An exposed nerve, part four: baggage check

Last time in this series found me completely repulsed by the presence of creepy crawlies here in my new hometown of Austin, Texas. However, since then a couple of things have developed as regards this matter.

One is that quite a few people have commented publicly and privately to me about their own experiences with insect issues specifically in new areas that they’d moved to. There’s been more engagement with The Long Shot audience on this than just about any other content i’ve ever created. Kind of a mixed bag really, since i’m more or less just rambling on about myself rather than any sort of organized work or journalism efforts.

The most impactful story came from an old high school friend of mine who, like several others, expressed to me that they think it took a lot of guts to make a big move like this on my own. Those sentiments have been nice ego boosts, for sure. He also related his own bug story, which culminated in cockroaches that “literally flooded out of the woodwork,” and resulted in completely filling multiple zipper storage bags with their collected dead bodies.

Others have noted that a preponderance of bugs is just the way it is in the South, with my cousin who lives in Tennessee laughingly noting that i got off light – his house has an ongoing issue with brown recluse spiders!

In light of stories like those, my problems were much more than manageable. In the intervening time, i’ve seen less and less of these unwanted guests. Maybe once or twice a day i’ll spot one who didn’t get my memo and needs a one-time reminder of my policy: i see you, you die.

Baggage1

But, i already went over my bug problem at length. The topic i want to go over today is tangentially related though, and that’s about baggage – both physical and intangible.

In a way, it is related to the bugs in that, as part of my efforts to alleviate the problem, i aimed to minimize the amount of my stuff that they could get into. Arriving here as i did with no furniture to my name, i had only a number of duffle bags of various sizes to hold my meager possessions. After unpacking the essentials, there remained some stuff still bagged up, placed on the floor of my walk-in closet – a risky proposition that i felt would undoubtedly become a dark home for the vile creatures.

What was left in these bags? During a particularly thorough cleaning session i decided to curate them in hopes of consolidating the contents.

  • Wireless headphones for online gaming
  • PSP i borrowed from a friend and forgot to return
  • Posters i got from Gen Con that are still rolled up awaiting frames
  • Poster by John G, also still rolled up
  • My Funko Pop figures, waiting for a place to be displayed
  • Important Paperwork (title to my car, W-2s, etc.
  • AP Stylebook and The Newspaper Designers Handbook
  • Blank checks (that i’ve had for years – who needs to write checks anymore?)
  • A very small “collection” of comic books
  • A copy of Lacuna Part 1 that i hope to someday actually play
  • 2TB external hard drive
  • Several notebooks
  • Mementos of my ex-girlfriend

Primarily, i had one large duffle bag, a holdover from Venice Beach where friends and i retreated to after evacuating Big Bear due to wildfires way back in 2003. Inside of it like a Russian nesting doll was a small bag, which held a small bag and so on. Lots of bags, lots of opportunities for enterprising insects to colonize.

Going through all of the items, it struck me that i was carrying around a lot of baggage within this baggage in the form of the last bulleted item on that list. Cards, letter, little notes, a notebook detailing the scoring for hundreds of Vs. System card games, photos, tokens from places we’d been – even a book of unredeemed “coupons” that i’d vowed to use in full throughout my lifetime (things like getting to choose which movie to see, a full hour massage, etc.).

Full disclosure: my ex and i haven’t been together since 2013. Yeah, i’m that sentimental. i had never been in a relationship that long – 9 years – and letting go of that has been a very long process for me that still continues to this day. It does not matter how many people advise me to forget it and move on, how many times i hear this, it’s one of those things you have to do on your own, in your own time and way.

In the early post-split days, i would often sift through these items and wonder how this had come to be that we were no longer together. Sometimes i would cry, sometimes even without looking through this stuff. How could someone say all of these wonderful things and then leave it behind them? Or aim to live happy, long lives together and abandon that? To say i often felt unloved, betrayed, devastated are understatements. It was sharply painful for a long, long time, retreating to a duller pain as i slowly grew beyond the situation, eventually arriving to an ache that strikes every so often.

It is what it is, and one of the things i’ve made a focused effort towards since arriving here in Austin is altering my perspective. One of my worst habits is a tendency to alternately dwell too much in the past, or worry too much about the future. These days i try very much to focus primarily on the present because, of course, the past cannot be changed and one can only plan so much for what lies ahead. Also, ignoring the present to look ahead too far seems to work against you anyway, because you might miss important things that have an effect on it like opportunities.

In light of all of that, i separated the things i wanted to keep that had a real use in the present from those that i was carrying because they either had value in the past or potential for the future.

In one pile was everything on the list save the last item. In a second pile was the bags – possibly future cockroach homes – and the mementos of the love that i’d lost. For a time, i hemmed and hawed over the two piles. Then i realized two things. The first is that, i’d experienced everything represented by those mementos. They weren’t artifacts from another lifetime, they were a part of my life. The second is that they had no real power other than as a physical representation of a period in my life. The meaning they held is already a part of who i am, and shouldering the tangible weight of these things as i travel through life would not change the past, the future or who i am in the present.

So, with what i always imagined would be a heavy heart, but which turned out to be a lightened spirit, i placed all of those items into the smallest bag, which i put into another bag and so on until the largest held nothing items which no longer served any purpose. That is not to say i no longer put any emotional value on what was inside, only that their value was already ingrained into what makes me, me.

And into the dumpster it went.

That was about two weeks ago. Since then, and i can’t say there is any empirical evidence of correlation, but there has been a significantly noticeable reduction in the appearance of skittering bugs in my apartment, and there’s been a shift in my relationship with my ex. We have continued to remain friends all these years, a friendship that i place a lot of value in, and since unburdening myself of the physical and emotional baggage i feel like i’ve moved forward and grown a bit independently simply as myself.

*****

Like the other posts in this series, i’m curious to learn about what similar experiences readers have had when it comes to past relationships. i’m aware that my progress post-split has been extremely slow going, but at the end of the day i am happy to arrive at any mental or emotional states in my own way.

Lest i have painted a darker picture than i’ve intended for regular readers, my time here in Austin so far has gotten better and brighter each day. The feeling of being an exposed nerve has greatly diminished as i’ve settled into some routines, explored the city, started work and delved fully into my natural geekiness. The other topics i plan to cover to finish out this series will shed some light on that.

In parting, i’ll leave you with the well-known portion of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam A.H.H. that rings as true for me as it has for countless others since it was set into words in 1849 and before that as simply a matter of human nature.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I feel it when I sorrow most;

‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.

 

An exposed nerve, part three: living in the “capital of cockroaches”

In the last installment of this series, i made it to Austin unscathed, signed the paperwork for my humble studio apartment in what i believe is called the North Austin neighborhood, and did a little settling in.

Then my anxiety started rising considerably due to self-doubt, questioning if i’d made the right decision and my personal favorite, worrying about money. None of these things are new territory for me, but it was certainly intensified by being in a new place by myself, quite a long distance from my comfort zone in Cleveland.

Nevertheless, the familiarity of falling into these thinking traps makes them somewhat manageable. Again, i told myself the worst thing that could happen is i’d have to shuffle on back to Ohio, to the safety net of friends and family, and start things over…again.

