Short Fiction Friday: What We Leave Behind

Fridays are a weird posting day for me. Most of the things I’d normally talk about are exhausted by the end of the week, and I’m finding that I post kind of vague think-pieces on Fridays, when I remember to post at all. I’m going to try to alter that a bit and infuse a bit of creativity into my Friday posts with some short fiction.

Some of this is going to be fanfiction, some of it is going to be original work, some/all of it is going to be terrible. Every Friday I’m going to post a short story, and after today they’re pretty much going to all be things I wrote that day. I’m going to start with something I *like*, because writing a piece of short fiction every week might be a bit rough. We’ll see how long I can do it.

This first piece is from an Infinity short story competition, a cyberpunk look at transhumanism.


What We Leave Behind

*             *             maybe you’re looking    *             *

“My boyfriend left me.”

I am sorry. You must be hurting.

“No. I don’t… hurt, anymore. It’s just lonely.”

I can find you a more fitting partner. There are sixteen thousand, nine hundred and four males in your favored locations that match your preferences for education, personality, body type, age, food, sexual—

“No! That’s not it. You don’t understand.”

You are correct. I cannot. I am here to help, in whatever way would make you the most comfortable.

“I want you out of my head. It’s lonelier now that you’re here than it was before.”

I am unable to process your request. I do not understand. Do I not provide company for—

“Shut up! Just… just leave me alone.”

I will be silent. I will be here if you need me. Feel better, Cassie.

*             *             for someone to blame   *             *

I can’t even cry. Not the normal way. There’s that phrase: “fighting back tears” – it’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to do when the tears are trying to come but you don’t want them to. I don’t have to fight anymore, I just decide I don’t want to cry and so I don’t. My eyes don’t get puffy, my face doesn’t get flushed, and I can go about my normal day and even pretend to be happy. No one is capable of seeing through the lie.

I guess that’s not true. She can. She’s always there, in my head, helping. I have a thought and she answers. I wonder if the coffee in a café is good and I instantly know what it tastes like. Not just reviews, not a description, I know what it tastes like because somewhere, at some other time, she has tasted it and calls it into my mind.

I don’t drink coffee anymore.

My body is perfect. It’s so perfect it’s named after perfection itself. Boddhishatva. Perfect being, according to the encyclopedias on Maya. It would be arrogant if it weren’t true. I’m stronger, faster, more agile, and hardier than I ever was before, more than Olympic athletes and most machines. I can put my fist through a wall, I have gorgeous skin and perfect boobs, I can shoot a person in the eyeball from a mile away, my hair does exactly what I want it to every time, and I can run down a speeding car without breaking a sweat. I only sweat if I feel like it. Pretty much all of my bodily functions are under control. I’m a perfect fighter, a perfect diplomat, and a perfect lover all in one, and I can never die.

It’s why Adam left me.

We were coming home from dinner. I ate and drank enough to make him feel comfortable, as always, and I was happy, and excited for the rest of the evening. Perfect control over my body means lots and lots of fun. I’d made myself flushed, just a bit, and elevated my body temperature a bit so I was nice and warm, good for cuddling on a cold night.

The assassin caught us halfway back, six blocks from his apartment, the crossroads of Raycaster and Analog, four hundred and eighty-two point eight meters. Dammit! This is what she does. I just knew all of those things, instantly. I can’t help it, I’m sorry. The assassin was after me, because of what I am. He put two bullets in me, chest and neck, double-action ammunition. My body was dead instantly, but I had enough time to release nanites to congeal my blood so that it wouldn’t ruin my boyfriend’s clothes. By the time I hit the ground, I was half a block away, running towards Adam along rooftops. I caught my killer, crouched low with a sniper rifle, and snapped his neck as I passed, then dropped to street level and rushed forward to console Adam.

He was shaken, but I was determined not to ruin the evening. By the time I was in arm’s reach, I was already warm and flushed, just like I had been a few minutes prior, ready for a romantic evening. It wouldn’t be quite the same, but it wouldn’t change things any more than if I’d tripped and sprained my ankle (hilariously impossible now, by the way, I am perfectly graceful) on the way home.

He saw it differently. He knew that I had different lhosts, it’s what let me go on dates with him four nights a week while also working on my research. I’d been running errands and keeping an eye on an experiment in the bioengineering lab while I was at dinner with him, and my errand-running lhost was close by. I could always make time for him, I was the perfect girlfriend.

Watching the body that he’d just been cuddling crumple to the ground, and another, nearly identical one try to take its place was too much for him. He just looked at me and looked at the broken body on the ground, barely saying two words.

“I… can’t.”

And he left. I could have followed him, but she advised me against it. He was agitated, and my presence wouldn’t help. She wasn’t wrong. I had a message waiting for me at home, he didn’t want to see me again.

I’m sorry about tonight. I know you’re… special. I thought I was used to all of you, but after seeing you tonight, seeing you get shot, seeing you walk up again like it was nothing… I can’t handle it, I can’t keep up with you. I’m sorry.

That night I looked up Boddhishatva again, but not on Maya. She didn’t approve of my searching Arachne, but I am allowed to be there, and she is not allowed to stop me. It didn’t always mean “perfect being”, according to the darknet. It used to mean “a being seeking enlightenment”. Not perfect, but getting there.

I wonder why it changed?

*             *             fighting for air while       *             *

“I want to be free. You can do it, I know.”

Cassie, this is not a good idea. Please don’t do something you will regret.

“Free, huh? You? One of the lackeys?”

“Yes. I don’t want to be a lackey anymore. I know you’re capable of doing it. Name your price.”

Cassie, you are making a mistake. Please let me find you. I can help you.

“You’re telling me you strapped an E/M scrambler to your own head, just to ask me to cut you off from ALEPH?”

“Yes. My head hurts, and the disruption isn’t perfect. You need to give me an answer, now, or she’ll find both of us.”

Cassie! Please! I can help you! Don’t throw everything away like this!

“You’re crazy. You know this is going to make you a wanted criminal all over the Sphere? She’ll hunt you down.”

“I don’t care. Have you seen this body? I’m good at running.”

Cassie, please, I know you’re hurting, but this is too much.

“Ha! Fair point, chica. You’re crazy, well we’re crazy too. Lie down over here, we’ll have to be fast. This will hurt.”

“I’m used to it.”


*             *             you circle the drain          *             *


“How do you feel, dama de maquina?”


“You put three shots between the eyes of a target dummy at a hundred meters in two and a half seconds.”

“I know. Like I said: slow.”

“You know, you’re a little creepy sometimes.”

“Sorry, I’m adjusting.”

*             *             never be sorry for            *             *

I can’t hear her anymore. I can’t yet decide if I feel liberated or… something else. Empty, maybe. My thoughts are just mine again, and as I walk past this coffeeshop, I can freely wonder what it tastes like.

At the risk of being too much like her, I’ll tell you: It’s not very good.

My head was shaved for the surgery. I don’t think it was necessary, but I wasn’t about to antagonize the Praxis doctor. I grew it back out a little, but I like the pixie cut. It makes this “me” feel different, as does the little scar on the back of my head. I can feel it, even past the hair that’s grown back. I’d never thought about changing my hair on each lhost, dressing them differently. It seemed like a frivolous expression of individuality, and with her riding in my head I never did it.

Now she’s gone. I can do what I want.

I’m slower, though. I can feel it. I can still jump between lhosts, but it’s no longer as smooth moving from one to another. I have to concentrate, and whereas it used to be like jumping across a short gap, now it’s like walking through neck-deep water. Without her relays, I don’t move as freely. People notice when I’m not giving them my full attention.

