August 2021

Howdy, folks!

Bit of a digression to start this month’s newsletter off – bear with me…

The Usual

At the start of this month, I finally polished off the last game in the Mass Effect Trilogy – I’ve been re-playing them thanks to the “Legendary Edition” that they released, and in typical perfectionist fashion, wanted to platinum trophy each game before completing them. Anyway, the ending of Mass Effect 3 got me thinking about story and our expectations of it, and I wanted to waffle a bit!

Despite having completed the series when it first came out, I found myself genuinely torn on which of the various endings to go for – without wishing to spoil it for anyone, the very end of Mass Effect 3 presents you with a choice of three endings (assuming you’ve done the legwork/sidequests/etc to gather allies and support throughout the game). Each has pros and cons, and crucially, there isn’t a perfect ending – with previous choices in the series, it’s often clear what the “best” course of action is and it’s usually the “good”/paragon option. However, the ending is far less clear-cut – you can choose the option you’ve been gearing up for the entire game and accept collateral damage (both literally and emotionally, short and long term), or the option that one of the game’s bad guys has been rooting for throughout (which, again, has risks and downsides). Lastly, there’s a “middle” option which seeks to step outside the binary choices presented previously but has it’s own ethical and moral challenges. [sidenote: the game’s original ending got a lot of blowback, and the developers tweaked it in a later DLC so that it factored in more of your choices throughout the series. I delayed finishing it for ages so I never saw the original ending!]

Reading up on the various endings to help me make a decision, I was struck by how many other players insisted on the first ending purely because doing so can ensure the survival of your main character, Commander Shepard. The Mass Effect Trilogy does a fantastic job of getting you invested in your Shepard – you choose from a set of origins/backstories rather than writing your own, but there are so many choices throughout the three games that you really connect with the journey your Shepard has taken. It makes sense that people would want Shepard to survive against all odds, and have a happy ending with his romantic partner (my one and only Liara, of course 💙)

However, every time I’ve played the series, I’ve accepted that Shepard needs to die in the fulfilment of his duty. It’s the only choice that makes sense – much as I might want him to live, I knew that he was going to sacrifice himself because that’s the only thing he could do. The whole series (at least the way I’ve always played it) is about hope and unity, about a diverse group of civilisations rising up as one against an overwhelming foe – burying old hatreds, sacrificing everything for survival. Choosing the path that keeps Shepard alive always felt selfish, and completely out of touch with his character. It’s fascinating to me that so many others didn’t feel the same, and prioritised keeping Shepard alive over the many short and long-term consequences of that choice. If we put so much of ourselves (our time, our morality) into a character it becomes very hard to let them go, even if it’s the right thing to do – for the story and for that character. Sometimes (well, most of the time) there is no such thing as a truly happy ending, and while I agonised over which to go for, I appreciated the agonising for making me really think about my character, his journey and what choice he would make in that moment.

(if anyone’s wondering: I wimped out and chose the third option – the same ending that I chose the first time I played the series 😅)

The Record

Pretty light workload this month – only a couple of pages scripted. That said, it feels busier because I’ve been looking over pencilled/inked pages by Harriet for the next issue of Brigantia and layouts by Rosie Packwood for our anthology story together – I’ve also done some more development work on Steel Knights (as well as started scripting it and reached out to an artist about concept designs, so we’ll see how that goes). Oh, and I’ve been putting together another anthology pitch which I need to tidy up..!

There’s definitely stuff on my to-do list which has taken a backseat to musical endeavours this month (I’ve got an album launch gig then a 6-night UK tour to prepare for with Ba’al, assuming the UK doesn’t collapse into another pit of COVID catastrophe which is entirely too likely right now), and another gig with Powerhouse which is different to our usual scene), but it feels like the plate-spinning is just about holding for now…

The Tunes

It’s pretty much all metal this month, in a variety of different flavours – but first, the wonderful rendition of Blue Fields from the FFXIV Shadowbringers OST which has been stuck in my head all month. Delightful exploring music! Next up is a new track from Wolverine, one of my favourite prog metal bands – I picked up their album Still without knowing anything about it or them years ago (at a HMV in scummy Stockport) and was blown away. This one introduces some new sounds and elements but maintains their penchant for catchy choruses. Next we’re into more experimental territory with Vektor, which I guess I would describe as progressive death/thrash with a sci-fi theme/concept? It slaps, anyway! After that, some more prog metal but this time of the instrumental variety – Mountain Caller are a UK band who I discovered this month and I immediately appreciated – look at the sick cover art! Visual style is v. important for your band! Following that we have Igorrr, who I’ve heard of before but never listened to – this track is one of the most schizophrenic things I’ve ever heard and yet, somehow, it all works. Masterful. Next up, worlds collide with a Chelsea Wolfe song about Wonder Woman – no, that isn’t a joke, she literally wrote it for the Dark Knights: Death Metal soundtrack! This avoids any gimmickry by virtue of Chelsea Wolfe being an absolutely singular musician/songwriter who refuses to compromise. Next, we’re into the anti-fash black metal backend of the playlist – first up is Awenden, who have a kind of Lord of the Rings/Summoning vibe (Sauron, as we all know, is famously fash scum) which is v. enjoyable. Next is Underdark, a local band from the UK scene who craft cavernous atmospheres of black metal chaos and align themselves proudly against the right – I saw them for the first time this month and it was a fantastic show. Svalbard are up next, mixing a hefty dose of hardcore punk in with the BM sound – big choruses, masterfully-controlled vocals and a staunch leftist outlook are their trademark, along with songs that tackle real-life issues like domestic abuse and alt-right online trolls. Finally, we’re closing out this month with a 10-minute plus epic from the latest Wolves in the Throne Room album, Primordial Arcana. This was one of my most anticipated releases this year (so much so that I splashed out for a fancy coloured vinyl of it) and it was worth the wait – it’s the most immediate and heavy they’ve ever sounded, but still evokes the cascading waterfalls and mist-drenched forests of their Pacific Northwest home.

The Links

It’s mostly a Gawain and the Green Knight-centric links section this month, because I’m still absolutely furious about not being able to watch it here on Plague Island, UK and this is how I’m coping:


Finally, A Seat at the Round Table:

(this is why representation matters, people!!)

And lastly, grab a hot (or cold, your choice) beverage and read this. Trust me – it starts off grim but you’ll feel better for it:

That’s all for this month – thanks for reading, let’s stay safe and keep chugging along!

All the best,