Life Between the Worlds [#36]

I have recently fallen back into an old habit: League of Legends. The eponymous MOBA remains immensely addictive, fun and interesting, but above all else my return (after over a year!) has highlighted that Riot are finally managing to get their world building in order. The lore behind Runeterra was always a big draw for me, leading me to pore over every new champion’s bio pages to find out how they fit into the world and whose stories they might impact. Over time, the original plot of League became a little stale and boring; champions that could simply be summoned from any region of the multiverse understandably felt disconnected from each other.

As a result, Riot made the decision a few years ago to begin reworking the story of Runeterra. Rather than completely overhauling everything, at great expense to time and resources, they have instead slowly been chipping away at the established characters. That leaves some, like my personal favourite Rammus, in a state of unknown origin, whilst others like Urgot have really begun to shine. It also means the in-game lore is a little disjointed, with some bios referencing events or characters that don’t add up, such as recent champion Ornn referencing Volibear as a demi-god, rather than the mortal leader his own bio describes him as. Overall, the effect can be a little confusing, but when it works well it produces some absolutely fantastic fantasy.

For example, in the past I’ve been incredibly interested by the setup of the Harrowing, an event which has it’s routes in Halloween but, over time, has become something far more sinister and interesting. Most importantly from a world building angle it helps to explain a number of the more demonic champions, giving them a shared and interlinked history whilst explaining how creatures of utter darkness aren’t simply ruling this world by now. It adds to the mythos wonderfully and remains the centre of some of the best in-game events they’ve had to date.

So, upon my latest return, I was excited to find another area of lore which has been fleshed out in a genuinely fascinating way. In an attempt to simultaneously develop how magic works within the game and explain numerous “chimeric” characters, the world-builders behind Runeterra have come up with the Vastaya. The full logic behind the decisions has been written up in a brilliant dev blog article, which is well worth a read if you’re interested in world building at all, but the outcome is genius. I love seeing entirely novel takes on something so integral to the genre as magic and, with the concept of the Vastaya and their ancient brethren, I genuinely believe Riot have achieved that.

There are a huge number of explanations for how magic works, yet most fantasy franchises just wave their hands or come up with something that seems like an explanation until you realise they just changed the word (cough Midichlorians cough). The route League has gone down is certainly not completely fleshed out; magic itself remains something ethereal and just naturally occurring rather than having a (necessarily) distinct source. I like their incorporation of ley lines, not because it’s unique or original (it isn’t) but because they have thought through the implications. I love that intersections of ley lines become areas of wilder magic, and that magic even has different breeds or flavours to begin with. That’s a nice touch which, as they state themselves, allows a huge amount of complexity to develop within the system.

Above all else though, the concept of the vastayashai’rei is genius. It’s one of those concepts which I read and instantly wished I had thought of myself. It’s wonderfully simple yet also feels very original (to be clear, I’m not saying it’s genuinely unique, but I’ve never seen it before). In Runeterra, magic is an extra-dimensional energy, bleeding through via ley lines, creating border zones: areas of world which are part magical dimension, part Runeterra. But the dimension in which magic originates is not just the standard swirling, lifeless maelstrom. It’s a functioning universe with it’s own ecosystems and, crucially, life. Whilst improbable, our own planet is proof that life thrives on these biological edges, in the types of habitat that just shouldn’t work. Look at any geothermal pool and you’ll see this effect in full swing. Right where the water reaches boiling point the lifeforms are unique, often occurring no where else on the planet.

When extrapolated out to a mixing of two entirely different dimensions you end up with creatures that have evolved to survive in both. Magical animals that can take physical form. I love it. I love the idea that a creature learnt that it could hop through the ley lines and find sustenance, or escape predators, by doing so. Over time, that developed into a fully functioning race of sentient creatures which could transgress the boundaries between the two worlds. Taking it one step further, the team at Riot realised that such creatures wouldn’t need a fixed physical form, as it wasn’t inherent to their nature. In short, they became shape shifters, creatures capable of adapting the forms they found themselves requiring within the physical world. Throw in a little bit of interbreeding or evolutionary branches that chose to remain on the physical side permanently and you explain chimeras, creatures with evolutionarily impossible physical forms. Sheer, pure, brilliance.