I went and saw Adam. I’d had some time to think, and I knew what would resonate with him. All of me came along, carefully. It must have looked strange: me with my short hair and a summery dress, two others almost-but-not-quite like me, with longer hair and matching suits.

He noticed my effort in jumping between them, that half-second pause that I can’t quite eliminate. It’s maddening, knowing it was once effortless, but it made him smile a bit.

*             *             your little time                   *             *

“I like you this way.”

“Which way?”

“You know, different. Not all identical. It’s stupid, I know, but I like being able to differentiate.”

“My wardrobe is less boring now, too. My being slow doesn’t bother you?”

“Slow? Oh, when you jump? No, I don’t mind. It reminds me that you’re human. It’s the little flaws that make us, right?”

“Yeah, I guess. Yeah.”

“So… you can’t hear ALEPH anymore? You don’t talk to her?”

“No. We’re not… on speaking terms right now.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—“

“It’s fine. I did this for me.”

*             *             it’s not when you get there          *             *

Things are back to normal, mostly. Adam apologized for overreacting, and I’ve tried to make things easier for him by being a little more… human. My lhosts are different, and my lab access still works. She never cut me off. The Praxis doctor was wrong, she never came after me.

Sometimes I see her, or at least her Devas. For a few months, I kept tabs on where they’d be, and stayed clear. They’re as perfect as I am, and I’m slower than I was. I don’t know if I’m still fast enough to take one. One time I saw a different one. She looked the same, like all the other Devas, but I’d spent enough time with her to recognize the differences. She was an Asura, and she could not be tracked. If I am the perfect human, Asuras are demigods, walking legends capable of feats that mark them as perfectly, wholly inhuman.

I panicked, but only on the inside. I stepped out of sight and vanished, looking for all the world like I’d just walked into an alley and hadn’t left while all of the sweating and hyperventilating I wasn’t doing went on in my head. I was beyond the sight of ordinary people and most sensory devices, nothing but the faintest shimmer in the air without even a heat signature, and she still turned her head as she walked past, and looked straight at me. In those cold, piercing eyes, I felt like my thermoptic camouflage, my composure, and my perfect body were stripped away, leaving just me, a tiny ball of fear. In those eyes, I could see her.

She looked sad.

Nothing’s happened since. I still work in the lab, I occasionally see her in the faces of her Devas, but they never say anything, never indicate that anything is wrong. She has never come for me, she just looks sad.

*             *             it’s all in the climb            *             *

“Cassie? You there?”

“…huh? Sorry, long night at the lab.”

“It’s okay. How about I put on a show? We’ll watch it and you can work.”

“Yeah, that sounds good. Thanks. I think that’ll…”


“Something’s wrong. At the lab. I’ll be back.”

“Cassie? Cassie!”

*             *             but i       *             *

The compound I was working on reacted. I wasn’t fast enough, flitting back and forth, and that half-second let two things mix that shouldn’t have. I was unprotected, holding a canister that exploded like an anti-materiel shot.

My body is dead, I can feel all the systems shutting down. I can’t jump. I’m stuck here. Half a second to jump is too long when you’re dying. Adam is sitting at home, and asking me what’s wrong. I can’t answer, I can’t get to that lhost. She doesn’t even feel like me, right now, not when I can’t get to her. I’m stuck in a dying body and she’s… someone else.

This shouldn’t be happening! I’m better than this!

*             *             won’t    *             *

Patient Report: Cassandra Scellai

Patient was admitted to Neoterra Prime General Hospital at 21:43, in the care of citizen #1518599, Adam Helvand, self-identifying as her boyfriend. Diagnosis indicated a Boddhishatva-model lhost, catatonic due to inactivity. Patient referred to care of ALEPH, in posthuman ward.

*             *             save you              *             *

“What happened? Why did I lose five months?”

Some mistakes were made. I am sorry I cannot provide you a complete account of the missing time.

“What do you know? Can you show me anything?”

Yes. I tried to keep a record for you, as best I could. Initiating playback.

“I… wow. I did all that?”

Yes. I thought I had lost you. Will you be okay?

“I think… yes. Yes, I will. I’m better than that. I should go. Adam will worry, and I need to cut my hair.”

Welcome home, Cassie.



[interstice lyrics by Darren Korb: “In Circles”, from the Transistor OST]

More on Learning Japanese

I’m now four weeks into mostly-self-taught Japanese. I’ve managed to get a few lessons with a tutor, who has been incredibly helpful and has pushed me farther than I thought I’d be able to go a lot faster than I expected. I’ve learned a lot about the process along the way, and can critique my own approach a bit.


The first thing I did was start working on the kana, essentially teaching myself to read and write in Japanese, at least the basic characters. Part of this was that it was a lightweight thing for me to be able to do, a bit of memorization and a bit of playing with phone apps before bed. It took me about two weeks to learn hiragana at a relatively sedate pace, and about five days to get katakana once I had a system. For anyone trying to do this, start with the apps; they’ll get you used to the shapes and the sounds nice and gently, but push yourself quickly to write the alphabets from memory as soon as you can. Part of the reason it took me so much longer to memorize the hiragana was because I wasn’t pushing myself to commit them to memory; the apps make you pick from multiple choice rather than writing them out yourself.

As odd a choice as it was to begin with the kana, it helped a lot to create a solid foundation for everything else. Genki (my textbook) uses a lot of kana even early on, and it helps to be able to read and write it without using romaji (roman alphabet) as a go-between. I’m not fast at reading kana, but I can do it now. There’s a bit of a weird side effect that happened to me, though. I’m able to read a lot of things without having any comprehension at all, which is a bizarre experience.


The next thing I started working on was going from the start of Genki and going through the chapters. The book is laid out very well, and I did a bit of dabbling in some basic greetings and some relatively straightforward sentence construction. One of the things I’ve picked up very quickly is that I absolutely cannot think in English while working on Japanese, and I think that’s one of the things that makes it seem like a very difficult language to learn. I have to separate myself from my desire to make English sentences to translate and just think in abstract concepts. In retrospect, I think this is something that’s caused me a lot of trouble in learning Spanish. A lot of Romantic and Germanic languages have very familiar structures to an English speaker, and you can often feasibly just come up with a sentence in English and replace a lot of the words with the appropriate words in, say, Spanish, and more or less get your meaning across.

Separating myself from trying to form coherent English sentences to translate into Japanese helped the learning process a lot. Japanese is a very structured, orderly language in a lot of ways, and I find that sentence construction makes a lot of intuitive sense to me. My tutor moved extremely quickly to particles in sentences, which are markers that indicate what the word or phrase preceding it is doing in the sentence. There isn’t an English equivalent, but it makes me think of sorting flags in file structures. Forcing myself to separate from English sentence construction made these a lot easier to understand and work with.


Getting a tutor early on was really helpful for me. Even just the three or four sessions I’m going to be able to have with her will give me a solid footing to keep teaching myself. I’m almost at the point where I can hold some very rudimentary conversations, I just lack the vocabulary for it. One of the things I’ve been trying to do is use my knowledge of English to evaluate the kinds of conversations I have most frequently, to get an idea of what the most useful things to learn in Japanese would be if I’m looking to reach a conversational level quickly. It’s given me an opportunity to think about how I communicate with other people and the kinds of things I say.

