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Exvulnerum

06/20/24

This post is part of the Agora Road June Travelogue

I have the ᚱ rune for comics where I felt like I was going on some crazy emotional ride and I didn't quite know how to feel about it at the end. Normally I consider this a good thing, because I'd much rather be emotionally invested in a comic than, well, not being emotionally invested. So I'm normally happy to give out this rating even if I'm ultimately unsure on whether I liked it or not. But after reading Exvulnerum... I dunno. This isn't the first time I've felt so at odds with myself about a comic (that would be 'Awaken', which I might also talk about here at some point), but it is the first time I've felt it this intensely.

To put it shortly, Exvulnerum is a comic about a curse passed from person to person through touch. The curse makes whoever bears it immortal, and able to regenerate from any physical damage. However, at night, the afflicted feels the combined pain of every living thing around him or her, massively amplified. The only way to get rid of the curse is to pass it on, and it can only be passed on to the individual the curse-bearer cares about most in life.

This is a really interesting premise, and I think it's executed really well. The fear and agony the curse-bearer goes through every night is shown off in phenomenal detail, and the excuses and moral guilt-tripping and coping mechanisms the curse-bearer goes through are all very believable. In fact, it's so well portrayed that I will admit to having some nightmares about it, where I was the curse bearer and decided that the only way to alleviate my suffering was to kill everyone around me, since you can't feel the pain of dead people. Judging by the author's profile picture, she herself is a cripple, and it really does feel like a lot of this comic is drawn from her personal experiences with pain and guilt.

But then there's Dzuna. Dzuna, in her own words, is 'the guardian of the curse', and is bound to whoever currently bears it. She's visible only to those who bear or have borne the curse, has certain psychic abilities (including the ability to warp the user's perception via illusions), and can read the thoughts of the current curse-bearer. She's very manipulative and it's implied that she feels bored and frustrated because the curse-bearers tend to shun her and not listen to her advice, which usually involves lying and finding a way to pass on the curse as quickly as possible. According to her, no matter how much an individual resists, everyone passes it on eventually. An individual who's too stubborn may find herself the target of her ire, as she used a previous curse-bearer to start a fire in a nearby building to break down the will of the current curse-bearer.

I think Dzuna is a terrible addition to the story. Not because she's a bad character, but because it makes the curse feel a lot more personal and targeted. Having a mocking ghost that can read your thoughts screwing with you at all times sounds like a curse in and of itself, and I think it detracts from what Exvulnerum is supposed to be. In my opinion, the more impersonal the curse is, the better it works. No one knows why it exists, or how, it's just there, and you have to either succumb to it or fight it forever. Again, something that might be very relateable to people actually suffering from chronic pain.

But more, I think she sucks because she pushes the characters into doing things they wouldn't have done otherwise. This makes certain other critical scenes much less impactful, because it wasn't just Exvulnerum itself that pushed the character into performing a certain action. Dzuna tricked them into doing it. Maybe Dzuna's supposed to be a representation of the 'shadow', or repressed mind, of someone suffering from chronic pain, but I don't think it works here at all.

For example, at one point the protagonist, afflicted with the curse, needs to get to her best friend West to ask for help or advice, or potentially to pass it on to him. However, she's stuck at her mother's house. Dzuna then coaches her through a series of lies that destroy her mother's already tenuous relationship with her father (they're divorced) by saying that her mother had two lovers over and it was making her feel uncomfortable. Then she commits several more dubious acts under Dzuna's guide, until she telephones West, and, frustrated at his lack of cooperation, snaps at him and says some very hurtful things, which results in him sorrowfully hanging up the phone. Some time after this, the protagonist regrets her actions and says something like 'this curse does horrible things to people'.

Do you see the problem here? It's not just the curse that drove her to do these things, it's Dzuna, which really undermines the theme of how damaging Exvulnerum is to one's psyche. The previous curse-bearer had developed a strong coping method and held out for almost 2 months, and potentially wouldn't have passed on the curse if not for Dzuna sending the message that she will go out of her way to undo his coping mechanisms and amplify the pain he feels each night unless he passes it on.

The whole comic ended up leaving me with kind of a nasty feeling, instead of the 'intrigued yet horrified' feeling the author was probably going for. Also West is a real piece of work and it's probably for the best if they never speak to each other again.

