Sunday, 28 July 2019

Chronicles of Azaria- Explore Azaria via World Anvil!


Hello everyone! So, some of you might remember that I am an author as well as an artist (yes yes I know it's been a while since I've published anything, you can blame my medical training :P). Now that I finally have more time to myself, I have gone back to my Chronicles of Azaria series and am now working on the third novel, The Blessing, which will complete the Goddess Saga of stories. Once I am close to finishing this I will give an update about publishing dates etc.

As you can find out on my Chronicles of Azaria page, this series is unique compared to many others in that it will have four stories set in different time periods. Of course Azaria doesn't stay stagnant during these eras, and so in order to keep things organised and easy to reference, I have created the world of Azaria in WorldAnvil, an amazing website which allows you to craft a detailed, living breathing world and share it!


 Chronicles of Azaria on WorldAnvil

This is very much still a work in progress, and I have not added in all the details of all the eras as it will spoil upcoming story content, but you can browse through Azaria's cities and see what they are famous for, explore the woods and mountains, learn about the infamous Tale of the Binding, and read character bios for the main characters of the Goddess Saga at your leisure!

Want something more amusing? Check out my Encyclopaedia Azaria where my characters will explain to you various pieces of Azarian lore!

Want to build your own world? You can use WorldAnvil's basic features for free- check them out!


Friday, 19 July 2019

How to Design a Fantasy Book Cover

How to Design a Fantasy Book Cover

A cover can make or break a book, regardless of the old saying, and it really is important to invest the time and effort into getting/ creating a brilliant cover (not just a 'good' cover). Here I hope to cover (no pun intended) step by step how I made the book cover for my book, The Binding. I don’t claim to be an expert, but hopefully through sharing my methods you might pick up something useful.




This tutorial is meant for ebook covers. Paperback books for POD are slightly more tricky, and I'll cover some of the differences at the end.

I used a combination of Photoshop CS2 and Elements 9.0 (mostly due to brush compatibility issues), and my Wacom Bamboo Graphics Tablet (not required).

WARNING: This tutorial requires a very strong grasp of Adobe Photoshop. If you're unfamiliar with the software, I strongly suggest you find a professional to do the cover for you. All of the techniques I've used were gleaned from free online tutorials and personal experimentation. However I have been using Photoshop for years for my own artwork, so while these skills can be taught, don't expect to learn them overnight!


Access the tutorial via Pinterest or DeviantArt:






Saturday, 13 July 2019

5 Amazing Art Tricks I Wish I Knew Earlier


So I've been drawing for a number of years, self-taught, and while that does sound impressive to a lot of people, it comes with some drawbacks. Even with the vast resource that is the internet and all the excellent tutorials, hints and tips on various websites (click here to view some of my favourites), there are just certain little things that aren't ever 'taught' per se.

Reflecting on my art journey, I thought it might be helpful to come up with the top five art tricks I wish I'd known earlier. Some of these I've picked up through trial and error, some through online resources, and I hope through sharing them you might pick up something useful!

1. Use references

When I started drawing again in my early teens, I never really got this. I spent most of my time following simple tutorials, drawing shapes and making them vaguely humanoid (proportions and things aside), and not once were references mentioned. I did copy a few screenshots now and then, but was never consistent with it. I was also quite afraid of being accused of plagiarism, as occasionally I would reference poses from other art (you should really use stock photos for this purpose, as I have now learned!).


Copy of a screenshot from the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion

However, a few years ago I came across a lovely post on tumblr that outlined how best to use references, along with a Mark Crilley video. Almost instantly I noticed a huge leap in quality- suddenly my faces looked like faces, and currently my birds have never looked better!


A redraw of an old fanart I did of Squall from Final Fantasy VIII, the old one with no reference and the new one with!

There is a potential pitfall however, in that (as I am at the moment) you can become overly reliant on references and struggle to draw from imagination. This is something I am working on, but don't let it scare you from using references at all, as they make a huge improvement to your work.

2. Try to break things down into simple shapes

This can be easily forgotten, especially if you use references. It is very tempting to 'free draw' what your brain thinks its sees, and it leads to pictures that while they look close to a copy, small mistakes are easy to make (such as not measuring things so proportions are off, or lines don't follow perspective, etc). This is something I have also focused on while drawing birds, and I am getting better compared to when I started.
One of my earlier birds, a kea, I 'free drew', so you can see things like inconsistent feather sizes and a lack of symmetry

This fish eagle I did more recently, and you can see how much more even and consistent the feathers are as I broke it down into shapes first!

I remember when first looking up online tutorials I was often met with the 'shaded sphere' and got quite irritated as it didn't really seem to show me what I wanted to learn. However, this fundamental applies to all art, as if you can break something down into geometric shapes, you understand planes, and understanding this lets you know how to shade.

As simple as this looks, using this as a basis really helps make drawings look more realistic!

