A Job Description for the President of the United States


Have you ever seen a list of requirements and qualifications to become President? Neither have I. 

Photo by Srikanta H. U on Unsplash

Well, that’s not exactly true, I have seen the list of qualifications for attaining the U.S. Presidency, but, being that it’s only three items long, it’s no surprise that some of us may have missed it or consider it an afterthought. 

Here are the qualifications for becoming President of the United States, as outlined by the U.S. Constitution:

  1. The President must be 35 years of age.
  2. The President must be a natural born citizen.
  3. The President must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years.

There you have it. According to the law of the land, there are the only 3 barriers of entry into holding one of the most important positions in the free world — and none of them have anything to do with one’s ability to actually perform, satisfactorily, the role of President of the United States. 

If you peruse the “Executive Branch” page on the White House website, you’ll find a partial list of the President’s responsibilities, which include acting as Commander and Chief of the armed forces, enforcing Congressional laws, and appointing the heads of more than 50 independent federal commissions such as the SEC and Federal Reserve Board. Let’s not forget one of the most important and controversial of the President’s duties: the appointment of Supreme Court Justices when a vacancy exists. 

In a nutshell, the President is the Chief of Operations for the entire country. I don’t think there’s any doubt that such a role is important and immeasurably difficult, so why don’t we require more in the way of experience for our supreme leader? 

Over the course of my career in human resources and recruitment, I’ve hired and created job descriptions for doctors, nurses, software engineers, C-level executives, and everything in between. Without one ounce of hesitation, I can say that every one of those roles require more demonstrable experience than is required of the President of the United States. 

What a mind blowing reality we live in.

There is no fathomable reason why this is the case. Perhaps the administration balks at creating a real live job description for this illustrious position because they want to keep to the spirit that any eager bootstrapper is perfectly capable of running the country. History has taught us over and over again that anyone —  from lawyers (most common) to farmers (also very common) to career politicians to actors can assume the highest office in the world, but that doesn’t mean that it’s sensible to continue eschewing the value of actual related experience in assessing a Presidential candidate’s fitness for the job. 

If you don’t know what you’re looking for in a candidate, how do you find the right one?

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

The answer is, you won’t. Even the best hiring team depends on a list of requirements to hire intelligently, and a job description — which distills a broad spectrum of duties and competencies into a detailed checklist of expectations, desired outcomes, role scope, and hard and soft experience requirements — is the bedrock of hiring for any and every role in the world — except one. 

But what if there were a job description in place for the President of the United States? What would it look like? 

I took a stab at creating one, and I think it would look a little something like this:

President of the United States

Location: Washington D.C.

The President of the United States is responsible for running all key functions of the United States government. Among other things, the President vets and appoints all senior governmental leadership, enforces Congressional laws, ensures national security, spearheads all U.S. foreign policy discussion, negotiations, and implementations, and serves as a model of patriotism, tolerance, respect for not only the country, but the entire world. 

Requirements:

*10–20 years progressive experience in law, politics, business, agriculture, armed forces, or similar

*10–20 years experience in management with demonstrated ability to lead, cultivate, hire, and train exceptional teams with demonstrated capacity to meet or exceed expected outcomes

*Demonstrated experience in communicating clearly and effectively across all levels of seniority

*Experience working, communicating with, and empathizing with various diverse racial, cultural, religious, and socioeconomic groups

*Experience providing community service at a large scale or running an organization focused on community service initiatives

*Exceptional public speaking skills and the ability to speak clearly, coherently, and respectfully to all audiences

*Understanding of global foreign policy and demonstrated ability to foster favorable outcomes in collaborating with foreign entities in high stress situations

*Ability to create and enforce federal policy, law, and directives which benefit the macro-level interests of diverse socioeconomic, racial, religious, and cultural groups without infringing on the rights of any of those groups

*Demonstrable experience facing difficult, high stress situations with shrewdness and decorum 

*Deep understanding of existing U.S. laws, legacies, and policies

*Must not harbor any ties to any corporate entities that might influence the course of Presidential policy and behavior

*Must have clean background check, with no open, ongoing, repeated, or past charges, prosecutions, or inquiries related to past or present indiscretions or crimes


This is in no way exhaustive, and like most job descriptions, it can change over time in response to the myriad nuances of a position as dynamic and complex as this. In the event we one day employ some semblance of order to the process by which we allow men and women to run for election to a position of this echelon, perhaps this job description, or something like it, could offer a great place to start.

Greedfall: The Good, The Bad & The Malichor

Greedy colonizers always finish last.

Developer Spiders’ sleeper hit Greedfall has sold over a million copies, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a solid action-RPG with an engaging story, superb voice acting, sharp graphics, and beautiful backdrops. You play as Merchant Congregation Legate, De Sardet, who is charged with sailing to the beautiful and mysterious island of Teer Fradee to find a cure for the malichor, a deadly, disfiguring disease that is ravaging De Sardet’s home city of Serene. De Sardet is accompanied by her cousin, Constantin, who is named governer of Serene’s Teer Fradee settlement, New Serene, and who plays a pivotal role in whether or not De Sardet will see her mission through to the end.

Greedfall is a well constructed saga that also traces De Sardet’s journey to strengthen diplomatic relations with the other factions on Teer Fradee, At every step, De Sardet is further mired in the conflict between the factions and the islanders who are none too happy to see the “renaigse” coming to pillage and exploit the island they hold dear. De Sardet is a confident, likeable, well spoken noble who fights superbly alongside her allies–most of whom she meets on the island–while working to build a connection with the islanders who harness the power of supernatural Guardians that they use to defend the sanctity of the island, and who might be the key to curing the malichor.

Greedfall’s story takes a poignant look at the politics and violence that erupt during colonization of uncharted lands as De Sardet fights to smooth over the tensions that meet her at every corner as she races to find a cure and strengthen her alliances with the inhabitants of Teer Fradee. De Sardet also shares a mysterious link with the island, and through the course of the story learns as much about herself as she does about the island she hopes holds the key to saving her home and the people she loves.

