Tuesday, 8 May 2012

AHAIRQL Recruitment Stories

Okay, now I’m sure someone’s just messing with me. There is no possible reason for me to be posted three documents describing the recruitment of teams for some game or other. None at all. But they just came! I’m going to have to have a word with the Marquis de Sod one of these days. But until then, a hobby is a hobby…

Reports: AHAIRQL Season Two Recruitment Stories Two, Three and Four
Agents: Too many to count
Continuum: None. PPC HQ

Story Two: Team BOTB

(I don’t know why I didn’t get ‘Story’ One. Maybe there isn’t one. This is HQ, after all)

I’m quite taken by the recruitment method adopted by Team BOTB; the poster described in the story definitely makes an impression, and I’m glad it makes a second appearance (with a joke thrown in, thank you, Doc). I also find the interactions of the agents amusing – even the ones who do not end up on the team. I have no idea who Miah and, ah, Maria are, but they entertain me, which is the purpose of this whole exercise.

One thing that does strike me about this work is the sheer number of agents involved; it can be hard to keep track of them. Indeed, I think the chronicler had the same problem – Agent Vania vanishes from the narrative completely. Did she leave the room, or was she still testing her bat? It’s impossible to say, but she seems the sort who would normally have spoken up.

However, that is a very minor detail in a highly enjoyable story. If the Powers That Be choose to send them my way, I would be quite happy to read more about these agents – particularly all together.

Story Three: Team Nevermind

I confess to being rather confused by this report, as it clearly has two authors. It is evident from the very beginning that there is a certain lack of… shall we say flair in some lines. Four agents in a row are given lines with very little emotion in them – it feels as though all four are speaking in a dull monotone (including the one who ‘comments’ an exclamation – very strange). This is not to say that there is a technical problem with the writing – it is perfectly sound – but it does not grab my attention, as it were.

But then, just as I’m about to give up hope, I come to our first team-member, Agent Earwig (I think that’s right). He is, to put it bluntly, hilarious: his internal monologue (brief though it may be) caught my eye, and I was hooked.

This strange dichotomy continues to the next section. Compare, if you will, these paragraphs:

"Hi," he said. "I'm Earwig Slugthrower and I wanted to know if you would be interested in joining my Something Something Australian Quidditch thing!"


"Six players? Quidditch has seven positions." She shrugged. "Must be an Australian variant." Decima tried to think of who might be interested in team sports. Mirrad didn't seem the type, and it might be weird playing on a team with her therapist. She had no idea where Phobos had gotten off to…

Earwig has a manic energy that captivates me – and, clearly, does the same to Decima, since she agrees to join his team with barely a second’s thought. But when her thoughts do come, they are… well, boring. She doesn’t question the difference in the game, and her list of potential players is just that: a list, with no real emotion (it might ‘be weird’ – but what about ‘feel weird’?). I’m positive she has emotions – most people do – but she’s clearly suppressing them heavily. This continues throughout the narrative – I won’t keep citing.

As often happens, the appearance of other characters offsets the dissatisfaction I feel. Ilraen and Nume are highly amusing together, and Ilraen seems to have a rare ability to bounce lines off anyone and everyone – I get the impression that, whoever he ends up spending time with, he is always worth watching. The four agents who appear at the end are also entertaining, although this may be somewhat due to their non-human personalities (and, bizarrely, Earwig seems to succumb to Decima’s lack of emotive writing). I find Kur’nak and his smelting almost endearing – even if he is an Orc.

Story Four: Team... Blast Hardcheese?

At last, a name I recognise! The (in)famous Agent Suicide, HQ's onetime biggest heartthrob, makes an appearance, and he and his faintly alcohol-scented new teammates are very entertaining. This story maintains temporal and locational continuity - it is a single flowing scene, not broken up like the other two - and it does it well. I really felt the barroom setting here - the close, intimate space where everyone's elbow is halfway to someone else's drink. What happens in the report feels like exactly the sort of thing that would happen there - right down to the team name (at least I think that's the team name).

The main problem I have with this story (insofar as I have any) is that some of the minor characters get lost in the shuffle. Derik and Gall I feel I know, and Suicide, and to some extent Gremlin, but... well, I'm having to check back to see who the others are. Saline comes and goes from the page in a flash, and Noir has only a little more screentime. Surprisingly, Unger's personality comes through very clearly, and he's only a mascot. And perhaps the neglect of two of their teammates comes simply from the length of the tale - a single scene can only be stretched so far, and some things always have to be cut.