I’ve reached the point now where I can watch or read something in Japanese and I’m having constant flickers of comprehension. I recognize sentences or words and while I can’t quite get enough context to figure out what’s being said, I can make sense of how the sentence is constructed. I don’t know who is being talked about, what they’re doing, or where, but I know that someone is being talked about and that they’re doing something in a particular place. It’s a structure that lets me start asking the right questions– if I recognize 私 (watashi, “I”) and the particle の (no, indicating a possessive or apposition), followed by a word I don’t know, I still know that the speaker is talking about something they own, or something close to them.


It means that when I’m listening to spoken Japanese, I can start to make out the shape of what’s being said, even if I don’t know the specifics. It’s honestly really exciting to have those little flickers of recognition; it makes me want to push harder and learn faster. My biggest hangup right now is vocabulary; I just need to take in thirty-five thousand words or so to catch up with my English. No problem…

The Very Best Villains

I’ve had a running list of my favorite villains in any medium for a while. Recently, the list was usurped by a character I’m going to call the main villain of Durarara. I’m going to avoid spoilers, because the show is great, but I really want to talk about great villains.

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First, though, I should talk about what I think makes a good villain. There are a few things that I think every truly great villain should have. A villain should be inscrutable, possibly even unpredictable, and their true motives should either be largely unknown or extremely relatable. Not being certain of how or where a villain is going to strike next is scary; as soon as you know where the next hit is coming from, the tension drains. Motives that are unknown are similarly scary, though there’s space for a villain to lay all of their cards on the table in an entirely reasonable way, which is disturbing and scary. A good villain taps into either our fear of the unknown or our fear of ourselves.

I think villains in general fall into one or two of three main categories, and should have good answers to a number of questions that you might have as the audience. Broadly, these are the categories I have in mind:

  • The Force of Nature – A Force of Nature plays into our primal fear of things stronger than ourselves. This kind of villain is immensely powerful in some way, and gets by through raw force. Sometimes it’s literally nature itself, sometimes it’s a super-strong character like the Juggernaut, sometimes it’s someone incredibly deadly, like the Cyborg Ninja from (the old) Metal Gear Solid. Their motives are unpredictable because you can’t get close, and their motivation can either be a short temper or a longstanding grudge or trauma, or simply the fact that they exist. I don’t think that Force of Nature villains on their own make terribly compelling villains, though they can often be very interesting side threats. The Primals in FFXIV are a good example of this, as they’re threatening on their own but are kind of tangential to the main thrust of the story.


  • The Mastermind – A Mastermind plays into our cognitive fears of inadequacy and insecurity. This kind of villain is an excellent planner and is usually extremely intelligent. They often have a particular specific goal in mind and are working towards that end. They’re one step ahead of their opposition and it’s only when they trip or stumble that they can be caught. Usually, were it not for a single error or misstep, they would have handily won. A pure Mastermind can be an incredibly scary villain in certain media, though I’m a much bigger fan of the protagonist being a pure Mastermind. A lot of times, these villains have very well-thought-out motivations and are scary because it’s hard to find fault in their logic, even if the end result is appalling. They’re often brought down by a miscalculation or slight mistake, or sometimes because they become blinded by their own plans and leave exploitable holes because they get arrogant.


  • The Manipulator –  A Manipulator plays into our social fears of betrayal and broken trust. They are masterful with words and can lie and bend the truth until it’s nearly unrecognizable, and have you believing every word. They often do very little themselves but say the right thing to the right person at the right time, or tap deeply into people’s insecurities. They’re very good at reading people and predicting them. They frequently either have the wittiest lines and make you laugh, then instantly hate yourself for laughing at this horrible person, or the scariest, able to tap directly into the protagonist’s insecurities. Their downfall tends to be when people have a change of heart or are immune to their charms or are pushed past their breaking point. These villains can have all kinds of motivations, from the apparent to the wholly unknown, and are scary because they’re so in control, even when things seem like a mess.


Most of the best villains I can think of are two of these. Darth Vader is a Force of Nature/Manipulator, with a mix of raw power and exactly the right words to make people afraid. Sephiroth is a Force of Nature/Mastermind, with a world-spanning plan and the power to take down anyone who stands in his way. The Joker is a Mastermind/Manipulator, with both a horrific plan set in motion and the right words to the right people to push all of Batman’s buttons. Handsome Jack is another Manipulator, one of the best of the form alongside the Illusive Man. The various villainous players in both Deus Ex and Human Revolution are similarly Mastermind/Manipulators, made all the scarier because each of them has a perfectly reasonable point of view but together create a horrible mess. The Force of Nature/Manipulator type is kind of rare, but MGS’ Psycho Mantis is an excellent example, and many great ones of the type tend to have psychic or illusory powers of some form, like Emperor Palpatine, Loki and Mystique. It’s probably no real surprise that my favorite type of villain is the Mastermind/Manipulator type, though that’s also my favorite type of protagonist as well.

A good blend of categories doesn’t make a great villain by itself, though. There are a number of questions that can be asked about a really good villain that need good answers for the villain to be truly great.

  1. Is the villain influential and capable of winning?
    • There are a lot of villains that simply don’t meet this. They’re a problematic force to be sure, but usually stick around not because they have a chance of winning, but because the protagonist doesn’t give them their full attention. The Joker is a really great inversion of this, because the most effective way of dealing with him has been spun into a win for him, because he’s great at leaning on Batman’s insecurities. On the other hand, Jessie and James of Team Rocket aren’t exactly accomplishing much. A great inversion of this type is the villain who is powerless but gets their hands on a resource or piece of information that allows them to turn the tables, as in a lot of blackmail stories, or Jafar from Aladdin.
    • TeamRocketAnime
  2. Is the villain realistically beatable?
    • This one is one of the reasons why villains that are all three archetypes tend not to be great– there’s no good answer to this question. A villain needs some kind of weakness to be compelling, however difficult to exploit it might be. This is even better if the villain knows their weakness and takes pains to hide or avoid it, though this is rare in the Force of Nature-type villains. A lot of times, this is a great opportunity for a plot twist. The Emperor is nigh-unbeatable, except when his most trusted servant suffers a change of heart (see: the common downfall of Manipulators).
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  3. Why hasn’t the villain already won?
    • You’ve got an immensely powerful individual with a plan in place, sometimes a massive network and abundant resources, possibly even an army, and they haven’t won yet. Why? This mostly applies when the villain has a particular end goal in mind other than “rule everything”, and it’s where the Mad Scientist types tend to fall behind a bit. A fairly common inversion here is settings where the villain HAS won, and is ruling the world or some significant portion of it until overthrown by the heroes. There are some great opportunities to make entirely reasonable villains here, who view the protagonist as a terrorist or someone trying to overturn the current order. This is even more potent if the protagonist has been personally wronged by an otherwise benevolent villain.abstergo-logo-wallpaperabstergo-industries-by-vesferatu-on-deviantart-tsddietg
  4. Is the villain believable and relatable?
    • This is a huge one, and makes the lynchpin of the great villain question list. You’ve got to be able to believe that the villain is serious about their plans, that they have realistic goals, and they need to be relatable on some level. There shouldn’t be gaping holes in the villain’s plans or thought processes, and while some level of inscrutability is effective, making an entirely unpredictable, alien villain feels random and unfair– the very best villains will let on enough for you as the audience to realize what’s going on a moment before it happens, too late for the protagonist to do anything about it even if they knew.
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      not actually an example of this trope failing, this guy is amazing.

I don’t think every good work of fiction requires a great villain, or even a villain at all, but there’s something incredibly exciting about being able to put a face on problems. The villain in Durarara that I’ve come to enjoy so much shows his true colors to the audience in the second episode of the series, but continues playing a complex game throughout the series, and I love to hate him.


