Monthly Archives: April 2012

SWTOR: Utilizing vanity pets and events

Confession time: I’m a vanity pet pack rat.

Vanity pets serve no real purpose. They don’t add stats (at least none I’ve seen). They just follow the character around the area.

Nevertheless, I can’t get enough of the things.

The other day I received my Tauntaun in SWTOR. He’s adorable. Look at that face. How can anyone say no to that?

The vanity pet collecting started during the first round of World of Warcraft. My friend gave me the duplicates she had and we’d go out pet hunting when there was nothing better to do. I didn’t have many on my little gnome Rogue, but it was fun.

The second round of WoW, when I played Horde, was different. I collected more than 100 of them by the time I quit. I know, I know. That’s a lot of time and gold. It didn’t matter what the pet was; I tried to collect it. The floating skull, a scorpion and a tabby cat, I had no criteria.

I didn’t have time to earn enough DNA samples to buy the Rakghoul event pets nor have I had a chance to look for the few out there that come from the eggs. There aren’t many in TOR yet, but let’s hope BioWare will remedy that. Monkey lizards, nerfs, crystal snakes and little destroyer droids would all be great to see.

Fun stuff like vanity pets and events give MMOs an extra “umpf.” Vanity pets are simply fun while events give people some to do that breaks up the monotony that plagues gamers. It seemed as if people loved the Rakghoul event. I didn’t mind it, save for the plague. It was rather annoying to have to buy vaccines for the lower level players all the time just to quest without interruption.

Little gaming events bring players together in another way. Years ago during Brewfest in WoW, I beat the boss so many times trying to help as many people as possible earn the mount. I’d lucked out and received it at the first drop. Shortly after that, it was time for the Halloween event. None of the people I typically ran with earned the flying broom mount, but it was fun fighting the Headless Horseman up at the old Scarlet Monastery.

These types of events encourage players that don’t normally associate to work together. PVP and PVE players want the goodies.

In addition to boss fighting, there’s also gathering of items, using wands, throwing petals and so many more activities available through WoW’s holiday events. TOR’s Rakghoul event captured a similar spirit.

It’s necessary to introduce new activities for players to do to keep subscribers (in addition to other issues). Bored players eventually leave.

TOR’s first event was a disease outbreak. Rather than make it a holiday, they went with a logical epidemic. The events don’t need to be galaxy-wide. What about a sabaac or other game event on Nar Shaddaa? Bring in the idea of Treasure Ship Row on Corellia and hold a weeklong festival. Events could be based around the planet’s lore.

The possibilities are limitless for both events and pets.

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Delinquent clients cost freelancers millions

Imagine this: You spend a day’s time researching the topic and finding contact information for interviews. You sit at a desk for a couple of hours coming up with interview questions and arranging to talk to contacts. The interviews take place over several hours, not all at once but spread out over a couple days time. Finally, it’s time to write the article. That alone takes up a decent amount of hours, editing including. You send off the polished piece. A few months later, there it is in print, but no check arrives. Weeks turn into months and no pay. Calls and emails go either unanswered or filled with excuses. All the time? Wasted.

Freelancers, no matter what it is they do, clients stiff us constantly. Sara Horowitz, founder of the Freelancers Union, is spreading the word about and fighting against deadbeat clients. Using the hashtag #GetPaidNotPlayed, freelancers are sharing their stories and tips. Today the World’s Longest Invoice launched at 9:30 a.m. Freelancers can post how much money they were to receive for a job. The total as of 2 p.m. EST is $3,705,233. The site hasn’t been up for 12 hours yet. The invoice will help back the Payment Protection Act in New York.

That number is, unfortunately, not surprising. The amount some people miss per job is astounding.

I added something to the list. The amount wasn’t much, but it counts. I created an article for one website. The man in charge claimed that he would process my payment “next Friday.” Countless emails and excuses later, I still haven’t received payment. I don’t expect it to arrive.

