Tropers: NoriMori

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    A Treatise on Half-Life Play Order 
Recently (November 2014), I found this question asking what order the Half-Life series should be played in. This was a topic that I'd barely even thought of, let alone considered in any depth, since the franchise has a refreshingly linear storyline and release order. The games are chronological (i.e. no prequels or labyrinthine side titles), yet flexible (i.e. playing the Half-Life 2 series first doesn't cost you much story-wise, any or all of the Half-Life Expansion Packs can be skipped, it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things where you play the Portal games, etc.). However, having recently thought about how the Half-Life expansions' release order may have affected their reception, and being someone who goes into Serious Business Mode at the drop of a hat (especially if that hat is Half-Life), I began to type out a reply, and before I knew it I had typed a whole damn essay.

It was at this point that I noticed that the question had been posted in May 2012, and the most recent response had been posted in November 2013. Not wanting to necropost, since that would make me look like even more of a self-important douchebag than if I had merely posted an essay-length response to a simple question that probably wanted an equally simple answer, I chose to keep my silence. However, since I had apparently gone to all the effort of writing an essay about the subject — and since it was therefore a subject I clearly cared about, if only in the deepest, darkest, geekiest part of my soul — I decided to keep the essay until I could figure out somewhere else to post it. Might as well start here; and so below I have posted an edited and heavily expanded version of the original comment.

Though the technical purpose of this essay is to advise people who have no knowledge of the franchise, I didn't consider this while writing, and thus wrote it in a way that assumes the reader does have knowledge about the series, or doesn't care if they learn certain things about it before they play. Some reference is inevitable, just as any meaningful explanation of the benefits of Star Wars' "Machete Order" will necessarily allude to certain things that happen in the movies. I used really awkward spoiler tags to resolve the rest; I hope you'll forgive me.


A Treatise on Half-Life Play Order

Playing the games of the Half-Life franchise in the order they were released is a perfectly reasonable and fairly sensible option, seeing as aside from the Portal series, they were released in chronological order. This gives us:

Release Order

  • Half-Life
  • Half-Life: Opposing Force
  • Half-Life: Blue Shift
  • Half-Life: Decay
  • Half-Life 2
  • Half-Life 2: Episode One
  • Half-Life 2: Episode Two
  • Portal
  • Portal 2

Now that we've laid the groundwork, let's take a closer look:

Half-Life Expansion Packs

The expansions will not really add anything to your understanding of the story going into Half-Life 2, aside from telling you who Barney is. Though the expansions were made by Gearbox at Valve's request and have Valve's blessing, their canonicity is disputed by some fans for reasons ranging from Plot Holes and Continuity Errors to creatorship and perceived quality. Whether or not they are canon, the fact is that from a purely story-telling perspective, they aren't necessary and can safely be skipped. However, Opposing Force and Blue Shift are quite fun (Decay is less well-received but still a good time-waster, and as a co-op game it can be played with a friend), and all three expansions really do expand the narrative by showing you other perspectives, other areas of the facility, greater insight into just how deep this rabbit hole goes, and a sense of interconnectedness between disparate characters, who all experience the same event but have their own stories to tell. They make the story feel far grander and richer.

The expansions also lend to characterization: Knowing what Barney went through in Blue Shift adds depth to his character in Half-Life 2. Discovering that Rosenberg tried and failed to stop the experiment and was the one who called the military for help in Decay makes you think about just how badly the Black Mesa Incident must have been weighing on his conscience by the time Barney found him in Blue Shift. Seeing G-Man's actions in Opposing Force gives you a sense that there might be more to him than meets the eye. I personally feel that the expansions are richer than they might seem at first glance, and are an asset that deserves to be tapped. However, if you do play the expansions, I think most would agree that Decay can still be skipped, as it contributes little to the narrative and doesn't offer much in the gameplay department.

We also need to figure out where to put the "other stuff":

Half-Life: Source

A "remake" (read: "half-assed Source port") of Half-Life. By release order, it would go between Decay and Half-Life 2, but I wouldn't really recommend placing it there. If you are going to play it at all, I would recommend playing it either immediately after Half-Life, or instead of Half-Life. I am inclined to say "instead". The graphics improvements aren't good enough to really justify buying and playing both games (except for the sake of thoroughness, I suppose), and they offer what is basically the same experience. However, Source does still feature more realistic water effects, slightly improved graphics, improved AI, Havok-based physics (making Block Puzzles far easier), and ragdoll physics (which is always fun). So I wouldn't say not to play it; only that if you do, there wouldn't be much point in also playing Half-Life. But if you decide to play both, I'd hope it would be obvious that Source should be played second, so that you see the improvements.

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast

Lost Coast is a tech demo based on a level that was cut from Half-Life 2, and its main purpose is to illustrate HDR rendering. It is not canon and is very short, so there is no reason story-wise to play it. However, it's interesting to learn about HDR rendering and other aspects of the development process, and it's a fun way to spend 10 to 30 minutes. If you do play it, I believe release order makes sense here: Play it after Half-Life 2, and before Episode One — and play it with commentary before moving on. This will ensure that you notice and fully appreciate the graphical improvements between Half-Life 2 and the episodes. Otherwise there isn't all that much point.

Black Mesa

The excellent fan remake of Half-Life that you simply must play — no ifs, ands, or asses about it.

Christopher Odd played Half-Life, Opposing Force, and Blue Shift, and then played Black Mesa, to give an immediate, maximized sense of contrast between it and Half-Life. I would recommend his way, as it will reward you with an enormous sense of awe (as you can see by watching his Let's Play), whereas playing it after the Half-Life 2 series would dampen (though not destroy) the effect. Playing it after Half-Life but before Half-Life 2 also means that you'll go into Half-Life 2 not wondering who the hell Eli and Kleiner are supposed to be, since you actually saw them in Black Mesa, rather than having to be told (if you're lucky) which characters they were retconned to correspond to in Half-Life. This alone makes Half-Life 2 feel far more connected with Half-Life, which basically takes care of the only noteworthy story-related criticism I have against Half-Life 2.