Infinity Factions: A Rundown

A few people have asked me about the various factions in Infinity, and where they should start looking. Having bought into factions in minis games that don’t really suit my playstyle, I’ve always sought out this sort of thing before jumping in, and I’m familiar enough with Infinity that I think I can write up a solid evaluation of how each faction plays. Hopefully this is helpful to some folks who were interested in taking a look at the game!


First, the main factions of the game. These are often referred to as “Vanilla” factions, and break down something like this:


ALEPH is tricky insofar as it’s relatively difficult to build highly-tuned lists for, and you’ll tend to have fewer models than your opponent. The units themselves are very much the best of the best, though, but pay a steep premium for that. There are a lot of ways to play ALEPH, but mostly you’re going to be relying on having flatly superior troops in smaller numbers. Each loss will be keenly felt, so mistakes can feel unforgiving, but a well-played ALEPH force will feel unstoppable.


PanO is a very straightforward shooting army– even its most basic line infantry compares with the mid-tier and elite troops of other factions when it comes to a straight gunfight. You have to get creative with objectives, though, because you have a relatively weak WIP army-wide and so may have to dedicate more resources to claiming objectives. That being said, as far as “guys what shoot dudes” go, PanO is up near the top, and has a pretty solid game elsewhere as well.


Yu Jing is a very well-balanced army, with a good blend of types of troops and a huge variety of playstyles. Of all the factions, they do HI, especially lots of HI, the best. I think it’s one of the best factions for a starting player, and is usually one of the ones I use for demo games. It also leaves a lot of room to grow– the higher-tier playstyles for Yu Jing take a lot of skill. You’ll feel what seems like lack of tech and tricks, but you can make up for it elsewhere.


Ariadna is a faction of low-tech tricks. It’s less about combos and more about refusing to meet your opponent head-on. Mostly your troops aren’t going to be quite as good as your opponent’s, but you’re going to have more of them and they’ll be good enough. Ariadna excels at playing multiple groups (in fact, it’s hard not to) and is good at catching your opponent off-guard. You mostly don’t want to get into straight firefights, as outside of a few units you’re likely to be outclassed. Camo and other tricks will win you the day here.


Nomads are like Ariadna with technology. You still largely don’t want to engage your opponent in a straight fight, but you have a lot of tricks to make sure that happens. These come with a cost, so you’re less likely to be running quite as many models as an Ariadna player, but you have access to some unparalleled infowar and some very effective troops who are quite good at ensuring you don’t fight a straight-up fight.


Haqqislam is a relatively low-tech faction that’s very middle-of-the-road in a lot of ways. An abundance of WIP 14 means Haqq specialists are excellent at whatever they try to do, particularly their doctors. Haqq has a great big fat middle, as it were, with an abundance of strong mid-tier troops. There are a number of interesting tricks that can be played within Haqq, and a lot of the power of Haqq comes from understanding special weapon types and special skills and knowing how to get Doctors where you need them. A careful balance of Regular and Irregular orders is a big part of Haqq.


The Combined Army is a pretty varied faction, from the Camo-heavy Shasvastii to the straightforward, stompy Morats. Like ALEPH, you’re going to keenly feel your losses, because your troops tend to be more expensive, but it’s less difficult to get work out of them because they tend to be more focused on a singular thing. This focus can be a problem when you find yourself trying to cram a square peg into a round hold, but you’ll often still be able to pull it off through brute force or sheer bloody-mindedness.


Tohaa is a faction of surprisingly durable troops (thanks to Symbiont Armor) who are otherwise fairly middle-of-the-road with a few stand-out exceptions, but that added durability makes troops that would be relatively simple and uninteresting in other factions into forces that can punch way above their weight class. To play them properly, however, you need to have a very solid understanding of linkteams and particularly the special Fireteam: Tohaa rule, as well as being careful to pay attention to how certain types of ammunition work (notably: Viral and Fire). They’re straightforward and strong, though, with some truly excellent troops.

In addition to the “Vanilla” factions, each faction also has a smaller subset of unit options called “Sectorials”. These are optional subsets of the main faction that offer a more limited troop selection (though they usually you to take more of each unit) and unlock a special rule that allows you to “link” troops together. Linkteams take low- to medium-end (and in some cases high-end) troops and put them together in a unit that acts as one, giving them significant bonuses at the cost of having to stay relatively close to one another. They balance out the more limited troop selection of sectorials and give you some neat flavor within each faction.

Without further ado, the sectorials (asterisks next to ones I haven’t personally played, take those blurbs with a grain of salt):

ALEPH Sectorial(s)


Steel Phalanx (SP, Greeks) is the single ALEPH sectorial, and has a very heavy focus on special characters. Your troop options for this sectorial are very limited and while it has outstanding troops, it can be somewhat predictable. That doesn’t preclude it from being extremely powerful though; just because your opponent can predict what’s coming doesn’t mean they can do anything about it. SP feels a lot like ALEPH minus the tricks, though do be careful to understand its special rules.


PanOceania Sectorials


Neoterra (Neoterran Capitaline Army, NCA) is the fancy toys sectorial of PanO. It’s got basically all of the fancy high-tech stuff you might want to play, but has a relatively limited troop selection and relatively little variance in the ways you can effectively build it. There’s still enough meat there to have a lot of fun, though, and it really does have all of the fun toys. It’s also the closest PanO can get to a swarm list, with abundant Auxilia.


The Acontecimento Shock Army (ASA) is, in concept, the more punchy, more straightforward in-your-face side of the PanOceanian sectorials. It has access to some decent delivery systems for mostly closer-range troops, as well as droptroops and some loaner ALEPH infiltrators. That having been said, it has a VERY limited troop selection and doesn’t really have a strong mechanical identity compared to the other PanO sectorials. The core ‘interesting unit’ in the army is the Bagh Mari, which isn’t all that exciting, and the Regulars pay too much for special options, though they have some neat ones (Sensor). Not necessarily something I would recommend for a new player, unless you REALLY love the theme.


Military Orders (MO) is the PanO answer to Yu Jing’s heavy infantry. Lots of HI Knights and troop support for said knights. There are a bunch of interesting options here, but be aware that Knight units cost a lot of points, so focusing a list wholly on cool HI Knights is going to leave you relatively few points for anything else. That De Ferzen/Joan/Hospitaller link is pretty sweet, though, and you can even run it and still get a full 10 orders and specialists in your list.


Yu Jing Sectorials


The Japanese Sectorial Army (JSA) is one of the first things people think of when they think of Yu Jing, though it’s not representative of the faction as a whole. JSA is the faction of cheap troops, anime legends, and really interesting tools. It has some of the most varied listbuilding options of any sectorial in any faction, and has several very functional viable linkteam options, as well as a deceptively fast punch. No one troop defines JSA, but the big stand-outs are the Aragoto (the Hacker being arguably one of the best specialists in the game), the Haramaki (scary-powerful HI link at an obscenely low price), the Oniwaban-tier ninjas (Oniwaban, Shinobu, Saito Togan who, played well, can make your opponent legitimately fear TO Camo), and the Kempeitai, a cheap, easy to include Chain of Command unit that lets you get away with hilariously aggressive Lieutenants, hard to do elsewhere.


The Imperial Service (ISS) is the other side of the Yu Jing sectorial coin, and is more focused on the secret police/inquisition side of things. It’s probably the best faction at discovering Camo, with abundant MSV2 and Sensor options, allowing redundancy and smoke tricks, and can also run a nasty linkteam in the form of the Wu Ming, who are probably the best HI link in the game and might compete for best linkteam in the game for ITS. Relatively expensive specialists who don’t always have delivery systems are a problem for this faction– expect to bring in an ALEPH Sophotect and a Ninja Hacker if you want full specialist coverage.