But then i was set upon by the skittering of creepy crawlies once the sun went down, and a whole new level of panic was reached. i mean, i was positively freaking out. It’s not like i’ve never seen bugs in any apartment or house i’ve lived in. They’re just a part of life.

But roaches? In numbers? No.

The big ol’ cockroach i’d slain in the motel the previous night was one thing. First of all it was a crummy motel i was staying one night in. And second, from what i understand those big ones typically enter singly from the outside.

In my new Austin apartment however, there are what i’ve since learned are brown-banded cockroaches, and it is far from comfortable to see one, two, five or more on the walls around your dinky inflatable airbed, imagining them crawling over you while you sleep. Do they bite? Will they investigate my ears, nose, mouth? Would my cat be safe?

i was absolutely disgusted and panicked by this unforeseen turn of events.

On a side note, i would learn later through Internet research that, at least at one time, Austin had a reputation as the “capital of cockroaches.” But the Texas Monthly article that discussed the matter is from June 1976 i noticed, so there was hope that the situation had changed. Unfortunately, the ignominious title was supported elsewhere by the “fun fact” that Texas is the cockroach capital of the U.S. – home to 32 different species.

Terrific!

Based on my phone log, panic-stricken calls and texts were made first to my mom, my two closest friends, my dad, my brother and my ex. They each began with me explaining that i just did not feel right about being here and that the following morning i was very much considering turning right back around and driving home.

All of them were generally supportive, of course, and agreed it was gross and that something needed to be done about it on the landlord’s end. My mom and friends were sympathetic to my strong desire at that moment to cut out right away. In between calls i’d actually put most of my stuff back into my car, if only to avoid these awful insectoids from finding new homes in my meager possessions.

My dad, with whom i haven’t had much of a relationship with in the last…30 years?…was also sensitive to the situation. He told me about the early years of his marriage to my mom (they’ve been divorced since i was in kindergarten) when they lived in Virginia where he was stationed with the Navy. They, too, had a roach problem in the little apartment they were able to afford, and he joked that they used to set an extra place at the dinner table for them. He suggested i try to stick it out for at least a week and see how i felt after that. He also advised me to talk with my brother, who he said was a pretty smart guy (which i’m certain my brother would agree with). Before i’d left for Texas, we went out for dinner and had a really good time. i am happy since then, we’ve been talking a lot more and building some kind of relationship – better late than never right?

My brother lives in Florida, where he moved about 8 years ago. Over the intervening years, he’s mentioned a couple of times that he’d considered moving back to Ohio because he hadn’t made many friends down there or basically put down much in the way of roots. He most recently came to visit in January, after my grandma had died. Coming to Cleveland from Florida in the dead of winter was quite a shock for him, and he was appalled by the bitter cold and rundown appearance of the eastside suburbs we’d grown up in. Once back in Florida, he said he’d realized that the Sunshine State was his home now, and he felt more comfortable there than in Ohio. His visit was a net positive for his life down there. He took it as a sign to try and get out more and connect with people more, and is now even considering becoming a first-time homeowner down there. (i guess it’s more “over there” from where i am now in Texas.)

Anyway, he told me about how he was nervous and scared when he first got to Florida, too. Coming from him, a tough guy if there ever was one, that was somewhat of a relief to hear if only because it made the problem feel more relatable. When he moved there, he was wife his wife (they’ve since divorced) and he said i had some big balls to make this move all on my own to begin with. In his place, there are plenty of bugs too, including things like millipedes that he’s woken up to them crawling across his face or in his beard. He described various uncomfortable places and situations he’s been in, that it’s just a part of life and seconded what my dad said about sticking it out at least for a little while to see if things get better. After all, i would just be going back to a situation i wasn’t happy with in Ohio either, where it is also very cold – the weather being one of the major deciding factors in potential places to relocate to in the first place.

Perhaps the most poignant thing he said though, was to put it this way: if someone from Austin moved to Eastlake, Ohio and got an apartment on Vine Street – what would they be thinking on their first night? Apologies if you’re unfamiliar with those points of reference but, that made a lot of sense to put it that way.

There was still one more conversation i’d been hoping to have, and that was with my ex. We have remained in friendly contact over the last three years since parting ways in our relationship, even though a lot of people have advised me of the foolishness of that. Regardless, i still value her perspective and was hoping to hear from her. But i wasn’t holding out too much hope though, because frankly i hear back less and less from her. i guess that’s just moving forward, and i’m admittedly behind in that regard but it is what it is.

She did call me back though, and in her forthright way basically said it would be a mistake to turn around and leave so quickly, or at all. She is quite familiar with my anxieties and longtime desire to establish myself in someplace other than where i grew up, and like my brother, told me she was scared when she moved away to go and start a fresh chapter of life in California, where she stays with her sister, sister’s partner, mom and a menagerie of various animals. She also said that if i was ever in dire financial straits she would be happy to help, but if i’m honest i hope to avoid that circumstance – with anyone. i really would like to get by on my own, and if things get tight i’ll do my best to deal with it.

So, eventually, i got to sleep. Essentially, i was just so exhausted that i could no longer stay awake and my tired body did not have a chance to lay there thinking about the potential of bugs any more that night. It had been a very long three day stretch with a lot of driving, staying in crappy motels, stressing out about money and insects and second-guessing myself, feeling homesick.

The next morning, i marched directly down to the management office and let them know about the roach problem and that they had to do something about it right away. They explained that pest control comes every Monday to inspect empty apartments, and they’d have him check mine out when they came. They were surprised to hear about it, because not only had the previous tenant never mentioned anything about bugs, but the place had been treated as a routine matter the Monday of that very week.

In the meantime, i headed out and got not only a bunch of roach traps to put all over the apartment, but also a bag of food grade Diatomaceous earth, a powdery substance that is supposed to help against crawling bugs like roaches. All along the baseboards throughout the apartment, i spread the stuff and hoped for the best. i also make it a point to eliminate any bugs i see at any time, having since become accustomed to the distinctive *pop* of their chitinous bodies when squished inside a tissue.

i vacuum twice a day, Swiffer daily, Clorox wipe surfaces, put all my food in containers, never leave dishes out and empty the trash fastidiously. i got that foam crack-sealer stuff and used that in a couple of places, too.

The Friday after i moved in (a week and one day later) they had a more advanced pest control person come and treat the place again.

It’s now the Monday after that treatment, and i do continue to see them at night, but in less numbers overall. It’s my understanding that for a little while after treatment, they can become more active.

Hopefully, this problem will go away completely soon. If it persists, i’ll just keep the office informed and maybe they’ll have to treat it again. At least they are not dismissive about the issue, and doing what they can to correct it. i’m not happy about it, but i am happy to be here in Austin and i like the new job i started last week. So, i’m making the best of things.

*****

Are you totally grossed out? Ever dealt with bug infestations in your home or apartment? This is a first for me, and although i am dealing with it and it is getting better, it’s still icky and of course i never want to see another bug inside my home! When my lease is up in March 2017, i hope to be much more familiar with Austin and in a better position to find a different place to live. Until then, i’ll keep adjusting and finding the positives about my life here, and don’t get me wrong – there are many!