So, you can wedge Black Mesa either immediately after Half-Life, or immediately after the expansions (if you play them). I would probably recommend the latter, partly because it provides some padding (so you're not just playing through Gordon's story twice in a row), but more so because it would be quite jarring to play such a gorgeous game and then get jolted back into the (comparatively) trashy graphics of the Half-Life expansions. Once you go Black (Mesa), you never go back. :D Then again, it might not be jarring at all to someone who has played many old games before; perhaps it would only be jarring to people like me, who are used to newer games. So at the end of the day, it's up to you; the only concrete thing I will say is that you certainly should not play it before Half-Life.

Portal 2 co-operative campaign

Portal 2 has a singleplayer campaign and a co-operative campaign. While it may seem trivially obvious that the singleplayer campaign should be played first and the co-op campaign second, I'm going to pick this apart anyway.

First of all, there's the question of whether you need to play the co-op campaign. From a story-telling perspective, the answer is "no". This may change if they ever release a Portal 3, as the co-op campaign and its DLC ("Peer Review") both have sequel hooks that might become a lot more relevant; but for the time being, singleplayer is the the primary narrative, the binding thread. However, singleplayer and co-op are separate campaigns — co-op is not just "singleplayer with two people". It's a separate narrative with different characters. Co-op is its own experience — and, in my opinion, a great one. It is eminently worth playing — but if it's not your thing, or you just never get around to it, don't lose sleep over it.

As to play order: I'm not going to say that playing co-op before singleplayer will ruin the experience. In fact, I can think of one argument for playing co-op first: Singleplayer, unlike co-op, does not end on a cliffhanger or glaring sequel hook, so if you simply couldn't bear to finish the Portal series on an ambiguous note, by all means play singleplayer last. But that's all I will say in support of that order.

The co-op campaign chronologically begins after the singleplayer campaign ends, and I would bet any money that Valve created the campaigns with the expectation — conscious or not — that they would be played in that order. This ties into my second argument: Player training. Co-op is not easy, both because of the difficulties inherent to coordinating with another player, and because the puzzles are far more intricate. Co-op is not easy, and it will be that much harder if you try to play it first. In the same way that Portal carefully layered player training so that you aren't too overwhelmed to understand and enjoy the challenge, playing singleplayer first will layer your training so that you already have a good understanding of Portal 2's puzzle mechanics before trying to tackle co-op.

My final argument is a matter of my own personal opinion: I think the puzzles in the co-op campaign are way more awesome than the ones in the singleplayer campaign. When I finished singleplayer, I felt some measure of disappointment in the puzzles. I can't put my finger on it, but they just lacked a certain something. The co-op campaign 100% rectified this — not only was I not disappointed, I was blown away. I don't know if this is merely because co-operative gameplay by its very nature allows for more interesting and complex puzzle design, or if the puzzle design was also just plain better, but either way the result is the same: I think co-op is a cut above singleplayer puzzle-wise. If you end up feeling the same way, you'll be glad you played co-op last. If you don't end up feeling the same way...I apologize for misleading you.

The list is thus extended as follows:

Extended Order

  • Half-Life and/or Half-Life: Source
  • and optionally:
    • Half-Life: Opposing Force
    • Half-Life: Blue Shift
    • and even more optionally:
      • Half-Life: Decay
  • Black Mesa
  • Half-Life 2
  • and optionally:
    • Half-Life 2: Lost Coast (commentary optional but recommended)
  • Half-Life 2: Episode One
  • Half-Life 2: Episode Two
  • Portal
  • Portal 2 singleplayer campaign
  • Portal 2 co-operative campaign ("Peer Review" DLC optional)

However, while the above list is a fine order to play the games in, I will be so bold as to suggest a slightly different one:

Revised Order

  • Half-Life and/or Half-Life: Source
  • and optionally:
    • Half-Life: Decay (can be skipped)
    • Half-Life: Blue Shift (alternatively, switch with Opposing Force)
    • Half-Life: Opposing Force
  • Black Mesa
  • Portal
  • Half-Life 2
  • and optionally:
    • Half-Life 2: Lost Coast (commentary optional but recommended)
  • Half-Life 2: Episode One
  • Half-Life 2: Episode Two
  • Portal 2 (alternatively, play one or both campaigns between Portal and Half-Life 2):
    • Singleplayer campaign
    • Co-operative campaign ("Peer Review" DLC optional)

Rationale for Reversing the Expansion Trilogy

My reasoning for playing the expansion packs in reverse order:

From watching LPs and reading about people's opinions on the expansions, I get the impression that Opposing Force is the favourite. Blue Shift was not as well-received as Opposing Force, and Decay was not as well-received as Blue Shift, either by critics or — from what I can tell — by fans. I think that one reason for this is that they were released in the "wrong" order. What I mean by this, is that each expansion de-escalated, which is bad. You don't release games of the same series and setting in decreasing order of length, excitement, fun, and introduction of (good) new elements. You can reduce one or two or even three of these aspects, but only if you adequately compensate for it in the remaining area(s); and you don't reduce all at once, or allow a net reduction. But that is what they did, and it's backwards.

Opposing Force is the longest and most action-packed of the expansions, introduced new alien enemies and weapons, and showed us the perspective of someone not affiliated with Black Mesa — and by the same token a new class of ally (the HECU Marines).

Blue Shift, on the other hand, not only gave us nothing new, it didn't even give us the old — it was shorter than Opposing Force, it didn't give us any of the enemies or weapons that had been newly introduced in Opposing Force, and it didn't even show any black ops assassins, which we'd been having fun killing since Half-Life. Nor were there any boss fights. It de-escalated.

Decay was even worse. Aside from having a limited release, it was dull and tedious. The only new elements it introduced were a new character (Dr. Keller), a very short mission that you play as two vortigaunts (which you need an A grade on all missions to access and is hardly a huge selling point in the first place), and co-operative gameplay (which was poorly executed). The overly puzzle-oriented gameplay and ill-conceived co-op make Decay unexciting compared to its predecessors, and thus serves to bog down rather than enhance it. This in combination with the repetitive elements of "something about a satellite" and "resetting the thing" makes it clear that Gearbox has gone one game too far. Decay was a game that covered no new ground because there was no new ground to cover — or if there was, Gearbox didn't even come close to finding it. Decay was the very definition of superfluous.

