need the mug anymore, so they tossed it on the ground and went on to their face their end.

But… why?!

But… why?!

Who the hell brings a coffee mug to their execution?! It reminds me of that story from the French Revolution, about that dude that was reading a book while he was being put into the guillotine. He's in the line waiting to have his head chopped off, but he's just reading a book, and when it's his turn he just calmly puts the book down and goes to get executed. 

This whole line of thinking was sparked from a single coffee mug that was laying in a place that by all rights it shouldn't be. It was just a coffee mug but it had me turning into Lady MacBeth screaming "Out, dammed spot! Out, I say!" for a long time after I left Vault 11. The journal entries and posters flat out tell the story, but the coffee mug makes you pause and wonder… and that’s the haunting horror of Vault 11.

It can't have been unintentional that the coffee mug was left there by the games developers, it had to have been left there on purpose. It's great storytelling like that which has people making the claim that Fallout New Vegas is still a better game than Fallout 4. Although I prefer the setting of 4 (I never really liked the Cowboy ascetic in New Vegas) I have to say that I definitely preferred the story of New Vegas over 4. 

One item can spark a whole story in the reader/viewer/gamer who is taking in your story, you don't even have to explain it. If you put some thought into what conclusion you want them to arrive at, you can work it so that they end up there without you explicitly directing them. It's a fantastic bit of storytelling and world-building, and for something so small it's amazing how long it's stayed with me.  

As the world ended outside Vault 11, countless people would’ve killed to get in. At the same time, everyone inside the vault would’ve killed to get out.

Thank you, for your sacrifice…

Thank you, for your sacrifice…

Zombie Apocalypse

I've watched a few Zombie Apocalypse movies recently, which is something I wouldn't have done a few years back. Typically, historically, zombie films have been the same - a shambling homogeneous horde of unoriginality. But recently, there have been a few stand outs that have... sorry for this, breathed life into the genre. 

The Girl with all the Gifts  - an original take on the zombie apocalypse, with only one real bit of narrative silliness.

The Girl with all the Gifts - an original take on the zombie apocalypse, with only one real bit of narrative silliness.

The Girl with all the Gifts, The Cured, Cargo, & Maggie are all fresh takes on a tired genre. Although there are often action scenes in them, they are zombie movies after all, they're far more thoughtful and character driven narratives. While in older zombie films the story has often revolved around fighting against the undead hordes, in these latest films they're more rightly relegated to the background. 

Ellen Page lives with a reformed Zombie... before life turn to shit, as life is want to do.

Ellen Page lives with a reformed Zombie... before life turn to shit, as life is want to do.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think The Walking Dead is to thank for this. Not the comic either, the TV show. While TWD isn't that great itself, at the very least it's kept zombies squarely in the public's gaze for coming up on eight years now. That is no small feat, especially considering that zombies were once considered a cult niche-interest at best. But with their increased popularity there are now creators, for film as well as for novels and games, who are able to use zombies for more in-dept narratives.

I don't know why they couldn't have gotten an Australian lead, but the cast, setting and story were fantastic.

I don't know why they couldn't have gotten an Australian lead, but the cast, setting and story were fantastic.

Look at The Last of Us and the upcoming Days Gone, both a high budge story-driven games with zombies at their cores. That never would have happened over a decade ago. Before this, the best we got were action games like Dead Island or Dead Rising - asinine zombie slaughter simulators with bare bone stories... man, the zombie puns are running thick here. We're still getting sequels to those games, because they make money, but amid the turds we're finally getting some gold.

It was good to see Arnold in a less macho, less hamfisted role. 

It was good to see Arnold in a less macho, less hamfisted role. 

My point is, as much as I loved TWD comics, I have to give credit to where credit is due and compliment the TV series on what it's done for the genre. Zombies are one of those creatures that are a fantastic at delivering subtle messages, and unlike Vampires or Werewolves they age really well. With each passing decade humanity faces new threats and develops new fears, and zombies are right there to help us explore those threats and fears.

 

Just one of many - A look at 'It Comes at Night' & 'Bushwick'

I've been watching a few films recently. I've finally got a decent streaming service (lol...) and so now it finally makes sense to catch up on all the films I've been missing out on. As the title of the post suggests, I'm going to be talking about two films in particular and why I believe they're more similar than one would initially think. Beyond the breakdown of society, both It Comes at Night and Bushwick forgo the greater events to focus on close personal stories.

Humanity has only gotten this far through teamwork... but that doesn't mean that it always works out.

Humanity has only gotten this far through teamwork... but that doesn't mean that it always works out.

