Welcome to Smugglivus 2012! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2012, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2013.

Who: N.K. Jemisin, Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of complex and diverse speculative fiction. We fell in love with Nora’s writing after reading her debut fantasy novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (the first book in the Inheritance trilogy).

N.K. Jemisin The Shadowed Sun

Recent Work: 2012 marked the publication of two phenomenal books from Nora: The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun (books 1 and 2 in the Dreamblood Duology). Thea was blown away by The Killing Moon, and Ana unequivocally loved The Shadowed Sun – needless to say, we are huge fans, and both books will be making appearances on our best of the year lists.

Please give a warm welcome to Nora, everyone!

Hi Smugglers! I’ll say this up front: I’m not going to talk about books in this Smugglivus outing. That’s because I’m working on a new fantasy trilogy this year, and as a result what little free time I’ve scraped out has mostly been devoted to reading nonfiction books about seismology and how societies change under environmental pressure. Which is fascinating to me, and might be to some of you — I know at least a few of ya’ll are Jared Diamond geeks, and be sure to Google up “Jared Diamond Collapse criticism” because thoughtful debate is awesome — but this is Smugglivus, not a scholarly lit review, and anyway I finished grad school a long time ago so let’s just talk about something else.

Speaking of grad school — what got me through it was video gaming. After a long day at work and in a three-hour late-night class on research statistics, there was really nothing more satisfying to do than come home (to the tiny apartment I shared with two other students), boot up the SNES or GameCube (on an ancient barely-functional television propped on a milk crate), and blow the heads off zombies ’til I fell asleep over dinner (of ramen DEAR GOD NO I HAVE TO STOP THIS THE FLASHBACKS). I also really loved thinky, meditative games like Ico and Myst, which served well as an outlet for my creative self in those days, since I had no time to write fiction.

(::shiver:: Yeah, that happened.)

Anyway, I’m still very much of a gamer, even though I have less free time now. I also have less patience for games’ failings, which is why I no longer play some of the franchises I once loved. Still, there’s enough good stuff out there that at least tries not to insult my existence as a human being, or my intelligence as a grownup and a writer, that I keep playing. So on the theory that you care what media us writer-folk are consuming in our spare time, here’s a short list of what I’m salivating for in 2013.

Devil May Cry

Devil May Cry

Not gonna lie: I am a raving DMC fangirl, and I have been since this series began. Are you surprised? Gods and mortals, power and love, death and revenge — ::cough:: Well. Let’s just say it’s got a lot of stuff in it that I’m naturally inclined to enjoy.

Our protagonist throughout this series is Dante, a half-human/half-demon smartass who must repeatedly save the human realm from occult forces that want to conquer it. Given that part of the problem is Vergil, Dante’s angsty evil twin brother (yeah, OK, I know, but sometimes cliches can be fun), there’s a bit of family drama to complicate what would otherwise be a relatively mindless “run around and kill things” game. The latest entry in the saga is a reboot — not that the series needed one, but I’m OK with reboots as long as they add something or make interesting changes to the extant story. After playing the demo at San Diego Comic Con (where I was an Invited Guest this year and yes, it was awesome), and seeing the trailer with its strategically-placed slice of pizza, it’s clear this is going to be the kind of reboot I like. I’m stupidly excited for it, to be honest.

And better still, there’s a forthcoming Downloadable Content (DLC) module for this game called Vergil’s Downfall, which promises to flesh out our favorite angsty evil twin in some interesting ways.

Aliens: Colonial Marines

Aliens Colonial Marines

OK, I hate first-person shooters with the burning passion of ten thousand fiery suns. Playing one feels like watching a horror movie composed entirely of “jump scare” moments — exciting for about thirty seconds, then agonizingly repetitive and predictable for the next two hours. So why am I excited about a forthcoming FPS game? Because this one’s based on one of my favorite movies — Aliens, the second movie of the iconic film series — and its story was put together by three writers from one of my favorite TV shows, the Battlestar Galactica reboot. When I heard about this I was still underwhelmed — ten thousand suns, remember — until I saw the trailer. As far as I can tell, your playable team consists of four characters — two of whom are women, one of whom is black. Since the Alien franchise’s biggest draw for me has been women being awesome in spaaaace, this implies that the new game might actually include some of that.