Snide, manipulative, hedonistic characters like Dzuna aren't unique to Exvulnerum, but IMO they almost never improve a comic. I think the only time I've enjoyed that archetype is when the other characters actually make smart decisions regarding this archetype. See: Vegeta's plans regarding Freeza in Dragon Ball, L's plans regarding Kira in Death Note, etc. But whenever a character like Dzuna puts on that snide act, and the cast's reaction is to mope and dope about it, or worse, go on some self-righteous spiel, I just can't stand that. It's miserable.

I highly recommend Exvulnerum to anyone who likes Urban Fantasy or Fantasy in general, and I think it's honestly a great comic, but for me personally, I can't stomach reading any more of it. It makes me feel kind of ill.

I'm Making a Game!

05/04/24

A post ‘this week’, a post next month… same thing, right?

In any case, I FINALLY got all my side projects done with (for now) - or at least the parts that needed immediate attention - and I can start on my main project again - my game!

I’ve been taking Unreal Engine tutorials. I went with Unreal because it had the most flexibility and it has that nice option where I don’t have to pay any royalties under 1 million dollars in profit, which for all intents and purposes means I don’t have to pay royalties.

It’s gonna be a 2D bullet hell game inspired by Pocky and Rocky. Think of the setting sort of like a Western Touhou, with a Germanic Heathen aesthetic over a Shinto-Buddhist aesthetic. The full game will have 9 levels. Once it’s done I’ll put it up on Steam and itch.io. My planned price point will probably be $9.99.

Right now I’m working on sprites. I’ll update my progress on them in a later post because I really like what I have so far.

Once I have the player sprite and some enemy sprites and a landscape tileset, I’ll make a demo to showcase the main gameplay mechanic and probably put it up for download. Maybe I can host it on newgrounds or something. I might also release level 1 of the game on Steam as Early Access depending on how I feel about it.

I plan on adding a FULL SECTION to this site showcasing the work I’ve been doing on the game! It’ll have sprite sheets, music files, and a devlog, among other things. Maybe I can finally make the shrine into its own section while I’m at it, and add more shrines while I’m at that.

Hollywood

04/17/24

Sorry this post is a bit late. I’ll have another one this week to make up for it.

Anyway, today I’m going to talk about Hollywood movies. I don’t like Hollywood or their films. Even the ‘good’ ones, like Lord of the Rings, they have this… style, about them that I just can’t stand, it’s hard to explain. They feel sterile and lifeless.

If you compare the Bakshi LOTR movie to the Peter Jackson trilogy, I actually like the Bakshi one a lot more. Sure, it only covers the first two books, and sure, it’s a bit clumsy, but there’s no movie out there like Bakshi’s LOTR. The style of animation they use is something I haven’t seen elsewhere and overall the tone is a lot quieter and more intense, which I think is not only a lot closer to the books, it works better as a movie by allowing some time for the audience to breathe and experience the world. It feels more… ‘real’ for lack of a better word. I think the scenes with the Orcs in particular are a lot better in Bakshi. I could write a whole essay just about the Bakshi film, and maybe I will later, but essentially, in Bakshi, when someone gets stabbed, it’s visceral. There’s a ‘realness’ to the fight scenes in Bakshi that doesn’t exist in Jackson’s trilogy. Instead the main cast takes out dozen and dozens of orcs by themselves, with no blood or muck or unpleasentness that might risk an R rating. It’s safe. It’s bland. It’s sterile. The Orcs in Jackson’s trilogy might as well be enemies from Dynasty Warriors. This unwillingness to take risks or show anything that might even potentially make the viewer squeamish (unless it’s specifically advertised as a movie intended to make the viewer squeamish) is a huge factor towards my disdain for hollywood and everything they put out.

One of the reasons I like webcomics so much is that the field is so diverse. When you start reading a webcomic, (as long as you stay way from the isekai dreck they advertise on webtoons and tapas) you never know what you’re gonna find, and every comic is a crazy trip into the mind of whoever made it. With hollywood films, you always know what you’re gonna find. Every story has a formula, everything is safe, and audiences eat that up because for a lot of people movies are just a comfort and a distraction from an otherwise boring reality.

