Hey, Where’s That Novel Project You Were Working On?

Does anyone remember Dysontopia, my serialized fiction novel project? For a while, I was posting about a thousand words of it every week. It has been a while since I’ve even brought up the topic, so I would imagine one or two of you are wondering if it ran away, took an extended vacation in the Caribbean, or perhaps got sucked into a giant planet-eating black hole. Well, Dysontopia looks nothing like the fragments scattered about Normal Happenings anymore.

When last we checked in, it was undergoing a reformat with the intention of me releasing it chapter by chapter instead of in small portions. But here’s the thing – Dysontopia has blossomed into something really quite special. I don’t want to speak too soon, but reworking this novel has completely shifted its core concept into something that I actually consider particularly unique, mature, and sophisticated as far as novels are concerned. It’s more than just that girl named Sydney, though she still remains the focal point of the work. Don’t worry, I love that character too much for her not to be the main protagonist. Continue reading “Hey, Where’s That Novel Project You Were Working On?”

StarCraft | The Game That Defines The Zerathulu View

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Audio

The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so. 

introduction

Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.

Zerathulu has come from the abyss to bring you an amazing first piece of DLC for The Games That Define Us. Each of the four DLC pieces are absolutely incredible, so you all are in for a treat during the first four days of December. Zerathulu is an awesome writer (and future physics teacher) with a focus on discerning indie gaming. Their reviews are top-notch, and we think you’ll enjoy these recent favorites:

These next four days of The Games That Define Us are going to be awesome!

– Matthew, Normal Happenings

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Zerathulu @ The Zerathulu View 

Twitter: @Zerathulu

For commonality!

Game: Starcraft
System: PC
Release Date: March 31, 1998

1P Start

Eight years later I somehow found myself in a tiny dorm room with an amazing bunch of like-minded people. It’s absolutely incredible how at university you can meet people from all backgrounds and still have so much in common. All of us were studying either Physics or Chemistry. All eighteen. All vociferous nerds… And all of us were hooked on StarCraft.

It was probably a weekend, because the midday heat was stifling and I was at home, rather than at school. My brother and I were upstairs in our tiny, poster-adorned shared bedroom, and like all brothers in a confined space we were arguing.

“You’ve had it all day, I haven’t had a go yet!”

“Get off, five more minutes!”

“You said that ages ago, it’s not fair!”

“Let me at least get to a PokeCenter to save!”

[sighing] “…fine…..”

*2 minutes later*

“…hey, you’re on a Route now!”

“I’m leveling-up my Pidgeotto, five more minutes.”

I was ten and my brother eight. The Pokemon craze was still in full swing but as you can guess, my brother and I shared a GameBoy Color. It would’ve been fine, but my brother did not know the meaning of the word ‘share’. He took what he wanted, when he wanted. It made no difference that I was older, he knew I was a pushover and knew how to exploit me. Frustrated with myself at not having the courage to do something other than run and tell, I left the room. Sulking my way down the stairs which led straight to the front door I saw a blurry pair of legs through the frosted glass, and seconds later my father walked through.

My dad is the definition of eclectic. He had so many interests that he wanted to spend time pursuing, and had banks of magazines devoted to fishing, photography, birdwatching, DIY, American Football, motorcycles, and so on. Usually he went through phases of being obsessed with spending time/money following one interest, then rotated every couple of months. Recently however he’d found something new, something that already we could all tell was special to him because he was already talking about forming a side-business to make some extra cash.

He had discovered computers.

Instantly noting the look of dejection on my face, he gives me a hug and asks me to give him a hand with something. He tells me he’s just been to the local computer fair and he’s bought some new upgrades for his desktop computer. I watch as he squats down next to the big grey machine and starts removing all manner of wires and chips and things, handing him a screwdriver or cable tie as and when he needed. I remember my ten-year-old brain being both fascinated by the inner workings of the machine, but simultaneously feeling like it may as well be alien technology that I’d never be able to understand. It didn’t help that he kept muttering words like ‘ram’, ‘gig’ and ‘motherboard’. It’s a cliché I know, but it genuinely sounded like another language at the time. After a little while he puts the side of the machine back on and boots the computer up.

