A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes, Then Terrifies The Shit Out Of You

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Almost a year in the making, I’ve finally done it.  I start working in the game industry on Monday.

Everyone I’ve told has been jumping for joy and acting like I cured cancer.  The sentiment is appreciated, and I’m definitely not ungrateful for the job or rolling my eyes or anything, but it’s sort of mystifying for me.  Sadly, this position isn’t in creative development or quest design.  It’s a very important stepping stone to get there, and I’m thrilled to finally be able to work in my own industry, but as a kid, I never celebrated second place or almost or close, not when I knew right on the money or champion would be within reach.  I’d acknowledge the fact that I made it as far as I did, but I wouldn’t kick my heels up and say “WELP, this is it, close enough, I’m done.”

This is also why the mod I’m working on for Civilization V is taking forever and a day.

More importantly, what no one tells you about accomplishing a life dream (and do not misunderstand me, just getting into the industry is one of them) is that it is terrifying as shit once you actually achieve it.  Before, it was an abstract concept, a “yeah, I’d like to do that someday” where you always had the thought in the back of your mind that not everyone gets to be an astronaut or a ballerina and that somebody’s got to be around to make the sandwiches at Subway, so all you can really do is work hard and never stop until you a.) get there or b.) die.  Now you’re sitting there with an itinerary for your first day in front of you realizing that this is it.  This is where you find out whether or not you’re actually good at it.

Getting the job is one thing.  Being able to deliver is another thing altogether.  It has nothing to do with being confident in your own abilities — I know I’m good, but am I good enough?  Did the interviewer misjudge me and make a bogus recommendation that I have no way of living up to?  Am I going to finally get into a studio only to look like a total moron by the end of my first week?  I’ve devoted all of my resources and most of my life to this, even going so far as to put the game industry ahead of myself and my relationships.  To go down in flames now would mean that I sacrificed a good 90% of my life and all of my financial stability for nothing, not to mention that I don’t want to let anyone down.  I hate letting people down.  Every rejection letter I received up until this point, I felt like it was a slap in the face to every friend and family member who believed in me.  When I notoriously screwed up my phone interview, I was too embarrassed to ever follow up with the recruiter I’d been working with, even just to say “thanks for trying,” because I felt like my failure made him look bad in the eyes of his colleagues — “you think THIS loser would be able to do the job?  Hahahaha, go back to recruiter school.”

Not to mention my battles with PTSD and a complex mood disorder.  I think I’ve got them pretty well vanquished for now.  Despite no longer taking the medication that ended up incapacitating me, I can still do things that were once completely unimaginable, including leaving the house and talking on the phone.  Where once I was so agoraphobic that I couldn’t even handle being on a high-population server in World of Warcraft, I’m doing my grocery shopping with my head held high, even splitting up with The Fiance when we get there so that we can grab what we need from opposite ends of the store.  I’m chatting with the cashiers.  I order my own food in restaurants instead of hiding behind the menu and wishing that everyone else in the building would just evaporate.  But there’s always the lingering fear that I’m going to relapse, that one day I’ll wake up and be unable to make it into work because the world outside my window is just too terrifying.  There’s the worry that I may randomly burst into tears at the office or that someone will sneak up on me as a friendly prank and I’ll end up flipping them down onto the floor with my foot pressing down on their neck until somebody manages to snap me out of it (it’s happened before).  I’m terrified that even if I’ve made it this far and I can actually kick ass at the job, the Sha of Mental Illness is going to show up out of nowhere and ruin everything.

And then, of course, there’s the normal “new job” jitters — am I going to like my boss, is my boss going to like me, is this job actually going to be as great as it sounds, that sort of thing.  The game industry has its own set of “what ifs” to contend with, things like “what if the entire office is made up of dudebros who aren’t going to ever take me seriously or give me a chance in CDev because I’m a chick” or “what if I fuck something up so badly that the entire game is a failure and it’s all my fault and I ruined everything?”  I’m agonizing over what to wear on Monday.  The dress code is Standard Game Industry, i.e. the unofficial uniform of jeans and a hoodie, but do I want to go that route and blend in?  Do I maybe want to wear something a little cuter and more feminine, or will that make me seem prissy and unreachable?  How much makeup do I wear?  Should I just skip makeup altogether?  Will black eyeliner prevent them from taking me seriously as a colleague?  Oh God, is too much grey showing in my hair right now?

The reasonable part of me points out that as long as I don’t sashay into the office wearing a cocktail dress and Jessica Rabbit hair and makeup, I’m probably okay and nobody will even pay me any mind, but those “what ifs,” man, they’re brutal.  I can only imagine what a wreck I’m going to be after I get into the specialization I’m aiming for (hell, just thinking about it, my brain is screaming “WHAT IF YOU CAN’T COME UP WITH ANY GOOD IDEAS BECAUSE YOU USED EVERY BRILLIANT THOUGHT YOU WILL EVER HAVE IN YOUR DEMO PORTFOLIO?!”).

To answer your next question, yes, it is extremely exhausting to be me.

But I’m not going to run away and hide, because I’ve worked too hard and struggled too much to get to this point.  My foot is in the door, and I keep reminding myself that I am extremely good at what I’ll be doing and will probably be fine.  Everyone I’ve spoken to at this studio has been a great human being so there’s absolutely zero reason to expect anything different when I get there on Monday.  And if someone has a problem with my eyeliner, they can go fuck themselves.  I am the Bunny Overlord.  Let’s do this shit.

The-best-foundation-for-a-flawless-look-is-the-blood-of-thines-enemies

 

The Overlord’s Creep Spreads To Blizzard

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My previous estimation of “I’ll still be updating this blog even if I am focusing on BlizzPro right now!” may have been a bit optimistic.

It’s been a couple of weeks, and I am happy to report that I haven’t blown anything up or set anything on fire yet.  In fact, I’ve been able to do a ton of new, shiny stuff:

  • I’ve managed to build up a pretty decent library of articles over at BlizzPro — use this link to access the archives of everything I’ve written so far, including my new weekly Behind the Lore series!
  • The sausage fest formerly known as the HearthPro podcast has been inundated with glitter and raspy lady-voices thanks to my being elected as their third co-host! Though my first appearance was technically in the Special Beta episode, my actual debut as a co-host type and not just a guest is in Episode 4.  New episodes are released every Monday!
  • It finally happened — Internet Celebrity Status has been unlocked.  I now have more followers than I do people I’m following on Twitter (and no, I didn’t just go ahead and unfollow a bunch of people to get it):
    internetcelebritybunny
  • Hearthstone’s closed beta happened.  As you may have gathered by my inclusion on the HearthPro podcast, I got in.  I am a Baddie McBadderson with a win/loss ratio so crappy that the random matchmaking system often has trouble finding someone on my skill level.  At first it made me a little sad, now I take it as a point of pride that I may very well be the worst Hearthstone player ever.  Fame and fortune will be mine.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn has been invaded by a small odangoed Lalafell thaumaturge named Bunny Sagan (spoilers: it’s me).
  • I toured some tiny little indie game company you may or may not be familiar with, I forget what their name is… Hurricane?  Tornado?  Oh, no, Blizzard.  I toured Blizzard.