The first Avengers movie is a good example of what I’m talking about. I almost never go to the theater these days. In the past 10 years I’ve only seen a handful of films in theaters, and the reason for this is because of the Avengers. The first Avengers movie SUCKS. It SUCKS. It’s GARBAGE. It’s so boring. It’s an action schlock-fest of the worst kind. All the character development happened in the previous stand-alone movies (which I didn’t see and have no desire to), so the only thing that really happens in this movie is a lot of very bad ‘relateable’ or ‘quirky’ dialogue (e.g. when Captain America gets unfrozen and doesn’t understand references to modern media, and then he grins when someone references Wizard of Oz and says“I understood that reference!” Ugh.) and quips (I’ve never liked quips) surrounded by a lot of really mediocre action sequences where nothing has any weight or impact because anything too real might give it an R rating. And what are the stakes in this movie? The Avengers fight against a power-hungry narcissistic tyrant to prop up a decadent, failing global society ruled by OTHER power-hungry narcissistic tyrants. Out of the good of their hearts? Or is it because the United Nations and various shadowy organizations have them on a leash?

The first Avengers was really popular and grossed something like a billion dollars which meant that every superhero and action movie that came after it tried to ape it. No. With the 2010’s going superhero-crazy, I mostly passed on going to the theater, and avoided anything superhero-related like the plague.

However, I did break my cape taboo for one film - the Lego Batman Movie. This was a huge mistake on my part. I thought that maybe they would try to do something a bit different here, since it was meant to be more of a comedy film, but no. Although this movie does actually have character development, it’s marred because no scene can ever stand on its own. Everything has to be explained in painful detail, including Batman’s entire arc, where he has to explain to everyone exactly how he is feeling at all times, because the audience is too dumb to understand just by showing it I guess.

The dialogue in Lego Batman is EVEN WORSE than in the Avengers. Every single line feels like it was custom-tailored by some board to appeal to a specific demographic. Imagine an entire movie of ‘How do you do, fellow kids?”. The scene that really stands out to me is when Batman lists off a bunch of obscure villains from old silver age Batman comics and then breaks the fourth wall, turning to the camera and saying to the audience, “and yes, those are all real… look ‘em up.” Holy crap. Perturbed Pedro gave this movie a 10/10 rating, by the way.

Anyway, on to my main point - the American Godzilla movies. The 2014 one looked incredibly boring and still does, so I didn’t see it. But the trailer for KotM sucked me in, and ever since I’ve been going to see all the new American Godzilla movies.

Now, American Godzilla didn’t change my mind on hollywood movies one bit. These films are terrible and I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone. But I actually ended up really enjoying my time in the theater, for KOTM, Godzilla vs. Kong, and Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. There are 2 very subtle differences between the typical cape film and kaiju films, that I think really sets them apart from something like Avengers.

What was my biggest problem with Avengers? It was a boring movie because it was full of annoying quips and the characters felt more like props than characters. Well, Kaiju films kill both of these birds with one stone.

First, the monsters don’t talk, so there’s no bad dialogue to worry about. This is such a refreshing change, I can’t overstate it enough. Every other action movie has these awful quips and people running their mouths non-stop. Even in some webcomics this happens and I’ve discussed it before in my write-ups. But here, that’s not an issue. Wow, imagine people NOT TALKING when they’re trying to focus all their energy on killing the guy in front of them. What a concept!

The other thing is the character arcs mostly involve the kaijus acting like dangerous animals let loose near humans, so it’s closer to something you’d see in an old Universal monster movie or even a nature documentary, which works great. With The Avengers, the Avengers are basically just dogs for the World Bank. They only show up against very specific threats and refuse to act otherwise, even though with their power they could make a huge difference and change the state of the world drastically. But no one on the team ever argues about what to do with their power or even seems to care anything for the state of the world beyond mindlessly taking down various supernatural threats, which makes them feel like golems. Tools to prop up the current world order, not individuals with their own beliefs and wants. This is not a problem in kaiju films. The monsters are either completely alien to a human way of thinking or animals acting on animal instinct. It’s such a subtle thing but makes such a huge difference.