My apologies for the lack of photos, videos and stuff on this post. i’m pressed for time today and wanted to get this posted, and also did not want to share gross images of bugs and creep people out (including myself!).

This exposed nerve series will be wrapping up pretty soon, with just a few more things to address. Next time, i’ll share my experiences getting rid of baggage both physical and emotional, then tell you about gaining my footing my footing here on several fronts and finally how the new job here is going.

As always, thanks to everyone for reading my longform posts all the way to the end, leaving comments and likes, sharing and letting me know when you find things relatable.

 

An exposed nerve, part two: panic! at the disco, sans disco

The first part of this series, taking a long shot of myself as regards relocating from Cleveland, Ohio to Austin, Texas, got me almost all the way through the 1,388-mile road trip.

This part finds me arriving in town and then proceeding to begin a total meltdown.

i went to sleep happy and awoke the same way. Not another crapshoot motel stay! A relatively short three hour drive! At the end of it, the swanky studio apartment discovered and arranged for through grand master-level Google-fu, accessible only after signing a couple of forms and it would be all mine!

GoogleFu

It was during this leg of the journey, the last one, that i began taking note of all the cars whizzing past me on the highway. Every one of them was much nicer than mine. Not a hard feat, mind you – i’ve never been one to invest in a solid automobile, instead prescribing to the philosophy that they’re just a means to get around. Also, i’m cheap, already in debt thanks to school and years of irresponsibility, and of a mind that i’d rather buy used, drive until beyond reasonable repair and repeat. i mention this only to help illustrate that, amongst other emotional instabilities, self-consciousness over my social status is one of them.

Nevertheless, i made it without incident and headed inside the apartment management office, Cosby’s carrier in tow, to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. We did a walkthrough and the place looked nearly identical to the photos and 3-D tour i’d looked at online about a million times. Disappointingly though, it does not have faux hardwood floors throughout – there is carpeting in the half-wall cordoned off bedroom area. That was a bummer.

After unloading all my stuff (a few duffle bags, armfuls of clothes on hangers and a bicycle), i set about putting unpacking. During this process i noticed, as is inevitable in these situations, that online photo galleries and even first looks often mask all the little defects and faults in a space like cracks around the windowsills, shoddy caulk jobs in the bathroom, jangly water faucets and the like. Also, the stove did not work.

In other words, not the perfect pristine palace my hopeful imagination informed me the place would be. Took a quick walk over to the office to tell them about the stove, but they were out for 30 minutes.

Still, i had my lists: “How i’d like to decorate,” “What i want my living space to look like,” and so on. Before getting too deep into interior decorating though, there were plenty of practical items to pick up like a shower curtain, cleaning supplies, some groceries and who knows, maybe get crazy and get a chair to sit on.

Off to Target! Ah, Target, the bastion of consumers everywhere. Fun fact: the poverty line is the line beneath which you shop at Walmart instead of Target. i’m kidding of course. Why would i shop at Walmart when i’ve got a Target Redcard?!

Before heading out i shot a quick email to the HR contact at my new job to let her know i’d arrived in one piece and was enthusiastic about starting work in a few days. It was late in the afternoon, and it was a pleasant surprise to get a quick reply from her welcoming me to Austin and recommending a couple of places to check out. Her quick, friendly and personable communication throughout the whole process is one of the things that most impressed me and made me feel good about this endeavor.

It’s worth noting that, back in Cleveland, it was around 20 degrees and snowing while i set about my move-in day errands in sunny 70-degree weather, my Northeast Ohio winter-thickened blood escalating what back home would be a perfect day to borderline uncomfortable. Not that i’m complaining – i’ll take feeling warm over bone-shivering cold any day.

Back at my modest studio apartment with non-list worthy decor (although i did find a teal, fabric-covered padded chair for $12 – a much better option the the WWE-style folding chair i might otherwise have wound up with), i felt pretty good overall. Pizza was in the oven, Newcastle was chilling in the freezer and i wasn’t sitting on the floor in a completely empty apartment.

This general satisfaction was not to last.

For a bit, i was preoccupied putting my bicycle back together in riding shape. A minor setback of some piece of the front brake line snapping off was a drag not only because i had no idea how to fix it, but also because it meant i’d have to finagle the bike back into my car, this time without taking the front wheel off, in order to get it to a bike shop for a repair. It would not have been difficult to fit without the tire, but then i’d have the same problem back at home trying to put the brakes back together.

The downward spiral began in earnest while partaking in what to me is the quintessential move-in day dinner (the aforementioned pizza and Newcastle). i was doing some figuring for the umpteenth time on my budget, what all my bills were and what my income would be.

My chest tightened up like Bigby’s Crushing Hand had been malevolently cast on me and i rolled a 1 on my save.

bigby

Bigby’s Crushing Hand is a D&D spell. Imagine me in place of that umber hulk there.

What if i can’t make ends meet? What if i fall behind on my bills? What if i get deeper in debt? Fail miserably at this endeavor? Wind up with nothing? Was this a big mistake? Maybe this whole job offer was bogus, some sort of cruel prank – and i’d just signed a year lease. Did i jump the gun? Take the first offer that came along too readily? These and many, many other insecurities, worries and concern gripped me with icy desperation.

Before leaving Cleveland, i’d told myself and others plenty of times that the worst that could happen is things wouldn’t work out and i’d end up back there. Certainly not new territory for me – i’ve done that quite a few times already.

i took a few deep breaths. Still, panic had it’s tendrils around me.

i cradled Cosby for security, hoping his easy purr would settle my rapidly-fraying nerves. i felt more anxiety – here i was dragging this poor kitty into a potentially tough situation.

i began to pace around the apartment – not a big undertaking at 396-square-feet – and that’s when i noticed them. Just one at first, skittering along the carpet. And the windowsill.

The wall.

The doorframe.

The bathroom counter.

This place has a bug problem.

panic

*****

On the edge of your seat yet? i know i sure was, uncomfortable to relax even a little when there are creepy crawlies both seen and, terrifyingly due to unknown numbers unseen, all about.

Yep, i had a full-on panic attack the likes of which i have never experienced. Doesn’t that sound like a fun reason to come back for the next part of this series?

What sorts of things instill anxiety and panic in you? Or do you have nerves of steel?

i certainly do not, and just about everyone i’m close to was about to find out just how much, which begs the question – why didn’t i ever get into acting? Because apparently i mask what’s going on inside pretty well.

An exposed nerve, part one: past is prologue

i was going to start a short series of posts off by stating that this is going to be an unusual endeavor for me, but a look back through past things i’ve written here revealed that it’s instead something i simply haven’t done in quite a while.

Oddly enough, going back to my very first post at The Long Shot reminded me that one of the core pillars of starting this blog initially was to provide myself a broad canvas to take long looks at different things, including myself. The opening words of that first foray if i’m honest make more sense to me right now than they did four years ago. (wow that was four years ago already?!)

