Archive for April, 2013

30/04/2013

I love Borderlands, just not for the boss fights.

Borderlands is possibly my favourite first person shooter of all time. It seamlessly blends the looting fun of Diablo style games with the fun of scoring head-shots against non-player characters from truly ridiculous distances. It is in a word, awesome, and on Saturday morning I finished my first play through of it. It took me about 20 hours of play time to run through the game, I insisted on doing every single side-quest, and I can say I enjoyed 99% of the game.

But am I alone in feeling that after the first level boss fight that they quickly became…unsatisfying?

In the first area your weapons are kind of weak-sauce, they generally do very low damage, rather anemic elemental effects and the fact that you have built up precisely no level of proficiency in them means you’ll pound away forever at both the mini bosses, and the end of level one. You shields are laughable, and your health-points vanish so fast that you almost want to scream out “I’m melting, I melting! What a world, what a world!”

By the time I found myself taking out an insane boss and his equally insane rocket firing car at the end of the second main area there was no struggle. One death on my side, and he fell. The third boss I didn’t even die, I just scored a few very long-range head-shots against him with a rocket-launcher and boom, the loot be mine.

And you know what? I was alright with that. They were just level bosses. Important story-wise, but not much more than that. They were after all simply overpowered versions of the standard bad-guys. I knew, just knew that the end-game boss would be EPIC!

And I was both right, and wrong. I won’t spoil much, just in case like me there’s someone who is a latecomer to both the worlds of Xbox, and Borderlands out there reading this. But I will say that the last boss is frikkin’ HUGE. It’s e-fucking-normous! It has multiple attack forms. Multiple damage types. And a pool of health-points that Cthulhu would be proud to possess.

Some reviewers feel that this is an example of lameness, are they mad? Borderlands was better for the inclusion of eldritch horrors such as this. And yes, there are more including a giant living nest, with a vagina for a face. I fuck you not, a vagina for a face! (image via www.gaminglives.com )

It also unfortunately, for me at least, has a fatal weakness that is incredibly easy to exploit. I died twice attempting to kill this monstrosity. Twice. The third attempt I never once worried about my character dying.

And so I walked away from my favorite FPS, to date, feeling unsatisfied. The ending movie was…sweet I guess. I mean I still know nothing about the hot chick with the blue eyes, though I am reliably informed that I will by the end of game 2. And yup I still have four whole DLC levels to play through, as soon as I get them. But Borderlands itself let me down with its bosses, though strangely not the mini-bosses most of whom were utterly bad-ass.

Area one = Sheer Terror, multiple deaths, and loot I cheered for having.

All other bosses = Load up, cross-hair on target, squeeze trigger, don’t let go til you hear a click. Repeat if, and I do mean if, needed.

All that said, if you have an Xbox, or other machine that Borderlands is available for you should buy it. And you should, while saying goodbye to a full day of your life, play the ever living crap out of it. It is insanely fun, stylish, beautiful, and just incredibly playable. But the joy of it is definitely in the areas themselves, and not in beating the bosses.

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27/04/2013

Anxiety is not a reason to feel guilty.

When you’re going through a lot sometimes the smallest of things can make a huge difference, and I am going through a lot right now. My period of extreme physical ill-health rolls ever onward. But on top of that, as I mentioned in my last post, my past has finally caught up with me. I find myself struggling each and every day with immense anxiety, fear, and both flashbacks and panic-attacks triggered by the most random of things. You know, things like a guy whistling in a certain way, the smell of a certain brand of cigarettes, and the sight of a Ford frikkin Granada.

Now I’m a pretty smart cookie, even if I still don’t understand how time-zones work, but I keep finding myself falling in to the most insidious of traps laid by emotional health-issues, guilt. Of course being born, and bred in Ireland at the tail end of the rule of Catholicism over the Irish gave me a really excellent head-start in turning feeling guilt in to an art-form.  I can feel guilty over, well just about anything.

