Snippets and Smut at IllogiCon 2015

I had a great time at IllogiCon 2015. Saw some old friends, met some new ones. Sold a little bit of jewelry in the artist alley. Met the nice folks at Needles and Nonsense who make geeky pillows.

Being a Smutty Fan-fiction panelist was wonderfully fun and supportive, though I’m pretty sure I was the oldest person in the room. According to con guest of honor Christopher J. Garcia, “Young fans love fanfic.” So I no longer feel like a creepy old lady writing video game erotica about naughty uses for troll fat — I’m one of the cool kids writing about naughty uses for troll fat!

My daughter enjoyed meeting game designer Duncan Davis in the game room and playing his pirate-themed deception card game Exploit! Lacy ran a kick-ass con suite. I didn’t catch any “con crud,” despite being around a crowd of people during the height of flu season. That’s a win.

But one little, tiny thing happened at IllogiCon that bothered me, and it had nothing to do with the event itself, the organizers or the vendors. It was a snippet of conversation overheard in the parking lot of the hotel, between a young man and woman.

“People really shouldn’t wear costumes like that, unless they’re built for it.”

I have no idea what costume(s) bothered them, or how exactly the cosplayer(s) of unknown age, race or gender offended the couple. I wasn’t wearing a costume, so they weren’t talking about me, and I didn’t see anyone else around. But there I was, privy to someone’s unkind private opinions about someone who’d gone to the effort of dressing up for our enjoyment and theirs.

Because people wear costumes “like that” — whatever “like that” might mean — for the joy of it, don’t they? The same reason children dress up on Halloween. You wouldn’t tell a 5-year-old not to wear a Superman suit until he bulks up, or a child in a wheelchair that they can only be Professor X, not Wolverine. You wouldn’t say, “Maybe that little girl should go as a bag of jellybeans and not as a princess.”

Unless you’re an asshole. And despite the very unsavory examples of bad geeks on the Internet, in my experience geeks are generally not assholes. They’re really the opposite. So I guess it just took me by surprise to hear “one of us” say such things. Though, I’m not even sure they were “one of us” at all. They may have been hotel guests just passing through.

I just don’t understand the attitude that some people have, that if you don’t look exactly like someone they would personally bang, you don’t have a right to be in a public space, enjoying life and doing anything fun. It makes people happy to dress up. Why should there be any restrictions on happiness? Why clip their creative wings with your sharp tongue?

I say go for it, regardless of race, gender, age or body type.

~ J.L. Hilton

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Teldryn and Zephyr, to level 82 and beyond

This comic is a collaboration with spaceskeleton, based on my Skyrim character Zephyr Silvertongue. My story, her artwork. Skyrim and Teldryn Sero belong to Bethesda.

Check out spaceskeleton’s other Skyrim comics. They’re awesome.

Teldryn had a habit of overreacting to the smallest provocation…

… but he’s become quite the badass now, with his Ancient Falmer armor, Diadem of the Savant and giant’s club. I’m actually up to level 85 and he’s had no problem keeping up, but my PS3 can’t handle it. The game crashes every 15 minutes.

~ J.L. Hilton

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The Curious Case of the Coffee Contraption Chronicles

Belle Epoque coffee machine by Elektra

When first I scrutinized Professor Phineas Fitzwhistle’s Marvelous Mystifying Mechanical Mocha Maker, I experienced considerable consternation at the contrivance of cogs, cups and coils.

“I believe it is, in equal parts, polished brass and poppycock,” I said.

* * *

I found the above text in an old computer file of story ideas. Just this and nothing else. I have no clue when I wrote it or where I’d intended to go with the tale of Professor Fitzwhistle. I often jot down odd sentences here and there, usually around 3am, then find them months or years later with absolutely no explanation or recollection.

I imagine it was just some steampunk silliness, along the lines of a character I created called Captain Pippi Liederhosen, the Swedish airship pirate with a fear of heights.

Meanwhile, here’s an actual steampunk coffee shop. This is Truth in Cape Town, South Africa.

Photo by Shanna Jones

Photo by Shanna Jones

~ J.L. Hilton

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IllogiConIV science fiction convention January 9-11

I’ll be at IllogiConIV this weekend at the Embassy Suites Raleigh-Durham / Research Triangle. This is a smaller, fan-coordinated convention dedicated to any and all forms of science fiction in all media.

I’m on two panels:

  • Smutty Fan Fiction – 10pm Friday in the Cameron Room.
  • Newly Professional Older Writers – 9pm Saturday in the Cameron Room

And I’ll be selling my steampunk, sci-fi and fantasy jewelry in the artists alley Friday 3pm-8pm, Saturday 10am-7pm, and Sunday 10am until close.

