494. Almost Done

This blog is taking a one-week break, and shall return on December 12 with its final round of new posts.

This blog is almost done. Today is December 2. Typewriter Monkey Task Force shall end on December 30. Four weeks remain.

Obligatory Majora’s Mask reference. (I can’t help myself, and I’m not sorry.)

Before TMTF staggers ignominiously to its end, I must make a few quick announcements.

TMTF is taking a one-week break

December is a busy month, and I need some extra time to catch up with personal commitments. TMTF shall return on December 12. There will be no updates until then.

My plans for post-TMTF projects are not yet clear

I have not yet decided whether to start a personal newsletter after TMTF bites the dust. I will definitely work on my story project, but may possibly write a couple of short stories first. Speaking of which, I never did get around to writing that last Gabriel Green story for this blog. I apologize.

If you’re interested in following any of my future projects, you can find me on Twitter, on which I plan to share any future news or announcements; my Twitter handle is @coffeeologian. You can also reach me via this blog’s Contact page. It will remain active even after the blog ends.

December is a great time for charity

Around this time every year, I give a shout out to the Advent Conspiracy.

The Advent Conspiracy is awesome.

This Christian movement encourages everyone to spend a little less on Christmas consumerism, and to give a little more to charity. The Advent Conspiracy has a particular emphasis on clean water projects, which save lives, prevent disease, and improve quality of life in impoverished areas.

If you can spare two and a half minutes, I recommend this video explaining the Advent Conspiracy. I don’t even like churchy videos, but this one is rad.

It’s perfectly fine if you don’t want to support the Advent Conspiracy. It’s a cause near to my heart, and you probably have a cause near to yours. Please consider supporting your cause this month. Christmas is a time for giving.

Besides, to quote my favorite video game that I’ll never actually play, the world could always use more heroes. You can be someone’s hero this month, and I hope you will be.

Coffee creamer makes a great hair product

A couple of days ago, I had a little accident at work, and it’s too funny not to share. I spilled some coffee creamer on my head—long story—and tried to wash my hair with a wet washcloth, spiking it up on one side. However, I couldn’t wash out all of the coffee creamer. When my hair dried, the spikes remained, stiffened as though with hair gel, and smelling pleasantly of caramel macchiato.

It was quite a look: business on the right, party on the left. The incident amused me so much that I, upon returning home, did something I don’t recall ever doing before: I took a selfie.

Spiky.

I’m too lazy to style my hair; I keep it short so that I don’t even have to comb it. My one day of accidental style was neat, but I don’t plan on ever buying hair gel… or coffee creamer, for that matter. (I prefer my coffee with milk, thank you.)

Well, I think that wraps it up. Speaking of which, I still have a gift to wrap… and blog posts to write… and other stuff to do. Bah! Humbug!

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back.

484. I ♥ Majora’s Mask: A Halloween Special, Part 2

This post concludes a two-part Halloween special. You can read Part 1 here!

Let’s pick up with the characters.

The characters

As I mentioned in Part 1, the characters in Majora’s Mask are incredibly well-developed, thanks largely to the game’s three-day cycle. Many characters have their own stories that play out over the game’s span. As the player repeats the cycle, she can get to know these characters, and can even help them.

Over the game’s three-day span, the innkeeper waits faithfully for her lost love to return. Her lover hides in shame, unable to break a curse on his body. The circus troupe leader finds out that their event is canceled; unable to face his troupe, he tries to drink away his sorrows. An orphaned rancher loses her younger sister to creatures from the sky. The postman delivers letters to the very end, shaking in terror, unable to break his dedication to deliver the mail come rain or shine—or fiery death.

I could go on, and on, and on. The characters in Majora’s Mask are staggeringly well-developed. Heck, I haven’t even mentioned the mask salesman: the only character who seems to know exactly what’s happening.

mask-salesman

Yeah, he’s creepy. If the player watches the moon crash into the earth, the screen fades to black, only for the salesman to chuckle and ask, “You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”

The time travel

Besides the falling moon, the land is afflicted by terrible woes, all caused by an imp wearing a mysterious mask: Majora’s Mask. The swamp reeks of poison. The mountain is caught in a deadly cold snap. Murky water fills the ocean, driving away the fish. An ancient curse fills the valley. Everywhere the player goes, things have gone wrong.

