A Summary of Game Progress – Characters and Portraits

This blog exists because of our RPG Maker VX Ace Project, The Lotus War, but besides for posting some images of recent artwork, the game itself has kind of taken a backseat in the blog. Not because work has halted, but because so much has been covered in past posts. For example, older posts might’ve covered product reviews or character introductions – you might notice, though, that the products that we use in game creation are limited, and the main cast has pretty much been introduced. Similarly, custom scripts that we’ve utilized have been addressed in past posts, as well as some of the custom tilesets that will appear. But with a goal of having a demo available by next month (we’ll see how that goes), perhaps it’s time to recap some of our development progress. Today, I’ll start with something already familiar: the art. Expect, though, to see samples of cut scenes, the opening credits, and new views of our map coming soon.

Of course, we have the main cast fully assembled. You may remember from earlier posts that the artwork hasn’t always been up to snuff. Fortunately, with practice, I was able to create a team of which I’m proud:

wpid-1149067_588924531160537_1382445057_n.pngTaya-BlushArinnel-Normal

Axel-NormalAuhn-Normal elf guy normalbron

 

We also have several of the secondary cast fleshed out:

Axel3-NormalAnders-NormalSteff-NormalKai2-Normal

 

And you might notice that the armor is a little more unified these days – although still varying from character to character. This was done to give it more of a military feel.

Some of the major bosses were also completed:

Galen-NormalshaneThe Bird-NormalThe Chief - Normal

 

Battlers have also been important, which we’ve been fortunate enough to obtain for customization through Holder:

ren-battler auhn-battler kai-battler galen-attack bron-battler taya-shot

 

This is all a big deal to me because it has truly come a long way. Some past examples were rough:

wpid-hero-template.png kai jealousimagewpid-taya.png

 

taya-old-shotwpid-arinnel.pngwpid-portrait_taya.png

In the past, you might notice, the characters looked a bit flat.There was little dimension due to my lack of comfort with MangaStudio. My skill has vastly improved – and I also discovered new nifty tricks (the most revolutionary being “export in dimensions” rather than “export in pixels” – for Photoshop, it makes such a huge difference!). I’ve also grown in comfort using Photoshop, and discovered a nifty tool in GraphicsGale for pixel art. Not to mention my ability with the Wacom Bamboo Splash has increased dramatically.

In addition to that, I’ve created what will become the basis of at least part of the opening cinematic:

opening 1

Of course, given that the characters are my area and I’ve been updating the blog since month 3 or so, any frequent readers are well aware of the advancements in this area. For a game development blog, the greater interest might light in world creation, coding, scripting, and the like. Fortunately, J also has some great progress to report. Unfortunately, we’re spreading this recap out so that each aspect of our game has a moment to shine.

Check back soon for progress in our game music, our opening credits, our opening “cinematic,” and out in-game cut scenes. All of this will hopefully be leading up to a playable demo some time in August.

And please, feel free to leave feedback. Feedback is what we need to fulfill our ultimate goal: creating a great game.

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How do you come up with stories?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a very fantastic (as in, remote from reality) dream: I was a clone of me, created after I was brutally murdered. But I didn’t have my memories; I only knew, academically, what “my” life experience was like, who was important in “my” life, what “I” did and didn’t like. Reconciling this purely academic knowledge with my sense of self and my emotions was taking a toll. I sought rebellion from this version of me whom I didn’t know and yet who was controlling me so thoroughly. I began acting out – doing what I specifically knew “I” would not do, while conversely seeking experience that might help me to understand… well… “me.”

I don’t usually have such vivid, developed dreams, but this is not the first time a story has come to me in my sleep.

Anyways, I took this to a friend of mine and we began to talk about ways I could develop this into a story. I was also considering how I could mold this into an idea I have for our next big game (our clone-space saga). My friend, though, kept asking me “What’s the plot?” – and I kept giving a premise – “She’s trying to reconcile with being a clone.”