To those who stiff freelancers, think about your own job. Imagine not receiving payment whatever it is you do. Bills add up. Freelancers need to eat, too. We have homes to pay for; gas to buy. Internet fees so that we can do the work clients hire us to do need paid regularly. How would you like it if you missed pay for an entire month?

Think about that for a minute.

In addition to not paying freelancers, many underpay. Countless website boast ways to make a little extra money on the side by writing up blurbs, short articles and other types of articles. The pay is low. Some websites offer $5 for an 800-word article. Research time included, that takes more than an hour. Minimum wage is $7.25/hour. Do the math.

When these jobs are accepted, it tells the industry that it’s okay to under pay writers. Making an extra $100 a week doing this type of short writing might seem like a harmless activity, but it’s not. Why would a company pay more for a well-written article from a professional when they can manipulate someone else into writing the same thing with less polish for 50 percent less? All it does is hurt those of us who try to do this for a living.

I will not take a freelance job without some type of contract. That doesn’t guarantee payment, unfortunately. A quick online search can tell writers if some of the websites seeking out workers is legit. I’ve avoided several duds this way. In addition, it’s vital to keep a copy of all contracts and invoices to ensure payment.

Freelancing can be a rewarding, enjoyable career, but the constant loss of funds can turn it into a nightmare. It’s a job and we deserved payment for what we do.

 

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How watching the creation of music influenced my writing process

I come from a musical household. My father is a self-taught guitarist, bass player and singer. Mom played the organ. My younger brother played the drums and is currently the lead guitarist in a band. My sister has an ear for piano even though she never fully developed her skill. As for me? I crashed and burned on all musical endeavors. Guitar, clarinet and hand bells all fell prey to Ms. Tone Deaf. And singing? Only if I want to torture people.

My childhood was spent listening to my father play church songs on Saturday nights and rock on Fridays in the garage. I’ve yet to hear his current band play, but based on the number bookings, I have no doubt that he’s good.

From listening to my father write music as a child, I learned that a song contains multiple parts. A song can sound fantastic, but if the lyrics are horrible, I can’t get behind it. That doesn’t mean every song needs to be meaningful. Katy Perry’s California Gurls has more plays on my iTunes and iPod than I know of and it doesn’t contain some deep philosophical message. The opposite is also true. Horrible notes can ruin wonderful lyrics. The same idea applies to writing. Throwing a group of great characters into a poorly told story results in a disastrous tale.

Just like a good song, a novel can only be great if it contains all the necessary parts. Each author has his own system to create his story. I’ve never been a fan of outlines. I’m more of a list type of girl. Plot, characters, timelines and other details find their way onto slips of paper. One of my notebooks contains one page for each of the players and the murdered victims in my novel. Eye color, age, family and other details fill the page.

Some form of planning necessary to ensure that the novel contains all the parts. It’s far too easy to miss a major detail that could be detrimental to the tale. Flipping through notes during times of writer’s block or before writing can help keep facts fresh.

My dad tends to record first rather than write out the sheet music as my brother does. He’ll go back and listen to the song repeatedly, making notes on how to tweak it. I have a similar process with writing. I don’t plan everything out in the beginning. I start writing, make changes to the lists and then reread. As I reread, I make corrections. It probably seems disorganized to some, but the system works for me.

Even though music played an important role in my upbringing, I don’t have a writing playlist. The decision of what music to listen to while writing is based on mood rather than the writing itself. I can’t think of many songs that I’ve paired with a particular character. The main character in my novel, Lucy, doesn’t have a song that fits her.

Months ago, I met a songwriter who is at a similar state in his career. We compared the frustrations of wanting to create something that reaches people to the realities of life. It’d be nice to spend all day, every day writing novels or songs, but other obligations can interfere. Last I heard, he had several booked shows for the spring.

Music and writing often go hand in hand. Acting as an observer to the creation of music has influenced how I write and structure stories. I may not be able to hold a note, but I’ll always remember the sounds of a new song coming to life.

