We blame things outside ourselves for our shortcomings all the time. We’ll blame our busy schedules. We’ll blame the enviroments in which we work. We’ll blame the market, politics, the machination of God or muses or just about anything other than our own shortcomings. Blame the bottle, blame the pills, blame your mother.
Blame your depression.
As far as I know, undertaking most endeavors, especially on one’s own, requires two things: energy and motivation. Your energy is an entirely physiological thing. Brain chemistry, sleep deprivation, spiritual well-being, diet and exercise and all those factors come into your level of energy. Motivation, on the other hand, is all in your head. It’s all about you, who you are, who you want to be and what you love to do. Brain chemistry factors into it, to a degree, but for the most part it’s rooted more in our dreams than our enzymes.
Energy, therefore, is something we only partially have control over. But motivation is all on us.
That’s where depression comes into it.
It can weave a tangled web in your head. Sometimes you won’t even know it’s there until you walk face-first into it. And even after the cobwebs of negativity are sticking your eyeballs shut and creeping up your nose, you might not realize that this external influence is pushing you away from your mental center. Once you do, however, the longer you let yourself push you, the harder it’s going to be to return to where you want to be. Depression lengthens your Shadow. Depression creates obstacles born out of your own fear and self-doubt and failures.
Blame depression for that. Don’t blame it for not overcoming those obstacles.
We do not create anything we cannot destroy. The chemicals in our brains aren’t pumped into our soft tissue with space radiation beamed from Xenu’s invisible invasion fleet. We don’t have direct control over said chemicals, but it’s still taking place entirely within our own system. And since these mental hurdles are constructs of our own minds, we have more power over them than we realize. This means we can defeat depression, if we don’t blame it and do our utmost to resist it.
Do not assume, however, that you can do it entirely on your own.
Some do need medication. Some need doctors. Some need family and friends. Others may need all of the above and more besides.
I’m not a doctor, or a therapist, and I do not intend any of these ramblings to be a how-to guide for kicking the depression-beast in its dour ballsack. Nor do I believe, or wish to give the impression that I believe, that this thing is some sort of early edition AD&D illusion that one can wish away just by disbelieving. This is simply my way of grabbing said beast in my own head by the scruff of its neck and dragging it out of its dark emo corner and into the daylight. Struggling with the job market, facing the prospect of more rejection in writing and the nature of the manuscript I’m editing (not mine) are all things that are giving the beast more power, while my games, my wife and my cats take that power away. However, I can’t just spend time on those things. As much as I enjoy them, they’re not productive.
And if I’m not productive, I’m not going anywhere.
I’m glad I have this blog and people that actually come to read it. It helps me remember that I do, in fact, have a talent worth cultivating and that it does reach people who get something positive out of it. That’s all I’ve ever wanted as a writer. It is my goal, pretty much for life, to have at least one person read what I write, look up from my words and see the world differently, even if for a moment, because of what they read.
I’ll never make it if I don’t write, and to really nail it down I need to write beyond the blog. Every day.
I haven’t been doing that and I feel awful over it, and I will try to be better about it in the future.
Because I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that sad sack of a beast drooling and grinning in the corner have its way.
I’ve gone through a few periods in my life where I’ve had more disposable income than I’ve known what to do with. Actually, I take that back, I knew EXACTLY what to do with it: buy more games! I used to play Warhammer 40,000 on actual tabletops and I was into Magic: the Gathering way back in high school. Since then I’ve lost most of my old cards and miniatures, the former because I was a blinking idiot who just gave away tons of valuable cards and the latter because minis can sell well. Nowadays my primary interest in Magic is the Commander casual variant, mostly because I no longer have those piles of cash, and as for 40k, I’ve discovered that I’ve enjoyed the lore and setting more than the painting and dice-rolling.
Being a storyteller, I’m more interested in the motivations and personalities of the figures that march across tabletops around the world than I am in their ballistic skill and toughness. It’s not just because character sheets, pencils and a bag of Doritos for a game of Dark Heresy is cheaper than a 1,000 point army. There are other reasons, grounded more in the setting itself.
The Far Future is Baroque
So many things about the galaxy 40,000 years in the future is so ostentatious I can’t help but smile. Just look at the cover art for any of the Space Marine army books. There’s ornate armor with ridiculous shoulder pads, guns the size of compact cars and gilded skulls everywhere. It’s the sort of baroque sense of style that would make the architects of the Vatican blush.
