Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Assignment in Eternity

I mentioned a couple of ducks landed in the garden the other week. Well, it seems they liked it here so much they’ve decided to come back every day. They usually show up early in the morning quacking for food, before spending most of the day asleep on the lawn, occasionally waddling over to the window for more grub or to drink out of their personal water bowl.

In other garden related news, a silly young squirrel somehow got one of his paws stuck in the nut feeder. I really don’t know how, but the poor little bugger was stuck hanging upside down unable to free himself. So I had to go out and try to help him down. He was obviously scared, and I had to be cautious in case he panicked and tried to scratch my face off. Fortunately, he seemed to calm down a little when I was near him, either that or he was frozen in terror, but it gave me the chance I needed to lift the feeder down with him on it and place it on the ground.

I was hoping if he was on a level surface he’d be able to free himself, and after some manic wriggling around on the grass, he did so, before scampering off into the bushes. He didn’t hurt himself, and I saw him again the next day, back on the feeder chomping away.

Eh, what else? Well, after nearly two weeks of decorating I can finally sit down and get some serious work done on WFTD. I've still not figured out how to handle the ending yet though.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Now Playing: Braid

Braid is an indie puzzle/platform game originally released in 2008. It’s wonderfully presented, with a lovely art style and great music. The time manipulation mechanic works flawlessly, and the game regularly introduces new and creative uses of the mechanic which keeps things feeling fresh, interesting and challenging.

However, this is a game that requires a lot of trial and error. While many of the puzzles feel intuitive and well designed, others are almost ridiculously obtuse, with elaborate solutions often involving tricky platforming, very precise timing and sometimes, an element of luck. This can lead to much mashing of the keys in frustration. The much praised story element, whilst certainly amusing how it plays out across the final sequence, seems to try laughably hard to seem deep and meaningful, but in reality is about as deep as a puddle.

Overall, Braid is a pretty good, challenging platform/puzzle game. I wouldn’t say it does anything particularly special or outstanding. It can be almost as irritating as it is enjoyable, but what it does, it does do relatively well, so it’s definitely worth a few quid if you like that sort of thing.


Saturday, 19 May 2012

Work in Progress: WFTD

So I’ve got Part 2 of WFTD planned out now and I’m fairly pleased with it. Part 3…eh, not so much. But the good thing about how I’ve planned Part 2 is that the way it ends, it allows me to take the story in several directions. I’m just not sure which is the right one yet.

Part 3 is going to be the final part of WFTD, and although I do know how I want the story to end overall, it’s really just a question of how I should take it there. But I’m not going to fret too much about it at the moment. Writing Part 2 should keep me busy for a few weeks, which gives me plenty of time to think about how to wrap things up.

The rough outline I currently have just doesn’t feel right for some reason. It’s missing something, I just don’t know what it is yet. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much trouble with an ending before.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Now Playing: The Fall of Max Payne

I played Max Payne when it was released in 2001, but I never picked up the sequel until a few years ago in a sale. It’s been sitting in my substantial backlog of games ever since, something I’m making a determined effort to whittle down this year.

The bullet-time mechanics are still good fun. It’s kind of refreshing to play a third person shooter again that doesn’t revolve around conveniently placed chest high walls. Gripes? I recall disliking the dream sequences in Max Payne and I still dislike them here. It’s also a little on the short side.

But other than that, Max Payne 2 has aged pretty well. It’s still an enjoyable third person shooter and well worth your time. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the upcoming Max Payne 3.


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Door into Summer

Typical. I get ready to write about how summer finally seems to have arrived and it starts pissing it down outside. I really need to get back to work on WFTD. I completed a first draft of Part 1 over a week ago, but I’ve not written a thing since. I’ve been decorating mostly. Painting doors. Lots of doors.

But it’s not so bad. I often find it useful to take a short break from something I’m working on so I can go back to it with fresh eyes. And then I look at it again and I think ‘oh god, this is awful’.

There were a couple of ducks in the garden yesterday. They were here all morning. They had a few slices of bread before settling down to sleep on the lawn. They shat everywhere. Bloody ducks.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Now Playing: Jedi Academy

I picked up the complete Jedi Knight bundle on Steam during a sale some time ago. The only game I’d actually played in the collection was Jedi Knight 2, which I remember I quite enjoyed back when it was released in 2002. I was tempted to start at the beginning of the series, but I decided to go for Academy first.

It’s okay. It hasn't aged particularly well, but nevertheless, I’ve felt compelled to keep playing through to the end. I’m not really a big Star Wars fan. Well, I like the original trilogy. But I’ve never delved into the expanded universe or anything like that. Lightsaber combat is a lot of fun and is the best thing about the game.

Oh, and force choking someone into the air before dropping them screaming off a ledge has never been more enjoyable. Perhaps not very Jedi, though.


Friday, 11 May 2012

WFTD: Location

So yeah, location. WFTD is primarily set within a city. But which city? Originally I thought about London, because I’m familiar with London, but I think that raises certain expectations both for me writing and for those reading.