Doing this also helps to let you rotate images in your head and draw from alternative perspectives (which helps against the over reliance on references). I am not quite able to do this yet but it is something I am working on!

3. Choose your lights source before applying colour

Possibly one of the biggest fundamentals that I (and many others) ignored! It sounds ridiculous I know, but when you're in the element of colouring you do 'what looks nice', not what is physically possible. Another reason for inconsistent light source also shows up in 'detail pride'- if you do extra detail on a part of a picture that's in shadow, in reality that detail won't show so much as there's not enough light to highlight it.


This rather complex fanart of Leliana shows light reflecting off areas that should be in shadow, because chainmail sparkles dammit!

But come on, you spent so long on that armour, it's too good to make it all dark! So you add light where there isn't any, and it leads to the picture just looking 'wrong'. I also have a tendency to use the same light source (top left casting down), so I do need to branch out and try other sources.

So pick a light source at the start- draw it in if need be- and let it guide you. Sycra has some great tutorials for this so I highly recommend taking a look.

4. Make a background BEFORE starting to colour

This is something I've kinda just picked up. It's almost a running joke in the non professional art community about backgrounds being the weakest part of the image, as most of us hate doing backgrounds and just want to focus on the image. Detailed backgrounds can be tedious and take away from the enjoyment, so often it's left by the wayside...to our detriment!


This Indian Robin looks not a part of the background as it is just a blurred photograph and I added it last

Usually, I would draw the lines for a picture, then colour it in, then slap dash a hasty background at the end. This however can make the colours look wrong, as different colours next to each other make the colour look different (check out this video by Marco Bucci who explains in more detail).

This silver pheasant looks much more part of the same image as I painted it first, which let me add some 'tinge' to the feathers to help it blend in

So, what I've now started to do is slap a few colour textures on the background first, usually in contrast to what I'm colouring, and THEN colour the main image. This makes the background and image sync together much better, and you can also choose better colour highlights to match.

5. Don't be afraid to trace to study

Okay, so obviously don't ever trace another's work or a reference and then claim it as your own (because that is plagiarism), but at the same time tracing can be a useful teaching tool. It lets you 'feel' the shape and flow of your subject, and that can be helpful when trying to replicate it on your own. Copying the 'masters' is also a known teaching exercise so you can see how certain effects were achieved.




It also helps to get the '3D' feel, so you can see for example how the brow bone sticks out on the face, or how the eye socket sinks in, so you can replicate the three dimensional planes on a 2D medium. This was something I learned from Istebrak's art channel on youtube.

So there you have five art tips I wish I knew earlier! I'm sure there are many many more- have you got any hints or tricks you wish you'd known sooner? Let me know!

Thursday, 4 July 2019

New Photography Page!

Just a quick update, I have added a 'Photography' page where you can now enjoy my new hobby, which is bird photography! 

I have been doing amateur photography for several years now, initially through simple point-and-click cameras, before I moved to my first DSLR, the Samsung NX1000 (pictured below), and more recently I have invested in a Canon 2000D DSLR which I have started to get to grips with!






My old Samsung (white) served faithfully, now it can rest as its older, newer, flashier sister takes over!

Even though smartphone cameras have come a long way, nothing can quite compare to the crisp, beautiful images you can get with a real camera, as I'm sure many hobbyists and professionals will agree!

So far the Canon is a fantastic camera, especially as it came with a 300mm zoom lens which has let me catch some great shots:









A small sample of my shots!

If you'd like to see more, please check out my instagram as I learn the tips and tricks of the trade!


Saturday, 29 June 2019

Top 10 Over-The-Counter Medicines You Must Have at Home


So as a GP, I see any and all medical ailments, but many of these can be managed at home without needing to consult a doctor. This does seem to be something of a lost art, and so I've created a list of the top 10 over-the-counter medicines you really should have in your bathroom cabinet. These are all readily available and very affordable, and come in handy when minor illness strikes.

Pharmacists are also highly trained in providing advice, so if unsure about a medication or what might be suitable, do always ask.

If you're taking prescription medicines as well, it's always best to ask the pharmacist for advice before using any of these, as there may be drug interactions, and if need be they can signpost you to your doctor if you require more information or need something prescribed that's more suitable.

Please note this list is for simple self-limiting illnesses- should symptoms get worse or these medications not help, seek the advice of your pharmacist or GP.

Also, this list is based upon what's available in the UK, so I've used UK medicine names and what is licensed here. This may not be transferable to other countries. Further, I do not support any particular brand of these medications over the generic form, the images are just for illustrative purposes.

1. Paracetamol


An extremely useful medicine, in that it both works as a pain-killer and an anti-pyretic (it brings fevers down). It's also one of the safest, having a extremely good side effect profile compared to most medicines and minimal to no interactions with other medications, and is suitable for use in children. The problem of course only comes in overdose, but so long as you stick to the maximum dose (dependent on your age, always check the box instructions), it's invaluable. It's also extremely cheap and readily available and is a must for those aches and pains and raging fevers.