While I gear up for an impending comic review and try to refocus my brain on Actually Producing A Blog Post, I figured I’d share some of my experiences and impressions of my journey through the hallowed halls of Blizzard Entertainment’s Irvine campus, or what some might call Nerd Disneyland.

Blizzard isn’t just one enormous building — it’s several enormous buildings.  I was only able to tour the World of Warcraft hub (“only,” she says) and that on its own took about two and a half hours to cover the lobby and the second floor.  The lobby is home to the infamous Blizzard Museum, kept safe by a life-sized hyper-realistic statue of Nova Terra and a bank of computers where you can log in on your StarCraft 2, Diablo 3, or World of Warcraft accounts and kill time while you wait.  It’s also where you’ll stumble across the giant Horde and Alliance plushies that so many people take photos with, something I should have planned ahead for, since they ended up photobombing this otherwise amazing photo of myself with my tour guide, the devastatingly handsome Monte Krol:

Other than clearly being a male model so talented that he can ambi-turn with the best of them, Monte is the voice of the male goblins in World of Warcraft and the game’s Lead Tools Engineer.  He’s been with the company for thirteen years, just shy of receiving the commemorative shield given to employees for 15 years of service (they receive sword at 5, a ring at 15, and the Lich King’s helm at 20), so he knows where all the cool stuff and secret candy stashes are.

The Blizzard Museum is not only a repository for awesome concept art, character bios, and community appreciation — StarCraft 2 shoutcasters have their very own plaque in the eSports exhibit — it also features a StarCraft 2 voice changer that you can mess around with to sound like Abathur or Izsha if you follow the instructions given on how to manipulate the small soundboard hooked up to it.  To answer your next question, yes, I made poop jokes as Izsha.  I’ve got you covered, guys. (Not with poop.  Ewwww.)

The second floor of the World of Warcraft building is where all the magical creative stuff happens.  It’s home to concept artists, quest designers, and the most impressive collection of official Warcraft figures I’ve ever seen just in one guy’s office.  One of Blizzard’s core philosophies is “embrace your inner geek,” and their employees have definitely run with it based solely on their office decor.  They go all out on making their work environment comfortable, which sometimes means decorating their workspace with hanging vines, tropical plants, and dim lighting to look like a balmy jungle.

No, seriously, I forget whose office it was, but it was one of the most glorious things I’ve ever seen.  I’m pretty sure he was even using a specific color of lightbulb to get the full effect.

Everyone I spoke to, even the team Leads (who were undoubtedly swamped with Patch 5.4’s impending release), were more than happy to explain to me their roles in the development process and even just to chat.  It didn’t feel like anyone was reading from a script or being forced to interact, and that sense of welcoming really was appreciated.  About halfway through the tour I ran into Greg Street, a.k.a. the infamous Ghostcrawler, and I can honestly say that he is really a pleasant and kind-hearted guy when he’s not being screamed at and threatened by the denizens of the internet JUST AS TERRIFYING AND HARDCORE AS YOU THINK HE IS.

(Don’t worry, Greg, your secret’s safe with me.)

Across the courtyard from the World of Warcraft building is the fabled Blizzard Library, guarded by more lifelike statues of Illidan and Jim Raynor.  The library itself is small, but stuffed with every tabletop RPG manual, graphic novel, or programming reference guide you could ask for.  They even have a gigantic console gaming and Blu-Ray section for their employees to borrow from.  If I could have a library card from anywhere, it’d be from there!

The tour ended not in the gift shop — sadly, they don’t have one — but in the campus’s cafeteria.  If you follow any Blizzard people on Twitter, you may have noticed them talking about how good the food is.  After sampling it for myself, I can safely say it was a better dining experience than most restaurants I’ve been to.  Vegan, kosher, and halal employees always have options available that are not just “a salad” There is an ice cream machine and a spread of just about anything you could possibly want to eat that day.  This isn’t typical “pizza or hamburger” choice, this is more like “Stuffed Greek Burger” versus “Tofu Veggie Wrap with Watermelon Salad.”  It makes sense, though, when you figure that a lot of these employees are spending at least two of three mealtimes at work; good food means they’ve got the fuel to make it through the long hours.

If you want to schedule your own tour, Blizzard’s official site explains what you need to do.  There’s no cost, and it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to see where your favorite games are born!  Keep in mind, though, that spots are very limited and may require a bit of patience to get depending on how many other tours have already been scheduled or phases in the development cycle that may see the campus closed to visitors.  All in all, it was a great experience, and only a little bittersweet for me.  Getting an inside look at how Blizzard operates has only made me hungrier for a desk of my own there.  One of these days…

Overlord Bunny Goes Pro!

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Folks, this morning I found something amazing in my inbox.

As of today, I am officially BlizzPro‘s newest editor.  This means that I will regularly be contributing news articles to their most glorious of websites so that you, the players, can stay informed of the most exciting changes in Blizzard Entertainment’s gaming lineup — live events, PTR thrills, patch notes, the works!

What does this mean for my blog?  Well, probably not too much.  I’ll still be writing original gaming articles here (I’m hoping with the same frequency), and of course, you can always catch me on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.  If you’re not much for the social networking but all about the gaming, I’m also noobing it up pretty regularly on Battle.Net as BunnyOverlor#1766 or on Steam as BunnyOverlord.  Noticing a pattern, yet?

I’m also hoping to start livestreaming my gaming adventures on my Twitch channel — I’ve done one “test” show with the fabulous Miss Bonekitty and a whole horde of stinky zombies just asking to be set on fire, but I’m still working on some technical stuff with it as well as figuring out a regular time that works for everyone.

I don’t have any articles up on the site yet, but that will be changing soon!  In the meantime, head on over to the sparkly new BlizzPro Forums and say hello!

A million thanks to all of you for your support and reads, by the way — I legitimately could not have done this without you all listening to my voice and spreading the word.  I may not be as internet-famous as some, but damned if I don’t have quality over quantity.

Oh, The Humani-Tea

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Before moving to California, I worked for a chain of tea stores that shall go unnamed.  I would just cut out the middle man and call them Voldemort, but I feel like that’d be unfair because prior to an also-unnamed chain of coffee shops that actually deserves a villainous snake-faced moniker buying them out and shit-canning or forcing almost everyone in my store out of their jobs despite promising us that we wouldn’t have to worry about such things and giving us all a measly $3 gift certificate for coffee on our way out the door like that was supposed to make up for it, they were an incredible company to work for.  The atmosphere was great, the people I worked with were amazing, and most importantly, I learned how to make a bitchin’ cup of tea.