Fear not! This is a Legend of Zelda game! The player can save the day! In addition to resolving the major crises mentioned above, the player can help people on a smaller scale. Remember the characters I mentioned a few paragraphs back? The player can reunite the lovers, comfort the circus troupe leader, protect the rancher’s sister, rescue the postman, and help many more.

Here’s where things get nihilistic.

I’ve discussed the game’s three-day cycle. At some point, the player must rewind time to the dawn of the first day. Guess what happens to the people the player helped? Yep—they are back where they started. Everything resets. Whatever good the player did is undone. The only person to benefit is the player himself, who keeps whatever reward he received for helping others. Those he helped? Nah, they’re screwed.

This Sisyphean cycle reinforces a sense of helplessness. Nothing the player does really matters. Everyone is doomed anyway. Besides, the player can’t help everyone in a single three-day cycle. While she helps certain characters, the others continue to suffer. She can’t help them all.

This hopelessness makes Majora’s Mask a surprisingly dark game, especially for the Legend of Zelda series. It also makes the game’s eventual happy ending all the more cathartic and satisfying.

The unsettling moments

On top of its nihilistic tone, Majora’s Mask offers plenty of creepy moments, and even a few scares. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil them all. I’ll spoil just one.

The cursed valley of Ikana is populated by corpse-like monsters and vengeful spirits… and one little girl. Meet Pamela.

pamela

Adorable, right? Pamela is a sweet girl. She lives with her father, a paranormal researcher, in a cute little house shaped like a music box. It even plays a cheery carnival tune to drive away those pesky undead monsters. How nice!

Then, one day, something goes wrong. Something goes very wrong.

Pamela’s father gets a little too, um, wrapped up in his research. His daughter shuts him in a wardrobe in the basement. Right around this time, Pamela’s music box house stops playing its music. Monsters begin circling her home with slow, lurching steps. She locks the front door. There are monsters outside, and a monster in the basement.

Fortunately for Pamela, this is right when the player arrives to save the day… assuming the player isn’t busy saving the day somewhere else on this particular three-day cycle. (If that’s the case… rest in peace, Pamela.) The player reactivates the music box, drives away the ghouls, and sneaks into the house when Pamela isn’t looking—only to find a monstrous mad scientist in the basement.

The scene itself is pretty scary. When the player looks at it from Pamela’s point of view, it’s much scarier. It’s scariest to realize that she (presumably) dies a horrible death every single time the player spends the three-day cycle helping other characters.

This is the kind of thing that scares me about Majora’s Mask. I don’t find more traditional horror games all that scary. Jump scares? Zombies? Whatever. Majora’s Mask takes a more insidious, Lovecraftian approach, and it scares me more than practically any other game I’ve played.

The humor

Majora’s Mask balances its bleak tone and occasional scares with surprising amounts of heart and humor.

The innkeeper’s grandmother is perfectly sane, but feigns senility in order to avoid eating her granddaughter’s lousy cooking. A cutthroat thief prances daintily instead of walking, even when fleeing the scene of a crime. The local mapmaker, Tingle, is convinced he’s a forest fairy… despite being merely a thirty-five-year-old man wearing red briefs.

tingle

Majora’s Mask is frequently surreal, but not always in spooky ways. Its weird touches are sometimes endearing, even heartwarming, providing comic relief in a story that might otherwise be too dark.

Everything else

There’s so much I haven’t mentioned. This is a game with pirates, spirit foxes, Yorkshire Terriers, aliens, bobblehead cows, and a monstrous mechanical goat. Majora’s Mask is the very best kind of bonkers. It’s also designed with the same brilliance and loving care as the other greatest Legend of Zelda games, despite taking only one year to make.

This follow-up to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time had to do the impossible: live up to expectations set by a game considered by many, even to this day, the best ever made. Majora’s Mask did the impossible. It’s better than its legendary predecessor.

I consider Ocarina of Time the greater game of the two. It broke new ground. It was amazing first. However, Majora’s Mask is the better game of the two. It’s superior in practically every way.

It’s also pretty freaking scary. Happy Halloween, everybody.