I still don’t really see what’s supposed to be cheering me up. But his shopping bag still has one item left in it. As he pulls it out, I see it’s made of dark, glossy card, roughly the shape of a hardback book. On the front is an unquestionably alien face, with no nose or mouth but burning yellow eyes. A mosaic-like pattern covers its otherwise featureless physiognomy. It’s flanked on either side by the face of a much scarier-looking alien, with a grotesquely evil demeanor and razor-sharp teeth framed by a chin that’s tapered to a point, and the face of a human, with large goggles and an unflattering bulbous nose. Above the three faces was silver-grey writing as if wrought in iron, with a faint blue glow. Just one word was written:

StarCraft

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He digs out the disc from the case and inserts it into the drive with a series of whirrs and clicks, beginning the long and arduous process of installing the game. I was definitely a little curious, but the game took forever to install. It just went on and on. I waited as long as I could before heading to the kitchen for a drink. I came back; it was still loading. After what felt like hours (though we all know how differently time travels as a child) my dad gives me a nudge and tells me excitedly:

“It’s done!”

All I can remember thinking was that this had better be good. The opening cutscene did little to encourage me: the graphics were so pixelated and the characters’ accents so contrived that I could barely make out what was going on. But when that stopped and the actual game finally started, I sat up and took note. I watched as during the tutorial my father controlled a little robot-looking thing and ordered it to do tasks, like mining a patch of nearby blue crystals and putting together new buildings.

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Honestly? I had no clue what the point of the game was. There was no main character, no jumping, nothing to collect, no power-ups. I watched my dad quickly progress to the first main level. Some nasty looking aliens, by the looks of them the evil-looking ones from the box art, had been spotted near a human (though for some reason I couldn’t understand they were calling themselves ‘terrans’) settlement, and we needed to move the terrans someplace safe. The mean-looking boss guy put us in contact with the local marshall, a cool and friendly guy by the name of James Raynor.

I remember liking Raynor, he had a cool-sounding voice and he was completely dedicated to helping people in need, even if it got him into trouble with his superiors. But to be honest, I don’t recall much after that in terms of the story. I was just fascinated by the gameplay mechanics; controlling an army of different types of soldiers, ships, weapons and buildings, and using it different ways. I had never seen anything like this from a video game, which might have explained why I never fully got into the game at the time. The next time I saw my dad playing he seemed to be controlling one of the other races, the ones with deep, echo-y voices and super-advanced technology. As I stood behind him and watched over his shoulder he sent a lone fighter to attack a base by himself. To his surprise, the single fighter killed a slew of enemies during his final stand before falling. Unaware of my presence, I clearly remember my dad saying under his breath:

“Cor, he’s a tough little fucker that one.”

Pretty sure that was the first time I ever heard him swear.

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I couldn’t get into it. Not properly. It went on for too long, I couldn’t follow the story, and it was too different to anything I’d seen before in a video game. I lost interest, and my recollection of that period of time ends.

Eight years later I somehow found myself in a tiny dorm room with an amazing bunch of like-minded people. It’s absolutely incredible how at university you can meet people from all backgrounds and still have so much in common. All of us were studying either Physics or Chemistry. All eighteen. All vociferous nerds. All had strong opinions on the distinction between geeks and nerds. All totally in love with then presidential candidate Obama, even though we were studying in the UK.

And all of us were hooked on StarCraft.

Screen Shot 2018-12-01 at 9.39.27 AM

To this day I have no idea how all of us found each other, and how it was that all of us were into the game. As we were getting to know one another and the types of games we enjoyed, as soon as the first person mentioned Starcraft we all took turns to say: “Holy shit, me too!” I wasn’t as enthusiastic as the others, but I remembered the memories of watching my father play which gave me the sufficient impetus to go out and acquire a copy of the game before anyone noticed I didn’t already have one.

It was awesome to bond with my classmates like that, and we spent endless hours embroiled in weekly mini-tournaments among ourselves. I picked the game up quickly, remembering certain units and buildings from all those years before. I never won any of the tournaments (mostly due to one of the others being a God at playing as Protoss) but it didn’t matter, never had I felt so accepted. My school life had been so crappy, so full of bullies and isolation. I even had a teacher who once joined in with the class as they all made jokes at my expense (though to be fair, I was able to do a brilliant job of acting like it didn’t bother me in the slightest). So to go from that environment of assholes and clowns to one full of people that all thought like me…well, it was special. And StarCraft was a huge part of that.