In addition, the sparse encounters with generic NPCs (be they ally or enemy, alive or dead), the dearth of interesting or climactic fights, the mission-based system which spirits you away from one location to the next, and the lack of effect the game's final mission — the resonance reversal — actually has on the incident, gives the impression that the protagonists exist in some kind of bubble, where nothing in this incident is really affecting them and they aren't affecting anything in it; in contrast with all previous games, which give you a clear sense of having an impact on others and being affected by others.

Something that Blue Shift and Decay both suffered from was the lack of G-Man encounters or intervention, which contributes to the sense that in the grand scheme of things, their stories don't truly matter. But in Decay it's even worse, as unlike Barney, who at least escaped and reaped some benefit from his adventure (and even went on to become a main character in Half-Life 2, giving Blue Shift relevance!), Decay abandons its protagonists in medias res once they've served their (non-)purpose, leaving the rest of their journey and their ultimate fate up to speculation. Unlike Gordon, Adrian, and Barney, after all Colette and Gina went through they had no discernible effect on their own fate or on the course of the incident. Nor do they have any mention or appearance in any following games. So the player is given nothing for their effort and has nothing to show for slogging through increasingly disappointing games. They are left with a bad taste in their mouth.

Summary

  1. Following the long, action-packed Half-Life with the shorter, easier, more puzzle-oriented Decay, will give the player a nice breather before they have to dive back into the grittier stuff. In theory, that is. It might have the opposite effect of being even more jarring than the release order's gradual progression from "exciting" to "lackluster". If someone new to the series could test this out and let me know, I would greatly appreciate it.
  2. Decay is a good follow-up to Half-Life story-wise, as it follows two employees who are participating, albeit behind-the-scenes, in the same experiment Gordon is. Thus it has far more immediate relevancy to Gordon and the Black Mesa Incident than Blue Shift (which follows someone in a different line of work who has nothing to do with the Incident aside from being a friend of Gordon's, which you don't find out until playing Half-Life 2) or Opposing Force (which follows someone who isn't even connected to Black Mesa). Playing Decay first also means that when you meet Rosenberg in Blue Shift, you'll already know his history, and have a deeper understanding of what he means when he says he's "partially responsible for all of this".
    If the player chooses to skip Decay, the first argument still holds for Blue Shift as compared with Opposing Force — it holds more immediate relevancy and is shorter and easier.
  3. By playing the expansions in order from shortest/dullest to longest/coolest, Opposing Force will seem like an awesome, slam-bang finish to the expansion trilogy, rather than Blue Shift and Decay seeming like pathetic and disappointing sequels in a trilogy that started out with so much promise. Save the best for last, am I right?
    However, after some thought, I realized that there is also a good argument for putting Blue Shift last. While it would be a less exciting finish, the player will leave the Half-Life series on an optimistic note, and with a good set-up for Barney's re-introduction in Half-Life 2. They also might be more forgiving of (or at least less agonized by) Opposing Force's cliffhanger if it isn't the series finale. However, the latter benefit would likely be conveyed equally well by following up the expansions with Black Mesa as recommended on the list, and the former benefit isn't too important; so this is presented as an alternative.
  4. There isn't much wiggle room as to the placement of Black Mesa. As mentioned, playing it before the expansions is an option, and I suppose you could play it between any two expansions, though I don't know why you'd want to. But I really can't recommend placing it any lower on the list than after Portal, and even that I say with reluctance. The more distance you put between Half-Life and Black Mesa, the less impact Black Mesa will have, both because you're dulling your memory of Half-Life, and because the later games are graphically impressive enough that Black Mesa won't look that much different or more advanced by comparison. The only reason I hesitantly make an exception for Portal is that it's short enough not to deaden your memory of Half-Life too much, and different enough from the main series stylistically that it would still be pretty obvious how much farther ahead Black Mesa is graphically. Still, there's no real reason to place it there, and I still think it will diminish the effect.
  5. I put Portal between the Half-Life series and the Half-Life 2 series for two reasons. The first is that chronologically, Portal takes place at least a few weeks after Half-Life. Because of this, playing it after the Half-Life series, rather than waiting until after the Half-Life 2 series, will give greater relevancy and context to GLaDOS's allusions to the Black Mesa Incident and Combine occupation. The second reason is that breaking up the Half-Life series and Half-Life 2 series with a completely puzzle-based game in an entirely different setting will a) give the player another breather, and b) give the player a sense of time passing and other things occurring between the Half-Life and Half-Life 2 series — which is good, since Half-Life 2 takes place about 20 years later.
  6. I would not recommend placing anything between the Half-Life 2 games, except for playing Lost Coast between Half-Life 2 and the episodes. The Half-Life 2 series is a seamless, linear narrative: Aside from Gordon briefly being unconscious between games, Episode One picks up right where Half-Life 2 left off, and Episode Two picks up right where Episode One left off. And I especially don't recommend placing anything between the two episodes, not even Lost Coast. Honestly, they're really one game, and they're both fairly short — it took me less time to play both of them combined than it took me to play Half-Life 2. The time it takes to exit Episode One and start up Episode Two is as long an intermission as the story needs. Which isn't to say you shouldn't do anything between playing them. Ideally the episodes should be played in one go, but it's not a huge deal if they aren't. Take a minute, take a day, take a week. Time doesn't matter — it won't really hurt the narrative flow. I just wouldn't condone wedging another game from the list in between, because that would hurt the narrative flow.
  7. I place Portal 2 after the Half-Life 2 series for the same reason I place Portal after Half-Life. Portal 2 takes place some time after Portal — it's not stated how much, but from the condition of the facility, it's generally taken to be at least a decade or two. The Half-Life 2 series being played between the two Portal games will give the player the sense of at least that much time passing. Lastly, I would far rather see a player end their adventure on Portal 2 than Episode Two, if only for the sake of their emotional health and sanity. Episode Two gives us a dark, upsetting ending, something of a cliffhanger, and certainly a story that is only partly done and just begging to be finished, with no telling how far we still have to go to reach anything resembling a satisfying conclusion. (One game? Two? Three?) Finishing with Portal 2 will at least give the player some closure by letting them see Chell finish her story (or at least this chapter of her life), and do so on a happier note by finally escaping. While playing co-op mode (even — or rather, especially — if you play the "Peer Review" DLC) would somewhat undermine this closure and return the player to a sense of the story being unfinished, it would at least be a less agonizing note to end on than Episode Two — it's more of a Sequel Hook than a Cliffhanger. However, as noted on the list, on this point I am flexible, and I would alternatively suggest that Portal 2's singleplayer campaign, or even both campaigns, be played immediately after Portal. In either case the player gets an even greater sense of time passing between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, and in the latter case — which puts Episode Two last of all — they end the series with an appropriate and unmitigated level of desperation for Half-Life 3.