Hope to see you there!

~ J.L. Hilton

Read about past IllogiCons.

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The Halloween Adventure

Upon Samhain time, so the Druids told,
When doors opened wide to the Otherworld,
The fey folk, sprites, elves, banshees and trolls,
The dear departed and the wandering souls,
Sightless spirits, ghouls, imps and wights,
Entered the mortal realm for just one night.
Though few will remember, and fewer believe,
And we now call this time of the year Halloween,
There’s still ancient magic upon the air
And a mystery awaits you, if you dare!

~ J.L. Hilton

I love anything like a treasure hunt, whether it’s easter eggs, trick-or-treating, or Goonies. One of my first paid writing gigs came courtesy of Lost Treasure magazine, where I interviewed people who found old buttons and coins with metal detectors. I even wrote a Firefly fanfic script that involved a search for hidden treasure.

The promise of gold or rare relics is not the only lure, but the seeking, puzzle solving and adventure. I’ve been wanting to do a treasure hunt with my kids ages 10 and 14, something along the lines of the 1980 movie Midnight Madness, so I began gathering materials and ideas about a year ago. The Quest recently inspired me to follow through with my plans and I spent the month of September putting everything together.

Our own quest began this morning with a jeweled scroll case (spray-painted candy tin covered with plastic jewels) containing one scroll with the poem at the top of this blog, two ball-chain necklaces, and a coded message. I suggested they go to the imps to break the code.

Click here for my Fairy Code

The “imps” were a memory game where each card featured either a fairy letter or an alphabet letter drawn in the corner. Matching the pictures paired them up for deciphering the note, which read:

Pooka,
I have taken the human child to Avalon. If we can keep it hidden away until sunset then it will be trapped with us forever!
Sylph

For completing the task, they were rewarded with two tiny “imp” skull charms. Then they looked up Avalon on the computer and discovered that “Avalon” means “apple land” so they decided to search around the apple tree in our front yard.

They found Sylph in the tree, but not the child. Instead, they discovered an Irish tin whistle and a small container with two sparkling star charms, which they added to their necklaces, and three slips of paper. The slips showed finger hole positions and music notes, but they had to figure out what order to play the three pieces of music.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star for the Irish tin whistle

When they played the tune correctly, the air spirit agreed to answer one question. My oldest daughter asked, “Where’s the baby?” Sylph told them that the baby had been given to the Banshee.

They went to the “Banshee,” a motion activated Halloween decoration in the house, and found her puzzle. To discover the words to the puzzle, they had to find 13 black tears — which were faceted black glass teardrop beads from Michael’s craft store.

For every tear, they were given a word to find in the word search, and after finding all 13 tears and all 13 words, the remaining letters spelled out: FIND THE GOLD SKULLS. They were rewarded with two tears for their necklaces.

The golden skulls were little plastic skulls with the bottoms removed and spray painted with gold paint. Three were filled with small candies, but the fourth contained two tiny brass charms, each attached to slips of paper with braille messages.

They looked up the braille alphabet online and deciphered the messages: “The blind giant has the baby” and “His eyes glow in the dark.”

My 14-year-old said, “The darkest place in the house is the bathroom. That’s where we always test things that glow in the dark.” It’s also where we sometimes play with sparking Wint-o-green Lifesavers.

They found the eyes and had to return them to the “giant” by tossing or bouncing the balls through the eye holes of a large face drawn on cardboard. He rewarded them with eye charms.

The giant told the girls that a gnome had taken the baby.  There are several gnomes in our home, but when they went to the yard gnome in our front garden, they found the Gnome’s Puzzle.

After solving that and earning charms, the gnome told them that Pooka himself had come for the child and taken her away, but had left behind a clue: A folding toy with pictures of Pooka’s various shapeshifting forms: a black horse, black bird and black spider. I’d created this by modding the puzzle found at this link.

They went to the fireplace, over which hung a large black spider and upon the mantle sat a black bird. From the spider’s leg hung a small cage containing a tiny baby made by Lori Hehn.

To unlock the cage, they had to solve the fairy logic puzzle* and figure out which of four silver skulls contained the keys.

But that wasn’t the end! Oh, no! After rescuing the baby, Pooka told them that a changeling had been left in the human world, and they would have to find her or she’d be trapped forever in the human realm.

They followed a series of clues and discovered the changeling, made by Dinky Darlings, then returned the baby to its cradle and the changeling to its cage.

Baby back in her cradle, safe and sound.