For some reason, the design mentality of the fashions and buildings of the 41st century is rooted deeply in the 17th or so. These structures, constructs and trappings have the feeling of a people desperately trying to impose some order and permanence to a galaxy in constant turmoil. “If we weigh these things down with heavy gold accents, seals of the Imperium and grim iconography, they won’t just get swallowed up by the Warp or a tide of Orks or some other xenos invasion!” Whatever the motivation behind these design choices, it makes the worlds of the Imperium stand out, at least in my mind.
Corruption Done Right
There’s a joke going around that every Blizzard plot is centered around corruption. Dragon X becomes corrupted and it’s down to Spastic Group of Players Y or Knaak Author Avatar Z to sort it out. Swap “dragon” with “Queen of Blades” and you have StarCraft. Swap “Queen of Blades” with “everybody ever” and presto, a Diablo plot. Like more than a few things, Blizzard has been cribbing notes from Games Workshop on this, except that Games Workshop does it right.
Instead of just “whoa, big bad voodoo whatsis over there is corrupt, let’s go destroy/try to redeem it!”, any 40k story worth its bolter ammunition steeps itself in paranoia and doubt. It’s not just that someone or something has become corrupted by Chaos or psyker-induced madness or a heretical idea like unity of races or freedom of thought or the Eldar being pretty. You, yes you, may become corrupted in the course of the narrative, especially if you’re in a tabletop game. Like proper Lovecraftian/psychological horror, the truly terrifying things aren’t just what you can smack with a chainsword, they’re what coil around inside of you, the fear and the doubt and the ambition and the rage. Things like this form the basis of good drama, character development and tension, and while a lot of Blizzard’s stories gloss over this sort of thing, fiction and tabletoping in 40k thrusts you right into it.
Yes, The Grimdark
You’ve probably heard the Warhammer 40k tagline: “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” In addition to baroque trappings and ever-present dangers of becoming something twisted and despicable, you have obscenely high death counts any time armed engagements happen, horrifyingly devastating weapons, a massive empire that suspects everybody and everything of treason or heresy or both, and cybernetic augmentations that are the exact opposite of Deus Ex’s “awesome and visually appealing” ones. In the new game, that is; everybody looks pretty bad in the original Deus Ex.
All of this adds up to an undeniably oppressive atmosphere, the sort of dour doom and gloom present in many post-apocalyptic works. However, in the case of 40k, the galaxy-sweeping catastrophe either hasn’t happened yet or is in fact in the process of happening. It gives the characters in the story something to struggle against other than the villain of the week or a pile of antagonist-shaped statistics. And 40k never goes the World of Darkness route by giving the inevitable end a face and a name. It could come out of the Eye of Terror or in the form of a titanic wave of Tyranids, sure; but it could also happen due to the actions of our protagonists, people with sympathize and root for. Some might decry the apparent absurdity of the ever-present ‘grimdark’ of the universe in question, but to me there’s a great amount of depth and nuance to be had if you’re willing to work for it.
I may never paint another miniature or buy another army book for Warhammer 40,000 again. But I still find its setting and themes oddly compelling. Also, I’m more than willing to start a Dark Heresy campaign in and around Philadelphia if I can find players.
Please note: All characters, locations and events are copyright George RR Martin and the events that take place during this game can and will deviate from series canon.
The Story So Far: It is Year 296 since Aegon’s Landing. Word of the lost swords of high Westrosi houses by up-and-coming House Luxon has crossed the Narrow Sea…
He looked up from the meal in front of him to the bearer of the news. Under the stylish, wide-brimmed hat providing shadows for half of his face, there were not many in Pentos who would easily recognize the traveler. Most would be distracted by the flamboyant, multi-colored feather tucked into the hat’s bright violet band. Still, Viserys could not shake a feeling of doubt. Were they being watched? Who else knew of this, of them?
“You saw this thing?”
“With my own eyes.” The voice of the traveler was low, subtle, all but lost in the tavern’s ruckus. “The blades of the Baratheons were laid at the feet of the king himself.”
