How all of my SW:TOR characters ended up as ladies

inkyI’m not sure that I’ll have time for a full writeup this weekend, so I decided to offer up a discussion I posted to my Tumblr last week. In most games that allow male or female character creation, I try to keep the ratio of characters I build fairly even (Mass Effect being a key exception: Jennifer Hale’s FemShep is so much cooler than generic space-marine BroShep). While I tried to keep that balance for Star Wars: the Old Republic, I eventually ended up with heroines straight across the board. The second character I rolled was a beefy Zabrak Republic Trooper, and at different points I had a male Bounty Hunter and Imperial Agent as well. But eventually I discarded each of these in favor of fem versions. The reason had less to do with plot or aesthetics and everything to do with character relations, specifically with the characters’ female companions.

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My lady Trooper is likely the best example. Though I already had a male trooper, I couldn’t not make a femTrooper after I learned that Jennifer Hale is her voice actress. I deleted a Jedi Sage that I’d recently made in order to free up the character slot, then set about making my buff, scrappy, cyborg Heroine of Havoc Squad. Playing through both the male and female Trooper stories, I preferred my heroine’s interactions with Elara over the big Zabrak dude’s every comment sounding like he’s trying to get into her pants. I guess I didn’t feel like my male Trooper was good enough for the affection Elara kept showing him, and eventually I deleted him. The same fate befell my male Bounty Hunter for much the same reasons regarding Mako.

sniperI find these stories of strong women supporting each other more interesting than turning these well-written heroines into some fluffy, predictable romance for some generic space soldier, white knight, dark lord, space spy, or gunslinger. I haven’t finished my Jedi Shadow’s story, but I like Nadia’s hero-worship of her already. My Sith Warrior leads Jaesa down the path of the Dark Side, even while helping Vette find her long-lost family. My Jedi Sentinel quickly became Kira’s confidante and helps her cope with her trauma at the hands of her former Sith Masters. Mako looks up to my Chiss Bounty Huntress like a big sister and keeps her patched up after a fight, while my Huntress treats Mako as an equal and encourages her crush on Torian. And Kaliyo remains enthusiastic about ‘blasters and girl-talk’ and offers verbal high-fives when my Miraluka Sniper puts a bolt between some Republic soldiers’ eyes. These are smartly written character dynamics that I would love to see more often between women in storytelling in general.

sith_vetteAdmittedly, I’m still sometimes disappointed that romances aren’t available between my awesome heroines and their kickass partners-in-crime. I mean, Kaliyo admits to being bi, and Mako flirts far more confidently with my femHunter than with the male one I rolled for a while. And I really feel like any of the female companions could make terrific girlfriends with their respective heroines. But regardless, I like the existing friendship dynamics and remain content with them as kickass sisters-in-arms. (Plus, it helps my Jedi gals stay to the Jedi Code: I think I’d find Kira or Nadia’s advances much harder to resist than Doc or Therin’s.)

Anyway, that’s just my thoughts on the characters and character dynamics. Feel free to agree or disagree. Regardless, thanks so much for reading, folks! Take care, stay awesome!

knight

(Yes, my Imperial Sniper is blind. She’s also huge and buff. All screen caps taken from gameplay.)

 

 

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Oskara, by Tony Foti

oskara

Oskara, by Tony Foti

“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.” —Thucydides

Hiya, folks! Sorry this is a little late. I started it during last night’s overrated sports event, but didn’t get the chance to finish until now. I realized I haven’t showcased any of Tony’s art in a while, so I picked four of his characters I’ve wanted to write about and rolled a d4 to decide. It came up 2, which was this stellar battle-armored Twi’lek bounty huntress for Star Wars: Edge of the Empire.

What I love most about Tony’s Twi’leks is the lack of sexualization. Though I’ve no objections to Oola as character in Return of the Jedi, that she’s an abused slave dancer who ultimately dies for her master’s amusement I feel set an unfortunate precedent for the objectification of Twi’lek characters for the Star Wars fan base. Thus there are few things in the Star Wars universe that please me more than portrayals of Twi’leks as powerful, smartly dressed characters. Oskara the huntress looks to be both.

oskaraThe mighty Oskara’s primary protection is a durasteel battle cuirass for heavy combat against Black Sun enforcers or Imperial shock troops. Her spaulders should keep her shoulders and upper arms safe from Gamorrean vibro-axes or hits from Stormtrooper carbines. Her breastplate features ablative plating for shrugging off small-arms fire without sacrificing rotational-flexibility while laying down heavy ordinance. Her wired gauntlets keep her forearms safe and contain controls for her suit’s settings and/or other weapons. Interestingly, her gloves seem to be fingerless for unhindered gun play while on the hunt.

