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Out of Darkness, Unto Destiny

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Destiny

New piece of Destiny fan fiction I wrote last week. This one merits a bit of explanation. I wrote it as a kind of transition piece for my clan, Tied the Leader. The TTL Gunslingers were founded on and modeled a bit after Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. At the time we were a Halo-exclusive clan, so the moniker was appropriate for the kind of game we played. Now with Destiny, the title of ‘gunslinger’ still holds (especially since there’s a particular build of Hunter that carries the same name). This story is meant to represent TTL’s passage from one Bungie title to the next.


Out Of Darkness, Unto Destiny

He stands on a low hillside, looking out over the grassland stretching before him. The night presses in on him, wrapping around him like a cape, cloaking him in darkness. It is late, and the moon has not yet risen, but still his sharp eyes can pick out every detail of the landscape below. The wide brim of his hat hides his eyes in complete darkness, shielding them even from what little starlight filters down through the clouds above.

He stands straight and tall, despite the burden of his passage to get here. A pair of six-shooters — the last of their kind, for all he knows — hangs low and heavy on his hips. He barely notices their weight. He has carried them for so long that they are now almost a part of him, an extension of his own body. They have not been fired in a dog’s age, yet they have been meticulously cared for. He suspects they will not be out of place here.

Echoes of the words that brought him here (“There are other worlds than these…”), spoken not to him but to a distant ancestor, still ring inside his skull like a bell. They repeat like a geas, driving him onward, urging him toward… something. He knows the truth of those words, though, knows them all too well. He has passed through more than one doorway, portals through space and time. They have brought him here now, to this “where,” to this “when.” He is not certain yet what his appointed task will be, but he knows he will not have to wait long to find out.

A burst of gunfire draws his attention, and his hands reflexively drop to his pistols. He does not draw them, for one does not draw iron unless one intends to kill (I kill with my heart, that old, familiar creed whispers in the back of his mind), but he readies himself for action. He looks in the direction of the gunfire, and sees a figure running as though all the hounds of hell are on her heels. He absently notes with approval her resourcefulness; her gear has clearly been scavenged from whatever cast-offs she has come across in her travels. A tattered cape flutters behind her as she runs. She wears a helmet that glows faintly with a low blue light, a kind of new technology that he has not run into before.

The six low creatures that pursue her are like nothing he has ever seen. They are fleet of foot and deeply alien. They too bear helmets and armor that have seen better days. Most have four arms, giving them a vaguely insect- or spider-like appearance that he finds unsettling. All have weapons of their own and are using them now to fire on the figure that runs before them.

He takes a step as though to enter the battle, the champion within him rising to her defense — then stops. She dives forward just as one of the creatures fires on her. She hits the ground with a roll, coming up holding a pistol so much like his own that he starts with surprise. Three time she fires, and three times the bullets find their mark. Her pursuit has been reduced by half. The corners of his mouth turn up appreciatively, the closest his lips have been to a smile in years. The woman is a gunslinger in her own right — not unheard of, of course, but not common from where he comes, either. He relaxes his grip on his pistols and leans back on his heels to observe, confident that she is more than capable of taking care of herself.

Her counterattack has reduced her lead substantially, but the remaining creatures are more wary now, more cautious, and are giving her a wider berth. They have seen what she can do and are reluctant to give her an excuse to unleash more of her fury upon them. It doesn’t matter. The night is lit briefly by a ball of purple energy that falls out of the sky, as though a piece of the sun has been hurled Earthside. It explodes on the ground near the figure, obliterating two more of the creatures. A moment later a second figure descends smoothly from a gliding arc to stand next to the first, this one wearing a cloak that would not have been out of place on one of the gunslingers of old. A heartbeat, and a third figure emerges from the darkness to stand next to the other two, this one enormous and covered head to toe in steel like one of the knights of Arthur Eld’s court.

The sole remaining creature roars defiantly before turning and loping off into the darkness. The three figures let it go without pursuit. Word of what has happened here will pass among others of the creature’s kind, and perhaps they will be more reticent to attack these figures in the future. They are gunslingers, to be sure, but they are also something more. It is these, he is sure now, that he was meant to find.

The three of them appear to confer for a moment, and one of them produces a glowing orb that takes flight and moves rapidly around their heads. Whether magic or technology he cannot determine, not from this distance, but he suspects it is probably some combination of the two. It would not be the first time a civilization had used one to harness the other.

This is why he is here now, he is certain of it, but the time is still not yet right for him to reveal his presence to these people. That moment will arrive soon, but there are other things he must do before then. He turns and slips away quietly before he can be discovered, an aura of golden light glowing faintly around each of his pistols.

