Can It Carry That Weight? A spoiler-lite review of The Walking Dead, Season 2

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Man, Season 1 of the Walking Dead came out of nowhere. Telltale Games had been cranking out licensed adventure games for nearly a decade by that point, and had yet to produce anything that wasn’t completely missable if you weren’t already a fan of the source material. But still, they kept trucking along, spending their days being as inconsequential as possible, then all of a sudden, BAM! Game of the Year. Telltale had a certain reputation, one that didn’t exactly speak to great quality, when all of a sudden they’re leading the pack? That wasn’t the only thing odd about the situation, though. Most of those Game of the Year awards go to whichever games have the most polished shootbanging, the smoothest swordhitting, or the most detailed gutsmashing. The Walking Dead, however, while it did have you shoot some bangs, was notable mostly because of the quality of its storytelling. This was a game that, rather than wow you with detailed mechanics or shiny graphics or complex systems, simply made you sad, but so glad that it did. The Walking Dead delivered the kind of videogame storytelling those plot-first players like me have been clamoring for for years, and executed it so powerfully that it was placed on a pedestal even higher than a lot of the more high-profile polished-to-a-gleaming-shine traditional games that were released that year. The game was definitely flawed, but it delivered such an emotional experience that so many people looked right past those mars and hailed the Walking Dead as one of the best storytelling experiences in all of vidgames.

It sold a lot. So of course there was going to be a sequel. As the game is released episodically, it was a Season 2 to the first game’s Season 1. Nobody was surprised at its announcement. Nobody had expected it not to come. The only question was if it was going to be a worthy follow up to the deep, powerful experience that was The Walking Dead, Season 1. Well, the final episode of Season 2 dropped last week. I finished it all up yesterday. The answer to that question ended up being a bit more complicated than I had expected. What do you say we go through it here?

The biggest question we probably have to address first would be “Is Season 2 as good as Season 1?” No. It’s just not. Which isn’t surprising. Season 1 left some mighty big shoes to fill, and it would take a lot to reach or surpass it. “Is Season 2 good?” would probably be a better question, and one I’ll try to answer here. My feelings on it are complicated. The game’s certainly a lot worse than it had to be. It seems to take the foundation Season 1 laid out, and build on it in all the wrong directions. So we end up with a house that has all of its walls sideways and looks like a design student just vomited all over the blueprints. But you know what? It had some good parts going for it too. The house is still liveable, and has a few bits here and there that make it worth keeping around.

So, if someone were to ask me to sum up the biggest difference between Season 1 and Season 2, I’d point to the writing staff. Season 1 had three writers contributing towards various episodes, two of whom had been writing for Telltale for years, and one of whom is an accomplished screenwriter. Season 2 has five writers, but only one of them has any sort of significant writing credits earlier than 2013. All the other writers, including the lead, seem to have been broken in either with the Walking Dead Season 1’s lackluster DLC, or with their previous game, the Wolf Among Us. The Walking Dead should be Telltale’s showcase series, yet they handed the writing duties, that which the game is most known for, to a bunch of newbies, and it shows so much in the final product.

To sum things up nicely, the writing in Episodes 1-3 is sloppy, Episode 4 brings in a much more experienced storyteller and ends up being the strongest one and the only episode that reaches the quality of Season 1, and Episode 5 really feels like a first draft but has a powerful (yet likely very divisive) ending that, to me, made it all worth it.

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In Season 2, you play as Clementine, the Player Character of Season 1’s surrogate daughter, grown up a couple years to a hale and hardcore 11-year old trying to stay alive in the zombie apocalypse. The zombies in all mediums of the Walking Dead are fairly generic, operating by only one or two non-typical rules, but the big thing that makes The Walking Dead what it is are how the people act. In this world, zombies are pretty much just an environmental hazard, it’s the humans that are most dangerous. The breakdown of society and the difficulty of getting resources makes humans infinitely more unpredictable and dangerous than the zombies are, and the big reason that no form of society can be reestablished is that people just can’t trust each other anymore. That’s the setting you have to deal with, that’s what you have to guide Clementine to survival through.

Just because the writers are new, doesn’t mean they don’t have guts, and they make a fair number of bold changes to the Season 1 formula. Most of them don’t really work out, though. One of them that does, though, is the switch in focus on what feelings the game invokes. Season 1 made me feel so sad. It’s a hard world, with a lot of hard choices, and each one I make leaves me worse of than before. Season 2, on the other hand, made me feel like a dirtbag. You join Clementine in a world much devolved, if possible, from the situation in Season 1 two years before, where it’s almost impossible to make do without harming others. You’re posed with choices in the game, but there’s nothing good to come out of them, and the most you can affect is who the bad comes down on or whether the bad is your fault or not. I tend to try and immerse myself in the narrative, and that made me really uncomfortable this time, but it definitely added to the experience as a whole and with some of those wicked choices, I really did deserve to feel like a dirtbag.