The Good

STORY

Greedfall tells one of the most engaging stories that I’ve seen in a video game in a while–and I play a LOT of video games. It is simultaneously complex and easy to follow, and tugs at the heart strings without being overly sentimental. As is important with any game, it easily promotes full immersion, and I really felt responsible for making the important decisions that influenced the relationships on the island and the fate of those who depended on me.

You can choose to be a “Christopher Columbus” of sorts, fighting against the islanders to overtake their land in pursuit of the cure for malichor, or, you can work as an ally of the islanders, defending them against the encroachments of factions like the religious Zealots of Theleme, who use violence and intimidation to propagate their dogma and convert the natives.

Greedfall’s story is well executed and laced with many twists and turns, and while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it manages to keep you interested and surprised to the very end.

Battle System

Greedfall’s battle system relies on binding your actions to “hot buttons” on your controller (I played on the PS4) and using a mixture of melee, firearms, magic, bombs, weapon coatings, and traps to best your opponents. The battles flow seamlessly and with impressive realism, and while you can’t control your allies in battle, they are smart enough that you don’t worry that they’ll fuck the whole thing up and get you all killed.

During battle, you build up a “Fury Gauge” that allows you to unleash powerful attacks that make you feel like a real badass, and once you get a hang of assigning and using the hot buttons or going into tactical pause with a push of a button in order to plan your next attack, you will find Greedfall’s battles to be some of the most satisfying you’ve ever had.

In between battles, you are able to craft the traps and bombs etc. using the materials that you find or purchase during your travel, and though I found many of the buffing potions unnecessary for me personally, when using them they did offer an obvious edge. Unlike in some games, where the “filler” battles come too frequently or are a bit monotonous, I was always happy to engage any enemy, and was always left satisfied once my enemies were beaten and bleeding at my feet.

Leveling up De Sardet was pretty straightforward through use of the often seen grid system where you apply the points you gain through boosting XP through fighting and completing missions to beef up your skills for firearms, bombs, or melee, and it allows you to easily build De Sardet into a lean, mean, fighting machine.

Cool Islanders, Cooler Guardians

Mountain Guardian: Down!

The islanders dwell in villages all over the Teer Fradee map. They are a diverse, proud group who are understandably suspicious of the colonizers, who they call the renaigse, and are fighting to protect their lands from the factions who hope to conquer it. They speak in a unique language, their accents are completely novel and don’t make you feel like they’re appropriating some real life culture, and cooler yet, they go through a rituals that bind them to large creatures called Guardians with whom they share a physical, and supernatural connection.

The Guardians, while presented as enemies, are a necessary evil and the islanders’ strongest defense against the renaigse who treat them as savages, and De Sardet has many tangles with them through the course of the story, especially after they become corrupted with a dark power whose source hits close to home.

De Sardet, depending on how you play the game, develops strong relationships with the islanders or widens the gap between them and the colonizing factions, all the while learning more about their culture, and their long history of repelling threats to Teer Fradee.

Multifaceted Companions

I really enjoyed my companions. Their catch phrases weren’t too overused (you know how allies in almost all RPGs say something at the start or at the end of battle and it can gett annoying as hell?), and the missions De Sardet must complete to strengthen her relationships with each of them were interesting as well. The companions are, themselves, members of the factions that populate Teer Fradee. You have Vasco, a sea-faring member of the Nauts, Siora, a fierce islander, Petrus, a refined holy man from Theleme, Aphra, a scientist from the Bridge Alliance, and Kurt, a member of the Coin Guard who has known De Sardet since she was a child.

There is opportunity for romance with any of the allies if you play your cards right, and each of them offer a boon that works inside, and/or outside of battle. Greedfall’s allies are unique and multi-layered, their voice acting is impeccable, and you actually care about their role in your destiny as the game unfolds.

The Bad

Rough Around the Edges

For all intents and purposes, Greedfall is a polished, beautiful game, but there are moments where you can see the rough edges that missed the shrewd eye of the Quality Assurance team. For example, at the beginning of the game, you customize the De Sardet character’s physical appearance and gender. I chose to play with a female De Sardet–and so it was funny when I was referred to as “he” at multiple points in the game. Not a big deal, but it was glaringly noticeable every time it happened.

Otherwise, the glaring development errors were few and far between, so things like this:

“Follow me!” the NPC said.

didn’t happen all too often, but when they did they were quite bad. In this case, it was corrected by me ramming De Sardet into him to send him on his way and continue the mission…but I don’t demand perfection from my games so this wasn’t a huge deal, just kind of funny.

Another funny bit is that as you travel through the countryside, you’ll see your battles coming before you get there since the creatures you go up against literally sit frozen in time, not eating, not moving, not even noticing you in some instances until you’re slashing at them with a sword.

Eh. No game’s perfect.

Killing is Easy

I mentioned that the battle system was fun–and it is–but what the battles aren’t, is challenging. Even enemies who had a skull over their life bar–the typical RPG indicator that an enemy is above your level–were easy to beat. After you get used to the battle system, killing any comers will be as easy as pie. The only boss battle that made me sweat, even a little, was the final one and in the end I bested that one fairly easily as well.

That said, I still enjoyed the fights immensely–they were extremely varied and fun and the alchemical and magical preparations you can throw are satisfyingly explosive. Using your fury attack to level a herd of beasties is always exciting, and…easy once you get a hang of things. So, if you’re looking for super challenging battles, Greedfall isn’t for you.

Fetch This. Fatch That. Find Him. Find Her.

The main place where Greedfall goes wrong is in the unbelievable amount of fetch missions. “Go here and talk to such and such!” “Go to cave A, then go to cave B!” “Visit Duncas in his village and ask him to…” “Lead Duncas to point C to ask about thing B.” Too much. By the end of the game, I was so over going to and fro to find things and people that I did become a little bored. It wasn’t enough to make me contemplate quitting the game, but I could see how someone might.