When I gave a few more details, they were all world-building and character development-based. None of them really were based on a sequence of events I wanted to present. And I realized: everything I’ve ever written or imagined started with a person and a premise. Then I thought about what the person would do in such a premise and called it a plot. I can’t really envision another way of devising a story. In fact, normally, my first step is creating a character sheet: drawing out the character (whether it’s an illustrated story or not), writing out his/her background and characteristics, and maybe a few key quotes from said character.

She thought I could play around with inverting this structure: thinking of a series of events and letting that inform a character. So far, though, it feels as though I can’t even conceptualize a series of events without knowing the person walking through them.

Creating the Lotus war was probably the closest to this I’ve come, and that’s because Justin was beside me on it – but I still became attached to a Taya-prototype and an Arinnel-prototype even before we knew what the end would be.

So I ask in a spirit of curiosity: any of you out there plot-driven writers? How do you come up with stories?

Why a Reboot of Sailor Moon is Needed

Many people remember Sailor Moon as unwaveringly and unapologetically ridiculous and girly. And many people would be right.

In the name of the moon, and not S&M- definitely, certainly… I mean… S&M… Sailor Moon… holy cow! did I stumble onto a secret code?!, anyways- I WILL PUNISH YOU!

If, that is, they’re thinking about the anime. See, like many works the anime and the manga differ immensely.

This really terrific manga, which basically on its own revitalized and recreated the magic girl genre, had been reduced from basically a coming-of-age story for girls with a character who progressively matures and tackles difficult, literally world-changing decisions to kind of a platform for goofiness. Yes, while still unabashedly a girly fantasy, the manga also had more dramatic undertones, coupled with plenty of mythological allusions and mature themes. For example, in the later books Mamoru (aka Darien aka Tuxedo Mask) was even wiped from existence by the latest foe and Usagi, stricken with PTSD, couldn’t remember it as anything other than a dream (as he had been traveling to America for college at the time of the incident). Later, she struggled with the idea that staying with him in what was basically the afterlife could endanger the rest of the universe – literally a would-you-save-one-despite-the-many ordeal. Michiru and Haruka, in the manga, had a more complex relationship, too, than even what was presented in the Japanese anime – and were certainly not cousins. Feminine empowerment is highlighted, and so Usagi’s transformation from a careless teen to a responsible leader even more pronounced. Oh, also, Darien/Mamoru is a high-schooler, too, when we first meet him. So that’s way less creepy. (It was always pretty ambiguous in the anime),

One time, after my friends told me that Pokemon was now on Netflix and it was almost embarrassing to watch, I looked up clips of the anime that I so used to enjoy. One of the only ones I could find were of a kiss between Serena and Darien. And it. Was. Awful. “HMMMM… MUWAH MUWAH MUWAH, mmm MMM MMMMMMMMMMMMmmmMMMmmmmMMMMmMMM.” SERIOUSLY?! I WATCHED THAT?!!!! THEY GOT STUCK ON HER BUBBLE GUM?! HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSI-

Ok. Cool it. It was just a show. A show for kids.

*Deep breath*

Anyways… all this to say, basically, that an anime based on Naoko Takeuchi’s coming-of-age legend of a manga is certainly welcomed.

What do you think?

Character Outfits

Since times immemorial, iconic video game characters have had an outfit – one outfit – you identify them with. Mario and Luigi have blue overalls with oversized hats of red and green, respectively. Donkey Kong has a really phat fur coat and red tie. Link has a green tunic and slouchy, pointed cap.  But the video game, as a medium, has grown. Suddenly, not only can you design and select the gender for Revan in KOTOR (is it still too early for that spoiler?), but find a new robe with better Force conduction (or something) and boom. Your character looks completely different. Countless games allow you to modify the avatar you see onscreen.

