Thursday, December 5, 2013

Razor's Edge Pt. 3

It's oddly silent as Razor creeps back down the stairs of the dilapidated old office building. Another time, she might've considered this to be a bad sign. She might've taken more care to go unseen, so the ominous vibe radiating from the darkness all around her might be appeased by her due respect. But she is lost, wandering in a black place in the back of her own mind, so she doesn't think to pay proper homage to the bloodthirsty night.

She descends all that way, avoids the thuggish guardians between herself and the exit, and escapes the building undetected. All while thinking of the ghosts of a happy house, a loyal dog, and a child's carefree laugh.

The outside air is thick and sticks to Razor's lungs. The dank evening smells like smoke, old rubber, and rust. The ancient, disintegrating pavement crunches and crumbles under even her careful, light steps. She pauses for a moment in an alleyway to fetch her abandoned jacket. Shrugging into it, her armory of blades hidden beneath its dark wool, Razor allows herself to shiver.

She doesn't waste her time being furtive. She doesn't dwell on the fact that she's gotten a few drops of blood on her face sometime during her impromptu vengeance. She simply walks along through the twisted streets with her stained hands concealed in her pockets, wandering towards home. Still, even now the night seems too quiet for all the violence that had defined it so far. Razor notices the eerie stillness for the first time since her stealthy exit. But still, she pays it no mind.

Fog clings to the dirty ground and streams from her mouth. Broken buildings, the corpses of industry in the long-dead metropolis, line her way. Impenetrable smog hangs heavy as a death sentence overhead, hiding the waning moon and stars from sight. She's been walking for some time when memory hits her with the violence of a knife in the back.

'We never did anything to them!' Wails the childish thought in Razor's mind. With a sick sense of masochistic penance, as always, she grits her teeth and lets the echoing nightmare overtake her.

An old farm. A nice dog--a husky. Wolf; that was its name. Strong arms, a warm laugh, and gentle eyes. Safety. A warm bed.

A satisfying struggle to tame the tormented land, a child's faith in the love keeping her safe. But...

Fiends. Defilers. Thieves.

The Snakes' Head gang.

Fire. Ash. Cruel laughter.

Dead parents. Dead Wolf. Dead innocence.

Pain. Then blackness.

"It's her. Razor, from Long Knife."

Razor freezes in place. Her old memories vanish like startled birds taking flight. Her hands shift invisibly in her deep pockets, reaching through the false bottom...

"Evening gentlemen." She says, her voice calm and cool even as her nerves sing with nervous anticipation. Her body posture is relaxed, casual; shifting to put its weight on her right leg. "How can I help you?"

"Just came from headquarters." Says one of the five men surrounding Razor. They're somewhat winded, meaning they've had to hurry to catch up to her. Meaning Razor had allowed her memories to blind her to her surroundings, since hurrying is not all that stealthy.

She can already see Hammer kneading his temples in frustration at her carelessness.

The foremost man, dressed in dark browns and deep blues like his buddies, keeps speaking. "We just came from headquarters." He repeats, firmly, a clear accusation.

"Oh?" Says Razor with poorly feigned interest. "Which one?"

She knows which one it is. The man knows she knows, too. He voice tightens in anger.

"Same one as you." He growls.

"What's it to you?" She asks quietly.

The man doesn't bother answering with words. He prefers to let his shiv do the talking.

With her weight already on her dominant leg, Razor pushes off to the side in one explosive move. She yanks her coat open and throws two knives, which sink into delicate skin on two different bodies with deadly accuracy.

That leaves only three hoods to try and kill her. Significantly better odds than before, but still 'not awesome', as Hammer liked to say.

Razor can only see two of them as she comes to the end of her leap, then she ducks and whirls instinctively. She buries a third knife in someone's kneecap even as his arms close with a whoosh on empty air right above her head.

As he screams wildly, Razor jumps up yet again. Her right hand reaches back to slide her remaining kodachi blade--originally one of a twin pair--from its sheath.

"C'mon boys." She taunts, watching the two remaining combatants stare white-faced at their shrieking friend.

"You bitch." One of them breathes.

She replies only with what she hopes is a really infuriating smile.

Apparently, it is. Mouthy shoots forward with an enraged bellow, with Silent Bob right on his heels. They're used to fighting together against their opponents, that much is obvious.

As the first comes at her in a direct attack, the other edges around her side to split her attention. Razor grits her teeth and maneuvers quickly to get her back to a wall, like they knew she would. But before they can quite get set up to block her in and wear her defenses down, she reaches up to snatch her little pendant necklace.

She smashes it on the ground and thick, blinding smoke billows up through the still air. Razor's opponents grunt in surprise as she dashes past them, and through the impenetrable wall of smoke there is a harsh groan and the sound of a body hitting the ground. Silence reigns for a moment, then an unfamiliar voice, rough from the smoke, coughs out.

"Joe. Joe!"