The tale is told mostly through dialogue, and it works. Those agents who are shown in full are very well defined - and funny, too. Suicide and Diocletian's discussion of civilisation ("You know, that thing the Greeks invented?") is an instant classic, and there are other lines to match. This story was a wonderful read, and I applaud the team.

Whatever their name might be.

-T. Ryan, Dept. of Personnel, DOGA Archivist

Sunday, 15 April 2012

A Very Awkward Exorcism

Well, this is interesting. I'm pretty sure records of agents' training are supposed to be confidential... on the other hand, this is a mission report, so I suppose that doesn't apply. Still, it makes an interestingly different read. Let's see.

Mission: A Very Awkward Exorcism
Agents: Sergio Turbo and Nikki Cherryflower, Floaters
Continuum: Card Captor Sakura

I find this report to be a very good introduction to PPC proceedures. Agent, er, Nikki fills the role of 'naive protagonist' perfectly - she's clever enough that things don't need to be beaten in the ground, but ignorant enough to make the introductions she gets purposeful. I may recommend to the Marquis that we give copies of this to new recruits, to teach them what we're about. I particularly like the fact that the training doesn't stop when they enter the fic - Sergio is clearly a natural at this.

On the other hand, I'm sorry to say he seems a little too fond of his own voice. The vast majority of his report is dialogue, often with no tags to indicate who is talking - although that isn't an issue, he shows us his personality and Nikki's very well, so I can tell who's who. Nevertheless, the constant speech is a little tiring - I'd appreciate a little description at times, not so much of the surroundings, but of Nikki's reactions. Body language is still language, and I'm sure she had some.

On the subject of reactions... I've never met Sergio or Nikki in person (I don't get out much), but they come across as very hard-hearted. Sergio admits that Sakura is his Lust Object, and yet has barely any response to watching her be raped. Perhaps he's a recent transfer from Bad Slash, but I wonder whether he's simply blocking the memory - to the unfortunate detriment of his report.

But perhaps I'm being too harsh. Certainly his reactions towards the end were genuine - both the attraction and the embarassment - so he clearly has a normal emotional range. Perhaps his purpose in this report was to present his training of Nikki in a clear, unadorned manner, and he decided to cut out his own reactions for clarity's sake. Either way, I think he is worth watching - not that I have any choice in what reports I receive. Still, I'd like to read more.

-T. Ryan, Dept. of Personnel, DOGA Archivist

City Escape

And so it continues. What is this, Implausible Crossovers? That's Narto's old department... oh, Nar.

Okay. Pull myself together. Bad Terri, no reminiscing. Review. If I keep this up, the R&R Division will give me a part-time job.

Mission: City Escape/dead space sega style, Feeling Sorry, WHEEL OF TRAGETY
Agents: Florestan and Eusabius, DIC
Continua: Sonic, Dead Space, Mario, Banjo-Kazooie

I am quite terrified at the prospect of agents being given three missions at once, even short ones such as these - think of the filing! But if it has to happen, these three were a good match for each other. I'm surprised Agents Florestan and Eusabius didn't protest more, but I note that their file shows them to have a rather antique origin, so perhaps they were simply too polite.

The presentation of the differing styles of the three fics - script, centred, parenthetical - was masterful; I truly felt the agents' pain as they found themselves in each new situation. Perhaps the least fleshed-out was the centred story - it is mentioned once, and is amusing, but seems to fade into the background. I'm sure they felt the pressure of that centring more than they let on - and perhaps they should have written more about it. For someone like me, stuck in the Archives all day, it would have been an interesting read.

I do wonder at the language the pair use - look, it's even affecting me. I'm inclined to wonder whether they're playing on some reputation they have in HQ (I wouldn't know) and exaggerating their formality somewhat in the retelling. My suspicions on this front are strengthened by the fact that they occasionally slip into colloquial speech - the final 'Let's do this!' is one example. On the other hand, who knows? We've had stranger folk in here.

One point I do take issue with is during the climax of their third mission: one of the agents, Florestan, gives a 'review' to an author-wraith (described as a Sue-wraith, which I believe is department policy - precision is vital in DIC, where Sue-wraiths and slash-wraiths are both common). Unfortunately, this 'review', while appropriate in tone, nevertheless blurs towards being a flame. An insulting term is used towards the writer of the story - which is frowned on in most departments (the proposal for a Department of Author Abuse never got off the ground). My only consolation is that I'm inclined to think this 'review' was never actually given - it reads like a 'brilliant retort I would have made'.