Pipe Organs Are Creepy

Are you too happy? Is your life just too uplifting? Well, I can think of a song to fix that.

With Halloween just around the corner, and this blog discussing The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask this week, today seems like a good day for ominous music. “Oath to Order,” one of the songs from the game, really lends itself to the hollow tones of a pipe organ.

I would wish you a happy Halloween, but such a wish defeats the point of this gloomy holiday, so I’ll wish you a safe, satisfying, and appropriately sinister Halloween instead!

483. I ♥ Majora’s Mask: A Halloween Special, Part 1

Halloween is nearly here. All across the United States of America, pumpkins are carved to look like severed heads. (Halloween is a weird holiday, man.) Horror movies flood theaters and fill bargain bins. ‘Tis the season for scares. Even the US government is participating—this year’s presidential election is positively frightening.

What better time could there be to discuss the scariest game I’ve ever played?

majoras-mask

I’ve wanted to write about this game for a long time—more than a year, in fact—but never found the right opportunity. With this blog ending in a couple of months and Halloween just around the corner, this seemed like the right time. I began writing. When I realized my ramblings were too long for one blog post, I decided to split it in two parts and call it a Halloween special. Every blog needs a holiday special at some point, right?

On the surface, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask doesn’t look like a scary game. Its visual are bright and colorful. Its world seems like a generic fantasy setting populated by generic video game characters. Heck, the game received the most child-friendly rating from the ESRBEVERYONE. (To be fair, the recent 3DS remake got a slightly higher EVERYONE 10+ rating, which is still pretty mild.) Don’t be fooled. This game is creepy as all heck.

Majora’s Mask is a game in the Legend of Zelda series, which consists mostly of lighthearted, well-crafted adventures. Zelda games are known not only for their legendary (no pun intended, I swear) quality, but also for their humor, charm, and kid-friendly action. Majora’s Mask is different. It has all the charm and humor of other Zelda games, but without their positive tone. Its tone is one of bleak, gnawing nihilism.

Believe it or not, I love this game. I ♥ Majora’s Mask. Can we put that phrase on a bumper sticker? Let’s put it on a bumper sticker.

i-love-majoras-mask

Why do I love this game? Oh, let me count the ways.

The moon

Most Legend of Zelda games follow a predictable formula: an evil sorcerer endangers a damsel, and the hero Link must save the day—generally by going on a quest to obtain the Master Sword, a holy weapon. Various Zelda games play with this formula, but seldom stray from it.

Majora’s Mask completely abandons the formula. It doesn’t task the player with rescuing a princess. Nope. The player must prevent a freakin’ moon from crashing into the land and annihilating literally everything. For reasons never explained, the moon has a face, which is frozen in an expression of rage. It’s a surreal touch, and kinda creepy.

hello-moon

As days pass in the game, the moon draws nearer and nearer the earth. Every time the player looks upward, there it is, a looming reminder that the end is near. Characters in the game react to their inexorable doom with a convincing range of emotional responses: apprehension, denial, panic, grief, resignation, defiance, and getting drunk on milk.

The player has only three days to stop the moon. Fortunately, the player is given the power to rewind time… only to watch the moon fall again, and again, and again. Characters repeat their cycles of grief and panic. And if the player doesn’t travel back in time before the moon hits the earth, well, it ends badly.

game-over-man

I hope you don’t mind watching a celestial body annihilate an entire land and everyone in it. Game over, man.

The masks

As its title suggests, Majora’s Mask makes masks an integral game mechanic. By wearing different masks, the player assumes different forms, each with its own set of powers.

mask-transformations

The plant-like Deku form lets the player glide through the air. The rotund Goron form gives the power to roll around like a runaway tire, and the sleek Zora form zips through water with graceful ease. These mask transformations would be cool as mere game mechanics, but each one also represents a story.

Each mask transforms the player into the likeness of a character who died with regrets. The Deku child became separated from his father and died alone. The Goron died in an unsuccessful attempt to save his people, and the Zora perished trying to save his true love’s unborn children. The player earns each mask by healing its owner’s soul and easing his regret; when the spirit rests in peace, the mask is left behind.

It’s a beautifully macabre twist on a game mechanic that’s already pretty sweet.

