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Until Dawn

I’ve played a lot of games over the years. A LOT. And for a while I was very much into my horror games; Resi Evil, Silent Hill, those kinds of games. Resi 2 and Silent Hill 2 are both some of the greatest games ever made.

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The Last of Us is one of my favourite games of all time, it’s a brilliant mesh of horror, action and stealth that really works, although it helps that it had a great story with fantastic characters. Until Dawn

Well, Until Dawn came out just a few days ago and I’ve finished it. It didn’t take long- about 7 hours- but I’ve already re-started to try and save everyone. It’s a brilliant, unsettling, scary, and funny game. It has some of the best acting in a game I’ve seen in ages and a genuinely good story.

In the era of Telltale games and the re-emergence of the point and click adventure game, Until Dawn does it better than anyone has so far. It’s probably my favourite game this year alongside Witcher 3.

The thing about it that amazed me, was how the characters grow. You start the game and think several of them are self-important dicks, but as the horrific events unfold (and there’s some properly grim stuff in there) these characters change, they grow and become people they need to be to deal with the situation. It’s brilliant writing and something that isn’t done enough in games.

So, if you like horror, or just a good story, Until Dawn will be right up your street. Even my wife, who has almost zero interest in videogames, sat every night I was playing it to see how it ended, to see which characters lived and died through my own actions. And she still wants to watch it again to see if I can save everyone. 

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Oh and Peter Stormare is fantastic in it. If you own a PS4 and like good stories, pick it up. You won’t regret it.

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Batman: Arkham Knight

In amongst all of the writing (of which there’s been a lot) and editing (again, a lot), I really haven’t played many videogames this year. I picked up a bunch of them while in sales, but never really got round to doing much with them, Borderlands I’m looking at you.

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I was always going to get Batman: Arkham Knight. Arkham Asylum is one of the best games of all time, and Arkham City is excellent, but not quite as good. Origins is treated a little unfairly simply because it exists in the shadow of its much better brothers, but it’s hardly a bad game.

I got Arkham Knight yesterday, so I can’t say if it’s the greatest thing ever or anything like that, but I figured I’d share a few thoughts from the two hours or so I’ve played.

What I like:

The fact that you don’t have to start your upgrades from scratch. You have quite a few that you’d have already unlocked in previous games, which certainly makes getting around the city a lot easier.

The story is very interesting. At least at the moment, the opening ten minutes are breathtaking and there have been quite a few interesting little bits and pieces.

The mission wheel. Oh how I love the mission wheel. Basically side-missions and main story missions all show up on this wheel, you can select which one you want to tackle and it’ll show you how you’re doing. It’s basically what RPG’s have done forever with quests, but it works brilliantly with this sort of game too.

The controls are still great; the fear takedowns are a wonderful addition.

Barbara Gordon will always be Oracle to me.

Barbara Gordon will always be Oracle to me.

What I’m unsure about:

The Batmobile. I want to love it, and I certainly like it more than I did when I first started, but it takes some getting used to. It’s very twitchy and until you’re used to the controls you will crash into everything in sight.

However, I will say this. Jumping off a ledge, dive bombing to the ground, summoning the Batmobile and then gliding into the cockpit is one of the most Batman like feelings ever. In fact this game goes a long way to make you feel like Batman. It depicts him as both a badass ninja, and a detective, and has done a good job so far.

Batmobile

What I don’t like:

The overly expensive season pass, and the pre-order horse crap. Neither detract from the game itself, and I have no problem with season passes if they’re a good price and the developers say up front what you’re getting (and it’s worth the money), but to say, there’s going to be stuff coming out, not say what it is and then expect people to pay a ludicrous price for it is frankly a shitty practise. And getting different pre-orders from different places sucks, stop doing it, all it does it piss everyone off.

Like I said, I’m not far into it, but so far it’s an very solid game. If you liked the last games, you’ll want this, if you didn’t, well… there’s something wrong with you. And if you never played them before, you’ll probably want to read up on their plots before picking this up. But if you have any interest in Batman then pick it up, because seriously, it makes you feel like the goddamn Batman. What more could you ask for?