Watched a movie? Guilty because I didn’t walk the dogs instead, never mind that they’ve been walked already.

Lay awake all last night because my stomach hurt too much to sleep? Guilt because I slept late in the morning, or guilt over being a zombie for the day.

Guilt is silly, random, and not healthy. I mean don’t get me wrong, if you murder someone you better be experiencing feelings of guilt. But feeling guilty over not sleeping, or for kissing someone, or for enjoying a few hours of a computer game? Yeah that’s not only dumb, it’s just not healthy.

But when you’re physically or emotionally at the end of your tether, it’s all too easy to plunge in to truly unhealthy guilt. Guilt for not being 100%. Guilt for being a burden. Guilt for being bad company. For being grouchy. For not being the partner they deserve. For needing to be helped.

Yesterday morning I needed my Partner in Crime to wash my hair for me. It was one of the best feelings I’ve had in weeks. Sensual, and loving, and gentle, and just…wonderful. She did it for me because she knows I HATE washing my hair over the bath, and because she knew I’d spent the entire night awake, on the toilet. I just couldn’t do it for myself. And all day I felt utterly wracked with guilt because it was her doing it for me, not me for her. Because I needed to be helped, when I’m supposed to be the one…well anyway last night a friend posted this on her Facebook wall…

guilt

I’m not depressed, though Goddesses know I would be entitled to feel that way at this stage. I’m also not schizophrenic, I mean I’m pretty sure I’m not. But I sure as Hell am anxious, and that image is right. I shouldn’t feel guilt over anything I’ve done, I’ve done nothing wrong. I shouldn’t feel guilt over anything I’ve felt. And I shouldn’t feel guilty for needing help.

The simple truth is I’ve been too strong for my own good for far too long, and now when my body is at the lowest ebb it’s ever seen the emotional damage a childhood, teenage years, and early adulthood inflicted on me has finally caught up. And that’s nothing to feel guilty about either. The guilt won’t vanish overnight. Like the scars my heart carries, it will take time to find the causes, and root them out. But even recognising that I feel this way, and that I don’t need to, is a large step in the right direction.

And that’s the key to getting better. Taking each small step, one by one on the road to getting back to being me.

23/04/2013

So who exactly am I?

Lately this is a question that’s been on my mind, and for once thankfully it’s not a question which is related to my gender, after all I’ve already mostly answered “What am I?” pretty well. It’s a question that’s cropped up now, because I find myself going through a period of very intense emotional upheaval. I’ve spoken before of my history of childhood sexual abuse, well no matter how well you’ve dealt with it in the past, that sort of history is always waiting in the long grass for a chance to pop up, and at the very least make your life extraordinarily difficult. And that’s pretty much what it’s doing to me these days, it’s kind of hard to walk the dog for instance when you’re sitting with your head in your hands, sobbing through a truly enormous snot-bubble.

But it did lead me to wonder if we ever really know who we are.

I can give examples of who I am. Sort of personalised stereotypes to show who I am as a sort of “what I am”. But that just leaves me wondering which of them is the real me.

Some of your reading this know me by my real name. I write with a pen-name, though not to protect my secret identity from my evil arch-nemesis. You see the real me likes being a writer, likes the feeling of accomplishment when a piece is finished, loves dreaming up the stories and articles. But she doesn’t particularly like the process of writing. It involves far too much of things like punctuation, grammar, and hard work. No she would much rather do the daydreaming part, while she plays with her dogs, makes love to her partner, and plays Borderlands on her Xbox. To her writing or drawing are simply a way to be what she really likes being, a storyteller. So Amanda Harper was born, or created, or always existed but needed a chance to come forth…uh yeah, it all gets sort of meta here.

Basically Amanda Harper is a part of me, in the same way that I’m sure deep down Indiana Jones is an unexpressed part of Harrison Ford. She’s me but a different expression of me. If that makes sense.

And she’s not the only one.

There’s the me who was a Scout, who’s really good at map and compass navigation, and the sort of stuff that Bear Grylls would find fun. She took it all frightfully seriously, and did all sorts of advanced courses in everything.