Come back on Friday for Part 2 of this Halloween special!

Vacation Music

For today’s Geeky Wednesday post, I was going to write something serious and weighty about a poem by Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney. Then, remembering that I’m on vacation and really should chill out, I opted for some sunny video game music instead.

Yes, it’s our old friend Smooth McGroove, the one-man video game choir. Today’s tune hails from the warm shores of Outset Island in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which is probably the most vacation-ey game I’ve ever played, sea monsters and all.

Well, with today’s post done, I can get back to hiking, swimming, snacking, and dreading my inevitable encounter with the Tiny Hotel Soap in my hotel bathroom. It’s too soon, guys.

How Games Tell You What to Do

Link partners

Video games create vast worlds for players to inhabit, and offer endless opportunities for interaction. That’s pretty cool. It also poses a problem unique to video games as a medium.

It’s easy to get lost.

With only a few unconventional exceptions, other media guide their audience along one specific path. When I read The Lord of the Rings, for example, I’m given a clear story to follow—the one Tolkien wrote. As he describes Frodo’s journey to Mordor, I can’t choose to see what’s happening back in Hobbiton or Rivendell. Either I read Tolkien’s story, or I don’t. I merely experience it. I don’t create it.

Video games are different. A game allows players to interact with its world, giving them a hand in creating the story. Maybe, as I play a Legend of Zelda game, I’m supposed to rescue Princess Zelda, but choose to smash pots and attack chickens instead. The protagonist, Link, is only a hero if I want him to be.

Games give players an amazing degree of freedom, with many potential paths to take. It’s only natural, then, for games to guide the player toward the path their developers intended.

There are many approaches to guiding the player. The Legend of Zelda series often gives Link companions, as seen in the picture above. (I wanted to attribute it, but couldn’t find the artist.) These range from the traditional (a fairy) to the bizarre (a talking hat). These partners give Link advice on where to go and what to do next, guiding the player toward the game’s intended objectives.

This approach works pretty well, but can become irritating as Link’s companions boss him around or spell out every little step of his journey. The latest Legend of Zelda game doesn’t seem to have a partner system, which should allow players to wander more freely.

Other systems for guiding the player include marking objectives on a map, offering text or audio cues, or structuring game environments to direct the player toward the next goal. Some games are straightforward enough not to offer any guidance: Tetris and Pac-Man are good examples.

When I pick up a new game, I’m always interested to see how it tells me what to do.

454. Adam’s Story: Introduction

A new series of posts begins today. As this blog stumbles doggedly toward its final post, I’m planning my next big personal project. I want to rewrite a story. I speak, of course, of the Lance Eliot saga: a trilogy of fantasies, and a dream I’ve chased for more than a decade. At this point, I have no delusions of grandeur, fame, or literary excellence. I just want to get the damned thing written.

Sooner or later, every creative person reaches a point at which he just wants to scream and shake things—preferably sharp, pointy things. (Art by JK Riki.)

A while back, when I wondered whether to discuss my story here, nobody raised any objections, so here we are. I’m not sure how often I’ll publish posts about the Lance Eliot saga, but they won’t take over TMTF or anything. This blog’s regularly scheduled nonsense shall continue!

I’ve decided to title this series Adam’s Story. I considered longer titles, like Adam’s Story Project, and more specific ones, like The Lance Eliot Saga, but settled on a title that’s short, sweet, and personal. After all, Adam’s Story refers to more than a story I want to write. It is also my story, the story of Adam, who has spent (or misspent; the jury’s still out) an alarming number of hours making up stories about a guy named Lance Eliot.

I’m actually really excited to write about the Lance Eliot saga, for at least five reasons.

  1. It will let me work on two things—this blog and story planning—at the same time, and with the same effort. How efficient!
  2. It will provide, I hope, a smooth transition from writing a blog to writing the story itself.
  3. It will force me to be a bit more disciplined. I can’t write about an aspect of the story until I’ve made sufficient progress in planning it, so I won’t be able to skip steps or cut corners!
  4. It will allow me to express my enthusiasm for the Lance Eliot saga, and to spread awareness of it. Every bit helps!
  5. It will allow me to share some of my ideas. Even if I’m not able to finish the Lance Eliot saga, at least I will have gotten some of its details out of my head.