Long Shot:  typically shows the entire object or human figure and is usually intended to place it in some relation to its surroundings.

human figure

At the time, i had just started back going to college at age 35 with hopes that the piece of paper i’d scoffed at when i quit my college career in the early aughts would one day carry me forward to better things – and better places. Since then, i’ve written on a wide variety of topics both here and (triumphantly!) as a professional writer (i was paid for it) through my first post-graduation job with a Northeast Ohio publication.

In light of that, what i hope to explore in a series of posts is more precisely what i had in mind during that first post: i hope that it shows me as a whole person and where i fit into my surroundings.

The appropriateness of this series stems from the fact that, i am at this very moment just three days into an enormous step forward in life for me: relocating from Cleveland, Ohio to Austin, Texas after being recruited for a position with a growing media company located here. Vastly different surroundings!

In itself that is one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me. The job was not something i applied for; i was contacted by the company recruiter and, after some negotiating, decided to take the chance and go for it. Austin was on my short list of places i’d like to live, and even though it isn’t a ton of money, it is better than i was making with a much greater growth potential. Perhaps it was a hasty decision to jump at the first thing that came along, but i was feeling malcontent to some extent, which had a heavy influence on my thoughts regarding the matter.

After finding a place to live pretty close to the job, and calling ad nauseam to confirm everything (“you’re certain the place will be ready to move in by March 5?”), getting the car fixed up a bit, sharing dinners and coffee talks with family and friends and making check marks on plentiful to-do lists (yes, there was a checklist for the various checklists) the morning had come to hit the pavement.

Brimming with enthusiasm, i’ll admit now that when the 1,388 mile one-way road trip began, there was naturally a part of me that was reluctant to go. But the lion’s share of me did and still does hope to challenge an adage i read about decades ago as a child: that typically, a person will be born, grow up, settle down and die within a 20-mile radius. i don’t recall exactly where i read that, but the notion imprinted itself on my young psyche with something akin to dread.

long shot road

That very same circumstance was raised just last week by an uncle, offered as an item meant to encourage critical thinking regarding this move to Austin for the job. His perspective in particular addressed lower-income workers, a category i fall into with chagrin. To his point, for those not yet – or perhaps never – to reach higher echelons of income, remaining near your base provides opportunities for support, help and plain security through proximity to family and so on. Taken in that context, i understood the concept more than my younger mind did. On the other hand, sometimes the point of putting yourself into challenging situations is to test your own mettle and do your best to not only persevere but to thrive. That last bit would become more clear by orders of magnitude after arriving at my destination (more on that in another post).

One other beguiling point he made though was to put this question forth: would i take this job and move all that way, if i had a wife and children? That one made me laugh in all honesty because, no, i wouldn’t. But the very fact that i have none of those things is precisely why i feel more able to take this avenue.

At this point, i would like to take a quick break for an ad hoc survey, you can answer in your own head. Especially for any first-timers to The Long Shot: are you picking up on one of the meanings behind the name of the blog? Brevity is not my thing. At the risk of scaring you off right now, i feel like i’m just getting started at this point. Not to worry though! There is some sort of plan for this series, and in just a little bit you’ll find yourself coming to a nice circle kicker, a teaser for the next part and maybe even a call to action.

cleveland-skyline

The road to Austin was kind to me, and it certainly could have began cruelly, being winter in Northeast Ohio and all. No snow was falling, and indeed it wasn’t even very cold, even at 5 a.m. Cleveland rush hour traffic had not yet started when the Terminal Tower was quickly disappearing in my rearview mirror. By the time the sun came up, i was passing by Brunswick and heading into more open highway country. And my traveling companion, the feline familiar Cosby, had only meowed forlornly for about 45 minutes into the ride. The 9-year-old tuxedo has been at my side since i first scooped him from the kitty bin at the pet store when he was a mere 6-weeks-old, and his cat carrier sports a selection of luggage stickers from not only Northeast Ohio (Eastlake x2, Willoughby x2, Lakewood x2, Willowick) but also Pittsburgh, and as of this writing, Austin.

It wasn’t too long before I cruised past Ashland, site of my freshman year of college way back in the glorious ’90s.

Passing by, i thought about the skater punk i was at the time, inspired by a great high school teacher to choose an English major. His name was Mr. Tomba, but we all called him Papa Smurf. Turn his skin blue, slap a red Phrygian cap on him and dude was a spitting image. Ashland really won me over because of their rating for having the best college cafeteria in the country, and it was well-deserved. i fell in love for the first time while there, with a real-life pixie. i also got drunk for the first time, at a party where i then passed out on a bench on the porch, then yakked like a first time drunk will do, at the perfect moment when a girl i liked was walking right past me.

i also befriended the theretofore terrifying ex-marine guy who lived on our floor named Hap. We bonded over mutual taste in American alternative metal band Helmet, started hanging out in his room passing doobies while watching A&E Biography late at night and shared a similar admiration for coffee, stopping daily at Grumpy’s on our way to Death & Dying class together.

But, like any Jim Collins editorial worth it’s salt, i digress.

Despite driving for 10 or so hours, most of it through rain and construction-narrowed lanes surrounded on all sides by massive freight trucks that dwarfed by jam-packed Chevy Aveo hatchback, i made it to my first chosen stop for the night: Jackson, Tennessee. i don’t know how many winds a person can get, but i was on my third or fourth by then. Nevertheless, i was half tempted to press on farther. i did not do so, though, because my thinking since setting out was rigid: i had a plan and i was sticking to it. By the time i unloaded the car, grabbed a bite to eat and cleaned up, i think i watched about one minute of Seinfeld before i was out.

Day Two on the road was much the same, except the rain got traded for warm sunshine, there were no familiar landmarks and towards the end i was alternately worried about either peeing myself or nodding off at the wheel. Seriously – there are very few rest areas in Texas. Between the border and Dallas, i passed just a single one that was, of course, about a mile past where i pulled off to use Burger King’s facilities when i couldn’t wait any longer.

i will say, though, that a sensation washed over me just as i crossed the state line into the Lone Star State. it just felt different. Possibly due to road delirium, or because i knew i was in the state of my destination.

Texas is BIG, that is no lie. The sky stretches out bigger, the speed limits are higher, the number of horses and cows you see are astounding. If you gathered all the horses and cows i’ve ever seen previously in my life, it would be less than the number i saw while zooming down the highway.

Dallas is impressive! The city rises up into that broad sky, and approaching it means crossing Lake Ray Hubbard, a massive fresh water reservoir. i was ignorant of its existence and blown away by its beauty. i can’t tell you what i expected Dallas to look like, but bordered by an enormous body of water was not part of the image.

Dallas Skyline at Sunrise

“Dallas Skyline at Sunrise” – Gleaming like a sparkling gem, the early morning sun envelops the Dallas skyline in incandescent warmth with colors of aureolin, saffron, lavender, wisteria, and marigold. In the foreground, a flooded Trinity River winds past the city, revealing a rarely photographed moment of the beautiful Dallas skyline. (Photo/Stephen A. Masker)

My stay that night was in a much more sketchy motel than the night before. Gang tats, broken motel room windows and that feeling you get when you’re not in the right part of town were part and parcel to an uncomfortable evening. The appearance of a cockroach the size of a Bic lighter scurrying up the wall did little to ease my discomfort, although an excellently-aimed sneaker ended the threat it posed.