Bloodborne

I never played Demon Souls, or Dark Souls. People complained about how hard they were and how much time and effort they took to really understand the game. The difficulty didn’t bother me, I grew up playing 16bit games, but the time sink of 100s of hours was just not something I had time for.

I was never going to buy Bloodborne, primarily for the reasons above, but the combat looked quicker, the setting was stunning (I love old gothic Victorian era), and frankly it looked like the sort of game I usually enjoy. I’m glad I took the step.

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Story wise, I have no idea what’s going on, I’ve read little bits of in game stuff (mostly notes about the town’s history), but the story is still unfolding. Normally I’m all about the story, but so far the setting and gameplay have held my interest.

The thing about Bloodborne is that it’s hard… really hard. But not unfairly so. If I died—and I have dozens and dozens of times—it’s my fault for not taking it slowly, for doing something stupid, or for being bad at the game. Those first few hours of death after death, slowly inching forward in the game’s opening level were occasionally frustrating, but more with myself than the game itself.

Every time you kill something, you get echoes, the more kills, the more echoes. But if you die, you lose it all, and the only way to get them back is to get to the place you died, and either find the stack of echoes on the floor, or track down an enemy who wandered off with it. So, there’s a big risk vs reward part to it, and several times, I died before getting back somewhere, losing those echoes forever.  Bloodborne-featured

 

Then something clicks. The combat, the heavy and light attacks, the gun to parry, the dodging, it all comes together. The fact that you have to take on enemies one at a time, avoiding large groups, separating your enemies for easier pickings, is a bit weird coming from someone who played Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, but once you get used to it, it’s glorious.

I’d played about 5 hours now, and gotten to the first boss a few times (even unlocking a short-cut, which is a godsend. And the ability to level up, which is even more of one). I’m yet to beat the boss, and there’s still a danger that if I’m not concentrating I could get killed by anything, but I can see me getting better and better. I’m getting used to the controls, to the world, to taking things slow.  But more than that, I’m loving every second I spend in the dark, disturbing world of Bloodborne.

I Caved for Infamous

I’ve been an avid gamer for many years. I got my first console, a Megadrive (or Genesis to some) for my 13th birthday nearly 22 years ago and fell in love with the weird blue hedgehog that came with it. I must have played that game a dozen times, and hated that damn water level ever single time.

Over the years, I picked up a Sega Saturn, PS1, PS2, Xbox, Xbox360, Dreamcast, Gamecube and PS3. When the new consoles were released I was initially hesitant. It took me a while to go from Xbox/PS2 to their counterparts too, and I was determined to wait a year for the PS4 to release games I wanted before looking into getting one.

Well I managed nearly 4 mths.

My PS4 and copy of Infamous: Second Son arrived on Friday and I’ve spent the last weekend getting to grips with my new shiny toy. Here are my thoughts.

 

This picture doesn’t really do it justice. Nor does it let you know just how much dust it attracts. Answer: all of it.

PS4

I quite like it. It looks nice and sleek and it nowhere near as heavy as I’d expected. Also no powerbrick, which considering the power this thing can chuck out is nothing short of amazing.

The controller is lovely. Like, really lovely. It’s a huge leap from the PS3 one and up there with the 360 controller in terms of comfort and use. The touch pad is a bit of an odd inclusion, but it works pretty well on the games I’ve used it for. Also the light bar is pretty cool and I like how it changes colour depending on what game you’re playing/doing with the PS4.

The OS is lovely. It’s very streamlined and looks great. It’s basically one long bar where all of your games go. You can drop down on any game and look at more information about it or change settings, and there are also the same thing for your TV apps and the like. Your PS profile and trophies are all on the same level too, and it’s all very easy to navigate. Although I do have a few concerns about how it’s going to be in a few years time when you’ve got loads of games. Also some of the menus aren’t as logical to find things as you may expect.

Frankly it’s an amazing system and I’m glad I picked on up, but systems are nothing without games, so here are the few I have.

 

I don’t know the person this profile belongs to. The magic of Google.