TAKE CARE: Be aware if you are using combination medicines (for example in the UK you can buy over the counter co-codamol, which is codeine and paracetamol together), as you can accidentally overdose if you don't realise the medicine already contains paracetamol.

2. Ibuprofen (Tablets/ Gel)



Another very useful pain-killer, often more effective due to it being anti-inflammatory in nature. It can also bring down fevers and treat most pain. However, unlike paracetamol it does have some significant side effects, such as stomach upset, and taking too much too regularly can cause stomach ulcers and kidney problems.

Topical or cream/ gel ibuprofen bypasses this problem and can be as effective, so for those who can't tolerate the tablet form, are taking a medicine it interacts with or have a history of stomach problems or kidney disease, this is a good alternative. The gel works best when used in conjunction with heat, so applying heat to the sore spot and then rubbing it in is more effective than just rubbing the gel in.

TAKE CARE: As mentioned, if you have any history of stomach ulcers, kidney problems or bleeding disorders, or take any blood thinning medication or certain high blood pressure medications, tablet ibuprofen should be avoided. Consult your pharmacist or GP if unsure.

3. Piriton (chlorphenamine), Cetirizine or any other antihistamine
Not just for the hayfever season, antihistamines are very good for any allergic type reactions or rashes. From insect bites, to nettle stings and more, these are definitely worth keeping around. They also work well for itching, so are good for eczema and other skin conditions that cause this. This is particularly helpful for children, as piriton is a sedating antihistamine and can help with sleeping at night if itching is keeping them awake.

They're also very good for the aforementioned hayfever and can treat the associated itchy/ runny eyes as well, and chronic sinus problems.

Itching is a classic allergic-type sign, so this will also help for itchy rashes.

TAKE CARE: If you ever suffer any anaphylaxis symptoms (difficulty breathing/ choking, feeling faint/ dizzy/ unwell) then seek urgent medical attention, as antihistamines don't work fast enough to treat this. Antihistamines are also not suitable for use in pregnancy unless under close medical supervision.

4. Antiseptic creams
Various brands are available on the market, with Germolene/ Savlon being amongst the most popular in the UK, but they perform the same job. These are excellent for cuts/ grazes and inflamed spots, and can help keep wounds from becoming infected or more painful.

Usually it's best to apply the cream, then put some gauze/ plaster over the area while it heals.

TAKE CARE: If wounds don't heal after 7 days of this, or become more painful/ red/ oozing, it may need stronger prescription antibiotic cream to help, so do keep an eye on things.

5. Decongestants (tablets or nasal spray)


As well as paracetamol and ibuprofen, decongestants are another tool in the set for helping with blocked nose/ viral sinusitis/ colds. These can be very useful to relieve sinus headaches, blocked noses and can provide great relief while your body fights off the causative virus.

TAKE CARE: You should NEVER use these medicines for more than 7-10 days, because then you will get a condition called rhinitis medicomentosa, which is where your nasal passages grow dependent on the decongestant and you will get a rebound flare of swelling in the nose when trying to stop the decongestant, paradoxically causing you to use more of it! If you are still requiring something to stop a blocked nose after 10 days, consult your GP or pharmacist to switch to a steroid nasal spray which is safer to use long term. 

6. Immodium/ loperamide
This is an anti-diarrhoea medicine, very helpful if you have the runs and still need to function day to day. Most stomach bugs are viral in nature and so immodium is a useful support medicine to tide through the worst of these illnesses, which should usually last for a maximum of 10-14 days. It can also be used on an 'as needed' basis for those who suffer with irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhoea predominant, but this needs to be diagnosed by a medical practitioner first so please don't self treat before getting the appropriate investigations confirming the diagnosis.

TAKE CARE: Some bacterial stomach infections can last longer and taking immodium can make symptoms worse, so certainly if you take this and feel worse, or your symptoms don't get better in the expected time-frame, see your GP.

7. Senna/ Fybogel



Flipping to the other side of the bowel spectrum, constipation is a very common complaint. While good fibre intake and good fluid intake are perhaps more important, there are some good over the counter medicines that can help loosen things up. These can be particularly useful if you are already taking a medication that causes constipation, such a codeine.

Various preparations are available, from senna tablets to fybogel sachets, so you can take what suits you best.

TAKE CARE: If you have symptoms of bowel obstruction (vomiting and unable to pass wind or open your bowels at all and a very swollen belly) you must NOT take senna, and should seek urgent medical attention.

8. Gaviscon/ Rennies/ Nexium/ Milk of magnesia
Sticking with the gastroenterology theme, these medicines are antacids that are very effective for treating indigestion and heartburn. Gaviscon is also good for chronic laryngeal irritation caused by acid that can often cause a dry cough. Gaviscon is also safe to use in pregnancy which is a plus as heartburn is a very common complaint at this time, as the pregnancy hormones cause all the smooth muscles to relax (hence why acid doesn't stay in the stomach and can reflux into the oesophagus [food pipe]).