On the whole, though I admit to not having any knowledge of the canons involved, I found this suitably entertaining. A few flaws, but far better than those agents who refuse to release their reports at all. I'd much rather have something to read than nothing.

-Terri Ryan, Dept. of

-- oh yes, and I found a bizarre piece of overprinting in my copy. The 'fourth wall' line in the third mission, for some reason, has folded on top of itself. Strange.

-T. Ryan, Dept. of Personnel, DOGA Archivist

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Gaspard in Aperture/sarah in aperture

I honestly have no idea what's going on any more. After that wodge of old reports I was sent, I assumed that was it - but now I'm receiving current Intelligence reports for some reason? Well, at least it's more interesting than Gen's latest origami-report (space-warping powers, yes; paper-folding, not so much).

Mission: Gaspard in Aperture/sarah in aperture
Agent: Gaspard De Grasse, Intel
Continuum: Portal

I find Agent De Grasse's (Gaspard's?) depiction of life in Intel's Action Division endlessly fascinating. I didn't even know they had a cubicle farm, but Gaspard makes it not only a learning experience, but entertaining as well. His colleague Angus takes constructive console abuse to a new level, and my only complaint is that I find myself a little confused over the scale of the whole thing. The only number given is a cubicle address, 'Cubicle 5294, Stupidity Lane', which even by the most conservative estimates gives well over 10,000 Intel Action Agents. I think we would have noticed that - but then again, I suppose consecutive numbering never did catch on here.

I do have to query Gaspard's interpretation of his interaction with the DIA. From what I've seen, DIA operatives may be dismissive, but they never display the overt contempt Gaspard describes. Either a member of their team was having a seriously bad day (which I'm sure the Tiger Lily would never allow), or Gaspard is exaggerating somewhat (and in a less generous frame of mind I might say 'making it up'). Presumably what actually happened was that he told them his RA might be broken, and refused to explain further - or, of course, that earpiece of his (do Intel have those?) was a prank given to him by persons unknown. You never can tell with agents.

Nevertheless, I did reach the end of this report satisfied that my time had not been wasted. Gaspard's slow realisation of exactly what sort of predicament he was in is near-perfect - and I firmly approve of his decision to let certain quotes from the 'fic stand on their own. Those lines don't require narrative commentary, and I'm glad it wasn't offered.

-T. Ryan, Dept. of Personnel, DOGA Archivist

Thursday, 8 March 2012

PPC Crusade/The Crusader King

Well, I've been issued an informal warning by the R&R Division. Apparently my justification for breaking the structure of my last review was insufficient, and I failed to mention sufficient items. I'll try to do better this time. I'm going to be using a primarily chronological structure, with one alteration to fit the recommended Good-Bad-Good pattern.

Mission: PPC Crusade/The Crusader King
Agents: Arthur Briggs and Lynn Gillies, DMS
Continuum: Belgariad

Straight off the mark, this mission was highly immersive. Just after the agents receive their mission, we see the following exchange:

You’re the only one in this RC with canon knowledge, which makes you primary agent for this mission.”

“Me?” Gillies squeaked. She cleared her throat and tried again. “But I’m not a full agent yet.”

“That doesn’t matter. The Duty is what’s important, and in this case you’re best suited to perform it."

This simple dialogue gives me a perfect feel for the agents. I could immediately contrast Gillies, squeaking and uncertain, with Briggs, saying 'the Duty is what's important'. The former is still settling into the PPC, while the latter, with his military background, is right at home. I immediately felt I knew the pair of them - and that I cared about what happened to them. All from a few lines of dialogue that let character flow through.

I also found myself drawn in in a different manner. This mission didn't feel like it took place in isolation: it was firmly part of a larger world. Two examples:

“In that case, you program the disguises while I visit the Canon Library."


[Present Tense Detected. Revert Agents To Past Tense Y/N?]

Briggs sighed as the reset took effect. “Much better. Once you make full Agent, see if you can talk DoSAT into adding a tense stabiliser to your CAD.”

Now, I'm not just quoting these because of my affection for the subjects of them, although that certainly plays a part. The Canon Librarian is a lot like me, insofar as I know anything about him, so it's good to see him getting some attention. The tense stabiliser first appeared on DOGA-modified CADs - I didn't realise it had gone into mass production. But that's not the point here.