Flower

I got his for free because I already own it. I love Flower, it’s relaxing, fun and beautiful to watch. Even more so on the PS4. Also, I can sit there with my kids and play it, something I don’t really get to do with most of the games I pick up. Well worth the time to play.

 

It’s just a wonderful experience to play.

Zen Pinball 2

I’m awful at pinball games, but I continue to play them. Maybe in the hope that one day I won’t suck quite so badly. Again it’s free for people who have it already. It’s also bloody good fun and looks great.

 

Resogun

I played this for half hour, had no idea what the hell I was doing, but loved every second. It’s mad and beautiful and really does show off some pretty impressive graphics. I get the feeling it’s also a bit of a time sink to get any good at it.

 

Not sure what’s happening, but I’m not sure it matters.

I did get a couple of other PS+ games (which is probably the best thing to happen to any console ever), but I haven’t played any of them yet. I did however get a few full-priced games to go along with it.

 

Injustice

Being a fan of comics, and also of the last Mortal Kombat game, anything made by the same developer in the DC universe was always going to get a look. It doesn’t exactly show off the power of the PS4, but it doesn’t look awful by any means. It’s a decent fighting game with a huge amount of single-player content, something the likes of Capcom could take note off. So far I’ve played a bit of the story mode, which is madness, but a lot of fun and with some great character moments, and Star Labs, which are sort of mini missions for you to complete. Well worth the money.

 

I really have no idea what The Flash is trying to do, but I don’t think The Matrix is a valid form of defense against Deathstroke.

Thief

Okay, first of all a confession to make. I love the old Thief games. Thief 2 is one of my favourite games of all time and Deadly Shadows has Shalebride Cradle, one of the scariest and best levels of any game ever. What I’m saying is that this game had high expectations. And while the reviews certainly don’t show this as being a great game, there are very good parts to it. Removing all of the player hand-holding crap and playing it like the old Thief games, staying in shadows, watching guards and waiting for the right moment; it feels a lot like the games of old. This is not a game for people who have no patience, and it certainly isn’t a game for everyone, but for those of you who like to hide in the shadows and watch as you plot your next move, this might just be for you. Personally, I really enjoyed the few hours I’ve played.

 

Water arrows are the lifeblood of this game. You’ll learn to love them.

 

Infamous: Second Son

The game that came with the PS4. I enjoyed the previous Infamous games quite a bit and was looking forward to this one, and it didn’t disappoint. To start with, it is stunning. In places it’s drop-dead gorgeous, especially when after a few hours you unlock new powers to go alongside your Smoke abilities, as combat starts to get more intense.

It plays great too, the combat and exploration side of things work brilliantly.

Story wise, it’s okay. Some of the characters are more interesting than others, but on the whole it’s not going to worry The Last of Us or anything like that. To be fair, I think in future Sucker Punch need to re-think the morality system, which is just a bit dull. Maybe they should go a more Mass Effect style of being either a full-on good-guy or a bad-ass. The evil route doesn’t really seem to fit with Delsin’s personality, but then I haven’t played that much being the badguy so maybe it gets better.

Also, and this goes for nearly every game developer, stop putting shitty bosses in games. If you have to whittle away a health bar or have some massive difficulty spike, it’s not good game design. In fact I can’t remember the last good boss I played against. Bosses are not meant to be dull or frustrating when the rest of the game is so much fun. Stop doing it.

Over all, it’s great fun, it’s not going to change your mind if you don’t already like the games as a lot of the improvements are small ones (the shards are now fun to find), but if you’re a fan of the franchise or genre, then you’ll love it. Also… pretty.

 

However pretty this looks, it’s nothing compared to seeing the game running.

So, while I wasn’t going to get a PS4 for a while, I’m glad I did. It’s a great console with some good games and the potential to do some amazing things. The next few years should be a very interesting time indeed.

Fun With Maths

Another small update this week as I’m still neck deep into writing With Silent Screams. I should have more news about it in the next few weeks.

First of all, I finished Tomb Raider. It’s  great game and one I can highly recommend. I do have 2 small problems with it. 1. There aren’t enough tombs to actually raid. And 2. There are a few too many enemies, especially toward the end of the game where it can feel like you’re being swarmed. If it weren’t for the fact that the combat is excellent, that would be a much bigger issue.