Then there’s the me who was a moderately successful rock-climber for much of her teens and early twenties. Rock-climbing is, (like many sports) a manifestly silly pass time, (golf anyone?) and the me now sometimes finds herself a gibbering wreck at some of the risks I took. I wasn’t a stupid risk taker. I almost never climbed without proper safety equipment. I was careful to only stretch my skills to their limits, not for me the climbing 3 grades above my skill level and finding myself falling head first for a mouthful of gravel, or stones, or stunned climbing partner. No instead I usually put my safety line in the hands of the least reliable creature known to humanity, the teenage boy. You know the ones who can look at a blank wall and still find on it a reason to be distracted by an erection. Man, I should be dead.

And they’re far from alone.

Probably the most important one is the shield-bearer. The shield-bearer is the one who appeared when I was being raped. She was strong enough to fight, strong enough to not have her mind shredded, strong enough not to show weakness, while the rest of me huddled in a quiet corner of my mind, and did its best impression of a gibbering wreck.

The thing is that they’re not separate, or split personalities. They’re more like masks, pulled on when needed, so I can do what I needed to do.

Need to be fearless, the climber.

Need to be reliable, the scout.

Need to be badass, the shield-bearer.

Need to write a book, Amanda.

Need to beat Halo (again), geeky me.

But these days I find myself wondering sometimes which of them, if any, is the realest version me. They’re all real, they’re all me, but one of them must be more…me…I think that makes sense. And lately I’m starting to think that the hurt, frightened, crying 8 year-old girl in the wrong body. The one who was betrayed again and again, who was abuse body and mind. The one who still sits inside of me crying her heart out for herself, when she isn’t shaking in fear of the people she loves being hurt the same way she was. That one. I wonder if really she’s the realest me of all.

So who exactly am I?

I don’t know if I can answer that question. I don’t know if there is a singular answer. I guess there’s probably lots of versions of me, all facets of a hidden core personality. But I suppose I shouldn’t worry about it, maybe if I could answer it life wouldn’t be so much fun. I should probably just enjoy wearing all the masks that are all different and yet still all true to me.

Hmm, not a lot of sense in this article. Maybe I should try this again after I’ve healed.

20/04/2013

Why Dr Who gets on my tits.

Okay, so there’s one thing really annoys me about the modern Dr Who. The tagline for it since they relaunched the series has been that The Doctor is “The Last of The Timelords.” Which is cool, and awesome sounding, and shit. But it’s also not to my mind as a life-long Whovien in anyway accurate.

Even if all the other Timelords are now dead (which they’re not, they’re along with The Silver Nemesis and all the other Gallifreyan living weapons, timelocked, whatever that means), but that still leaves the TimeLady Romana. Who, as of the last time she was seen, was quite alive and healthy in Y-Space. Admittedly she was supposed to be trapped there for all eternity but she was alive, and only on one of her earliest regenerations.Remember when Timelords only had 13 of those? Or when alternative dimensions stayed closed off once their storylines were finished?

Also does anyone actually believe that we’ve seen the last of The Master? Really? I only ask because that guy has died more times than Daniel Jackson, and correct me if I’m wrong, but he is a Timelord. Evil (sort of), dangerous, psychopathic, but a Timelord.

So there’s two right off the bat.

But the original Doctors often faced off against other rogue Timelords. They were a staple of the series. Are you really telling me that the ones he faced of against and defeated were the only rogues? Or that those rogues would have obeyed a call to arms from the the council, a council that they refused to answer to in the first place?

Next of course we have Jenny, the Doctors daughter-self. She died, she regenerated, that at the very least makes her more than simply Gallifreyan. Regeneration is after all a key part of being a Timelord, simple Gallifreyans only get to live one life. And speaking of characters who can regenerate.

River Song. She gives The Doctor all of her regenerations. And she’s a time-traveler, which admittedly does give her a better claim to Timeladyship than simply having the ability to regenerate.