The point is, I really get a feel for how the wider world of HQ impacts on this agent pair. I can now imagine them having friends and enemies, favourite haunts and secret shortcuts - not because of anything I know about them, but because their narrative so casually drops in pieces of their - our - world. This is clearly something they are intimately involved with, not just sitting on the outskirts of.

Oh, and it helps that they mention DOGA later by name. Pyro Department, getting the love.

Unfortunately, not everything is positive. While character-defining moments like my first quote exist, they are swamped by the fact that much of the dialogue can be split into two categories: charges, and infodumps.

Charges are important, we all know that, but there is more to a mission than the charge list. What I want to see is the agents' reactions to what happens, not simply the pigeonhole they slot it into. At its worst, this report descends into merely ticking boxes - literally, in fact, since Briggs is described as 'checking off' Thesaurus Abuse. This does not make for fascinating reading, unfortunately, and it foreshadows another problem: the entire list is quotes at the end, in massive block quotes.

There are two issues here. Firstly, how to deal with charges? I believe they don't all need to be mentioned. It is assumed that there is a list - that's a PPC Agent's job, after all - so it doesn't particularly need mentioning. Certainly the more amusing ones should be brought up - there is a scene where Briggs and Gillies discuss with evident satisfaction a pair of charges raised in a single time-jump, and it is entertaining to say the least - but the majority can pass unmarked.

Then there is the recitation. I know it's fashionable among some agents to create the largest list possible, but really, we don't need to see it. Read it to the 'Sue, by all means, but don't make me sit through it. Rather, edit what actually happened a little. Give me the highlights, the interesting bits, the collated and condensed version, and I'll read it. Give me the whole thing, and I'll skip ahead.

Then there are the infodumps. On the one hand, one agent is unfamiliar with the canon - and since this is the only Belgariad mission report I've ever seen, I imagine many casual readers are too. In that respect, a certain amount of information has to be provided. And, I must admit, Gillies handles it better than some - she breaks her dumps into small sections, allowing me time to recover in between, and theoretically absorb what I'm given. However, there are so many of them. Is all the information necessary? I don't know. Could it be condensed, cut down to the bare essentials and the funny parts? I suspect so.

But overall, I did enjoy this report. Possibly my favourite moment came near the end: in order to research something, Agent Briggs sent a letter to the Medical Department - using one of the lanterns said to be 'filing the room'. Not everyone would even have caught the typo (and as we know, agent observation has a massive effect on badfic canon), but Briggs used it to his advantage. Once again I gained insight into him, and saw his place in the larger world of the PPC - all through a simple piece of utility.

-T. Ryan, Dept. of Personnel, DOGA Archivist

Suebusters/For Gondor and Rohan

Everyone in DOGA (or DoGA, or DGA, or the Pyro Department, or whatever we're calling it this week) keeps telling me I need to get a hobby. Actually they usually tell me I need to get a life, but since I spend every waking hour filing their mission reports, complaints and sundries (a word I have come to detest), a hobby is the best I can do. Actually I shouldn't even be doing this, but I have an excuse. A package of old mission reports from across the PPC was delivered to the Archives this morning for some unknown reason, and I need to read them all to figure out what's going on. Since I'm doing that, I figure I might as well review them too.

Mission: Suebusters/For Gondor and Rohan
Agents: Cara Fielding & Miriam Collins, DMS
Continuum: Lord of the Rings

I have to say I found this mission a little dull to read about (although I note that one of the agents involved said much the same thing - I suppose boring is better than fatally exciting, right?). The main reason for this is that all the interesting moments appear to be glossed over. For example, during the Council I read that the entire courtyard turn[ed] gold when the 'Sue appeared. From Miriam's next line, I inferred that this was due to a line of bad narrative - but I am given no clue as to what it was. This happens every time Suvian prose is invoked. She gives a Sue-like description of the Lady Galadriel, but again, I don't get to find out what it says.

The main issue I have with this is that pure agent reaction doesn't hold my interest very well. I want to be entertained, and I want to be able to laugh at the badfic myself. There is little worse than seeing someone else in stitches over a joke I haven't heard. I understand the agents' purpose, I think - they want to be the focus, not simply characters in an MST - but I believe they would be more interesting if we knew what they were reacting to, not simply how.

Another issue I noticed is one I shall be passing on to the Department of Redundancy Department: lacking anything from the badfic to describe, the narrative sometimes takes to narrating the agents' dialogue. For example:
While it was understandable given the plagiarism, 0% OOC readings across the board (with the exception of the Sue, of course) were still unusual.