It can also be useful to take these medicines with ibuprofen (so long as you don't have any other medical reason not to take ibuprofen) as this will help protect the stomach. 

TAKE CARE: If your symptoms don't settle with these medicines then it may not be acid reflux causing things- seek advice from your GP if the medicines don't seem to be working or you notice other worrying symptoms such as swallowing problems, weight loss, or if you've suddenly developed reflux-like symptoms over the age of 40 when you never had them before.

9. Anti-fungal creams/ steroid creams/ moisturising creams




Many creams that were once only on prescription are now available behind the counter at most pharmacies. Amongst them are anti-fungal creams such as clotrimazole, useful for thrush, athlete's foot and ringworm, and mild steroid creams such as hydrocortisone which are useful for flares of eczema or other inflammatory skin conditions. And even the humble moisturizer, from E45 to Aveeno, is also very useful to control dry skin.

Most pharmacists are trained to recognised common skin conditions so do consult their advice so they can guide you to the most appropriate treatment.

TAKE CARE: It is very important to get the right diagnosis of the skin problem first, as for example skin infections will get WORSE if you put steroid cream on them! Pharmacists are trained to help with this, and if there's any uncertainty they will direct you to your GP. Also, in this day and age of Dr. Google, it can be tempting to try and find a matching image of your rash online, but many rashes can look the same, and the diagnosis and treatment wildly differ depending on context, so please see your GP to get an accurate diagnosis, else you very well may make the condition worse.

10. Tubigrip/ joint supports


While not technically a medicine, these are arguably just as effective and necessary for minor sprains and joint aches. We all lead active lives and any number of strains can happen, whether we're out walking the dog, playing football with friends, or even going to the summer sales. Support bandages are very good for immediate treatment, as they form the 'C' part of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) which is the treatment regime for any sprain.

Nowadays you can get joint specific supports from all chemists, supermarkets and even pound shops, but tubigrip is more universal as you can simply cut this to size (and have the correct widths for wrist, ankle, knee etc) and use it for any joint.

The best way for tubigrip to be supportive is to make sure it covers almost to the joint above (so for wrist, it should cover from the knuckles of the hand to almost the elbow, and for ankle it should cover from below the toes to almost below the knee), and it can be reused in future if need be.

TAKE CARE: Using supports for too long can make joints get very stiff, so only use them for a couple of weeks following an injury and keep active while wearing it. Pains persisting longer than this, or if things get more painful instead of improving, will need a GP to assess further.



And so there you have it- ten essential medicines you should keep at home for the inevitable minor mishaps that happen as part of life, along with their potential pitfalls and cautions. I hope you've found this post informative, and if you'd like more medical posts from me, let me know!

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Favourite Female Video Game Protagonists (Part Two)


Welcome to part two! I strongly recommend looking at part one to see numbers one through five of this top ten list of my favourite female video game protagonists.

So let's plunge right in with...

6. 2B (Nier: Automata)


 

Rather wonderfully some new games with female progatonists have come out in recent years, so I don't have to rely on the same four games anymore. Yay!

Spoilers however will abound, so you have been warned!

So one of the newest ladies on the block is 2B, a battle android of the YoRhA organisation. Humanity has had to escape Earth and is now living on the moon, using a series of battle androids to fight the alien robots who have taken over the planet in the Machine War. The current iteration is the 14th War, and 2B is one of the lead assault models sent on various missions with her companion 9S, an android who takes the form of a teenage boy.

Now Nier: Automata's amazing story aside, 2B has more layers to her than first appears. Initially she comes off as the 'stoic soldier' type, disregarding 9S's shows of emotion and wanting to focus on her mission objectives. She dislikes 'small talk', makes no effort to appear approachable or friendly, even to her fellow unit 9S. It also seems this is the protocol of most androids, to not show emotion. But as you play further, you see there is a lot more to her.

2B actually has quite a fondness for 9S (in some in-game dialogue she slips and uses his nickname 'Nines', though quickly downplays this!) but this plays into her actual role, and it devastates her. For 2B is actually 2E, a model made to kill scanner models (such as 9S) when they get too close to discovering the truth that humanity is in fact extinct, and the Machine War is a farce propagated to allow the androids to still have purpose. Thus 2B is helpless to change her fated role, and harbours a lot of anger and sadness that she can't ever express. She also grows very protective of 9S, particularly when the machine lifeforms Adam and Eve attack him.

Of course most people will comment on 2B's outfit and point out that it is a bit absurd that a futuristic android super soldier should be wearing gothic lolita, but the obvious sex appeal this is meant to generate is quickly overshadowed by her character progression. The various reveals in the game are very eye-opening, and show there is more to 2B than first appearances would suggest.