Difference in Opinion

I’m proud to announce the launch of a gaming/entertainment blog run by two of my “clanmates”:http://tiedtheleader.com – “Dweezle”:http://paulmhopper.com and “bs angel”:http://hawtymcbloggy.com. Dweezle and I have been working hard over the last few weeks getting everything set up and in place. He’s made most of the general design decisions, and I’ve done most of the heavy code-jockeying. The site has a good start with some legacy entries imported in from their original location and looks to be an interesting source for gaming and movie reviews and the promise of an excellent podcast. The site is called “Difference in Opinion”:http://differenceinopinion.com. Go check it out, and leave some comments for them while you’re there.

Halo 3 Hype

DeeJ and L Askan tag-team to bring us more drool-worthy bits from the upcoming Halo 3. It’s almost a sensory overload with all the promotions and advertisements and previews out there right now with this game. Mountain Dew is even in on the action with their Limited Edition Game Fuel drink with Halo 3 labeling.

Like DeeJ, I am, for the most part, in a self-imposed Halo 3 blackout until the 25th. I know enough about what’s going to be in the game to be positively hungry for this game – Spartan laser, flamethrower, two or three new types of grenades, special items, gorgeous maps, beautiful gameplay, online co-op, Forge, Saved Films, and so much more. I’ve little desire to find out much more, though, for fear of ruining the story, but I know I can’t wait to play.

Bungie has done something with the Halo franchise that I love to see in video games – they’ve built a beautiful and fun video game that also has a solid and intriguing storyline. We have characters that we actually care about in the forum of Master Chief, Cortana, and even Sergeant Johnson. Halo 2 ended in a cliffhanger that had gamers all around the world throwing their controllers across the room in frustration (but not me – I loved it), and Halo 3 promises to wrap up the current story arc and answer all (or at least most) of our lingering questions. As I’ve said before, I can’t wait.

But like I said, it’s actually pretty hard now to avoid all the information coming out everywhere about Halo 3 – pirated scans from magazines, Bungie-released previews, IMAX-powered gameplay previews, and more. Heck, there’s even a new Halo 3 Xbox 360 and a Halo 3 wireless headset that will available before too long. A number of websites are also giving away various Xbox 360 and Halo 3 packages as part of the gear-up for Halo 3’s release. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a marketing campaign this ambitious – but it sure is a heckuvalot of fun to watch.

Sorry, I think my geek is showing again. Carry on.

Writing Again

The writing bug _has_ struck me again (apparently what I said in the previous post about not wanting to writing lasted all of about 20 minutes). I’m finally working on completing my flash fiction pieces for the “Voices in the Night”:http://100voicesinthenight.com project. Over the past two days, I’ve completed two more of my stories, leaving me with just two more get done. I’m shooting to have them finished up by this weekend, so I can then focus on getting everything pulled together, edited, and revised to think about getting it headed toward printing.

Personally, it’s just nice to be in a frame of mind to write again. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it until this past week, and now that I’m back into it I almost can’t remember why I put it away for the winter. ((Oh, yes, winter depression. Yeah, that’ll do it.)) Once I get these stories done, though, then it’s back to the novel I’m writing for my wife (which may or may not ever see the light of an actual publisher’s desk) and the Gunslinger story arc I’m writing for my “Halo clan”:http://tiedtheleader.com. Beyond that, it’s short story time again for magazine submission and – hey, why not? – maybe even beginning work on a novel. We’ll just have to wait and see how things go.

No Self-Respecting Cheaters

Tied the Leader: Shameless!

I have a sneaking suspicion that, given the appropriate battery of tests and surveys to complete, the vast majority of cheaters would display what is considered to be less than healthy levels of self-esteem and self-respect. These are the kids (and adults) who believe that they simply don’t have what it takes to compete on a level playing field with the rest of the world. These are the kids who, in the context of DeeJ’s article, modify their Xboxes to do things that they shouldn’t be able to do in Halo. They’re the ones who collect as many 2-month free trial memberships as they can, systematically using each to get one or two games in before “Bungie’s”:http://www.bungie.net fantastic programs detect and summarily ban them for cheating in multiplayer action and ruining the experience for everyone else. Ironically enough, these are also the kids who spend their entire time raging and ranting, heaping upon everyone else (who are, incidentally, _much_ better players than they are) a wide variety of disparaging, insulting, and racist epithets, who curse and swear in their high-pitched, pre-adolescent voices, who make the rest of us wonder where these kids’ parents are.

I suspect that these are the kids who have no idea how to interact with the real world, who have no social skills to speak of, who couldn’t get a prom date even if daddy gave the girl a financial incentive to date his son for even just one evening. These are the kids who, if you were to see them during the day, are hiding out in the corners of their middle and high schools, hoping that the lunchroom bully won’t find them and beat them up for their lunch money. They’re the ones who have no self-respect because no one has given them a reason to like themselves. It almost makes you feel sorry for them, except for the fact that they take out their pent-up aggression on everyone else via Live because that is, for them, a safe place to give back a little of what they’ve been taking. They haven’t realized yet that just because they’ve been bullied, just because they don’t feel good about themselves, it doesn’t give them the right to make others feel bad or to act aggressively toward everyone else. They haven’t yet realized that cheating and anger are not acceptable responses all the crap they take.