Tea is, in my opinion, the most misunderstood beverage out there.  Most people just don’t know how to brew it, which isn’t a slight against them — unless you’ve grown up in a family of loose-leaf tea drinkers or worked somewhere that serves tea, the only way to learn what to do is to read up on the subject, and with most of the tea you’ll find in non-specialty stores being the cheap dunk-in-water-and-go bagged variety, there’s really not much exposure to it in the first place.  I’ve found that whenever someone tells me “I don’t like tea,” it’s due to improper preparation or one of the many misconceptions floating around out there:

  • “Drinking tea is gay.”  I apologize in advance for even typing out this abhorrent reasoning, but sadly, it’s been one of the most common negative perceptions I’ve heard.  It’s disgustingly offensive and small-minded.  Tea does not have a gender.  Tea is a beverage.  If you are trying to impose gender roles on your drink, then you’ve got much deeper issues than simply being a bigot.
  • “Tea tastes disgusting.”  Bitter tea is a direct result of using a water temperature that’s much too high or steeped it for too long.  Weak tea means you haven’t added enough tea leaves or haven’t steeped it long enough.  Plus, there’s multiple flavors and varieties of tea out there, just like wine — certain types of tea have certain characteristics that may or may not be palatable to you.  One hundred percent of the time that someone has said this to me, I’ve managed to brew them a cup of tea that has absolutely blown their minds.  Go to a tea shop and ask for a recommendation based on flavors you like; I guarantee whoever’s behind the counter will be more than happy to help.
  • “I’m a coffee person.”  Coffee and tea aren’t mutually exclusive!  There’s no rule that says you can’t enjoy both.  There’s even some blends, like JavaVana Mate, that actually contain cappuccino and chocolate in addition to the tea itself and serve as a really nice “crossover” option (it’s not just for the music charts anymore).
  • “I only drink iced tea.”  Loose-leaf tea doesn’t just mean “hot tea.”  It’s just as delicious and easy to make iced as it is hot!
  • “It’s way too expensive!”  At first glance, yes, it’s going to seem pricey, and some super-rare teas will come at a premium cost… but most loose-leaf tea can be re-brewed between 3 and 5 times using the same leaves, and some even more than that.  Your average cost for a medium-range tea will come out to about 20 cents per cup, which is significantly cheaper than hitting the coffee bar.  Tea bags are cheaper, but the ingredients they contain are far inferior to loose-leaf, meaning you don’t get as much reusability from them and you’re sacrificing a great deal of taste and potential health benefits.  Spend the extra few cents to get the good stuff.  It’s the most affordable luxury you’ll find.
  • “It’s too hard to brew.”  Most tea shops will sell any number of brewing devices for loose leaf tea, whether they’re a one-cup maker that sits on top of your mug, the infamous “tea ball”, or a fully-automated appliance like this one that I would sell my first, second, and thirdborn to get my hands on.  You can put the kettle on while you do stuff around the house, or if you’re lucky, your workplace will have one of those instant hot water spigots.  Wait a minute or two for the tea to finish steeping, which you’d do anyway with a tea bag, and enjoy.  All you have to do is know how hot your water needs to be, how much tea to put in, and how long to let it brew, which is made even easier thanks to the advent of things called “post-it notes” and “refrigerator magnets.”
  • “I need something with a caffeine boost.” or “I can’t have caffeine.”  The vast majority of teas out there contain the same amount of caffeine as a cup of decaf coffee — yep, surprise, decaf actually contains about 20% caffeine — or less.  There are multiple 0% caffeine options in the world of tea, as well.  If you absolutely need the pick-me-up, there’s options out there for you, too.

I’ve been intentionally vague on a few points thus far simply because I’ll be explaining them in further detail a bit later on.  Welcome to Tea-Brewing 101.  There will be a test, but you get to drink the results.

Why Tea Bags Suck

Once upon a time, I, too, fell victim to the Celestial Seasonings trap.  It was extremely cheap, and they had a ton of flavors, so why not?  At that point in my life I’d never had loose-leaf tea, so I had nothing to compare it to.  Even after drinking my first “proper” cup of tea, I didn’t notice much of a difference… until I went home that night and brewed myself a cup of the bagged stuff.

It was so awful that I spit it out and poured the rest down the sink.  Once you go loose, you’ll never… reverse?  (With rhymes that sick, just call me T-Rabbit.)

The most significant difference I’ve found is between bagged green tea and real green tea.  The tastes are worlds apart, no matter how high-end the bags claim to be.  After reading the ingredients for several different brands of green tea bags, I concluded that this was because most of the time, you’re not even getting green tea.  You’re getting a blend of black, white, and just a sprinkling of green, or the mysterious “natural tea blend” which could contain actual dirt, for all we know.

The other varieties of tea out there, however, are not immune from the Taste Gap.  Even in the rare event that the ingredients check out, cut open a bag and look at what’s inside.  It’s a powdery mess that’s been ground up so finely you can’t immediately identify what it once was.  Contains “orange peel” and “jasmine flower?”  Maybe so, but you wouldn’t know it just by looking at it.  For reference, this is what good loose-leaf tea will resemble:

From The Cozy Leaf on Etsy. It's so pretty.

This is the one time you actually *want* something you’re about to consume to resemble potpourri.

Not only is it prettier, but you can presumably identify the ingredients.  The tea leaves themselves haven’t been chopped into oblivion, meaning they can actually open up in the hot water, allowing the natural oils that give tea its flavor to spread more evenly and provide a significantly more delicious taste.

Bagged tea also tends to go stale much more quickly due to its packaging, guaranteeing even further loss of taste.  The flimsy cardboard boxes and paper envelopes they come in won’t keep sunlight and air out reliably, which is a must in the eternal…

Storage Wars

Before I go any further, I should probably remind everyone that I no longer work for any tea companies and am, in fact, an unemployed bum at the current time.  Thus, I am not being paid off by anyone to make recommendations or write this article or spread bullshit to drive up their sales — I’m writing as a tea drinker, not a tea vendor.  With that being said…

Buy the damn tins.

If you’ve ever been to a Teavana, you know what I’m talking about — they recommend that you purchase one of their air-tight, light-tight tins to protect your tea from going stale (which will happen in less than a week with the paper bag they give you, versus a year or more if you snag a tin).  This isn’t a lie.  I learned this the hard way, myself, the first time I bought tea from them.  I was certain that it was just a sales tactic to get an extra few bucks out of me without really giving me anything in return.

Fast forward two weeks as I’m making myself a cup of my new favorite tea.  The first thing I noticed upon opening the bag was that the smell wasn’t quite as good as it had been in the store and during the previous week.  It only took one sip of the finished product to hammer home the point that I, Overlord of Bunnies, had screwed up royally by not getting a tin to keep it in.  Yes, it would have meant shelling out an extra few bucks, but the tins themselves are reusable, so for a loyal tea drinker like myself, it’s really a one-time investment.

You do not have to purchase the tins specifically from Teavana or whatever store you happen to be buying the tea from if you’d rather get a cheaper option.  Any container that prevents light and air from getting in will suffice.  Tupperware and glass will not work.  If you can see through it, it is not light-proof, and it will affect the tea’s freshness.  While you’re buying your tea, however, check any clearance or sale sections, because they frequently mark down decorative and “older” style tins.

As an added note, if the tea you’re buying contains orange peels, lemon peels, or any kind of citrus, be sure that your tin is specifically approved for citrus, otherwise the seal can swell and make it either extremely difficult or completely impossible to reopen.