“The king sitting on my throne.” Scowling, Viserys snatched up a goblet of wine and drained it. “I can’t wait to see the look on his fat face when I split him open.”
“In time, in time.” The traveler spoke calmly, unruffled by the notion of waking the dragon. That didn’t sit well. He should fear the dragon. All men should fear the dragon. “What was interesting to me, however, was not only what this man of the north carried, but what he did not.”
“The blades of my family. Where are they?”
“I suspect they are locked away in Moat Cailin. Little birds tell me the new maester has taken residence in a tower built atop a vault. That would be the most likely place.”
Viserys took a bite of stew, trying to think. The spices in the Pentoshi food distracted him, equal parts curiosity and revulsion interfering with his ability to strategize.
“My ancestors would storm the castle with their armies to take back what is theirs. I have no army. Aemon would have flown over the walls with his dragons. I have no dragons.”
“Astute, my prince.”
“I wasn’t asking for your opinion.” He waved his goblet in the air until it was refilled. “I need inspiration, not sycophancy.”
The eyes of the man in the hat gazed at Viserys. He reminded the Targaryen prince of a spider, hiding in the shadows, scuttling to and fro from King’s Landing to the Free Cities. “Not all wars are won with armies and dragons. Some are won with deception and stealth, before they even begin.”
Viserys considered this. What glory would he win stealing into a castle like a thief? He wasn’t stealing anything, he was reclaiming it. But what price would he pay to get those weapons? There were blades of Valyrian steel among them, perhaps even the sword of Aemon the Dragonknight, or that of his elder brother Rhaegar. He envisioned himself riding towards the Red Keep, a loyal army at his back, the smokey steel in hand and raised high as he returned to the place he truly belonged…
“How do we begin?”
“Well, for one thing, we cannot have you and your sister staying in places where you could be stumbled upon. It is no small miracle that you have remained relatively undiscovered until now. Fortunately for you, I have just the place for you to stay while plans are made. A trusted friend.”
“Inasmuch as I trust anyone.” Viserys finished his wine and laid some coins on the table. He moved to stand, then paused. “Wait. You said a man from the North came to deliver the fat king’s swords. But when you first told me of this, you spoke of two men.”
“Indeed I did.”
“The other was not from the North?”
“No. He is not, but as our time is somewhat short before I am missed, I think that is a tale I shall have to tell another time.”
Viserys narrowed his eyes. “You’re hiding something from me, eunuch.”
“I hide things from all men, my prince. It is how I stay alive.”
“That, too, is no small miracle.”
The traveler only smiled. He stood, gesturing for Viserys to lead the way. As it should be. I’ve been here long enough to know this city like the back of my hand. They wound their way through the streets until they came to the merchant ship owner’s pavilion. The traveler tipped his hat down slightly.
“I will wait here.”
“Is the place we’re going better than this?”
“Slightly larger, and infinitely more hospitable, I suspect.”
Viserys grunted. He walked through the gate and found his host sitting by one of the windows that faced the harbor. Half of the man’s hair, both on his head and in his forked beard, was painted blue, the other half green. A girl from a pillowhouse knelt at his feet and was massaging his ankles while he enjoyed a pipe.
“Ah! My guest returns. Did you have an enjoyable lunch?”
“I did, but I’m afraid I must depart. My sister and I thank you for your hospitality.” He dropped a few coins on the table and walked back towards the guest rooms.
“I find it unfortunate that you still will not consider my offer.” The merchant was standing. “Your sister would be well taken care of and greatly desired. Is that not what all women want?”
Viserys looked over his shoulder, first at the man then at the girl who remained on the floor, barely clothed in the silk gown that fell from her shoulders. Shaking his head, the prince walked into the guest bedroom he shared with his sister. If anyone is going to whore out Daenerys, it’s going to be me, not that old pirate, and not for any pittance of gold, but for my crown.
“Daenerys. It’s time to wake up.”
She murmured as she rolled over on the bed. Viserys crossed to it, reached around her and took hold of her breast, pinching her nipple until her eyes opened.
“We have to leave. Now. If you delay, you will wake the dragon.”
Nodding as she looked at him, Daenerys quickly found her clothes and packed up her few meager belongings. Viserys was already packed. The message had made it clear that they would not linger here long, and so had prepared himself before dawn. They walked out to find the merchant with an old blade in his hand.
