The Medical Necessity lore nobody asked for

Remember Medical Necessity? It was the game development project where I had my first ill-fated experience as a project manager. In the end, we got cancelled due to lack of progress during the first quarter of production, and the only surviving product is the purchasable sprite sheet on itch.io.

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The design document and production wiki note that the default names for the player’s allied soldiers are Homer, Berenson, Collins, and Cunningham. And while digging through a lifetime of old boxes preparing for my move to Portland, I found the original action figures those names came from. Their plastic has gone gummy and they’re now too fragile to do anything but collect dust, but at least I can photograph and chronicle the 4 most important toys I owned growing up.

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“Corps Man adventures” were one of my favorite pastimes growing up with my younger brother Jake. We had huge boxes of GI Joes, LEGOs, Star Wars figurines, and other assorted toys, and we went on countless adventures where we’d each control one or more characters in sprawling odysseys that often took us around the house, backyard, and even our friends’ houses if they were participating. Arctic expeditions, police/detective procedurals, time-traveling, natural disasters, jailbreaks and manhunts… we role-played a huge amount of scenarios throughout the years, very rarely reusing characters or locales in favor of constantly inventing new backstories and storylines.

The squads on this page are among the very few action figures who always represented the same recurring characters. Jake and I each controlled our own 4-man team of special forces soldiers, and over the years they went on dozens of different missions for the “Power Team”, an international peacekeeping force. We made them ID Cards and everything.

The Rangers

My squad was the Rangers, and tbh they’re way more boring than the crazy stuff Jake came up with for his backstories. Just jump straight to the Mini-Force if you wanna see what a precocious 7-year-old can come up with.

Cunningham

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Cunningham (the American) was the leader of my squad, with pretty typical leaderly qualities like being good at any team role and keeping a clear head under pressure. His main gimmick was believing that tools are unnecessary with sufficient skills, which was why he had no backpack and no attachments on his rifle.

Homer

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Homer (the Australian) was the team’s muscle and combat specialist. He was always needlessly positive and optimistic, and had a tendency to get injured and need the other characters to drag him around until they found medical attention or a lull in combat to patch him up. He also wore the team’s parachute, which in our young minds made him literally immune to falling damage at any time.

Berenson

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Berenson (the Brit) was the team’s engineer and tech specialist. He wore a radio backpack so he could communicate with HQ, and was usually the one hotwiring vehicles or “hacking” something while everyone else defended him. He was the team complainer and usually sarcastically whining about having to do anything.

Collins

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Collins (the Norwegian) was the team’s pilot and sniper. He’d always be the one driving/flying whatever the squads were using to get around, and during combat he’d often hang in the back and snipe with his scoped rifle. He was a scaredy-cat and always nervous about what the teams were getting themselves into.

The Mini-Force

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Jake’s squad was the Mini-Force, and they wore tan uniforms to distinguish themselves from the Rangers’ green. Each teammate also outranked the next (unlike the Rangers, where everyone but Cunningham had the same rank) and could issue orders to anyone below them in this list.

Jake

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Jake himself was the commander of his squad. He had a custom uniform we made by stitching a bunch of different army men pieces together ala Frankenstein, and it represented his chameleon abilities–because he didn’t wear the uniform of any specific army, he could bluff his way into enemy bases by claiming he worked for them. His sidearm was a laser pistol he canonically built himself.

Cooper

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Cooper (the Canadian) was “the competent one”; he was the teammate who knew how to do everything, and Jake’s second-in-command. This often left him in-charge whenever Jake was infiltrating an enemy base. I don’t remember a single time he actually put those goggles on.

When it came time for me to move away to college, our parents got Jake a dog so he’d still have someone to play with, and he named it Cooper since it was his new second-in-command.

Loft

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Loft (the Antarctican) had a Barbarian-style rage that he could enter whenever he ate a Snickers bar. He didn’t talk much and he didn’t use guns, choosing instead to wade into battle dual-wielding a knife and a metal club. We used him as a “Shit, we need someone to do xyz but no human could realistically pull that off” plot device a lot.

Fireburst and Bentley

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Originally, the fourth member of the Mini-Force was Fireburst (the English, cause we thought England and Britain were separate countries). He was “the stupid one” and usually just fired his gun at enemies or screwed something up to make the mission harder. Then one day we lost him in the backyard and he got replaced with Bentley (the Russian), who had a black printing error on his chin we both interpreted as a minuscule soul patch. Bentley was a rock climber who could scale any wall, but he never got much of a personality; his main gimmick was not being incompetent like Fireburst.

(Years later we found Fireburst, who we decided was now a badass survivalist that retired after being rescued and reintroduced to society.)