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I don’t know whether it’s because the writers are inexperienced, or there was a deliberate decision towards this effect, but the way the player’s choices are handled in Season 2 works a lot differently than in Season 1. Choices were a big thing in the Walking Dead. One may say that they’re one of the major factors making the game’s story as powerful as it was. One of the biggest criticisms of Season 1, however, was that a lot of the choices were simply illusory, that they didn’t really have much of an impact on the story. Season 2 seems to have corrected that by removing the illusion of choice. Oh, you’ll still be making the hard choices. It’s just that only a few of them actually make a difference beyond the next scene. Season 2 invalidates your choices all over the place, often right after you make them. Do you remember that scene at the end of Episode 1 of the Walking Dead’s Season 1, where you had two characters who were both in trouble, and only enough time to save one? That was a huge wake up call. It set the tone for the rest of the season, and let you know exactly the gravity your choices would have. Moreover, it had real impact. One character would die, and the one you saved played a significant part in the next couple of episodes. Season 2 does the same thing, except it turns out a bit differently. You have Character X and Character Y both in danger, and you can only save one of them. If you save Character X, he lives and Character Y dies immediately. If you save Character Y, Character X lives and Character Y dies anyways in the first act of Episode 2. And that’s one of the lucky few that actually matters at all. There are far more that are just invalidated as soon as they’re made. For example, there’s one choice regarding whether or not to have Clementine admit to something she did. No matter what you choose, one of your group will just interrupt you before you can speak and take the blame for you. There’s one part where a member of your group is downed in a firefight, and Luke is providing covering fire while you attempt to get behind a wall. You can choose to take that member with you. If you do, both of you make it behind cover and Luke gets shot in the leg. If you don’t, Luke goes out to get that member, and gets shot in the leg. Either way, it never gets called back to again. There’s a couple of times where you can keep a character from getting killed. If you do, they’ll never talk in cutscenes afterwards, and they’ll barely have any speaking lines outside of them. Even the most seemingly meaningless choices in Season 1 had at least some play with how the other characters viewed you, but there’s none of that here in Season 2. I know it’s really, really complicated to actually create a branching narrative, but you could have at least tried, right? There doesn’t seem to be any effort towards that end here.

Another difference is that the game is a lot more linear, here. Season 1 was very well on its tracks, but it still had moments where you could stop, figure out puzzles, chat with your group members, and get more background on everything. This had huge impacts on the game. For one, having the opportunity to be challenged, to have to figure out how to get through situations, to get a chance to explore a small part of the world you found yourself in; it brought you more into the world, made it feel more real, and helped with that all-important immersion. For another, this is how you got most of your characterization out of the game. For such a character-driven experience, that’s absolutely vital. You were given a list of subjects you could go through, leading to a fairly broad conversation with most characters several times per episode. Season 2 doesn’t have much of that. It’s all just playing from one cutscene to another. Occasionally, you might be called upon to actually do something, but whatever it is will be incredibly straightforward and won’t give you much opportunity for conversation or deviation. The few times you do get to talk with people, they’ll have a single things to say, and you don’t get to go through the conversation trees that were so good last time. The game definitely loses something for that. I was never as close with most of the characters as I was last time around, nor did I ever feel like I was as much a part of this narrative.

The episodic nature is definitely not helping this game. It’s not an episodic game, even though it’s sold as if it is. Season 1 was episodic. Each episode had a well-defined arc, a story that began, built up, and resolved, all while creating an arc over the season as a whole. Season 2 on the other hand has two well-defined arcs, one lasting from ep. 1 to ep. 3, and the other building from ep. 2 to the final episode. Breaking things up into episodes just had the effect of making those arcs feel a bit more disjointed, and the blind insistence on always ending arcs on massive cliffhangers is simply sloppy and offensive.

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Honestly, that’s not to say it’s a bad game. I didn’t hate my time with the first three episodes, and the package is worth it for the last two alone. I just feel that the experience as a whole is sloppy, and made a lot worse than it needs to be by some really odd design decisions. The writing and story is still a cut above that in most games, and starts approaching the quality of Season 1 in the penultimate episode, although it never really reaches the previously established heights. They do do some interesting things with the plot and characters. They did a really good job of making me hate people then turn around and actually like them after a simple, honest apology. They’ve got something going here, and Season 2 is definitely worth your time. Just be aware it’s starting to look like we’re slipping back into old Telltale, not the storytelling renaissance we expected after Season 1 came out.

Those Left Behind: The Lefties of Video Games, Part III

So, while writing my last post outlining the Southpaws of the Video Games world, I ended up with more characters than I had time.  So here’s the long-awaited follow-up to part 1 and part 2 of our thrilling series highlighting members of one of the most underappreciated groups in video games, the mighty Southpaw.  Tracking down left-handed characters in games is a lot harder than one might think, largely due to how scarce we are, but I believe that with the completion of this list, combined with the other two, I’ve almost exhausted all the lefty characters in video games.  Got any I missed?  You know where the comment field is.

