Cancer, Content Creators, and the Love of Craft

I want to tell you something important about myself, through talking about someone I’ve never met, and sadly never will.

So if you’re not someone who’s immersed in the Warcraft community, you might not have heard of a content creator named HayvenGames. The short version is that he was a young gentleman who had a big interest in illuminating the many mysteries that lay within the data files that made up the worlds that WoW took place in. Put another way, he was a very sophisticated creator of exploration videos, which is a particular brand of WoW machinima that centers on using various methods to show off places in the game that players weren’t normally supposed to see.

Unlike a lot of other exploration video makers, Hayven went out of his way to do this kind of exploration in the name of uncovering the architecture of the world’s design, and didn’t really waste a lot of breath slamming Blizzard. (Side note: many of the early exploration video makers capitalized on using exploits and bugs to access unintended areas. As Blizzard would plug these holes, many of these explorers took it as an affront, but Hayven never did.) Moreover, Hayven did a lot of work to show the evolution of locations in-game, including going back to the RTS games to show how they were presented in 2D.

The guy was an educator. He wanted to show people where the world came from as much as he wanted to show off places that players couldn’t access. And it never appeared to be so much about “five secret places Blizzard doesn’t want you to see” but instead more about “here are places that don’t exist in the game anymore, or were never implemented on player-accessible maps, let’s see how they look.

He struck me as honest, earnest, and heartfelt about showcasing the game, and not about touting his own skills or trying to rub Blizzard’s nose in the fact that the seams of the world could be revealed. He pointed out patterns, like how Farahlon (intended to be post-launch content for Warlords of Draenor, but never completed) ended up presaging how Thal’dranath (intended to be post-launch content for Legion) was eventually cut from the game. This was about helping people to understand that the world of the game didn’t magically come into being, but had to be BUILT, and that sometimes meant compromises or visual tricks or even just dropping areas completely. He never apologized for Blizzard, as he wasn’t an employee and it wouldn’t have been his place to do so, but he also didn’t roast them for those decisions either. They were just a fact of game development, and a fact that he helped bring to light with his work.

Hayven passed away last month, after struggling against epithelioid sarcoma. He was 26. Throughout treatment, he kept creating content, even if it wasn’t at the breakneck pace he’d become known for, and he did everything he could to keep his followers and patrons informed about how he was progressing. However, he went quiet in mid-March, and nothing happened until today, when a new video was posted announcing that he’d passed on.

I had precious few interactions with Hayven over Twitter, but what struck me most about him was that he was someone who had the same desire I had about all of this unused or phased-out content: why was it made? What was the inspiration? The intent? Could it ever see use elsewhere? What does seeing it teach us about the craft of the game world? These are things that are pretty close to the reasons why I’ve been so invested in Warcraft as a universe for so long, and part of why I’ve wanted to get inside Blizzard: I desperately want to show the craftsmanship that goes into this game (and all of their games, really), and showcase the people who made it, and try to teach the real world to understand that it is PEOPLE who makes these games for us, and even if we don’t like how a class got nerfed or how a character got written or how much trash there was or wasn’t in a raid dungeon, we’re all still players who want to play a game together.

Hayven was a kindred spirit in that respect.

There just aren’t enough people who want to speak lovingly of the craft, in order to drown out the people who yell out their hatred, or even their ambivalence. And that’s a sad echo of everything else in the world, is it not?

So raise a glass for this young man, and wish his spirit well.


Uncharted, Video Game Cinematography, and Focus

I want to talk about filmmaking in videogames for a second. Spoilers for a lot of the Uncharted games to follow, so be warned.

Something that I love about Naughty Dog is that the titles for the Uncharted games often have at least two interpretations that act as a lens through which you can examine the story of the game.  For Drake’s Fortune and Drake’s Deception, the easiest interpretations are that “Drake” refers to either Nathan or Sir Francis. In Among Thieves, it refers both literally to Nate being physically surrounded by thieves and to the adage about “honor among thieves”, a concept which is challenged repeatedly throughout the story. And A Thief’s End has literally dozens of different thieves that it could be referring to when it comes to the death of a thief when you consider everyone from St. Dismas to the pirate lords to Rafe, the game’s antagonist. It also refers to the end of Nate’s career as a thief, and since the beginning can also be “an end” of something, the epilogue where Nate and Elena’s daughter Cassie expresses qualities that might position her to take up that profession could be referring to her “end” as a thief.

