Monday, 17 October 2011
At any rate, you may or may not remember in my rambling, bumbling, obfuscating blog post last week, I made mention of something I was planning on doing in November called NaNoWriMo. I also vowed I would expand upon what it was and what it mean, and so here I am. And here we go!
For those of you unaware of what NaNoWriMo is, other than an bizarre sounding, annoyingly puncutated mountain range of a word, let me explain; NaNoWriMo is the National Novel Writing Month. The month is traditionally November and this year is no different.
You start on November 1st. The goal is to write a 50,000 word mini-novel (that is roughly 175 pages) by midnight on November 30th; 50,000 words, in one month. The point of it all is not to be good, but to be consistent. I am essentially endeavouring not to write 50,000 words of beautiful, elucidated prose that will change the face of literature, but just to write 50,000 words.
Fifty thousands words about whatever takes my fancy on that particular day. I might end up thinking of an overarching story, I might not; I might write about monkeys on one day, and then train-tracks on the next. I do in fact have, on my desktop, a Word Document slowly filling up with ideas and half-thoughts about what to write. So I won't be going into this adventure blind; just with a serious astigmatism. But really, who cares, so long as it's 50k and makes a reasonable amount of sense by the end?
The idea is to teach yourself how to persevere, how to endure and how to break through blocks and fears and just create; to be organic in the writing process. You can look back later and refine if you want, or laugh at the abysmal prose you've created, yet still feel an inimitable sense of pride.
It will be a challenge, no doubt. It will require me to write an average of 1,667 words a day; a feat I haven't done since University, and a feat I have never done for 30 solid days. It will be scary, exhiliarating, exciting, painful and amazing, and I'm excited by the very prospect of doing it.
I'll no doubt be updating my blog with some kind of weekly progress, as well as perhaps posting exerpts from what mad bullshit I've written. Or I may fail and cry into my pillow.
WHO KNOWS!? IT'S SO EXCITING!
If you'd like to give it a go with me, or find out anymore information about the whole thing, then you can sign up, or just browse around, here http://www.nanowrimo.org - Go on! Do it! Do it!
Or don't. No pressure
Monday, 10 October 2011
It's been quite a while since I updated this blog. I know I only have a few readers, really, if any, but I still find it bad practice to make the effort to create a blog and then never use the damn thing. I said I'd do reviews, and I did one. I said I'd do a weekly update of something, and then I didn't.
Well. I intended to do all of those things and more, I really did (except not more), but life has a funny knack of sometimes getting in the way. I feel I don't need to explain the major plot point of my life; those of you who've seen my ramblings on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or just know me will be aware of what I've been going through for the last 4 or 5 months. It doesn't need to be rehashed; suffice to say, that's pretty much the reason why every concerted effort I've made to be productive or, in fact, any use whatsoever has failed.
Well, no more! If from here on out I don't update this blog or don't do the things I say I will, it's because I'm a lazy son of a bitch, and you can take that to the bank! (May not be worth anything).
So, the obvious aside, what have I been doing? Trying to keep busy, mainly, and deciding that I'm not going to sit around and waste my time like I have been doing. Sure, I game still, I love gaming, but that's not really wasting my time; those hours inbetween games, or inbetween talking to people where you sit, and idle, and do nothing at all, just waiting for that something that never happens.
I'm bored of those moments, so I think I'll get rid of them.
First of all, I'm writing again! And I mean it this time! I've written a few seperate pieces over the last few weeks that I'm cobbling together. It's a lot like when you get annoyed at a Jigsaw and force the pieces together, regardless of whether or not it's the right piece in the right place or not. That's me, that's what I've been doing with these disconnected pieces of writing; forcing them all into the same universe whether or not it should work. I will make it work. Much like the jigsaw, when I'm done I may have created some monstrosity of a seaside scene with sand falling from the sky and upside down parasols in a splotchy blue beach, or a train made of pine trees and steel and smoke and bits of people's faces, but by God I'll have done something productive. Or horrifying. Productively horrifying, perhaps.