The fetch missions, in most instances, did fit into the storyline more or less, but still, there were way too many of them and no one, nary a developer in the entire land, can make 20-30 fetch missions interesting. They suck after a while, and were the only thing that took me out of the game from time to time.

Too Long?

Which leads me to the length of the game. There were many instances where I felt that the game should’ve ended, but didn’t. There would be some monumental discovery or boss battle, and then you’d go to inform, Constantin, for example, about how that big battle turned out, and then he’d send you to talk to someone else which would result in a bunch of fetch missions: “go here, fight that.” “Go there, talk to person A, then come back and tell me about it”. At a certain point, I just wanted it all to end. There are only so many people/creatures etc. that you can travel to battle with–an easy battle at that–before you’re a little over the whole thing.

The ending, when it finally came, was a bit anticlimactic in that it was merely a narration alongside still shots describing the aftermath–and that left me unsatisfied after all the build up. I beat the game after completing all but the most tedious of missions (there were contract boards located in some towns with missions on them, I barely attempted them) in about 86 hours. I would’ve been happy to be finished around hour 60, honestly.

However, I know that people want the bang for their buck when they pay upwards of $50 for a game, so maybe Greedfall’s lengthiness not such a bad thing.

Who is Greedfall For?

Greedfall is a treat for anyone who loved the Dragon Age series, Elder Scrolls, or Dragon’s Dogma. I’d say that those games are superior, but not by much. Greedfall shares a setting, motif, and energy with those games and the actual mechanics are very similar to what you’ll find in those titles. I will mention that Dragon Age was a bit edgier–so I would say Greedfall is like, a G-rated Dragon Age. I actually prefer a little bit more edge (sex, violence, foul language) in my games than Greedfall had to offer, so that might be something to consider–if you’re a deviant like I am, that is.

All in all, anyone who likes a good RPG, (i.e. leveling up, ability to pause battle action to make tactical decisions, customizable main character, consequence and choice based gameplay, ally romance options, etc.) will love this game. It’s not the best game I’ve ever played, but it was unarguably solid and kept me engaged more or less for 80+ hours of gameplay. Greedfall was a hoot, and definitely earned its place right smack in the middle of my list of the 20 RPGs of all time.

So, my advice is to check it out. Greedfall is available on PSNow and in the Playstation Store for $49.99–and for this robust, smart, and valiant effort, it’s well worth the price.

Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House: An Annoying Reminder to Listen to Your Damn Kids…

…when they tell you there’s creepy stuff happening.

Image Credit: Netflix

Haunting of Hill House is unequal parts creepy and annoying.

Yes, I’m late. I know this movie came out last Halloween season but I take my time watching stuff and I finally binged Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House which is, you guessed it, about a family that moves into a house (a house that could NOT look more haunted) only to discover that it’s haunted!

Ghosts! Ghosts! Ghosts! No, there’s no shortage of ghosts in this one, and the cinematography and mood of the film is chilling to say the least. Pale, azure tinted spirits float in the periphery throughout the entire series allowing viewers to play “Where’s Waldo” with their TV screens and sometimes, ghost jump straight out at people but then they just shake their heads and go “that was weird, I must have eaten some bad shellfish last night.”

Ahhh…here were are again, another barely creepy ghost story shot with a blue filter and rife with plenty of jump scares and a bunch of gaslighting nonbelievers who have no reason to be nonbelievers. What do I mean by this? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a big part of all horror films is this layer of what I call groundless denial where Person A lives in a creepy, clearly haunted place but they are COMPLETELY against believing Person B when they try to warn Person A that something scary is going on.

We’ve all seen it before. A child is crying about the monster in the closet on a dark and stormy night. Mom rushes into the child’s bedroom when she hears her child’s chilling scream. The kid is as pale as sheet and tells their mom that there’s a man with rotten flesh dancing a jig in the closet. Mom gets up and checks the closet. There’s a cheap jump scare where a stuffed bear topples down from the top shelf. Oh son, it wasn’t a monster, but Mr. Stuffies! See son? You’re just a dumb kid who can’t tell the difference between a stuffed animal and a man sized ghoul! Mom tucks child back in and tells them everything’s fine. Mom leaves, the jig dancing starts again, child is scarred for life.

Why?

Why must we go through this dog and pony show in these movies? And The Haunting of Hill House is, alas, no exception. In fact, it might be the MVP of this groundless denial thing.

The five kids are a mixed bag: a pseudo-psychic, a precocious budding photographer, adorable boy and girl twins, and an older brother who gets off easy in the whole spotting ghosts on a daily basis thing. With the exception of the older boy, Steven, the rest of the kids experience a literal buttload of ghost sightings, and save for the twins, none of them articulate exactly what happens to their parents. They just scream and have a generic fearful reaction to things like kittens coming back from the dead and opening their mouths to let huge blue bugs crawl out (“those kittens were sick, honey”, says the clueless dullard of a parent). The parents literally smile and nod and when Luke, the super cute bespectacled and sensitive darling of the show and his uber adorable twin sister Nell literally tell their parents that they’re being dogged by ferocious ghosts, the parents write it off as silly childish imaginings.

What in the entire fuck? Why don’t parents listen when their kids tell them that something scary is terrorizing them so badly that they can’t function? I’m beginning to think these clueless parents should get in trouble for child endangerment, and I definitely don’t enjoy watching kids’ concerns be ignored by the very people who are supposed to protect them. I was completely preoccupied throughout the entire series by my annoyance with the fact that no one ever listens to their kids in these movies!

Otherwise, the show was a snore, mostly. It’s filled with lots of drawn out melodramatic monologues and time jumps that expose us to the lame self-involved lives of the adults who are still reeling from what amounts to about two months that they spent in Hill House as children. These horror movie writers need to get better at creating an engaging, engrossing plot rather than writing unrealistic characters who are literally so stupid and unobservant that you’re rooting for the ghost to put them out of their misery. What’s worse, people raved about this show, I literally read that people were “so scared they vomited”. Those people are the types who have never watched a scary movie in their lives, and those types of people should never be listened to when gauging the efficacy of a horror series.

