((These is my thoughts on Halo 4s story, while I don't go into great detail about the inbetweens, I detail the start and the end. PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN'T PLAYED HALO 4 YET AND PLAN TO.)) Halo 4 could of been the most expensive failure in the history of gaming. Its founding studio; Bungie, arguably gave Microsoft the fighting chance it needed to successfully launch a console in a competitive market and Halos legacy burned bright for over ten years. Nowadays the Master Chief is as recognisable to younger generations as Darth Vader and Halo is still considered by many to be a trend setting, genre defining example of FPS on console. After such a long running success, Bungie had other worlds to forge and parted ways with Halo, handing duties to 343 Industries- an in house Microsoft founded studio made up of hardcore Halo fans and the best of the best in the industry. Their first game was to be Halo 4. Following in the footsteps of giants, with a million hearts hanging in the balance- 343 had decided to bring back the Master Chief and Cortana. They had exclaimed a new trilogy would begin. This quite rightfully caused concern amongst fans- Bungie had created this world and could any one else ever understand it as well as they could? Could the gameplay ever be as refined? Halo 4 as it happens is a complete triumph. The key to that triumph being, above all else, the story. Whilst I have no doubt in my mind that had Bungie wanted one more go at the Halo franchise they would of made similar strides in polish and refinement it is with complete confidence that I feel 343 have taken the story in directions they'd have never dared go. Halo has always had a vast interesting lore, lore that for unfortunate reasons appears always just under the surface of what the games give us. As each Halo game arrived from Bungie, that hidden lore bubbled a little further to the surface but never enough to take the helm. It's especially curious that Halo:Combat Evolved opens with very little in the way of introduction, simply throwing us into the boots of a Cyborg-like solider and told bad things are going down. This isn't necessarily a flaw- certainly, no one can deny Halo games have succeeded far beyond measure on the strength of such focused and realised gameplay. What this design choice left was questions, questions about the bigger picture and although many of these questions were eventually answered, the way in which they were presented were so passive and easy to miss. There was a story told but never clearly enough to fully appreciate unless you had a second look. This lead to a lot of gamers, fans and otherwise, claiming Halo has no story. Once more- Halo has always had a story, just right under the surface. Fans of the franchise found lore a plenty in the expanded universe through books and comics, spin offs and even animations. Fall Of Reach told the story of the origin of the Master Chief, the story that perhaps one would of expected to be told at the beginning of Halo:Combat Evolved. It expands with great detail his life before and leading right up to those events and whilst it was by far the most interesting and fascinating element to the lore of Halo- it was never properly acknowledged in the games themselves. 343 have taken great strides to bridge this gap. It's both rewarding as a fan who has read the books to have that knowledge accepted and fascinating to new audiences to have a far better insight into the human element of the main character. And the human element is quite the theme running through Halo 4. It's a heartbreaking story of the fragile nature of human existence, casting lights on the Master Chief and more importantly- Cortana, that reveal just how human they really are. While the story beats along at the familiar Halo clip, it offers so much more substance and context, rewarding progress with another glimpse into the complex relationship of a man who is treated like a machine and the only friend he has left. Longtime fans are well aware of the importance of the character of Cortana, both in story and out. As a gamer she has always been your eyes and ears- feeding you information vital to your success, whether it be a warning of oncoming danger or a beacon to light the way. Cortana is an essential element to being in the boots of the Master Chief and a defining aspect of Halo. In story, she is his friend, his ally. She is all that keeps him human and whilst he is her caretaker we often see that she is not unlike a mother to him. They have a bond of trust that is unconditional- a bond born in the fires of war as they have earnt that understanding of each other through countless battles. Master Chief is a human made into a machine, Cortana is a machine made into a human. They were made for each other. What makes 343 such successful storytellers is their profound understanding of these two characters, using what has long since been established in the expanded universe- they tell the story of Cortanas rampancy. Essentially an illness all Artificial Intelligence endure beyond seven years of service, as Cortana herself explains- all AI will eventually "think themselves to death." It's the perfect device to strip the Master Chief of his achievements. He is a hero through three games, he is a character who inspires awe from his comrades and fear from his enemies, we know his legacy- we've played his legacy. Yet none of that matters any more that Cortana is dying. What must be commended is the emotion we see, for the first time ever, from the Chief throughout this Journey. We see the fear and doubt in Chief as the story