Yet even in an age where customization exists, you still have your recognizable icons: Titus and his ridiculous belly-shirt, Yu Narukami in his black and white school boy get-up, Snake with his… eyepatch (although his outfits change).  Even cartoon characters that for generations did not have the same restrictions that video game tech of old have that: Race Bannon with his red, collared shirt; Sailor Moon, Goku, Kenshin, Mugen, Spike, Faye – despite fleeting occurrences when a new outfit plays into a particular point, having a look definitely helps with branding and identification. Also, it gives the fans a basis for cosplay (really, that was a concern of Hideo Kojima that prompted him to say a character’s costume needed to be “more erotic”). For big, branded adventures, being iconic certainly has advantages.

But here’s a problem I’ve been grappling with: our characters go through extreme weather. Ren/Taya/Axel’s hometown is a little desert town with the fortune of being near one of the region’s few oases. It is a dusty, dead, “wild west” kind of place. It’s hot. So Taya’s low-cut, sleeveless, skirted outfit makes sense – even the scarf, as many desert areas include cottony, breezy scarves and shawls so that a person may hide under its shade during the more brutal parts of a day. However, they travel north to Ever Winter – the human population’s wintery capital – for military training at the Academy… and then travel again to the spring-like mild temperature of the elves’ forest home. So should Ren & company keep their short sleeves for the entire trek? Maybe I should throw a jacket on ‘em – though that would, cover some of Taya’s… um… assets.

taya2

Sorry, Otaku Judge.

I think we should. Although Justin rightly points out that keeping them in one outfit follows the tradition of iconic RPGs since the conception of the genre.

What do you think?

Psychological Thrillers and Character Studies

Typically, when you think of a game, you think of action. Kicking, punching, stabbing, shooting, exploding… whatever gets the blood pumping. Yes, there are real-time strategy and simulation games (I myself have been a huge fan of The Sims, Sim City [although I was terrible at staying in the black], and the Tycoon games. Oh, and let’s not forget my beloved Harvest Moon). But I think most gamers think of action/adventure RPGs, FPSs, or Arcade fighting games when thinking about video games. Heck, controllers seem designed for them. But lately, more and more developers are looking at gaming as a medium for storytelling, pushing creators into new modes of game play.

For example, Amnesia the Dark Descent fits especially into the psychological thriller aspect of gaming, and while exciting, there is no true fighting. You are hiding from a monster against whom you cannot fight back. The second he has you in his clutches, your game is over. Gone Home, which Justin reviewed a while back, is a character study, I think, but of the player’s sister rather than the player herself. And you might’ve heard of To The Moon, an excellently reputed RPG Maker game. Even players outside of the admittedly niche-market of RPG Maker have played this, and magazines have reviewed it. While I myself have not played it (too deep into creating The Lotus War by the time I was aware of it), I know enough of its Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind-esque storytelling to know that it fits into this post well.

A comic book fan who is interested in interactive stories, this new genre is exciting to me. And really, less of a gamer and more of a writer at heart, it’s a very appealing genre – especially now that I’ve been taken with video game creation. What might its limits be, though?

Without action propelling the story forward and engaging the player, it all goes back to the story. The story needs to be good. And if the plot relies on a twist, that twist needs to be original, believable and engaging. I think the populace as a whole has seen one-too-many M. Night Shamalamadingdong movie twists to be taken in by anything less. The characters need to be relatable and likable and really – flawed, imperfect, real. We should have a real glimpse into the character’s mind or the world we are to explore. And I firmly believe that the character’s choices should matter, unless it’s one of those games where you just keep trying and trying until you get things right.

Our next game aims to be a bit of a puzzle game/character study, and I’ve been thinking (already!) of a sequel to that – although we have a large, epic sci-fi game lined up as the third, if all goes as planned. Justin and I have caught the creating bug, it seems. It’s wonderful, because this is the one mode of creation that really has thus far kept me enthralled.

What do you think of this new direction in video games? Do you like character studies/video novels, or do you prefer shoot-em-ups and swordplay?