So what I took from The Haunting of Hill House is that you should listen to your kid. If they say there’s a ghost under their bed, if they say that there’s a strange girl in the woods–believe them–don’t tell them it’s an imaginary friend. If it turns out that they really were imagining things, oh well, better safe than sorry. If these movie parents listened to their movie kids the first time they tell them something’s up, if they would move out of the creepy as fuck house immediately on the off chance their kid knows a ghost when they see one, there’d be a lot less ghost related deaths.

…And a lot fewer frustratingly bad, pseudo-scary movies.

The Hottest Male Video Game Characters of All Time!

It’s no secret that many female game characters are designed for the male gaze. Unpopular opinion alert: I don’t mind that. I like playing with hot female characters as much as the next person, but my true tastes lie elsewhere.

I don’t often salivate over the male characters in games–for one thing, they don’t quite fill out short shorts and a tank top quite like Lara Croft does, for instance, but every once in a while I play a game and become as enamored with the character’s looks as I am with the way he wields his broadsword.

Here, I’ve made a list of the hottest male video game characters of all time–in no particular order.

1. Geralt from Witcher 3

Geralt

You have no clue how many naked and/or scantily clad pictures of Ciri, Yennefer, and Triss that I had to wade through to find this.

Anyway, Geralt is the perfect mix of beauty, brains, gruffness, and compassion. I prefer the video game version of this exotic hunk to Henry Cavill’s portrayal in Netflix’s Witcher (though I wouldn’t throw Cavill out of my boudoir).

I even find him hot once he gets all veiny and crazy looking after drinking potions and Decoctions.

Toxic Geralt

Yup, I got it bad!

 2. Barret from Final Fantasy VII Remake

barret

Once I got past Barret’s comically “black” dialogue (it’s like his dialogue was written by a non-black person who got their reference material from a rap video–but I’ve made peace with it), I was able to enjoy him for the multi-dimensional character that he is! Also, I realized that he’s hot!

He’s tall, barrel-chested, tatted, covered in muscle, and super duper manly. I like a bad-boy, and Barret’s the baddest; he has a gun for an arm for crying out loud.

Barret is passionate, intimidating, and arguably a lot more effective with his arm artillery than Cloud’s close range hack and slash. He believes in something, and I believe in something, too: that he’s a total hunk!

IMG_0981

Barret Wallace can speak to me louder than he needs to any day!

3. William J. Blazkowicz, Wolfenstein Series

The only thing harder than Wolfenstein gameplay is BJ Blazkowicz’s body.

BJ

He’s got a jawline to die for, he’s fearless, and can take a beating. Also, he hates Nazis, and that makes him hot on its own.

BJFace

Since Wolfenstein games are First Person Shooters, you don’t get to see BJ often, so whenever I was blessed with a cut scene I made sure to get my fill of him–and I was never disappointed.

 

4. Niko Bellic from GTA 4

Nico isn’t traditionally handsome, but he has a heart of gold and knows how to handle himself in a gunfight.

nico_bellic_con_il_fucile_by_d3nte_d2y83zs

Image courtesy of D3nte from DeviantArt.com

Nico has a sexy Yugoslavian accent and doesn’t take any shit from anyone. He’s one of my favorite GTA protagonists, and I loved dressing him up to my satisfaction since his default style left much to be desired. I don’t mind a fixer upper.

gta_iv_niko_bellic_artwork_in_xps_by_voggens_da6wpji

Image courtesy of Voggens from DeviantArt.com

See? He’s got that bum-chic thing going on. Yum.

**

There’s no doubt that gaming is about so much more than the attractiveness of the character you get to live through for a few hours. However, I’m sure any seasoned gamer can agree, a little eye candy never hurt anyone; in fact, it makes playing your favorite game all the sweeter.

 

The Importance of Outlining Your Fiction

kaleidico-26MJGnCM0Wc-unsplash

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

I’ve been writing fiction for a long, long time. My mother says that I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil. I have boxes of stapled together printer paper–the books that I wrote and illustrated from a very young age. I have floppy disks of half finished chapter books that I wrote in elementary, junior high, and high school and hoped to share with the world one day.

As I continued to write through college and beyond, I didn’t really have much in the way of “writing process”. My process was thinking up something cool and then sitting down and writing about it. I would often run out of steam and lose direction and motivation–hence all the half finished chapter books.

As I’ve gotten older and realized that I could actually make a career out of writing, I’ve become more dedicated to following a writing process and it’s made all the difference in the world.

The biggest change I made was outlining. 

I know there are a few schools of thought on outlining–Stephen King, for example, doesn’t outline. He sits down and writes from his ridiculous brain, formulating stories that amaze, stun, and chill, but I’m no Stephen King. Not many of us are. Hell, I’m not even one of those folks with a million reads on Wattpad (to date, I have about 29 reads of my story Fighting Chance most of them, I suspect are mine as Wattpad counts author views for some reason).

However, I recently finished a 70k word manuscript in three months. How did I do it, you ask? Outlining. There were some other methods at play, but the biggest change I made was outlining.

I was never a fan of outlining. I wanted to “write organically” which is Prosepunk speak for “fly by the seat of my pants” or “produce with the smallest amount of effort necessary” but it wasn’t working out that well for me. My stories, pre-outlining, took me years to finish. The stories were often badly executed. I don’t mean that my 5-year manuscript is bad, just that the story isn’t as taut as the one I wrote, using an outline, in three months.

Outlining Helps You Focus Your Thoughts

Maybe you have a general idea of what you want to write. You know what characters you want to include, and you have a good inciting event that propels the story, you have a vague idea of the conflict that will motivate the characters, a fuzzy idea of the ending, etc. That’s all well and good if you’re writing only for pleasure and for your eyes only.

Otherwise, you need an outline.