Rather than a helmet, our heroine wears a targeting device with a left-eye heads-up display for better targeting in a heavy firefight. Durasteel pauldrons protect Oskara’s hips from blaster fire or disabling melee attacks. Her pants are similarly armored for heavy protection to her legs, knees, and lower abdomen. Under the armor, our heroine wears a flexible black bodysuit for unhindered combat movement.

Oskara seems to be ‘loaded for bear,’ to use the old colloquialism. She’s set up to fight high-powered targets who pack battle armor and heavy ordinance of their own. I suspect her massive gun is either a rapid-fire blaster for heavy assault against armored or entrenched opponents or an anti-vehicle gun for battling light walkers or armored landspeeders. In other words, our huntress is after big-payoff, high profile targets, possibly with Imperial or Hutt protection, not some petty bandits or small-time spice-runners. Stellar portrayal and character design, all around.

Huge thanks to Tony for use of his huntress. Feel free to check out his online galleries and Facebook page. Thanks for reading, folks, and have a productive February. Take care and stay awesome!

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Game Armor Analysis: Valkyria Chronicles

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Valkyria Chronicles, by Sega

So I started playing Valkyria Chronicles again here recently and thought I’d do a writeup on the armor and uniforms the infantrywomen in the game. Valkyria is a period-fantasy Anime with World War II technology and aesthetics. The story is decent, with smart turn-based combat and lovely graphics and artwork. Along with strong, quirky heroines, I like that the male/female ratio of NPC squad members is 50/50 or close to it. Additionally, the squaddies all have their own personality quirks and backstories for players to learn more about as the story continues.

The story centers around Gallia, a tiny, resource-rich nation, caught in a war between two super-powers. When the Eastern Europan Imperial Alliance invades to gain control of these resources, the Gallian people are forced to rally to defend their homelands. Protagonists Lieutenant Welkin Gunther and Sergeant Alicia Melchiott lead Gallia’s Squad 7 against Imperial forces.

The five character classes are shocktroopers, scouts, lancers, snipers, and engineers. I’ll cover the standard women’s uniform for each class. Uniforms are Gallian blue and made of durable material for combat or traveling. Women wear a durable outer shirt with a dark-grey, long-sleeved turtleneck underneath. Their pants are the unusual but not impractical combination of shorts over leggings. All of our ladies wear gloves to protect their hands during gun-play, knee pads for kneeling behind sandbags, and leather boots with padded gaiters to keep their legs safe and dry during trench combat.

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Shocktrooper Wendy Cheslock. Shocktroopers are heavy, frontline infantry deployed for holding fortifications or storming enemy entrenchments. Armed with an assault carbine, Wendy and the other heavy infantry specialize in close-quarters fighting on the battlefield.

As such, shocktroopers are generally under constant fire, needing the heaviest protection in battle in order to close with the enemy and use their carbines to maximum effect. Metal spaulders allow Wendy to lead with her shoulder when charging Imperial infantry, deflecting shots and cushioning blows. Connected to her spaulders are two small plates on her upper chest. Her lower arms and hips bear similar plating, suggesting an armor design that relies upon the combatant keeping her gun held low and one side facing her enemy at all times. Wendy also wears spare ammo clips on her belt and carries rations, grenades, and Ragnaid healing devices in her backpack.

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Scout Nancy Dufor. Scouts are a quick, medium infantry that sacrifices some of the trooper’s protection for mobility in battle. Though not as fast, our scout’s bolt-action rifle features better range and accuracy than the trooper’s carbine. Though not ideal for storming fortifications, Nancy’s mobility allows her to scout enemy lines and flank their entrenchments quite effectively. As a medium unit, scouts can also hold fortifications better than anyone but the shock trooper.