    Because what would a Half-Life fan be if they were not as desperate for Half-Life 3 as the people who started reading so much into everything Valve does that "HALF-LIFE 3 CONFIRMED" has become a meme?

So. There it is. I guess you could say it's my Half-Life version of Machete Order. Wait, no, that's too presumptuous. Well, in any case, I'll call it...Crowbar Order. It's not as catchy, but at least that way if anyone ever wants to criticize it, they can say that it's an appropriate name because I'm "crowbarring" (i.e. shoehorning) games into places they shouldn't go. :D


If you actually read all that...I applaud you. I don't think I would have. Yeesh. Maybe I'm not the only one here with too much time on my hands. ;)

If you are inclined to give me any feedback, feel free to PM me. Please be polite and constructive. :P

    Tropes that I think describe me 
  • Adorkable: More so when I was younger. I'd hesitate to call myself particularly "adorable" at this stage in my life. Maybe next year.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: My mom used to think I had Asperger Syndrome. No counsellor I've talked to thinks that's the case, but I can see why she'd think that. I'm definitely off — just in a way that apparently doesn't have a name. Though my doc, my mother, and I are now reconsidering ADHD.
  • Ambiguously Brown: People have been asking about my background more often than I would consider strictly normal since I entered my teens. I've been asked by more than one person if I'm Hispanic. And apparently I'm Ambiguously Brown enough that anyone who's not black, white, East Asian, or Mainland Southeast Asian, might be liable to wonder if I belong to their race: Brown people have asked me if I'm brown, Portuguese people have asked me if I'm Portuguese, Egyptian people have asked me if I'm Egyptian, etc. Once, a Middle Eastern girl serving me at a Tim Hortons asked me what country I'm from, and seemed surprised when I said "Canada" (despite my complete lack of foreign accent). I guess I look somewhat Hispanic, and it doesn't help that my first name IRL is sort of exotic-sounding and of South American origin.
    • Recently (late April or early May 2014) a customer at my work asked my name and then asked if I was Arabic (I assume he himself was Arabic).
    • Even more recently (May 2014), yet another foreign (I assume brown) stranger asked me what country I'm from, while we were waiting for a bus.
    • Even more recently (early June 2014), a guy who got on the train with his bike, after asking me if that was actually allowed and then sitting next to me in one of the seats designated for people with bicycles, asked me where I'm from, and when I said "Here", he said "I thought maybe you were Arabic." (Again, I assume he was Arabic himself.)
    • Less than a week later, a customer at work, who as far as I could tell was a white Hispanic, asked where I'm from, and when I said "Here", he said, "But your parents, they are Syrian, Lebanese...?" Not even close.
    • As if that weren't bad enough, the very next day, an Italian man interviewing me for a job asked (out of curiosity, not as an interview question), "What's your nationality?" If I hadn't been so flabbergasted, I would have answered his question literally and said "Canadian".
      Five times in less than two months; four of those in less than a month, and two of those in less than 24 hours. That must be a record. This is getting downright unnerving. I'm just that ambiguous, that perfect strangers feel compelled to ask.note 
      As you can probably tell by now, I've always been a little bit testy about such questions. It bothers me that people will ask "Where are you from?" (clarified to "Where were you born?" if I reply "What do you mean?"), as if my answer will inevitably reveal my background, i.e. based on the assumption that I must be "from" wherever my skin colour comes from, as opposed to simply being "from" Canada, like plenty of other non-white Canadians. "What is your background?" bugs me too. Which background? Educational? Employment? Familial? I used to like putting the asker on the spot by replying (again) "What do you mean?", despite knowing perfectly well what they really mean, because I wanted them to actually come right out and say it. Now I don't bother; I've become sort of resigned to the fact that people are gonna ask and are gonna word it that way. No need to make it painful.
      I don't know why people asking these things bugs me so much. I guess because it's happened so many times. And because it seems like a weird and sort of impertinent thing to ask a perfect stranger in the first place. And I guess I feel like it's weird that people are so curious, let alone this number of people. Do all my "brown" (Muslim, Hindu, Sikh) friends get asked that so much, if ever? I doubt it. (But then again, with them I'm sure most people can actually tell.) I've asked maybe three people similar questions. The first (a classmate), I asked where she was from, because I knew she'd moved here from another country and just didn't know which one. (And considering we were going to the same school and had chatted a few times, she wasn't a total stranger.) The second (a customer), I asked if she was Afrikaans, because she was white and blonde and had just told me she was from South Africa. The third, well, it's in the note a couple paragraphs back (not my finest moment). Notice that in none of these cases did I ask "What's your background?" Ugh.long addendum 
      So, what's the big secret to my Ambiguous Brownness (which is apparently OVER 9000)? I'm not telling. Being this ambiguous to such a wide variety of people makes me feel a little bit magical, and I'd like to hang onto that. Let's just say that none of the guesses I've mentioned above — in fact, none of guesses anyone has proposed to me — have been correct.
  • Attention Deficit Creator Disorder
  • Better Than It Sounds: A lot of the stories I'm working on. At least I hope so.
  • Big "YES!": What I did (literally, out loud) when I saw the third panel of this Prequel update. I even put the title in as "YES!!!" when bookmarking it.
  • Brilliant but Lazy: Definitely lazy. I'm not really the best one to judge the "brilliant" part, but I was known for getting good grades in school, and I've always been a very good speller.
  • Buffy Speak: Why I'm better at writing than speaking.
  • Canada: My hoooooome.
  • Disappeared Dad: My whole life, except for a brief period when I was about four. I wasn't even told he was my dad (as far as I remember) until after our last time seeing each other. All I really remember about him is that he tried to teach me how to use a yoyo. It didn't really work. (I maintain that it was because they were shitty yoyos.) When I asked my mom years later why he wasn't part of the family, she said that when she was pregnant with me, they sort of mutually agreed that while he was a Nice Guy, he wasn't responsible enough to be a father. (And the pregnancy wasn't planned, so it's not like they were necessarily ever going to get married and have kids to begin with.)
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: For Japan. But minus the "uncritical" admiration — I don't only love the The Theme Park Version. I'm aware of its flaws. There are plenty of things I don't like about Japan. There are things I hate about Japan. But I love it anyway.
    • A less pronounced fetish for many European countries, like France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Portugal, etc.
  • Friendless Background: At some points in my life.
  • Most Fanfic Writers Are Girls: ...Hi.
  • Motor Mouth
  • Not a Morning Person
  • Older Than They Look: I'm often mistaken as being 2 to 4 years younger than I am. Sometimes more than that. I take it as a compliment.
  • Otaku
  • Parent with New Paramour
  • Proud to Be a Geek
  • Serial Tweaker: I am so, so bad for this. If you've ever looked at a page history and happened to see my name appearing several times in a row...I apologize. And yes, I use the preview function. It only helps marginally.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: I have never learned the art of brevity. It takes me three lines to say what most people can say in half a line. I still haven't quite figured out how.
  • Sesquipedalian Smith: My given name is somewhat rare and three syllables long, but my surname is a variant of one of the most common surnames in North America. I feel pretty blessed in the names department — I like my first, middle and last names individually, I like how my first and last names sound together, I like how all three sound together, and I like the contrast between my exotic-ish first name and my common, Anglo-Saxon surname. Plus, while my first name is not yet common enough that I've met many people with it, it's just common enough that you'd still have a fair chance of finding it on products with names on them, like pens, keychains, birthday song playlists, etc.
  • Toronto: Where I was born.
  • TV Tropes Will Enhance Your Life
  • TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life