As it stands though, it’s 10-12 hours of awesome. Personally I can’t wait for the inevitable sequel (as it’s the best selling Tomb Raider game ever, there will be a sequel.)

Bioshock Infinite also has some of the best adverts I’ve ever seen for a game.

However, next week it’s Bioshock Infinite. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love the original Bioshock. While Bioshock 2 wasn’t as good, I have a feeling that Infinite is going to be something special. It’s a shame they’re releasing all of these incredible games in such a short space of time. Damn them.

Savour the awesome.

I actually got some reading done last week too, which is a bit of a novelty for me. I finished the first Star Wars –New Jedi Order book: Vector Prime. I haven’t read too many of the expanded universe stuff for Star Wars, but with a new film in the pipeline I figured I’d read some more. Turns out it was excellent.

 

Slight Spoiler – One of the main characters from the series dies in this book in probably the single best death scene I’ve ever read. It’s just utterly epic stuff, and while it’s a shame they died, it was done well and it appears that they’ll be building on it so it’s not a throwaway.

 

 

 

On the writing front, I’ve realised I’ve sold over 22,000 books of Crimes Against Magic and Born of Hatred.

In fact, if I can get all mathy for a minute, in 2012 I sold:

 

Crimes Against Magic – 9300

Born of Hatred – 2300

 

So far (Jan and Feb) in 2013, I’ve managed:

Crimes Against Magic – 5100

Born of Hatred – 5500

 

It’s a wonderful achievement for me personally, and I can’t thank everyone who supported me or purchased a book enough. But thank you none-the-less.

If anyone is interested in what my magic secret is… well, I wish I knew. Because I’d tell everyone.

 

 

So, that’s it for this week. Have a good weekend all.

A Brief Interlude

Normally when I write a post, I have a set aim in mind and write the blog about that idea. This week I have no idea, so I thought I’d just wing it and talk about stuff that has interested me recently, along with some awards I’ve received and how my writing is going.

Firstly videogames. I’m a big fan of videogames and anime, and when someone merges those things together I get all giddy.

So when someone takes the developer Level-5 (Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, Jeanne d’Arc) and put them together with Studio Ghibli (Princess MononokeMy Neighbor TotoroThe Secret World of Arrietty), well there’s a good possibility that I may be purchasing whatever it is they’re doing.

As it turns out, what they’re doing is called Ni no Kuni for the PS3 and it looks like this:

And this week they announced what the Special Edition of this game was going to be:

I’m not a big fan of special editions, they’re usually a bit crap. But the above one has a 300 page hardcover of Studio Ghibli art. There is only one way in which to describe how I feel about that.

Yep, that about says it all.

I have no doubt that this game is going to be sensational and next January can’t come soon enough.

To move on from my geeky pass times, Crimes Against Magic won the Indie Book of the Day Award on Monday, and they gave me a nice certificate and a badge. You can find the website here, and I recommend going and taking a look, they have a lot of great books getting some much needed promotion.

And here’s my winners badge.

If it were an actual badge, I’m pretty certain it would be polished to within an inch of its life by now.

Speaking of Crimes Against Magic, it’s now sitting at number 18 in the top 100 Fantasy Magic charts on Amazon, which is just incredible. I also now have 18, 5 star reviews and 5, 4 star reviews across both Amazon.com and .co.uk. It’s achieved more than I’d ever dreamed it would. So thank you to everyone who purchased a copy.

Now onto the sequel, Born of Hatred. It’s moving along nicely. The draft is nearly done and then it’ll fly off to my crit partners, D.B. Reynolds and Michelle Muto, who will go through it with a big red pen. I’m hoping for an October launch, but I’ll post more details about it closer to the time.

And finally for this week, the very talented K.L. Schwengel gave me a Beautiful Blogger award. Which, after you clicked on the link to go see Kathi’s fantastic blog, you can see below.

I like awards. I wish for more.

After thanking Kathi for the superb award, it’s my turn to nominate 7 blogs which I love to read. So here they are.