Razor can hear uncertain shuffling. "Joe! DAMMIT! YOU BITCH! YOU FUC-" Silent Bob gurgles his way down to join Joe in death.

Razor exits the fog to gather her spent throwing knives, and hears an awkward shuffling behind her. She turns just in time to take a heavy punch in the guts from a limping Kneecap. On instinct, she returns the favor, following it up with a heavy slash of her still-dripping kodachi.

The man falls, his larynx sliced in half, and Razor wipes and sheathes her signature blade. She lifts her free hand to nurse her aching ribs. What her fingers find is not the scratchy wool of her overcoat. It's smooth and hard, with a familiar leather-bound grip.

Startled, Razor glances down to check.

Yep. There's a knife impaling her, the hilt sticking out like a flagpole.

Cartoon-style, all at once Razor can feel the entire frigid length of the cold steel running through her, courtesy of the icy cold night. She nearly vomits as shock hits her system like a punch to the stomach that actually, upon reflection, ends up being a knife in the stomach...

Strangled, hysterical laughter bubbles from her lips before she realizes what a painful mistake humor can be at a time like this. She can't help it. The analogy is funny. Hammer always hates it when she makes such morbid jokes in serious times. But even he would have to admit, this was KIND OF hilar-

Razor vomits for real this time, her thoughts smothered by static and wind...

Razor blinks and coughs, surprised to find herself slumped over on her knees, forehead on the cement. She can feel a good-sized welt on her eyebrow, but her throbbing head can't hope to compete with the heavy cold agony in her torso. Blood stains the lower half of her shirt and is covering her lap. She can't stop shivering in jerky, erratic convulsions. Nausea and horrible pain twists her middle.

Consequences be damned, Razor HAS TO get the damn thing out of her.

She straightens up as best she can, managing only an awkward hunch. She sets her fumbling, tingling fingers on the hilt like she's a magician about to attempt some bizarre reverse-seppuku trick. She starts to slide the freezing, razor-sharp blade out of herself.

Razor has to stop after only a few seconds of struggle—the awful slicing, dragging, roiling sensation overwhelming her. She takes a shuddering breath, fighting the urge to squirm.

No, this is NOT awesome. At all.

Her jaw creaks with the force of it's grinding, and with a whimper she slides the curved blade the rest of the way out. SonofaBITCH. Razor is breathless as she stares at her own kodachi sitting in her wet, red-smeared hand. How...?

It takes her a minute to remember that she'd left one of her kodachi embedded in the Snakes' Head bosses' neck. These guys had been out for some poetic justice.

Sonofabitch. Razor clamps down on the wound by crossing her arms tightly across her stomach. The world continues to spin and blacken, and her hands are almost completely numb from blood loss.

She needs to get to safety. To Hammer. How?

"Never mind how." Says Hammer. "Get up."

Razor scoffs. I know this defies the laws of physics, but I never studied law?

"Shut up. It's not funny. ...and you quoted it wrong."

You're not the boss of me. She thinks, writhing miserably on the frost-covered ground.

"If you don't get help, you're gonna die." He says. The man has a point.

And you're a hallucination. She retorts. It's stupid to argue, but it HURTS, dammit.

"If you die before you get to me I'll find some way to bring you back to life so I can kill you again. Hallucination or not, you know that's true." Says Hammer. Razor mulls this over.

"We have a really dysfunctional relationship." Razor grumbles, uncertain if she's referring to her friend or her own psyche. Somehow she uses the alley wall to lever herself onto her feet.

"Less snark. More walking. You're lucky you got shanked so close to the Guild."

She doesn't bother answering, no matter how much the phrase 'you're lucky you got shanked' galls her. She just lurches forward.

Razor stumbles along way too slowly. In moments, (minutes? hours?,) she sees the distinctive shiny brass doorknob of the Long Knife Assassination Guild. She struggles to get it open, somehow manages it. She enters, and shuts the door carefully behind her. She turns to see Hammer staring at her, wide-eyed with horror, mouth agape. Razor collapses in relief...

Well...that was fun.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dear Casey D Hudson