Or how about the fact that the Timelords are TIME-TRAVELLERS! They’ve effected all of history. But after the Time War they apparently were taken out  of history? How the Hell does that work? So all their works in our history are erased? Because that’s what’s implied. And yet, if that’s the case then why isn’t our universe crawling with Rachnos, Great Vampires, or Daleks? For that matter how can the The Doctor exist?

I guess that my problem with the Who-verse, is that what a Timelord is has never been properly defined. And by that I don’t mean “had the mystery removed”. Timelords by their nature would be mysterious anyway. They take titles, and never reveal their names. They live multiple lives. They’re…more than anything else in that universe. They could easily be written as mysterious no matter what. But, for me, this sharpest written modern televised science fiction falls down only because of niggles like this. Define, at least vaguely what a Timelord is so you can justify The Doctor calling himself the last of his kind, especially when there are plenty of reasons, within the vague outline you insist on using, for him not to be.

I know, I know, it’s all a wibbley-wobbley, timey-wimey thing with loops and strings, and time-space is very complicated so there’s some rationally irrational reason for all this to work within the story-verses laws of nature. But as a science fiction fan, and as a writer I have to admit that this does put me off of watching the show.

I’m sick of mystery for the sake of mystery.

I know that The Doctor is meant to be frightfully mysterious.

And the Timelords are meant to be frightfully mysterious.

And it’s all supposed to be a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, topped off with an enema…or some other word starting with “e”.

But it is in all honesty starting to get on my wick. I’m not asking for all the mysteries to be solved. But an occasional insight into all of this, preferably one that isn’t retconned out again later, would be very welcome.

16/04/2013

Klean Prep, how I fucking hate you!

Last Friday I was the semi-willing recipient of an Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan, this being just about the only step left open to the doctors who are trying to find my Angry Bowel Pixie and kill the little fucker. I’d never had one of these scans before, so being something of a techie I was, weirdly, kind of looking forward to experiencing it. After all how often do you get stuffed inside an immensely powerful, and expensive magnet…for highly personal medical science!

There’s just one problem with having your innards scanned with an MRI, that being making your innards actually visible to the scanner. However it turns out that medical science has a solution to this, well it’s a suspension actually but…ya I know, bad science joke. That solution is known as Klean Prep. Let me tell you a little about Klean Prep.

Klean Prep is this powder that’s mixed with water. You then drink 1 liter of it per hour, 4 liters in total.

Klean Prep tastes kind of like…well actually I don’t know anything that it tastes like. But I can say this, with the authority of having drank 40 liters of it in the past 10 years, it tastes disgusting. The 1st carafe of it is kind of bearable, but by half way through the 2nd I’m gagging at every taste, and by the time I start the 3rd I’m plotting the horrifically painful murder of the inventor of Klean Prep.

Klean Prep does exactly what the name implies. It cleans out your insides in preparation for some medical procedure. Usually a colonoscopy, or endoscopy, or to put it another way the internal use of a telescope big enough to pick out a single waving Venusian in a parallel universe, but all they actually end up seeing is Uranus. But cleaning, or Kleaning does imply a detergent like effect. And yup, in essence that is precisely what Klean Prep is. It’s an industrial strength detergent for your bowels, which just happens to also make your bowel far more visible to an MRI scanner.

“But Amanda, what’s so bad about that?”

Oh dearest reader, imagine the worst case of the runs you’ve ever suffered through. The cramps, the burning, the raw skin on your tush. Well, this is so much worse that words actually come close to failing me.

First, as I mentioned above, you get that indescribable taste. With it the certain knowledge that by drinking the foul-tasting, liquid bowel blowout you’re in fact setting yourself up for a miserable days living.

Then you start to get the cramps. And these are real cramps, not your namby pamby day-to-day cramps. The type of cramps that leave you lying on the floor sweating, moaning, and wishing for a speedy death.

