Here’s a bit of a fun news: I have a new nephew! Well done on him for being born. Children are a blessing from the Lord, and also something the world needs a lot more of right now, despite what some people say.
What I’m Playing: Until You Fall
I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned my love of VR gaming! That’s a surprise. I love VR gaming, which I definitely consider the future for a lot of fields–not just gaming, but architectural design, military training, and therapy. (along with countless other fields in ways we can’t imagine). I should do a post, sometime, about all the implications, positive and negative, of VR tech.
I got a headset four years ago in perhaps the most frivolous expenditure I’ve ever made (and was shortly reprimanded for it by getting in an accident that I had to beg money from my parents for.) I don’t entirely regret it, as I think a large part of what got me through my first year teaching was the promise of being able to go home and punch colorful balls in the face.
Nowadays my rate of using VR to game ebbs and flows, but I recently started getting back into it regularly as a way to encourage myself to exercise (it’s an old joke that VR standup gaming will turn millions of neckbeard gamers into svelte dancers).
To be clear, VR doesn’t offer much intensity training–some people have experimented with wrist weights, but experts have warned that games are too random and involve too uncontrolled of movements for that to really be a healthy option. Box VR is the only game (so far) explicitly designed to work all muscle groups in an orderly manner. Perhaps wrist weights would be all right with that one, but the rest are mostly good for aerobic exercise–keeping moving, swinging your arms and such. For that, the most popular is Beat Saber, but there’s also Soundboxing, RagnaRock, (I actually posted some of my own gameplay videos recently) and my most recent choice: Until You Fall.
Until You Fall has a simple premise—you progress through a series of zones populated with armored energy zombies, dodging, blocking, and slashing your way through them in response to various visual cues. Inevitably, you’re going to die as the enemies get harder and more numerous, but then you get the chance to upgrade your equipment and get further next time.
I was worried about facing the zombies because while I’ve been gaming a while, I’m still tend to freak out when literally anything gets close to me in VR (I still haven’t gotten past the wolves in Skyrim VR) However, on advice from another gamer, I simply let myself get killed one time, and after that I was fine. (I’m going to have to use that practice on other games that I’ve been too terrified to continue with.)
You move around a lot, which makes it a great game for a workout, and I’m actually a little worried about how much sweat I’ve gotten all over my headset and controllers. But so far I’ve had a lot of fun with it. The visuals are beautiful, the combat intuitive and intense, and it’s a great way to get a workout.
What I’m Reading: It Happened While You Were Sleeping
Because of the truly depressing amount of time I still have on my hands these days, I’ve started a project of reading one indie-published book per week and posting some quick thoughts on here. They need publicity and I need something to do, and while I have a KindleUnlimited subscription there’s a lot of books I can get for free. I try to focus on books with under 100 reviews, because they need love.
It Happened While You Were Sleeping is a YA dystopian story by Frank Gershon, set in a postwar world where people hibernate in pods throughout the winter, and it follows three teenagers who take special “mushrooms” to ensure they wake up midway through winter (despite it being common knowledge in town that you’re likely to starve) Only when they do, they find out that actually there’s monsters eating townspeople while they’re asleep. They need to survive and figure out what’s behind all the various monsters and how to stop them.
It’s an intense premise that puts the teens in an isolated and nightmarish situation. The start is a bit slow, with cliché relationship dynamics (though perhaps that’s part of the point), but things quickly speed up. The only thing is that the kids seem incredibly lucky—not exactly super-skilled, but things that shouldn’t work always do. Not unusual, perhaps, for YA, but it strains credibility at points. You also get a sense for who is allowed to die and who is not—though the book does a good job of keeping you nervous about it.
The lore and backstory is interesting, if a bit underdeveloped. It reminded me in a way of old flash games I used to play. The monsters are suitably nightmarish, though more description of the environments could really have helped. The characters come across as very human, if not terribly original.
The main thing holding the story back, perhaps, is that it’s limited. Limited in the amount of characters, limited in the environments, limited in what it can do. It’s three kids, in a single nondescript town, fighting monsters by stabbing them in the face. This is also a strength, because it helps the story be streamlined—though I think again more environmental descriptions could have added a much better sense of scale.
Overall it’s a good, if short, story that’s thoroughly exciting and effectively carries a sense of dread and horror at parts. Better descriptions—and perhaps characters with more distinctive personalities—could have given the story a more unique atmosphere, but it’s well-written and deserves more than the 2 reviews it’s gotten so far.
What I’m writing: The Teutonic Doctrine
Again, a lot of time on my hands. I’ve started writing the intro to my next book, The Teutonic Doctrine, which will show Chad facing off against Neo-Nazis trying to restart a vampire program from WWII. I’ve already rewritten the intro twice, so what I’m offering here is not likely to be like the final version, but for now, here it is.