The naught fairy changeling back in her cage

Many of the goodies, props and puzzles used during the story.

The completed charm necklace at the end of the treasure hunt.

* Fairy Logic Puzzle (pdf) Note: This is not filled in. You would need to write “key, gem, candy, coin, sprite, pixie, brownie and gnome” down the left side, and “amethyst, aquamarine, ruby diamond, sprite, pixie, brownie and gnome” across the top, to do it exactly the way I did. But I left it blank in case you wanted to fill it in with your own variations. Just substitute the words in the clues accordingly.

Other resources:

Halloween Memory Game (printable)
Monster Matching Game (printable)
Skull flipper foldable puzzle (printable)
Make your own word search
Logic puzzle generator

~ J.L. Hilton

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Game review: Dishonored DLC shines like a rune in the void

DISHONORED DLC: THE KNIFE OF DUNWALL
& THE BRIGMORE WITCHES

Rating: M for Mature
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language

* * * MINOR SPOILERS * * *

I played Dishonored last month and enjoyed it enough to buy The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches downloadable content (aka DLC). Together, these add six more chapters to the Dishonored storyline.

Read my Dishonored review here.

The DLCs are not sequels or prequels but parallel the events in Dishonored. Players take on the role of professional assassin Daud rather than Corvo Attano, the royal protector turned vigilante and hero of the original game.

Kudos to the developers for designing two add-ons that could be played alone or together for a larger, more intricate story that supplements Corvo’s journey — or Corvo’s story supplements Daud’s, depending on how you want to look at it. With new enemies, new characters, new locations and some familiar locations revisited, new powers added and others removed, the DLC felt like a perfect extension of Dishonored, with the same freedom to roam, variety of options and excellent game mechanics, but with enough difference to make it interesting.

By the Outsider’s eyes, I enjoyed the hell out of this DLC. I liked Dishonored but I loved The Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches. I’ve never teared up at the end of a video game before. Immediately following the final cutscene, you could have easily talked me into getting the Outsider’s mark tattooed on the back of my hand. I sincerely hope this is the beginning of a franchise.

From the butchers to the bitches, I want to cosplay just about every character in this badass game.

Corvo had the quest one might expect of mainstream entertainment: Rescue a girl and/or avenge a woman, possibly preserving an empire in the process. Or, in even more simplistic terms: Save the world because women.

Daud took a more personal — and unusual — journey of redemption and revelation, via a whale slaughterhouse beset with workers threatening to unionize, a gang turf war in the garment district, harassment from religious zealots, and some Wiccans gone wild.

This would make another great cosplay.

I’m curious if the DLC content was originally intended to be the Dishonored storyline, but somebody somewhere in Bethesda said, “We can’t sell a game about an assassin who is friends with the devil, uses black magic and electrocutes whales. Come up with something else.” So they invented the slightly more noble and less weird Corvo, but ran out of money to pay a writer and a voice actor.

My biggest complaint with Dishonored had been that I never heard Corvo’s voice and felt like I didn’t know much about him. My own fault, maybe, for not reading all of the documents or for not making certain decisions in the game. But as a result, I didn’t really care all that much what happened to the Royal Protector Who Failed.

I loved being able to hear Daud converse with other characters or comment on the situations in which he found himself. I felt like I understood who he was and what he was doing, without reading every glowing book or convenient note. I know it’s just a game, but I believe that’s the difference between a good game and a great game — or a good book and a great book, or a good movie and a great movie. If you care about the characters, it means more.

A lot has been said, lately, about women in video games, and I’m going to say a little bit about that, too. Based on the Dishonored DLC and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, I’d say Bethesda is doing better than most. I could have done without the fridging of the Empress in the main game, or the conspicuous brothel level. Again, this is where the DLC excelled. In The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, women are gritty, flawed, complex leaders, villains, secret agents and equal partners in crime, not sex slaves, damsels in distress or pretty princesses on a pedestal to reward the hero at the end of his trials.

And they look fabulous. I want to dress like this IRL.

Have you played Dishonored, The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches? What did you think? Which one did you enjoy the most? Who do you like better, Corvo or Daud?

~ J.L. Hilton

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Guilty!

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Game review: Dishonored aka What Thief Should Have Been

DISHONORED
Rating: M for Mature
Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language

Read parts one and two of my Thief review

* * * MINOR SPOILERS * * *

I recently finished Dishonored (in high chaos) and let me start by saying it was everything Thief should have been.

I played Thief first, despite being released about a year and a half after Dishonored. As similar as the two games are, considering that Dishonored makes no secret of being inspired by the Thief franchise, I couldn’t help making comparisons while I played.