7. Lightning Faron (Final Fantasy XIII)



Another controversial entry! Lightning remains my favourite video game character of all time, but not many people share that sentiment. The 'XIII' Final Fantasy games and their sequels and spin offs were overly ambitious and there's been some serious backlash against it. From the linear gameplay in the first game, to the un-asked for sequels that bloat the lore and star one of the most unpopular characters (Serah), the XIII games do have quite the reputation.

However, something not so often mentioned is Lightning herself, the so-called 'protagonist' of the game. While she features prominently on the cover art and most of the marketing, I have to say that I feel her potential was squandered, especially in the first game. Thankfully, the sequels (via a lot of convoluted plot) do give her the development she deserves, so I'll be focusing on that.

Like 2B, Lightning fits the 'stoic soldier' trope, but she has a much more fleshed out backstory as to why. After losing their parents at a young age, Lightning stepped up to be the guardian for her younger sister Serah, and as a result pushed her feelings aside to grow stronger for this. But this led to distance between her and Serah, a distance that led to the events of the first game. Here, their peaceful life in Bodham is rudely shattered when an ancient god-like entity called a Fal'Cie is found nearby. Serah also accidentally stumbles onto this being, and it brands her into a l'Cie. This is a fate worse than death, as if Serah completes the task the fal'Cie has set her, she'll turn to crystal, and if she fails, she'll become a Cieth, a lifeless golem of stone.

Due to the lack of closeness in their relationship, when Serah does get the courage to tell Lightning this, Lightning is dismissive, and thinks it's a ploy to get her to approve her marriage to Snow, a vigilante 'hero' also living in Bodham whom Lightning despises.

But when events in the early game show Lightning that her sister was telling the truth, and she watches Serah turn to crystal before her eyes as she herself is also branded, Lightning is completely blind sided. Caught in a mix of regret, anger and fear, she tries to create a purpose for herself. Now hunted by the military she was once a part of, she decides to fight back and attack their head base, the Sanctum, but in doing so she loses her way. So intent on this plan, she neglects another 'casualty' of the fal'Cie branding, a young boy named Hope, who latched onto her for protection. Lightning doesn't want him tagging along, and this eventually leads to an infuriated outburst, where she declares she can't babysit him.

This however leads to her confronting Odin, her Eidolon (who is sort of acting as a manifestation of her feelings). After she overpowers Odin and becomes his master, she relents on her prior words and promises to take care of Hope. Gradually she does mellow out through the game, even becoming friendlier with Snow as they fight to save her sister and the fate of their world.

Towards the end, though, she is mostly overshadowed by the side characters Fang and Vanille, and her role in the story diminishes significantly, but she does have quite a strong arc, even in just the first game.

In the sequel, Lightning is removed from history by the goddess Etro, who felt sorry that she and her friends were going to be turned to crystal. As a result of this, though, the timeline is warped, and Lightning becomes Etro's protector and asks for her sister Serah to help set the world right once more.

Unfortunately this backfires, Serah dies, and Lightning blames herself. Once more she retreats into herself, sealing herself in crystal for 500 years, until she is awoken by Bhunivelze, the god of the world, to guide souls to a new world as the old one is going to be destroyed.

Thus in the final game, Lightning Returns, Lightning is forced to confront herself again. Her isolation and severing of feelings has estranged her from her former friends, and she struggles to even find compassion and warmth for her sister. So, at the end of the game, Lightning finally realises that her philosophy on life is not a healthy one, and that it's no weakness to ask others for help.

So, although the two sequels basically rehash the same lessons Lightning learned in the first game, I did enjoy her full arc. She grows from isolated, aloof warrior to a more caring, open and kind woman who has finally learned not to fear how she feels. She's also shown to make mistakes- not believing her sister leads herself to becoming branded, her initial attempts to deal with this nearly kills Hope, and she indirectly encourages his revenge quest against Snow. Later, her judgement of choosing Serah to help her leads to Serah's death, and she is deeply affected by this.

Nonetheless Lightning presses on, accepts her errors after some reflection, and this makes her more fleshed out that some of the characters I've spoken about from earlier games.

Lightning also isn't tied down with a love interest- instead her development comes from her relationship with her sister, something practically unheard of in most media (until Frozen, I don't recall of any other mainstream story where the sisterly relationship was the focus). This is also unheard of in the Final Fantasy franchise, which makes it really stand out.

So while her games may be despised, and while I feel she was mishandled as a protagonist, Lightning will always hold a special place in my heart.

8. Jade (Beyond Good and Evil)



Another lesser-known game but now something of a cult classic. Jade is a investigative journalist, and she also helps care for orphaned children in her lighthouse home along with her uncle Pey'j. She is thrown into a dangerous investigation to uncover a conspiracy about the Alpha Section, the supposed security force that is protecting the populace against an unknown alien threat.