Some good news did brighten my spirits though, when i made another call to the apartment complex awaiting me in Austin. i called to check on the status and maybe adjust my motel reservation in Austin; the place was to be ready at the absolute latest by Saturday, possibly Friday. But lo and behold, it was ready for move-in Thursday! All i had to do was show up, sign some papers and get the keys.

i went to sleep happy, not just for myself and the concern over repeated motel stays with everything i owned in the world packed into my car, but also for Cosby, who even though he’d been a real trooper, would doubtless be relieved to stay put in one place for more than a few hours – outside the cat carrier he’d been cooped up in the last two days on the road.

So it was that i would reach my destination, a place that would confront me with very different surroundings and challenge me both externally and internally – much more than i had even anticipated.

In the next part of this series, i’m gonna do my best to show the entire human figure that now resides in Austin. As anyone i’m particularly close to could now tell you, it’s not a rainbow-farting unicorn that arrived here. i’m not exactly sure why i’m sharing these stories. Perhaps you’ll find some lesson or wisdom here, or maybe been in a similar situation and discover some relatability. i’m not going to lie: i’m hoping for those same outcomes for myself.

In another way, there’s a different kind of truthfulness that emerges by putting yourself out there rather than keeping a private log. As a writer, i’m only as good as what i share with the universe, and i feel like holding something back for fear of reactions goes against the whole point of it.

So, for what it’s worth, you can have a nice Long Shot of me. Maybe understand more of who’s behind this screen, while at the same time giving me a better view of the same.

After all, another definition of long shot is “a venture or guess that has only the slightest chance of succeeding or being accurate” and believe me, you’ll read plenty about my feelings on that in the next part.

*****

Have you ever made any big life changes that had a fundamental impact on you? Move to a new city alone? Take a risk that had unexpected results? Wondered if you were doing the right thing, or reached new levels of self-understanding that blew your mind?

Let me know about them in the comments below. i don’t have to be the only one rambling on about themselves around here.

 

 

Enyx Studios reloaded

Hard to believe it’s been almost a year since my path first converged with Enyx Studios, the indie-game development studio helmed by Don Hileman. At that time, our connection was an opportunity for Don to share a developer journal here at The Long Shot, and for me to get more contributor content posted.

Enyx Studios

That interaction evolved into my visit to Enyx’s then-home at eCenter @ LindenPointe, a technology incubator in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. Don and his partner at the time shared their thoughts, ideas and work on Unholy, a horror-themed cross platform video game.

Fast forward a few weeks, and i found myself part of the Enyx team as a creative director, writer and designer – tasks that i felt woefully unskilled at but that i was assured as exemplary, much to my delighted surprise. Due to several other obligations, and an eventual parting of ways between Don and his partner, the project faded into the background.

But that past is prologue to an excited new venture by Enyx Studios.

“A Haunting: Witching Hour” is a brand new title that Don and a new team of designers is hard at work on, building off of what he learned from his experiences with Unholy.

Haunting 1

Promotional image from Enyx Studios’ “A Haunting: Witching Hour” game.

Now based at the Youngstown Business Incubator, a development that came about through Don’s association with Blackstone Launchpad’s Bob Sopko at Case Western Reserve University

The team at Enyx mostly came about through Don’s relationship with YBI. Mitch, who worked with Don on Unholy, remains as the audio engineer for A Haunting. Along with them, Byron works in a mostly research capacity, discovering ways to include real-world elements into the story that add to the immersion and authenticity. Art chores are handled by Steve and Marissa, and as head of the team, Don is involved with everything.

“For the project that we’re taking on, you kinda need a decent size team,” Don explains. “And last week, we got the email that we’ve been waiting for – that golden email from Playstation. We had submitted a concept to them, a full design document and everything, and not only did they approve it, but they want to give us a page on playstation.com that’s all about the game. Once we have a trailer, they want to put it on their YouTube channel as well as on the Playstation Network – which means it will be on 36 million Playstations worldwide.”

Settling on the Playstation platform initially, A Haunting takes advantage of the Playstation VR, Enyx Studios is working with some “really cool equipment” including a full motion-capture system that they’re using to give all the in-game characters a higher level of realism.

Porting the game over to other platforms like Xbox or PC is certainly not out of the question according to Don, but for the relatively small team to produce a multi-platform game right out of the gate is one of the stumbling blocks he experienced with Unholy. Instead, Enyx is focusing on producing the best title they can for a single platform, with an eye on a Q3 2016 release.

The game itself takes revolves around an indie film crew who travels to the fictional town of Shady Hollow to create a documentary about the murder of several coal miners that occurred in 1975. The owner of the mine had always insisted there were supernatural forces involved, claiming an entity known as the Hollow Creek Witch is to blame, but of course no one believed him. As the filmmakers dig deeper into the story, they begin to uncover evidence that the claims of evil occult forces might actually be true.

“We’re pulling a lot of real facts from things like the Salem Witch Trials and how that all occurred,” Don elaborates. “We’re using that as a background for this witch, and we picked up a bunch of books on witches, Wiccans and things like that to learn about that culture and what certain symbols mean, like air, wind and fire, different moons and that sort of thing.

“We’re trying to make it as real as possible,” Don says. “Of course, you have to change it up a little bit. But from day one, the whole goal is to be a creepy, scary game, and when you play it, it just scares the hell out of you.”

Described as a storytelling video game of dark horror and desperate survival, Enyx is taking great strides to create a rich background for all of the characters and places in the game, including Eddie, the protagonist controlled by the player.

Eddie, a mysterious character with a troubled past, possesses the “Gift of Sight” that manifests as psychic powers such as the ability to see things others cannot, psychometry (the ability to read the psychic residue left on objects), clairvoyance and more.

These abilities come with a price, however – every time a player uses Eddie’s Gift of Sight, he becomes weakened

Like Unholy, A Haunting aims to follow an episodic path, with new chapters of the game down the road building on the experience and offering new locations, paths and twists to the tale.

“We want to tell a story and have it build,” Don explains. “Just when you think you kind of have it figured out, oh my gosh – something else happens that makes you go ‘huh.’ One of the things that really inspired us was that thing on Netflix, ‘Making a Murderer.’ The whole time, you’re bouncing back and forth – did he murder them? Did he not? And we’re trying to bring some of that element into the game.”

The gameplay starts with Eddie in questioning, with the player traveling back into the story throughout the experience. Based on the player’s actions such as discovering clues, answering questions and so forth, the story will change depending on these outcomes. In essence, the game is a flashback, and the player controls how the past manifests in the present.

“As you play the game, that’s your story that you’re telling,” Don shares, revealing that there are multiple possible endings. “It’s almost like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books.”