Phoenix Wright-Ace Attorney Series

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Here’s one that’s never officially been determined, but it really does seem likely to me.  Phoenix Wright’s pointer finger is legendary.  Tell a lie in court, and it’s coming straight for you.  And it’s always his left finger, too.  Moreover, whenever you see him manipulating anything, usually his papers, he’s holding it in his left hand.  And his left arm’s used a lot more often than his right in official art.  So I’m calling it.  Phoenix may be stuck in the closet, but he’s still a member of the Southpaw Crew.

Makes total sense, as Phoenix Wright is one of the few defense attorneys able to carve out any sort of winning career in a courtroom heavily biased towards the contribution.  Of course, that is largely due to the fact that almost all of his clients are indeed innocent, but the fact that he’s left-handed and therefore part of a long history of outmaneuvering the rest of the population certainly plays a part.

Ice Climbers-Ice Climbers, Smash Bros.

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Much like lefties as a whole, the Ice Climbers are vastly unappreciated.  They haven’t had a game of their own for almost thirty years, their stages tend to be a bit more poorly designed than most in Smash Bros., and even as Smash fighters themselves, they’re a bit of an odd duck.  They don’t have the raw attributes of some of the other characters, so they really need practice and study to be able to use effectively.

Still, though, considering how smoothly they went from smacking down icicles and ceiling tiles to pounding Bowser into the pavement, you know they have to have some game.  And it’s all in their left hands.  It’s their left-handedness that gives these former benign glacier scalers the power to hang with the worst of all of Nintendo’s canons.

Bowser Jr.-Various Mario Games

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So, the Mario universe is really inconsistent about the handedness of their characters, but Jr. here seems to be a lefty more often than not.  He paints left-handed, plays baseball left-handed, chucks enemies at you left-handed, etc.  He’s a significant pain to deal with, and his handedness only makes him more effective at causing you trouble.

Yoshimitsu-Tekken

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Back in the day, I used to think that the Tekken Yoshimitsu and the Soul Calibur Yoshimitsu were the same character, displaced by time.  The fact that SC Yoshi was a filthy right-hander was what clued me in that this wasn’t the case.  Anyways, Yoshimitsu is pretty much what Robin Hood would be if he were a ninja from space.  He’s one of the most honorable and effective characters in the game, and has proven popular enough to be a part of every entry in the series save one.  And that one entry is pretty darn bad.  Coincidence?  I’ll let you decide.

Isaac-Golden Sun

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When everything starts crumbling all around you, of course people will look to the nearest southpaw to lead them through the storm.  That’s just basic survival instinct.  You latch on to the smartest, strongest, and most skillful person available to see you through, and a preference for the left hand is one of the clearest signs of those traits there is.  So it is that everyone counts on Isaac to lead the group fighting against allowing the terrible power of Alchemy back into the land.  And a good call that is.  Isaac is one of the most talented combatants on the team, being well-versed in physical attacks while still having enough skill with Psynergy to fill in as a caster in a pinch.  And sure, Isaac may have made the wrong call in being convinced that Alchemy is necessarily a bad thing before taking the whole picture into account, but Golden Sun is still a net gain for lefties, largely because of…

Felix-Golden Sun

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So, as it turns out, Alchemy in Golden Sun is a necessary thing.  In fact, it’s the only force that can avert the eventual self-destruction of the world.  It’s dangerous if misused, however, and people are scared of it.  They need someone to drag them kicking and screaming into the age of alchemy, to save their own lives.  They need someone bold.  They need someone wise.  They need someone left-handed.

For the second half of the game, Felix leads the team trying to bring Alchemy back to the world.  He knows what’s up, he knows what needs to be done, and he’s not afraid to do whatever it takes.  Obviously, as a left-hander, he’s just as skilled in a fight as Isaac, and is well poised to bring his world into the new age.

Shion Uzuki-Xenosaga

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Shion’s a scientist.  In a video game.  I know, I know, Gordon Freeman aside, that’s usually a recipe for a quick and dirty death, but Shion manages to stick it out, thanks to her experimental android, her unusual weapon, and the might of that left hand.  She may not be the most useful party member, but her ether abilities do keep her afloat well enough to suitably lead the party through the first entry in the Xenosaga, and keep her relevant afterwards.

Angelo-Dragon Quest VIII

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Angelo is a skirt-chasing, hard-drinking, gambling swordsman.  The fact that he rises so far in the Templar Knights even with all his vices is a testament to how much his natural skill as a left-handed warrior places him above the rest.  He outperforms the rest of his kind in their darkest hour, and proves himself to be one of the most versatile members of your party.  Seriously, he’s able to do anything well, his natural handedness lending itself well to quite a variety of weapons and spells.  In fact, some may even say the game never truly begins until the southpaw swordsman joins your crew.