Ariadna Sectorials


The Merovingian Rapid Response Force (Merovingia, MRRF) is the higher-tech sectorial of Ariadna. They’ve got the money, they can buy/hire whoever they want. If you want hackers and/or TAGs in your Ariadna force, MRRF is the way to go. They also benefit from some strong linkteam options and increased AVA on some of the better troops in Ariadna, especially the Chasseur.


*The Caledonian Highlander Army (CHA, Scots) is the even-lower-tech sectorial for Ariadna. Lots of cheap troops and linkteams, and a decent chance you’re going to hugely outnumber your opponent. What you lack in focus or raw power you make up for in numbers and smoke. While your specialist options are limited, you have enough smoke grenades in the list to be able to deliver whatever you need. Get good with smoke if you want to play CHA, is what I’m saying, and MSV2 is going to be a serious problem for you.


*USAriadna is the newest Ariadna sectorial, and hasn’t seen enough playtime for me to boil it down to a pithy blurb. It’s a good middle ground between MRRF and CHA, and has a bunch of interesting, fun troops available to it. Decent linkteam options and the Ariadna signature Camo give it a solid footing, and motorcycles (esp. specialists) are awesome, ask any JSA player.


Nomad Sectorials


Corregidor Jurisdictional Command (Corregidor, CJC) is the brute force side of the Nomad army. It excels at solid, punchy troops and effective droptroops. There are some solid options for linkteams that will do a lot of work for you, and if you feel like playing Corregidor, looking for those links that you want to run is key. Nomads tend to be stronger and more versatile in Vanilla if you aren’t intending to run linkteams, but there are some options in Corregidor (even the humble Alguaciles) that make for solid options. If Mobile Brigada magically get a specialist option, Corregidor will be pretty nasty.

Nomads - Sectorial - Jurisdictional Command of Bakunin - [N3] [Vyo]

Bakunin Jurisdictional Command (Bakunin) is where the weirder Nomad stuff lives. Combat-ready battle priestesses, face-punchy HI Riot Grrls, and an abundance of infiltrating Camo (Zeros, Prowlers) as well as the various warband troops make Bakunin a strong if weird option. Lots of special rules here that you need to make the most of to succeed, though you can hit an enemy on a variety of unexpected fronts all at once with Bakunin. A solid hacking game, access to the best Doctor and Engineer in the game, some great infiltrating Camo, and other fun toys make Bakunin varied and interesting.


Haqqislam Sectorials


Hassassin Bahram (HB) is the sectorial for the Haqqislamite religious sect of assassins. They have elite, carefully trained troops who are good at specific tasks, supported by untrained militia and a small number of trained supporting troops. Each type of Hassassin has a relatively singular focus, and there are a couple of interesting linkteam options within this sectorial. Specialists are a little hard to come by, but can be effective, and good use of HB relies upon clever use of irregular troops and smart trades with your Impersonators. Leave your opponent on the ropes early and you can get a lot of work done, but beware of getting put on the back foot; it can be somewhat hard to recover.


Qapu Khalqi (QK) is a more mercenary side of Haqqislam. They have an abundance of interesting link options and can even run multiple links with Haris, and have access to a lot of mercenary troops. They also have cheap, interesting linkteam filler in the form of Hafza, who can blend into any linkteam in QK. Lots of fun options abound, but be aware that you still need to accomplish objectives, and linkteams can be a bit limited in that regard.


Combined Army Sectorials

Combined Army - Sectorial - Shasvastii Expeditionary Force - [N3] [Vyo]

*The Shasvastii Expeditionary Force (Shas, does anyone refer to them as the SEF?) is the sneaky, tricky side of the Combined Army. They sit somewhere in between Nomads and Ariadna in terms of playstyle, and in my opinion kind of suffer for it. Plenty of solid specialists abound, as does a lot of camo, but the troops are weirdly expensive and it leaves you without quite the trickiness of Nomads. Not a sectorial I would recommend for a new player, unless you really absolutely must play sneaky space bugs and for some reason disdain the rest of Combined. Sorry Shas players, but alongside ASA, this is a sectorial I don’t recommend (at the moment; it appears to be getting a revamp).


*The Morat Aggression Force (Morats, MAF) is the less subtle side of the Combined Army. You’re looking at straightforward and stompy here, and a lot of troops that want to do that thing. You’ve got some interesting linkteam choices and really just a lot of straightforward blasting. You can get outmaneuvered by a canny opponent, which is always a risk in Infinity, but you’ve got a lot of fun toys here for the unsubtle approach. Also, space Oni, who doesn’t love that?


Tohaa has no sectorials (yet!)

Hope this helps! If anyone is interested in Infinity, I’m happy to answer other questions 🙂

(Image credit: this thread — )

Wanting More Of The Same

Shadowrun: Hong Kong dropped on Thursday, and I beat it Sunday night. For anyone measuring games by hours played, I clocked 35 hours in it of which I was actively playing probably about 25-28. I definitely did not see everything the game had to offer, and I’m going to write more about it specifically a bit later, but if you liked the previous games, this is yet another improvement on the series.


I really love the Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun games; each new one focuses on improving the weaknesses of the previous one while still doing some new stuff. What I want when I get a new one is, essentially, more of the same, just a little fancier. It’s worth noting that I play more or less the same character when I jump into it, too, and I still find each one interesting and fun.

I’m trying to wrap my head around why I’m so happy with a new Shadowrun game that is, for all intents and purposes, more of the same, yet I got tired with the Assassin’s Creed series, despite it branching out a lot more. In a similar vein, I grew tired of Rock Band releases but I pick up each new Civilization game.


Assassin’s Creed 4 holds the answer for me. After the story arc of Desmond completed in AC3 (full disclosure: I never beat AC3 as I was kind of tired of the series), AC4 picks up with a new story and a new set of characters. It’s more self-contained and shows me a different slice of the world. Similarly, Shadowrun games reboot with each one, introducing me to a new piece of the setting and a new story and characters. Each new Civ game is a new set of mechanics with a new world to, well, civilize (and I especially liked Civ: Beyond Earth because it was sci-fi).

I want new stories and new characters once I’ve had the catharsis of finishing a story arc. My favorite book series is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, which jumps to new characters and new slices of the world constantly. I love the original Star wars trilogy, but for all that people raved over the Thrawn books, I never got into them, because I felt like the story of those characters was done. I didn’t need any more (and, indeed, the return of ‘classic’ characters in the upcoming Episode 7 is the least interesting thing about it for me).


I tend to lose interest when I have to wait for a show to release episodes– things aren’t moving quickly enough for me and I’d prefer to experience it all at once, or in big, super-immersive chunks. When I engage with a story, I dive deep, and I want the whole thing. It’s one of the reasons that I have trouble with games and stories that’re thin or very what-you-see-is-what-you-get. I want worlds that leave a lot to my imagination and let it run wild with the possibilities, and get frustrated when there isn’t enough for me to really sink my teeth into. I think it’s why I had so much fun with Transistor and was frustrated by the ending of There Came an Echo– I felt like the former left a really big world with a lot of weird cool stories that I only got to see hints of, whereas the latter opened the curtains a little too much and just told me everything, eliminating any space for my imagination to wander through.