Then the first gush of diarrhea. And you think to yourself “Hey, that wasn’t so bad.” No burning, no stinging, just “gush” and it’s gone.

By an hour later you’re wishing for death again, yours and your doctors.

By hour 2 and trip 4 or 5 to the toilet your just daydreaming about all the ways you can torture someone in a white coat to death.

By hour 4 and trip…”who the fuck knows?!” to the toilet you’re not thinking anymore. All you can feel, or think about is how much your ass, and bowels hurt.

By the end of hour 5 if you’re lucky you’ve just passed the last of the Klean Prep. Of course it’s been running through you completely clear for the last two hours, which weirdly hurts even more. But those two hours do beg the question. “Why the fuck do you have to drink all of it?”

Anyway, I only had to drink 1 liter for my MRI…lucky me. I still couldn’t have fought off a day old kitten. I still only barely made the toilet 6 times. And I still want 10 minutes alone with the inventor of Klean Prep, with a baseball bat.

13/04/2013

H&M, turn down the fucking lights!

An afternoon of mooching through my local shopping centre was needed. New Look, BB’s for hot chocolate, and to my current detriment H&M.

H&M are not one of my favourite clothing stores. What they do is nice enough I suppose, and it tends to be reasonably well priced. But it’s all sort of cookie cutter…

“Take 1 bolt of cloth.

Cut in shape of XXXXX

Sew.

Repeat.

DO NOT engage imagination in design process.”

…is how I see most of what they sell. Though I will admit that if you want a t-shirt that you’ll still be able to wear in two years time, and at a good price, they do kind of rock.

Where they do not however rock, and/or roll, is in their current in store lighting scheme. I mean, Dear Goddesses was that shop bright! Someone in their limited wisdom decided that what they really needed was simulated daylight, at an intensity only ever seen in the Sahara Desert, at high-noon, in the Summer, during a supernova. Needless to say, this is a light level of a type never found naturally in Ireland, where year-round, a dull matt grey is the prevailing sky color.

Now I’m sure for those weirdos who wander around indoors wearing sunglasses, because it’s obviously not cool to let other people see your eyes, it was probably the perfect lighting. They might actually have been able to see without squinting, or shading their eyes. However for those of us who are of less fashionable victim stock, it was simply painful. Unfortunately here I literally mean painful. Because guess what it triggered?

That’s right, yet another migraine!

Look H&M I kind of like your stuff. But not enough to risk blindness, or at the very least blinding headaches by shopping in your store. So please for the love of all that’s unholy turn down the bloody lights, or and I mean this, I will walk right across the hall, and do all of my shopping in New Look instead. Aside from anything else some of their bits are actually kind of funky…fully lined red red and white gingham prom dress I’m talking about you.

09/04/2013

Easy to use character modelling for the budding comic artist?

Had a moment of, what passes with me for genius, the other day. Of course it’s something that I’m totally, absolutely, completely certain every artsy-sketchy geek type person has had before, but just in case it’s a trick that has passed some of you by, here it is.

If you’re kind of an inexperienced artist like I am, creating the look of a character, faces, body-type and all the rest  from imagination is kind of tough challenge. I mean sure, once you know what they actually look like you can, with considerable effort, do it. But it’s creating that first, something lifelike from nothing, that kills brain cells.

Well anyway, there I was playing Skyrim. I’d decided to make a new character and had just made it through the opening. I was standing in front of the executioners block, and the game had just asked me to create my character. So I started building how she looked, dark hair, white eyes, pale-dirty skin, kissable  lips, ox-blood war-paint and of course a nice sexy scar running down her right cheek, when it suddenly hit me. The games character generation, and even more so the preceding game Oblivion, gives you the ability to create life-like faces that you can screen-capture and use as baseline references for drawing character faces, and even bodies.

You can then modify them as you wish to make them unique, but the crucial part, creating the basic face has been made much easier. Best of all even creating the models themselves will give invaluable experience in understanding what makes a face look more or less real.