How I Settled for Your Mother (Spoilers Ahead)

Back in high school, I had an awesome best friend. A lot of my friends thought we’d end up with each other, and I’m sure thoughts like that crossed both of our minds briefly. But we had different belief systems, life goals (and on the important stuff, to boot), and a completely different life trajectory. I couldn’t and wouldn’t ever have changed said trajectory for someone else, lest we both become disillusioned with the result. So we parted ways at the end of high school, and I eventually moved across the country and found a fuller love that didn’t require that extreme level of compromise. I love Justin – and he changed the way I view love. I know that I could never go back to an old flame for that very reason.

So when, like two or three episodes of How I Met Your Mother back, Ted finally let Robin go and we saw her float away like a balloon, I was ready. “Finally!” I thought, “A show that’s going to show life how it is! No more Ross-and-Rachel tropes! No more ping-pong! No more arresting or undoing of character development! This is it!” (Spoilers ahead) I knew that the mother would probably die from all the little hints that they laid out. I did. But with Robin and Barney finally getting married, I thought that they couldn’t leave Ted hanging that badly. So I thought maybe she was in the hospital, going up against steep odds with a potentially life-threatening procedure, and it would end with the two of them reunited or something. But nope… they spent nine years purportedly telling the story of how Ted met his soul mate, probably 45 minutes total showing us what purported soul mate is really like, one whole season building up to Robin and Barney’s wedding, and then it was all over within ten minutes. I mean all over. Robin and Barney got divorced within three years, the mother died, and then her children basically are just like, “Good thing mom died so that you can get back with your true soul mate Aunt Robin!”

A lot of fans, I guess, are happy that Ted and Robin ended up with each other. A lot of fans are pissed that the mother died. But this is what bothers me: you spend three or four seasons developing, say, Barney by having him realize that maybe he really can love only one woman at a time. He does these giant, grand gestures. He passes on his Bro ways. And then within minutes, that character development is chucked out the window and he reverts to the same guy we saw in the beginning. Oh, and then has a baby, and supposedly that’s going to change him. Hmph. We’ll see. Given that if nine years and a marriage to the only woman he ever really loved couldn’t at least make a dent in his Bro ways, maybe the thrill of a baby won’t last either. After all, there are plenty of invalid dads. Another character: we see Robin’s feelings for Barney are deep if not confusing to her, and she consistently picks Barney over Ted. She fed him a speech of her own feelings toward him for him to say to Nora, just so that he could be happy. She got over her trust reservations with him. Ted and all their friends were convinced of their compatibility/”meant-for-each-other-ness.” Ted accepted that he lost and was not right for Robin. And then all of that reverts, again, to basically square one of the first episode. She suddenly can’t compromise work for him. They struggle so long just to get married, but they can’t fight to stay married – not even for three measly years after NINE.

No one really learned or grew. And maybe that’s comforting to some viewers, because they’re still pining over that girl or boy that got away, and they want to think their life will give them everything they want. Because they don’t want to think about how letting go – really letting go – can help you to grow and become even happier in life. They want to be told that they don’t need to make changes because they’re great as they are now, and the universe will cater to their current status quo of awesomeness. But we’re living organisms. And living organisms change. We don’t always get it right the first time. The first time we think we’re in love, for example. Sometimes, we don’t even know what love is like. And rarely do we ever know who we’re going to marry until we meet that person randomly, in the middle of our life, and it changes everything.

If I had to sit through and listen about how my father had really been in love with someone else for twice the span of my entire life, and his entire relationship with my mom, I’d be pissed. And I’d be annoyed that my father was such a pansy that couldn’t let anything go.

I’m all for tragic endings. Sure, kill her off. Have Ted weep as he talks about it. Have his children console him in that, heck, they were born. And then have him tell them that you never see where life goes, and you never know who you’ll end up with, and maybe you don’t know that person now. But if you’re smart, and if you let go of the distractions, you’ll recognize that person when he/she enters your life, and you shouldn’t waste a second of it – especially not pining away after someone else who just was not as compatible.