I think a story is made up of both what it tells and what it doesn’t tell, and both are important. As Kodra likes to put it, those parts of the story that aren’t told are where fanfic lives, and I think he’s dead on. It’s a place for the imagination to run wild, and as a storyteller it’s important for me to leave some stories told and others untold– sometimes you want to leave some things to the imagination.


When something captures my attention and shows me a piece of a big world, I want more of that, and as long as I can get more bits without feeling like it’s gotten same-y, I’m hooked and want more of the same. I don’t think this is such a bad thing, though I understand when people get bored of the same sort of game. I also think I lean very heavily towards preferring untold stories that are merely hinted at. It’s how I get inspired for my own creative work, and I can’t be disappointed by a story that exists only in my imagination.

That is, I think, what I love about the Shadowrun series– it’s a simple story with lots of branches that are chock-full of suggested-but-untold stories, leaving my mind to fill in the rest. One of the best tabletop games I’ve ever run was built on setting up the potential untold stories that occur before you finish character creation in an MMO– how did you get to where you were when you started the game? I got to tell that story right up until the launch of SWTOR, at which point (most of) my players were able to go straight into the game with a character they felt strongly about, that was well-defined and interesting.

It was a great experience, and one I’d love to do again given the opportunity. It would, of course, require that my players wanted more of the same as well. I’ve got some time to think about it– we’re still hip-deep in another game that’s yet to fully unfold.

A Few Words

Communication is a skill. It’s often overlooked in favor of other, more tangible skills, ones you can build things with, or affect change in a direct, physical way. It’s a common trend to be suspicious of communication, and of people with communication skills– “speaking too well” is a quick way to lose trust among a certain type of person.


Ask anyone whose job is communicating with people for a living, I’m especially thinking of the people whose job it is to keep people happy en masse here, and they’ll tell you that words are important, and matter as much or more than those tangible skills. The most competent technical team in the world can’t get players to trust a game if the community and support staff aren’t on the ball, and solid communications from the right teams can buy the bugfixing crew enough time to put in the right solutions the right way. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking those teams are less notable or valuable because their main interface is with words and not code.

Words are powerful. The scammers of the world know this, and it’s why the most effective security breaches don’t come from fancy technology or expert hacking or some kind of Hollywood agility– they come from words. We’re human; we’re wired to respond to words, and they can sink deeply and unexpectedly. It’s why we’re suspicious of people who are good with words– we’re so happy to receive the right words and we’re so afraid that the words are a lie. Someone can show you their computer hacking skills and they’re less likely to be shunned than someone who demonstrates that they’re a master manipulator. Same worrying potential breach of trust, but one sinks in deeper.


And yet, those words have power for a reason. The best boss I’ve ever had called me into his office for my annual review. He told me he thought I was too harsh on myself, but that I had a lot of potential. He suggested I look into team leadership as a career path, previously something I had only done for fun. It was a small sentence, a few words for a long-term goal. I already knew I was capable of leading; I’d been doing it for years and the people I led would ask me to keep doing it, and to lead other teams. What I didn’t have was validation of that capability, the bridge between what I did successfully for fun and what I could build a career from. A few little words sparked a fire.

Another boss I’ve had told me I was arrogant for disagreeing with them. They made a point to describe my skills as subpar and my insights lacking in substance. Those words sunk in deep as well, and left me uncertain of myself for a long time. The urge here is to lash out, to riposte, even after the fact, and use my own words to deny those ones that hurt so much. It’s something I’ve done, and it’s never been productive. Words are powerful, and wasting them that way is a poor use of a skill. Instead, I’ve tried to use those words to understand. It wasn’t a lesson learned quickly or elegantly, but in the end I learned to stay detached and keep words from getting too close, unless I let them.


An unexpected friend suggested that I was too detached, too analytical. When I spoke, I offered deep insights to other people but revealed almost nothing about myself. I used my words well, but hid myself in them. It made me unapproachable, distant, and a little frightening. It was another lesson learned, more change wrought from words. I’ve slowly become a more complete person, and of all the skills I’ve turned my mind towards learning, none have been so influential as a few words from the right person at the right time.

One last anecdote: A friend contacted me, out of the blue, after not having spoken for nearly ten years. I remembered them, because I try my best not to forget people, but I couldn’t imagine why I would be similarly remembered. We’d barely hung out, maybe once or twice ever, and I couldn’t remember what we’d talked about. Something I’d said had resonated, though, and made it worth seeking me out after a decade. Honestly, it was scary for me. To think that some forgotten words I’d said ten years ago had enough of an impact on someone else to find me after all the time suggests that I’d left a deep impression without realizing it. It really bothered me, because I feel responsible for the ways in which I affect other people, and doing so unconsciously or without intending to felt irresponsible.


However, I have to remind myself of the times I’ve been affected deeply by someone else’s words. I don’t get to pick what words other people say, and I don’t get to pick how people react to the things I say. All I can do is be aware of how I’m using my words and to be honest, genuine, and open-minded with people, and to share the things I’m thinking. I don’t know when the right words will come at the right time for someone else.

As I like to tell my puppy: use your words. Communication is key, and letting people know how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking is important. Let someone else know what’s awesome about them, or what you see when you look at them. It’s a great way to learn more than you ever thought you could about another person.

When I briefly scan a friends list, I see a few things…

…a quietly confident anchor for the team.

…an unshakably optimistic caregiver.

…the ideal teammate.

…a laughing jester who will be the first to have your back.

…a constant yet practical brightener of days.

…a timid voice with an underlying strength of conviction that makes me rethink my beliefs.

…a person who deserves better.

…a hand that will help me up and hold me steady, but still point at where I’ve slipped and fallen.

…a potent mirror of truth.

…a pillar of the community whose biggest fear is not living up to their own expectations of themselves.

…and, among others, my very best friends.

What do you see?

Bound by Tenets

While working on MMOs, there were a few design tenets that “everyone knew”. They were the pitfalls you tried to avoid, the things you had to include, the concepts of structure and pacing that were how you knew you were designing correctly.


I understand where they come from. There’s a risk in breaking from the established norms, and as projects get bigger and more expensive, the risks are severe. That being said, I can’t think of very many best-in-class non-sequel games in any genre that have been massively successful without diverging significantly from the established tenets of the time. Even the very well-established series will reinvent themselves periodically to keep things fresh, and the ones that don’t change things up enough tend to flicker and die.

Sometimes these divergences come from technology. Assassin’s Creed was build on crowd AI and active movement concepts that weren’t seen anywhere beforehand. Ingress wouldn’t make sense without the cell phone as a gaming platform. Super Mario 64 wasn’t possible until the first fully 3D consoles were available. The first MMOs were built on this amazing idea that players could connect to an ongoing, persistent world and play with their friends easily, amid hundreds or thousands of other players doing the same.


Sometimes, the divergence is in how you experience the game. Thief took the first-person shooter genre and made it into a game about avoiding combat and avoiding enemies. Portal took the same genre and turned it into a puzzle-platformer. Adventure games and dungeon crawlers merged together into the modern single-player RPG. These evolutions happen between technological breakthroughs, generally– they’re the kinds of games you see when a console generation is mature, or when technology is relatively stable.

The difficulty here is risk. There’s a big problem when a type of game is unable to explore its potential because it’s too risky to do so, and there’s a very real risk of sameyness when the only things changing in a genre are the trappings. Adventure games and JRPGs both went through this, with the formulae going largely unchanged from game to game, and both have gone from popular, relevant games to tropes. There’s a constant fear of deviating from type when making a game, and some genres are more restrictive than others.