It Comes at Night deals with some sort of virus that kills people pretty quickly, and the story focuses on a family that invites another family to live with them. Share the work load, safety in numbers, all that good teamwork stuff. Isolation and preparation are keys to survival here, and there's a focus on trust and what happens when it breaks. People don't believe the backstories that others are telling them, they don't believe others when say they're not sick, and eventually it all falls apart in one of the most horrific endings you could possibly imagine. There're hints of some sort of monster out in the surrounding woodlands, but we never get to see it. Along with this, one of the characters is having some seriously trippy dreams about his dead grandfather throughout the film, so you're never quite sure what is real and what isn't. 

They're actually a pretty good pair...

They're actually a pretty good pair...

Bushwick, on the other hand, is set in New York and deals with American separatists who do what separatists always do - try and separate themselves from the nation. The main story focuses on an ex-soldier/medic and a college student trying to make their way out of the city while the greater conflict rages on around them. It's actually one of those 'one continuous shot' films that, thanks to some nifty editing, follows the characters without ever cutting away. It's brutal, it's action packed and like It Comes at Night is has a downer ending.

Spoilers for both It Comes at Night and Bushwick.

Everyone dies in both of these films, every single main character. In It Comes at Night there's an eventual schism between the families and Joel Edgerton's character stabs the other father, accidentally shots the little boy and then kills the mother when she's hysterically screaming at him to do it. By this point though it's all useless, both families were already infected and the original family loses their son first and then the parents are left sitting at the dinner table just waiting to die. 

Tensions were high to begin with, they didn't exactly get off to a great start. 

Tensions were high to begin with, they didn't exactly get off to a great start. 

Bushwick pulls something similar, where Dave Bautista's character finally opens up and gives this heart breaking speech about his troubled past... only to be shot in the face by some scared woman five seconds later. Just when you think Brittany Snow's character is going to push on alone... she gets hit in the leg and similarly capped in the head by one of the separatists.

It was interesting to see the Alpha Male have a role as a care-giver, and it was great to see the female lead become more than a damsel in distress. 

It was interesting to see the Alpha Male have a role as a care-giver, and it was great to see the female lead become more than a damsel in distress. 

Both It Comes at Night and Bushwick give us these close and intimate stories set amid grand sweeping events. Society is breaking down all around these characters, people are dying left and right... but the story we're getting is about them in particular. The world may be falling apart but that's too big to deal with, so we're seeing how that happens on a much smaller scale. A few people is enough, we can get to know them and get attached to them and then when they finally die they're not just a number. The point behind this post, is that I think that Bushwick did this better than It Comes at Night.

Yes, we followed their stories to their end... but all of NYC is under attack and that attack is still going.

Yes, we followed their stories to their end... but all of NYC is under attack and that attack is still going.

It Comes at Night gives us hints about the greater world but we never really see past the character's small section of it, so we're never really certain. We hear about cities falling and people fleeing, but that's about it. It never really goes past hearsay. After that, when everyone dies at the end, that's the end of the story. We're not given any context for it within the greater story as a whole. We don't know if similar stories are happening all over, we don't know if there's talk of a cure on the horizon. The view of the world is so focused, and isolated, that when it ends our investment in the world ends. Why did we see this story? What was the point of it all?

Bushwick, on the other hand, solves all this with its final scene. As soon as Brittany Snow's character drops dead the camera pans upward and we see that all of New York city is ablaze and there's conflict all over. The story we've seen is no less important after the character's deaths but we're also shown that the film has been just one of many such stories. People are fighting and dying all over. That final shot puts it all into context. Simply because we've been following these characters in particular, that doesn't make their story any more important than any other.

In a round about way the final shot of Bushwick made the character's deaths more palatable. We got to know these characters but many such people are going through similar events across the city. In It Comes at Night, however, everyone we know has died and we're still given no clue about the outside world. Is there even an outside world? It's sometimes hard to tell with the surreal dream sequences, and the whole thing could just be a dream. By the end of It Comes at Night, you're left asking yourself if the story even matters.   

Bushwick and It Comes at Night are both solid films and I'd recommend watching both if you've got a spare evening. What I've taken from viewing both films in quick succession, however, is that if you're going to tell a personal story where everyone dies then be sure to give us some context of the greater world. It doesn't have to be a lot, just let us know what's out there. The characters we follow might not make it but humanity as a whole still can. Wondering if the characters were the last humans alive or if they were just one group of many scattered about the globe, trying to survive whatever apocalypse you cooked up, can leave people a little unsatisfied. Small isolated stories about failure to survive are great, they just need to be put into some context. 