Outlining allows you to bullet out all of those ideas in order to see what components are weak, and which ones aren’t character defining or moving the story forward in a meaningful way.

Having fully realized characters and a taut story is the mark of a good book. If you don’t take that fact seriously you’re probably writing the same drivel that I was.

Outlining allows you to create a chain from beginning to end, each event linking to the one before it until you reach the ending, which if done right, will have been set up perfectly by the multiple events that happened earlier in the story. To have impact, your ending must be the culmination of a thread you’ve woven through the beginning and middle of your story.

Outlining Creates the Soul of Your Story

Before I became “an outliner” I thought that I was sapping my story of its soul by outlining it first. When I wrote my earlier stuff, I thought it was important that I write like I was the reader, being surprised by what came next with no thought given to how I was building my plot, communicating thematic elements, or constructing my characters.

After writing a bunch of story-less manuscripts that were interesting if not meandering, I realized that I had to make a soul, it wasn’t just going to appear through the randomness of my stream of consciousness.

Speaking of stream of consciousness, Jack Kerouac, one of the my favorite writers, hindered me from utilizing an outline as well. In his essay “The Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” he romanticizes his method of simply writing without thinking or planning, which created all of his poignant yet meandering work. I say that to say, unless you can meander like Kerouac, use an outline.

Once I realized that I was incapable of creating engaging spontaneous prose, I got serious about charting out my stories, and giving my work the elusive soul that they deserved.

Soul is: impeccable character development, increasingly high stakes that progress the story, vivid settings, vibrant subplots, a kick-ass ending, taut prose.

Soul-less: Loose plot, static, one-dimensional characters, flat environments, nebulous settings, stilted dialogue, I could go on but I’m sure you see what I’m getting at.

Outlining Releases the Pressure of Writing A Novel

This is the most important thing I learned about outlining. Before, when I’d start work on a manuscript, there was this pocket of overwhelm sitting in the back of my mind. I felt in over my head the entire time and unsure of where things were going. There was always this hope that, by chance, my ending would be good and connect well to the words preceding it.

This didn’t work for me. Hence the subpar manuscript that took me five years to complete and my “Writing” file folders floating on my desktop, bloated with unfinished work.

Outlining allows you to tell your story without telling it. You know how everything is going to happen before it happens and so you’re properly prepared to put it down on the page. Then, all of your concentration can go into creating great dialogue and spinning engaging prose rather than having to formulate the story as you write.

It was freeing, really.

Outline However You Want To

When you hear the phrase “outline” you’re thinking of some exhaustive document with bullet points and sub bullet points and numbering and blah blah blah, but you’re a creator, and your brain works different from mine, and every other creator out there, so make an outline that works for you.

Write it out in paragraphs. Use snatches of dialogue. Create an abstract of the setting. Think of it as an awful first draft devoid of the bells and whistles that make beautiful prose. Get your ideas out there in black and white and then write from there.

I use bullet point points because it allows me to get key events down on paper in a clean way. I use Microsoft One Note because it’s easy to use, no frills, and has cute bullet points, check marks, etc. that I can use. It allows me to be messy without adhering to the maddening constraints of a Microsoft Word document.

Outline in a stress free way, get your key ideas and your ending on the page, read through it a few times and make sure you see a thread that goes from beginning to end, and then start writing.

Remember, You Aren’t Chained to Your Outline

Your outline is a guide, a group of goal posts. If you’re writing and something in your outline doesn’t feel right, change it. If you want to change your outline, you can, it’s yours.

Your outline will contain succinct ideas of the big ideas that you’ll allow to grow in your work. You can fill in those spaces between bullet points with whatever you want, but the entire time, you’ll be following a path that you built out for yourself.

Use your outline as a tool, not as a tether.


Reflecting on all of the writing advice I’ve read and heard over the years, I wish I would’ve paid more attention to the pro-outline advice, because it’s the one thing that was missing from my process. Try it out for one of your stories, I promise you’ll wonder why it took you so long to do so.

Misunderstanding Yourself.

Sometime between when I started this website and when I started blogging about video games a lot on here, I began to think that could only post when I had something to say about video games, or movies.

How silly of me to have misunderstood my own purpose. Let this be proof that you can misguide yourself pretty easily and misunderstanding your own goals is possible, believe it or not. I didn’t start this website to blog about video games, so why was my inability to create new video game articles (because I’m still playing Final Fantasy VII Remake and I have nothing to add at the moment) keeping me from adding content?

So now that I’ve gotten my head on straight and remembered that I also wanted to use this platform to talk about my fiction writing career, I’m going to do just that.

Stay tuned to read articles on my writing process, progress updates on my new work, or, just to learn what makes me (and you if I make it relatable enough) tick.

…I remember writing stay tuned on a blog years ago and I didn’t post again for 10 years….

 

Which Platforms Are Next for Final Fantasy VII Remake?

Now that Final Fantasy VII Remake has finally hit PS4 player’s screens, fans that play other platforms are wondering where it might go next.

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“FF7R” by datcravat from Deviantart.com

Not all remakes of iconic games get it right (we’re looking at you, Goldeneye 007 Reloaded) but Square Enix’s Final Fantasy VII Remake has impressed even the most diehard fans of the original. It was the bestselling video game of April 2020, edging out chart mainstays like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and is so far the third best-selling game of 2020 overall. With that much commercial success, it’s no surprise that fans are wondering if the critically lauded game will be available on their preferred system after its PS4 exclusivity ends on March 3, 2021.

Details remain sparse, but if the cross-platform pedigree of other Final Fantasy titles are any indication, well, any system has a shot. Gameplay footage that was apparently captured via PC made rounds online for the last few months and suggest that it will eventually land on Windows, but Square Enix has yet to confirm or deny this possibility.

While Xbox One and PC seem the most likely next stops for Final Fantasy VII Remake, there’s a slim chance that Switch-ers will see this title as Nintendo Switch doesn’t consistently land Final Fantasy titles outside of older releases or game remasters, the most recent being 2017’s Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. It doesn’t bode well that Final Fantasy XV has yet to make it to Nintendo’s crown jewel—so it could very well take a while for Final Fantasy VII Remake to do so—if ever.