Again, the american godzilla movies are terrible and I can’t recommend them to anyone. The human scenes also have all the problems I mentioned with the Avengers, but since the focus is on the monsters, that’s not as big a deal. But this was also a problem with the Showa Era Godzilla movies, which the american godzilla movies are honestly about on par with. I think a lot of people forget just how bad Showa Godzilla was. In some ways these films are actually better than Showa Era Godzilla because there is WAY LESS TIME spent on the worthless humans and much more focus on the monsters. Kong in particular I think has a great character arc in The New Empire, and there’s one 20 minute-ish scene where he meets the underground ape tribe for the first time, with no dialogue at all. It was honestly excellent and the closest to my dream of a kaiju movie where the monsters get all the screentime and the humans are completely left out of it that I’ve seen so far.

I dunno if I had a point to make with any of this, just a summary of my thoughts on Hollywood and why I was enjoying Godzilla even though on the surface they didn’t seem any different from typical Hollywood dreck.

New Blog post Friday probably!

Momentum

04/05/24

Something I’ve always kinda known, but have really come to notice over the past week is the importance of long-term momentum.

An object in motion tends to stay in motion, but it’s hard to understand what that really means until you experience it. Most people have had bursts of energy where they feel motivated to do something, but once that inital burst subsides, friction sets in. Gym memberships sit unused, new years resolutions go unfulfilled.

Once you really get into the rhythm, and overcome the initial friction, it’s amazing to feel motivated to do something you actually DON’T feel like doing. The immense feeling of personal satisfaction one receives when completing a really hard task is something completely alien to what might traditionally be called ‘pleasure’, or ‘instant gratification’.

It starts becoming clear why speedrunners spend thousands of hours to beat a level 1 second faster than anyone else, or why artists spend years trying to get their masterwork *just right*, or why war vets gather, decades later, to reminisce about old battles.

The feeling of not merely knowing, but proving that you are capable of doing something and that you are strong, of pushing yourself to your limit and coming out better for it, is intoxicating.

Excuses

03/30/24

One of the most dangerous and effective excuses for procrastination is ‘hm, this is something that could sure use doin’. The bathroom could stand a good scrubbing. I have some mail that needs replying to. How long has it been since I dusted the house? These thoughts are traps.

However much such things need doing, whatever it is that you’re using these chores as an excuse to NOT do is more important. Get some serious progress on that FIRST, THEN you can think about all those other tasks. You’ve been idle towards them long enough, you can be idle a little longer.

In order to overcome these thoughts, you have to build up some momentum on your main project. Keep going at it, no matter how hard it is. Brainstorm potential solutions if you hit a roadblock, as for help, anything to keep on moving. And once you have some steam built up, don’t lose it!!! Intrusive thoughts like ‘I’ve gotten enough done for now, time for a well-deserved break’ are just more traps. Stop working and you’ll lose that momentum and have to build it back up all over again.

Remember also that doing even a little bit is ALWAYS better than doing nothing. If you work for only one minute every day on what needs doing, you’ll get there eventually. If you start skipping days, you might never get there. Infinity times zero is still zero.

Good luck on whatever projects you have! I’ll end this post here so it doesn’t start turning into an excuse to get away from MY project…

Why I'm Starting a Blog

03/26/24

Ultimately, I just want a place to collect my thoughts with some kind of permanence, outside the notepad on my desktop. I've struggled with procrastination all my life and while I've made huge strides in recent years, I still find myself falling for it, especially when I feel antsy, anxious, or stressed (which is often, for mostly the same reasons everyone else feels that way these days)

So, I want to use this blog as a way to battle procrasination by reviewing my day, considering what I've accomplished, and thinking on what I could do better. Even if every post just ends with a simple list of what I want to have accomplished the next time I update this section of my site, that's enough.

I want a place where I can post things I write without feeling like I have to compare myself against others. For example, I made an account on RoyalRoad a few months back intending to start a story, but I haven't because I was constantly thinking on what I need to do to match up against the stories written by other users of the site, and I never felt satisfied with my drafts. But here, the only user I have to face up against is myself, and I think that's a worthy enough opponent for now.

As I said on the homepage, expect new updates to 'Thoughts' at least once a week! I'm gonna do my best to hold myself to that.