Haunting 2

 

Women Warriors: A Swords of Sorrow Review

By Long Shot contributor Valentino Zullo

As comic book fans we know that summer has arrived when the newest company-wide event series begins. This is usually a major crossover that includes or at least impacts most of a publisher’s titles. Of course Marvel and DC are both offering big crossovers—Convergence and Secret Wars respectively—this year (though DC’s crossover did end in May). For any non-comic book reader confused about the “event series” or “crossover,” don’t worry, even long-time comic book fans can get confused! All you need to know is that these crossovers allow for a publisher to place a number of their characters into something of a giant playground where they must work together to defeat a common foe (that’s more or less the idea!). Before I digress too far into those two other crossovers, though, I want to turn to the reason why I am writing this guest blog. As I way saying, for comic book fans we know that summer has officially begun when we see the newest event series on the shelves at the comic store. As DC and Marvel offer their crossovers, which aim to change the landscapes of their respective universes, Dynamite Entertainment is taking a slightly different approach to their summer event this year. While universe hopping is still a focus of Swords of Sorrow (Dynamite’s big summer crossover), one of the main purposes of this crossover is to showcase the work of a number female creators working in comics right now and additionally to bring together the many female characters housed under the Dynamite Entertainment imprint. I recently finished reading the newest installment of the Swords Of Sorrow crossover and I want to try to take a stab (all pun intended) at reviewing and exploring some of my thoughts while reading this series so far.

Before I begin I have to confess that while I have read comics for about twenty years now, I have never read a comic published by Dynamite Entertainment. However, as I was reading Gail Simone’s social media posts about this upcoming event and the announcements circulating around it, I became intrigued and invested in it before it began so I decided to give it a try. I was thrilled to see a book that featured so many female characters and the work of numerous female creators. I knew that it would be a wonderful experience even before reading it because of the writers attached to the project, which includes Gail Simone, G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, Nancy A. Collins, Mairghread Scott, Leah Moore, Erica Schultz and more! As a quick aside, it seems that Swords of Sorrow is one more example of what is truly a paradigm shifting moment for the female hero in comics. Marguerite Bennett and G. Willow Wilson, who are writing some of the Swords of Sorrow spin-offs also debuted their A-Force series for Marvel last month—a comic which features an all female Avengers team. We are clearly in the age of the female hero as female creators, characters and consumers finally hold the spotlight.

Swords of Sorrow 1  (2)

Swords of Sorrow 1

 Back to Swords of Sorrow: the main series is written by Gail Simone, who many know as the writer of various female led books including Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Tomb Raider, and Red Sonja. I must admit that even though I have been a fan of Simone’s work for some time—Birds of Prey #62 was my first DC comic book as I had only been reading Marvel as a kid—I have never read any of her work for Dynamite before Swords of Sorrow. Simone has a magic pull, though, she has been able to get me into DC and now Dynamite (Oh! and Dark Horse because I recently began reading her Tomb Raider series). I digress, but thank you Ms. Simone!

Batgirl, one of Gail Simone’s numerous previous projects at DC Comics.

Batgirl, one of Gail Simone’s numerous previous projects at DC Comics.

For those of you not yet reading Swords of Sorrow, here is a brief introduction. The story goes as follows: the villain, who calls himself the Prince, has found a way to gain control over reality itself. In order to insure the success of his plan to perfect his newfound power and take complete control of reality, the Prince has gathered together a team of female villains that are wreaking havoc across the universes, attempting to stop anyone that would get in his way. In response to the formation of this cabal, the Traveler, a female hero, assembles her own group of female heroes from across time and space including Red Sonja, Lady Zorro, Irene Adler, Vampirella and many more of Dynamite’s characters. Each one of these heroes is granted one of the “Swords of Sorrow” in order to defeat the Prince. The two sides have only begun to form but this is the basic premise thus far!

As comic book readers we recognize this classic storyline executed to create a fun romp across time and space that brings together characters that otherwise may not be given a chance to interact. Not only is there such fun dialogue that emerges between characters who would otherwise not meet, but it is wonderful to see so many female characters interact with one another. More importantly not only do these women interact with one another, but they learn to work with another. We witness this countless times in the main series and the many spin-offs. For example, one of the goals of the evil Prince in the Swords of Sorrow: Masquerade and Kato one-shot is “turn them against each other.”—the “them” in that sentence being the two women who are learning to work together. The Prince has learned of The Traveler’s plan to thwart his evil scheme and attempts to split the heroes from one another so that they cannot stop him. In the short space of time, though, Masquerade and Kato learn about one another and in turn learn to care about each other. A similar point is stressed in the second issue of the main Swords of Sorrow series as one of the female villains working for the Prince, Bad Kitty, says to him “They’re introducing themselves but they don’t seem to like each other much, Prince. You leave them be and they might well do themselves in and save us the trouble.” She is referring to Red Sonja and Dejah Thoris who have just met one another and have not yet learned that they are on the same side. Once again the villain’s emphasize the need to separate these women and create splits between them. Of course, Dejah Thoris and Red Sonja do begin to work together by the end of the issue. Through some growing pains these women learn to trust one another and begin to work together.

Swords of Sorrow: Masquerade and Kato one shot

Swords of Sorrow: Masquerade and Kato one shot

Today I just finished reading the Swords of Sorrow: Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro one shot, which depicts the burgeoning partnership between these two women. In the comic, Black Sparrow is transported a little bit over 100 years back in time where she meets Lady Zorro—a figure she has looked up to since her childhood. After the two escape a skirmish with one of the lackeys of the Prince, the two women regroup in the forest. As they are talking, Black Sparrow says to her new partner, “every little girl who wields a stick like a sword knows the Legend of Lady Zorro. Including me.” This last statement is so important because Black Sparrow acknowledges her debt to Lady Zorro and sees her as a powerful figure—one that inspired her own strength. By the end of the story the two women stand together as Black Sparrow states, “ Whoever the enemy…” and Lady Zorro finishes the sentence, “ We will be ready for them.” In contrast, to this support and partnership that evolves between these two women, the Prince is depicted as a jealous villain, often in rage, who cannot even consider working with others as equals. One particular scene in this comic depicts the Prince looking into a wall of mirrors, which allow him to gaze into the different timelines where he can see that the women, all the main charcters of this crossover, are working together. The reader sees him gaze into the mirrors, which depict the dynamic duos of Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro, Dejah Thoris and Irene Adler, Jennifer Blood and Vampirella, among the many other pairs of women. The Prince is infuriated by what he sees, because now Lady Zorro and Black Sparrow are also working together because his hired help could not stop them. The Prince says to his underling, “perhaps I put too much faith in you.” What is very important to note here is that the Prince’s rage at seeing these women work together successfully seems to suggest that what bothers him most is not simply that his plan is failing, but that these partnerships have emerged. This is notable because the Prince on the other hand has no ability to work with another (especially as an equal). Thus, in some ways this scene posits that it is certainly maddening to the Prince to see his plan fail, but in some ways it is ultimately worse in his mind that these women have begun to work together.