Of course, for me that means the game will live and die by its treatment of these women, so I guess my excitement is qualified for now. It’s out in February, so we’ll soon see.

Persona 4: Arena

Persona4Arena

(This is out already, I just haven’t had time to play it.)

I also hate fighting games. But hey! I’m trying to step outside of my comfort zone.

And if there’s going to be any fighting game I might enjoy, it’ll be this one, which features the characters from one of my favorite Japanese RPGs of a few years back. The Persona games seem a bit silly on the surface; you play a Japanese* teenager who has to recruit demons to help save the world from occult weirdness. You also — because the games include a hefty simulation component — have to manage your character’s social life to make sure s/he doesn’t become one of these guys. This results in an RPG chock full of wonderfully complicated, three-dimensional characters who wrestle with all the usual issues that teenagers face: sexual identity confusion, oppressive parental expectations, suicide, and more.

But because these games are put together by Atlus, and the developers at Atlus are on the payroll of Cthulhu, the storyline usually veers off into eldritch horror, metaphysical questions, and the real or existential end of the universe. (Also, you might flunk out of school.) My suspicion is that this fighting version of the Persona 4 game will do the same thing, because Atlus. So that, plus the fact that these are characters I care about, might make it a bit more interesting than most fighting games.

* Pay no attention to the American localization of the first Persona game, which whitewashed the Japanese protagonist and added a stereotypical black character. ::sigh::

Remember Me

Remember Me

I haven’t formed an opinion about this game yet, despite the male-gazey trailer that would ordinarily repel me from any game, simply because everything else I hear about it points to a genuinely interesting storyline and solid characterization. I’m also intrigued because the protagonist somewhat resembles Major Kusanagi, and if this is some kind of homage to her that would be awesome. Also, I really, really need to see another game with a decent female protagonist — there have been a few, but I want more — and this one looks like a potential example.

The Last Guardian

The Last Guardian

This one is wishful thinking, because it’s been trapped in development hell for several years now. Still, since one of my favorite game franchises is the series that starts with Ico and continues in Shadow of the Colossus, I keep hoping that this third story in the same hauntingly beautiful world will see the light of day. Maybe if I write about it, it’ll happen.

In the meantime I’ve been consoling myself with Miyuki Miyabe’s Ico: Castle in the Mist, a novelization of the first game that’s out in English from HaikaSoru. It really fleshes out the game’s backstory; highly recommended.

Dragon Age 3: Inquisition

Dragon Age 3 Inquisition

This is highly unlikely to come out in 2013 — although it’s projected to do so — because video games almost never come out on time. Still, a girl can hope. I absolutely loved both prior games in this series, which are everything I want in a game: deep, chewy characterization; complex storylines with a lot of emphasis on realistic sociopolitics; minimal bigotry and bullshit; and dragons. (Really, you can put dragons in anything and I’ll at least give it a chance.) I also love the replayability, which makes me feel like I’ve gotten a good return on my investment for both games. For example, in my first playthrough of DA2 I chose to be a dark-skinned young female rogue with a belligerent personality and a taste for money, power, and angsty men. Another time I was a pensive older white male mage — in a world that treats mages as second-class citizens — who desperately tried to build a safe haven for his family, and failed catastrophically. Same game, but your choices result in a drastically different focus and wildly varied social interactions, in each case. Kinda like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel if it was written for intelligent thirty- and fortysomethings.

If the developers manage to retain even a fraction of the characterization and storyline complexity of the previous games, then DA3 should be awesome.

So that’s what I’m going to be doing this year, in between writing about angry women throwing around mountains. Any other gamers here, chime in: what are you looking forward to in the next year or two?