The Power Team HQ

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Some other action figures entered the canon as we bought more figurines from the same set. They only rarely appeared as “guest stars” for a mission, or in storylines that involved the home base being attacked by invaders.

Xaviers

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Maximilian Xaviers was the commander of the HQ, and often the one assigning us missions. He preferred to stay off the front lines, so he’d wield a high-powered sniper rifle whenever he found himself involved in combat. Sometimes he’d get kidnapped and we needed to go rescue him.

Damont

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At some point, we realized HQ’s radio operator should get a name since we’re constantly talking to him, and thus Omeed Damont was born. He was a redeemed criminal and sworn noncombatant who refused to fight or kill anyone, so he never did anything beyond being the radio guy.

Møter 

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Achmed Møter was far-and-away the least seen character. His only job was being “a soldier stationed at HQ” and filling any minor plot role when we didn’t have another character to do it. I think he even died once or twice. We pronounced his last name as “Moy-turr” but that’s probably not how that letter actually sounds.

Mahgninnuc

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Mahgninnuc was Cunningham’s evil twin, and he had a red eye and blond goatee we added with sharpie. Sometimes he commanded the evil forces, sometimes he was an underling working for the current villains, but he was always Cunningham’s arch-nemesis and the only recurring antagonist. He wielded a transparent red sword that could superheat to cut through anything, and often used it to escape after the heroes destroyed his evil plan of the week. I don’t think they ever ended up catching him.


This is actually the second time I rediscovered this small bag of action figures. They also reappeared while Jake and I were cleaning the basement shortly before I was gonna move away for college in 2009, and we enacted a short ceremony where Xaviers gave all eight of them medals and they retired with full military honors. Shame I can’t really remember any of the missions they actually went on, but these dudes are an important part of why I grew up loving storytelling to the degree I do.

New game released!

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Ever wondered whether Harry Potter could successfully bring the One Ring to Mordor? Now you can find out!

Here’s something that kinda came out of nowhere. I’m prepping for my move to Portland and last night I went through two dozen ancient boxes of crap from the undergraduate (and earlier) years. I found a couple surprising things here and there, including one of my white whales; the final project I created for a summer abroad course in 2011. I took the heroes from all 7 books we covered (Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows, Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Golden Compass, Harry Potter, Howl’s Moving Castle) and created a matrix where you can choose any hero and transplant them into any other universe to see how they’d fare.

I thought this thing was long gone for ages, but lo and behold it was sitting happily on an old flash drive. I added in-browser compatibility, updated the interpreter to fix a scrolling bug on Google Chrome, and now it’ll be online for all eternity, never to be lost again. Hooray! There are 42 different scenarios to explore, so I hope you have fun! 😀

Looking Back

As mentioned in my other blog post this week, I just chewed through a lifetime of old storage boxes in one evening. I didn’t really have a choice; Goodwill was coming in the morning, and lord knows I didn’t want the donatables sitting around for another 2 weeks before the next time they’d swing by.

But I’m honestly glad they spurred my hand and made me sift through it all, because I found a bunch of diamonds in the rough. Old things I’d long lost and never thought I’d see again. The biggest and best white whale was Oxford: Portal to Fantasy, but there were also several old videos from long before I’d even created a YouTube account. These days they’re useful only to remind myself that I’m actually improving at my craft. Without further ado, in order of age:

1. Chelvis Nemo Productions

The first videos I ever edited were a loose tetralogy of vignettes starring my brother, with a different neighborhood friend as the villain in each short (I’m the evil wizard in ‘Return of the Kingdom’). I did all the work in iMovie, and honestly these turned out pretty entertaining even all these years later. It helps they don’t overstay their welcome, clocking out at 1:24 minutes each.

2. A Cheesy Love Story

At some point in high school, I attended a UCLA film camp and this short flick was the resulting abomination my group produced. Once again I played the villain and handled all the editing, though it’s clear I was still getting the hang of cutting different takes together. I also composed that godawful song at 2:36 using GarageBand.

3. Interrobang: The Art of War

In college I first started getting the idea of creating my own YouTube channel, and recorded the pilot for a planned series of videos where I talk about classic works of literature. This series was going to be called “Interrobang” and star myself playing a character named Mark, but it never progressed beyond this single episode. The editing is still choppy, and it’s painfully audible whenever I switch between sound files.

4. What was that, Sandvich?

This was the first thing I ever uploaded to YouTube (which almost immediately earned my first dislike!) It was a really obvious joke any TF2 fan would have thought of after this MLP scene aired 3 days prior. I was hired by Legend of Equestria shortly after this, and put my videography dreams on hold to develop games, which would remain my primary passion even after starting The SPUF of Legend in February 2016.