“I think I’ll be keeping your sister. She’s worth far more than you are, boy.”
Viserys was armed only with a dagger. But the merchant was in his cups, despite the hour, a fact evident in the empty glass bottles near his chair and the stink on his breath. The young king gestured for his sister to stay behind him as he drew his short blade.
“I’m sure you’d like a virgin to sell to whomever you got that whore on the floor from, but my sister stays with me. And we’re leaving.”
The old pirate scowled, slamming the pommel of his blade on the table, causing bottles to fly. “Wretch! I keep you under my roof for months, feed you and clothe you in keeping with this station you claim, and this is how I’m repaid?”
“No. That gold on the table is how you are repaid. More will come if you let us pass. You will have the thanks of a king.”
“I’d rather have the girl. And your head!”
He roared and charged towards Viserys. The prince ducked to one side, still between his opponent and his sister but out of direct harm. The merchant slammed into the corner where his main room met the hall back to the bedrooms. Viserys smiled.
“Has age slowed your pirate reflexes, old man?”
“I’ll show you how pirates fight!” The merchant reoriented himself with Viserys and charged again. Another sidestep put the man squarely into one of his cabinets. In spite of the deadly nature of the situation, Viserys laughed.
“You should stop now while you still have a house to live in!”
The pirate’s reply was wordless, a restored grip on his sword and yet another charge. This time, when Viserys stepped aside, the man went through the large open doors and across his pavilion. It was easily seen on the streets when he launched into space and landed face down on the inside of his low garden wall. His dogs trotted over to see what had happened, and when he lifted his face, the passers-by laughed, as he now wore one of those dog’s droppings in his beard.
Viserys, sheathing his dagger, took hold of Daenerys’ hand and walked out the door to where the traveler waited. Beside him was an extremely obese Pentoshi gentleman who bowed as they emerged.
“Your Grace. My lady. I’m quite pleased to finally meet you both.”
The pirate staggered towards them, but at the sight of the large man he stopped short.
“Ah. Numeris.” There was something in the fat man’s gaze that reminded Viserys of himself. Of waking the dragon. “I do hope your altercation with this young man will not keep you from seeing my shipment safely to Lys. I’d hate for you to lose your contract.”
“Um. Yes.” The merchant took a step back. “I will see to it personally.” He ran back into his house. Both the fat man and the traveler laughed.
“Spineless as always,” the traveler observed, then tipped his hat to the Targaryen siblings. “I must take my leave, my friends, but let me introduce you to Illyrio Mopatis, Magister of Pentos.”
“And your humble host, Your Grace.” He bowed to Viserys again, and kissed Daenerys’ hand. “My lady.”
“At last, some manners!” Viserys bowed in return. “We are in your debt, Magister. I look forward to seeing your home.”
The miniatures wargame Warhammer 40,000 and I have something of a history. There have been periods in my life where I’ve had enough disposable income and free time to seriously consider the hobby. While the atmosphere and lore of the universe created by Games Workshop still holds appeal, more often than not I’ve found myself needing to feed myself and invest in other pursuits rather than properly outfit and paint an army of Eldar, Dark Angels or Black Templars. The Dawn of War RTS games circumvented the need to buy units by allowing gamers like myself to create armies within the context of those games, but the distant viewpoint necessary to corral several units of elite troops meant that things might feel less than authentic. You haven’t been able to properly experience first-hand the awesome size of a superhuman Space Marine, the visceral nature of close combat or the grim darkness of the far future… until now.
“Thank you, Captain Titus! But your Inquisitor is in another manifactorum!”
Space Marine puts you in the power armour of Captain Titus of the Ultramarines. Since this is only a demo we don’t get too much in the way of story, but it’s enough to whet the appetite. Savage orks have overrun a forge world, where the weaponry and machinery of the Imperium is created, and they are threatening to seize some sort of powerful device. With the Imperial Guard’s backs against the wall and Inquisitor Drogan missing, it’s up to Titus and his compatriots to fight their way through the tide of greenskins. Unlike some other games set in the 40k universe, the voice acting is relatively subdued when it comes to the humans and appropriately boisterous for the orks. But enough talk of story, we’re here to get our bolter & chainsword on.
Just another day at the office.