That’s how I would end that story. Because I didn’t tune in to be bored to tears re-watching an over-used TV trope (will they? won’t they? Oh! Of course they will!). I tuned in to watch a story about a beloved mother of two children and how Ted’s entire life prepared him to meet her.

Creative Partners

I’ve always been a solo flyer. Back in middle school, I was probably the best drawer in most of my classes. Then Joanna Rodriguez moved into town, and I had to share that title – which was totally fine because she was a delightful girl. Moreover, up until then, my friend who’d moved over from Guam and I were just about the only kids in school who liked anime/manga. So having another girl around – the nerdy, artsy type who like Princess Mononoke and Sailor Moon and who could draw and play on NeoPets with me? Who liked hanging out with boys without necessarily having to like them? Who’d watch Toonami’s line-up of Dragon Ball Z and Gundam Wing? That was frickin’ awesome! It was a girlmance waiting to happen.

We immediately became a trio rather than a duo, and life was good. But dang it! I was just so possessive of “my” ideas. You know… we’d rip off of other cartoons and make our own characters, like ripping of the magical-pet shows of the 90s but with our own little spin. And whenever I found a new show to rip off of, she’d be drawing her characters, too. Man… I wish I had scans of our drawings to show you, but I left them all in my parents’ garage. That’s the beside the point, though; the point is that I’d start to get annoyed that she was “copying” me… even though honestly, I copied some of the things she did too (which she smartly pointed out). I think I eventually put those trifles to rest and we joined forces to create little narratives with our characters and magical animals. We stayed friends for pretty much the rest of school before the normal drift (I was in band, she was in tennis; I was in Block B, she was in Block A, I hung out with Mexicans, she hung out with Asians… what?) and are still on good terms. Heck, we’re Facebook friends! That’s legit! But that was really my first clue that maybe, just maybe *gasp* I was not a team player. For crying out loud, even back in school when I got a group of which I didn’t approve, I’d do the bulk of the work because I didn’t want anyone to mess up “my” project.

I’m getting better at it, because I have to be. Most employers want a “team player.” They want someone who won’t take new ideas or suggestions or discards personally. Friends, too, like to matter, their opinions valued. And the ultimate partnership, marriage, requires teamwork and communication. So what are my tips for working with a creative partner?

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Of course this is #1. Of course. You don’t have a team if you don’t talk. You have two (or more) people working on their own solo projects that hopefully converge. I’ve felt that way a number of times myself during this endeavor.
Because I’m mostly in charge of characters and the designing thereof, I sometimes feel out of synch with what Justin’s creating. He’ll show me a level he’s creating, and a little situation he was proud of, and instead of being proud with him, sometimes my reaction is, “I didn’t know you were going to do that.”
Ugh.
The best way to avoid these feelings is frequent and meaningful communication. “What are you working on now?” “What kind of ideas do you have going forward?” “Thinking of any big changes to the outline we had?” Not just asking these questions of each other, but asking them of ourselves and preempting the questions with our partners by bringing it up when possible.
2. Trust your partner
Not only should you cultivate trust in your partners through your project, but you should only partner with someone that you already trust. If you don’t trust this person to reflect the same standard of quality that you expect of yourself, you’ll only spend all of your time looking over their shoulder at their work, and not enough time actually doing your own.
When you divvy up work, divide it in such a way that each person does what plays up to his or her strengths. And when you can admit, “Ok, Justin makes music way better than I ever could,” you may find yourself able to let go of these tasks because of your confidence in your partner’s abilities.
3. Think it as “ours” not “mine”
That’s a bit of an obvious one, but perhaps not easily accomplished. It requires a measure of trust, as discussed above. But when you tie your name in with someone else, don’t think about how the work might affect your reputation. Your partner is an equal part in this venture as you, and both want it to reflect well for future pursuits. Furthermore, if you’re concerned about your partner’s feelings and reputation too, you will be given further impetus to produce quality work. Knowing that the other person feels that same way as you will help allay any anxiety that perhaps the quality is not up to your standard.
4. Write it out
Sometimes, people get into weird “debates” only to find that they actually have been agreeing all along. I don’t know why. Perhaps our diction is unclear, or perhaps we’ve afraid to take too firm a stance on either side of a debate because we don’t want to be offensive but thereby confusing the other person. I’m not sure why it happens, but it’s definitely happened to me. Or perhaps you really do disagree and talking it out is only making the argument heated.
Writing it out gives us clear communication, through which we can’t cut each other off and which we can analyze and re-analyze. We can read, take note, re-read, construct a solid point, choose clear words, and hopefully, through this, can come to a clear agreement.