Marisa-Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

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In the 2-d Fire Emblem games, people’s handedness was all over the place, thanks to sprite-mirroring.  Marisa was one of the few who ever made a point of their preference, and she’s very clear on that front; she’s a lefty.  A first-class Myrmidon, she’s very dedicated to the art of the sword, going so far as to sleep on her right side to always have her weapon hand available.  In most of her endings, she ends up as one of the best swordsmen in the land, stoppable by no man.  Of course, her southpaw nature only serves to give her the edge against anyone who dares face her.

Miriel-Fire Emblem Awakening

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As you can tell just by looking at her, Miriel’s one of the smartest people in the Shepherds.  Sure, that image gives lots of traditional signs of intelligence: the book, the glasses, the superior and distant gaze, but the biggest indicator?  That’d have to be that she prefers her left hand.  A perfectionist, Miriel demands much of those around her, yet her performance in combat makes her fastidiousness worth it.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Yuri Lowell-Tales of Vesperia

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Yuri’s actually fairly ambidextrous, switching his swords between hands as his combos and moves require.  He does seem to have a definite preference for his left hand, though.  He was probably born left-handed, but, as a common fate for lefties in a Right Power world, he was forced to adapt and learn to use his right as well to utilize stuff like school desks and scissors and notebooks and things like that.  Tales games usually deconstruct a common aspect of modern day storytelling over their runtimes and in Vesperia’s case, it’s all about breaking down the contemporary anti-hero, a role Yuri fills well.  Having a clear dark side, Yuri’s not afraid to just ice the villains the justice system can’t touch.  Perhaps his sinister handedness provides a window into his sinister nature as well?

Super Mac-Super Punch Out

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Nintendo’s been really cagey on whether this guy is actually Little Mac or not.  The character’s just as cagey about which hand he prefers.  Unlike Yuri, who’s mostly ambidextrous, Mac here seems to be a clear case of mixed dominance, preferring to use different hands for different tasks.  In the boxing ring, his left jab is his fastest and far most reliable attack, and probably the sole reason why he’s able to take down foes far larger and stronger than he.  He also leads in with his left for his Super Body Blows, but the Super uppercuts are done with his right.


And thus, we end.  Thirty-five characters, three posts worth, and we’ve gone through all the left-handed characters in the games I’ve played.  Are there more?  There might well be.  I haven’t quite played all the games in the world just yet.  I’d posit you’d be really hard pressed to find any, however.  So here, between these three posts, we may well have the most comprehensive list of southpaws in video games on the internet.

One thing that’s still really odd to me though.  Thirty-five characters, I’ve found, and only one, Doomguy, was brainborn outside of Japan.  Seriously, what’s up with that?  Is Japan the one place free of persecution against lefties?  I might have to be making a visit there, sometime soon…

Laying Siege In Dark Souls

Wow, it’s been a while since I had myself some Dark Souls adventures. Well, last time on Oh My God How Long Can I Keep This Going, we had a bunch of trouble with some imaginary people in a fake world, then met a beautiful woman who didn’t want anything to do with us.  Because of this, we jumped off a cliff.  Somehow that led us back to the real world. So now, rather than barely being able to handle the Painted World of Ariamis, we’re up against the rest of the famed Anor Londo, city of the gods. Will we be barely able to handle this one, or are we doomed to a life of failure and hollowness? Read on to find out!

dark souls anor londo

Leaving from the entrance to the Painted World of Ariamis puts us pretty much exactly where we left off; at the foot of this chapel. I don’t get a really good screencap of it, but all this is built really high off of the ground. Good thing I’m not afraid of heights. I would be, but after the first couple hundred times you come back from the dead, the more pedestrian ways of dying kind of start losing their sting. Of particular note, you can see some bat-wing demons, those spindly little pale creatures, perched gargoyle-like to each side of the staircase. They’re the same creatures that brought me here from Sen’s Fortress, except these ones seem armed. I’m wary of them, but they don’t make a move as I head by. Either they’re as docile as the ones that served as my transport earlier, or I’m just not within their sphere of aggression.

dark souls anor londo stairs

Interesting thing to note about these stairs, they come in two sizes. Suggests there’s two sizes of people that visited this place. One relatively human-sized, much like me, the other some sort of giant.

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Like these guys. Two sentinels guarding the entrance to this place. I got my practice in against them near the entrance to Anor Londo, so I don’t expect these guys to pose much challenge. Well, as long as I can keep the fight one-on-one. I’m still not crazy enough to be facing these guys en masse yet.