Nancy’s spaulders are noticeably smaller than Wendy’s, but are flatter across the top to allow our heroine to lift her rifle to her shoulder better. Her leg plates, meanwhile, are positioned more toward the front, offering better protection when running or kneeling. Foregoing the weight of a backpack, Nancy carries her ammo, grenades, healing devices and binoculars on her belt, for quick access on the run.

elysse

Lancer Elysse Moore. Lancers are a heavy, anti-tank infantry who carry a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher, styled after medieval lances. Having to face-off against enemy tanks, the lancer of course needs the heaviest armor available. As such, however, lancers are also the slowest infantry units in Squad 7. Though one blast from a lance will drop most infantry units, their lack of accuracy against smaller targets makes them less than ideal for holding or storming fortifications.

Elysse wears a large shield on her left arm to protect from enemy bullets and shrapnel from tank shells. In the manner of Alexandrian pike soldiers, lancers wear their shields on the upper arm instead of lower to keep the shield from interfering with their aim on enemy tanks. Their hip plates are identical to those the shocktroopers wear, and for the same reasons. As their lances are heavy, they’re unable to carry a secondary weapon, relying entirely on their lances, grenades, and Ragnaid in combat.

catherine

Sniper Catherine O’Hara. Snipers are long-ranged infantry used for dropping enemy infantry at impressive distances. Despite being a light unit, they move about the same rate as the shocktrooper, perhaps sacrificing mobility for accuracy in combat. With minimal armor, however, snipers are the most delicate unit in the game and work poorly for capturing or holding fortifications.

Catherine’s only armor appears to be padded gloves and a single leather shoulder pauldron to prop her rifle against. She also carries an ammo baldric and extra pouches for grenades, Ragnaid healing devices, or even binoculars. Her primary weapon is a long-range, bolt-action sniper-rifle featuring a variable-zoom scope for pinpoint accuracy.

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Engineer Dallas Wyatt. Engineers are a light, support/utility infantry. Like in most games, engineers perform a myriad of duties such as replenishing ammo, building fortifications, repairing vehicles, and holding entrenchments. Their mobility makes them invaluable for distributing ammunition to lancers and snipers and for rescuing wounded comrades. While almost as delicate as the snipers, engineers are almost as mobile as a scout and can perform recon and flanking duties competently when need be.

Lacking in armor, engineers work best when partnered with other squadmates (girls preferably, in Dallas’s case) and can be vulnerable when left on their own or in the open. Engineers carry the same rifles as scouts, with similar accuracy and killing power. Additionally, their hip pouches and backpacks carry spare ammo for their squaddies, grenades, entrenching spades, pliers, spanners, Ragnaid, and various other tools to aid Gallia and Squad 7.

If I were to make one recommendation for all of the squaddies in the game, I would insist that they wear helmets. While Wendy wears that knitted beanie, Nancy wears a tam, and Alicia wears her trademark handkerchief, none of Squad 7 wears a helmet or other head protection in combat. I mean, I get the importance of hair design in Anime, but I kind of feel like they could have kept the hair styles for their training- and profile-pictures and given them proper head protection in battle. Beyond that, decent uniforms, all around.

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Bonus image of Squad 7 standing ready to roll out (image source, click image for larger). On the whole, I enjoy Valkyria and definitely recommend it to anyone who’s into Anime and/or squad-based combat. As always, thanks so much for reading, folks! Take care and stay awesome!

Valkyria Chronicles logo is property of Sega. All screen captures taken from gameplay.

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Ulfen Guard, by Akeiron

ulfguardUlfen Guard, by Akeiron (art direction by Andrew Vallas)

“Their rage and pride is focused on a sharpened point.” —Attila: Total War, in-game lore

Happy 2017, lovely readers! I hope everyone had a stellar holiday season, regardless of what holidays you celebrate. Starting the new year off with this stellar spearwoman design from the always-awesome Akeiron.

So, of the handful of Norse words I know, ulf is their word for ‘wolf,’ which to me says a great deal about our Ulfen guardswoman, in terms of both character and world building. As wolves had sacred significance in Norse culture, it’s possible that the Ulfen Guard are clerics or guards of the temple of Freya. As wolves are pack hunters, it’s possible the Guard are huntresses, patrolling the countryside for brigands or tracking fugitives from justice. As wolves are powerful fighters, perhaps the Guard are bodyguards for the local Earl or elite infantry for the Olaf. As wolves can be nomadic, it’s even possible that the Ulfen Guard are a mercenary company, fighting as sell-spears for the highest bidder. Our heroine’s armor and equipment are perfectly suitable for any of these roles.