Brewing Options

Obviously, you can’t just dump loose-leaf tea into the bottom of your cup and drink it — well, you could, but I operate under the rule that the only tea you should be chewing is boba tea.  There’s plenty of options out there as far as nifty gadgets to make sure you get all of the tea with none of the mess.

  • The One-Cup Tea Maker.  Almost every major loose-leaf tea company out there has its own version, but they all work the same.  Put your tea leaves (and sugar, if you so desire) into the device, then pour in the hot water and let it steep.  When it’s done, simply set it on top of your mug, which will activate a pressure plate that allows the liquid to empty out but won’t let the leaves themselves through the strainer.  Some of them are dishwasher-safe on the top rack, and all of them are easy to wash by hand.  Adagio Teas sells one through ThinkGeek as well as in their own stores, and Teavana has the PerfectTea maker, which is also available in a 32-oz version if you’ve got multiple tea drinkers in the house or just really like tea.
  • Tea Infusers.  The most famous incarnation of the tea infuser is probably the tea ball, but many companies have started selling adorable versions like this rocket ship or, if you’re of the nerdier persuasion like myself, you can pick up a Death Star infuser, complete with the most delicious exhaust ports ever.  A quick Google search of “tea infuser” brings up a myriad of other results to cater to almost any taste or fandom out there.  As adorable as they may be, however, they are prone to a couple of problems; hinges and latches can become loose or unreliable after repeated use, meaning there’s a chance of the tea spilling out into your drink.  Finer-leaf teas, such as Earl Grey or green tea, may also slip through the holes on some models, unlike the one-cup makers which utilize a very fine mesh that will act as a barrier against the most delicate of teas.  If you tend to prefer chunkier blends and aren’t a daily tea drinker, or just want something cute to bring out when company’s over, these are good (and cheap) options.
  • Tea Strainers.  Basically like the one-cup tea makers, but with less engineering.  These sit in the top of your cup filled with tea leaves, then you pour the hot water over and let it brew (the bottom of the strainer basket has to actually reach the water, however, to be effective).  Since most are made using that super-fine mesh, the size of your leaves won’t be such a concern, but whereas the one-cup makers will work with nearly all mug sizes, these are a bit more specific.  If you use novelty mugs which may be smaller or larger than “standard,” you may find that the strainer doesn’t fit.
  • Infuser Mugs, Thermoses, and Tea Pots.  Infuser mugs are essentially a mug and tea strainer all in one bundle and usually made of ceramic (including the actual infuser itself), but share the same problem as many tea infusers — the holes are usually too big to use with smaller tea leaves.  For those who want something for the drive to work or are looking for a more portable option, many companies offer travel thermoses with built-in mesh infusers, although finding a place to save or dump your leaves once it’s done brewing can be problematic if you’re in the middle of traffic or don’t want to have to take along a spare bag or drip cup.  Infuser tea pots are best for entertaining — company, not Beauty and the Beast — or for keeping a steady supply at hand if you know you’re going to go back for a second cup, but they cannot, I repeat, CANNOT BE PUT DIRECTLY ONTO THE STOVETOP.  Use a kettle to boil your water, then pour it in.  If you put the tea pot itself onto the stove to boil, it will melt, explode, combust, or do any other number of awesome-sounding verbs that are great in a Michael Bay movie, but not so much in your kitchen.  Similar to the tea pots are the infuser pitchers, which I find work absolutely perfectly for iced tea.
  • Tea-Brewing Appliances.  If you have money to burn and no shits to give, there’s the One-Touch Tea Maker that is, quite simply, the most glorious thing I have ever laid eyes on.  Press buttons, reap rewards.  No watching the clock, no boiling a kettle or worrying about water temperature.  About the only thing it doesn’t do is massage your shoulders and whisper sweet nothings into your ear, but there’s only one Tom Hiddleston and I hear he’s otherwise engaged so it’s a great substitute, anyway.  If it’s a bit out of your price range, but you still want the added convenience that comes with having a quasi-robotic tea servant, Zojirushi makes several varieties of water boilers that will heat your water to whatever specific temperature you need.

How To Tea Like A Boss

Congratulations!  You’ve overcome your prior prejudices against tea, bought your storage tins, assembled your supplies… and now have no idea what the Hell to do.

There are several common varieties of tea that you’ll find, each with different perceived health benefits (NOTE: not a doctor), flavors, and brewing requirements.  There’s also a few handy tips and tricks that apply to all of them:

  • For preparation, tea leaves are measured out in heaping teaspoon units, so dig through your baking supplies and find one to ensure the most accurate (and delicious) results.
  • Don’t microwave your water, ever.  Buy a cheap kettle and boil it the old-fashioned way.  Microwaving water will affect the flavor and, if you’re drinking tea for health reasons, may lessen or remove any purported health benefits.
  • If you’re adding sugar to your tea, I recommend putting it in with your tea leaves to allow the water to naturally stir it through for better flavor.  Add honey into the bottom of your mug before pouring the brewed tea in, then stir.  German rock sugar, which is crystallized beet sugar and water, will add sweetness without altering the flavor like table sugar can, but is slightly higher in calories (25g per teaspoon) and has the same glycemic index, so it is not safer for diabetics!
  • Don’t stir your tea while it’s steeping.  It can damage the leaves and affect the quality of the brew.
  • Teavana sells digital tea timers with pre-programmed, color-coded buttons depending on what kind of tea you’re brewing.  I highly recommend picking one up, or, if you’re brewing at your desk, Adagio Teas has a free desktop app for PC users that will keep track of time for you.
  • To make a single serving of iced tea, fill your cup (not glass!) to the top with ice and use double the normal amount of tea leaves with half the normal amount of water.  Pour the hot tea directly into the ice-filled cup, top off with ice to replace what’s melted, and stir.  Voila!  No waiting to cool required!  You can use the same concept to brew a whole pitcher for immediate consumption.
  • Want stronger tea?  Add leaves, not time.  If 2 teaspoons is too weak for your tastes, try 3 teaspoons instead, but brew it for the same length of time, or else you’ll risk burning the leaves!
  • For the best tea, Earl Grey, hot, look for varieties that include pieces of bergamot rather than bergamot oil, essence, or flavoring.
  • To achieve the purported health benefits of each type of tea, it is recommended that you drink three 8 oz servings per day.  Note that no health benefits have been proven by any scientific body, and tea is not a substitute for medication or a doctor’s care.  Drinking too much tea can also cause problems for people with kidney or gallbladder issues, so when in doubt, ask your doctor!
  • Most tea stores will provide specific instructions on how to brew their teas, often via a sticker on the front of your tea tin.  Keep it handy!
  • If you’re feeling adventurous, you can mix two different teas to come up with unique flavors and blends of your own, so feel free to experiment!  There’s some special instructions to keep in mind, however.
    • If you need 4 teaspoons of tea total for your cup, you can usually split it down the middle with 2 teaspoons from each tea that you’re mixing.  If there’s a particular tea you want to be a more dominant flavor, shift the balance so that the majority of your mix is from its side.  Shake to mix the dry leaves together before you brew to ensure the flavor is evenly distributed.
    • The water should only be as hot and the brew time should only be as long as the most delicate tea in your blend.  For example, if you’re mixing a green tea (extremely short steep time and lower temperature) with an herbal tea (long steep time and high temperature), you want to let your blend steep for the extremely short time using cooler water.