It’s nothing less than incredible that the reason behind this level of ingenuity is a game which lacks any form of story mode at all; there’s no need for any of these musings beyond making the world more entertaining. That’s pretty awesome, too!

Mister Vimes’d Go Spare & Assorted Odds ‘n’ Ends [#22]

Well, back from trip number two, which was a little more relaxing (though a lot more tiring… I do not understand how bodies work). As a result, I’ve actually been reading a bunch of stuff, including some fascinating finds in my Pocket archive, which I just want to get off my chest.

First up is a pretty recent post from Brynn Metheney, a fantastic artist whose work I’ve followed for years. The post details a recent contribution to an interesting project, the Endangered Species Book. That’s an impressive list of artists to be working on a single project and it seems like a very worthy cause. Definitely one I’ll be keeping my eye on.

Next, are a combination of quite old posts that have taken me far too long to catch up on. Both are written by Richard Thornton, a friend of mine who is currently living/working out in Japan (I say currently, but he’s been out there for years now). The first is a brilliant look at sake culture, which was utterly alien to me but now has leap-frogged up my bucket list for the land of the rising sun. The second is a rather more personal account of shaving-procrastination (I can seriously relate) and snowboarding (I have zero life experience to understand this utter madness). Like everything Richard writes, they are funny, inciteful and make me equal parts jealous of his life and incredibly grateful for my own. Perhaps Japan should be the aim for 2018…

Finally, the oldest of the lot, is a short story I saved to my Pocket account so long ago I have zero recollection where it is from or how I found it. Mister Vimes’d Go Spare is an utterly fantastic piece of Discworld fan fiction; in fact, it’s so good that I was almost convinced it had been written by Pratchett himself. The script, phrasing and language is very witty and the overarching concept is so incredibly correct to the voice of the series that it is definitely part of my head-canon now. I almost added it to this month’s MiM, but I don’t feel fan-fic is something I need to keep track of in that way. If you’re a fan of the main series, you should definitely read this – it provides some clever closure on several key themes and characters.

That suggestion does come with a slight word of warning, however: it may get to you a little bit. Personally, reading Mister Vimes’d Go Spare made me realise I have been avoiding reading Pratchett since he passed away. It hasn’t been an intentional, conscious choice but it is clearly one I’ve stuck to. Reading a story that even mentions, and briefly touches on, several of these characters I love and hold so dearly was, at times, surprisingly hard. Not only that, but the core idea at work was, and remains, incredibly powerful. Vimes has always been one of my favourite characters and, I think, the one that has been most influential on my own personality and life. Part of that reason is the character’s understanding of and relationship with the concept of justice. It’s a very nuanced one, yet contains absolutes which have always appealed to me. Vimes and the Watch storylines shaped my own concepts of morality a great deal.

As a result, Mister Vimes’d Go Spare cut close to the bone. The central concept is that, in the wake of Vimes’ death, his ideals and belief in justice take on a life of their own. That shouldn’t be confused with ‘good’ or ‘right’; Vimes never lived in a ‘good’ world, never had much time for something just because it was ‘right’. But there are standards. Some things have to be done, and they have to be done in a certain way. That’s justice. Not making sure the good guys win and the bad guys lose, but making sure that the result is fair and that everything is equal. It’s a very powerful idea. Talking about why I enjoyed the short so much to my partner, even writing this now, and truly contemplating that idea gets to me. It gets to me because I believe it; because, to me at least, it is true. It also gets to me because it is one of those wonderful Pratchett ideologies that feels important and correct; something that is both worth remembering and striving to obtain in our world. And that gets to me because we won’t be getting any more of those. So be warned: it might get to you, too.