I’m currently rereading the latest version of the story’s first part, the one I published a few years ago, and it… needs a lot of work. Heck, it needs a lot of work.

This is a picture of me throwing away the torn-up pieces of my story’s published version. Hold on, my mistake, it’s actually that version’s cover. How… apropos.

The new version won’t be anything special, but I hope to make it much better than previous ones.

Will I publish my story? I don’t know. I haven’t planned that far ahead. I’ve stopped calling the Lance Eliot saga “my book project,” and begun referring to it as “my story project.” I should probably write it before I think about publication, and I should probably plan it before I start writing.

As I plan the Lance Eliot saga, each post in the Adam’s Story series shall focus on an aspect of it. Relax, there won’t be any huge spoilers here. That said, there will be small spoilers, but nothing past the story’s earlier chapters.

Here are some of my ideas for posts about my fantasy and its world.

Story

I have to lay out the basics at some point, right? There won’t be any massive reveals here: just the early stuff!

Characters

There’s obviously a character named Lance Eliot. This post shall share a few more.

Setting

The setting is changing from previous versions of the story. I hope to make it more unique, with more details from personal experiences, and fewer generic fantasy elements. (There shall still be dragons, though. I can’t bring myself to leave them out.) The geography is changing a bit, too.

Goodbye, old setting. We hardly knew ye.

I guess this means my dad and I will need to make a new map. It’s a good thing he’s a patient man.

Politics

Earlier versions of the story didn’t really delve into politics. I want to change that. The simplistic political scene of earlier drafts shall be replaced with a tenser situation, finding such diverse inspirations as the Cold War, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Final Fantasy XII. Lance Eliot’s story shall be an adventure, not a political thriller, but I’m excited to give it some political background.

Lore

Like the story’s politics, its lore shall be more nuanced this time around. In The Lord of the Rings and his other fantasies, J.R.R. Tolkien imagined the God of Christianity in a fantastical context. I plan to do the same, taking cues from the later Old Testament, and borrowing ideas from Greco-Roman mythology and the Legend of Zelda series.

Aer

I really struggled with the concept of magic as I wrote earlier versions of the Lance Eliot saga. At first, I fought to reconcile magic with a Christian worldview, and I think I’ve figured out that part. Now my struggle is to invent a kind of magic that isn’t too vague, generic, or unbelievable. The magic in my story isn’t actually called by that name; for now, I’m calling it aer. What is it? Why aer? You’ll just have to wait and see.

Literary criticism

Yep, this is a theme of my story… but not really. Literary criticism, for all its usefulness, can be a bit silly. Nah, its purpose in my story is to lead to something else… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dante’s Divine Comedy

I plan for my story’s three parts to parallel, however loosely, the three parts of the Divine Comedy. The first part of my story shall borrow from Dante’s Inferno, and it’s going to be a hell of a ride. (Alternatively: It’s going to be a damned good time. I can’t resist these puns, guys. I’m so sorry.)

I may cover more aspects of the story; I don’t know. Today’s post covers pretty much everything I have planned for now.

That said, this story won’t plan itself, so I’d better get back to it.

453. Fans, Geeks, and Cosplay: A Momentary Study

Geeks are fascinating creatures. In a perfect world, someone would make a nature documentary about them, and it would be narrated by Morgan Freeman. Tragically, since I don’t own a video camera and can’t afford to employ Mr. Freeman, I’ll have to keep writing blog posts about geeks instead of producing that well-deserved documentary.

Yes, it’s time for another brief exploration of geek culture. Today’s subject is cosplay, the hobby (or art, depending on your point of view) of dressing up like characters from movies, comics, video games, or other media. It’s sort of like wearing Halloween costumes, but really… hardcore.

Lord of the Rings cosplay

Here’s some Lord of the Rings cosplay.

The word cosplay is a portmanteau of costume and play; it denotes not only the hobby, but also specific examples of it.

Dedicated cosplayers often create their own cosplays. This sounds easy, but flipping heck, some cosplays are complicated. Depending on the complexity of the costume, a cosplayer may need the expertise of a tailor, makeup artist, leatherworker, blacksmith, or even computer modeler (for 3D printing).