progresses, his slow realisation that he may not be able to save the only person left who matters to him. We see him fight to win yet another war but also all at the same time, lose a war in his mind. And we see Cortana herself, eventually lose her mind. We see her no longer the sharp witted, sassy AI and instead a frail, fragile and vulnerable woman scared for her life. Cortanas confession of the fact is met with immediate action from Chief, who exclaims it's not the end, if they just find Cortana's creator, Doctor Hasley "She made you, she can fix you." Cortanas reaction to this is a very telling glimpse into the future of the story. "Don't make a girl a promise, if you know you can't keep it." The last time Cortana told us those words, Chief had to leave her behind at the end of Halo 2 and he kept his promise of coming back for her mid-way through Halo 3. However, this course of action laid out by the Chief at the very beginning of the story remains in our minds. Perhaps conditioned by the stories of Halo past- we believe that maybe eventually the story will take us back to earth and eventually we might find Hasley before this takes over. It's a very clever move to plant this seed to toy with our minds, making the eventual outcome of the story so much more meaningful and shocking. The final scene of Halo 4 is what solidifies its story over Bungies, while the very pillars of the gameplay remain the same, polished and remastered from the genius that birthed them- the story is a very brave one. It's one that leaves very real emotions that play on the mind enough to write all of this. Link, if you'd like to see it again. The symbolic beauty that layers the scene is staggering, with the energy field around the characters creating what is clearly suggestive of rainfall; a common element brought through to highlight emotional scenes. Cortana approaches Chief in what appears to be an almost human form and she immediately silences the Chiefs confusion with harsh facts that are hard to hear.
The Master Chief never removes his helmet, nor is it possible to even have a hint of who he is underneath and yet in this scene his emotional delivery is heartbreaking. His words crack as he almost breaks his cold faceless persona, instead choosing words that paint the clearest picture of denial. "That's not- we, we go together!" And as Cortana shares a moment of physical contact, that has an incredible impact and meaning, The Master Chief says the word "Please" and in a single moment he is no longer a hero, he is just a man. Cortana shares nothing but a smile and says goodbye to not only the Master Chief but to us as players. And as she utters her last words "Welcome Home, John" the debris from around the energy field floats into view, crashing around him- symbolizing his world being destroyed as the only friend he has left leaves him. It is a profound scene, a scene that tugs at the connection we have with the Chief- mirroring the impact of this moment. 343 set out with Halo 4 to humanise the Master Chief and they succeeded in that goal beyond measure. What magnifies this moment is how much more we heard from the Chief throughout the course of the story. Not only did he speak his mind much more but he stood up for Cortana on multiple occasions- disobeying direct orders from his superiors for her safety. He began to show sides of his character that suggested we may begin to see more of John and less of Master Chief. Cortana's death resigns this almost immediately, with the final epilogue scenes showing that the Master Chief is back to his man-of-no-words routine, symbolizing that he has lost all of that humanity she inspired in him and whilst this is a disappointing development- it's a bitter sweet commentary on their relationship and it makes perfect sense. The heroes journey is a core concept that has been applied to almost every story, from origins of defeat, to overcoming great peril to eventually becoming a Hero. Halo was interesting because we were the Hero right from the start, Chief never went on a Heroes journey- in Halo 4 he begins one. Bravo, 343! -Adam
Starting at the end of the month, Felicity becomes The New Adventures Of Felicity (with Issue 1 and 2 being uploaded, new comics starting in December.) If you want to know more about that I've previously detailed it here in an earlier blog. Part of what I'll be doing this month is breathing new life back into the website (http://99reasonstowin.com) which includes retuning it to bring it up to speed and allow it to function as you'd expect a webcomic site to. The other side of the coin is writing and creating the new content that represents the new title and when I've had the time between work, I've slowly been toying with a major style-overhaul to add extra meaning to the 'New' in New Adventures.
I say toying because I'm not completely convinced I'll pursue this for the new strips. Despite my doubts, I felt it worthwhile to at least try to realise my ideas and so far most of what I've explored is streamlining the form of each character. Part of what I found difficult with previous Felicity work(other than the fact the comic catalogues my first attempts at trying to draw cartoony)is the limitations of the 'builds' I've established. Each character follows a guideline of shapes and back when I created them, I didn't know much about how to flex and bend these shapes for optimal acting performance. Thankfully, five years on, I know alittle more than I did and the foundations I laid in place just can't cut it anymore- I need to rebuild to give me room to express and articulate the current fancies I have, art-style wise.