White Tea

Caffeine Content: 1%
Amount per 8oz: 1.5 tsp
Water Temperature: 175 F (boiling water + 4 to 5 ice cubes)
Steep Time: 2 minutes
Purported Health Benefits: Hydration and detoxification, healthy skin and nails
Flavor: Light, usually mixed with fruity or floral ingredients, though there are some chai-flavored white teas that can offer the taste without the caffeine.

Green Tea

Caffeine Content: 5%
Amount per 8oz: 1 tsp
Water Temperature: 175 F (boiling water + 4 to 5 ice cubes)
Steep Time: 1 minute
Purported Health Benefits: Supports healthy blood sugar, boosts immune system, contains EGCG complex
Flavor: Light, sometimes “grassy.” Usually sold plain, but other flavors, including jasmine and mint, do exist.

Oolong

Caffeine Content: 10%
Amount per 8oz: 1 tsp
Water Temperature: 195 F (boiling water + 2 to 3 ice cubes)
Steep Time: 3 minutes
Purported Health Benefits: Aids digestion, promotes healthy teeth
Flavor: Light to moderate, usually with a sweet, earthy note.  Works well with chai and spiced fruit flavoring.

Black Tea

Caffeine Content: 20%
Amount per 8oz: 1 tsp
Water Temperature: 195 F (boiling water + 2 to 3 ice cubes)
Steep Time: 3 minutes
Purported Health Benefits: Cardiovascular health
Flavor: Robust, most popularly enjoyed in the mornings as a breakfast tea.  Earl Grey is considered a “black” tea.

Mate

Caffeine Content: 100% (equivalent to a regular cup of coffee)
Amount per 8oz: 1.5 tsp
Water Temperature: 208 F (boiling)
Steep Time: 5 minutes
Purported Health Benefits: Energy and appetite suppression due to caffeine content
Flavor: The mate sold by stores like Teavana is not the same as the yerba mate that is enjoyed in South American countries, though the rich flavor is “inspired by.”  Recommended for coffee fans due to its bold flavor and varieties that may include ingredients like chocolate and cappuccino.

Rooibos

Caffeine Content: 0%
Amount per 8oz: 1.5 tsp
Water Temperature: 208 F (boiling)
Steep Time: 5 minutes
Purported Health Benefits: —
Flavor: Because of its naturally sweet flavor and lack of caffeine, rooibos is often recommended for children or those with a sweet tooth.  The fruit varieties, especially, often taste just like juice, even without sugar!

Herbal

Caffeine Content: 0%
Amount per 8oz: 1.5 tsp
Water Temperature: 208 F (boiling)
Steep Time: 5 minutes
Purported Health Benefits: Depends on ingredients; examples include honeybush for relief of menstrual cramps or lavender for a calming effect (as someone with anxiety issues, I’ve had success drinking lavender teas to bring myself out of mild attacks or lower my stress level throughout the day).
Flavor: Typically contains no actual tea leaves, but can run the gamut from nutty or chocolate-y flavors to fruity or floral.

IGDA Does Obsidian: An Evening With Feargus Urquhart

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It seems I joined IGDA — the International Game Developer’s Association — at an absolutely amazing time.

If you’re unfamiliar with the organization, it’s a worldwide group that allows students, professionals, and newcomers to the gaming industry to network and get their voices heard.  Each chapter hosts its own meetings and events that can be anything from a deliciously nerdy social event to the sharing of invaluable information and advice.

On the evening of July 23rd, Feargus Urquhart, CEO of Obsidian Entertainment with over twenty years of experience in the industry, gave a very special presentation for IGDA members where he discussed the ins and outs of project management as it relates to making good games.  You know Obsidian if you’ve played Fallout: New Vegas, Neverwinter Nights 2, or KotOR II.  Though these games are not without their flaws (a fact which Urquhart admitted in a very tongue-in-cheek manner during his presentation, something that gave an immediate +10 to respect for him on my stat sheet), they make it readily apparent that Obsidian and its myriad teams have a good grasp on how to build a game with a solid core.

I heard about the presentation through the IGDA Orange County Facebook group and arrived at Obsidian Entertainment’s headquarters in Irvine, alone and extremely nervous.  I’ve had a few encounters with other members of the game industry, and while many of them were incredibly positive and enjoyable, I’ve also found a lot of resistance and coldness towards newbies like myself who are trying to get their career started.  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been told that my dream of getting into game design and story development is stupid and that I’d probably never succeed (despite none of the naysayers in question ever having seen my work), I wouldn’t need to have a career.  As I stepped through the double-doors into the breakroom where the presentation was to be held, all I could think of was a scene straight out of some 80s teenager movie where the conversation stops and every head turns to glare at me until I drop my notebook and run, weeping, back to the car.

Instead, I found a huge group of some of the kindest and most engaging people I’ve ever met.  They were happy to answer my questions and showed genuine interest in who I was and what I’m currently working.  I had beginning development tools suggested to me left and right.  I may have started the evening hiding in a corner with my bunny earrings and a can of diet Coke, but I ended it laughing and shaking hands with incredible individuals who I hope I am one day able to call my colleagues.  I have to admit that for the past couple of months I’ve had so much snark and nastiness dumped on me that I was beginning to seriously reconsider whether or not I should keep trying to break into the industry.  After my fantastic experience at the IGDA July event, however, I find myself with a renewed hunger and strength towards achieving my goals.  I am encouraged.  I feel, with one hundred percent certainty, that I am on the right path, partially due to the other IGDA members, and partially from discovering over the course of Urquhart’s talk that my own mentality and development principles match up quite neatly with the tried-and-true lessons he was teaching.

A video of the approximately hour-and-a-half-long combined presentation and Q & A session will be available to the public on YouTube in the near future, but for the time being, I’ve got a Hello Kitty notebook chock-full of notes to share that will hopefully illustrate how incredible this event, and the opportunity to attend it, was.

Feargus Urquhart on Project Process

Throughout the presentation, Urquhart used real-world examples from Obsidian’s development history to explain each point and make them simple to understand, even for someone like me who has never worked for a studio.  His witty delivery and willingness to answer questions kept the experience engaging; by the time he had finished, it felt like mere minutes had passed.

Urquhart began by listing some of the terms you might hear when talking about the style of development used in a particular project:

  • Waterfall
  • Agile
  • Traditional
  • Modified X
  • Gant Charts
  • Jira
  • SharePoint
  • Scheduling vs. Tasking

I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t supply brief definitions of each for those of us who’d never heard those terms used in a development context before, but there is now this amazing thing called The Google to give an opportunity for some self-study later on.

“No one thing works,” Urquhart emphasized, “and it won’t work for the whole project.”  Hard work and attention to detail are the catalysts needed to ensure an awesome end product, and part of that is asking yourself at various intervals whether or not the original plan is really working.  Determinations like these are easier when using smaller teams with clearly-defined goals for each along with, of course, passion for what they’re doing.  When each group knows exactly what they intend to accomplish, project process can only lead to good things.