All of this is easier to say than to actually practice, but that’s why they call it practice. We try and try and try again. Thankfully, Justin and I have trusted each other with a lot more for a lot longer, so this was easier for us. But trust is often hard-won and easily lost, and communication is a simple principle with perhaps more complicated factors (after all, everyone thinks and speaks differently; some are high-context, some are low). But when we view our project as worthwhile, that’s work that we’re willing to put in.

Swapping Out Females?

Justin and I had an interesting debate about the end of our game the other day. We’ve mentioned before that your relationship with either female character affects the outcome of the game, but to what extent has been our debate.

You see, I want a certain outcome for Taya to depend totally on your relationship score with her (I’m going to attempt to write about this while not giving away the end). I think that end, while in some ways not my favorite end… well… in other ways it’s a good ending; yeah, in a larger narrative sense, it is my favorite ending, absolutely and hands-down. It brings around certain plot points to a powerful conclusion that I think is very cool and very moving. Justin feels, though, that having such an ending for Taya necessitates an equal option for Arinnel, too. (Note: this does not mean that you if “choose” or girl or the other the event is triggered; rather, the event is triggered strictly by the number of relationship points you have with the character in question).

I’m going to use a totally fake example with no parallels to the real plot idea so that I can explain it better. Let’s say… if you have a high/low enough level of points with Taya, I want her to… um… get a bunny at the end of the game? A really happy, cute, fluffy little bunny. Because Taya… uh… has had a phobia of bunnies from the beginning of the game, and her getting one just totally rounds out her narrative. Justin feels, though, that if there is the option for Taya to get a bunny depending on your relationship points with her, Arinnel should also have the option to get a bunny… even though she hasn’t exhibited the same feelings toward bunnies. Just for symmetry, and not to show favoritism. By the way, this has nothing to do with babies.

My problem with both girls getting bunnies at the end of the game – which is a huge, game-changing event, really – is that the endings aren’t really different if we do that. It would render the endings the same, your choices won’t really matter; the endings would basically just be a mirror of each other. It’s not crafting a unique storyline based on the traits we’ve imbued into each girl. It’s treating them like stock-characters and plugging them in/out of one story. As much as I’ve made my girls out to be a bit of eye candy, I do agree that it’s time girls stop being just stock characters and start being… heroes, really. Or at least three-dimensional beings – not merely love interests (although yeah, that too).

Now, I’d be happy for Taya to get a bunny and Arinnel to get… a… guinea pig, or something, if Arinnel’s arc includes deep-seated feelings toward the little squealers. That would be fine. An equally important circumstance, although uniquely different to suit the character. That would be cool. It’s just thinking of what Arinnel’s guinea pig would be that’s the problem.

What do you think? Has media been lazy when it comes to developing their female characters, or do you think progress really has been made? Do you think it lessens the value of each character if their only function is to serve a particular purpose for the narrative of the protagonist?

Becoming Heroes

Like many, I was a fan of the first season of Heroes…. right up until its “epic” last battle with Sylar. The thing is… as you might’ve noticed… that last battle was not epic at all. As I do so many things in life, I’m going to explain this in Dragon Ball Z terms…

So we are offered a Goku in Peter: a nice guy who just wants to do good – who also happens to have the potential to be the most powerful humanoid in the universe. He even trains a little bit to try and sharpen his skills. Good for him! We are also offered Vegeta in the form of Sylar: maybe not a bad guy, but certainly with a great capacity of evil – who also happens to have powers that could come to rival the protagonists, if not quite as naturally/effortlessly, and with a head-start.