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But more than anything else, I think it was the story of StarCraft and its sequel Starcraft II that made me. It’s unlike anything that I’ve played before or since. The magnitude and scope of the games is breath-taking, on a par with games like the Mass Effect and Final Fantasy franchises. Power struggles, overthrown empires, all-out war, sacrifice, revenge, star-crossed love, redemption, and the ever-present threat of a prophesied apocalypse, all beautifully woven together into a rich tapestry of storytelling.

But what’s key to note is the sheer length of time in between my humble first experiences with StarCraft to the final chapter of this epic saga: Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void. I was ten years old the day my dad pulled the game out of his plastic bag to cheer me up after the argument with my brother. Eighteen years old when my true love for the game was kindled by my coursemates. And twenty-six on the day I finished the last installment of StarCraft II and the story was brought to its incredible, breathless conclusion. A sixteen-year journey, over half of my life, from watching Raynor take his first steps on the road to heroism, to seeing Artanis triumph over the dark God, Amon. From seeing a corrupt and brutal Terran Confederacy morph into Mengsk’s tyrannical Dominion, to a peaceful democracy allied with the Protoss Daelaam.

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And from seeing a lowly Protoss Dark Templar, exiled from Aiur along with others of his kind for their rejection of the Khala, display courage and wisdom in his attempt to unify Templar and Dark Templar alike. It was he who taught the warrior Tassadar how to use Dark Templar energies in his suicide mission which destroyed the Overmind. It was he who used the prophecy to foresee the return of the Xel’naga, and raced to urge the principals in this story: Raynor, Kerrigan and Artanis, to work together and save the galaxy. And it was he who gave his life to free Artanis’ mind from the control of Amon, and allowed him to rally friends and foes alike under one banner to defeat the dark God. An individual of courage, intellect and cunning. A valiant warrior bearing a powerful message of hope, unity, and friendship, with incorruptible morals and the enduring belief of a single, unified Protoss. A being that made the most fundamental impact on me more than any other game character, who helped to shape me and make me who I am today, whose name I would take on not just to honour his legacy but to remind myself of the values that he embodied, and to strive to conduct myself in the manner befitting his name.

Zeratul.

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Dysontopia | 4/4 4:44 | 4.1

<< Metal Conducts Electricity 3.4 | Patch Log | 4/4 4:44 4.2 >>

Related: About Dysontopia (Start Here) | Writing the Unreliable Perception of Time


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Chapter 4

“4/4 4:44”

Opening my eyes, my vision is doubled and I feel nauseous, like I’m spinning. I immediately think something is wrong, so in a panic I try to jerk myself awake. The feeling reminds of the time I randomly woke up with vertigo five years ago. I spent two hours spinning, then it just stopped as I sat in the waiting room of the doctor. I never want to go through that again. Luckily this time the sensation passes after a moment.

The glow of the lights outside filters a dark shade of blue through my curtains, reminding me of the lights mounted above the kitchen window of my grandparents’ old house. Funny, the lights outside are usually a lot more yellow. And that shadow is not supposed to be there. I barely make out the silhouette of a person in the corner. Long hair. Glasses. I scramble around madly for a weapon of some type.

I knew it before I turn on the lamp on the bedside table, which illuminates that distinctive face and hair (and those nails). She’s back. Continue reading “Dysontopia | 4/4 4:44 | 4.1”

Dysontopia | Metal Conducts Electricity | 3.4

<< Metal Conducts Electricity 3.3 | Patch Log | 4/4 4:44 4.1 >>

Related: About Dysontopia (Start Here) | Writing the Unreliable Perception of Time


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A lot can happen between the months of January and May. That final semester at Azure Coast did not live up to the seven that had come before it. I got falsely accused of plagiarism on a paper in a required class I didn’t even want to take, knocking my GPA down from a perfect 4.0. That meant I graduated magna cum laude, not the summa cum laude title I had my heart set on. No gold and silver honor cord. No graduation speech. I just walked up to the stage and grabbed a fake piece of paper with the alma mater lyrics and an alumni association ad in it, just like everybody else.