 

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Once Upon a Time portrays a female villain the right way

ImageFemale villains suffer from stereotypes just as their heroine counterparts do. Generally speaking, female villains are often vain, power-hungry, scarred or disfigured, lost love in a tragic fashion or possess a need to dominant. Putting female villains in a box is just as counterproductive as doing it to heroines. The difference ultimately is that it’s usually the hero that draws people into the story and keeps them there. If the villain is written poorly, then the hero—and the story—suffer.

In honor of tonight’s new episode of Once Upon a Time, let’s look at Regina Mills/The Queen.

Regina, also her name in fairy tale land, runs the town of Storybrooke. In the first episode, the Queen’s curse sends all of the characters to the real world. Everything about Regina speaks evil, from her severe appearance to demeanor. She walks into rooms with a sharp, no nonsense clip. It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing or what world she’s in, her stride demands attention. Regina speaks with a clear, authoritative voice. Contempt drips from her anytime she speaks with Mary Margaret Blanchard (Snow White).

Throughout the season, Regina continues to commit acts to perpetuate her general evilness. She tries to send Nicholas and Ava Zimmer (Hansel and Gretel) out of Storybrooke when it’s discovered that they children live alone. She kills Sheriff Graham. She’s trying to get rid of Mary Margaret by framing her for murder. She kills her father to enact a curse for the sake of revenge. She leaves the Hatter in Wonderland, orphaning his daughter, to take back her father. There’s no question of her status on the show.

Regina’s motivation is her hatred for Snow White and resentment of her happiness. Hints throughout the show indicated that Snow was the reason Regina lost the one she loved, though at times it sounded as if Snow killed the man herself. If she had, then Snow would know the reason for the Queen’s tyranny.

ImageIn the last episode, The Stable Boy, viewers finally learned the reason why. As a young woman, Regina acts kind and tender. Regina’s mother, Cora, doesn’t want her daughter riding horses like a man or wasting her time. Power is Cora’s goal and her daughter is the tool to achieve it. Cora also uses magic, something Regina protests.

Later on, while meeting her lover the stable boy Daniel, a horse runs by carrying a girl screaming for help. Regina saves her and learns that her name is Snow White. Later on, Cora informs Regina that she saved King Leopold’s child and that he wishes to see her. Leopold proposes and Cora accepts for Regina.

When Regina tells Daniel about the problem, it’s tempting to feel sorry for her. Snow catches the two, and Regina swears her to secrecy. Through manipulation by Cora, Snow spills the secret. She believes that Cora truly wants her daughter to be happy, not that Regina’s mother will remove obstacles standing in the way of power.

In the end, Cora kills Daniel in front of Regina. Regina learns from Snow that the child told her mother about her relationship with the stable boy. While it’s clear that Regina feels anger at her mother when she discovers the depths of her manipulation, she casts blame on a child.

ImageRegina chooses to be evil. The theme of personal choice runs rampant through Once Upon a Time. Instead of looking at the situation thoroughly, Regina throws her anger at the easiest target: her new stepdaughter. It’s easier to hate a virtual stranger than a family member.

As Regina clearly uses magic, it’s reasonable to guess that she gains it from her mother. Whether that occurs through Cora’s death at Regina’s hand or a deal with Rumpelstiltskin remains to be seen. As witnessed at the beginning of the series and given what Regina named her adopted son, she holds no ill feelings towards her father.

However, she did sacrifice him for the curse.

Unlike other villains, Regina shows no signs of redemption. Hatred and resentment fuel her life. The writers of Once Upon a Time use Regina to the character’s full potential, avoiding the use of common stereotypes. Regina is tough with everyone, even Henry. Her weakness is her hatred. No one in Storybrooke makes the excuses of “PMS” or “typical angry woman” behavior. When it comes to female villains, Regina takes the crown.

Watch Once Upon a Time on ABC Sundays at 8 p.m.