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If I were to guess, I’d suspect our heroine’s fur cloak came from some variety of arctic wolf, perhaps a trophy taken from a successful hunt. Regardless, the fur pelt should keep her warm though the biting northern winters. Our lovely wolf’s cuirass is a fur-lined or fur-trimmed leather with studded steel disks sewn into the padding. The leather should provide effective deflection against arrows and spears while the studded plates help absorb blows in heavy melee. A leather skirt helps keep her hips and upper legs similarly safe, while loose wool pants allow for quick movement over arctic terrain and solid stances when fighting on the shield wall.

Leather gauntlets keep our guardswoman’s fingers warm and well protected during heavy spear-play. Her hide boots, meanwhile are thick and insulated for long treks through deep snow. Our heroine’s primary weapon is a long spear for goring wild boars or orc brigands, with a short dagger for backup. Her shield protects from axes and arrows and works great for knocking around marauding snow-goblins.

Another huge thanks to Akeiron for the use of his guardswoman for the blog. Please feel free to check out his other online galleries. Thanks for reading, as always, folks! Take care and stay awesome!

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Season’s Greetings, 2016!

drows3More Santa’s Dark Elves!

Not much to report at the moment. Just wanted to wish my lovely readers a joyous holiday season. Take care and thanks so much for reading folks! Stay awesome!

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Intrepid, by Sir Tiefling

intrepid1Intrepid, by Sir Tiefling

“Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.”
—Sun Tzu

Hi folks! I realize it’s been a few weeks since last I updated, and over two months since I offered a regular writeup. For which I apologize. I’ve been focused on a lot of other things all at the same time and was just never really able to get my act together to work on the blog—despite how important this blog is to me. To maybe make up for it and to celebrate the winter season, I’ve lined up several winter heroines for discussion over the next few weeks. My first is the intrepid Emrah, by Sir Tiefling.

So I’m pretty sure I thought Emrah was an Eowyn fan art the first time I saw her. She’s a stellar shield-maiden design. And to be honest, she kind of looks like Miranda Otto. Though, having read Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion recently, I notice our heroine also matches Paks’s description fairly well. Or she could be a Celtic adventuress. Or a Viking adventuress. She could be a soldier, scout, warrior, bandit, guardswoman, militia, infantrywoman, paladin, mercenary or raider. She’s an all around effective design for just about any kind of fighting adventuress.

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A sturdy leather or woolen hooded cloak keeps our heroine warm and sheds the snow during travel or combat. Emrah’s chain-mail shirt offers flexible protection from brigand clubs and goblin knives in the thick of a melee. I like as well the heavy wool shirt beneath her mail, for both warmth and armor-maintenance. She also wears a long battle skirt of pliable leather to protect her legs from frostbite or sword-bite. If I have one recommendation for the overall ensemble, I’d suggest making the cloak and perhaps the skirt fur-lined for additional cold protection.

Our heroine’s gloves are durable leather for warmth and protection without hindering her swordsmanship. Her pants are simple woolen tights, loose for effective movement in combat. Lastly, her boots are durable leather for traversing rugged, snowy terrain. Her primary weapon is a standard longsword with a dagger for backup. While it’s possible our heroine might dual-wield with the dagger in her off-hand, her armor and ensemble don’t really lend themselves to the high-dexterity movement and quick footwork that dual-wielding tends to require.

While, to me, the outfit suggests either a solo combatant or member of an adventuring party, it could work just as easily for a soldier in any kind of mercenary or infantry company. It’s a smart, all-purpose outfit for an adventuress on the go.

Another huge thanks to Sir Tiefling for the use of his art for the blog. Thanks, as always, for reading, folks! Take care and stay awesome!

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Book Review for Of Fire and Stars

fireandstars

Quick review for Audrey Coulhurst’s Of Fire and Stars. (Illustration by the always awesome Nate Hallinan.) Smart, brave heroines: check. Girl-love: check. Murder-mystery that threatens to spark a war: check. I’ll try to keep from being too spoiler-y, but I realize my track record for that isn’t the best.