The worlds of Dishonored and Thief exist in vaguely-Victorian, plague-ridden dystopias. Thief had the mysterious, magical old Queen of Beggars, evil bald Baron Northcrest, brothel madame Xiao Xiao, genius inventor Ector, and underworld connection Basso. Dishonored had mysterious, magical old Granny Rags, the evil bald Lord Regent, brothel madame Prudence, genius inventor Piero, and underworld connection Slackjaw.

Both games antagonize the player with a hostile City Watch. Both feature brothel levels, but considering how much writing, voice acting, motion capture and programming must have gone into Thief‘s House of Blossoms, compared to… er, the REST of the game… somebody at Eidos Montreal is a dirty little perv. Dishonored‘s bath house, the Golden Cat, seemed tame and insignificant by comparison.

Thief had an asylum level, while Dishonored dropped the idea of a mental institution during development. Which is fine with me. In spite of all the rats, without an asylum Dishonored gave me significantly fewer heebie-jeebies than Thief (or Bioshock). And that’s saying a lot, because I hate rats.

Dishonored never felt boring or repetitive. Well, ok, maybe a wee bit, after the 20th time the guards talked about having “whiskey and cigars tonight.” But it was still 800 times less often than I had to hear about “rolling Polly Adler” while playing Thief. At least I didn’t feel like I spent half the game watching a pair of hands pry open windows, pick locks and grope picture frames.

In Dishonored, the mix of conversation and ambient noises sounded natural. The layout of the city and the various missions didn’t feel restrictive nor confusing. I never once threw the PS3 controller across the room out of frustration with awkward game mechanics. The large-handed, tiny-headed characters were a bit odd, but overall the graphics were lovely. The sun did frequently shine upon Dunwall. Not that I ever had a problem with Thief‘s color palette of gray, dark gray, light gray, slate, ash, charcoal, taupe and olive for it’s cramped city of… The City.

Dishonored was fun. It felt comfortable to play. Though constrained by the parameters of each level, I didn’t feel as restricted as I did playing Thief (or even Hitman, which I never finished). The world of Dishonored felt so rich and fully interactive, I rarely bumped up against the edges or broke immersion. I enjoyed seeing how my choices would affect the progression of the game, how characters reacted to me, and how the final scenes played out. I liked having a range of weapons, intriguing supernatural powers, and useful gadgets. The tools really opened up the game, allowing new and unusual ways to solve problems and experience the missions. Unlike Thief, where I felt as if I struggled to succeed in spite of the tools at Garrett’s disposal and my actions had little real impact on the course of the adventure.

My biggest complaint about Dishonored is that I didn’t care enough about the main character, Corvo Attano, bodyguard to the Empress. Yes, it’s a first-person game, so all we see of him are his hands and the inside of his mask. But Thief was a first-person game, too, and we still saw Garrett in cutscenes, and heard his voice in his thoughts. I felt closer to the clockwork heart in Corvo’s hand, who whispered her plaintive secrets in his ear.

I liked Garrett right from the start, and I’ll be honest: He’s sexy. I really didn’t “get” Corvo until late in the game, when certain key pieces of information were revealed (or implied). Perhaps it’s my own fault for not paying attention nor reading every book and note, but I wished I’d known more about Corvo, Emily and the Empress much earlier. It would have changed some of my decisions, but more than that I might have felt more invested in the outcome and engaged by the story.

I plan to play Dishonored again, with the DLC. I can’t say the same for Thief. Have you played both games ? What did you think?

~ J.L. Hilton

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Dear Marvel, please let me choose your Doctor Strange

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Automatons & Armorers at ConTemporal 2014

Last weekend, I joined the Temporal Engineering Alliance (TEA) as Port Raleigh’s aide-de-aether, otherwise known as social media assistant for ConTemporal.

In this industrious capacity, I met distinguished inventors, steamstresses, storytellers, troll hunters, melodians, haberdashers, automatons, armorers, leatherworkers, ladies and gentlemen at the third annual convergence of time streams and intersecting realities in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Some illustrative tintypes for your perusal:


Photos by J.L. Hilton

Color images and additional pictures here and here

Links:
The Blonde Swan
Bone Shaker Boxes
Brett King Steampunk
Brute Force Studios
GearHearts Magazine
The Gin Rebellion
Hatton Cross Steampunk
Koala Bags
Lady Heathers Fashions
Sleepy Hollow
Stephen Lee Chapman
The Victorian Magpie

Cogs & Captains at ConTemporal 2013
Characters & Curiosities at ConTemporal 2012

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