Cosplayers show off their creations by attending geeky events (such as conventions) in costume, or by holding photo shoots and sharing the photos via blogs or social networks. Some fans are so good at cosplay that they do it professionally. In order to promote their brands or products, companies may hire professional cosplayers to mingle or manage booths at conventions, trade shows, or other events. Some cosplayers don’t merely dress as characters, but act and speak like them in improvised performances.

While some cosplay strives for perfect authenticity to its source material, other styles may feature creative twists on familiar characters, or gender swaps.

Darth Batman and Lady Link

On the left is a gender-swapped Link from The Legend of Zelda. On the right is… wait, is that Darth Batman? That is AWESOME!

What separates cosplay from other forms of dressing up? Costumes feature in some holidays and cultural events, but their purpose is nearly always rooted in tradition, religion, or symbolism. Cosplay, by contrast, is an expression of enthusiasm for a particular work or character. (Halloween costumes can be a bit cosplay-ish.)

Aided by the spread of the Internet, cosplay has gained prominence in just the past few decades; the term itself originated in the eighties. However, dressing up as fictional characters has a long and rich history. For example, just off the top of my head, I recall a scene in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott in which a couple of its characters dress up as literary figures for a fancy dress ball. Cosplay has evolved as a hobby in recent times, but its roots are firmly planted in centuries of human history.

Like many geeky hobbies, cosplay sometimes carries social stigmas. Cosplay may be considered childish, creepy, or inappropriate.

I’m not a cosplayer, but I usually disagree with these stereotypes. Cosplay is a creative hobby. It often requires superb dedication and all kinds of specialized skills. Like dressing up for Halloween, it’s fun for a lot of people. It can be inappropriate, certainly—but generally as a reflection of inappropriate media or characters. If a cosplay is in poor taste, it’s probably because the media it represents was in poor taste first.

Sadly, not all of the stigmas against cosplay come from outside its community. Fans and geeks can be as cruel as anybody. Over the years, some cosplayers have been criticized or insulted for having the wrong body type, skin color, or physical features for cosplaying certain characters. That’s dumb.

Perfectly fine cosplay

Black Captain America? Plus-size Batman? Cool. I see no problem here.

Do you see that black guy cosplaying Captain America, a traditionally white character? He’s a cosplayer. He’s not actually Captain America. It’s okay. Everyone can stop freaking out. The chubby fellow cosplaying Batman? He isn’t Batman. He lacks Batman’s muscular physique, and he’s smiling happily, which isn’t terribly Batman-like. Does it matter? He’s having a good time. So is the black gentleman in the Captain America suit, and the lady rocking Link’s iconic green tunic, and whatever mad genius created Darth Batman.

Cosplay isn’t about rules. It’s about fun, acceptance, and coming together as geeks to wear goofy costumes. Anybody should be able to cosplay as whatever the heck they want. After all, isn’t that the point of cosplay? Isn’t cosplay a chance to be an actor without a stage, becoming a completely different person, if only for a little while?

I don’t cosplay, but I understand why so many people have embraced it as a hobby. I respect them. I wish more people did. In fact, generally speaking, I wish more people respected geeks instead of assuming the worst of them. Heck, while I’m at it, I wish more people respected other people. That would be a great start.

I’m not planning ever to cosplay… but if I did, I bet I’d make a pretty good Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon, or even a tolerable Tenth Doctor. Just a thought.

Waiting for E3

E3 happens next week. This annual trade show for the video game industry is like Christmas to gamers like yours truly. New games are shown, game systems unveiled, trailers released online, and announcements made. These exciting videos and headlines are tossed rapid-fire at eager gamers like me, like a stream of crumbs sprinkled among so many hungry goldfish.

This year’s E3 promises news of the new Legend of Zelda game, which was supposed to come out this year but has been delayed to next. In honor of this year’s E3, and because I can’t think of anything else for this week’s Geeky Wednesday post, have eight minutes of beautifully orchestrated Zelda music. The Legend of Zelda games have some rockin’ melodies, and this medley showcases some of the most iconic. Enjoy.

In the meantime, I’ll go back to staring at the calendar. Just six days to go.