Swords of Sorrow: Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro one shot

Swords of Sorrow: Black Sparrow and Lady Zorro one shot

In these keys scenes, Simone and the other writers offer us more than a commentary on in-fighting between women or a lament on this ongoing problem. In fact, rather than a simple critique or a lament, these creators provide images of women working together and supporting one another despite the evil wishes of the Prince who hopes to separate them. I want to stress the importance of these moments and make this distinction between a simple critique and Simone’s Swords of Sorrows’ examples of powerful women working together because they offer an alternative to the classic image of women competing with one another for an object such as a man. Serendipitously, Taylor Swift releases her music video “Bad Blood” the same month as Swords of Sorrow began. You can watch the video here:

There is a similar effort and tone here as Swift, Simone, Scott, Collins, Bennett, Wilson, Moore and Schultz envision a world where women support one another and do not need to be pitted against one another. In fact, the only women that are competing amongst themselves are the villains. The Prince even says to his team of villains, “You are not here to work together. You are here to work for me.” These women are not supposed to work as a team for the Prince but rather as agents working independently, competing with one another while under him. In Simone’s a narrative then in-fighting is regulated to the ream of the villains while the heroes present a powerful alternative of women growing together. Again, I wish to stress the importance of seeing women work together successfully because in a world where so many films, comics and other media do not pass the Bechdel Test, it is so essential for women (as well as men) to see other women not only talk to one another, but spend time learning about one another and in turn developing together.

“The test” from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For

“The test” from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For

In an interview with The Mary Sue, Simone stresses the importance of this connection between women both inside and outside of a fictional narrative. Simone states in the interview, “I do know that when I started, several women I really admired were less-than-encouraging and it really stung. They felt me getting work meant they would get less work. I did vow never to be that person. And I should stress, women like Nancy Collins, Devin Grayson and Colleen Doran were never anything less than 100% supportive. It was just devastating at the time, I don’t want that cycle to continue.” And of course that cycle does not continue with Simone. Not only has she brought together a superb team of women writers that work with one another, but she has also gathered a number of female characters that work together in the story. In the same interview with The Mary Sue, Simone says that what she wants to do is provide a reader with many examples of what women can be. In answer to a question in the interview she claims, “Oh, the same thing I hope they got from Birds of Prey, and Wonder Woman, and Red Sonja. That there’s no real limit on what female characters can be in comics. They can be strong and weak, funny and dour, compassionate and cold, they can be all the fun things and the strong things and the bad things” Simone and the other female creators certainly do this well as there are many types of women in these comics—heroes, villains and everything in between. Certainly we have come a long way from putting women in refrigerators!

I find after reading the first couple months worth of issues that I am truly invested in this series because I want to know more about these characters and how they will evolve together. In fact, I want to read the tie-ins so that I am able to spend more time with these women (and of course because I want to see where the story goes). I have to say for someone that has never read these characters before I am intrigued about each one. Simone does a wonderful job of setting up the story and continues to keep me wanting more.

I’ll likely go more in depth into some of the following issues in a future blogs but I wanted to take time to highlight this wonderful series with such brilliant creators.

If you’re not reading Swords of Sorrow and you want a fun summer romp across time and space with some excellent characterization then check it out! The next installment of the Swords of Sorrow series comes out on Wednesday 7/1/15 with the Swords of Sorrow issue 3.

Swords of Sorrow 3

Swords of Sorrow 3

I want to thank the Doug Vehovec, The Longshotist, for allowing me to write for his blog! Thank you to Dr. Vera Camden for the numerous Women’s Literature courses at Kent State University and our countless discussions on women in comics. All the ideas presented here are hers, I just filter them through the world of comics. Thank you to Amy Dawson and Jean Collins, two women warriors in their own right, and my partners at the Cleveland Public Library and the Ohio Center for the Book for their support of comics in Cleveland! All thanks to The Mary Sue for their fantastic interview with Simone that I cited heavily here. Of course thank you and congratulation to Gail Simone, G. Willow Wilson, Marguerite Bennett, Nancy A. Collins, Erica Schultz, and Leah Moore for all of the wonderful work that they have so far produced on the Swords of Sorrow series!

*     *     *     *     *

Thank you for reading the thoughtful article contributed by my friend Valentino Luca Zullo. We first met at Wizard World Cleveland and got to talking about comics (of course). Valentino does a wonderful job combining his interest in superheroes with his studies in sociology, leading several discussion groups through the Ohio Center for the Book’s Get Graphic program at Cleveland Public Library, like the Women Warriors series and this summer’s Trauma and Transformation series. Be sure to follow Valentino on Twitter for updates on those.

Special thanks to Valentino for sharing his insights and analysis of this new comic series. As Long Shot readers know, i’m a huge comicbook fan myself, so i’m especially happy to provide a space for him to write about his own perspectives and enjoyment of the genre. And, it’s always very exciting to have a new contributing writer here! If there’s any pop culture topics that fascinate or inspire you, and you’d like to write about them, please consider and Take a Shot yourself!

DDO New player advice

Observations for newer players

As a follow-up to a recent post that offered with any luck some food for thought on DDO play experience for veterans of the game, i would be remiss if there wasn’t a companion piece aimed at gamers new to this well-established MMO.

ddo_logo

If i’m honest, this one is a little trickier for me since i’ve been playing DDO since 2006, so it’s far from new to me. Back then, Smuggler’s Rest was the starting zone, you could only have four enhancements, the level cap was 10, Threnal was endgame and ransacking the Giants’ Lair for a vorpal sword was considered a worthwhile investment of time – especially if someone used diplomacy on the chest first.

Perhaps my favorite gameplay aspect from this era, though, was the “go kart bug.” In order to proc this bug, you had to equip a throwing weapon, enter stealth mode, toggle auto-run and then /sit. Doing so allowed characters to slide around in the sitting position so it looked, not surprisingly, like you were driving an invisible go kart.

Ahh, those were the days.

“But I just started playing last week,” a new player might think. “What does any of that have to do with me?”

Touche, new player. Let me counter with a couple of things to justify my admittedly indulgent nostalgia moment.

First, consider this: every veteran you see wearing a Founder’s Helm or sporting a forum join date in the aughts was once in your Sage’s Shoes. They didn’t create an account, roll a toon and log in with complete knowledge of game systems and all the quests and puzzles. So take it with a grain of salt if you find yourself in a PUG and get surprised comments directed your way about your lack of knowledge on any particular thing. There’s still vast swaths of DDO that i have yet to experience, too. Heck, there’s a guy in my guild who just started playing about a month ago and already accomplished a few things i never have.

Founder's Helm: missed it by a couple of months. Drat.

Founder’s Helm: missed it by a couple of months. Drat.

Be willing to PUG and group with others

This is perhaps the best piece of general advice i can offer to a new player. Or any player for that matter. For many years, i played DDO primarily solo, to the point of exclusivity almost. There’s several reasons why that came about but i’ve since cottoned to grouping more and the difference is extraordinary.

First and foremost, quests will generally go much smoother, easier and quicker in a group. While it’s true that dungeon scaling will increase the number of mobs and so forth, a group of up to six toons is going to roll ahead much more effectively than a lone adventurer.

Beyond that, whether it’s a group of vets, newbs or a mix of the two, the opportunities to learn something are increased by the number of people in a group. A new player might even have something to teach a vet, as a few of my guild mates discovered recently regarding the viability of the toughness feat that i mentioned in the veteran companion piece to this post.