“So when are we going to get to actually shoot something?” I ask, staring down at the medical camp.
“Don’t be so eager.” Wart glares at me through the mass of pimples and cysts covering his face. He’s technically my superior, as the Retinue’s Squire, but he acts more like a big brother than anything. He’s also possibly the ugliest-looking person I know. “The whole point is not to shoot anything. We don’t want to draw attention.”
“I know that!” I exhale loudly. “I just… I thought the Teutonic Knights would be more… I dunno, military than the Hospitaller Knights.” I watch the forms milling about the tents in the valley. I see a tall, bearded, old man leave the largest tent and walk toward the Humvees on the perimeter. That’ll be Doc.
“Technically you’re neither,” Wart reminds me. “And technically this is partly a Hospitaller operation. I gotta tell you, a joint Hospitaller-slash-Teutonic operation like this is super rare.”
“What about the Valkyries?”
“Very rare,” he says. He’s also watching Doc approach the jeeps. Some soldiers in rough camo uniforms jump off and approach him, rifles at the ready. “I don’t think they’d be in on this if Doc hadn’t asked. And if it wasn’t so…” He exhales loudly also. “…you know.”
I do. The red flags on the Humvees, and the red tags on the camo uniforms down below, underscore exactly how “you know” this is.
But I still don’t like it. “Why don’t we just charge in and get it done?” I ask. “There are people dying…” I wave vaguely to the south, “while we’re sitting here playing games with these soldiers. We could smash right through them and be gone before anyone knew about it.”
We really really could. Heck, Doc alone could. The soldiers down there yelling at him probably don’t realize that old man could flip their Humvee end over end if he wanted to. Maybe blast them with lightning bolts from his hands, or stab them up with fiery swords like I would. I don’t even know all the things Doc can do. Most of the time he chooses not to do them.
“Bit of a question.” Wart frowns. “What justifies a war? I mean not just in the terms of the Hospitaller’s ‘only if we’re attacked first’ stance, but just generally, what would you say?”
I shrug. “Doing bad stuff?” I guess that’s a little vague. “Like, I mean, really bad stuff. Massacring civilians and stuff. You know. Holocaust stuff.” I’m not exactly a political theorist.
“Makes sense.” Wart nods. “But what if attacking to stop the ‘really bad stuff’ meant nuclear war? Would it be worth it?”
I don’t like the question. “…I guess. But what if we just… made it so they couldn’t fire any nukes?” I ask. “Like find the silos or… or I don’t know…”
“Just take over the country?” Wart raises a knobby eyebrow at me. Seriously, the guy looks like an ogre. “Is that your idea?”
“…would that be such a bad thing?” I mean, it could hardly be worse…
Wart shrugs. “Maybe not. But the Hospitaller Oath is pretty clear on that being a no-no.”
“You don’t even like the Hospitaller Oath,” I say, glaring at him. “You bend the rules around it all the time.”
Again he shrugs. “A guy’s gotta have a system. It’s weird, though—all the other Orders have something similar about not taking over governments and stuff. The Valkyries, the Samurai, the Hwarang, the Zulu…”
“What about the Teutons?” I ask.
“Especially the Teutons.” He looks at me, and there’s a strange intensity in his gaze. “There’s some history there. From what I gather, there’s bad history just generally with the Nephilim being in charge of countries, but for the Teutons that history’s a lot more… recent.” He watches as another person leaves the tents—this one standing ramrod straight. You can just see the thick beard and the flowing locks from this distance. “Even Grand Marshall Voigt hates that idea, and he actually does think we should just charge in and risk the nukes.”
I look at him, then back to the patch-eyed man. “You don’t think he’s gonna…”
“No.” Wart shakes his head. “Voigt probably likes this even less than you do, but he obeys orders. He won’t shoot anything unless he absolutely has to.”
“I think he might have to,” a new voice says. Wart and I turn to see Gideon slinking along the hill. My friend’s pudgy dark face is unusually grim and tense. “That is a thing I think.”
“You found it?” Wart asks him.
“The camp is twenty miles that way.” A curly-haired teen, decked out in full camo, comes along behind Gideon. Levin, currently the only human member of our retinue. “But the security is tighter than we thought—weirdly tight. Almost like they’re expecting someone.”
I glance down. Voigt is in a shouting match with one of the soldiers. Doc looks like he’s trying to calm things down. “What, us?”
“If they did, they’d have more of a military presence here.” Levin shakes his head. “No. Something else.”
A gunshot cracks across the air. We all look down as one, just in time to see Grand Master Voigt writhing on the ground, clutching his chest.
“Well,” Wart says. “Looks like things are going according to plan, at least.”