D.B. Reynolds       Michelle Muto      

Angela Addams      T.James      Tom Harris

Susan Mann     Keri Lake

All 7 of them deserve your time and attention.

And that’s it for the week. I’m off to do some more writing and get that draft finished before I go to watch Spider-man tomorrow. In the meantime, have a great weekend and I’ll see you all again next week.

Five Things That Impressed Me

This week, I thought I’d take the time to go through five things that have impressed me the most in the past few weeks.

But first, an update. March madness is going quite well.  I’ve averaging the 1000 words a day that I need (just about) and making pretty good time. The story has changed slightly though, as I sort of wrote myself into trouble and then had to write myself out of it again, but what’s the fun in writing if you can’t challenge yourself?

I’ve also done some research for book three. Primarily, I’ve been looking into the Great Freeze of 1709. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but I love research. I learn so much that I didn’t ever think I’d need to know.

And now onto the point of this weeks blog.

1. Saga

As some of you know, I’m a big comic book fan. And Brian K. Vaughan is one of the best writers in the business.

He’s the writer of Y: The Last Man, Pride of Baghdad and Ex Machina. All of which are superb and come highly recommended by me, so his new comic series was always going to cause a bit of a stir. And Saga lives up to every inch of that promise.

It would be easy to say that Saga is just Romeo and Juliet in space, but that does neither the characters nor story justice. More was done in this first issue, than most writers manage in five or six these days.

Praise must also be given to Fiona Staples who does some wonderful art, both on the fantastic action scenes and the more dialog and emotional heavy stuff too.

I don’t want to say any more, because this is the kind of comic that you should go into without knowing the story too much. But be assured that this is the start of something a bit special, much like Y: The last man. If you have any interest in comics, sci-fi or just good writing, you owe it to yourself to pick this up.

2. Hunger Games

I’d never even heard of this book up until about a month ago, when I saw the trailer for the movie and immediately thought – Americanised Battle Royale for a teen audience. (For those of you who don’t know, Battle Royale is one of the finest films of all time and is about a group of kids stuck on an island who all have to kill each other until one remains. It’s incredible, dark, funny and very, very violent.) I held off reading the book because I didn’t want it to be another Twilight ‘will they, won’t they, how can she decide between the two’, which really isn’t for me. Turns out I was wrong so far. I’ve not finished it yet, but damn is it ever dark.

I’m also finding it to be very well written and gripping. I don’t know if the film will be any good, and maybe the end of the book goes all pear shaped and I’ll hate it, but at the moment I’m very glad I got myself a copy.

3. Mass Effect 3

I love Mass Effect. Love it. I love the characters, I love the setting. Pretty much everything about these three games scream “Steve, buy me, love me.” And Mass Effect 3 took me 32hrs to complete. And I loved 31hrs and 45 minutes. Then it all went horribly wrong.

I’m not going to spoil the end of the game because that would be a really shitty thing to do. But it was the biggest let down I’ve had from an ending in a very long time.

But those 31 hrs and 45 minutes before then, pure gaming gold. Characters I’ve seen grow and develop over the three games came back to fight once more, and I had quite the touching romance with a certain alien female as I did my best to save the galaxy. It was all heading towards being the best way Bioware would have ended the trilogy. But, damn. Just… damn.

4. PS Vita

You may have guessed that I’m a big fan of videogames. I have been for many a year, and will probably still be playing when I’m old and sat on my rocking chair, waving my walking stick at youngsters and demanding that they stay off my lawn.

I’ve played most handhelds since the Gameboy back in 1989/90. The PS Vita is the most impressive I’ve ever used since… well, since ever. It’s an incredible piece of technology with a fantastic launch line up. The touch screen on the front is wonderful (as is the screen itself), the controls feel right, and even the rear touch pad is a nice touch. There are issues (PS1 and PS2 games should be playable, Wi-Fi should always connect and every single one of the ‘compilation games’ like Sly Racoon should be playable on it) but they’re tiny compared to how much fun I’ve had playing Uncharted on a handheld.