"Huh, everyone's totally in character so far," she noted, raising an eyebrow at the CAD with a small amount of disbelief. "That's strange."

The rule of 'Show, don't tell' seems to have been altered by these agents into 'show and tell'. Wait, was that too harsh? I've not exactly practiced this. I think the actual issue is one of 'Who knows what and how': the CAD informs one agent of an occurance, and that agent tells her partner. The problem is, both events didn't need to be narrated. It broke the flow of the mission for me. Even if this is what actually happened, to quote another rule, sometimes 'Less is more'. The dialogue would suffice, here and in other areas.

There is also an issue with narrative tension - or the lack thereof. Despite the agents' repeated warnings about the 'Sue possibly hearing them, there seems to be no danger of this happening. In one scene, Miriam taunts the Laws of Narrative Comedy - and wins. At a time when most of the Fellowship are on high alert due to approaching crebain, she sneaks into their camp, ignoring a warning from her partner, and steals their food with no consequences. Cara is alarmed, but does nothing, and nothing ever comes of the event.

Cara's warning was perfect foreshadowing, a Chekov's gun that simply didn't fire. Miriam wasn't seen. I understand that this is an accurate representation of events, but it left me feeling distinctly unsatisfied. There are two ways it could have been improved. The whole incident could have been downplayed, rather than building it up for no payoff. Alternately, and preferably, the tension could have been ramped up. If the narrative had followed Miriam rather than staying with Cara, we could have experienced her feelings: did that rock just move? I can't see Aragorn from here! What was that noise?

I hope I can be forgiven for my bad form in describing all the negatives first. I do not do this lightly - the structure of a review is practically a sacred trust - but as any member of the R&R Division of Personnel will tell you, sometimes structure must be sacrificed to dramatic necessity. The positives here are something rarely seen in mission reports, and in my opinion they far outweigh all that has gone before.

At the very beginning of the mission, we are shown Miriam's dislike for the cold. This seems to be a piece of scene-setting, with no lasting consequences - until the agents arrive at Caradhras. Here the cold issue resurfaces, and (without spoiling my second positive) leads to interaction that would not otherwise occur.

I admire the narrative consistancy shown here. A major issue with badfics is a failure to carry things forward: a wrist broken in one scene may be used to loose a bow a dozen chapters later. Here the agents, through careful use of the narrative structure, managed to create a small plot arc within their tale. It allowed me to connect more fully with the agents - to see them as people, not merely vessels for the plot. And then there's Ring Bearer...

Ring Bearer the mini-Balrog is almost a special case of the above, but he is even better used. These days minis are often ignored - they appear in one scene, then vanish, just like that broken wrist. Not Ring Bearer. I'll illustrate this with three paragraphs from widely-separated parts of the report:

Even though she wasn't usually fond of minis, Miriam almost squealed in relief, huddling just close enough to Ring Bearer for the convection to warm her without causing severe burns; warmth was one thing, being incinerated was another.

She looked around in concern for somewhere to put Ring Bearer, as - without meaning to - the mini-Balrog was starting to char the wood. In the end she asked him to wait at the bottom of the tree, where he wouldn't be able to set anything alight. Mournfully, the little Maia did as requested, though he was pacified with a promise of more bacon later.

A few clicks and whirrs and a bright flash of light later, Ring Bearer looked rather puzzled. In place of the Uruk-Hai that had picked him up, two female Elves - still wearing the same clothes - stood adjusting their backpacks. “Hey, it’s okay,” Cara grinned at him, throwing him their last piece of bacon to reassure him...

From his first appearence, this mini is not just something that happened: he becomes an integral part of the mission. The problems and advantages of dealing with a demi-angelic ball of flame are addressed: he is used for warmth on Caradhras, and later gently removed from the flet in Lorien - we even see his reactions to this. Later still, I read of his reaction to a change of disguise, and I realised this was what had been missing.

I read a mission for two reasons: to delight at the tale of agents cleaning out a badfic, and to see something new. The entertainment of the former was somewhat muted here, but, for the first time in a long time, something brand new appeared. I have never seen a mini become a character on its first appearance before - and I enjoyed it immensely. It shows how much respect the two agents have for the Word Worlds they enter, and for the creatures they encounter. By reading about their interactions with Ring Bearer, I came to truly believe that the authors were lovers of Canon, not just haters of 'Sues. And that is something I always treasure.

-T. Ryan, Dept. of Personnel, DOGA Archivist