We have supporting cast: Hiro/Krillin, Glasses Guy/… I don’t know… Piccolo, Buff White Chick/Bulma, her boyfriend/Yamcha, Cheerleader/… Chi-Chi? Is Nathan Raditz? And Parkman… In any case, we have a great ensemble and many potential heroes, but none who are quite on the level of our protagonist/antagonist… so obviously when it comes down to a final, epic battle… yes, some teamwork is involved – but overall, the expectation would be that the final battle would see the two most fitting rivals converging. This is something Dragon Ball Z has shown us over and over again – but that Heroes took one look at and balked. Perhaps they thought it they gave us a Peter/Sylar show-down, we’d be satisfied with that and forget about the show entirely? Alas, they underestimated our extreme excitement to see such show-downs over and over and over again. I mean, seriously: how many fights did Goku and Vegeta get into? And now how many actually bored you? (Well… you know… besides for the episodes-long power-ups).

That’s just one of my issues with Heroes. When the moment came for Peter to live-up to the title of the show, he wussed out, and the “final battle” with Sylar amounted to a bunch of people taking a whack or two at Sylar. Now, I know that Yajirobe is the one who cut-off Vegeta’s tail, much like Hiro was the one who stabbed Sylar with a friggin katana – but removing Vegeta’s tail was far from a final blow, and it only demonstrated that the defeat of Vegeta was arduous… not just a gang of people randomly pot-shotting one (admittedly bad) guy.

This makes for an easy comparison to the final battles of video games: typically, you have a team. That team stands by you throughout each battle; you begin to think of them as a single unit with your hero. In Persona 3, you can have the protagonist, Akihiko, Aigis, and Koromaru or Ken or Mitsuru or whomever. In KOTOR, you actually get to face off with Malak alone, which is awesome (and basically the hardest fight ever… or maybe just for me)… but up until then you have Bastila, Carth, Zaalbar, the ever entertaining HK-47, and T3-M4 – who basically won my entire penultimate battle against Malak single-handedly (immune to many force powers and able to heal my party when Malak fled; I hardly leveled HK-47 at all due to my insistence on playing mostly-light side). Final Fantasy always gives you your teams. But because you are controlling all members of your party in these fights, the accomplishment feels like a win for you – the player – who has trained and leveled-up and tried every tactic after death scene after death scene (my tactic when fighting Malak? Stock-up on grenades, especially shock ones/ice ones, run really far, throw a grenade, hit him a little bit, then continue to run like hell).

You feel satisfaction in those wins because it took effort, and it was challenging and utilized the sum of your training. Because it was the fruitage of one person’s struggles against a worthy adversary: yours.

So yes, in TV shows like Heroes, you do track the progress of several different characters of the arc of the series. That’s a trend continuing more and more. You don’t want writers to just drop the ball entirely by forgetting about the characters once shit gets real. But you don’t want to totally neuter the main character either, by rendering their efforts useless in comparison to a few slaps in the face by auxiliary characters. I think, in this case and despite my many problems with the movies itselfMan of Steel did well in that department: we followed a determined soldier trying to protect his country from beings vastly out-matching him… and win (sort of) – throwing back a catchy little jab at said beings, at that. Meanwhile, the ultimate, most difficult victory was still Clark’s.

For our own game, we face the same difficulty all game creators do: making boss battles feel meaningful and difficult – without being impossibly frustrating. While we’re a little limited with the Pokemon-like battle-system, acquiring skills and leveling up will vastly aid us in this quest.

A Word on Habibi

Habibi by Craig Thompson is a stunning work that exhibits his talents in much the same manner as its predecessor, Blankets. Both are long (approaching 600 pages) and dense, but he has a truly poetic style that makes even intensely awkward/uncomfortable scenes (like his um… spilt man-juice in Blankets or childbirth in Habibi) a little more bearable. Still, story-wise I felt that Habibi fell a little flat.