While that was going on, one of my best friends since childhood, Mae Albritton, and I got into a falling out over this guy I was dating, and as so often happens with sororities, they turn on you when the drama starts. Considering Mae had just as much involvement in Pi Beta Eta as me, basically a she-said, she-said civil war broke out. It didn’t take me long to just give up and let her spread her gossip about me. It didn’t matter, I was leaving anyway and she was just a junior. No hard feelings. I’ll just got out and let her do her thing. Continue reading “Dysontopia | Metal Conducts Electricity | 3.4”

Dysontopia | Metal Conducts Electricity | 3.3

<< Metal Conducts Electricity 3.2 | Patch Log | Metal Conducts Electricity 3.4 >>

Related: About Dysontopia (Start Here) | Writing the Unreliable Perception of Time


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“What,” I resisted. “I just told you what happened to my mom. She’s dead and that’s that.”

“I know you better than that, Sydney Winters. You were the star of Azure Coast University 15 years after your mom died. You loved your life, and you really loved the nightlife. Losing your mom when you were three years old did not turn you into…” she motioned at me with her hands, fumbling for the right words to describe the mess of me. I’d thought I’d help out a bit.

“What? A jerk? A smartass? An insensitive prick who thinks everyone around her is a –?

She retaliates, “A person who absolutely is dealing with depression, a mental illness which affects literally a billion people.”

“What the hell are you saying?” I feel this powerful surge of anger. I can acknowledge that I’m an asshole. I can get behind the fact that I’m mean to people and deserve to be treated likewise. But depression, that’s the thing that put my mom in the ground, and I wasn’t about to let that girl start flinging around words like depression and mental illness. I am not weak. I am better than that. Continue reading “Dysontopia | Metal Conducts Electricity | 3.3”

Dysontopia | Metal Conducts Electricity | 3.2

<< Metal Conducts Electricity 3.1 | Patch Log | Metal Conducts Electricity 3.3 >>

Related: About Dysontopia (Start Here) | Writing the Unreliable Perception of Time


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I remember one time, when I was sixteen-years-old and finishing up another lazy spring day in the life of high school sophomore, Dad got off of work from the lab early. He pulled up blaring some deep cut from Soundgarden or something – I’m not sure, I wasn’t really into that kind of music at the time – and said he wanted to take me to a baseball game. I think I had plans that night with one of the hundred jerks I dated in high school, but something about hanging out with my dad just felt like the right thing to do. I didn’t much care who the Jacksonville Suns were even playing or how they were doing in the standings, I just remember eating this really big hot dog and cheering when the crowd did. I was also a fan of pulling for the underdog during those stupid half-inning mascot race games. That night, it was The Great Office Supply Race, featuring Nicky the Sticky Note, Armstrong the Rubber Band, and fan-favorite Jim the Paperclip.

One thing I had always found odd was that it was just my dad and I living in such a big house. The residence at 1228 Halcyon Drive, with four bedrooms and this awesome loft, was clearly big enough for a family much larger than our little dynamic duo. That loft, which I eventually named the Sky Roost, was my sanctuary and favorite room in the house. Continue reading “Dysontopia | Metal Conducts Electricity | 3.2”

Dysontopia | Metal Conducts Electricity | 3.1

<< A Study in Bad Acronyms 2.3 | Patch Log | Metal Conducts Electricity 3.2 >>

Related: About Dysontopia (Start Here) | Writing the Unreliable Perception of Time


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Chapter 3

“Metal Conducts Electricity”

“You know you’ve got a bed, right?” Millie says, closing the apartment door behind her. Knowing my dearest roommate, she was out until 11:00 p.m. with her friends. And by “with her friends,” I mean quizzing each other on possible drug interactions using flashcards. You have to think that on long nights things devolve into something a little dirtier, like competitive ganglia nerve cluster diagramming.