Fun thing I quickly discover, if you lure a sentinel far enough down the staircase, they’ll hit a point where they just start backing up to their original position, ignoring everything else up to and including the Best Chosen One slipping behind them and taking them on from their unguarded rears. If you don’t think I abuse this… well, you clearly haven’t read the earliest posts in this series.

dark souls bat wing demon

I spy one of the bat wing demons lurking behind this door, seemingly trying to get at me. I guess it was too much to hope that they wouldn’t hate me just because they took the time to bring me here. Don’t know why I’m surprised. This is Lordran, everything and everyone hates me. Comes part and parcel with the undead curse. The more you die, the more likely you are to go hollow, and those already hollow, well, they’d love to have more of their own. Given how much I’ve fallen in this pursuit of becoming the Best Chosen One, it’s a wonder I’ve stayed as sane as I have. Anyways, lending further credence to my ‘humans and giants coexist here’ theory, this gate is built to accommodate to size. As a whole, it opens large enough to fit beings of a grand stature through, but it also has a little doggie door for those of my height built in. Hmm… ‘doggie door’ seems exceptionally fitting, the way this is built. Makes one wonder how relation between the two races was shaped.

dark souls anor londo sized doors

In any case, this gate is locked from the other side, and my big beefy arms are just too large to reach to the lock through the bars.  The main doorway into the chapel is solidly locked as well. The gate to the right of the doorway is wide open, however, and it’s through that I venture forth.

dark souls anor londo bat wing demon fight

It’s through that path that I finally come face to face with those demons. They… well, they’re very different opponents. They’ve got some tricks in them. They’re quick and jumpy and somewhat hard to hit and they have a habit of sneaking around corners when they go aggro unbeknownst to me so I end up fighting groups when I was trying to take them on one by one. They have electric spears, too, meaning I can’t entirely block their damage. They also slide backwards when they’re hit, so I can’t get more than one blow in at a time unless I’ve got them cornered. All these tricks makes them incredibly difficult to fight. I swing my Black Knight Sword low, so they often fly right over my attacks before punishing me for them. They’re too fast to be using pyromancy efficiently. And with how much they move, it’s hard to find an opening. Once I learn they’re moves, though, they end up pretty much being cake. Spears don’t actually have a whole lot of flexibility to them; like an inexperienced jock on prom night, all they can do is thrust. When you know what to expect, it’s not too much trouble to slip past their attack and strike out with your own. My favorite thing to do is to fight them up against a ledge. Since they slide back when hit, it doesn’t take much to fill the abyss below with their corpses. Continue reading

New Eden Page 4: A New Hope… for Pages

As mentioned last time, I had taken a fairly substantial break on drawing this whole thing after sketching out the last page.  At the time, I hadn’t thought I’d be keeping this project up.  Well, the concept just wouldn’t let me go, and here’s where I decided to keep up with it in the long term.  As a result, I got a lot more serious about creating this graphic novel from here on out.  Well, for the most part.  I think it shows in the quality.

One of the big things I was wanting more practice on was hands.  Hands are really hard to draw, as seen below, in which they all look horrible.  That’s actually one of the reasons I kept going with this graphic novel, it’d be showing a lot of characters in action, and action requires hands, ergo I’d be drawing a hell of a lot of hands here.  And it’s true, I did.  I think I got a bit better at them, too.

New Eden Page 4Transcript:

Panel 1:  The American government says this is risky

Panel 2: Total virtual reality, on a machine with almost no moving parts.  Nobody knows how it works.  Supposedly, some people get lost in the illusion, wander off, and disappear.

Panel 3: On the other hand, I haven’t talked to him in so long.

 

First page

Previous Page

Rightie Keeping Me Down! The Left-handers of Video Games, Part 2!

Diversity’s an important thing. Especially in our cultural works. Art does reflect culture, after all, and works without diversity are pretty much saying that certain groups just don’t exist or aren’t worth talking about. In a lot of respects, one would think I’m pretty well represented. After all, you don’t have to go too far to find a white male somewhere in video games. People don’t often notice that I’m a minority as well. But I am. I face casual discrimination on a daily basis, from a society that doesn’t even seem to notice that it’s doing so. I live in a world that makes itself very clear that it was not built for me, and would much rather just leave me behind. My kind have a history of being subjected to abuse just for being who we are, to the point that many have had our defining trait beaten out of them. Most speakers of the English language still make habitual use out of words that were once used as slurs against people just like me. I’m a member of a group that makes up somewhere between eight and fifteen percent of the population, yet is still one of the most underrepresented groups in any medium of art. I am a left-hander.

Well more than a year ago, I wrote a post highlighting some of the most prominent southpaws in video games. In that post, I highlighted just some of the many, many obvious advantages of my kind, and gave light to the few of us who have managed to shine through as video game characters in our right-centric world. I’m proud of that post, and it still ranks as one of the most popular things I’ve written on this blog. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any new left-handed characters in video games since then. Seriously, I’ve been looking and the most recent leftie game character came out a couple of months before I wrote this post. This seems daft to me. I thought I made the case for greater southpaw representation quite well. Now, you might think that nobody in a position of power has been affected by my post because I write a small blog and nobody’s gotten the chance to read it.  Well, you’re wrong.  Completely sensible and actually right but I’m being dramatic here so you’re wrong!  This is obviously a case of the establishment trying to keep a hold on things, to make sure our group remains oppressed, so that they can sit there and have all the prominent positions in the video games and the movies and the books and smoke cigars with their right hands.  Well, I’m here to fight the Right Power movement.  I’ve kept my eyes open since that last post, and I’ve got plenty of new characters to add to our roster, and together, we’re going to shake things up.  Let’s go!