It was Nate’s charming illustration that first drew my attention to Fire and Stars. It’s how I ended up buying it for my Kindle on the release date and reading it over the next two afternoons. On the surface, Stars is about two smart princesses trying to solve a murder-mystery in order to prevent a war. And if that isn’t cool enough, there’s also a lot going on beneath the surface: politics, arcane-phobia, and fear-mongering that our heroines have to contend with.

Princess Mare is kind of that tomboyish-horsewoman (cowgirl-ish?) archetype, more interested in riding or having a few drinks with the guards than in courtly pursuits. She loves riding more than anything and knows all the secret ways in and out of the palace. Though the other characters accept Mare for the way she is, few of them really respect her or acknowledge her skills and smarts. The other members of the court look down on her, convinced that she’s frivolous and never going to find a proper marriage with her attitude—and, sadly, Mare worries that they’re right and undervalues herself because of it.

Princess Denna is more the bookish type and is in an arranged engagement to Mare’s useless tosser of a younger brother. D is one of these unfortunate princesses who has been in a political engagement since she was a baby, and her life has been training for her future marriage. Additionally, Denna is a magic user trying to keep her powers hidden. Though magic isn’t universally reviled in the story, the kingdom she’s marrying into views magic users as dangerous heretics. Denna’s greatest fear is failing at both.

When a nobleman close to both heroines is murdered, Princess Denna and Princess Mare learn to respect each other’s abilities and work together to solve the murder and save their kingdom from a needless war. Naturally, they’re going to fall in love. (Not a spoiler so much as an incentive.) Yes, I recognize there are a number of popular tropes at work within the characters and story, but I felt like they were smartly applied in ways that kept the story charming and engaging.

I think what I liked best about the story was Audrey’s effective use of the trope where a street-smart character and a book-smart character discover that they work really well together. I felt that it was applied effectively and consistently throughout the story, and that both princesses had excellent opportunities to demonstrate their smarts and skills. Additionally, it means a lot to me that both see value in the other’s knowledge/skill set. Mare immediately sees the usefulness of Denna’s understanding of arrow trajectories, research smarts, and historical knowledge. Meanwhile, Denna respects and admires Mare’s courage and worldliness and even goes out of her way to learn from the older princess. Plus never do they compete or try to show off to the other or to anyone else. It’s a charming dynamic that I feel is woefully underused in fiction in general.

I liked as well that being gay or bi was treated as something normal in the novel’s world. Throughout there are references to men dancing with men, noblewomen having flings with serving women, and same-sex marriage as a recognized union. Princess Mare is openly bi and admits to trysts with men and women before meeting Denna. I appreciate that the societal pressures that keep our heroines from admitting their feelings for each other center around Denna’s arranged engagement to Mare’s brother.

Thus I love how in the end, it’s our princesses’ feelings for each other that helps each accept themselves, despite the societal pressures placed upon them. Denna’s love and acknowledgement helps Mare accept herself and acknowledge her own identity and value as a person. Mare’s love and acceptance shows Denna that her magic isn’t something to be afraid or ashamed of, and that there’s more to life than being the perfect wife and princess. Though the murder-mystery brings them together and gives them a chance to display their skills, it’s their growing affection and acknowledgement of the other’s wisdom and bravery that helps each learn to love and acknowledge themselves. It’s an uplifting dynamic that I’d love to see more often in fiction.

If I had one minor beef with Of Fire and Stars, it was an overuse of that trope where most of the adult main characters are either stubborn and ineffectual or secretly villains. In fact, about the only adult character who takes both princesses seriously is the one whose murder sparks the main conflict. And it’s not so much that I felt the trope was badly applied (I mean, I get that Denna is the new girl who doesn’t know the workings of the court, and everyone is used to not taking Mare seriously). I just felt that it was over-applied. I felt that too many of the authority figures were overly resistant to the the idea that the evidence was problematic. It was to the point that I was half-convinced that the murder was a conspiracy and all of the grown-ups were in on the assassination.

Wow, so much for a ‘quick’ review. Lots to say, apparently. On the whole, I loved the story and definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy or wlw romances. It’s smart and uplifting, and I’d love to see more tales like it. Thanks for reading and take care, folks!

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