With all that prelude, consider The Lost Legacy, the next (and potentially final) game in the Uncharted series from Naughty Dog, which stars Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross on an adventure to find the lost Tusk of Ganesh. One obvious interpretation for the title is that the “Lost Legacy” refers to that particular treasure, but there’s another interpretation, hinted at by this cinematic, that really has me excited for this game.

Chloe: Yeah, well. You can thank my dad for that; Hindu myths were his thing.
Nadine: Might have rubbed off. He must be proud.
Chloe: Sun's almost up.

Start the video particularly at the two-minute mark. Listen to Chloe when she mentions her dad, to the silence after Nadine suggests that Chloe’s father must be proud of her. Look at Chloe’s body language, the subtle shifts in her facial expression, which are hidden, to an extent, by the fact that she turns away from the camera, going out of focus in the foreground while Nadine is in focus.

This is a wonderful combination of Claudia Black’s performance as Chloe, Laura Bailey’s as Nadine, the cinematography of the scene itself, and even the dialogue as written. You get so many layers to Chloe’s relationship to her father, whom we otherwise know nothing about at this point, as well as Nadine’s perception of Chloe’s discomfort with her father. The cinematography drives home the notion that Chloe is concealing something about her father in her unspoken response to Nadine’s line about “he must be proud.”

But the thing that caught me most about this exchange, the thing that made me decide I needed to write all of this down and share it with you, is Chloe’s line. “Sun’s almost up.”

The fact that the game’s title is The Lost Legacy, and the part where “sun” and “son” are homophones gives that line an amazing bit of resonance in suggesting another interpretation of the game’s title, and hence another lens into the story. Consider if the line was “son’s almost up” instead: we’re skirting around the notion of Chloe’s father having a son, and that opens up a TON of possibilities. The one I like the most is this: Chloe’s discomfort with her father stems from her being born a girl rather than a boy. This drives home the notion of “the lost legacy” as Daddy Frazer feeling that he cannot properly leave his legacy to a daughter.

Now, yes, at first blush there’s a lot of misogyny rolled up into that, and it doesn’t do Chloe any favors to have a game that ostensibly explores her character and backstory center it around her relationship with a dude. But setting that aside for a moment, it helps to drive home the idea that this was a story that Naughty Dog wanted to tell that they really couldn’t tell with Nathan Drake; not just because they’d pretty handily retired him with A Thief’s End, but also because a) that game already doubled down on Nate’s relationship with his family and the overall absence of importance that the unnamed Daddy Drake had in that family, and b) the mechanism of Sullivan being Nate’s father-figure has already been played with a lot in the series, and this story about a father’s regret that the kid he’d sired didn’t live up to his expectations can’t really be done when there isn’t that sense of blood binding father and child together.

I already had a lot of reasons to want to play this game: a) like a lot of other Uncharted fans, I always loved bad-girl Chloe and wanted to see her make a return, so her getting her own game is great, b) Nadine was wonderful in A Thief’s End and I’m happy to see that she’s getting a second lease as a protagonist after she could have easily been written off as a midboss, and c) despite how wonderfully A Thief’s End tied off the Uncharted series as a whole, I have a lot of trouble saying no to more of it, so a side story of kickass women going off to do kickass things is basically the best possible outcome for me. But THIS scene, and the wonderful way that it’s assembled to insert meaning and narrative heft without spending any actual words on exposition, totally sells me on the game.

Taken on it’s own, this is the glorious offspring of the union of filmmaking and videogames, and it makes my film-nerd heart happy.

The Breakdown: Just Be Friends

(Header credit: alegria)

So the Internet is apparently still on fire about the notion that VP Pence doesn’t dine alone with women who aren’t his wife, and it’s spiraled into bigger questions about whether or not men can even be friends with women.

Short answer is “of course they can, why the fuck not?”

Everyone’s had thinkpieces about the VP already, and I don’t really want to delve into that any more. I just want to talk about this notion re: dinners, as someone who counts a lot more women as close friends than men.