Of course, you have the genuinely narcissistic who believe it is their God-given right to dominate and bully in whatever method they can conceive. For them power is the ultimate high, and they get their jollies from beating other people in whatever way they can.

Most of us, though, prefer to earn our wins the old-fashioned way – through a little hard work. We prefer the respect of our peers because we actually won fair and square. And when we are faced with the esteem challenged and narcissist, we simply roll our eyes, put them on mute so we don’t have to listen to their verbal garbage, and report them to the appropriate cheating authorities. Sure, we’ll probably see them again, albeit under a different screen name, but ultimately they _are_ just little children who haven’t got a clue.

And the game goes on, without them.

Tied the Leader: This is your Brain on HALO

Tied the Leader: This is your Brain on HALO

Ah, now _here’s_ one that’s near and dear to my heart — the psychology of dealing with conflict, particularly as applied to Halo gameplay. “Wheels”:http://www.bungie.net/Stats/PlayerStats.aspx?player=DTS%20wheels, of the “TTL Gunslingers”:http://www.bungie.net/Fanclub/ttlgunslingers/GroupHome.aspx, discusses the difference between Beta and Theta waves as they relate to conflict and confrontation. Essentially, Beta waves are high-end, actively alert brainwaves, the ones we use throughout the day as we process everything that goes on around us. Theta waves are the ones that we use when we are relaxed and in a state of meditation, that place where mental imagery happens. The Theta zone is also, ironically, that place that allows us to focus and perform better, almost without even thinking about it. Wheels’s advice? Relax when faced with conflict. You’ll handle it a whole lot better.

It makes sense, particularly when I think about all the times when I have been in high-stress situations. The ones that I handled badly were the ones where I was stressed out and working too hard to make sense of everything coming at me. Of course, I missed things and made mistakes and then left the situation feeling bad because I knew I only made a bigger mess out of things. Conversely, the situations where I was on top of my game, fielding problems with ease and just going to town were those where I was relaxed and content, just kind of going with the flow, aware of the situation but not worrying about it. Those were the times when my performance was stellar, where I walked away feeling really good about what happened, and where I felt like everything was handled well and resolved completely.

As Wheels pointed out, though, it is difficult to get to the Theta zone consistently. It takes training and discipline, but often, the more you are forced to handle stressful situations, the more adept you become at handling them. Taking a deep breath and reminding yourself that you need to relax often helps. A step back to clear your head, to collect yourself, is a good start to moving out of Beta and toward Theta. And when you hit the Theta zone, you really are in _The Zone_.

bq. The world belongs to the enthusiast who keeps cool.
~Chinese fortune

‘Cheap’ Gameplay: Is It Really?

Some of you may know that I am a _huge_ fan of the wildly popular _Halo: Combat Evolved_ and _Halo 2_ video games for Xbox. I enjoy them so much that they were the motivating force behind my purchasing an annual subscription to “Xbox Live”:http://www.xbox.com/en-US/live/ so that I could get on and enjoy the multiplayer environment with several of my friends, who are all spread out around the country (this from a guy who traditionally _hates_ most FPS(first-person shooter) games). It’s gotten to where we have our regular weekly “Halo Night” just so we can get on Live and chat, laugh, and play for a few hours each week.

Over at “Tied the Leader”:http://tiedtheleader.blogspot.com, XerxDeeJ has yet another “good article”:http://tiedtheleader.blogspot.com/2006/01/firing-squad.html about a major complaint in the Halo 2 multiplayer environment. Spawn camping is a technique that some players engage in to quickly increase their kill and medal counts, particularly in team environments. Since teams have their own bases, every time a member is killed, he typically respawns back at his own base. This fact means that anyone on the opposing team carrying the sniper rifle (who is also even remotely good at using it) can just set up camp near your base and pick you off as soon as you respawn, before you even have a chance to move. This tactic is decried as ‘cheap’ and ‘unfair’ and ‘unsportsmanlike’ by many.

“David Sirlin”:http://www.sirlin.net offers a “counterargument”:http://www.sirlin.net/Features/feature_PlayToWinPart1.htm to this viewpoint by saying that the difference here is between those who play to win and those who don’t (the author calls them ‘scrubs’). Sirlin says that gamers who play to win will exploit any and all aspects of the gameplay environment in order to secure their victory — and that they are completely justified in doing so. (He _does_ say that certain bugs in the game are off-limits, namely those games that crash the game or the system or eject any player from the game environment.) All the others, the ‘whiners’, are scrubs, who consider it bad form and dishonorable to do anything other than play the game from some arbitrary list of do’s-and-dont’s. Sirlin references fighting games specifically in his article, but his principles are meant to be applied across the board to all games.