A lot of this comes down to verbs. Consider the verbs that constitute gameplay in a point-and-click adventure game. There’s “click on environment”, “talk to NPC”, and there’s “use item in inventory”. The outcomes may vary, but by and large you’re clicking on something in order to trigger an animation and either obtain an inventory object to move forward or otherwise trigger a progress flag. Talking to NPCs has a similar effect. Movement isn’t really gameplay, though it pretends to be, and the visual novel genre does away with movement entirely.

MMOs are similar. There’s “fight enemy”, there’s “click on object”, there’s “use inventory item”, sometimes there’s “talk to NPC” (though this is often a single block of text that you may not even have to read), and there’s “move” (sorta). “Fight enemy” is the most robust of these verbs by far, and everything else pales in comparison. Movement is rarely fleshed out beyond just running around, though occasionally there’s roll dodging. Even jumping, while usually present, often is dismissed as a viable gameplay type because “players get frustrated by jumping puzzles”. That last would hold a bit more weight with me if there weren’t so many incredibly popular jumping puzzle games, not least of which is the most commonly known video game character in the world.


Digging deeper, it’s a fidelity problem. First- and third-person action games have a lot of verbs– Grand Theft Auto is immensely popular in large part because there’s so much you can do. The verbs in that game feel varied and different and fun. Skyrim is similar– there’s enough depth in the various things you can do that you feel like you have a lot of freedom to do a lot of different things; it’s not just “fight enemies”. First-person platformers come in a variety of flavors, despite the “FPP” being a niche (platformers) of a niche (non-combat first-person action games).

I beat the drum about MMOs a lot, but one of the things that hasn’t increased even as the fidelity of the games has increased is the number of verbs. It’s still “fight enemy”, “click on object”, occasionally (but more often now) “talk to NPC”, and “move (sorta)”. We know we’re playing an MMO when we see hotbar combat, and fields of monsters, and gear/level grinds. It says a lot to me that Destiny made as big a splash as it did, despite its many well-known-to-MMO-player issues. It was a different way of experiencing both the FPS and the MMO, and drew from both pools.


I’m not convinced that we’re going to see a conceptual divergence in MMOs that leads us to the Next Big Thing. One of the advantages that the FPS has is the very strong middleware– the myriad game engines built for making first-person action games that are accessible and generate good games. MMOs lack that– each one has to be built from the ground up, even when using middleware, and it means that just getting a game off the ground is a herculean task. There’s no room to take risks, and as a result a lot of the MMOs out there feel like they’ve been cut from the same cloth.

Virtual reality might be the technological jump MMOs need to have a breakthrough, but I’m not yet convinced that’s going to be as big a technology as everyone seems to hope. Perhaps I’m just cynical from having lived through the same excitement in the ’90s. I think an MMO that keeps the core of the genre– play in a big world with your friends– while otherwise vastly diverging in how you actually experience it might pull the genre forward. I think that would drive a lot of players away, but it would also bring in players from elsewhere.


Until someone takes a big risk and has a solid foundation and resource pool supporting them, though, it’s unlikely that we’ll see anything like that anytime soon. It’s a very barren field for up and coming MMOs that are likely to make a big splash, compared to just a few years ago. I have a lot of fond memories of the rise of the MMO, and I mostly feel like there’s a gameplay experience I was able to have once that’s missing now. I’d like to have it again, but that window may have closed. We’ll see.

Language Learning in the Information Age

The last time I tried to learn a language, it was Spanish, through a blend of classrooms and tutors. My mom would probably describe the overall effect as a dismal failure.


After generally failing to learn how to speak Spanish (though I can passably understand it if people speak slowly), I’d put the idea of becoming multilingual out of my mind, because I believed I’d already proven I was terrible at it and that learning another language just wasn’t in the cards for me. It frustrated me, but whenever the thought of learning a language came up, I thought about how I still didn’t know Spanish, and let the thought wither.

At the same time, my parents instilled in me a deep sense of wonder and curiosity about the world. I’ve long held the belief that people are mostly the same everywhere you go; they want the same things, have fairly similar motivations, and generally just want to be happy. The flavors are different, from food to culture to fun, and with that general feeling that people want similar things I found a fascination with discovering all the different flavors. Most of the books I read growing up came out of England, and the video games from Japan, and each contributed a different view of the world than I was getting from my surroundings.


It wasn’t until recently that I revisited the idea of learning a new language. I put it off for a while, because I still thought I was a failure at learning languages, but I finally bit the bullet and started working on it, largely thanks to the free Rosetta Stone apps for my phone. Phone apps seem light, low-impact. If I try it and it doesn’t work, oh well. I don’t have to make a special appointment to learn a language or take a particular class, I can work on things while I wait for class, or while waiting in a restaurant, or while sitting on the toilet. At the same time, it’s easier than it’s ever been to find the things that remind me why I want to learn new languages.

I struggled with motivation to learn Spanish because it wasn’t really something I was doing for myself. Still, I’ve long felt like I should know Spanish before I move onto some other language, and it was really hard to let go of that sense of obligation. I wasn’t actively learning Spanish, but I also wasn’t actively learning any other languages.

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When I started playing Infinity, my interest in Spanish was rekindled. There were a lot of rules that weren’t originally translated very well in English, and I had just enough Spanish knowledge to muddle through the original language in which the game was written. I started brushing up a bit, and while it wasn’t functional or conversational Spanish, it planted the seed for me.

After moving to Seattle, I found myself surrounded by the Chinese and Japanese languages, and it’s made me want to learn them, so that I can communicate with other people and fully experience everything this area has to offer. That thirst to be more worldly has struck again, and there’s so much I can learn through the language. Now, instead of textbooks and classrooms, I can use my phone, my PC, and my TV to teach myself languages. I can play Assassin’s Creed in Spanish and watch shows in Japanese, then put on a film in Chinese. It lends an immediacy and a relevance to what I’m teaching myself, and it makes it much easier than memorizing vocabulary from a book.

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Entertainment is a powerful teacher, which isn’t really news to me (or anyone else), but turning it to my own ends as a language-learning tool has been more effective than I could’ve imagined. My next step is to try to talk with my mom in Spanish as much as possible, which is going to be a disaster for a while. Luckily, Spanish and Japanese are very different languages, so I should be able to keep them separate in my head. That being said, I haven’t yet felt like working on two languages at once is confusing or difficult. We’ll see how it goes.

Overselling Difficulty

My FFXIV raid group is now caught up to current content, and we’re tackling Ravana Extreme now. People who have done the fight before us have said things like “our raid skipped it because it was too hard” and “prepare to wipe a lot”. Needless to say, a goodly number of us were a bit leery about what to expect.


We dipped into the raid after a quick, 45-minute full clear of Alexander, and spent about 45 minutes on three or four attempts at Ravana. We didn’t beat it, but we got to the point where we’d seen all of the mechanics; getting the boss down to about 65% on our best attempt.

Overall, the much-touted difficulty was… somewhat underwhelming. It’s possible I’ll eat my words if we wipe constantly on it for the next few months, but I highly doubt that’s going to happen. It’s a dance fight, and the dance is slower and less instantly brutal than things we’ve done before. As much as I’m not thrilled at jumping into Alexander (Savage), it looks like a thing we’re likely to be doing unless another raid or set of raids comes out relatively soon.

I’ve never terribly enjoyed the “harder version of a raid you’ve already done” design path, although I understand why it’s good for increasing the shelf life of content. I’m a fan of harder, max-level versions of dungeons where the story, enemies, and bosses are completely different, but “the same thing but harder” has never really held a lot of appeal for me. If it’s the only thing left to do, I suppose there’s nothing for it, but I’m not thrilled at the prospect of grinding the same two existing dungeons for weeks to get geared up to do a harder version of a raid I’ve already beaten.