And recently my love for the simplistic and stylised has swerved off road into a much more cartoon-y kind of neighbourhood than I dared venture before. I've had to work on a few jobs in the last year that demanded different ranges of artstyle. From realistic, weighted work to distorted bobble-headed cartoon. My own personal work and style is most recently represented in Scoundrels where I employ what I'd consider to be my default, Point 7 style(1 being completely realistic in expression and proportion, 10 taking liberty with those proportions and expressions and exaggerating both to cartoon effect.) Sometimes, just so I can learn; I want to turn things up to 11. And with New Adventures, I could do this.
The other reason for this direction is that my original intention for Felicity was a cartoon show and it became a comic because I couldn't realise that intention on my own. I feel I stand to learn a good deal if I pushed this intention onto the comic harder than I have before, to aim to create an animated/cartoon look but tell my story one panel at a time.
Doubts about this approach also relate to the beginning. As when I began Issue 1, I had never drawn this way before, it was a frustrating challenge to cope with drawing a story when I'd barely understood the core mechanics of the method of drawing. Over the years, my studies advanced that understanding so I could at least fluke my way through a book.
This is a dangerous way to approach a book because I could have easily failed within that frustration of trying to run before I could walk. It is a risk to try to 'reboot' the comic without being as prepared as I possibility could be, yet I also feel perhaps the blind way in which I conducted the original stories was what birthed the determination and drive that saw me complete them. My thought being; Maybe I can replicate that with a new take?
Similarly, when writing the script, I feel myself becoming much more wary of the content I want the comic to explore, considering it may adopt a much more friendly art-style. Felicity will never be a story of sex, drugs and the darkest corners of life but at the same time- it IS about a sport where prisoners compete to the death. Flags are raised as to whether a cuter approach to the art-style is a good fit for what I've established so far. This is something I debate on because Felicity has been cartoon-y from the start, just not as cartoon-y as I've been exploring and the vibe I wish to hit with the stories has always been a light-hearted one I'd hope was similar to Futurama with a good chunk of the funny removed.
At any rate, I've uploaded some of the imagery I've produced aiming to settle on a new artstyle. I have yet to begin work on New Adventures(outside of scripting)so I'm still not sure what style it will adapt when it hits the website late 2012, either way I'm looking forward to getting back into the comic that birthed my evolving art-style.
Somehow, we're halfway through 2012 now!
At the beginning of the new year I made an entry collecting each of my goals and aspirations- with the intention of reaching them before the year was out. It's time to tweak some of those in light of the years events.
Evaluating 2012, it's been a pretty awesome year so far.
I've beaten back in the Reapers and concluded the legacy of Commander Shepard! I've discovered my creative rhythm- the recipe for inspiration that allows me to work when I previously couldn't, I've got engaged and I'm going to get married to the woman I love, I'm about to see Scoundrels launch late this month, an idea made reality with exceptional talent by folks around me, I've pretty much finished private work on multiple projects that have spanned months and finally; I've re-imagined Felicity with a spark of life that excites me to work on it again. And I might even get to do some art on a franchise I'd dearly love to work on.
However, taking my originals goals into consideration- there's a shift in Priorities.
Firstly, The Journey will no longer be something I work on this year. Originally I was dead set on making it a reality within the year and on reflection, I feel it may actually be that idea that stays with me for many more years until I get a proper chance to reveal it.
Secondy, Felicitywill still be relaunching this fall as The New Adventures Of Felicity, a one page a week webcomic that will continue on from Issue 2, abandoning most of the ideas I had in the original Issue 3. This is partly because I want it to feel new to me as well as any one reading but more so because I re-evaluated what Felicity is. Issue 3 for those interested was a much more personable, character driven book. I love character stories and Issue 3 was my first real attempt at one. While not without merit, I've learnt since that character stories dance the line between the trivial and the enlightening, some scenes are seeminglypointless to a plot or progression but are there to flesh out and add to the depth of the lore and others are actually pointless. I wasn't ready to determine the difference just yet. The New Adventures is a much less character focused comic, it looks in at the characters in the circumstance of Mort Racing and intertwines action more heavily between reveals of character. As a result it'll be a more exciting story that goes at its own pace and not a complete shift of gear.
Thirdly, Scoundrels is due out, most likely September. The stories themselves are to be completed by late August and there may be a period of a week or so before they are released. Not much to say on Scoundrels right now because so far everything seems on schedule for my original goal. It will be the first comic I've done since Issue 3 and the first work from me this year. Looking forward to it!