Movie Logic 101 - Never break down and reveal your demons... because the second you do, you're going to die. 

Movie Logic 101 - Never break down and reveal your demons... because the second you do, you're going to die. 

The Post Apocalyptic Writing Guide

This is the secret project that I've been working on since the end of last year - The Post Apocalyptic Writing Guide. I sent out a few Advanced Reader Copies last week via Twitter, and so far I'm really happy with how the book has been received. I plan to release on 09/09/18.

The hallowed cover reveal!

The hallowed cover reveal!

There are obviously going to be some who question the legitimacy of me putting out this book when I've only got a single published post apocalyptic work under my belt. Which is, I must admit, a fair claim. To anyone who has any concerns though, I would offer that you should go read Days Too Dark and then decide if this whole venture is appropriate. 

I haven't just written one book and used that as validation for writing a guide on how to create post apocalyptic stories however. I have studied the post apocalyptic genre for years. Decades, even. You know those nerds who abandon society to go down some obscure rabbit hole and become experts on some arcane subject? Yeah - that's me. Before you freak the fuck out and shriek "he think's he's an expert!" just read the following sentence. I don't know everything there is to know about the post apocalyptic genre. I would hate it if I knew everything, because that'd mean that there's nothing new to learn.

I've read a lot, but there are a lot of people who've read far more than I have. I've played and watched a lot too, but just as before - there are those who have consumed way more post apocalyptic content than I have. This guide isn't me trying to lord it over anyone else, especially other authors. The thing is that I'm not interested in being better than anyone else, I'm only interested in being better than who I was yesterday. One of the best ways for me to do that is to be surrounded by, and learn from, people who are better than me. 

I feel old...

I feel old...

This guide is the culmination of everything that I have learned across the years about the post apocalyptic genre, from *many* disparate sources, condensed into a single volume. Whoever comes next, and there will always be someone next because humanity is always freaking out about its demise, won't have to do the leg work that I've done because I've done it for them. The Post Apocalyptic Writing Guide is an effort to bring as many people up to speed as quickly possible. If a newbie Indie Author reads the guide they will know everything I knew about the post apocalyptic genre at the time of writing it. They're still going to have to go read the original texts, obviously, but they're going to be able to find, deconstruct and use them much more efficiently.

I want better post apocalyptic content, that's what this is all about. The genre is having its day at the moment and while that means we're getting a lot of fantastic stories we're also getting a lot of formulaic and mundane shit that's muddying the genre as a whole. I can't learn anything from a cookie-cutter story and I sure as hell can't enjoy it. By putting this guide out, I'm letting everyone know what I know, and that will increase the likelihood that others can/will surpass me. I'll get more to learn from and I'll have more to enjoy. I'm not just a creator of post apocalyptic fiction, I'm also a massive fan. I want to have access to more stories that are of a better quality. So I made the Post Apocalyptic Writing Guide, and I hope that it helps people make better stories.

It's all about passing the reins... and making sure they know everything you do.

It's all about passing the reins... and making sure they know everything you do.

If I've gotten anything wrong in the guide, or if you disagree with anything I've written, then feel free to hit me up. Let's hash it out and make the guide better, because I honestly don't want it out there if it's going to make things harder for people by leading them in the wrong direction. Not everyone is going to agree with everything I've written, I get that, but hopefully something good can come out of the discussion. 

I didn't create the guide on my own, either. If you look in the front you'll see a list of names of people who helped me put the content together, hash out concepts and ideas and just generally told me when I got something stupidly wrong. So, just like in the book, I'd like to thank those who helped me put the guide together.

You may stand alone at the end, but you never got there on your own.

You may stand alone at the end, but you never got there on your own.

If you're wondering about the cover of the book - they're a group of models called the Demolition Dolls who dress up in post apocalyptic attire and attend events. There's this whole other side of the post apocalyptic community that focuses on clothing and props and generally LARP'ing (sort of like cosplay, but with some role playing involved) the post apocalyptic life. There's this weird divide in the community, with some people focusing on the books/movies/games while others do the festivals. Getting the Demolition Dolls on the cover was sort of an olive branch between the two halves of the community. Also, they're all pretty hot and tempting, so there's that aspect to. 

So that's that, there's still a week or two until the planned launch but everything looks to be progressing according to plan. Currently it's going to be an eBook only, but print may become available down the line. It will be available on Amazon, here, and I'm looking at a $2.99 price tag.

If you have any questions or concerns, hit me up or Twitter. 

Cheers