The very first thing I noticed, which has been said elsewhere, is that the characters and objects in this game feel like they have weight. Space Marines are massive, and not the kind to go bounding from cover to cover like they’re floating an inch above the ground. In fact, the Imperial Guard has a tendency to use the Space Marines as cover when the shooting starts. The ponderous pace of Titus as he tromps towards his foes, the barking sound of the bolter or bolt pistol and the way the rounds from each explode inside their targets leaves the game feeling authentic, as true to the mood and descriptions in the massive 40k tomes as possible.
Outside of the exciting prospect for fanboys of a ‘proper’ 40k game, there’s other aspects this shooter/spectacle fighter has going for it. You can carry more than a few weapons on your person, and there’s a good deal of variety. The Stalker-pattern bolter allows you to do a little sniping, and the Vengeance launcher provides the means for tactical set-up of a coming battle. And don’t think you can just duck out of the way and your health will magically come back to you. The force field that protects your armour will regenerate but your health does not. To get that back, you must channel the fury of the Emperor (which you can only do occasionally) or execute a foe. And these executions are brutal. Being reduced to a mere sliver of health only to manhandle an ork and pull off a wince-inducing kill in order to keep fighting is deeply satisfying in a way I should probably discuss with a professional.
So, sometime in the next dozen millenia we’re going to get our damn jet packs.
The demo provides two relatively short missions, one to give you the feel for a scenario start-to-finish and one to tease you with some jump pack action. Assault marines are some of the fastest and nastiest units in 40k and strapping a jump pack on has the same authenticity of the other aspects of the game. Hopping into the sky only to slam down onto an enemy placement intent on sniping your buddies with rockets (sorry, in ork speak that’s ‘rokkitz’) is just as satisfying as hefting one into the air, body-slamming it and stomping on its face. It’s very difficult not to enjoy the experience.
On the PC, the controls are smooth and fully customizable. The game has a great look and feel to it, with excellent sound design and a full orchestral score. While this title will mostly appeal to fans of the universe and spectacle fighter veterans of God of War and Bayonetta, from what I’ve seen Relic is doing just enough differently from both it’s own previous titles and current industry standards in both shooting games and action games to make Space Marine memorable and worth the time to play. The full game will be released in September.
Please note: All characters, locations and events are copyright George RR Martin and the events that take place during this game can and will deviate from series canon.
The Story So Far: It is Year 296 since Aegon’s Landing. Jon Snow has left Winterfell for Moat Cailin, home of House Luxon. His brothers Robb and Bran have gone with him to wish him well. Lord Goddard invites the sons of his liege lord to stay for a feast and rest before returning home, and while Robb spars with his half-brother one last time, Bran explores the unfamiliar castle and its many towers…
He adored the feeling of the wind cutting through him.
Summer kept pace on the ground, watchful, long ears alert. The direwolf pup could not climb after him, though. The craggy masonry and hidden handholds were Bran’s province alone. Here, in a place he’d never seen, he still navigated walls and towers with speed and precision. In his mind he saw himself assaulting an enemy stronghold, a dagger clenched in his teeth, men at arms struggling to keep up as they moved to overwhelm the guards at the gate, or carry off a damsel in distress.
One tower was different from the others. It was not the tallest one of Moat Cailin’s many, but it was one of the few that seemed unmanned. A gregarious garron was the only creature keeping watch at its base, tied to a post and pawing at the ground. Summer gave it a sniff in introduction as Bran ascended the tower. He immediately caught a scent from above: freshly brewed tea, strong and exotic. Curiosity overwhelmed him as he moved, hand over hand, up the side of the tower. At last he came to the window that was the source of the scent.
A small spiral staircase rose through the middle of the room. Several stout bookshelves were spaced around the room, scrolls and tomes stuffed into their spaces. Tapestries hung from the higher portions of the wall and rugs lay on the floor. A small firepit was near the window, with a kettle hanging over it. Across the way from Bran was a table featuring odd figurines and two men facing one another as they sat in thought.
One was Lord Goddard Luxon. He reminded Bran of his lord father, a man of war tempered with patience and wisdom. The other was an older man, his head curiously devoid of hair, dressed in the robes of a maester. The stranger’s eyes flicked towards Bran, then back to the table.