    My (unpublished) works 

Things I'm working on (or thinking about working on)note :

  • Half-Life: World Line: A Half-Life franchisenote  fan fiction. It fits into several categories, depending on which "arc" you're looking at: Fix Fic, Elsewhere Fic, Adaptation, Continuation, etc. The genres are Original Flavor (in the sense that part of it is just a retelling of the canon but with more Realism and extra dialogue), Something Completely Different (in the sense of "taking an idea or concept in the series proper and averting, subverting, inverting or just plain fucking with it"), and Romance. The style is Earn Your Happy Ending. Now Gordon and Chell both talk (I never have understood why so many fan fic authors feel the need to keep Gordon and Chell silent by having them be somehow incapable of speech). Characters have family members (both dead and alive) and detailed backstories. Extras have been ascended. And Chell has a last name. (And most of the characters even have middle names!) My focus right now is on what happens in the days/months/years before Half-Life, what happens between Half-Life and Half-Life 2, and what happens after Episode Two (and what happens after "the end" — since it won't really be the end until ALL the Combine forces are gone, which will probably take years). Therefore there are a lot of ascended extras and original characters (though many of the latter aren't really characters, but simply by-products of the main characters' backstories). Writing this is a lot of fun — so much that I haven't really worked on my favourite story, Qualia, in a while.