What fuels this debate is a clash in mindsets. Many gamers play Halo 2 to have fun, to enjoy the richness and variety of a well-designed, well-implemented video game. But there are also those gamers who play for the sole purpose of winning, to dominate utterly, to annihilate the competition, to garner the fame, fortune, and bragging rights (well, the first and the last of those three, anyway) that go to the victor. These are the type whose sole identity seems to derive completely from their performance in gameplay, who seem to think that life and death and the weight of the galaxy hang upon how well they do. These are the guys (kids?) who boast and brag in the post-game lobby, who rub their victory in until it draws blood, and who are often the most proficient abusers of profanity. Because these are the guys who play to win.

There is some truth to the saying that simple is better — simplicity allows for the possibility of fewer mistakes, and it allows for easier implementation. Spawn camping is a simple solution. Why go out and find the other guy and risk getting killed when you can go to his base, carrying two fully loaded sniper rifles, and pick the whole team off as they respawn? It’s safe, it’s fast, and it looks _really_ good in your post-game stats. The trouble is that this is usually only fun for the guy doing the camping. For everyone else, it’s just frustrating. Playing to win and playing to have fun usually do not play well together. These two kids don’t know what it means to share their toys.

When you play to win, anything less than first place is unacceptable. When you play to win, anything less than first place doesn’t even approach fun. On the other hand, when you play to have fun, it’s ok to finish in 3rd place (or 5th or last) simply because you played the game. You had fun. You shared some laughs with your teammates. You revelled in the joy that is the Halo universe. Sure, you worked on perfecting your technique, but it wasn’t the end-all and it was ok if you screwed up and died miserably. A lot.

Is there anything wrong with playing to win? Not necessarily. Some of my best techniques in Halo 2 I learned from the guys that do, but that play-style is not really my cup of tea. My world, my reality, does not allow me the luxury of playing video games for hours on end, so when I do get on, I like to do the quick setup with a variant we all like and hammer out a few rounds of carnage before calling it a night. If I can perfect a particular technique along the way and further rule the leader board, so much the better. But that is not my goal, and it certainly isn’t the defining moment of my day. My goal is simply to have fun, to enjoy the camaderie of pals, and to play an excellent video game.

So, is spawn camping really cheap gameplay, and should those who consider it such just shut up and deal with it? Or is it unfair, with those who do it being considered cheaters or Halo 2 being ‘fixed’ to solve the issue? Ultimately, to me, it doesn’t matter. If you don’t want deal with it, don’t play with guys who do it or jump into matchmaking lists where the risk of spawn camping is likely to happen. My solution is simple — a private party for just myself and a handful of friends. Set up and play the gametypes we all enjoy, have a few laughs, and go home happy, relaxed, and refreshed from good times. For me, at least, that’s what matters most.

Litigation to Asinine Proportions

Tied the Leader: The Culture of Litigation

“XerxDeeJ”:http://www.blogger.com/profile/5219727 “writes”:http://tiedtheleader.blogspot.com/2005/12/culture-of-litigation.html about one of my pet peeves — “people who sue”:http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20051205/tc_nm/media_xbox_dc to epic levels over ridiculously petty and ultimately trivial issues. In this case we have a gamer who recently purchased an Xbox 360 console that has a problem with overheating. Rather than call up Microsoft and get a replacement, this gentleman feels he has to sue the company for an undetermined amount. DeeJ’s analysis of the story is spot-on; I couldn’t agree with him more.

I have to wonder how we as a nation got to where we are. These days, anyone can sue pretty much anyone over just about anything, no matter how ridiculous. Frivolous litigation has become an easy way to make a buck. I blame it partly on the people who have ramped up the volume of litigation cases, but I think I place most of the blame on judges who should know better than to allow these sorts of cases get beyond the initial paperwork. There are a lot of cases that merit laughter at their ridiculous and petty nature, that judges should dismiss immediately with just the merest hint of a chuckle.

This is not to contemn those cases that are legitimate, where actual injury or felonious behavior occur. And in such cases, I can sometimes condone litigation for excessive damages, depending on the offender, the nature of the crime, and the import of the lesson to be learned. There is a time and a place for litigation, but I think it might be possible to reduce the current levels by at least half, possibly as much as two-thirds, if only our court systems would cease trying to be politically correct all the time and our judges would stop trying to make a name for themselves and actually practice law with some degree of wisdom. A little bit of discernment and common sense go a long way, and since the average citizen seems to be in short supply of both, the people who have been trained to supposedly know better should make up the lack. Throw out frivolous lawsuits, and let people live their lives without fear of getting screwed over by every Joe Schmoe who’s looking to make a quick buck. Believe me, we’d all be a lot happier for it.