  In high school I watched a friend as he drew a picture.
   I was there, making suggestions (at the artists' request) and just enjoying the artistry from the very first line. After a few moments, I saw the lines become a face. A pretty girl. More lines suggested wistful sadness and determination. Flowing, floating hair lent the image a sense of mystical power.
   It was awesome to be a part of the process, even if it was his hand that held the pen. He incorporated my suggestions into the evolving image, and I cherished the opportunity to be a part of the making of such beauty.
   I was awed by the simple effect this image had on me. I'm not sure why it did, I can only guess that it had something to do with having been there, with my input being honored, to see the perfect mix of the artists' vision and my suggestions weave together to create such art.
   Then, he made what he saw as a mistake (it happens when you decide to draw with pens) and suddenly began making the picture dark and strange in a way that simply did not mesh with the original concept.
   The girl's ethereal beauty was made darker, harsher, one of her eyes sacrificed to make her visage more bitter and 'edgy'. Her hair was made black, stark, and lifeless. It lost the magical lightness it had before.
   The lines of her face lost the wistful wisdom and turned bitter and rigid.
   This pretty, sad, yet hopeful image was destroyed in only a few seconds, turned by the artists' hubris from beauty to unsatisfying ashes.
   What you, in your hubris, did to the last 10 minutes of Mass Effect 3 was infinitely worse. That artist, years ago, was simply drawing a picture to amuse himself. It wasn't his job to enrich or appease me, he simply meant to waste a few moments to cure himself of boredom.
   Mass Effect 3, however, was given to it's fans from the very moment it was said that "there is no canon" and that "the decisions you make completely shape your experience and outcome."
   Bioware used to be a company that cared what its' consumers wanted. Feedback was used. If the players were unhappy, the first response was "sorry! we appreciate your business, so what can we do better?" They would make like Arthur Conan Doyle and retcon Sherlock's death if it truly upset people. Not anymore, it seems. When did that happen? When did the collaborative game-making turn into "you just aren't smart enough to appreciate the genius that is our masterful ending? Also, ARTISTIC INTEGRITY."?
   And for the record, to see what the fans would have considered a "happy" ending, see the MEHEM mod. Note that it is still not "happy" per se (despite being called the 'Mass Effect (3) Happy Ending Mod'.) But it fits the definition of "bittersweet" far better than your original endings did.
   In MEHEM, though you 'win', though you do manage to destroy the reapers and even escape the Citadel with your life, there is no party, no celebrating, no wild sexual encounter with your love interest. Simply mourning the dead, and sharing a sad embrace with your lover. Roll credits.
   Ignoring the plot holes, the lore-abuse, and the constant insults to the players' intelligence, the endings Bioware came up with read like an angsty teenagers' diary, where any happiness is considered blase and cliched, and death and suffering inordinately glorified.
   To say that having Shepard survive the ending dishonors the sacrifices he or she made along the way is an over-simplification, proven by MEHEM. The universe is still in ruins. Billions of sentient people of all races still died. Beloved team members were lost to betrayal, or circumstance, or the very war we were fighting. And yet, to the completely dumbfounded shock of many of Bioware's most hardcore fans, the only endings you saw fit to deliver us are abominable. I shall explain.
   Control asks that I kindly just forget the entire argument I just won against the Illusive Man; that even CONSIDERING trying to control the reapers is insane. It also means just taking the word of the suspicious computer program who's made himself look exactly like the child I've only seen in my nightmares for the last several months. In other words, the very option seems ridiculous, and that's not even counting the other logical inconsistencies it casually brings up.
   Synthesis is worse. From the first words about it from the kid's mouth, I (and many others) were HORRIFIED. I wouldn't even give a friend a simple PIERCING without his consent. This is a bit more serious than a piercing. Let's try again; I wouldn't give a friend a tattoo without his consent. That's a little better for this analogy, but Synthesis is also far more serious than that. Basically you're asking us to enforce non-consensual universe-wide complete body modification. And since it is not properly explained in such a way as to tell us EXACTLY WHY it is completely necessary to DNA-rape the galaxy, (other than the singularity concept they brought up for the first time 5 minutes ago. even though that whole idea was just proven wrong by the fact that I united the Quarians and the Geth.) it simply remains abominable. So that's out.
   Destroy seems like the only logical, least monstrous alternative, and I think you knew that when you wrote it. I can only assume that that's why you decided, (to keep things even,) to force the genocide of an entire race of newly-minted full AI's and the animus ex Normandy. And while we're on the subject, a quick note; having only one ending in four where the beloved protagonist can potentially survive and then leaving him or her in the rubble, gasping for breath, and then essentially saying "you don't need to know the details. s/he's technically alive; that's enough right?" is another casual slap to the faces of the people who opted to end their trilogy on that note.
   Mass Effect 3 is the final chapter of this arc, and Shepard. Does it not strike you as a TEENSY bit crass to not commit to Shepard's fate? Not even counting the fact that Bioware is FORCING character death on Shepard in three out of four endings--(But wait! Weren't we supposed to get 16 "wildly" different endings? ...What? You're counting the entire game as the ending? Oh. 'Cause I was know...from the climax (Priority: Earth) and on. Like everyone else who wasn't using corporate doublespeak to 'win' all their arguments.)
   I digress. After 10 months, I am still this upset. Why the silence? Why the lack of proper response to peoples' perfectly reasonable grievances? Are you really going to just let over 60,000 of your (previously) most loyal, diehard fans slip away? We have stuck with you since Baldur's Gate; some of us since Shattered Steel. Does that level of customer loyalty mean nothing to you? Are you really going to let the shrieking of BSN trolls prevent you from addressing the real issues with Mass Effect 3 that are forefront in our minds?
   ...After 10 months, I am very sad to have to assume that the answer to the last two questions is a smug, self-satisfied yes.
   Find humility. Do better. Stop making promises you don't intend to keep.

   -A former fan