5. The SPUF of Legend – Episode 0

While the first public upload to the SPUF of Legend was our guide to TF2 weapon pickups, this unlisted test video is actually a few hours older. I’m clearly heavily influenced by STAR_‘s style and have transferred into gaming commentary away from appearing on camera in person.

6. The Only 5 Melee Weapons Worth Using in Payday 2

I know we’ve progressed beyond the purview of “Nick’s early videos” but this Payday vid was probably the most important one I ever uploaded to the channel. I’d been releasing game commentaries for years by this point, and had developed a bit of a following. But I was getting tired of the 5-10 minute format and designed this video to cover its topic and wrap itself up as fast as conceivably possible. I didn’t anticipate how popular the “lightning list” format would be, and all my future videos heavily modeled themselves after this one. It’s also where I started regularly adding subtitles after non-native English speakers complained they had trouble parsing my rapidfire format.

7. VGFAQ

I didn’t return to the on-camera format until VGFAQ started paying me money to create videos for their channel. For the first time, I had to handle lighting and making my face look decent while reciting my lines (you can tell I sneak a ton of cuts in there, usually during card transitions so the viewer’s hopefully not looking at me). The convention videos didn’t get enough views to justify the time, money and work we put into making them, but I’m glad I got to stretch my legs as a roving videographer for GDC and E3.

And that’s pretty much it for big milestones! I’ll be going through some sort of transition soon, since I’ll be stuck up in Portland without my tank of a desktop and will have to make videos without relying on 1080p AAA game footage to distract the viewer from the simplistic editing. Honestly, I’m kinda looking forward to the challenge; as my early vids show, I never got into videography for the journalism. I’ve always wanted to tell stories using a visual medium, so we’ll just have to see if I can weather yet another paradigm shift.

Job receipt #4

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As great as it’s been to actually succeed at applying to daily jobs for the first time in my life (seriously, you do not want to know how many times I’ve failed at getting more than two in a row before falling back on bad habits and getting bailed out by a surprise freelance gig), I’m gonna need to take a short break as I’ll be up in Portland for the rest of the weekend looking at apartments. I’m also bringing a massive duffel bag of low-priority stuff and leaving it there to facilitate my eventual moving process. I genuinely have no idea how I’m gonna get my massive Area 51 desktop anywhere; me and Dad couldn’t even lift it. I might call Alienware, show them its history of bluescreens, and demand they swap it out for a new one at my Portland address.

 

Anyway, today was frickin’ busy so I’ve finally got other things to mention. Borderlands 3 came out last night and I’m getting paid by VGFAQ to make no-commentary walkthroughs so I busted the first 5 out last night so I didn’t need to think about it for the rest of my trip. I’ll be honest, I was not jazzed at the timing and went into my first playthrough extremely grumpy, so it’s a point in Gearbox’s favor that I quickly found myself loving the game anyway. It’s just more of the same Borderlands content but with every single one of my complaints addressed. (You want female raiders? Done! A button at vending machines that quickbuys ammo for every gun? Of course! Mobility mechanics? We stole everything from Apex Legends!) Thank god VGFAQ’s reimbursing me for the hundred bucks for the Season Pass.

The last thing I needed to complete before I could fly tomorrow was cleaning out the aforementioned duffel bag as it contained a massive laundry list of papers from every era of my life that I kept stuffing in there rather than sort my past out. It was honestly therapeutic seeing all the old stories, notes, screenplays, sketches, and outlines I’d created for various creative endeavors at different points. Most excitingly, I found a lot of my old tabletop RPG characters from college. I used to work as a professional GM for Strategicon, and I’d completely forgotten about the nameless amnesiac woman I’d played in somebody’s game of Psi*Run. The coolest thing about Psi*Run was how you wrote questions for your character without knowing the answers, and the game would organically tease out answers devised by everyone around the table. And any Into the Black readers should be getting some serious deja vu from this character sheet because she was ported directly into that universe as Lily North.

My second-favorite player character from that era was Presley August, voted by my college friends as the single most annoying character I have ever played. It was (and still is) the only time I’ve ever played Call of Cthulhu, and due to the system’s infamous mortality rate I decided to play an obnoxiously arrogant underage dilettante who thought he was better than everyone else. The team ended up ditching him in the hull of an abandoned ghost ship after he failed a Will Save to not start lighting cultist incense. Said incense caused him to lose all his sanity and hallucinate he was in R’lyeh seeing all the Elder gods at once, and then a Kraken showed up and swallowed the ship whole. The GM added that last bit just because everybody wanted to see him die. Poor Presley.