Jade is a very likeable protagonist. She's resourceful, selfless and smart, very curious and can defend herself when necessary. She is willing to take dangerous risks to uncover the truth, as well as saved her kidnapped friends. Once more she probably falls to the more serious side on the personality spectrum, though she does lighten up with her friends and with the orphaned children at home. She's also very caring- something that's yet to have come up with my previous characters.

Like most of the protagonists from older games on here, Jade doesn't get a full development arc, though much of this was perhaps left for a future sequel (which never saw the light of day, until very recently). Despite this, she is definitely memorable, and has become a beloved character in her own right.

9. Chloe Frazer (Uncharted: The Lost Legacy)



Okay this is technically cheating, as Chloe is a side character in the Uncharted series, but she is the protagonist of her own spin off game so it counts!

Now right off the bat, I will admit I am not a fan of the Uncharted series. I despise Nathan Drake as a character (his entire personality is a character type I just personally can't stand), the game play has poor parkour sections and I am personally not a fan of cover shooters in general (I don't like it in Lost Legacy either!).

However, what drew me into Lost Legacy was that the story centred around India and the god Ganesha, which instantly captured my attention as I'm Hindu and it's rare for media to look into this region. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that without Nathan in the picture, I was able to enjoy these characters and their story!

Chloe is certainly a breath of fresh air, and is no Lara re-skin. A thief, Chloe is underhand, sneaky and willing to use any means to get what she wants. She can also be quite reckless and spur of the moment. However, behind this ruthless and somewhat selfish persona lies someone who is also deeply caring and can show a softer side to those she trusts (granted that's not a lot of people!). She has a troubled relationship with her late father, who although she loved was often absent on expeditions, which put a strain on her and her mother.

Her story in Lost Legacy has her following her father's final trail, where he was trying to find the lost tusk of Ganesha, but he was unfortunately killed during this. All she has is a small statue of the elephant god which he gave to her as a keepsake. So unlike her previous exploits, she has a more personal stake in this one. And while her tricky and ambiguous nature does grant her the ire of her much more straight and to the point companion Nadine Ross, they work through their differences and end up fighting together against the antagonist.

Now I'm not too familiar with Chloe in the main Uncharted games (other than she was Nathan's former girlfriend), but I enjoyed her a lot in Lost Legacy. She's flawed and doesn't always have the best morals at heart, but in the end she does choose to do the right thing, particularly in this story given the close ties with her family. I also liked her friendship with Nadine- another thing a lot of media tend to shy from. Hence I am glad to add her to my roster of favourite females!

10. Aloy (Horizon Zero Dawn)


 

I bet you thought I was going to leave this one out! Aloy is the protagonist of Horizon Zero Dawn. Set many hundreds if not thousands of years into Earth's future, the world is a totally different place. Humans band in clans, and technology is an unusual mix of archaic traditions and lost technology.

Aloy is born into this world under mysterious circumstances, and as a result, she is made an 'outcast' by her clan leaders. Aloy is thus given to fellow outcast Rost to be raised. Wanting desperately to be accepted into the clan, Aloy trains for 'The Proving', a chance to be accepted into her clan for good.

And on her sixteenth birthday, her chance arrives. But despite winning the Proving and her place in the clan, they are attacked, with Aloy being the prime target. Also losing her foster parent Rost as a result, Aloy ventures out of her secluded homeland to find the truth about herself, and the lands beyond.

Aloy is a wonderful lead character, highly skilled with a bow and with an open curiosity that is quite the antithesis to her clan leaders. She is not afraid to learn about ancient technologies and widen her understanding, and she has a charming wry wit about her as well. She is also kind-hearted and willing to help those who need it, which makes her more endearing, as well as fearless in attacking her enemies. She's more cautious in her approach as well, not throwing herself in recklessly (which is a bit of a contrast to her early years when she was more headstrong). This results in a very level-headed, smart character, though she can lose her cool in emotionally heated situations.

Her main drawback however is that she lacks somewhat of a real character flaw. So while she develops in terms of her backstory and standing up for her convictions (such as rejecting an honoured title her clan gives her upon learning her significance in the world), there's not much else she overcomes to become more whole as a person. And while there are hints at close friendships becoming something more, it's not really explored much. Despite this however she definitely has made her mark, and it will be exciting to see where her story may continue should sequels come.

So those are my favourite female video game protagonists! While not all of them have the depth or development I'd like, they do form a good bunch. As you can see, newer games are pushing to be more narrative driven, and as a result the characters, including the female ones, are becoming more complex, nuanced and developed. I can only hope this trend continues, and we get treated to more great female characters in future!

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Favourite Female Video Game Protagonists (Part One)


As a writer (yes I do that alongside the art sometimes!), I feel it's important when writing characters in any media to make them compelling and interesting. Trouble seems to arise however when that character is female (for some unknown mythical reason...). It's often a roulette wheel of extremes, where we either get a damsel in distress or a one-woman army badass (with the latter often getting turned into former), and nothing in between.