Mega Man-Mega Man Franchise

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 Look at that.  Just look at that picture.  Have you ever seen such a demonstration of left-handed glory?  Well, except for MegaMan.exe on the far left there.  He thinks he’s so cool.  But he’s not.

Being a primarily 2-d character, it’s been a little hard to get a firm confirmation on Mega Man’s handedness.  Sprite flipping plays havoc on everybody, so it’s been really hard to tell in game.  He was usually depicted as holding using his left hand for his Mega Buster or other weapons in the official art and game boxes, but not always, and, well, you can’t really trust Mega Man’s box art anyway.  When the series made the jump to 3d in Mega Man Legends, Mega Man Volnutt (far right in the picture above) was solidly a leftie, and every other version of him has followed suit.  Except for MegaMan.exe.  Who is lame.

Hey, while we’re at it…

Zero-Mega Man X and ZX

Charimage_zero

He was originally designed as the much cooler replacement for Mega Man, so of course he has to be left-handed.  Going right would just be a step down.

Zero’s polarity used to be just as hard to figure out as Mega Man’s.  He was just as subject to sprite-mirroring, and, although official art did depict his handedness more consistently, determination was stymied by the fact that he used two different weapons; a sword in his left hand, and his blaster in his right.  Which one was his mainstay?  Arguments could be made for both.  Even though it was definitely his sword, you fools.

His more recent appearances have settled the matter.  In Capcom’s Vs. series, where he’s in his traditional model, he definitely relies far more upon his blade than his blaster.  In the ZX series, in his new model…

zero-megaman3

There’s just no question.

Red-Pokemon

HoaH-Red-02

This is again a character whose polarity took several releases to determine.  In the original games, Red has a static sprite, so you never see either way.  Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen make it clear, though, he’s definitely a leftie.  Every time he pops out a Pokeball, it’s his left arm making the throw.  Obviously, this handedness illustrates exactly why he’s the best trainer in the series.

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Prophecy of Stones- Release Day!

Aether:

Second verse, same as the first. Mishka Jenkins, blogging over at A Writer’s Life For Me, is once again releasing a new novel. And once again, I helped edit this work. So if you’re interested in seeing the kind of things I do when I’m not playing video games or writing long-winded posts here, well, check out her book. You won’t be disappointed.

Originally posted on A Writer's Life For Me.:

It’s here! Prophecy of Stones is now available!

ProphecyCover

Blurb:

The bond of love can conquer all, but only if it is accepted.

Prophecy states that three champions imbued with the best virtues of the mortal race: heart, strength and soul, will be the ones to save them all from an enemy which threatens to steal the life from their world and those who live upon it.

These three, along with their scribe, his bond mate, and an overly sarcastic oracle, must set off on a journey which will take them through forest, city, swamp and mountain. On this quest they activate the magical stones which charge the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Tildar and his cult of Dwell.

Yet the closer they draw to journey’s end, the more it seems that it is not the evil which will be their downfall, but the fear of a champion unwilling…

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Stupid All Around: A Businessman’s take on the GaymerX vs. NIS America deal

I don’t usually post about current events on here, mostly because I don’t like writing things that so quickly become obsolete, but this one event particularly grabbed me.  So, over the past day or so, there’s been a conflict brewing over the internet between the organizers of the GaymerX convention and video game localizers NIS America regarding an unpaid sponsorship agreement.  I’ve handled both events management and PR/marketing in the past, so a lot of what’s been going on seemed pretty familiar to me.  Unexpected things happen.  Especially when money’s involved.  And especially between two small organizations like this.  That’s nothing unusual.  What is unusual, though, is the rampant incompetence on display.  Seriously, neither side comes out of this looking good.  This problem never had to happen, and it never had to progress the way it did, but for idiocy in place on both sides of the issue.

So, to bring the uninitiated up to speed, here’s the ground level info.  GaymerX is a convention produced by MidBoss, a gaming company under CEO and America’s Worst Driver Matt Conn, aimed at providing an LGBTQ perspective on the video games industry that you’ve probably heard about but never given much thought to because, well, it’s still a really small con.  They were having their second convention just a few weeks ago.  Conn had been speaking with David Alonzo, Marketing/PR dude at NIS America, localizer of unusual, niche, and sometimes just plain creepy Japanese video games, about sponsoring the VIP Party at the convention.  Alonzo, representing NIS, agreed to provide $3000 to become a Gold Sponsor for the event, getting a bunch of promotional material and a special ‘Prinny Cocktail’ in honor of one of their more prominent characters at the party.  All well and good, right?