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Poorly crafted villains result in a lackluster tale

ImageThe way a villain is crafted can make or break a story. A villain
that’s incomprehensible or flimsy will not only damage the story, but
also hurt the rest of the cast.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this is Abeloth in the Fate of the
Jedi series. She started as an eerie entity by warping the minds of
the Shelter Jedi, though readers didn’t know the cause at first. She
quickly morphed into an annoyance with her constant meltdowns that
resemble the temper tantrum of a three-year-old.

The mask of mystery around Abeloth isn’t the problem. More stories
than imaginable bring the villain’s details to attention at the very
end of the book or series. As destructive as Abeloth was, her
potential for intimidation crashed with the association with the Lost
Tribe of the Sith. Whether she would have been successful or not
without them, we’ll never know.

The Lost Tribe, the other villain of the series, was far too archaic
to take over a galactic government. Even with Abeloth’s assistance, it
wasn’t believable. The Tribe probably picked up quite a bit during
their journey, but there’s no way they understood the nuances of
everyday life in the Galactic Alliance. Even ruling with an iron fist
requires the ability to use the holonet without asking an aide how to
input a frequency. In addition, the Lost Tribe fell into the dreaded
“grey” category of villains.

I’m not a fan of the grey villain in Star Wars. The movies are good
versus evil, not good versus the is-he-isn’t-he-evil. It’s not as if
the entire Tribe would be redeemed by the end. Trying cast them as
good beings who used the Dark Side pulls the series away from what is
Star Wars. Darth Vader isn’t grey at all and he was redeemed in end.
SWTOR brought to my attention the term “grey” regarding a character’s
alignment.

The difference in that medium is that it is a numbers game.
The Dark and Light options can even each other, giving the character a
neutral alignment. It’s clear in the game who the villain is on the
side played. For the Republic, it’s, of course, the Sith Empire. For
the Sith, the Republic cause problems but there’s so much Sith
treachery that villains pop up all over the place. While there are
some characters that could fall under the villain tag on the Republic
side, it’s not nearly as abundant.

The serious lack of good villains harmed the heroes. Each time Luke,
Ben, Jaina and the other Jedi fought against the Abeloth and the Sith,
they’re efforts seemed almost in vain. Take out Abeloth and the Sith
and the many fights of the Jedi seem much more exciting. Complete beat
downs rarely make for good reading.

The fight of good versus evil empowers us. The idea that we can
overcome any obstacle, no matter how evil, creates confidence and
hope. That didn’t happen in FotJ. Abeloth’s defeat was more of a “meh,
it’s over” moment than the triumphed victory of the fall of Palpatine.

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Review: A Perfect Blood by Kim Harrison

ImageThere comes a moment in every series when the author must move the cast forward. The inner demons, the almost childish decision-making and relationships must end or the series remains stagnant. Stagnant characters grow dull to readers.

Fortunately for the fans of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series, A Perfect Blood accomplishes this. Knowing that she is more demon than witch, Rachel must comes to terms with her reality or allow others to suffer for her fear.

A Perfect Blood begins with Rachel trying to register her new car and renew her driver’s license, an activity stressful regardless of who—or what—a person is. Unfortunately, a demon isn’t considered a citizen. Rachel starts stating that yes, she is a demon but she doesn’t use demon magic. The bracelet around her wrist prevents her from calling upon the ley lines. It protects her from Al and the other demons learning of her survival.

It doesn’t take long for the I.S. to pull Rachel into their service. Finding a partially transformed person strung up in a public setting with blood at his feet and a demon-known word by him can’t be ignored. Rachel brings in the F.I.B., much to the annoyance of the I.S. They don’t want humans interfering it an Inderlander crime.

Through the help of Rachel’s bodyguard, Wayde, she learns that Humans Against Paranormals Association, a hate group, is linked to the crime. In typical Rachel fashion, she involves herself in the case. There’s one major flaw, however. She cannot invoke the higher-level witch charms using her blood, not can she take advantage of her ley line powers.

Not only does Rachel need to figure out exactly who she is, but also she needs to decide where to draw the line. She doesn’t want to kill people with her curses. She tries to use the cleanest ones possible, even though smut still taints her aura with each twist. Helping her along the way is a witch named Winona and Trent Kalamack.