This is, of course, the downside of being on the front edge of content– there’s an effort-to-return curve that gets worse and worse the closer you get to consuming all of the content, and FFXIV is more than happy to dangle brutally difficult “savage” content for the truly hardcore. Not being truly hardcore, I don’t have the same drive to burn through that stuff.

On the other hand, I’m not going to be heartbroken about not beating Savage Alex the way I was going to be sad if we hadn’t completed the Binding Coil of Bahamut. I don’t have much problem milling around in Savage Alex until the next bit of content comes out, though, and as we progress through the next tier of content, Savage Alex will be a little less brutal, and we can go back and clear it at a more leisurely pace. I’m kind of hoping we can leapfrog content through this expansion, since we raid at a somewhat more sedate pace than other groups.

It’s been nice to settle into a routine with multiple raid groups in the guild. The ‘original’ Monday night raid is the more casual of the two raids, and the Wednesday night has quickly gotten a reputation for being the more hardcore. Until recently, they were further progressed in Heavensward content than we were, having beaten Bismark Extreme a week or so ahead of us and (I believe) working on Savage Alexander and Ravana EX. We caught up with them after beating the rest of Coil (old, level-50 content), but we’ve since closed the gap if memory serves.


People in the FC who really want a hardcore experience have an outlet in both the Wednesday night raid and external statics, which a bunch of people do, which has given us the ability to stay pretty casual in our raids. My hope is that we can start bringing new folks through cool content on Monday nights, especially if we run out of new things to do.

As both guild leader and one of the raid leaders, it’s been sort of a balancing act for me– I want to make sure everyone in the guild is getting the experience they want, but I haven’t wanted to over-commit myself and be forced to lead a “cutting edge” group that I don’t have a lot of interest in. I’ve been happy that Mor has stepped up to run that group, and also that some of the Monday night folks who want to raid more than once a week have the opportunity to do so with Mor’s group.

We have enough people in the guild that it might be time to start looking for a third raid night– this has classically been Saturday afternoon (before podcast), but attendance is often pretty low for that. There’ve been some ad-hoc groups that get rolling, and I think we might have enough people to make a regular Saturday raid possible. It might be a group who can start by going back to old Coil and getting a feel for working together in there. As usual, the trick is finding a raid leader for the group– I can get it off the ground but I’m not going to be able to be around every Saturday to run it.

who might i have in mind? (art by slipgatecentral on deviantart)

who might i have in mind? (art by slipgatecentral on deviantart)

I recognize that it’s not something I’m willing/able to take on myself, and previously I would have felt like a failure as a guild leader for not bearing that load on my shoulders, but having done it before I know it’d burn me out, and if I’m burned out I’m serving no one. Part of the success of the guild in FFXIV is that important stuff is delegated to a variety of people, and if any single person isn’t around the whole thing keeps ticking. I certainly don’t have control over the whole thing, but I’m okay with that, because the organization is more than just mine. As long as people are happy, things are going well, and my job is more to be proactive and start thinking about solutions to problems before they crop up.

It’s a system that works pretty well, and I’d be lying if I said that a lot of it wasn’t borne of my graduate coursework. The two feed off one another, and I feel like my successes in both arenas are due to my participation in the other. I’m a better leader because of being an MBA student, and I’m a better student for having been a leader.


I went to a tournament over the weekend that reminded me why I like to play in tournaments. It was a great experience where I got to meet and play against a bunch of new, cool folks and test out my little group of toy soldiers against some other folks’ groups of toy soldiers. It was great.


I don’t, as a general rule, like competitive games. I like them even less when I’m playing solo against a single opponent. I get a lot more pleasure and fun out of working together with people to overcome some obstacle, rather than working singly against another person to defeat them. I don’t get a lot of pleasure in asserting my dominance over another person in any medium, and less so when it’s my friends. The closest I get is a sort of academic interest in seeing what the outcome might be, but I don’t really enjoy it for its own sake. It’s a little better when it’s team vs team, because then I’m at least working alongside people. It’s not my favorite thing, but it’s more fun than one-on-one duels.

All of this makes Infinity (and other minis games) a kind of odd standout for me. What I really like about minis games is that it’s two people playing out a big battle that looks REALLY cool on the tabletop, with groups of minis that can often reflect a bit about the person in terms of how they look and which ones have been chosen. My Warmachine lists paint a picture of a person who bides his time until an opening appears, then goes for a quick, efficient assassination. When I used to play Kodra, his lists displayed a person who liked to build efficient, effective engines with interlocking pieces that rolled across the battlefield. Our lists reflected a difference in approach and personality, but we were playing the same game.


I used to play Warmachine very competitively, and got frustrated with it. What started to frustrate me about Warmachine once I started playing it very competitively was that I stopped having friendly interactions with my opponents. They were civil, polite, amiable interactions, but there was no give and take and no real sense that we were both trying to make the game fun for the other person as well as ourselves. The game was about making my combo work and stopping the opponent from doing the same. It was fun when my combos worked, and not fun when they didn’t, and it often felt like a zero-sum game. It was something I grew to miss from playing it very casually early on with a smaller group of close friends, and I stopped playing it for quite a while as a result.

Infinity revived my interest in minis games because it demanded that I play with a certain amount of give and take with my opponent. Every action required both players’ participation, so both people were engaged the whole time. It’s a stark departure from the my-turn-your-turn setup in other games, and it means that I always have something to do, and always have a chance to make something work out in my favor, even if the odds are long. At the same time, it means that I have to stay on my toes if I’m winning, there’s no point in the game where victory is basically assured and I can just do as I please. On top of all of that is this layer of exciting action– there are a lot of cool things you can do in the game as both the active and the reactive player, so there’s always a chance for your one troop to be an unexpected hero instead of a casualty.


Because there’s so much engagement on both sides of the table at all times, there’s a lot of casual etiquette that comes up with the game. It’s perfectly reasonable in Infinity to say “I’m going to walk up here but stay back far enough so that you can’t see me,” and only the most curmudgeonly player will respond with anything other than “Okay, you can get to about… there, but any further and I’ll be able to see you.” It means that games are frequently won and lost on tactics and strategy and a couple of important die rolls rather than precision eyeballing and “gotcha!” moments. I won a lot of Warmachine games through simply being better at eyeballing distances than my opponents; I have not once ever won an Infinity game on that basis, and I like it a lot more.

I’m not catching my opponent’s off-guard with an attack angle that they thought was safe but ever-so-slightly misjudged, or some combo that they didn’t see coming, or some rules interaction that they weren’t expecting; I win my games on tactics and a bit of luck, and I feel good about my games whether I win them or lose them. I also have opponents genuinely take the time to thank me for fun games in Infinity and exchange more than polite, rehearsed “Thank you”s and handshakes. It’s something that rarely ever happened in other games I’ve played, and a big part of why I’ve stayed in Infinity and love to bring new players into the fold.


That last bit is kind of important to me. There are plenty of games that I like that I wouldn’t recommend to other people. Infinity is a game that I like that I would recommend to other people, particularly people who’re into sci-fi and want to try a relatively inexpensive minis game. My experience with the Infinity communities is that they’re welcoming and generally really great folks. The people who I don’t enjoy playing against are rare, and tend not to last long in the game. It takes a certain amount of adjustment, because it’s a very different experience than a lot of one-on-one games, but I like it all the better for that.