It seems as though female protagonists can't be 'characters', but have to be some kind of common trope to dangle like a carrot in front of representation-starved audiences with no further thought put into them. This results in flaccid, dull and repetitive characters, and while arguably many male protagonists are just as stale, there's quite the discrepancy in numbers of female to male main characters in pretty much all media, so it's much more noticeable in the former.

However, there are some writers who've come up with varied and interesting characters who so happen to be women. So in this post I want to talk about ten female video game protagonists who really appealed to me. They might not be amazingly deep or be the best role models, but I still adore them, and am very glad they exist.

I am limiting myself to only video games I've played (so no Terra Branford from Final Fantasy VI or Aya Brea from Parasite Eve, sorry). The one criteria I have is that the character in question HAS to be the protagonist of their game (not a side character).

1. Skye (Darkened Skye)


 

This game has a very poor reputation, mocked for its premise of promoting Skittles (product placement at its finest?) and the fact that the game itself is quite buggy and glitchy. But I adore protagonist Skye and the tongue-in-cheek fourth wall breaking humour the game sports.

So, what does our leading lady have to show for herself?

Skye is a lowly 'dwentil' (read: kind of fantasy sheep) herder, who carries with her a mysterious amulet given by her mother who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Wishing for a more interesting pursuit and to find the answers to her missing parents and who she really is, she comes across a Skittle (yes, I know, bear with me here), which unlocks her magic potential. Along with wise-cracking gargoyle companion Draak, she sets out to restore magic to the land, defeat the dark evil, and discover her true destiny.

So, on the superficial level, Skye definitely fits the 'badass female protagonist' and doesn't have the most original set up (with her missing parents backstory and her wanting self realisation), but she does show some nuance. To start with, she has various flaws, such as how she is not confident in her abilities (an in game quote reflects how she can't even keep her eyes open when jumping!), shows genuine fear at times, and can miss the obvious. She also sports a lovely sarcastic sense of humour which (particularly at the time) was rare to see in a female character as it was more akin to the 'male rogue' archetypes.

On the downside, she doesn't really show or get much development (apart from her skill set), nor does she show much emotion outside of her sarcasm (then again that could just be a coping mechanism). She also ends up with a love interest (but oddly enough it's flipped such that he's the supporting male who doesn't overtake or overshadow, and in fact he himself needs rescuing, which is a refreshing switch of roles!).

Despite that, she remains one of my favourite characters, and it's a shame not more people know about her.

2. Zanthia (Legend of Kyrandia 2)


 

Another PC game protagonist, Zanthia is the lead character in the second of the Legend of Kyrandia series. I played this without playing the first one (who stars a male protagonist called Brandon), but they're sort of stand-alone enough that I didn't really miss much apart from some backstory context.

Zanthia is a member of the Magic Council of Kyrandia. After the events of the first game, pieces of the kingdom start randomly disappearing, and she is selected to go on a journey to the centre of the world to get an Anchor Stone to stop this. Zanthia is a master with potions and portal magic, but when she returns home to make a teleportation brew, she finds her equipment stolen and destroyed. Thus she has to go on her journey the hard way by foot and prevent Kyrandia from vanishing forever.

Zanthia did appear in the first game as a minor character, but I'm going to focus on how she acts in this one. She is generally confident in her abilities, is fairly intelligent and cunning (she is able to trick guards letting her through a gate by baiting them with their favourite food, sandwiches), but she does come across as kinda lazy, not really wanting to go on this quest and not really seeking adventure. She also gets many humorous moments where she gets fed up as every problem she solves is soon replaced by three more, but her resolve never breaks. One of my favourite moments is towards the endgame- she has a mechanic where she changes her outfit in every new area she enters, and at the end she changes into a Rambo-esque getup with combat trousers and red bandana, as now she means business!


Now she's really mad!

Like Skye, she also has a male supporting character, Marko, but in a world where real magic exists, he's just like a real-world magician, only able to perform tricks and illusions. He's also quite bumbling in an endearing way, and the more he helps, the more he hinders! Again it's a refreshing reversal, but Marko gets his moment at the end where he helps Zanthia (note helps, not saves) defeat the real threat, showing that he is good for something, at least.

Zanthia does get a small amount of development, realising that her laziness can work against her, but she doesn't really undergo any significant change. I'm not sure if she appears in the third Kyrandia game, but I thoroughly enjoyed her in this one.

3. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)


 

Ah, the iconic gaming heroine of a generation! Lara Croft is instantly recognisable and is a household name, particularly at a time when there was perhaps only one or two other female leads that well-known (Samus from the Metroid series comes to mind). She has had two main iterations- her original form back when the first Tomb Raider games were released, and her current iteration following the 2013 'reboot' series which takes a much more serious and grittier tone. While I've played both series, I will be focusing on her reboot character, as it's quite different and arguably more interesting.