I must have turned the heat in the apartment up to like 75 degrees, drawing a short complaint from Millie as she walks by, but I still feel cold. I’m sprawled out on the couch in my purple tank top and a pair of mismatched running shorts I changed into when I got back. Honestly though, I’m wide awake thinking about everything that’s happened today and how much I miss the people I love.

“There’s, um, some pizza in the refrigerator if you want it,” I mutter, unsure if I was speaking loud enough for her to hear me. Gosh, I must have been just staring up at the ceiling for hours now. It has become so incredibly hard not to cry. It’s like you can build that long-term toughness where you don’t cry at anything anymore. With practice you can sustain that stability for a little while, but then the dam breaks and you find yourself depressed even deeper underwater. I must have cycled through that process three or four times over the past two years. Millie is heading to her room, study materials in tow, without any intention of saying another word to me. The way I treated her this morning, I don’t blame her. Continue reading “Dysontopia | Metal Conducts Electricity | 3.1”

Dysontopia | A Study in Bad Acronyms | 2.3

<< A Study in Bad Acronyms 2.2 | Patch Log | Metal Conducts Electricity 3.1 >>

Related: About Dysontopia | Writing the Unreliable Perception of Time


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Dude comes back to take our food order, but of course I don’t have to say anything because Val’s already got it covered with my favorite. Large thin crust. Bacon, bell pepper, mushrooms, and that oh so scrumptious pineapple. Pure pizza bliss.

“Sector… Zero?” I’m trying to comprehend what that has to do with society or history or really anything of the sorts. I understand the words, of course. Land is often divided into sectors forming a grid. So are areas of three-dimensional space. And they’re often numbered 1-100 based on a predetermined position and established area size. Meh, who knows, maybe the office just got together and voted on a cool name.

“And you’re saying that’s somehow less ominous than CHASR?” I quip. Continue reading “Dysontopia | A Study in Bad Acronyms | 2.3”

Dysontopia | A Study in Bad Acronyms | 2.2

<< A Study in Bad Acronyms 2.1 | Patch Log | A Study in Bad Acronyms 2.3 >>

Related: About Dysontopia | On Curse Words in Fiction


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She shrugs, of all things, and says, “As a matter of fact there is.” Then she smiles, and it’s all rather peculiar. I’m trying to comprehend why someone would be so happy-go-lucky about apprehending me, or whatever is going on.

“Go on,” I say, tilting my head, feeling more annoyed than anything.

“Are you hungry?” she changes the subject. I quickly shake my head no, furrowing my eyes behind the sunglasses. That was actually a lie. Millie was right about the sugar crash.

“Are you going to tell me what the hell you want?” I fire back.

“Hey, relax. I’ll tell you everything, but can we do it over lunch? Please? Something tells me one granola bar just isn’t enough.” She pulls out the empty wrapper I had dropped on the ground.

“How the –” Continue reading “Dysontopia | A Study in Bad Acronyms | 2.2”

“Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and Finding Your Better Self

< Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Minding the Gaps of Life | Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and the Secret Pain Disillusionment  >


Is that the logical thing to do?
No, but it is the human thing to do. 

There’s never been another Star Trek film like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which is in my opinion one of the most fun films ever made. There’s a reason it absolutely destroyed the box office when it came out in 1986 — it was actually released on my birthday — and really wouldn’t be rivaled until the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot. The movie is purely enjoyable on a pure visceral level, smart enough to keep the audience engaged, intensely gripping when the stakes are high, yet loose enough to where you can relax and have a good time.

This is the part where I briefly touch on the negatives. Voyage Home is, by nature of being a comedy, going to have some drawbacks. There are a ton of plot-holes and nitpicks, none of which I care to go into because they don’t bother me. Some don’t like the art film-style time travel scenes… I personally like them quite a bit. To me the biggest issue, though, is the soundtrack. This is likely because I’m spoiled. I’ve got James Horner on one side and Jerry Goldsmith on the other — two of the most celebrated composers of all time. I feel Star Trek IV goes way overboard (puns always intended) in it’s pursuit of comedic musical tone. I have a fantastic idea: let’s recut Voyage Home with Final Frontier’s incredible music.

*listens to Star Trek V soundtrack while typing this*
Perfect! Continue reading ““Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and Finding Your Better Self”