Lastly, and this the biggie- The Magpie, originally only getting a 'maybe I'll do a mini comic' will be getting a full blown book entitled Case One. I do not know that it will launch this year, as I will be pursuing print/for sale avenues only for it, but I do know that I will begin working on it this fall. I've been wary of creating a super-hero book for so many reasons, top of the list being 'do we really need another one' but encouragement from those who are a fan of what I've created so far have brought me to the conclusion that doing one couldn't hurt. So far, the process of working on it has been a blast(though I'm still in the pre-production phase)I am realizing that although it can never be completely unique in an over saturated genre- I can still innovate every now and again and still inject some of my own ideas into the template. So I HOPE that when it does release, it feels a little different than anything else.
That's it then, I've got to get back to working on Scoundrels.
So, it's now confirmed(a reminder for me more than anyone else). A raging debate has existed in my mind for several months now, one that came to a head with defined and outlined goals to carry through 2012. But adding to that, Felicity is coming home.
What does this mean?
It means The New Adventures Of Felicity(TNAOF) will be restructured and re-written to allow for a page-by-page delivery on 99reasonstowin.com.
It means TNAOF will be a colour comic and no longer break the trend set by previous Issues.
It means TNAOF storylines will be spread over the course of months, giving readers something new to see each week and myself a less daunting and impossible challenge.
It means TNAOF will have an updated and tweaked artstyle and will focus much more on character stories given the narrative room the delivery format presents.
It means 99reasonstowin will be optimised for maxium reader use and the original Issue 1 and 2 will be ported to the page-by-page format for those unable to read it as a flash book.
What does this not mean?
It does not mean this will happen immediately, The website will require restructuring, the scripts will need re-written and the work itself will not hit the website until I have a substantial 'safety cushion' of pages made.
It does not mean Felicity Issue 1 and 2 will be void or re-written, TNAOF will carry on the story from where those Issues left off, including touching on and concluding threads and subplots contained in the original Issue 3.
It does not mean immediate new pages will be Felicity Issue 3 split up, the new format will mean tweaking original narrative ideas and therefore will be tailored specifically for the new delivery, presenting what I hope will be a motive to want to read each new page.
It does not mean that TNAOF will continue on forever and become a never ending webcomic, it will still reach natural 'Chapter' conclusions, much like current Issues and will stop at a natural and obvious point.
It does not mean I will abandon any of my original 2012 goals in favour of this, all of my original goals take priority and I have approached this conclusion with enough careful thought that I will achieve my ambitions.
Why didn't you do this all along, ya great big berk?
Short-sided ambition. For which I can only apologise. I wanted the best for it and making a website from scratch that had full collected size volumes available for free, presented in the coolest way possible for the easiest user experience was all I cared about, eventually getting in the way of problems I'd run into.
Over the years some comments from friends and readers have shown me the light, I've learnt to reel back that ambition and have since learnt so much about my own limits thanks to Issue 3. Presenting page-by-page will have its own challenges but nothing compared to what I've battled before.
Thanks to all Felicity readers, thanks for all the waves of support and the questions during its absence. And to those readers old enough to remember the PSTP days, I may sound like I'm repeating myself here but trust me- I will follow through.
Quoting Chasity herself;
"I...I can't. I can't give up Felicity. She's my life. I've put everything into her."
A very long time ago I used to play Neverwinter Nights pretty much every weekend, with a regular party of mates. We'd play user made 'modules' which were essentially brand new stories and areas to explore and we'd role-play along the way. One of the party members was an artist, with a wealth of experience in modding the game, including re-writing scripts to allow for new features and injecting his own user-made content like models. He (after a very vast amount of badgering from me) eventually created a model based on my old character at the time; Zepher.
To this day it's still one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me, having my own character in the game was like a dream come true at the time. As I was developing my comic for Zepher; Broken Falcon I was also using this freshly made model in our NeverWinter Party. This led to me creating two separate versions of the character with some overlapping story elements. 'NWN' Zepher was much more hard-edge and world weary and from role-playing the character I was able to craft insane amounts of lore and fiction towards my comic.
As it happens, the artist responsible for the model popped up on my blog here recently, inspiring me to feel a bit nostalgic and design 'NWN' Zepher as he'd exist today, were we still going on those adventures!
As I'm sat typing this, a week from today I will be a few hours into my adventure to somehow stop the Reapers from destroying the galaxy. And I can't wait. I wanted to talk about thoughts I've had on what will create a great end to my Shepards story.
My Choices. Mainly; Punish them.