The main focus should be quality rather than adding more stuff, which can be said of many creative endeavors, including cooking — add too many spices to your dish and they won’t enhance the flavor, they’ll clash and turn what could have been an amazing dinner into a confusing mess of tastes.  Urquhart cautioned that RPGs are perhaps the trickiest types of games to develop while adhering to this mentality, and that in the case of sandbox games like Skyrim, the scope and expansiveness of a game does actually become important, but even here, it’s important to remember that players want an overall experience from a game, not just more “stuff.”

Quality should also be the focus when selecting development tools.  You’ll know you have a good set of tools in use if you can use them to make as much game content as possible in an efficient manner without having to deal with a ridiculous amount of bugs.  Smart usage of tools with a small team as previously discussed will allow more development without having to sacrifice quality.  Reviewing, verification, and adjustment when needed as a project progresses will ensure that everything shapes up nicely in the end.  Even if everything seems to be going great, “make sure what’s done is done,” Urquhart says, verbally triple-underlining the last word in his sentence.  Don’t just assume that a task is finished, verify it to prevent as many last-minute scrambles and crises as possible.

This is actually the point in the presentation where Urquhart said the one thing that made me absolutely certain that I was heading in the right direction.  “If you review and verify something, you can adjust it to make it better.”  Sound familiar?  It’s only the Overlord Bunny Official Game Design Motto.  And if Feargus Urquhart agrees, then… well, I must not be too far off the mark.

The next point focused on the importance of moving forward — not just talking back and forth about something until you’re blue in the face, but actually doing it.  Communication is, obviously, an important part of the design process, but there comes a point when everything constructive has already been laid out and any further discussion is just killing time.  Choose either option A or option B and try it out, which is usually a cheap and easy process even if the first choice ends up being a bust, Urquhart assured.  Only by taking action can a team move forward and allow the project to progress.

Urquhart suggested that the first approach to any project should be a simple question: is this fun, and does it feel good?  If the answer is “no,” find a way to bring it up to speed.  A project should be analyzed piece by piece before adding any more content.  “Developer debt,” as he called it, must be avoided — if the first part is lacking, there’s a debt that the developers have to the players to make up for it as the game continues.  Get too far into developer debt by settling for lower quality or fixing it later, and you’ll be hard-pressed to crawl out of that hole.  This is why Urquhart stresses the importance of a hearty alpha-testing process, using Blizzard Entertainment as an example of how an extensive alpha leads to an incredible and much more polished product.  I was very impressed by this praise and respect, since it seems that trash-talking Blizzard has become the trendy (and incredibly unprofessional) thing to do, but Urquhart quite clearly proved that he has the ability to see the entire picture and recognize the good without succumbing to the kind of juvenile “rivalry” bias that seems to plague the industry.  Yet another reason to listen intently to the words coming from this man.

From here, Urquhart gave us a more visual context for the concepts of simplicity and a manageable start.  Start with one room, and once that’s been reviewed, verified, and adjusted as needed, add another room and a hallway.  If you begin your project by delving right into the sprawling metropolis that houses your single room, you’ll be doing yourself — and your players — a great disservice.  Only after your rooms are built should you determine how to build and render the rest of the world.  By building outwards from the core in the manner, you’ll ensure a solid foundation for the rest of the project.

We were reminded of the importance of using good developer tools, but also that good does not necessarily mean complicated.  Urquhart recommended that a toolset should only be as complicated as it absolutely needs to be, and that even if it means fewer options overall, being able to do them well, quickly, and without constant crashes is still the most important aspect of your selection.  Decide what to make and find a way to do the smallest amount of work in order to answer the most questions.  Though games are a modern way to tell a story, they are not the written word; they’re a unique animal entirely.  What would work in a novel won’t necessarily translate well to the screen, and, as Urquhart points out, your game is only as good as what’s in front of the player.  Promising that something is going to be great carries less weight than providing something tangible that is already good.

Before moving to the next stage of production, there’s a series of questions that must be asked:

  • What core gameplay needs to be done?
  • What do we want to learn?
  • What doesn’t need to be final?
  • Are there too many people involved right now?
  • What can we cut?

Urquhart illustrated this by explaining how voiceover work does not necessarily need to be finished for alpha testing.  Small cosmetic changes can be made at a later date rather than delaying the entire process and possibly leading to a higher cost for the studio.  Involving fewer people doesn’t mean firing them, merely switching them to other projects once their work has been completed, like an assembly line.  The example given here was that you don’t fire the programmers once the code is done, you hand them something else to do and continue on with the other teams whose work is not yet complete.  Again, he stressed, critical review, assessment, and adjustments are needed to figure out when “finished” really means finished before moving on.  The development stages look something like this:

  • Prototype: Focuses on core gameplay, nailing down pipelines, samples of game art, and figuring out a development toolkit.
  • Vertical Slice: Similar to a demo (but not usually released publicly, or at least not at E3 or similar conventions), this is a fully-finished section of the game that shows off the game’s tools and features.
  • Production: Making the smallest game you are comfortable with.
  • Alpha: Making it better (and sometimes, bigger).
  • Beta: Fix any bugs.

A game design document, or pitch, is typically just a couple of pages long and is less a listing of features than it is an explanation of them.  This means that rather than saying “two levels with monsters and traps,” you’d start off with something like “The player will start on the Ice level, and, moving forward…”  The player experience is what will define deliveries; later, you can go ahead and list all of the parts for assignment and tasking.  Tasking should be used for short term goals, scheduling for long term.

In short, it seems that project process could be summed up with “keep it simple,” but what’s the real “Secret Sauce,” as Urquhart put it?

  • Discipline.  Stay on target, use your process, and remember that more does not necessarily mean better.
  • Communication.  Talk about your goals and your progress, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Pragmatism.  Realize that something that’s new, hard, and unique won’t necessarily be good.  Making a game means making people happy, not exhausting them.

Urquhart pointed out that while creativity and passion are obviously important as well, these three principles are absolute requirements for a successful project.  “Games are fun to make, hard to make, and a collective, creative endeavor,” he stated, earning more than a few chuckles of agreement from the veterans in the audience on the second item.  The presentation itself ended on this note to thunderous applause and the floor was opened for questions.  Urquhart seemed not just willing, but eager to answer every single question, and in fact had to be reminded that time was running out, at which point he proceeded to answer three or four more, ensuring that no one went home unacknowledged.

I couldn’t be more pleased with my experience, and I’m glad that I struck up the courage to attend despite currently being just another freelance dreamer.  If there was any downside at all, it’s that I was able to see enough of Obsidian’s processes and viewpoints to be even sadder about recently being turned down for a job on one of their upcoming projects — they don’t just make great games, they’re also some of the most down-to-earth and visionary people you’ll find in the industry, exactly the type of people I want to work with, especially on a long-term basis.

Special thanks to the IGDA Orange County chapter and their sponsors for putting on such an amazing event and, of course, to Feargus Urquhart for giving up his evening for all of us who attended.|

EDITED: The video has now been made publicly available — I highly recommend that even if you’ve read the article, you give it a watch, as it’s much more entertaining and I’m sure I haven’t done justice to the concepts prevented by Feargus Urquhart.