The drafts are forming into something a bit more thorough, and when they've got a tad more coherence, I'll put them up in a blog post. There might be some snippets somewhere on my Tumblr, I'm not sure; It's a mess in there!
Speaking of writing, though, I have been discussing it round and about, and as such I am seriously thinking of participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I will detail NaNoWriMo and my motivation for it in another blog post in several days time. Suffice to say, it's more of a foregone conclusion that I'm actually doing it than I'm letting on.
But what else!?
Well, as well as getting back into the swing of writing, I have been doing a lot of work for Inspired Quill, an organisation set up by my friend Sara-Jayne, and nurtured over years by her, myself, and a small team of others. Those of you paying attention to the foibles of my life the last few years will have noticed the articles I've written or edited, or just promoted, for Inspired-Quill. Well it's becoming more than just an article/review based blog; that element definitely remains and, although on hold right now, will definitely be all systems go once more when everything stops being so hectic.
The exciting part, however, is what IQ is doing now. At the time of posting this blog, Inspired Quill will have cemented itself as a Publishing House by releasing its first .... ?
Book. Yes, that's right, a book. If you said Marmalade, I'm afraid you were incorrect, please leave. Take your Golden Shred and get out.
As an editor for Inspired Quill (my job title is actually Editor In Chief. F'nar, f'nar), I've been editing the manuscripts that will become the final, published, bound and printed books. That, again, is actual novels. People's work has been placed into my hands and I have, timidly at first but with an increasing sense of vindication and, in some cases, pure malice, gone through them with a fine tooth comb and highlighted where I think they need to change something, or thoroughly ridiculed them when I think they've been stupid.
Some of the stages of editing may have been only in my head. At least, I hope they were...
The first of the novels, Fall From Grace, is releasing as we speak--Sara-Jayne and I attended the launch party with the Author, Matthew, on Saturday night; there was much gurning and gushing and preening and, most of all, stunned, stupid grinning. Matthew is a human being drawn from a very particular stock; talented, easygoing, faultlessly friendly and groundbreakingly determined. He has set the bar very high; if every author I work with is like Matthew (and I fear they all will not be), then my job is going to be a constant delight, as it has been working with Mr. Munson.
It's an extreme honour to be editing a person's novel. Even if I don't particularly like the subject matter, or if I were to hate the way it was written (so far, that hasn't happened), it is nevertheless a real priviledge for someone to give you their work, work that may have taken years to create, and knowing that they've said 'yes, I've done my best, it's time to know what somebody else thinks of it, for better or worse'. It's incredibly humbling in one respect, whilst at the same time rather daunting; you don't want to be the person to possibly have to tell them what's wrong with what they've written but, in many cases, you have to, for the greater good (The greater good).
I don't presume to be the person who knows what makes a good novel. I can only say what I think makes it good for me to read, and what other readers might think. I don't know how the editing process works for the rest of the publishing world, and I understand some editors have to be particularly harsh, but I never want to be the person who thinks they know, better than anybody else, what makes a book good.
I mean I know English. I know English so hard and so well that when English sees me in the street it blushes, so I have a fairly good knowledge of how structure and narrative should progress as dictated by the laws of the language. As to what makes a novel good, though? A story good? I can only aspire to attempt to be the reader, and edit accordingly.
I've nearly finished editing the second manuscript, and after that, there'll probably be more for me. That, however, and the rest of my news and writings and random thoughts and streams of consciousness, will have to wait, as I've rambled on for far too long, and there are more important things we could all be doing. I have to see a man about some orange preserve...
So, until next time: EXCELSIOR!
(Also I got a haircut in the style of Matt Smith's Doctor from Doctor Who THAT'S WHY THE TITLE WAS ABOUT REGENERATION HOW CLEVER AM I!?)
Saturday, 6 August 2011
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
that she spent alive on earth…
and now only those who loved her
know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own;
the cars….the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard…
are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left.