Thank you, Nora!

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8 Responses to Smugglivus 2012 Guest Author: N.K. Jemisin

  1. Oooh, video games!

    I’m looking forward to Last of Us, the new post-apocalyptic survival game from Naughty Dog. Also, I just got my hands on the Wii U which I’m enjoying but have already finished Super Mario Wii U. I’m awaiting the release of some more games from their franchises.

    I am also a JRPG fan and there’s a few coming out that look interesting: Tales of Xillia, Toki to Towa (2D animated) and of course, Lightning Returns (sequel to FFXIII).

  2. Andrea says:

    Definitely the third in the Dragon Age series. The NPC interplay in the DA stories in unparalleled.

  3. Megan no h says:

    Loved this! I rarely read video game blogs anymore, so I usually have no idea what is coming out/in development. So this was great for me.

    I’ve been fangirling N.K. Jemisin since reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms a few months back and it’s awesome to find out she’s a gamer too.

  4. Carl V. says:

    I saw an extended gameplay trailer for Remember Me a few months back and it convinced me that this is one I want to pick up (provided early reviews show it to be a solid, not buggy, game).

    Very excited about the next chapter in the Dragon Age saga. I have enjoyed the others so completely. It is rare to have that kind of satisfying emotional experience with a game and the other DA games have delivered that, so my hopes are high.

  5. Linda W says:

    Wow. I haven’t graduated past Pokemon! Great post. I salivated when I saw that N.K. Jemisin was the guest author. Smugglivus is great as usual!

  6. Hi Nora.

    I did like Dragon Age 1 and 2. I thought 2 was weak in spots, but the episodic, broad story did allow for replayability, which I kind is necessary for me to enjoy a lot of games.

  7. E.C. Myers says:

    I’m looking forward to Nini no Kuni (Two Countries), a Japanese RPG featuring animation by Studio Ghibli. I’ve been waiting for it for years!

  8. Estara says:

    Since my eye problems started in 2009 I have given up on playing my JRPGs, because I usually lose myself in them and come up after five hours or so and that’s no good. Something had to go, and I’d rather read than game (not to mention that monitor glare is worse on my eyes).

    This as a preface on how I managed to game smallscale quite a bit this year by heavily getting into casual adventure/HOG games.

    And I’d recommend Margrave to you (the last two games of the series are the ones I’ve played) and among those two I prefer The Curse of the Severed Heart Collector’s Edition (because the bonus gameplay lovingly rounds out the story of the main game, even though it is not necessary to feel the game completed).

    I’ll just quote my review:

    I may have played casual games for a year now, but I can’t rightly judge what is easy or hard for other gamers, so here are my bare-bones for why I loved this game (playing on the easiest setting).

    The beautiful song on the title screen with the VW transporter (full song at that – if you watch the credits you get a link to the singer’s website) really sets the tone for the beautifully weird feeling of the whole game, from the graphics to the music to the gameplay (creating those symbols with cards and shooting targets to turn various gears into the correct position I have not seen used before).

    The voice overs are lovely. It all sounded British enough for me, but I’m not a native Brit.

    The cutscenes have this weird – part photographic part drawn appearance that works really well – especially in the flashback scene to the youth of the heroine). And the places and things you interact with … they remind me of … I don’t know… graphic artist Möbius’ sense of the weird?

    The HOD part is fairly average, but the scenes that the HOD are set in can be fun.

    The game alone – the SE ending – is fully sufficient and happy end enough for this slightly melancholic story, but the bonus game gives you more of a sense of completion because the heroine deals with the original curse and its caster in a fitting way (wait for the amazing drawgate guardians).

    Kudos to the graphic artists and designers here, and the sound engineers who mixed up into an amazing brew. I’d buy another game in this vein right away

    I so hope at some point my eye will be fine enough to play more of my JRPGs, though. Until then you can game for me, too ^^.

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