And while I am sure there are plenty who will moan and say that this is cheating. But is it really? Yes, you are using an existing system in a way it was never intended, but you are creating the look of the model even if you don’t necessarily understand how the system itself works. And don’t most artists use references? What makes a photograph purer? Surely it’s better to use an image of someone who never existed. To learn by manipulating a malleable, resettable model when a character starts, and stops looking real?

Anyway thought I’d share that. Maybe it’ll help someone else out.

Oh and an afterthought. So many games have this sort of character creation now, but there’s actually one particular free-to-play PC based MMORPG named Perfect World International. It’s okay to play, a pretty standard Korean grind-fest. But it has the most near-infinitely adjustable character creation system I have ever seen. You can with effort make character models which are anything from divinely beautiful to hideously ugly with it. And as I said free to download, free to sign up, and free to play (if the grinding madness happens to strike.).

05/04/2013

Why am I crying?

I don’t know anymore. I start crying over one thing, and by the end I’m crying over a dozen other things. I get angry for no real reason, and find myself sobbing for hours when my body just can’t contain that anger any longer. I’m fearless one minute, and then so scared I feel that my heart will shatter the next. I’m here to mind my mom, but I’m the one lying curled up on my bed barely able to breathe from panic, and from the tears that are falling so thickly that they have me guessing where the right key is to type “a”.

Ten years ago I transitioned and spent a decade working on becoming strong. But in 6 months I feel like all that strength has been  leached away. I feel like a burden to those I love, not a source of joy or support. I feel that I’m selfish, hateful, ugly, horrible. I feel I deserve nothing, nothing at all. Why should I when what I feel, does such a great job of dragging people I love down

AND I WANT THE REAL ME BACK!

I want to be adventurous again. I want to be the girl who learned to  make armor, “just cos”. I want to be the fearless rockclimber again, who hangs by her toes fifty feet above sharp rocks and laughs. I want to be the girl…I want to be the girl who pursues a potential love and succeeds, not the girl who pursues someone completely out of her league on purpose. Because I’m poly and should be seen being poly, and hey if the person I’m pursuing would never entertain being mine…well at least I’m not letting other poly-folk down.

I want to be brave again. I want to be able to leave my house, alone, without spending an hour humming and haaaing. Wondering if I can talk my way out of it, because it’s safer inside. I’m scared, I don’t want to end up under the Luas for real this time. I don’t want to be laughed at by anymore. I’m scared.

I want to be the girl who finds nothing but joy in my partner being with someone she loves once more. Instead of what ever the fuck I am now, this creature who sits here undeserving of her consideration.

I want to be the girl who deserves to be a fairygothmother.

I want to be the creative powerhouse again. The one who wrote a novel in 30 sessions.

I want to be able to remember what I said half an hour ago. I want to remember why I said what I said yesterday, and what I thought last week like I used to. Not this joke masquerading as my memory.

I want to stop hurting, one day without pain, please just one day. Just one hour even, fuck I’ll settle for a single, solitary minute. Please, no more pain.

I want to feel secure again. I don’t want the constant burning worry about money, my health, my family, my partner, my friends, my dogs, whether the front wall of the house will go and kill me in my sleep. (It won’t but I have a terribly active imagination.)

I don’t want to stare at the ceiling anymore, wondering if I can afford to waste 2 euro on a drawing pad, and then deciding to use it instead to  make someone else happy.

I want me back. Not this shadow of me. Not this joke of me. Not this paperdoll version of me who’s dancing in a fire she kindled for herself.

I want to be Miss Amanda, Alpha to my Mistresses House, joyful polyamorist, determined lover, creative writer, adventurer through life, terrible cook, okay friend again.

I want to be the girl men crossed the street to avoid again.

I want to be me.

Am I depressed? I don’t think so.

Am I hurting? Yes, but all I want is to stop crying, to be able to smile and mean it.

(This self indulgence will probably be taken down in an hour. But right now…I miss me so badly, so if you see her send her home, she’s very badly missed.)

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