(You could be at “dash midrange.”)
If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real,
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
and more often wear a smile…
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy’s being read
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they
say about how you spent your dash?"
Sunday, 24 April 2011
This was a triumph.
It was inevitable I would say that in this review if Portal 2 was good. And Portal 2 is good. Very good. In fact, watch this.
There, I made a note.
OK, really, I'm getting all the Portal 1 quotes out of my system now so that I can actually give a proper review here. Despite my quotes and ramblings so far, however, my point is the same; Portal 2 is a staggering success and marks not only the release of a hugely entertaining, challenging and fun game, but also a return to form for Valve; a company that has been silent for almost 2 years (we don't count Alien Swarm, good as it is) since they made Left For Dead 2.
It's impossible to say that Valve isn't relevant in the modern gaming age; Steam is the number one, probably unmatchable Digital Delivery System in the world, and it has made Valve a
lot of money name people can't forget, even if it has been about 4 years since the last Half Life game. You can say that their presence hasn't been felt as much in an industry that has been recently dominated by EA and Activision. Their return to the world of videogames is nevertheless a welcome one.
Portal 2, though. Portal 2. Some might say that, seeing as they acquired a development team (essentially buying the idea for Portal) they liked and putting them to work, that it isn't a Valve thoroughbred. That's irrelevant; Portal 2 has all the charm, panache, humour and raw enjoyment that Valve games are famous for.
The game takes place many, many years after the original Portal (the exact number is indeterminate, although we know it's more than 9999 days, and insiders have been quoted as saying it's "hundreds of years" later). You are still Chell, the voiceless protagonist from the original, who wakes to find the Aperture Science labs in a state of dilapidation. With a little help from Wheatley, a personality sphere (delightfully voiced by Stephen Merchant, who should win awards for this) you manage to battle your way through the facility to the remains of GLaDOS, in the hope of escaping the mangled enrichment centre.
After that, it all goes a bit pear shaped.
Without spoiling the story, it unfolds itself elegantly and efficiently as you pass through the game, with some surprising and emotional twists to keep you interested and engaged, as well as the expected Portal humour, with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. In a game franchise that is renowned for its innovative gameplay and the brevity (which isn't bad) of its story, the amount of detail and intertwined narrative in the game is shockingly pleasant and emotive. The story manages to surprise with some moments of seriousness, too, that aren't expected, but neither are they disliked, and the ending? The ending is simply [Redacted].
The main characters you encounter throughout the game can be counted on one hand, but the impact they have on the story and on the player themselves is incalculable. You start off, as I mentioned, with Wheatley, the well meaning but clumsy Personality Sphere, wonderfully and hilariously voiced by Stephen Merchant, who teaches us how to speak and, more importantly, jump.
GLaDOS, as we all know, makes a triumphant return, and her barbed sarcasm and sociopathic tendencies are as sharp and cuttingly hilarious as ever. There is more to be discovered, however, about the matriarchal overseer of Aperture Laboratories, than just how much of a frigid psychopath she is, and it's surprising what you find out about her as the game progresses. Ellen McLain delivers another sterling performance of a classic character, which is all the more impressive considering her resumé consists of GLaDOS, the Combine Overwatch from Half Life 2 and the Announcer from Team Fortress 2. Bravo, good woman.
The third character (and my personal favourite) is heard only via pre-recorded messages. It is the voice of Aperture Science Founder and CEO, Cave Johnson, performed with the eccentricity and convincing, emphatic gusto that only J.K. Simmons can provide. Mr. Johnson is the driving force behind Aperture Laboratories early forays into Science and then, as times goes by, into madness. In a moment that reminded me of Network, Cave delivers one of the most memorable, hilarious and staggeringly brilliant (if not brief) rants of our generation, which is nearly worth the price of buying the game in itself.