  • Sans Souci: 19-year-old Miles North comes home from a party one night to find a mysterious young man in a trench coat staring intently at his house. The next night, he is walking through the park when he is attacked by a supernatural creature, and almost immediately rescued by the mysterious stranger from the night before. After introducing himself as Neil Donovan, he tells Miles a secret about something that happened four years ago, and Miles starts to question his decision to continue living with his abusive family. Meanwhile, Neil won't say where he came from or how he knows magic — only that he was "thrown out of his home" — but it quickly becomes clear that this is his first contact with normal human civilization, and Miles suspects that he's an alien. When another supernatural creature shows up a few days later, Neil toys with the idea of becoming The Hunter, and asks Miles to join him.
    • Abusive Parents: Mr. North has actively abused Miles physically and emotionally since he was little, while Mrs. North has enabled him by never taking action or speaking out.
    • The Alcoholic: Mr. North, and Miles.
    • Alcoholic Parent: Mr. North, at least since Miles was in middle school. His drinking worsened after his heart attack, which left him unable to work, angry, and depressed. When Miles was 15, his father claimed that he started drinking because it was the only way he could stand to be around Miles.
    • All Take and No Give: The Norths took advantage of Miles's sense of duty and desperation for approval/affection to get him to do things for them. By the time the story begins, he is the primary breadwinner, does a large portion (sometimes most) of the housework and errands, and often helps Carrie and Davis with their homework, all with barely so much as a "thank you" in return.
    • Ambiguous Disorder / Hollywood Personality Disorders: A lot of Miles's behaviour is consistent with borderline personality disorder.
    • The Atoner: Miles, after his father's heart attack, which he feels responsible for causing (and the rest of the family agrees).
      • The Norths, particularly Mr. North, after they have a collective Heel Realization about how they treated Miles.
    • Attractive Bent-Gender: Neil is already attractive, but also fairly androgynous, so he can pass as an attractive woman fairly easily even without using a glamour.
    • Badass Longcoat: Neil is fond of these.
    • Better Than Sex: Miles claims that playing the violin can be this, which is saying a lot considering how much he enjoys sex.
    • Bishōnen: Neil.
    • Blessed with Suck: On the whole, Miles's vampire powers have only ever caused him problems:
      • His charisma allows him to form relationships easily, but this same power tends to repel close friends, so he's spent his whole life making lots of friends only to lose them several months later.
      • His Healing Factor makes it impossible for him to do any permanent damage to himself, but it meant that a lot of injuries he was dealt by his father healed too quickly for anyone to notice, and that he could still function quite well even after a drinking binge, causing his alcoholism to fly under the radar for years because it didn't affect his grades or his job.
      • Having surprising strength for his size got him into trouble at school, when he'd get into fights and end up hurting his opponent a lot worse than he intended.
      • Most of his other powers are too weak to be of any use, unless he risks losing his humanity by drinking blood.
    • Camp Straight: Downplayed and zig-zagged with Neil. He's more so In Touch with His Feminine Side than actually campy, to the point that if he's wearing "normal" clothing, he usually isn't distinguishable from an average Nice Guy who's a bit quiet. But, the way he sometimes dresses has attracted stares and slurs on occasion. Lastly, while he's not gay, he's also not straight, so...
    • Changeling Tale: Neil is the original Miles North, abducted by fairies as a baby. Miles was the fetch created to replace him.
    • Cuddle Bug: Neil is pretty touchy-feely.
    • Dark Secret: Neil has a few, most of them regarding Miles.
    • Desperately Craves Affection: Miles.
    • Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery: Mr. North's drinking and abuse worsened after his heart attack due to depression and anger, while he and the rest of the family (except for Miles) used his condition to excuse his behaviour.
    • Doppelgδnger: Miles was actually a fetch created to replace Neil, who was the original Miles before he was kidnapped by fairies.
    • Doting Grandparent: Miles's paternal grandmother, who gave him the affection and approval he'd always wanted from his family, encouraged him to take up the violin, and paid for his violin and lessons — until she died when he was 15.
    • Doublethink: Years of emotional abuse and failed friendships and relationships have left Miles harbouring many sets of conflicting ideas. He knows his family, former friends, and ex-girlfriends were wrong to treat him as they did, yet also feels he must have done something to deserve it or is just fundamentally flawed. He knows his father's heart attack wasn't his fault, yet feels massive guilt over it, and continues living with his family partly because of it. He was worried about his father after his heart attack, but part of him wished he would have died. He knows that his drinking makes him Not So Different from his father, yet rejects the idea that it is a problem or that he is an alcoholic. Et cetera.
    • Driven to Suicide: One night, after drinking a bottle of whiskey, Mr. North tries to kill himself by finishing his bottle of beta blockers, out of guilt for relapsing, his past abuse of Miles, and the recent realization that Miles himself has become an alcoholic due to said abuse. Luckily, he survives, and is glad of it once he sees his family again.
    • Drowning My Sorrows: While Miles already drinks regularly, he is particularly prone to drinking heavily or binging when something particularly stressful has happened. Unfortunately, Miles is easily overwhelmed, so this happens with some regularity.
    • Enfant Terrible: Miles's parents, particularly his father, like to make out like he was this. In reality, he merely had a tendency to act out due to emotional sensitivity, emotional incompetence, and impulsivity, all of which were compounded over the years by trauma and serial abandonment.
    • The Fair Folk: Fairies, according to Neil, are like this. He doesn't even want to talk about them.
    • Financial Abuse: Multi-faceted. The family's financial problems are compounded by Mr. North spending so much of Mrs. North's money on alcohol, and by his refusal to either find work or sign up for disability since his heart attack. In turn, Miles feels compelled to give a large chunk of each paycheck to his mother to recoup their losses, which is a large part of why he started working in high school, and stayed home after he graduated high school instead of moving out.
    • Friendless Background: Prior to meeting Neil, Miles's only friend was Mrs. Bell, an elderly lady he used to play the violin for, and still visits regularly even since he stopped playing. Miles makes friends easily but can't seem to keep them. When the story begins, Mrs. Bell is the only friend he's ever made that is still his friend.
    • Functional Addict: Miles, mostly. Though he is sometimes an emotional wreck, in spite of his drinking he made the Honour Roll every year of high school, and never had trouble holding down a job.
    • Glamour: Because he is a vampire, Miles unknowingly has a supernatural charisma that functions in some ways like a glamour, causing people to immediately notice him, trust him, and like him. This is why he can make friends and pick up women easily. However, it comes with a caveat that it works best on strangers, it wears off the longer and better someone knows him, and can even start to have the opposite effect on people who know him well. This is why he can't seem to maintain friendships or romantic relationships, and part of why his family hated him.
    • Grandparental Obliviousness: Mr. North accused his mother of this as an excuse to limit the time Miles could spend alone with her, because God forbid someone treat him like a human being. Unfortunately, this started to gain some truth when she started going senile, though by that time she was in a nursing home anyway.
    • Hair-Trigger Temper: Mr. North, usually toward Miles. It used to be worse the more sober he was. Nowadays it's usually worse the less sober he is.
      • Miles can have one when he's overwhelmed or frustrated.
    • Healing Factor: Neil can heal relatively fast because he has so much magic power.
      • Miles unknowingly has this ability, because of being a vampire. Though it's slower than it could be because of his blood virginity, it is no less powerful: Any injury or malady that doesn't kill him first will eventually heal completely, leaving not so much as a scar. This is part of why his injuries from physical abuse and self-harm often went unnoticed, and is also the reason why Miles has managed to sleep with dozens of women, sometimes unprotected, without contracting a single STD. It's also the reason why Miles has no trouble with heavy exertion despite smoking heavily, why he can hold his liquor far beyond what should be possible, why his hangovers are mild even after a drinking binge, and why he doesn't seem to have any physical dependence on alcohol aside from the initial hangover, despite his drinking patterns.
    • Insane Forgiveness: Neil is a ridiculously forgiving and understanding person, especially towards Miles, whom he will forgive for pretty much anything, usually instantaneously. Often, he doesn't feel that there's anything to forgive in the first place, since he is not easy to anger and almost impossible to offend.
    • In Touch with His Feminine Side: Neil likes feminine clothes, while Miles likes cooking and knitting.
    • Irrational Hatred: Miles has been the target of this from his family, and from an increasingly long list of former friends and ex-girlfriends, for as long as he can remember. As if this weren't enough, ever since his father's heart attack, his family's treatment of him has only worsened, since they blame him for what happened simply because Mr. North's anger at seeing his son playing violin in the park may have triggered it.
    • Land of Faerie: Miles and Neil will have to travel there at some point.
    • Lethal Chef: Miles has all the skills of a homemaker but none of the personality, and is an excellent cook thanks to years of practice. Neil is the exact opposite: He has the personality of a homemaker, but none of the skill, so he can't cook to save his life.
    • Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Miles.
    • Master of Illusion: Neil and Miles often use glamours to create disguises and other illusions.
    • Mood-Swinger: Being highly sensitive means Miles's mood can change wildly and quickly with very little stimulus.
    • My God, What Have I Done?: The entire family starts feeling this way about their treatment of Miles several months after he leaves, starting with Carrie and eventually trickling down to Davis, Mrs. North, and then finally Mr. North, who ends up hit the worst.
    • Mysterious Past: Neil refuses to disclose the details of his past, which is unusual for him, as in almost all other respects he believes in honesty and openness.
    • Never Gets Drunk: Miles is often surprisingly lucid and alert even when he's technically shit-faced. Type 3, as his vampiric Healing Factor means alcohol has less effect on him, and has allowed him to build up an impossibly high tolerance.
    • Not So Different: Miles shares his father's love of literature. And knitting, as it turns out.
      • Miles is an alcoholic, like his father; though to his credit he is a far higher-functioning one.
    • Off The Wagon: After he realizes that Miles is also an alcoholic, and that the abuse triggered this, Mr. North's guilt starts to take its toll and affect his progress, and he relapses a few weeks later.
    • Only Sane Man: Zig-zagged with Miles. He is the only one to speak out against his father's drinking or anything else his family does, he takes care of his family financially and physically, and he strives to treat them with decency and respect — and in the case of his siblings, even affection — when none of them ever do the same for him. On the other hand, he has a very impulsive and sensitive nature, which often leads him to make poor decisions; and due to his abusive upbringing and environment, he has a Guilt Complex, crippling trust and self-esteem issues, and spends a lot of his free time partying, drinking, and sleeping around as a form of self-medicating.
    • Parental Neglect: Miles's parents. Mostly towards him (deliberately), but to some extent towards the twins as well (inadvertently).
    • Really Gets Around: Miles.
    • Real Men Wear Pink: Miles is a really good cook and likes knitting. Neil likes to wear feminine or flamboyant clothing.
    • Recovered Addict: Mr. North after his Heel Realization; and later Miles as well.
    • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Zig-zagged, as Miles and Neil are both In Touch with His Feminine Side, but in different ways. Neil is a lot more androgynous than Miles, likes to wear feminine or flamboyant clothing, and has a decidedly more feminine personality. On the other hand, Miles is a lot more emotionally expressive and histrionic, and he likes cooking, knitting, and playing the violin.
    • Shared Family Quirks: Miles and his father both picked up knitting from Miles's grandmother.
    • Sharp-Dressed Man: Neil likes to look nice.
    • The Stoic: Though actually quite sensitive, Neil is usually pretty subdued, in contrast to Miles who is more reactive and hot-blooded. Even his Not So Stoic moments are pretty subdued. So when they're not...run.
    • Street Musician: As a teenager, Miles used to busk in the park with his violin.
    • Training the Gift of Magic: How magic works in this universe.
    • Transsexual: Neil identifies as agender, and states that he doesn't actually understand the concept of gender at all.
    • Troubled Abuser: Miles's parents found him to be a very difficult and unlikable child (for many reasons, some of which are justified and some of which aren't), so by the time he was kindergarten age, they were both depressed and emotionally drained, their marriage was on the rocks, and they both seriously regretted having a child at all. This, and their tendency to take their stress out on Miles, made them feel like horrible parents/people, which only aggravated the situation.
    • Troubled Fetal Position: Miles tends to adopt this position when he's too distraught over something to function properly.
    • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Miles started drinking sporadically when he was 13, and started drinking regularly at 15. He also lost his virginity at 13.
    • The Unfavourite: Neither of Miles's parents have ever treated his younger twin siblings, Carrie and Davis, the way they treat him. And said siblings also mistreat him.
    • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Miles is like this with his whole family, doing so much for them out of sheer desperation for their attention, affection, and approval, as well as to atone for what he perceives as his own shortcomings and misdeeds that have "earned" his family's ire and mistreatment.
      • He worked hard for straight A's all through high school to impress his parents. They barely deigned to notice. At the end of grade 11, his mother couldn't muster up enough interest in his report card to even look up from her book, and sounded about as interested; and when he told his mother that his grades were "the same as usual" (i.e. straight A's)
    • Wholesome Crossdresser: Neil doesn't understand why some clothing is considered exclusively for women, and wears women's clothing fairly often, though in public he usually glamours himself as a woman so as not to draw negative attention. He considers this a hassle, since he has to also glamour his outfit while wearing normal clothes underneath in case of Glamour Failure.
    • Will Not Tell a Lie: Neil believes in being honest and forthcoming with people, and doesn't like to deceive people unless any alternative is unviable. On the one hand, this makes it easy for Miles to trust him. On the other hand, it makes him all the more suspicious on the rare occasion that Neil is cagey about something.