 

Publishing This Book ISBN A Pain In The Ass

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In 2012, I did something I never thought I’d actually be able to accomplish — I wrote a novel.

My NaNoWriMo winner’s certificate is framed and hanging up on the wall above my desk, right under my Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp diploma, because I may not have been able to give my mother a degree from Harvard, but dammit, I was able to prove that I can write and apply waterproof makeup.  I’m just as proud of them as anyone would be of a Ph.D (though how badass would a doctorate in Mermaid Sciences be?  Answer: extremely).

I’m proud of my manuscript, too, although for a month or two after NaNoWriMo ended I almost threw it in the trash because of the sheer amount of snobbery coming from others in the writing community about anything written in that thirty-day crunch — I’m pretty sure that if any of them knew I actually cranked out over 50,000 words in just twelve days, they’d burn me at the stake as a heretic.  I read article after article on self-publishing where some “established” authors went so far as to say that anyone thinking they’d produced something of merit for NaNoWriMo was deluding themselves.  It was my first venture into the social aspect of being a writer and rather than getting that special feeling of empowerment that comes from being among like-minded people, I got a nasty case of heartburn and three panic attacks.

In a way, I understand where some of them are coming from.  Most people can’t write that quickly and end up with an A+ project at the end of it.  NaNoWriMo attracts a lot of amateur writers, and while I will support and encourage the absolute shit out of anyone brave enough to pick up a pen and paper (or a keyboard, I guess, because none of us have legible handwriting anymore), there’s a good chunk of them who could probably benefit from a few more practice runs.  And that’s okay!  There is zero shame in that, because we all have to start somewhere if we want to learn what works and what doesn’t.

I’m not saying I’m the next Sylvia Plath or Stephen King or anything like that, but I began my writing career in early childhood.  School, of course, taught me the Art Of The Stringent Deadline, mostly because I was a horrible procrastinator who’d wait until the night before a huge essay was due to even write the title on the page.  Very few of my classmates could pull such a feat off and still get a passing grade.  I was cranking out five-page manifests, single-spaced, in about two hours and receiving an A every single time.  In my freshman year of high school, I was the youngest person to ever be accepted to the school newspaper, and I didn’t even apply for it — my English teacher submitted one of my essays to the instructor in charge of the paper, who immediately waived the “you must be at least a sophomore” requirement to get me onto the staff.  There, the deadlines got even tighter, since we published once a week, and if we got our articles done early enough we could spend the whole time dicking around in the library pretending we were researching stuff instead of looking up genitals in the encyclopedias there.

Also, I’m pushing 30, so I’m old and therefore have had plenty of time to practice this whole working-quickly-and-well thing.

I’ve had poetry published a couple of times (not in those scammy hardcover books where everybody gets accepted), but I’ve never actually held on for the long haul and finished a novel, much less published it.  Of course I have fantastic dreams of getting my book picked up by a major publisher and ending up with a movie deal and merchandising rights, but the chances of that happening are miniscule.  Besides, I don’t write for the money — if you do, you’re in the wrong business, because your royalties paid amount to somewhere between “jack shit” and “six cents” — I write for the possibility that someday I will walk into a library and find my book sitting on the “New Arrivals” shelf.

And that is where the trouble starts.

I will be self-publishing my book, which is absolutely great, but the vast majority of publishing houses offering such a service do not include ISBN numbers for free.  Obtaining one costs about $125, and that’s not even touching the fees I’d have to pay if I wanted to get it copyrighted (I probably do, because I don’t want to have to shank anyone for stealing my work).  It may not sound like a lot of money to most people, but I’ve been unemployed for five months, so coughing up that much is impossible for the time being.  Without an ISBN number, my book won’t end up in any libraries.  I’m a huge supporter of libraries because of how many amazing authors they’ve introduced me to, and the way that they open up access to reading material for those who don’t have twenty bucks to shell out for their own copy of a book.

“So just make it available for free download,” some might suggest, but that still doesn’t put my book in libraries, and, believe it or not, there are still plenty of people out there who don’t have an e-reader or the patience to read through a whole novel on a computer screen.  I definitely want an electronic version out there, but while I’m a Kindle owner who will extoll its virtues to anyone bored enough to listen, an e-book doesn’t look spiffy on a bookshelf.  You can’t feel its weight in your hands or smell that amazing papery book smell, nor can you run your fingers over the glossy cover and yeah, okay this just started sounding like porn, I’m sorry.  But I think I’ve made my point.

Plus, no matter how proud I may be of my work, or how many times people tell me “no, it’s good, you’re fine,” there’s still the pesky matter of that Impostor Syndrome thing where I somehow still manage to believe that it’s crap and I’m an embarrassment to myself.  I’m actually afraid to read back over it.  I tend to read as I write — right now, I’m hearing every word in my head, analyzing each sentence, each word choice, making sure that the syntax is good and I haven’t written “homosexual” instead of “homogeneous.”  It saves me from having to go back and edit everything later, because if I do, I will inevitably find some unforgivable sin that only I notice and end up trashing the whole thing.  I can’t tell you how many finished short stories I’ve lost that way.

(My high school poetry notebook, however, really was deserving of the trash bin.  I was listening to a lot of Kittie at the time because I was a teenager and didn’t know any better.  To be fair, I’m pretty sure everyone has at least one shameful relic like that lying around.  Some even end up getting it published.)

I’m at a loss, really.  Even though I’m not looking for huge profits and have zero expectation of becoming a bestselling author, it’d be really nice to make at least maybe five bucks from book sales at this current stage in my Jobless Bum history.  From everything I’ve found, however, if I want to be able to get my work out there, my only option is to go through somewhere like Lulu, which means no ISBN, no major distribution (at least going through Amazon, well… hey, freaking everything’s on Amazon) unless I wanted to order a bunch of boxes of them to pass out at local bookstores, who wouldn’t sell them anyway because of the ISBN.  Everything pretty much comes down to that silly number.  Do I get it out there sooner and sacrifice my chances of possibly doing something greater with it in the future?  Or do I hold on and wait for the day that I might actually be able to go at this the complete way?

This ongoing internal debate, ladies and gentlemen, is why Observe still hasn’t been made publicly available.  I kind of feel like a jerk about it because I talk about writing so much and how I’m a writer and write wrote writing writer written blargh, yet I really have nothing to show for it other than a one-draft .pdf that I’m too terrified to do anything with.

The life of an artist.

 

Swinging Sharp And True With Diablo: Sword of Justice

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Back in 2011, Blizzard paired up with DC Comics to produce a five-issue miniseries called Diablo: Sword of Justice, set a couple of decades after the Lord of Destruction expansion to Diablo II (but still before the events of Diablo III).  It follows Jacob, the fugitive son of a mad northern king, and his desperate search for answers to a strange plague of violent insanity that threatens to overtake Sanctuary completely.

No, not THAT far north.

Not THAT far north.