Visually, the game perhaps doesn't carry the graphical punch of some contemporary modern games, but it's not a noticeable problem. Valve's Source engine makes up for a slight lack of pure texture power by creating some of the most impressive and convincing shadow, lighting and animation work I've seen in a game; all of this demonstrated in the opening sequence of Portal 2 when moving through the facility in a portable (no plays on words, please) container that is rapidly falling apart. The crumbling roofing panels and girders all cascade into place through the engine's painstakingly crafted physics engine, and the grey half light floods in through the gaping holes in the structure.
You only have to compare a shot of Portal 2 with its predecessor, however, to see how far along Valve has really brought the visuals of their games. In short, despite not being 'cutting edge', Portal 2 looks brilliant.
As for the puzzles themselves; it's hard to describe them without telling you how they're done, obviously, and that would be not only counterproductive but also incredibly convoluted. Seriously, some of those puzzles are dense. Despite the complexity of some problems, however, they never feel unnecessarily difficult, and provide the same level of elation upon completion, if not greater, than those of the original Portal. The challenges with the new inventions, particularly, make you feel like a genius upon completing the more layered challenges. The basic laws of Portal physics from the first game still very much apply, just with a new set of toys to play with, so it never felt as if any puzzle was ever out of my depth.
Whilst Portal 2's Single Player puzzles are terrific (and despite what I'm saying next, nothing can take that away from them), the puzzles encountered in the Co-Operative campaign are where the level design really shines. It's not so much that they dwarf out the Single Player, but being able to work together with a partner on some truly devious, ingenious and downright staggeringly good puzzles is just a joy. You'll learn new highs of love for a friend, and new depths of absolute hate as well. Personally, I can quantifiably compare the two campaigns and say the greatest "aha!" moment of solution came in the Co-Op campaign, and not the single player.
The Co-Operative campaign is, although rather short, not something that should be thought of as a quick buck for Valve; it is robust, it is ingenious and if you have a friend who you trust (and don't mind repeatedly killing) then you must play it. It's really that good.
A word to the wise, however. The Co-Operative campaign takes place after the events of the main single player campaign. Although the story in the Co-Op campaign is light on detail, it nevertheless has an eventual narrative point that may be hard to understand in context without having finished the Single Player. Just a warning.
Portal 2 takes the cautious ingenuity of the original Portal and makes it into something bigger, deeper and more refined. It really is the perfection of a formula that was very much in a half developed, but still great, state. With the addition of a cast of hugely engaging and likeable characters that are superbly acted, Valve has made a fully fledged narrative from something that was originally just a brief story to tie the original game together.
Combining this narrative power with a raft of startlingly clever, mind-bending and just-taxing-enough puzzles that teaches you how to think with Portals whilst simultaneously furthering the story and history of Aperture Science, Valve has created something truly special.
Doug Lombardi, Director of Marketing at Valve, was quoted as saying "Portal was a test bed. Portal 2 is a game", and he's right. Perhaps more than that, though, Portal 2 demonstrates more than its predecessor what an FPS, or even what games in general, are capable of when you're not concerned with killing, ammunition or bullets (OK, so maybe there's still some killing going on).
Even moreso, Portal 2 is an argument for the power of videogames to stand as tall as any other storytelling medium with a narrative that, although primarily known for its humour, delivers emotional and often serious tones that are unexpected but never unwelcome.
Portal 2 is pure entertainment. Pure fun. Pure genius.
A huge success.
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
The breeze blew along the street, through alleyways and loose doors, but nothing rattled or moved, out of reverence for the unfolding moment.
At either end of the street, two men stood. They faced each other down with a tense silence. They were static; holding themselves rigidly with their arms poised at their sides, inches from their holsters, but neither moved. They were unperturbed when the wind played through their hairs and coat tails, lingering in the moment before whisking away.
Under the brim of his hat, the man gazed out at his opponent, and at the other side of the street he gazed back. His eyes narrowed and his fingers curled slightly. The standoff continued.
Around them, the street was deserted. Everybody had retreated indoors and out of harm's way when the two men had faced off. Some heads cautiously peeked from behind doors and over windowsills. Nobody in the nearby bar moved. The pianist was silent, the barmen stared down anyone who tried to move. Hands of poker and blackjack lay exposed on to opponents on the tables, but nobody looked away from the unfolding events.