If it’s set in London then I’ll feel the need to include certain London landmarks to establish that yes, this is indeed London. I may even feel the need to set certain scenes or situations in and around famous places. Because if you’re going to use a recognisable real world location, you might as well, you know, use it. But did I really want to do that?

I mean, it might make the setting more interesting I guess, give it a little historical flavour…but do I really need that in this novel? I often think of the setting as a character itself, and I don’t want the setting in this case to overshadow the plot or the actual characters.

I asked myself - would establishing the city as London, or indeed, any real world city, in any way add to the plot? The answer was no. And so, the city in WTFD is just that - ‘the City’. No name. No famous landmarks. It doesn’t need them.

Because it really doesn’t matter what city it is. It could be any city, anywhere and that’s sort of the point. That’s the feeling I want for the setting. This could be happening to you. This could be your city, or a city near you. How would you react? How would you survive?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Now Playing: Arkham Asylum

I’m not really a big Batman fan. I’ve seen some of the films but I’ve never read the comics. So although I heard a lot of good things about Arkham Asylum, it wasn’t something that interested me much. But when it went on sale recently at three quid, I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m so glad I did.

The game, overall, is excellent. In fact, I really can’t find any fault with it. It’s paced superbly, slowly dripping you more skills and tools as you progress, unlocking new areas and extras at a rate that keeps you wanting to play just a little bit longer. Combat, despite being a little easy, is a lot of fun, and there’s a great mix of puzzles, collectibles and exploration too.

Boss fights are…well, I guess one of the weaker areas of the game, but that’s really just a nitpick. Stealth is a lot of fun. Taking out a room full of bad guys silently has never felt so bad ass. My only major criticism would be that it's quite linear and lacks a little in terms of replay value.

I guess I’ll have to keep an eye on Arkham City and pick that up when it goes on sale too. I’m tempted to get it now because I enjoyed Asylum so much, but I’ve got plenty in my backlog to keep me busy in the meantime.


Monday, 7 May 2012

WFTD: Planning

So, WFTD. Part 1 is complete, and although I know roughly how the story ends, I don’t yet know how I’m going to get there. You see, I don’t often plan very thoroughly before I start writing. I prefer to just draft a basic outline of where the story starts and how it ends, and then I take it from there. I’ve tried planning in more detail before, but honestly, I find it too restrictive, and I feel like I’m forcing characters who I don’t even know yet into situations that may not make sense for them.

Needs of the plot should never dictate a character's action. I don’t like reading books where a character does something that feels out of character, just to advance the story or set up a situation. That’s why I don’t plan too in depth. Unless I’m writing a sequel. Then it’s not so bad because I already know the characters and how they’d react.

So that’s why I don’t like writing pages of character study either. The most I’ll know about a character before I start writing them is their age (roughly), their gender, and the immediate situation they find themselves in. I just like to let whoever they are reveal themselves as I go. That, coupled with a very flexible outline, means I can let the characters dictate the direction of the story. I think it feels more natural, because they’re the ones driving it forward.

I’m often surprised when a character does something or says something I wasn’t expecting them to. They take on a life of their own, reacting in ways I didn’t expect them to because I never planned for it, and I think the story and the characters feel more real as a result.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Now Playing: Mountain Blade

Mountain Blade is one of those games I never would have tried if it wasn’t for the frequently excellent Steam sales. For about five quid, I figured Warband was worth a punt.

In my first game alone I clocked up over 90 hours of play. To date, I’ve played for more than 140.

Is it a little rough around the edges? Sure. There’s a lot of areas where the game could be improved, but the M&B games have an excellent modding community, which I’ve not really dipped into yet. 

Warband is one of those games I suspect I’ll be playing for a long time to come.


Thursday, 3 May 2012

Work in Progress: WFTD

So I’m working on a new novel. WFTD. No, that’s not the real title. That’s an abbreviation of the title. Did I say new? Actually, it’s not that new. It began life a few years ago when I thought I’d try my hand at an adult horror sci-fi. I wrote about thirty pages and stopped. I liked the setting, the general story and the characters…but it just didn’t seem to work.

So I scrapped it, but I didn’t forget about it. And now, I’ve decided to rework the setting and the basic plot into a YA dystopian sci-fi horror mix-up extravaganza! I’m about 20k words in, and I think it works this time. At least I hope it does.

So WTFD is coming along. I hope to have the first part in some sort of state of polish by the end of the week. Then I’ve got to draft a rough outline for the next two parts. I’m hoping to have a complete first draft done within a month or two, but I’ve got some other work coming up that’s probably going to keep me busy real soon, so we'll see.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Now Playing: Cry of Fear (Mod)

Despite some irritating backtracking through levels, Cry of Fear is a finely crafted horror mod for the original Half-Life.

It’s got a lot of fun jump scares, the woods towards the end being a particular highlight. Guns and ammo are a little too easy to obtain, which lessens the tension somewhat.

The creatures also attack you in numbers too often at times which diminishes their impact. The best moment in the game for me was when I first encountered one of the ghost girls as shown on the left. I love it when a game surprises me, even in an unpleasant way.