The Most Dangerous Way to Write

I have no idea how useful this little web-app may actually turn out to be, but it’s definitely a neat idea (and I wrote all of this in it too!). “The Most Dangerous Writing App” is certainly an odd one: keep writing in the completely streamlined text entry box for the allotted time limit (you set this yourself) or else “die”. Death, in this case, doesn’t refer to some chain-mail-esque curse, but the threat that if you stop writing for longer than ~5 seconds (total time unknown, I conducted a few simple tests but nothing too rigorous) the screen and box begin to fade, a red haze descends and then, ultimately, the “time’s up” message hits. At this point, it isn’t just game over… it’s message gone. Your entire piece of text (all of it) gets deleted, leaving you with a red screen, a red face and nothing to show for the effort.

As a result, I’m not convinced I’d ever want to try a time limit of longer than 5 minutes (which is what I’ve been experimenting with), just in case something went wrong. I’m also not sure what counts as “typing”; I went to correct typos and found it fading out whilst I was still hitting backspace, which was unnerving. Still, it definitely makes you stay focused, which is no bad thing. If that results in greater productivity then perfect, though I definitely felt the stress rising towards the end as the timer ticked down, my mind largely becoming clouded with thoughts of “this would be awful if it disappeared now”.

That said, once the timer has run down the option to Save or Restart becomes available and the risk of losing everything goes away, so I guess it’s probably a very good way of “getting in the zone”. At any rate, definitely worth a look, even if it’s just for some quick writing challenges or to get thoughts out without any formatting worries. Will likely try it out a few more times in the future!

Judging Time

Time, and specifically timing, is a very hard thing to judge and something which is largely overlooked in our day-to-day lives. That’s probably fine for common household chores, such as washing dishes or taking out the trash, but even these can benefit from a little temporal introspection. Don’t believe me? Okay, well, where I live we have two common problems: wild animals (read: gulls and foxes) and a storage heating system*. Stick your garbage bag out the night before and the gulls are likely to come raiding, but I often don’t have time to sort everything in the morning. Timing becomes important. As for the dishes, leave them for the first thing in the morning and you get scolding hot water, perfect for greasy pans; conversely, try and do them in the evening and you might not have enough water for a bath!

I’ll admit these types of examples will change for everybody and are highly subjective. So what about more measurable, universal timing issues? There is a common factoid that Thursday is the best day to upload a video to Youtube. I have no idea if this is correct, but a lot of content creators do abide by it. What about blog posts? Are there preferential days for either publishing or reading articles?

I imagine this will largely be dictated by the demographics that comprise your majority audience, but I also feel it safe to assume that most blog posts are “time-less”**; that is the “when” of reading is much less important as they are time non-specific (this will obviously change if you blog about current events, news cycles etc.). Impact, however, is often largely dictated by that self-same “when” – not the “when” of publishing, but of reading.

Take for example A List Apart, which I’ve been pushing to the bottom of my “to read” list since early December. There’s no particular reason for this decision, I’ve just felt like catching up on other RSS feeds for the past month or so, but that trend ended today. I fired up my feed-reader, opened up A List Apart and scrolled down to the oldest article: Professional Amateurs, Write What You Know (Now). The article is by Mark Llobrera and, as ever, is well worth the time to read through and absorb. It also happens to be highly pertinent, given my recent return to this here website.

Now, I’m not saying I wouldn’t have enjoyed the article in December, but it definitely would not have had the same impact. In the run up to Christmas, an article arguing that I should spend more time writing about the “mundane and obvious”, because everything was worth capturing, would probably have elicited a sage nod of the head and a mental note to revisit at a later date. If it was lucky, I may have saved it to Evernote, then likely forgotten it (possibly indefinitely). However, reading it in early February, at the start of my lunch break, having just found the time to return to blogging resulted in, well, this post. It both sparked my desire to write and gave me fresh ammo, but crucially did so at a juncture when time was available. As a result, the article has had a tangible impact and will likely stick in my mind for many months to come (as well as getting added to Evernote).

It would have been pretty much impossible for Mark to have correctly judged that timing, and I’m not claiming he should have. But it definitely strikes me that thinking about content with regards to the when of its readers is probably worth considering a lot more than people currently do. I may also be stealing the “Technology’s Betrayal” blog category… but that’s largely unrelated!


 

* FYI this means that our hot water/heaters do all their “heating” over night, when electricity is cheapest. Not a perfect system, but another example of optimising timing.

** Mine certainly are!