  • Qualia: A Slice of Life Urban Fantasy set in the city where I grew up. The premise bears an uncanny resemblance to H. P. Lovecraft's "The Outsider" (much to my chagrin when I found out), and therefore might also bring Amnesia to mind. However, it was actually inspired by an episode of Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase The protagonist is hiking in the woods when he finds a big, black castle. He thinks he's hallucinating until he finds a teenage girl inside — a feral child who was raised by the castle in a very abusive, terrifying way. The protagonist decides to take her home and see what he can do for her. This is my favourite story so far, as it doesn't suffer from many of the weaknesses of my earlier ones.
  • Homestay: A story set in Itabashi, Japan, about a Canadian girl who is obsessed with Japan and goes there on a homestay.
    • Intended medium: Manga/anime
  • Zarmina's World: A Science Fiction story about aliens who come to Earth from Gliese 581 g, an extrasolar planet which may or may not exist in real life, and which is currently considered the most likely candidate for alien life. One of the scientists who discovered it nicknamed it "Zarmina's World" (often shortened to "Zarmina").
    • Intended medium: Novel, film
  • SarA.I. Project: A Science Fiction story about an artificially intelligent android named Sarai Chino (知能・再来 Chino Sarai).
  • Plaything: A surrealist story about a children's blanket on a quest to find her family after they accidentally move away without her. Despite the premise, it's actually intended for young adults. It is very serious and sometimes dark, and deals with themes not at all suitable for children (such as drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, abandonment, child abuse, death, post-traumatic stress disorder, and mental illness). Better Than It Sounds.
    • Intended medium: Novel.
  • Str.Rh.P.w/P.B.: A surrealist Constructed World with...interesting physics. Just as an example: How much an object weighs depends on whether the person holding it owns it or not, and the "percent ownership" you have of an object depends on how long you've been holding it for, etc. I actually have written an equation that explains it all. And since you can't own a sentient being, scientists don't need to have philosophical debates about whether their latest and greatest AI is sentient or not — they just have to put it on a scale and see whether it changes weight after somebody holds it for long enough. Another example: Information is physical matter, kind of like air or light, that floats around in the atmosphere and can be absorbed by osmosis. That is to say, if you have a higher concentration of info in your brain than there is in the atmosphere, info will leave your brain, and vice versa. For this reason, people have to wear protective membranes that prevent info from leaving or entering the brain when they don't want it to. Of course, this makes learning things very complicated. It also makes privacy complicated. And communication. I actually only just realized that... Maybe I should change it to "data"... Anyway, if you're not wearing your protective membrane and you wander into an area with a really, really low concentration of information, that's really dangerous — information will start leaving your brain at an alarming rate, causing you to lose consciousness. Unless someone finds you, you're going to lie there with all the info leaking out of your brain until you die. I love to create these crazy laws of physics and explore the implications of them.