Fear of missing out is real with this one as Final Fantasy VII Remake is the perfect tribute to the Final Fantasy heavyweight it was modeled after–with some amazing updates thrown in. The battle system, for example, has shifted from turn-based to real-time without sacrificing any of the original’s charm thanks to Unreal Engine 4 and Lead Battle Designer Tomotaka Shiroichi’s four-frame manga approach to boss battles. Lead writer Kazushige Nojima and team also breathe new life in the “love triangle” between Cloud, Aerith and Tifa giving it depth and meaning unachieved in the original version, while Barret is still, well, Barret—to fan’s delight.

Final Fantasy VII Remake’s Midgar deep-dive has certainly wet the public’s appetite for the next installment of the series, Final Fantasy VII Remake 2 (working title), which is in development—though the release date is a mystery—and it’s anyone’s guess if it will be a multi-platform release or if it will share the same exclusivity as its predecessor.

For now, the only surefire way to play the Final Fantasy VII Remake is to get your hands on a PS4, or, if that’s not a option, the Final Fantasy VII Remake soundtrack is out now, and it only requires an internet connection.

Why I Probably Won’t Finish Wolfenstein: The New Order

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Image created by  Trycon1980 from Deviant Art

The completionist in me weeps to face that reality. But let’s start from the beginning. 

This week I decided to opt-in for Playstation Now — which is a good investment for the gamer who isn’t hung up on playing the newest and shiniest releases. PS Now has a pretty good selection–including both Wolfenstein: The New Order and Wolfenstein: The New Colossus among a number of other (oldish) games across genres.

The first thing I chose to download was Wolfenstein: TNO as I’ve been circling the series for a few years without taking the leap before now.

Why?

I’m not a huge fan of First-Person Shooters. This is strange only because Goldeneye is one of my all time favorites (it is an N64 staple and revolutionized the FPS as we all know it) but I haven’t been all that impressed with modern FPS offerings because I’m not interested in running around in fatigues and getting shot down by uber talented 8 year-olds in multi-player. 

But, as usual, I digress. 

I have a very real love/hate relationship with Wolfenstein: TNO, and I realize that much of my aversion is due to its unfamiliarity. I’ve never played a game that pits me against menacing super-Nazi’s, I’ve never before jumped out of my real world skin when a large robot dog from hell, or Panzerhund as they’re called, leapt out at me and tore me to bits. I’ve never watched a guy I was talking to get blown to pieces seconds later by the car bomb he put in his trunk.

However, after playing through the first few hours, I got a hang of things and could see the appeal, and that appeal–like with most FPS games–is full-on immersion. 

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Enter the Panzerhund. Image by  jQueary1991 from Deviant Art.

I should add that I started playing this game on “I AM DEATH INCARNATE” difficulty level because I’m a sadomasochist. “I AM DEATH INCARNATE” is only one level below the hardest difficulty level, “UBER”. After playing at “IADC”, I cannot imagine what sort of sicko can even play one level of this game on “UBER”, but I know I never want to meet them and that they are probably a 12 year-old killing machine. 

Anyway, after being killed like 1,000 times and yelling at my fiance in frustration, I moved the difficulty level down one peg to “BRING ‘EM ON”. This level is still really hard, but it gives you a fighting chance which means the world in a game chock full of deadly surprises. 

I should mention that the Wolfenstein franchise is known to be difficult,  so after checking my ego, I quit my belly-aching and locked in for an extremely exciting ride, and boy is it exciting, but I’m still not sure that I’ll see things through.

Don’t get me wrong, this game offers an experience that I’ve never quite had before. I was invested in this game in a way I haven’t been in a long time, and I can only attribute this to how the act of fighting murderous Nazi’s in an alternate reality really got under my skin. 

I’m a wimp, so the realistic violence is a bit much for me. The immersion is impressive, but it will be a large part of why I don’t finish the game. For example, when the main character, William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, was being tortured early on in the game, the first-person perspective made me feel like I was in the hot seat, and dammit, with the way the world is now I can’t play a game that stresses me out so much. 

I regularly shiver with anxiety while navigating whatever cold Nazi stronghold I’ve broken into, performing impeccable stealth kills or mowing down a gaggle of Nazi scum with whatever heavy weapon I’ve picked up along the way. I bite my nails during cut scenes as I prepare for whatever fresh hell Wolfenstein: TNO has in store for me. I pump my fist in maniacal glee after leveling an entire army of Nazis. 

All of these visceral reactions show just how amazing Wolfenstein: TNO order is, but, alas, this old gamer’s heart can’t take it. 

So as I power up my PS4 to inhabit Blazkowicz’s handsome body one more time, I realize that while I may be over the repetition of shooting, diving for cover, and being gunned down–brutally–over and over, I can enjoy it for as long as I desire without the added pressure of needing to see it through to the end. 

While the completionist in me isn’t quite happy knowing I’m playing a game I won’t finish, I can fully appreciate the masterpiece that is the Wolfenstein series. And you never know, I might post here one day and reveal that I completed the game after all. But I won’t beat myself up if I don’t. I’ll leave that to the Nazis. 

Darkest Dungeon: Tips for Surviving the Best Turn-Based RPG You’ve Never Heard Of

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…Darkest Dungeon!! I don’t know about you (it would be creepy if I did) but I love a good turn-based RPG, especially since they are a dying breed among mainstream offerings and I consider turn-based mechanics to be the mark of a “true” RPG.

During my formative years, I cut my teeth on true RPGs like Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy VII (I have to include that one or you’d just click off the page right now, I’m sure) Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XII, Legends of Dragoon, and Valkyrie Profile, just to name a few.

Short attention spans, the rise of the “casual gamer”, and the tendency for game developers to stick to action-RPGs has caused the true RPG’s star to dim in recent years. However, I’ve never given up the search for the type of turn-based fun that offers the addictive challenge and novel theme that characterizes an entertaining, memorable, RPG experience.