The premise of Habibi focuses on a girl, Dodola, sold as a child bride, then later as a slave – who at the age of nine saves a three-year-old fellow slave and their attempts to survive in the desert.

Up until that point, Thompson had me. The near-mythological narrative coupled with the fantastic aesthetic held me captive. But as one bad decision by the main characters lead to another; as they are subjected to more and more forms of brutality in a modern world; as the uncomfortable situations amplify, I was eventually turned off of my initial infatuation. While I still really enjoyed the book and would rate it at 8/10, it did not live up to the hopes I had at the outset.

Probably my biggest issue is just the relationship between Dodola and Zam. It’s very strange to me that two people who regarded themselves (and indeed brought themselves up) as siblings or even mother/child would fall in love. The decision to sexualize such a relationship is not one that feels natural or organic. On the other hand, I do try to remind myself that Zam had not met any other women from the time he was three years old, until his separation from Dodola at the age of twelve. But it seems to suggest that love can morph between familial and amorous – for whether they are related by family lines or not, they are as much family as any other – which, as a sister and daughter, I find rather inconceivable (See: Westermarck Effect)

Another aspect that brings its rating down in my eyes is the portrayal of women. Dodola is subjected to sexual abuse both as a child and as an adult. While she is the protagonist and so obviously is the intended recipient of sympathy (as well as Zam), the scenes of rape are depicted so elegantly and even erotically, that the message (if any) may be lost in translation. They must have been conceived in condemnation, but they are relished in. She is exotified and her naked image, like her body in the book, sold as a commodity. Thompson clearly loves the female body, and he draws it beautifully, but beyond a certain point, it begins to feel like mere fan service, diminishing the poetic tone of the work.

Now this is a minor point, but one that eats at me a bit: the book maintains that full-figured women are coveted in this desert culture. That is realistic, as in many societies – especially those scarce of food – this is the case. We are told this in direct contrast, though, to Dodola, who is both drawn as a Western ideal and coveted for it: slim, to the point of angular pelvic bones thrusting out from her hips with visible ribs. While told that voluptuous women are the ideal, we are shown that the waifish body types of Western super-models are irresistible. Moreover, virtually all males (including transvestite eunuchs save for one notable exception who is pointedly feminine) are robust, large men with rolls upon rolls of fat. Men are free of the same object-status; they are free to be fat or thin or dwarfish, though none are really handsome. Although Dodola’s body is shown to all, when she asks to see the scars of a eunuch, he does so in privacy from the reader, creating an arbitrary gender divide between whose body needs to be on display and whose can be kept private.

Lastly, the end was a sad read, despite containing some reality. While the story as a whole is a larger-than life near-myth, the characters are still rendered powerless. I was rooting for them to destroy the dam that led to the social divide between the world’s inhabitants. Rather, they opt to save one child (while simultaneously and rather ironically supporting the child slavery system) and flee. There is no great no revolt, no call to the simple man to fight back. Just hopeless abdication and flight.

Back to our own game, though, a question for me: if I feel so strongly about the objectification of women in this work, why is there obvious fan service (in the form of Taya, Arinnel, and the other cases of cleavage you’ll likely see in The Lotus War) present in our game? What’s the difference?

I supposed it’s partly the recognition of our respective roles: The Lotus War is a game solely for entertainment purposes. While I strive for an engaging story and an artful (if cartoony) aesthetic, we make no attempts to elevate this beyond what it so admittedly is. If there’s fan service, it’s because the game overall is a piece of fluff for fans. While it touches on themes such as war, cultural guilt and racism, it’s not intended to change anyone’s mind or make condemnations. It’s intended to engage an audience.

Habibi, on the other hand, does take itself seriously. It tackles large themes and hopes to make statements about them, but does so with half the grace of the art the book contains. And I feel that when making a statement about something as sensitive as sexual abuse – especially when enacted against a child – grace is one thing that cannot be in short supply.