And lastly there’s Bogard, the first (and longest-lasting) character I’ve ever played. I wrote him a backstory and everything, set to the tune of Gilligan’s Island. My friends and I were all brand new to tabletop gaming, and we played that initial campaign almost every weekend for over two years. At one point we switched who was GM, and players frequently dropped out/joined or switched characters, and ultimately Bogard was the only character who survived the entire adventure (which was less of a campaign and more a series of unconnected vignettes sending them all over the medieval world). After getting some financial advice from GitP, I had him buy his own castle and rule over his own township. Most of my characters after him (including the two above) weren’t so lucky…

Baptiste is based on TFC Medic, dont @ me

I had something of a sobering moment the other day. I was wandering my old (and new) hometown during Shiny Rattata Day, and eventually I found myself at my old high school. I’d graduated 11 years ago, and most of my old teachers were either retired or transferred to different schools, but I did get to meet my old Drama teacher, which is awesome because she’s the one I wanted to see the most. I’d been the Improv manager and a regular in the school plays, so I’d spent many nights after school working on producing all sorts of theatrical events with her, and she asked me how I’d been doing since graduating. I explained to her that I’d moved to SF to get a game design degree and had been working in video games, and only recently moved back home for money reasons after getting written out of a startup I’d helped found. She asked how the family was doing and I talked about how my brother recently got promoted to head of HR at a startup.  She talked to me a bit about the plays they’d put on and how the school was doing, but she had to excuse herself shortly to manage the rehearsal that was about to start.

At the time, I thought we’d had a pleasant conversation, but later that night when I’d gone home I realized just how much of a corporate tool I must have sounded like. I had nothing to talk to her about except work and jobs, I bet she was disappointed in what I’d turned out to be. I never really expected to be so focused on employment, but it’s kinda been the driving force of my life since I left Ohio to break into games. I’ve been telling myself “once I pull it off, once I’m in the industry, I’ll start having a social life and hobbies again” but I’m starting to realize this ride never really stops. The increasingly-pessimistic tone of these blog updates are an indication that I need to restructure my priorities a little bit and keep the big picture in mind.

I started exercycling back up last night, and I just reinstalled Unity. An old SPUF friend added me on discord recently and when we learned we both wanted to know Unity, agreed to take a tutorial together. We’ll be starting with Pro builder next week.

There are some other cool things happening, and I’ll get into them in a future blog post, but for now I just want to apologize for the depressing tone I’d taken in my last few posts. Leaving San Francisco was a huge blow to my pride, but in all other metrics it’s done wonders for my mental health. I hope to have some more updates on gaming-oriented creative projects–like this blog was founded to talk about–real soon.

My Biggest Mistakes

(I’m not sure where I’m going with this post, but I’m trying to get back to writing for myself. darwinssoldiers.com has been bottom of my focus pile for a while)

I’ve pretty much lived my life taking opportunities whenever possible. I used to work in a nursing home, and I got to talk to a lot of people at the end of their lives. Almost all of them regretted things they didn’t do.

To try and avoid that, I’ve always pushed forward. I’ve lived in two countries and three different states, I’ve chased my dream job of game development for over seven years, and I’ve learned every piece of creative software I could get my hands on. As a high-schooler discovering the internet, I dreamed I would one day be able to Photoshop images or turn snippets of my gameplay into GIFs, and it’s great that I can now effortlessly do such things.

But that doesn’t make these 3 memories any easier:

  1. As an undergraduate, a film studio decided to use the college I was attending as the primary set for a horror film they were creating. For most of my sophomore year I’d be walking around and occasionally see them recording or prepping at random locations throughout the campus and surrounding city. I appeared in a very, very minor role as an extra but otherwise did absolutely nothing to make friends or connections with the studio staff. Even worse, the screenwriter and one of the producers were close family friends! I could have done anything I wanted if I’d just asked them. But unfortunately, I didn’t want anything at the time. I never even considered Hollywood a possible job direction, so the movie eventually wrapped up and, and was only ever a passing curiosity in my college years. I can only imagine where I might be right now if I’d taken advantage of that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity even a little bit.Kinda connected to that one, I didn’t make good use at all of my undergraduate professors. Everyone warned me before I went to college that it was extremely important to befriend them because they would be a huge resource in the future when looking for jobs and opportunities. I got to know the Film Studies teached well enough, and co-authored a compilation with one of the English professors, but other than that I pretty much graduated and left when my 4 years were up. I didn’t go to office hours nearly enough, and to no surprise wound up alone and struggling to find a job out of college. I feel less bad about this one because I did a much better job with forming collegiate connections in my Master’s program.
  2. On my first day in San Francisco after graduating college (six years ago), I had secured an apartment with my boyfriend and we’d been lucky enough to gain a video game connection with a man my mom knew from work. He offered, and we readily agreed, to meet up for coffee and he’d talk to us about the job market, our resumes, and what we needed to know to ingratiate ourselves in the city. After coffee, he drove us around San Franscisco and pointed out various game studios he knew and how likely we were to be hired by them.And then he parked in front of a drab-looking building and pointed saying “That’s Double Fine.” Double Fine was one of the world’s most famous game writing companies, and I loved their games. He encouraged me to walk right in there, without a plan, and ask them for a job right now. I remember my boyfriend sitting next to me, also encouraging me to do so. It felt like the sort of choice you’d encounter in one of Double Fine’s game, to be honest, but I ended up making the wrong choice.  I was too scared to walk in there; I hadn’t scheduled an appointment or anything, I hadn’t researched the company or learned their company values and all I had was an unspecialized resume I hadn’t hand-crafted to give to them. Also, I couldn’t fathom they’d be interested in a junior writer whose largest published game at the time was Legends of Equestria. A couple seconds passed, and when they realized I wasn’t getting out of the car, we drove away.Would that moment have led to a job at Double Fine? Probably not. But I’ll never know.
  3. And lastly, I regret the last six months. I graduated in September 2018 having not done nearly enough to secure a job out of college. I did great in the actual program but I only applied for a few positions while I was still enrolled. Upon leaving, I continued to apply for jobs but with something of a slow-burning longterm anxiety attack giving me sleepless nights. I am well aware that you can only call yourself a “recent graduate” for the first six months after you obtain your diploma, and now here we are and I’m no closer to being employed than when I started. I’ve applied for dozens of jobs, but I should have applied for hundreds. I should have bugged people and made more phone calls and networked and done everything in my power to secure a position before it was too late.

RIP my wallet

Usually people are speaking in synecdoche when they write that, jokingly referring to some expensive luxury item or Steam Summer sale they can’t resist, but in this case, my literal wallet has finally died.

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Above: my old weatherbeaten wallet. Below: the until-now unused wallet my brother got me last Christmas, with my ID lazily photoshopped over

My wallet is the oldest item I possess by far, even factoring in that I’ve used it every single day of its life. I picked it out after graduating fifth grade, since I was getting library cards and credit cards and other things that required too many slots to fit into my plastic kid’s wallet. It followed me through high school, college, Ohio, Texas, back to California, and now it’s retiring at the very end of my Master’s program. It visited England, Scotland, Norway, Germany, France, Spain, Canada, Mexico, and countless US states. God only knows how many dollars, notes, cards, keys, and coins that have passed through it.

It’s weird to think I’m moving onto the next phase of my life without it. I’ve got a replacement all ready to go courtesy of Jake, but part of me wants to shell out for a wallet restoration place and keep the legend going (especially since the Velcro works perfectly, it’s just the worn-through fabric back that needs replacing). Something I can think about in September, once I’ve graduated and some of these distractions are resolved. Either way I think it’ll appreciate a short break.

If you want to know about some of these other things, I made an apology video for the YouTube channel since I’ve been letting it stagnate as my graduation looms:

 

And finally, its a bust at Pixelberry, but I can’t say I didn’t give it my all. I finished and returned the writing sample, and they sent me a form rejection. So I wrote back asking if I could downgrade to their Junior Writing position. Not content to leave my chances up to one email, I took a day off school and Ubered down there with a hard copy of my application.

Pixelberry was in a large multicorporate building, I had to sneak in at the same time someone exited the front entrance. Pixelberry’s office was locked with a fob, and I think everyone was at lunch so I loitered in the courtyard till 12:45. Then I flagged someone down at the front desk and asked to deliver my application to HR. They let me go in where I gave my printed application directly to the guy in HR. Explained I’d been in the running for Senior Writer and didn’t get it, so now I’m applying for junior and wanted to make sure they had a paper copy. He seemed nice, I think I made a good impression on him. either way, my efforts earned me a personalized rejection, which I genuinely consider a win. They ‘appreciated my persistence’ but they didn’t think my assessment ‘demonstrates the qualities they look for in our writers.’ Which is probably true; in all honesty I had a hell of a time writing it since teen romance is somewhat out of my comfortable writing purview.

So that’s the end of that story just kidding they recently opened up for a QA Story Tester position and I’m already printing out my application for another trip down there. I’m sure they can’t wait to hear from me again.