Renee Collins, one of the author guests at FanX, walked into the green room shaking her head in mild disbelief at an encounter she’d had in the hallway. Someone had pitched his writing tutorials to her, and when she said “no thank you” he said “if you’re a writer, then you obviously know the twelve archetypes, right?”
Our table’s response was a mixture of wide-eyed surprise, and eye-rolling at the bad behavior. And maybe just a little embarrassment. For myself, I know of the archetypes, but I don’t have them memorized, and I certainly don’t work from that list while creating a story.
So I put myself in Renee’s shoes and role-played my answer:
“Of course!” I began ticking things off on my fingers “Joan of Arc, Arc de Triomph, Noah’s Ark, Arc Reactor, The Ark of the Covenant…”
We burst into laughter, and everyone at the table began shouting suggestions. We swiftly added Archimedes, Archaeology, Arc Welder, and Archipelago, and then lost some steam.
“Come on, folks! That’s nine!” I said, feigning panic while waving nine fingers. “We just need three more!”
I think Monarch, Archaeopteryx, and Arkham Asylum finished the list off.
This morning I got to wondering if words, terms, and names with the “ark” sound in them could be usefully mapped onto the actual Twelve Archetypes. And by “usefully” I mean “as a mnemonic.” For instance, “Monarch” maps pretty directly onto “The Ruler,” and if you’re thinking about the end of the 1st Indiana Jones film, “The Ark of the Covenant” can correspond nicely to “The Destroyer.”
Unfortunately, some of my favorites, like Archaeopteryx and Arc Reactor, are harder to plug in. Or at least, I had to stretch them so far that it was easier to go looking for other words.
Here’s what I came up with:
Innocent—Joan of Arc
Orphan—Archipelago (because islands. Eh?)
Warrior—Arc de Triomph
Destroyer—Ark of the Covenant
It’s by no means a perfect list, but now I’ve got it out of my system. And I’m sure it will fail completely when used as a mnemonic.
FanX, the spring installment of Salt Lake Comic Con¹, is this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I’ll be in Artist’s Alley with my friend Jim Zub at tables Berry 5 and Berry 6. Jim and I also have three panels together! My schedule is posted here on the official FanX site, and I’ll break it out for you below.
If there’s Schlock Mercenary merchandise you’d like to acquire at the show, email firstname.lastname@example.org and Sandra will make sure we’ve got it on hand. we’re packing a little light this year, because there’s just not much room at these tables, but that doesn’t mean we can’t bring the stuff you want².
1:00 PM—Why Webcomics Matter, 255E: Aneeka Richins, Howard Tayler, and Jim Zub talk about what twenty years of webcomics³ have meant to the industry, and the world
3:00 PM, 255E—Funny Books Can Actually Be Funny: Howard Tayler and Jim Zub tell you how to write comedy for comics
5:00 PM, 255F—Real Science in Sci-Fi Literature and Film: Charlie Pulsipher, Sarah E. Seeley, John Steiner, Eric Swedin, and Howard Tayler help you put enough science into your writing to sell the story to the reader.
12:00 PM, 255E—RPGs and Empathy: Aaron Burton, Laura Hickman, Tracy Hickman, Whitney Johnson, Josh Lee, Daniel Swenson, and Howard Tayler discuss how role playing games can turn us into better people. For real.
2:00 PM, 255C—Spotlight on Jim Zub: Howard Tayler holds Jim Zub’s feet to the flames and leads the audience in a quest to find out everything there is to know about the enigmatic word-putting storysmith behind the Skullkickers, Wayward, and Samurai Jack comics
6:00 PM, 250A—Writing Excuses, The Panel: Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells talk about writing, and then go meta by talking about talking about writing. Lots of talking, but it’s going to be way more fun than I just made it sound.
We don’t have posted table times yet, but Jim and I will definitely be there a lot, along with Stacy and Sandra. If we’re not there (like, if we need to put food into our selves) we’ll make sure to have a sign up letting you know when we’ll be back.
Artist’s Alley is literally° the first thing you hit if you come through the General Admission door on the south (the left side of the map). If you follow the crowd due north along the avenue between the tables and the booths, Berry 5 & 6 will be the fifth and sixth things you see on your left.
We should be pretty easy to find.
¹ Full name: “Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Experience,” which is too long and kind of confusing. FanX will get you there.
² Assuming that what you want is something we still have in stock at the warehouse, of course.
³ Actually, it’s been twenty-three years. As far as I know, the first comic to be posted online for http access via web browsers was Doctor Fun, which appeared in 1993. But even if something beat Doctor Fun by a few weeks or months, 1993 was when the Web was born, so that’s our start date.
° Two things here. First, we mean “literally” as in “actually.” Not “literally” as in “your head will literally explode.” Which it will not, no matter how cool our tables are. Second, I ran out of alt-key codes for superscript numbers, and was too lazy⁴ to look up the HTML codes for a superscript 4.
There are some things you should know when you consider my review:
I’m a “hardcore casual” gamer. I will spend dozens of hours exploring all the corners of a game, but only if it doesn’t abuse me with unrelenting punishment and frustration for meager rewards.
I loved XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM: Enemy Within.