    Tropes that are present in a lot of my works 
  • Author Appeal: I can't resist having these somewhere in a work, even if it's just an Easter egg, a bilingual bonus, or an obscure Shout-Out.
  • Author Avatar: Many of my stories were begun four or more years ago, before I realized this was a bad idea. I've tried, with varying degrees of success, to downplay it in most of my stories. Currently the worst offender is Homestay, whose protagonist is like me not only in appearance but in personal interests (though not in personality — she's a lot nicer, clumsier, and more sociable/lovable than I am). The others are not like me in personality at all — only in appearance (and even this I've changed enough that I don't consider them to really resemble me anymore). Interestingly, Qualia, my favourite story, is so far the only one where the protagonist is a) male, and b) not like me at all. Hmm...
  • Bilingual Bonus: Such fun! These are especially prevalent in a Science Fantasy story I haven't listed here.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Most of my stories have at least one instance of this, since there's almost always a character who speaks another language. Particularly prevalent in Homestay and the Innsbruck arc of World Line.
  • Good Parents: Almost all the parents in my stories. Many of my main characters have enough problems as it is without also having bad parents — so unless their parents are a source of conflict in the plot or a subplot, they will probably be good parents (sometimes unrealistically so). I think I have some kind of unwritten rule, like Law of Conservation of Angst, or something.
  • Happily Married: Almost all my married couples. See Good Parents above.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: World Line and my unlisted science fantasy story are particularly egregious examples.
  • Meaningful Name: I love these. Some are rather more clever/subtle than others. The obvious ones are usually lampshaded, since they're meant to be a joke. Some of them have an in-universe explanation.
  • Nominal Importance: Averted. Everyone gets a name. In my Half-Life fan fiction, almost everyone even gets a middle name (interestingly, this is the only story where I've really bothered with middle names yet — I guess because I have a lot of my work cut out for me, so adding extraneous details is "fun" rather than "work").
  • No Periods, Period: Averted, especially in Qualia. (It's about a young adult taking care of a feral teenage girl — what do you expect???)
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: What other kind is there? ;)
  • Separated by a Common Language: I exploit the hell out of this whenever the opportunity presents itself, because there's endless potential for hilarity.
  • Shout-Out: How my Author Appeal tendencies usually manifest themselves.
  • Shown Their Work: I like everything to look and feel authentic, so I do a lot of research for my stories, even for relatively minor details. I guess I'm a show-off at heart because I can't help but insert evidence of my hard work into the stories somehow. XD
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: I tend to be quite idealistic in my fiction. If someone needs therapy, they will probably get it, and they'll probably continue to get it until they no longer need it — and if they need it again, they'll get it again. If someone has a mental illness, they will recover. If someone is dying, they will probably survive unless its an invariably fatal disease. (I can't stand killing major characters unless there's a good reason.) Rousseau Was Right. If there is an item around that could really, really help the characters, they will find it. Authority figures are reasonable. Bosses are benevolent. Parents know what they're doing. Couples are happy. If an innocent/good person stands trial, they'll be acquitted, and if a guilty/bad person stands trial, they'll be convicted, and their punishment will be proportionate to their crime. However, I try not to let idealism get in the way of realistic conflict — just because a character gets therapy doesn't mean it will be easy, and just because it works doesn't mean it will work right away, or that there won't be setbacks. (You should see Doug Rattmann's recovery from his first schizophrenic psychotic episode in World Line.) The destination may be ideal, but the journey often isn't. People still have to Earn Their Happy Endings. And I don't shy away from cynicism when it's A Million Is a Statistic, which it often is in World Line. (I consider writing World Line to be a good exercise in cynicism, due to the constraints the Half-Life franchise places on idealism by its very nature.)
  • There Are No Therapists: Usually averted, one obvious exception being World Line (but even that averts it, just not as much as my other works).
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: I avert this like the plague. I'm not good at math, but I'm good at internet and calculator.

Works I've been introduced to via TV Tropes:

My favourite tropesnote :

My pet peeve tropesnote :

My favourite creators:

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My favourite works:

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