I Role-played alot throughout Mass Effect 1 & 2. We have a lot of games today that give us the option of moral choices and decisions, as well as the option to create an avatar but I have always preferred to create a character and make the choices that make sense for them, as opposed to creating myself and choosing what I would feel or think. For me, Commander Shepard is a spacer; she was born on a ship and has spent more time aboard vessels than on solid ground. Her parents have been with the Alliance all her life so she spent her life growing up around warfare. It makes sense to me that she'd have joined the Alliance given her history and that she'd be a capable solider- capable enough to have survived the Skyllian Blitz, becoming a war hero prior the the events of Mass Effect 1.
As an extension, I figured; no one would climb to the rank of Commander by being a dick. So I played Paragon. I always tried my best to save as many lives as I could, to be diplomatic and to solve problems without pulling a gun on my enemies. It just made sense for my character.
For ME3, I don't want every one of those 'Paragon' decisions to have been the right one in the longrun. If I let a murderer go to prison instead of shooting him- let it come back and bite me in the ass, make him escape and hurt more people because of what I did. I want to know that there's no good decision that makes everything alright. This is the final game with no going back, having tough story elements hit Shepard would be great for the future decisions I have to make in ME3, I'd feel more pressure to see the bigger picture.
Kill someone we Love.
One of the highlights in Dragon Age 2 for me was the moment my sister Bethany was taken from me. To explain; She was my little sister, I protected her through various encounters and events, I had been through a lot with her in the earliest parts of the game. She was a mage and I was a warrior, I had built her stats into healing and she was a vital part of my attack strategy. I couldn't get through fights without her.
As the story progressed we were about to set off on a dangerous mission when our mother, having just lost our father and brother, pleaded with me not to take Bethany with me. She grew upset and desperately begged me to listen, not wanting to lose the only loved ones she had left. I truly felt emotionally connected at this moment- I didn't want to upset my mother because her reasons were completely justified, however I knew without Bethany my own chances of survival were slim. In the end I forced Bethany to stay behind and carried on without her.
It was a horrendously tough mission, I emerged hours later barely holding together but pleased with the spoils we'd found. I returned to find Templars surrounding my house. This was immediately worrying as Mages in the world of Dragon Age are hunted for basically being, crimes against God- for having magical abilities. In the game up until this point we have learned that mages forced into 'The Circle' are reduced to nothing but vacant bodies, void of emotion and functioning only as a slave to Templars will. I immediately thought of Bethany.
When I entered my home the game presented me with a choice, my sister was being dragged away by Templars to join 'the Circle'; to await a fate worse than death. I chose the option to fight the Templars, I chose the option to keep my promise to protect my sister but she wouldn't let me. I was forced to let her go and lost her participation in the game from that point onward.
This was incredible for a lot of reasons, yes, I admit a big one was the fact I had no dedicated healer(which from a gameplay point of view made the game much more challenging)but throughout the game to follow, I felt my blood boil when I encountered any Templars. Every one I killed was one more for Bethany. I changed my point of view on events, I chose a side- the Mages, I freed every Mage the game would allow me to and I destroyed any one who opposed Mages.
ME3 should do this aswell. Alot of us care greatly about the characters in Mass Effect and we've had two games to get to know some of them. My Shepard romanced no one in ME1 and Garrus in ME2. He's one of her oldest friends, they've been through alot and he was a permanent choice of Squadmate for me in both games- it made sense for me that she'd choose him.
Now if Garrus were to die in ME3? And I don't mean die like they could in ME2 right at the end, I mean early game- he's dead. You can't save him, he dies in your arms.
That would properly upset me but I kind of want that to happen. No part of me wants Shepard to lose the war or for the Reapers to win but sacrifices have to be made. I can only imagine the pain my Shepard would feel becoming an immense power for the battles ahead. It would really rub a lot of people up the wrong way but I've seen it done so right in Dragon Age 2, It'd be a bittersweet moment for me if I had to watch a character I truly love die. You have to ask yourself why Shepard is even fighting the war against the Reapers, a war they can't win. Is it for Humanity? Or the Galaxy? Or so they can spend their life with that one person?
Ultimately, I can't see what ME3 has instore until I play it. I won't be disappointed if all my choices were the right ones and if Garrus and Shepard live happily ever after but I feel like the stakes need to be so high, it needs to get personal and Shepard needs to grow as a person as they fight the fight. I think it'd be a fitting end to have the galaxy saved(somehow!)but with a lot of wounds left to heal.
As I have a few artistic ventures, I file it all under the roof of 'Crimson Feather Studios'. Right now, it's but a name! but someday it'll house similar lifeless geeks like myself, beavering away on something epic.