The new games focus more on the survival element rather than simple adventure, and as this series is supposed to 'prequel' the older games, it's showing how Lara develops into the Tomb Raider heroine of her later years.

Lara starts off as a intuitive but somewhat naive researcher, somewhat burdened by the tarnished reputation of her father, but determined to prove herself. Once she ends up shipwrecked on the island of Yamatai, however, she's forced into deadly situations where it's kill or be killed. Lara thus has to come to terms with fighting for her own survival, even if it comes at the cost of the lives of others, and has to learn to open her mind to the supernatural forces that exist in these ancient places.


Becoming the legendary Tomb Raider...

Lara has great development in the first two games, steadily maturing, growing confident in her skills and deductive ability, but her obsession with answers and the truth pushes her away from her friends and allies. The third game sadly doesn't quite execute on this as a thrilling conclusion, mostly due to poor pacing and a weak villain, but the themes are still there, with Lara finally learning that answers aren't all there is to life and she learns to take life less seriously.

Lara as a character is also not stuck within her gendered role- apart from one 'implied rape' scene near the start of the first game (where a male villain approaches a tied-up Lara in a suggestive fashion) there's nothing that specifically happens to her on account of being a woman. She has a close male friend called Jonah, but they're not forced into a romantic relationship, and do enjoy a genuine friendship. This is so very rare to see in any media so kudos to the writers for implementing this (well, until they dropped the ball quite badly with the third game and tried to shovel in some companionship moments that came across as too forced for me).

While many fans of the old games don't like Lara's newer more serious incarnation, I personally adore it. It shows proper development, Lara isn't overly sexualised (well, not as much as in her older games at least), and she can just...be, without being defined by her gender.

4. Bayonetta (Bayonetta)


 

A potentially controversial entry! There have been many who have complained about the overt sexual nature of Bayonetta, but look a little deeper and there's more to her than that. You also have to see her in the greater context- while it may be an issue as there are not a huge amount of female protagonists, there are still others out there who are different, and so having a diverse female cast, where one can flaunt her sexual nature so confidently, is no bad thing. A little like the original Lara Croft...

Bayonetta herself is a very fun character. She's playful by nature, flirtatious, and can look after herself thank you very much. A stark contrast in personality to reboot!Lara, and this is part of what makes her so enjoyable. She is also confident in herself and her abilities, and doesn't end up tethered to a love interest, either. She doesn't care what others think of her or what she does, yet still retains an alluring charm.

While she doesn't undergo much in the way of development (the rather over-the-top flamboyant plot doesn't really cater for such in-depth character arcs), it's her confidence, determination and playful tongue-in-cheek humour that make her stand out. She is also willing to overcome her lack of willingness to take responsibility for others (for example, she initially is reluctant to take care of the young girl Cereza, but does act to keep her safe regardless). Bayonetta certainly isn't your selfless heroine, but she still chooses do the right thing when called for.

Her bravado does also conceal a deeper part of her, given her relatively lonely existence as one of the only witches left alive and that fact she doesn't want to let anyone close, as she'll outlive the human companions she's made. Not to mention the complicated relationship she has with her father...

Regardless, Bayonetta is definitely on the fun side of the spectrum, and contrasts nicely to...

5. Alexandra Roivas (Eternal Darkness)


 

Perhaps not as well known as some of the others on my list, but Alex Roivas is a great character. Granted she is only one of two female characters of the twelve character roster, but she is the protagonist, and is able to carry on the work of her late grandfather as he delved into the dark mysteries of the old family mansion. She is intelligent, somewhat reserved, brave and level-headed, which makes her well suited to her task. She doesn't fall for the same tricks as her predecessors, and as a result is able to win victory against Pious Augustus, the antagonist.


Don't let him get to you, Alex!

We don't know much about Alex, other than she was brought up by her grandfather after her parents died in an accident. However Alex has lived away from home for a while, having to fly back to the family mansion on learning about her grandfather's death. While clearly upset by events, it only serves to drive her determination for answers. She even dismisses the attempts at flirting by the detective on the case, her goal and purpose set.

Alex thus falls onto the more serious side of the character spectrum, and again doesn't have much development (I'm seeing a bit of a theme here...). She also arguably doesn't show much of a personality, as she is mostly alone for the duration of the game with no other characters to bounce off. Of course that's part of the horror of the game, being isolated and alone (though it takes the efforts of twelve chosen throughout history working together to win the fight), but even so, Alex can come across as little more than a player avatar, as her own personal choices don't really affect the story or reveal much about herself. But her sharp wits, strength of will and courage do make her likeable, and it's always gratifying to watch her finally defeat Augustus at the end of the game and get the revenge her grandfather deserved.

That ends part one, stay tuned for part two where I go through the next five female protagonists (and thanks to some newer games, they're not from the same tiny pool I had to draw from before!)

Who are your favourite female protagonists? I'd love to know!