The man in the hat grimaced slightly, continuing to study his opponent. His eyes moved from his hand to his face and back to his hand again, which seemed to be sneaking closer to his holster. Could he be...?
He wasn't trying to pull a fast one!? A bead of sweat perspired on his forehead, followed by another. Soon, his forehead was damp with nerves.
Enough! He wasn't going to let this upstart humiliate him!
There was a scuffling sound as the man in the hat went for his gun, followed by a single crack of gunfire. It blasted out through the silent street, destroying the tension, before everything fell silent, and tense, once more.
The man in the hat looked at his opponent. Did he get him? He looked to his hand, the smoke from his gun to be his confirmation, but it was not there. Moreso, the gun itself remained in its holster, a mere twitch away from his hand. He hadn't got to it. With a grimace of recognition and pain, the man with the hat crumpled to the ground, blood seeping into his clothing from the wound in his chest.
At the other end of the street, his opponent replaced his revolver, fired from his hip, in its holster without a flourish, and turned back towards the bar.
In twenty minutes the man with the hat had been forgotten. Even the breeze blew over his body as it meandered through the alleyways and loose doors, rattling the frames playfully.
(Written, perhaps not very well, and owned by Peter Stewart. Creative Commons copyright applies).
Saturday, 12 March 2011
As requested, I figured I'd put together a Battle Report detailing my hands-on evening with Shogun 2, and my impressions of the game on the cusp of release. Sorry, but this is a long post. I suggest a cup of tea, or maybe even a lie down half way through.
After arriving almost embarrasingly early, I hung around in the lobby. After a few minutes, and being joined by another early shower, we were greeted by Craig and Mark ("Of Mark O'Connell fame") and shown up to the Creative Assembly Office, taken through their fancy kitchen (and prison mugs) and into the demo room. Immediately, we were sat down, the game was running, and we were told to go for it.
Rather cautiously (after cranking the graphics settings up) I decided to check out the Naval Battle tutorial, as I was curious to see how it played out (after becoming adept and making massive lines of ships in Empire/Napoleon, I knew I was going to have to relearn something).
Without spoiling the tutorial, Naval Combat is, in principle, straightforward. In a lot of ways, it's theoretically similar to Land Combat; your "Bune" come in 3 different sizes and are best used to draw alongside other ships and fight them hand-to-hand combat. Your Bow Kobaya should not engage in hand to hand combat, for obvious reasons, but should be constantly moving around your opponent and peppering them with arrows, or trying to set them alight with fire arrows.
The Naval fights are frenetic and constant when there's more than one ship at play per side, and despite the Melee focus of Bune, there will always be arrows flying around from ship to ship. Unfortunately, as it was a Tutorial, I couldn't get much of a handle on the Naval AI, so not much to report there.
After this short introduction, I decided to dive right in and get to grips with the Campaign. Starting as Uesugi (on VH/VH), I was thrown immediately into a situation where Rebels were threatening my sole settlement. Moving my Daimyo's army to them I prepared, perhaps somewhat cockily, to assault them in an "evenly matched" battle.
After forming up and starting the battle, I began moving forward. It was then, with horror, I noticed that the AI had taken a position on a hill, shrouded by forests, and were refusing to come down. As I was assaulting, the onus was on me to break their formation.
Providing a united line against them on a hill would have been fruitless, so I attempted some kind of petty flanking maneuvre whilst my Archers frittered away trying to keep them busy. It didn't work, they had turned to face me every time and when battle finally joined, I was still fighting uphill and they made short work of my Yari Ashigaru. With my forces soon in dissaray then advanced down the hill and to my remaining unit of Archers, and my Daimyo, who were positioned on a smaller hill but nevertheless vastly disadvantaged.
I was crushed.
Swallowing my pride, I prepared to carry on. Instead, I rage quit and started again.