Likewise, it’s not uncommon for veteran players to have a leveling plan so there are quests they might not have run in years, or optionals they always skip by in the xp/min grindfest. Unless you find yourself in a zerg-at-all-costs group, you very well may end up (re)introducing these folks to parts of the game they largely forgot. And everyone may wind up sidetracked by a little something called “fun.”

Grouping is a great way to meet other players, get (and give!) advice, and accomplish more together than you could on your own. Check the social panel next time you’re on by clicking “O” or using the menu and see what groups are doing. It’s also worth noting that the grouping panel has a bit of a glitch right now. In order to make the most of it, you need to click the “Who” panel, wait a moment until it refreshes (you’ll see the list of names refresh) then go back to “Grouping.”

If you don’t see any groups in your level range, try posting a LFM yourself, and don’t be shy about putting in descriptions like “first time running” or whatever – that not only lets people know where you’re coming from but also might make it more inviting to other new players, who sometimes feel intimidated by joining a group of experienced players.

And if all else fails, leave the group public when you enter a dungeon. If you’re comfortable playing solo, great. And if someone wants to jump in while you’re in-progress then you’ve got yourself a party.

Listening is different than obeying

When it comes to quest mechanics, like puzzle-solving and so forth, this piece of advice doesn’t exactly apply. Likewise, in raid situations for example that require more tactics and coordination, it’s wise to heed what experienced players have to say. This kind of advice comes not only from their personal desire to avoid quest failure, but also serves you well going forward, so in the future if you run a particular raid again for example, you’ll be more aware of how things are handled by the player population.

What i’m suggesting here is the myriad comments and banter regarding things like character builds, gear, what quests to run and things of that nature.

i’ve played a lot of MMOs, and almost all of them lend themselves to minutiae analysis. A stat point here, a gear bonus there can make a big difference and DDO is no different – perhaps even more so because of the deep customization options the game is known for.

My advice here is very similar to how one ought to approach reading and/or watching the news. If you take the first thing you hear as the absolute truth, you’re going to end up with a very one-sided viewpoint. Better to get your information from several sources and make your own informed decisions. The DDO Wiki is a fantastic resource, and the official forums can also provide invaluable information as well. An Internet search for “ddo (whatever you want to know about)” typically steers towards the forums and a wealth of answers. Watch the date on posts though – an older one may be outdated now because of updates or changes to the game.

Player advice, even that which is thought out and has been researched by the advice-giver, can’t help but be filtered through the lens of their individual experience. The mechanics and math might very well make perfect sense on paper and even in practice, but despite all of that it still comes down to a person’s playstyle and what works for them.

i like to use the example of my pure fighter, Experimenta, who perhaps could squeeze out more DPS or defenses by selecting different feats or enhancements, twisting in different destiny abilities, or splashing another class. But so far, i haven’t encountered any insurmountable obstacles and in fact have received quite a few compliments on her survivability, damage-dealing and utility in healing, buffing and raising from the dead other party members.

At the end of the day though, when confronted with strict advice, the best thing to ask yourself is “am i having fun?” If you find yourself performing competently in quests, surviving boss fights and getting ahead, then congratulations – whatever you’re doing is working for you. Is there room for improvement? Sure there is, there always is. Finding those ways through your own efforts though is going to be much more rewarding and will sync up better with your own playstyle.

Don’t get discouraged

Listen, i’ve been there. We all have. Total party wipes, bad PUGS and not-so-friendly players happen.

But for every player that gets mad at the player who dies in a quest, there’s countless more like me who feel more like it’s our failure as a party member when someone else dies. Say what you will about the xp loss, and believe me on a multi-TR every bit of xp is precious, to me it’s really not that big of a deal.

Of course, i want to get ahead, level up and all that jazz. But speaking for myself, i’ve never quite understood the extreme hurry. What i enjoy most about MMOs is that there’s a bunch of other real people logged in, running around the shared environment, chatting and forming groups to tackle game content. Sharing ideas and tips, as well as joking around and meeting new people, is what sets online games apart and with that, you’re going to have both positive and negative experiences.

The trick is to take away something useful from all of them.

Just the other night, i experienced a discouraging situation running some quests for the first time. At first, for a moment i’ll admit i was pretty ticked off by the turn of events. But only for a moment. The next night, we tried again with some different people and tactics and found success. It certainly wasn’t worth ragequitting, causing drama or giving up. i didn’t feel the need to reroll my toon or make sweeping changes to the build. We just approached it a bit differently and that made all the difference.

Really? Worst quest you ever ran. Well, my next one will be better. Hello.

Really? Worst quest you ever ran. Well, my next one will be better. Hello.

The right game for you

This one’s pretty simple. Is DDO the right game for you?

As i mentioned earlier, i’ve played a lot of MMOs over the years. Right now on my taskbar, there are shortcuts to Star Wars: The Old Republic, Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, Star Trek Online, Marvel Heroes, The Secret World, The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot, Rift, Neverwinter Online, Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XIV, World of Warcraft and Champions Online. Many others have come and gone from that taskbar over the years.

None of them i’ve invested as much time in, or enjoyed as much as, DDO. Maybe it’s just the D&D-ness of it, or the mechanics, or who knows what but i keep coming back to it because i enjoy it above all the others.

Even with that being said, i still take breaks from it here and there. A few weeks, a few months, but i always come back around. Which isn’t to say any of those other games aren’t great, too. At the same time, there’s more than a couple of those that i haven’t played in years, and some that i tried out for a few weeks and simply didn’t enjoy. Neverwinter is a prime example – i played that for about two days and just thought it was crap. In fact, i’m removing it from the taskbar right after i finish this sentence.

If you’ve delved into DDO, played for a bit and find yourself feeling unsatisfied consistently, there’s no shame in moving on. Any of these games will reward investments of time (and, often, money) and even some long-time DDO players seem to approach the game more as a chore or work than for what it is – a game meant to provide fun entertainment.

One of the coolest things about MMOs is that, even if you quit and uninstall the client, you could return years later and find your character still intact. If you’re reading this and played DDO many years ago, you will be happy to discover more than a few special items in your characters’ inventory were you to log back in today.

If you are a newer player, and wound up here after trying the game a bit and maybe having less-than-the-best experiences, i hope some of these observations might improve that.

TL;DR

For the DDO player who zergs through reading like they do through quests, here’s a few pointers to summarize what new players can do to make their play experience more positive, acclimate to the game, improve the community and with any luck have more fun.

  • Group up
    • Don’t be afraid to join PUGs
    • Post your own LFM
    • Leave quests open to public
  • Don’t feel obligated to obey
    • Listen to advice but make your own decisions
    • Find the playstyle that works for you
    • Learn to differentiate between mechanical advice and personal opinions
  • Don’t get discouraged
    • Character deaths happen
    • Quests and XP will always be there
    • Learn something new from every experience
  • Take a break
    • If you’re not having fun, don’t punish yourself
    • Try another game, maybe it’s not the right time and place for DDO and you
    • Been away? Log back in and see if changes make it better for you

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