I can perform basic modding, especially if all that I need to do is edit a text file. (That skill, and the relatively simple server configuration files, were the saving grace of ARK: Survival Evolved for me.)
Here’s the high-level version of my personal experience with the game: I pre-ordered it on Steam, and began playing almost as soon as it unlocked. I began the game on Rookie mode (the easiest of the modes) and after the tutorial the game hung and I had to restart. I tried again, same tutorial mission, and AGAIN it hung. So I went out to YouTube and watched the cutscene that goes between the tutorial mission and actual gameplay.
This, as you might expect, is a pretty ugly blemish on my experience with the game. Right out of the gate I was frustrated, and angry, and bored. The tutorial plays exactly the same way every time.
I began a third game, this time with the tutorial disabled. The first real mission played fine, and I found that like XCOM:EU/EW, the game was pretty punishing if I made a dumb mistake, like trying to advance my sight-lines with the last move of the turn, popping aggro on a new pod of enemies who now get to move *twice* before I can recover.
I lost a soldier on the first mission, which, to be fair, is exactly what I expected.
I was not playing in Ironman mode. I could save-scum, and reload from a save just prior to a fatal mistake or a really bad random result. During my Rookie mode playthrough I think I did that five or six times, but only when something went spectacularly badly, like when the Codex AOE ability was revealed, or when my mouse hiccuped and threw one of my soldiers into a flanked crossfire rather than full cover.
I enjoyed the story, and stretched out my time before running the final missions (the one where Bradford says “there’s no turning back, Commander.”) The final battle was brutal, and delightful. I felt like it was a far better final fight than the one in XCOM EU:EW. The ending of the game was suitably triumphant. Meeting the win conditions gave me cutscenes that felt like an actual victory, even though the world is probably still a mess.
I thought I had the game out of my system, but no, I needed to play some more. So I cranked up the difficulty to “Commander” (the third of four difficulties) and re-played the last few missions that way. It was definitely tougher, but I handled it with no problems.
Then I tried starting a game on “Commander” difficulty. After about six hours of grueling, tedious play I had an absolutely disastrous mission in which my panicked soldiers began very effectively killing each other. Rather than save-scum, I rage-quit. This is the point at which I must either embrace buyer’s remorse, or look into cracking open the config files.
I know I’m capable of eventually beating a non-twitch strategy game, provided I put enough time into it. I also know that this is not how I want to spend my leisure time. I don’t have anything to prove. Come on! I get to make comics for a living. If gamers want to compare fancy-pants, that is what I have hanging in my closet. I don’t need a merit-badge sash covered with Cheevos.
(Chill, gamerfolk. I do respect your cheevos. I just don’t covet them.)
As it happens, the XCOM 2 config files are a modder’s dream. After a little reading I realized the extent of what was possible. I then decided that I wanted the following things:
Legendary amounts of opponents, with legendary hit points and armor, all trying as hard as they could to kill me.
Soldiers who could actually hit things once they flanked them.
A couple more soldiers.
Weapons that do just enough more damage that a solid, non-critical hit will actually kill a base-level enemy.
My next playthrough was on what I like to call “Legendary Super-Squad Ironman” difficulty: Legend, with Ironman enabled, and a wide range of upgrades to my soldiers and their gear. Their equipment was about 25% better, their offense scores were 20% to 30% better, and it took a little less XP for them to level up. They got more grenades (2 instead of 1) and could move an additional square. Oh, and I began with six soldiers instead of four.
I know the hardcore XCOMmers are eyerolling at this. “That might as well be EASY mode.” Sure, whatever. I undercut the game’s ability to destroy me with simple misfortune. The game remained very unforgiving of poor tactics or lazy play. What this meant is that I was consistently rewarded for paying attention, and for playing well.
This playthrough was thrilling. I did not live in anxious terror with every turn. I did get a little sloppy here and there, and on several occasions I got myself into some amazingly awful binds. I lost soldiers that way, but I felt like I had earned the loss. I also had some fantastic superhero moments when a top-level ability like Reaper or Serial turned what could have been a TPK into some wounded soldiers flying home owing the Ranger a round of drinks for life.
If you’re saying “but that’s not XCOM,” feel free to shout at the screen. I spent $75 on something called “XCOM 2”, and I take enormous pleasure in having enjoyed every penny.
(To further upset the hardcore crowd, XCOM 2 doesn’t disable achievements when it is modded. I now have a merit badge sash full of Cheevos, some of which I cheated very carefully for. I still respect your Cheevos, though. Even if I can’t be sure how you got them.)
The first round of DLC is coming out this week. It’s cosmetic stuff—more costumes, more face-paints—that won’t affect game play much, but I did enjoy several hours customizing my soldiers with just the original stuff, so, yeah, I’m in.
What I really want, however, is some new story bits. My dream DLC is a campaign built upon post-win missions in which my top soldiers are teamed up with rookie and squaddie resistance fighters, selected at random, and must mop up chrysalid infestations while saving civilians, and maybe finding pockets of Something Else toward the end.
Whatever it is, though, I’m up for it. I pre-bought the DLC, and plan to squeeze as much joy from it as I can. If that means hacking the config files some more, hey, maybe there will be proper instructions online by then. If not, oh well. I paid for a sandbox, and I do know how to use this shovel.