I won't go into detail about every AI battle I participated it, but needless to say the AI, for the most part, was consistent in its thinking through of the battle field and its surroundings and, although I didn't suffer many more losses (once burnt, twice shy), I did find myself remaining constantly alert and vigilant for any tricks the AI might try to pull on me. Of course, the AI is going to fritz every now and again, but from what I've seen, it will provide enough of a challenge to keep people on their toes.
A brief mention on the visuals. Most people have seen in videos and screenshots, but it's still worth saying; even without full DX11 support, this game is beautiful. Both in how much detail is put into the game, and the atmosphere; the small swaying of the breeze, carrying leaves and petals along on it as your units move is really something. The music goes without saying. Jeff van **** is a maestro.
Anyway. After a while Kagatsuchi suggested we try a Multiplayer Battle. We all enthusiastically agreed. Craig had a mischevious smile on his face, which you'd think meant he had something planned bu--well, nevermind, eh?
Myself and Kagatsuchi were auto paired onto one team, whilst ExtremeChimping and single PC combo of Mark (Mouse and Keyboard control) and Craig (...Support, I guess?) took the other team. After loading our armies, generals and units out in ridiculous colors and ridiculous names, and forming up on the battlefield, the battle began!
The enemy force directly opposite me was Mark and Craig, who stalwartly refused to move from their position, whilst Kagatsuchi paired off against ExtremeChimping in opening maneuvres that were slightly more energetic, but not much.
After maneuvring for 5 or 10 more minutes, and some cavalry skirmishes between Kagatsuchi and ExtremeChimping that resulted in the loss of one of my cavalry units, and Mark still not moving very much, we decided that battle should finally be joined. Moving my archers into position, ranged fire began exhanging between my army and Mark's whilst, on my left flank, his cavalry moved to defend ExtremeChimping.
Unfortunately, my remaining Cavalry and superior foot infantry saw off this attack, leaving ExtremeChimping's army, which had advanced somewhat ahead of the body of Mark's force, open to flanking. Chimping's force, which was already pinned down by fully-joined battle with Kagatsuchi, was sadly powerless to resist as a small contingent of my army rolled up his flank, the rest of my force closing around Mark's now exposed lines.
As you would expect this all came to a head as the first routing units of the Mark/Chimping alliance began a chain reaction which soon lead to the shattering of both their armies. We had our victory and, whilst it wasn't the most inventive fight, it was nevertheless hugely entertaining. I expectantly await a rematch.
All this giddy horseplay had, however, brought our time at CA to a close and, after thanking them profusely for having us and the free T-Shirts they gave us (sorry, ExtremeChimping!), we began our journey homewards.
This is not something I say lightly, but I do believe Shogun 2 could fully live up to the legacy of its decade old predecessor. It is beautiful, smart and engaging, with the combined experience of a decade's successes and failures. Tuesday cannot come quick enough.
Thanks again for the experience!
Monday, 10 January 2011
Even though I didn't know him personally, Mike 'Nubious' Sloane has played on my thoughts on and off all day. Perhaps I am so surprised by my feelings because I feel the same as if somebody from my neighbourhood had passed away--somebody I knew, but couldn't call a friend; not really. It is that same feeling of knowing that something familiar will no longer be there. Something is out of place, and a part of what shaped my MxO life is gone. A small part, admittedly, but noticable.
It is an example of how the distinction between a 'real' friendship and an online friendship is, in contemporary society, artificial and, in reality, non-existant. We are in a position, technologically and mentally, to know somebody intimately whether they're 20 hours away or 20 seconds. Every friendship we create should be 'real', whether it is in person or digitally. We laugh with both, we share interests with both.
We grieve both. They are the same. If they are not, then it us who is at fault.
Above all, however, the loss of Mike Sloane is not a societal issue, nor is it something I or anybody else should be analysing. It is a life cut tragically, and suddenly short. I can offer only my condolences to his family and friends.
Rest in Peace, Nubious.