Just one thing.  Alonzo didn’t have the authority to unilaterally commit to that expense, apparently never ran it past those who need to sign off on those things, and found out just a few days ago that NIS America didn’t have the budget for it.

Alonzo, perhaps thinking himself good and just by doing so, immediately e-mailed Mr. Conn about it.

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That’s a pretty bad situation for GaymerX, right?  They had made an agreement, provided a service, and now find out they are not going to be paid for what they had done.  There are a variety of actions they could take.  They could maintain communications, either with Alonzo himself or with someone higher up the echelon.  After all, the case seems very, incredibly clear.  By every legal and moral standard, NIS America had agreed to provide payment for a service, received the service, and now are withholding payment for that service.  Similarly, they could begin exploring the possibility of legal action.  For a small sum as this, it’d likely fall under small claims court, so they wouldn’t need any lawyers involved, and it’d be a cinch to both prove their case and receive court expenses for doing so.  The facts, at least as they are publicly presented, are quite clear on this front.

Instead, Conn immediately lashed out publicly, tweeting the above e-mail and tagging several video games journalists, then claimed through at least one interview and through his own twitter account that NIS America was “bullying” the “queer geeks”, implying very directly that they were discriminating against GaymerX for the organizers’ and the attendees’ sexualities.  I have no idea how long he kept this up, as the offending tweets have since been deleted, but judging by the discussions of the topic they were going on for a significant amount of time.

Of course, this morning, it seems everything’s been settled, NIS’s paid up, and people are making self-serving apologies all around.  The internet loves some good gossip, though, and I feel this is a matter that’s worth exploring, given the severity of things involved.  So, what do you say we go spelunking into the matter?

Let’s take things on chronologically.  Which means we’re starting with David Alonzo.  Now, Alonzo’s not nearly as much of a public figure as Conn is, but we do have a bit of information about him.  As the above e-mail suggests, he seems to be pretty new at the company.  By all indications, he’s only been NIS America’s Marketing Coordinator for a couple of months.  Moreover, his LinkedIn profile has him tagged quite a bit for things like web and graphic design, but he’s got nothing for any general sort of marketing experience, nor any management experience, both of which would come from positions with a higher level of authority and responsibility than a graphic/web designer.  So the job he’s in now is likely of a type completely different than any he’s had before, and he’s really fresh to it, too.  Just a bit of background information here.  Might make his incompetence in moving forward through this a bit easier to understand.

So, a lot, a lot, of people have been accusing NIS America of simply trying to renege out of the deal to save the $3000.  That seems possible, but very unlikely, to me.  Any company that gets in the habit of not paying what they owe aren’t a company for long, and the $3000 would not be worth the poor publicity that would, and did, inevitably result from withholding it.  Rather, I think the actual cause involves a lot less greed and malice, and a lot more straight foolishness.  Rather than assigning evil to NIS America, I’m inclined to believe Alonzo’s claim that he’s 100% responsible for the potential screwing over of GaymerX.  Remember that, in spite of what American law says, companies aren’t people.  They’re not a singular entity, rather they’re a vehicle for groups of people to organize their contributions towards a common goal.  Nothing happens to a company without a person involved making it happen.  And that person, in this case, is David Alonzo.

I think I’m currently in the same position as Alonzo is, in relation to control over the budget.  Namely, I can and do make purchasing decisions on behalf of my organization, but I need to have my supervisor sign off it before any final commitments can be made.  I get requests for sponsorships and donations all the time.  Sometimes, I’m able to fill them.  Every time someone asks me for money, and I think the cause is valid, though, the correct response is always something along the lines of “tentatively yes, but let me check up to make sure”.  Every single time.  As I need someone else to approve these expenditures, I can never make these commitments unilaterally.  For David Alonzo, though, the answer was “Yes, we’ll totally commit to sponsoring this!”, even though he had no authority to do so.  That was mistake number 1.

Mistake number 2 was apparently never taking it to those who actually could make those decisions.  Now, I’m making an assumption here, but since he apparently didn’t realize that he couldn’t spend the money until the day he sent that e-mail, I’m willing to bet that most of the rest of the company was mostly unaware of what he was doing.  Especially those who were overseeing that budget.  And I can absolutely guarantee that there’s more than one person who knows whats going on with the budget in the company.  Yes, NIS America is tiny, but if only one person was tracking the budget, the organization would have fallen apart ages ago.  I find Alonzo’s claim that he had to wait for the games producer to return to find out if he could spend the money or not to be really suspicious.