The notion that men can’t be friends with women because of sexual tension or temptation is really fucked up, since it implies that men can’t control themselves and/or that women are all temptresses who want that dick, whether the man is in a relationship with someone or not. There are so many reasons why this is fucked up, but here’s just a few:

  1. If you’re a guy who claims that he can’t control himself around a woman, then you’re pretty much an animal at best and a rapist at worst. You need to be beaten about the head with sticks until you realize that resisting the urge to put your dick in someone is part of having a brain.
  2. If you’re a guy who claims that all women are temptresses, then a) you can fuck right off and b) no they’re not. Women deal with uninvited sexual advances all the time, because of entrenched toxic masculinity that insists on treating women as sexual objects and not as people. Part of recognizing someone is a person is recognizing that they have more purpose than being a place where you put your dick.
  3. If you’re a woman who refuses to trust her partner to keep it in his pants, then him having dinner with someone else isn’t really the problem you need to address.

Now I should stop for a moment and state that if a couple of people (husband and wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, dedicated partnerships of any kind) decide to set a boundary about this kind of thing, then that’s completely fine. I won’t shame Pence for making that decision with his wife, because adults get to make decisions for themselves; that’s what being an adult is about. Call it respect, call it avoiding appearances of impropriety, call it a restraint given prior instances of serial infidelity, call it whatever you want… but if you assert for an instant that there is some fundamental nature inherent to men and women that demands that any semi-private encounter between them is going to lead to sex as though neither person has any decision-making ability, I’m going to call bullshit and I’m going to beat you about the head with sticks, because PEOPLE have AGENCY and aren’t CONTROLLED by their GENITALIA.

There’s other parts about this notion that are troublesome, since it completely ignores folks who aren’t heterosexual. Gay men having female friends, lesbians having male friends, the whole spectrum of trans and genderqueer folk who don’t identify as male OR female… it would serve to focus on that angle for a moment. Because the whole gist of this notion appears to be this: if it is even PLAUSIBLE that you could have fuckings with someone you’re dining privately with, then it shouldn’t even matter what gender that someone identifies as, if any. If you extrapolate this notion to include everyone, no private dinner is safe. Which is exactly the reason why the notion is moronic at its very core.

So with all that in mind, why don’t we step back for a second and maybe just decide that we’re going to work at making the best decisions for ourselves, both regarding who we dine with and our relationships with our partners?

Bon appetit.

Sabaa Tahir’s “An Ember in the Ashes”

I wanted to capture my Goodreads reviews here as well, and I promised to offer at least something about this one and the sequel.

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1)An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

TL;DR: This is an excellent debut novel that is a wonderful blend of Middle Eastern mysticism and classical fantasy themes.

Mechanics. The story is told in first-person and switches between the perspectives of two primary characters: Laia, a young Scholar who witnesses her brother Darin being kidnapped by agents of the Martial Empire and sets out to rescue him, and Elias, a young Martial who has been planning to flee his brutal upbringing to seek his freedom elsewhere. Both face increasingly arduous odds and unexpected twists along the way.

Reaction. I’ve been dipping my toe into YA fantasy lately, and while I know that romance tends to be par for the course, I was pleasantly surprised at how it was handled in this book. Without giving anything away, there’s more than one love triangle in play, but all of the people involved have authentic feelings and authentic reactions. Nothing feels forced about these relationships, and moreover, it’s a big deal that Laia gets to own her agency throughout all of it, while Elias expresses a great deal of vulnerability that flies in the face of masculine expectations.

The story is clearly meant to begin a saga, but the way the story ends is pretty satisfying for the major elements of this first book. I had a ton of fun reading this, and just couldn’t put it down once I was fully committed to the heroes, and I’m proud to report that the second book (which I had to read before I could even sit down to review this) performs pretty well by comparison.

View all my reviews

Incoming OverHype: King’s Row, 4/11

Threw something down on BlizzPro today in response to this tweet from the official Overwatch feeds:

Overall, there’s a lot going on here: everything from a new outfit for Tracer to more hints about the ongoing narrative in Overwatch, plus shades of the real-world civil rights movement and the modern struggles of the LGBTQ community, including the legacy of Alan Turing.

Do check it out.