Sony deserve to do very well with this as it blows the Nintendo 3DS out of the water in terms of features and capability. Hopefully that success will come for them.

5. Suits

I’m not a big TV watcher. I like Supernatural, Burn Notice, Lost Girl and Psych. And I watch a few things with my daughters (Ben 10 and Phineas and Ferb are big hits in my house), but there’s very few other things that I’d consider to be unmissable.

Suits is now on that very short list. In the 6 or 7 episodes I’ve watched, I’ve grown to love this show. It’s smart, funny and very well written, with characters that are both believable and entertaining. Long may it continue.

And that’s it for this week. Enjoy your weekend.

Introduction Part 2

Welcome back to part two of my introduction. If you missed yesterday, go here. I’ll wait.

…..

And now on with my friends asking very poignant questions.

Tammy E. A. Crosby

How long have you been married? How did you and your wife meet? Were you a writer before or after you met?

I’ve been married for just under 6 ½ years now, 7 in September. I met my wife in college and we started seeing each other about 3 years after we left. But that’s another story all together.

I’ve always written, but never considered myself a ‘writer’. That didn’t happen until a few years ago.

Do you ever write stories just for your child/children?

It’s a cop-out answer, but sort of. I usually just tell the story as I’m going, which means it changes every time. But I rarely write them down. I did write my eldest, Keira who’s 7, a letter from the tooth fairy apologising for not putting money under her pillow, which went down a storm. I was quite proud of it.

Danielle LaPaglia

What made you decide to join a writing group?

I remember reading that joining a writing group can help with your writing, so I looked around and as I’m a fan of Kelley Armstrong’s books, I figured that would be a good fit for me. That was about 5 years ago now and I’ve not regretted it one bit. My writing has improved, but more importantly I’ve met some fantastic people, without whom I’d never have gotten this far.

How supportive is your family?

Very supportive. That’s the short answer. The longer one – You know the old adage that your family never tells you the truth? Well, if that’s true, then it’s clear that my family have some sort of personal vendetta against me. My wife is always happy to tell me what does and doesn’t work and what she doesn’t like. That said, she’s always pushed me to do better and when she likes something she does say so.

TJ James

What video game character would you most like to be, and why?

As a bit of a videogame geek, I should probably try to come up with something obscure. But I’d quite like to be the main character from an Elder Scrolls games. Mostly because I could be whatever I pleased, but whatever it was, I’d be a badass.

How are you training your children for World Domination, and Universal Dictatorship?

Well Keira’s well on her way to World Domination through just being far too smart for her own good. I get the feeling my youngest (Faith is almost 2) is a “just likes to watch the world burn” kinda person. If there’s destruction to be had, she’s usually in the middle of it with a big grin on her face. No training required.

Keri Lake

What inspired you to write Crimes Against Magic?

I’ve always been into mythology, magic and things that go bump in the night, so combining them all into one story felt like a natural fit. But I wanted to put my own spin on those old mythological tales. The hard part was trying to figure out what the real story might have been and separating it from the mythology. I figure if they were true, then for some, those tales must have been their version of propaganda. Trying to deconstruct that has hopefully led to some fun re-imagining of famous mythological characters. Basically, I wanted to write a book that I would like to read and it went from there.

Since I’ve had the pleasure of beta reading your MS, I can attest that you do mix history and mythology and weave them into an intriguing storyline.  What kind of research went into writing the pieces that go back to the 1400’s.  Do you find it difficult to transition between the past and present (keeping facts and details accurate)?

Firstly, thank you for the kind words.

When it comes to research, I tried to get the details correct as much as possible. I had to remove a lot of words that came about after that time period, which caused a few headaches. And I needed to check that certain weapons actually existed during that time.

I find it quite easy to jump between the two. I write the notes for the past and present sections separately and then try to figure out where the best places to jump between the two are. I wanted to use the past sections as the place where I can deposit the information about the world and things in it without losing the flow of the present plot. Hopefully that’s been achieved.

And there we have my first two posts. Hopefully, you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I’d just like to thank everyone who took part in helping me do something a little different for a first post. Let this be the start of something entertaining.