And mistake number 3?  That’d be sending the e-mail as soon as he found out about the problem.  I mean seriously, this is a major issue, especially for someone who’s supposed to be handling PR.  Now, most businesses and organizations don’t want you to know this, but entities have delays and problems with filling fiscal responsibilities all the time.  Any organization larger than a sole proprietorship absolutely need to have checks and balances in place, and almost all of them will have financial and accounting departments well established.  All this adds several steps to the process of cutting checks, and every step adds delays and the potential for error.  You absolutely, absolutely never tell someone you owe money to that something’s going wrong until the matter has fully resolved its course internally.  If you do, you end up with problems like, well, this.  And there’s no way that anything but the worst-run organizations will be able to finalize the decision to not pay for received services or products within a single day.  This e-mail should never have gone out, at least, not until things were settled.

Now, it seems a little shady to me that a marketer would be trying to take funds out of a ‘games’ budget, but knowing next to nothing about NIS’s internal structure, I’ll leave that matter up to Alonzo’s supervisor.

So… yeah, Alonzo screwed up at every step of the way.  However, the liability for the payment to GaymerX is still valid.  There are certain positions you can’t take confirmation of contributions from.  For example, if our intern or one of our custodians tells you that my office is going to buy a billion dollars worth of your product, you can be reasonably certain that they don’t have the authority to do so.  However, Alonzo is the Marketing Coordinator, and Conn had the ability to take it in good faith that he had the authority he projected to make such payments.  Moreover, GaymerX did apparently provide NIS America with an invoice three days before the event, which is really cutting it close, but does give them enough time to call it off if they needed to.  NIS America did owe GaymerX $3,000, but as Alonzo really should have known better, NIS would have been able to take it out of Alonzo’s pocket in most jurisdictions.

The main point is that unless they chose to just give up on it, the money was going to be coming to GaymerX, one way or another.  Now, when someone has wronged you, the first step to take by almost every social or professional standard is to notify them about it and give them the chance to make it right.  That’s both a practical matter, as it removes a barrier to moving through the litigation process in the future, and an ethical one, because that’s really just how you treat people.  So in this case, it’d be following up with Alonzo, Alonzo’s supervisor, NIS’s accounts payable department, or anything like that.  Going public with your dirty laundry, on the other hand, is usually a measure of last resort.  It’s the equivalent of putting up a fist and starting a fight; sometimes it’s necessary, sometimes it’s the only way to get results, but it’s damaging and only assholes and manchildren use that as a first resort.  I’ll let you make your own judgement as to which one Conn is.

So upon getting notification, Conn didn’t take any steps to rectify the situation.  Rather, he just tried to hurt NIS.  Conn responded like a jilted teenager with a Tumblr account, just trying to draw as much attention as he could without even trying to make things right.  Conn immediately tried to spread the e-mail among some journalists, who I believe were personal friends of his, trying to use his network to do what damage he could.  This wasn’t about putting pressure on the company, nor was it about seeking justice.  The way he went about this, immediately jumping to airing dirty laundry without making an attempt to resolve anything, was pure malice.  Like that mean kid back in class who started a fight whenever someone spilled his milk, Conn had been infringed upon, and immediately lashed out to inflict as much pain as possible before cooler heads caught him.

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This is wildly unprofessional, but still a bit understandable given the situation.  But then Conn just kept digging the hole.  He followed that up with interviews and tweets such as the type above.  Again, this is just him lashing out trying to damage NIS, but making the homophobia implication where there are no indications sexuality is a factor?  That’s really low.  Now, there are times when people and organizations truly are discriminated against for their sexuality, and those definitely need to be called out.  But homophobia is an absolutely despicable declaration and using it when it’s unwarranted reduces the voice of the whole community to do so when it is.  Moreover, it’s very hurtful and damaging, especially for a company that’s been pursuing sponsoring an LGBTQ event.  Conn is much more a bully here than those he’s claiming to fight.  These tweets demonstrate a bit of true character, that of a hateful, self-centered child.

Obviously, the above is incredibly unprofessional, and probably harmful to GaymerX as a whole.  I know that if I had been in an organization considering sponsoring his event, this would definitely ward me away.  If this is how they react to a single, if ill-advised, e-mail, there’s a huge risk in just getting involved in the first place.  What would happen if you sponsored them one year, but chose not to do so again when they may be counting on your donation?  What if corporate processes lead to a delay in payment?  What if there’s a miscommunication, and they’re expecting something different than was promised?  It’s way too risky a situation.

So yeah, there were idiots at fault on both sides.  NIS started the issue with stupidity through incompetence, Conn continued it with stupidity through wrath and immaturity.  Neither came out looking good on the issue.  Things seem settled now, NIS paying what they owe, everyone making public apologies.  I’d bet nobody’s happy, but at least I’m not going to have to hear about it anymore after I publish this post.

One last thing I just can’t let go, though.  Conn claimed in his apology that his statements were taken out of context, and that he never intended the dialog to be that NIS was discriminating against an LGBTQ organization.  Please see his tweets above for the statements in context, implying that NIS is discriminating against ‘queer geeks’, and Conn being a rat liar.