Sadly, not even the epic writing of Aaron Williams and brutal art by Joseph LaCroix couldn’t save us from a far greater threat than any epidemic: General Usage Comic Decay.  It happens to the best of us; a favorite comic, after multiple reads, lending to friends, and being crammed onto the shelf between much sturdier-bound books begins to show wear and tear.  The corners of each page bend.  Colors fade.  But Blizzard and DC are both in the business of making heroes, and just as it seemed we’d have to retire our individual issues to the world of bag-and-board, they showed up to save us all with the Sword of Justice trade paperback, available to preorder from Amazon and Barnes & Noble in both physical and digital formats for a July 16th release date (or hardcopy purchasable as of July 9th via the Blizzard Store).

Besides being a lot less fragile than regular comic books, the trade paperback contains a fascinating appendix of preliminary sketches for each issue cover, main characters, and some of the more intricate interior panels.  It also looks badass on a shelf or left laying around for your friends to drool over, and much more “grown up” than a bunch of comic books stashed in a shoebox, if you’re one of those “adult” things I keep hearing about.

LOOK.  LOOK AT IT.  IT'S SHINY. (Seriously, though, high-quality gloss finish paper for the win.)

LOOK. LOOK AT IT. IT’S SHINY. (Seriously, though, high-quality gloss finish for the win.)

It’s also significantly cheaper and easier to purchase the trade paperback now if you missed the original release of each issue or are just now discovering the rich lore of Diablo.  At just under $15, that’s only $3 per issue, versus the inflated prices I’ve seen for the individual comics — if you can even find them, that is — often hitting as high as $50 or $60 for the complete set.

Newcomers to the Diablo games need not fear being hopelessly lost with the content of Sword of Justice, either; being a lore expert is not a requirement to enjoy the story, which stands tall on its own even with limited prior knowledge of the series.  It begins with a short recap of the fall of Arreat given in by Bahman, a blind storyteller who seems to be just another peddler swallowed up by the bustling marketplace he calls home.  A hooded figure has listened intently to his words and now, as the tale ends and the crowd disperses, steps forward to impart upon the old man his own recollection of the horrors surrounding Arreat’s destruction, but is cut short when Bahman whispers to him that he has seen a man following him in a vision, and if he wishes to escape death, he must move quickly to seek what lies beneath a mountain peak in the northwest.  Somewhat shaken, the mysterious traveler sets off in the direction indicated, and thus begins the story of Jacob…

Jacob’s homeland has been overrun by a terrifying madness that imparts an unquenchable thirst for blood and flesh upon its victims.  Even his own father has fallen beneath its scythe, ordering that his own wife, the Queen, be executed for some imagined treason against the throne.  Jacob can only watch in horror as his mother is beheaded for crimes she did not commit.  He confronts his father in his chambers, but what starts as a simple accusation quickly turns to a fight for his life, ending with his sword buried deep in his father’s gut.  With his dying breath, the King, in a moment of lucidity, cryptically warns his son that “the blood will mark” him.  Now a wanted murderer, Jacob must stay one step ahead of the soldiers chasing him if he intends to find a cure for the madness that has destroyed his family, and may soon leave all of Sanctuary in ruins.

And that’s all you get, because the story laid out in Sword of Justice is so rich that it has to be experienced for itself.  Spoilers just can’t do it… justice.

YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH

YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH

Jacob’s last name is never given, nor are his parents ever named beyond their royal titles, but the Queen’s execution seemed so familiar that I initially wondered if they weren’t intended to be the Mad King Leoric and Queen Asylla.  Asylla, however, wasn’t even a part of the lore until Diablo III (although her execution took place during the time of the first Diablo game), and her death was at the hands of the treacherous Archbishop Lazarus, who does not appear in Sword of Justice either by name or by inference, thus the similarities are likely coincidental.

One thing I really appreciated about the series was the portrayal of the two main female characters, Shanar and Gynvir.  Both are written as strong of mind and body, and neither of them are toting around breasts bigger than their heads.  Compared to most other women in fantasy environments, their costumes are pretty reasonable, as well.  Any midriff exposure is actually far more conservative than anything you’d see on a summer day in Southern California, and their breastplates don’t appear to be in danger of triggering a nipple-slip should they lift their arms too high.  Though Shanar’s costume features some pretty steep slits up the side of her skirt, there’s no side-butt or sheer panels.  Gynvir’s armor looks like it could actually withstand a decent battle, although the bottom half shares some similarities to Shanar’s; to be fair, these designs are identical to what appears in much of the game art, but I’m just grateful to see that no further artistic “liberties” were taken to hold male readers’ interests.  In the sketch appendices, there are actually a couple of proposed versions for the cover of Issue #2 that would have had Shanar in what I like to call the “Slave Leia” pose, but they were scrapped in favor of a side-view that actually has her towering over Jacob, rather than at his feet making bedroom eyes.

Shanar, a wizard with a wit sharper than any sword, only relies on Jacob’s support in the most basic of ways, such as needing his help to stand up after unleashing a particularly strong spell twice in one battle, which she makes clear is not a spell that’s intended to be used so rapidly.  It isn’t because she’s a female, and thus weaker; from her explanation, even the strongest male wizard would find himself drained in the same situation.  It’s also worth noting that she is of Asian descent, as is the wizard class in general according to Diablo game art, but not fetishized or marginalized by the use of offensive stereotypes — her dialogue does not indicate any accent or broken English, and she proves to be anything but demure.  She doesn’t throw herself at the male characters to try and get out of tricky situations; she throws it down.  In fact, at the end of the comic, one of the soldiers refers to her in a manner she finds offensive, and she happily calls him out on it.  When he continues to try and insinuate that she really wants him despite protestations to the contrary, she doesn’t back down, but makes her displeasure and disgust over it known.

The tactically skilled barbarian Gynvir is similarly independent and unwilling to take on her “traditional” gender role, shown in a later part of the story taking over a group of soldiers and chastising them for their lackluster performance just as well as any male leader would.  Nor is she written as uneducated or typical “barbarian-stupid”; she speaks just as eloquently as Shanar and Jacob.  She is fearless, and shows a great mind for strategy without which the group of adventurers would have been unable to progress.  Would Joss Whedon approve?  Absolutely.  And then he’d probably stab Jacob through the heart with space debris.

We’ve already established that Aaron Williams does amazing things with words, but artist Joseph LaCroix is not to be forgotten.  The stylized “sketchy” style fits in well with the battle-filled storyline, and the often bleak color palettes lend to the sense that evil and ruin is really lurking behind every corner.

I hear goat is actually quite delicious.

I hear goat is actually quite delicious, you know.

Continuity in each panel is typically good, with only a few errors, the most noticeable of which is a panel in which Shanar’s eyes go from brown or black to a vivid shade of blue and it doesn’t appear to be due to lighting or magical invocation.  There are plenty of bloody clashes, but none of them are overly gory to the point of ridiculousness, and LaCroix manages to capture the frantic movement of the battlefield in a way that has to be seen to be believed.

Whether you’re a long-time Diablo fan or just getting your feet wet, or even if you’re just a fan of awesome comics, Diablo: Sword of Justice cannot be overlooked.  Sanctuary — and your bookshelf — needs you.