In addition to the changes in Rachel herself, Harrison alters the other characters in a logical, almost bittersweet way. The most obvious occur with Ivy and Trent. Ivy no longer uses Rachel as a crutch as she did before. The clearest sign of her ability to move forward is how she tries to help the living vampire Nina deal with being possessed by the dead vampire, Felix. Rachel laments that Jenks is also moving on, thought it’s not nearly as apparent as it is with Ivy. Jenks is moving on more from the loss of his wife than working with Rachel. He has taken on the role of a single parent, but his fighting fever and loyalty remains just as strong. While it’s sad to see the old trio not as linked as they were, the separation feels natural. Had it not happened, the relationships would seem forced or false.

Trent and Rachel manage to reach some sort of harmony mixed with romantic tension. Fatherhood appears to have done wonders for Trent’s character. He acts as an unexpected source of support and confidence in Rachel—even though his own life isn’t directly on the line. The dialogue between the two is comfortable, not awkward or forced.

A Perfect Blood is the book for all Hollows fans to read. Not only is the plot more riveting and surprising, the cast of characters works seamlessly on each page. Of all of the books, it’s definitely in the top three.

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Filed under female characters, hollows, kim harrison, rachel morgan, Review

The Hunger Games: Where do we go from here?

ImageThe massive success of The Hunger Games film created a unique situation for the movie, book, comic and video game industries. A good female lead can bring in the average consumer. The question now is what to do with that information.

It’d be far too easy to consider Katniss as a fluke, one time heroine. Unfortunately, should a string of movies hit theaters boasting a good female lead fail, the achievements of The Hunger Games could be cast aside by some critics. The reality is that not every female lead will connect with audiences. Just as their male counterparts, some will miss the target. A woman character is judged differently than a male. How many times is a grand romantic gesture seen as touching for a man to do, yet if a woman does it, it’s weak? The man searching for the woman he loves seems noble where as a woman appears pathetic.

The other, more desirable, alternative is that we will see more female leads worthy of being grouped with Katniss. These heroines don’t need to be purely action-oriented. Think about the great male characters that aren’t fighting to save their family, friends, home or self during the entire piece. Forest Gump fought for his country and saved his friends, yet those actions are only part of what made him a hero. His non-combative actions are worthy of the label heroic. The ability to shoot straight or fight to the death does not mean a person is a hero.

Is a woman staying at home to tend to the family and work in the factory while her husband fights overseas any less of a hero? Would a movie featuring this role be received well? I’d like to say yes, but realistically the answer is no. That said, if the roles were reversed, the man would seem a hero.

ImageThe appeal of The Hunger Games is not based on Katniss being a woman; it’s her personal journey, story and self. The thousands who saw this movie didn’t do it only because the main character was a woman. Throwing a person into a situation with a flimsy personality and no real self-worth doesn’t work. When writing a character, gender is important. It’s impossible to erase gender from a person. With various groups working to eliminate gender roles from children by forbidding the use of certain pronouns and limitations on play, it feels as if gender has become something to be ashamed. How many children aren’t allowed to play with a particular toy just because it can be construed as belonging to a particular stereotype?

Gender plays a major role in the development of a person, from the obvious physical characteristics to the more complex psychological. Insinuating that only men have “the balls” to act bravely or that a woman must “think like a man” to succeed sends the entire fight back 150 years. Turning everyone into one androgynous gender isn’t a solution.

That is not what needs done to create a good female lead. While some roles can fit either a man or woman, drafting a male character but changing it to female just for the sake of using a woman is a cheap ploy.

Creators need to take the time to look at why Katniss connects with so many people. Katniss is a different type of heroine that can’t be limited by the current categories. She’s not the same as heroes before. If she was, she wouldn’t be nearly as popular.

The literary and film success of The Hunger Games provides the ideal springboard to launch more female-driven entertainment. The pressure is on for the creation and publicizing of viable female leads.  Ignoring the opportunity will only limit what we see in the future.

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