One such memorable, true RPG offering is Darkest Dungeon from Red Hook Games. It is a brutal turn-based RPG that is so difficult that it makes you throw your remote to the ground in….pleasure? Yes, pleasure, because Darkest Dungeon makes no bones about how challenging it is, but still manages to be a smashing good time.

As you play this game, you will, inevitably, make peace with the reality that without meticulous preparation (and sometimes in spite of meticulous preparation) your party members will die, and it will be all your fault, you spineless worm! Just kidding, you’re not spineless.

Surviving DD’s extended dungeon crawls is no picnic. With your party of four tortured heroes, you’re charged to free your ancestor’s crumbling estate from the clutches of dark entities that his bad behavior unleashed upon the lands, and paying for your family’s sins has never been so entertaining.

You’ll venture out on Skirmish missions where you have to complete 100% of room battles, Scouting missions where you have to explore 90% of the rooms, and boss battles — where you’re killed immediately — all the while going up against the likes of bipedal rotting fish, rancid corpses (here’s looking at you, Drowned Thrall), skeleton soldiers, hags with cauldrons that aren’t just for show, and blobs of melted flesh that dole out attacks that can level your party in fewer than three turns.

You can attempt escape–and most likely your attempt will fail. If that happens, prepare to lose all of your turns and suffer murder with extreme prejudice, because there are few rewards for cowardice in the twisted DD universe.

Darkest Dungeon is an addictive exercise in perseverance and problem solving. As a seasoned gamer, I tend to glean real life-applicable impressions from the games I play. For example, if I choose a combination of heroes that are not able to get the job done (translation: die immediately) on a Scouting mission through the Cove, I reevaluate my choices, implement some strategic thinking, and go guns blazing with another approach. If at first you don’t succeed, die, die again.

DD teaches hard lessons, such as “preparedness guarantees nothing, but preparedness guarantees a chance at something”. I made that one up, but it’s applicable, kinda!

Some of your party combinations will get a cool title if you arrange them just right.

The object of this game–which is to complete a long list of “Caretaker Goals” that include everything from leveling up a hero to defeating a boss. Achieving these tasks is based on determining the proper party combo and resource stockpile that will get you through a mere Skirmish mission unscathed, or better yet, help you withstand the relentless onslaught of a boss battle.

Boss battles are insane, by the way, mostly because you must endure room after room of resource depleting, life-sapping, stress inducing battles before you happen upon the room that contains said boss, who is ALWAYS harder than you think they’ll be. Every. Single. Time.

One game-changing distinction that makes Darkest Dungeon so sexy is your heroes’ two-fold vulnerability gauge–one that determines Stress level (the Affliction System), and one that determines HP. Certain creature attacks deplete your HP while others will add to your Stress gauge — as will certain conditions in the environment or random missteps you make during your crawl.

Reach 100 in stress, you gain a Stress quirk that can manifest in any number of ways. These Stress quirks, or Afflictionscan cause the affected party member to literally stress-out their war-worn peers, pass their turn, self-harm, or attack enemies without your command. Reach 200 in stress and you’ll have a heart attack, and there’s no coming back from that. In DD, stress, like in life, is a killer.

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Stress can make you Hopeless. (Image from DarkestDungeon.com)

Outside of hours spent traipsing through dank ruins, fishy coves, overgrown warrens, teeming wealds, or the titular Darkest Dungeon (you have to use Level 6 party members to play the Darkest Dungeon—I’ve played this game for over a year and despite having Level 6 heroes, have never even considered darkening the threshold of the Darkest Dungeon, this game is that hard) you spend a lot of your time patching your party up back at the Hamlet. 

The Hamlet is home to places like the Tavern and Abbey where your heroes can engage in a variety of anti-Stress activities, like drinking (always the best and cheapest choice unless your party member has an aversion to drinking) flagellation (really), enjoying carnal company in the brothel, meditation, or prayer, just to name a few. Stress can also be mitigated through random events that occur during the dungeon crawls, or by using stress relievers around the campfire during longer missions. (Be warned that you can sometimes leave the campfire more stressed than when you went in. Damn you, Darkest Dungeon!!)

This game has no shortage of unique challenges, including your need to equip provisions before your dungeon crawl that relieve status effects and interact with certain items you’ll find during your travels. For example, a Bandage relieves the status effect “Bleed” and can also be used to protect your hands while you rummage through a pile of rusty blades for useful items that will help you on your journey. You have to choose–and use–your provisions wisely, or, well, you’ll die.

Death, like in real life, is final for any of your heroes who succumb on your journey. My advice is to hold off on naming or becoming attached to any of your heroes until you get your bearings, because most likely, they’re going to die.

Darkest Dungeon is detailed, intricate, dark, and engaging. It is a game that you can play alongside your other more lengthy and in-depth gaming endeavors. For example, I’ve played Darkest Dungeon alongside my Mass Effect re-play-through, Red Dead Redemption 2, Beyond: Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human, Horizon Zero Dawn and any other long-ish game that strikes my fancy.

Once you get a hang of things, it’s easy to come back to it over and over again without a steep relearning curve, and, if you think this is a game you can beat in a week, you’ve got another thing coming. No one fucking beats this game. (I will let you know as soon as I do, which will probably be around my 50th birthday.)

To help you put your best foot forward, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks to help you prepare to face the Darkest Dungeon. Don’t say I never gave you anything.