“A moment while I tend to the tea.” He moved one of the figurines and rose. He picked up a staff that had been leaning against a nearby shelf before hobbling over to the fire pit, slowly, his eyes on Bran. The boy didn’t move. Carefully, the maester removed the pot from the firepit’s rail, set it on a side table, and covered the firepit with a broad metal lid.
“You best come inside, my lad. ‘Twould be a shame to see you fall from this height.”
Nodding, Bran climbed into the room. The maester was pouring tea as Goddard regarded him.
“As you are not one of Lord Goddard’s children, I deduce you’re one of our honored guests.”
“That would be Bran Stark.” Goddard hadn’t moved from the table, his gaze severe on the boy. “And he should know wandering a yard, any yard that is not his own, is inherently dangerous.”
“I’m sorry.” Bran found his voice but did not meet the lord’s eyes. “I like to climb.”
“Well, since you worked so hard in climbing up here, would you mind holding onto this tray for our lord?” The maester was holding a small tray with two steaming cups, and Bran took it. Smiling, the maester moved back to the table with the boy in tow. Goddard’s look had softened for a moment before turning back to the figurines.
“What is this?”
“It is called cyvasse, young master, a game of strategy and cunning. It is a means of keeping the mind sharp and taking the measure of another without the need for swords.”
“And it’s damned annoying at times.” Goddard’s voice was laced with mirth, however, and he rubbed his chin as he regarded the board before him. After a few quiet moments, during which the maester sampled his tea, the lord moved his trebuchet.
“Why is it annoying?”
“A skilled opponent knows not to move all of his powerful pieces to the front.” Goddard took a sip of tea, then nodded to the maester with a raise of the cup. “I jest; facing a skilled opponent is only annoying in that more effort must be exerted in overcoming them. My son could stand to learn that, as well as how to play the game better.”
The maester smiled, then turned his attention to the board. Bran leaned closer and looked at the different tiles and pieces.
“Why not simply fly your dragons over everything?”
“Two reasons.” The maester moved one of his spearmen to block his opponent’s trebuchet. “One, this is a game of Old Valyria, and the object is to capture the king, which is stronger than a dragon. Two, moving your dragons aggressively can sometimes be effective, but canny players can deal with and extinguish early threats and leave their opponents at a disadvantage for the duration of the game. Given the mobility of the dragons, your opponent could see it coming, and prepare a counter-move.”
Bran knelt and leaned his elbows on the table, his chin in his hands.
“Not every battle is won with strength alone, Bran.” Goddard moved his heavy horse. “More often than not, you must use your eyes and your mind as much as your sword or fist to win the day.”
Bran nodded, watching as the game unfolded. Eventually, the maester was forced to move his king out of his fortress and after a merry chase, Goddard pinned it in the back corner with his horse and spy. The maester, unflustered, stood and bowed to his lord.
“A well-played match, my lord. The board is yours.”
Goddard stood and offered the maester his hand. “A good game and good tea. We must do this again.”
As they shook, noise came from below. The bulky form of Samsun Cray came up the spiral, followed by the quick and quiet Spectre. Bran smiled and walked over to the shadow cat, who rammed Bran’s shoulder with her head to ensure she had the boy’s full attention.
“Some of the locals have arrived, my lord, wishing to speak with you about their crops and trade. I also was told to find Bran to inform him Robb is ready to leave.”
Bran looked up from petting Spectre. “I want to say good-bye to Jon.”
“So you will.” Goddard laid his teacup down on the side table and made for the stairs, with Samsun in tow. Spectre moved after her master, but Bran hesitated, looking back at the maester as he put the cyvasse pieces in a box on a shelf near the table.
“Did you go bald when you became a maester?”
The older man smiled. “In a way. I shave every morning. It’s a ritual, a reminder of the commitment I’ve chosen to make to the realm.”
“What about your leg? Doesn’t that remind you?”
“My leg reminds me that I am more than the circumstances that left me with only one of flesh and blood.” The maester leaned on his staff as he regarded the boy. “Men are more than they seem, young master. More than their handicaps, more than their prowess, more than their smiles. Do not be afraid to look deeper into their hearts, as well as your own.”
Bran nodded as Goddard called his name. He hurried down the stairs. Summer bounded after him as they searched for Jon. He wasn’t leaving until he said good-bye.