TIPS:

  • It’s imperative that you use status effect attacks on your enemies; Bleed, Blight, and Stun are lifesavers in clutch moments, use them wisely. These effects also stack–meaning if you afflict an enemy with Bleed three times — they get three times the damage each turn. Lay it on thick!
  • Party member position is key. Make sure you place your heroes in the spots that work to their strengths. Not all of their activated attacks work in every position, and if an enemy shuffles up your order with a Move attack, you could be royally fucked.
  • Use a good mix of Buffs, Debuffs, and melee attacks. Of course melee is going to get the killing job done, but sometimes buffing your party toward being speedier or more evasive is as important as stabbing a baddie in the face. Debuff your baddies where you can, make them slow, make them inaccurate–make them pay! Be strategic.
  • When choosing provisions BUY ALL THE FOOD available. I cannot stress this enough. During your trek through the dungeons, a prompt will sometimes pop up at random requiring you to disperse food to your party. If you don’t have enough, they suffer massive Stress.
  • Another note on provisions, you have limited space in your inventory, so choose wisely–sometimes I leave things behind–either during the crawl or while choosing provisions beforehand. Never leave a shovel or food behind, but you can forego things like Luadanum–it’s good for removing Horror, but I don’t find that I need it that often and I can get through most crawls with out it. Here’s my recommended Provision pack:
      • 9 torches
      • All the food I can buy (if you can’t afford all of it, sell some trinkets or something, then come back and buy all the food, I mean it!)
      • 3-4 shovels
      • 2 medicinal herbs
      • 2 holy waters
      • 1-2 keys (keep in mind that not having a key will never kill you or Stress you, you just might miss out on some treasure or a secret room.)
      • 2 anti-venoms
      • 2-3 bandages
  • When you get enough cash, remove some of your party’s quirks at the Sanitarium.
  • When choosing what to drop and what to keep as you deal with limited inventory space, always choose heirlooms over cash when you can as the heirlooms allow you to upgrade your heroes and the services available in the Hamlet. If you get the Crimson Court DLC, the heirlooms allow you to upgrade your Hamlet with new buildings that give you additional boons.
  • DO NOT go into a boss battle until you’ve practiced besting Skirmish and Scouting missions. Boss battles are no fucking joke. I once leveled up a party to 5 and lost them all on a (Level 4) mission, which brings me to the fact that…
  • Level designations mean nothing–just because a level says it’s for level 1 heroes, doesn’t mean all of your level 1 heroes are fit for the battle, be strategic.
  • ALWAYS brings shovels. Not having one when you need it can cause Stress and injury. On the few times I forgot a shovel, I just saw myself out immediately.

Ight

No shovel? Get out of dodge.

  • Leave the dungeon if you can’t cut it. You’ll live to fight another day, even if you leave with a few more quirks than you came in with.
  • Leave your ego at the door.

So, there you have it, a write up on one of my favorite games of all time. Play Darkest Dungeon with the understanding that you’re supposed to suck at it, but with airtight strategy and persistence, you’ll suck less and less over time. Whether you prevail and become a DD master, or flounder and experience a full party wipe out, you’re sure to have a barrel of rotten, decaying fun.

Beyond: Two Souls Was Beyond My Skill

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Or that’s how I felt, at least, when I failed–repeatedly–to input the right commands during the fight sequences. But we’ll get to that–let’s start from the beginning.

Beyond: Two Souls is another interactive drama and action-adventure game for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (I played it on PS4) and Microsoft Windows from David Cage and Quantic Dream. This dynamic team brought us other immersive, interactive drama and action adventure games like Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit), Heavy Rain, and Detroit: Become Human  all of which are very good (if you enjoy this genre of game) and worth checking out of you’ve got a lot of time on your hands because of, well, COVID-19.

Beyond: Two Souls tells the story of Jodie Holmes, (adult/teen Jodie is played by Ellen Page who does a kick-ass job) a woman who is literally linked to a mysterious spirit named Aiden. The story follows her from childhood to womanhood as she deals with the weirdness of having a (very capable) spirit companion with whom she shares a  complicated relationship.

Jodie grows up under the watchful eye of the United States Department of Paranormal activity under the tutelage Dr. Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe) and Cole Freeman (Kadeem Hardison). During this chapter of her life, she learns the bounds of her amazing powers while struggling with the horrors of young adulthood. She then goes to work for the CIA, using Aiden to aid them in their quest to create a link to the “other side”.

The CIA, of course, is full of douches that use her for their own devices with little regard for her safety, sanity, or the viability of opening up a portal to the spirit world (spoiler alert, their attempts go awry) and Jodie, with Aiden’s help, is constantly working to clean up their ghostly messes.

Despite some reviews I read that said different, Beyond: Two Souls has an appropriately intricate and interesting plot and it is every bit a cinematic juggernaut on par with the rest of Cage and Quantic Dream’s work. The game play here is a bit more complex than that of Indigo Prophecy or Heavy Rain, though you can adjust difficulty according to your comfort level.

I chose the “experienced” level and felt pretty confident about my choice–and then came the fighting mechanics. It’s set up like this: Jodie’s body or body part moves, in slow motion, in any given direction on the screen and you’re supposed to move the right joystick in that direction. I sucked at this.

During the 10-second or so slow motion moments it’s up to you to determine which direction Jodie’s swinging, ducking, or kicking. This literally kicked my ass. I kept rolling into punches, ducking when I should have been jumping to the side, punching to the right when I should’ve been punching to the left. Overall I got my ass kicked in about 75% of the fights. Lucky for me, I was still able to get through the grueling action sequences even though Jodie was always worse for wear. I sported a lot of bloody noses, busted lips, and limped while holding my arm a lot.

Needless to say, I performed below par and as a very seasoned gamer, I’m ashamed to admit it.

As is typical when I suck at some component of a game, I looked up reviews on the game to see if other people had this same problem with the fight mechanics. Phew! They did.

So the moral of this story is, check out Beyond: Two Souls, because I was able to love it despite its relentless mission to take me down in peg in my gaming prowess. I mean, you get to possess people (Aiden’s abilities essentially make you a bad ass–with Aiden’s help, you can fly and heal people, for example) fight smoky evil entities, kiss men (or not if you so choose) and kick ass — but be warned that the fighting mechanics kind of suck. Don’t agree? Think I’ve got a mouthful of sour grapes? Try the game and let me know if you had the same experience I had–which was a good one, overall.