Archive for the ‘Games’ Category


Whoops, I was enjoying the 4th so much I almost forgot to post this. Next week’s should be earlier in the day.

Four-letter Words and Such
I do my best to keep a clean mouth. Really I do. From a communication standpoint, swearing rarely enhances any particular point you are trying to make. The overuse of profanity shows a marked lack of intelligence, too, as it’s far easier (and lazier) to just throw in a cuss word than to actually take the time to articulate your thoughts.

From a Christian’s standpoint, we are taught that “from the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” So following that line of thinking, what does that say about us when we swear? (more…)

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There are a number of really cool things I’ve really enjoyed the last few weeks and I thought I’d share them with you guys.

1] Battle: LA
This movie was freakin’ awesome! It had the intensity and feel of Black Hawk Down thrown against a science fiction backdrop.  The premise of Battle: LA is that aliens invade major population centers around the globe and, ignoring all pleas for diplomacy, begin tearing the place up.  You follow the actions of a squad of marines sent in to rescue civilians holed up in a Sheriff’s office.  Let’s just say that, by the end of the movie, I would’ve followed Aaron Eckhart (the film’s lead) into a fight against aliens.  The special effects were top notch and the acting very good with one notable exception (“I’m a veterinarian”? What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks?).

2] Batman: Arkham Asylum
I’m a couple years late to this party, but dang if I’m glad I showed up.  Batman: AA is a prime example of why I love video games.  Rocksteady, the studio that developed the game, pulled out all the stops and gave proper respect to one of the most-beloved superheroes of all time.  You can tell they really did their homework.  The story is classic Batman and the characters faithfully re-created.  The Joker serves as the main antagonist and is just as insane here as Heath Ledger’s version.   Many of Batman’s foes show up and provide many memorable moments (most notably Killer Croc and Scarecrow).

Of course, I can’t leave out the main man himself.  As Batman, you get access to many of his fun gadgets as you solve puzzles and fight your enemies.  And there’s the real meat of the game: beating up bad guys.  This happens in a number of ways.  My favorite is straight-up combat, jumping into the middle of a group of twenty henchmen and taking all of the down singlehandedly.  How can you not love that?  There are also plenty of parts where stealth is the name of the game, and you have to carefully pick off each bad guy one at a time (it’s especially fun to string one up from the ceiling by the leg).

The level design is incredible and gives you a sort of open-world feel, allowing you to revisit previous areas to collect special in-game achievements.  What’s more, it all looks gorgeous.  So, if you’re looking for an all-around awesome game to play, give Batman: Arkham Asylum a go.

3] Here, There Be Dragons, by James A. Owen
What would happen if J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and H.G. Wells were all thrown into a world very much like the ones they created?  That’s the question that the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series aims to answer.  James A. Owen begins the story with his book, Here, There Be Dragons.  It’s an adventure that pulls together influences from just about everywhere and throws them all into a big stew.  Fortunately, the stew actually tastes fairly good.  It follows the tale of John, Charles, and Jack who are drawn into a fantasy realm that is at war against the evil Winter King.  While there are few moments where the writing is a little forced, you can tell Owen worked hard to remain faithful to the authors he depicts.  All in all, it’s a fun book to read and I am eager to start on its sequel, The Search for the Red Dragon.

4] Ghostopolis, by Doug TenNapel
Ghostopolis is one of those stories that really impacted me on a personal level.  Sure, I enjoy plenty of comics, movies, and books, but few move as much as this one did.  It’s not one particlar aspect of it that I could point out; it’s one of those unspoken feelings that just hits you.  TenNapel does a great job presenting us with a very human story set in a fictional, supernatural world.  A terminally diseased boy named Garth is accidentally sent to Ghostopolis, the name of the world of the afterlife, by Frank Gallows, an agent of the Supernatural Immigration Task Force, a government agency that hunts down wayward ghosts in the real world and sends them back to the afterlife.  Garth and Frank each have their personal battles to fight, both literally and figuratively, within Ghostopolis.  For Garth, it is learning to never accept defeat, no matter how dire the circumstances.  For Frank, it is redemption for the life he’s lived.  Their main obstacle takes the form of the evil ruler of Ghostopolis, Vaugner.  Filled with ample amounts of humor, action, and great storytelling, all wrapped in TenNapel’s odd-yet-fantastic artwork, Ghostopolis is a story I recommend to anyone.  You can find it in the Independent Reader section of any major bookstore.

5] Writing Project R
I know, I know.  Kind of cheesy, but hey, I really have enjoyed writing this story.  More than my previous two, Project R has felt like a dream to write.  That doesn’t at all mean that it’s been easy.  In fact, in some ways, it’s been the most difficult to create.  But, it’s also been the most fun and, up to this point, is the book that has the most of my “DNA” within.  I’m really excited to finish it up and present it to you guys.  I keep having to push it back thanks to other projects and life in general, but I’m busting my butt to get it finished up soon.

Alright, that’s it for this week.  Make sure you check some of this stuff out.

Maybe it’s from living in Europe when I was younger, but I love cold weather.  I like putting on layers to stay warm.  I enjoy the feel and smell of a good fire.  I also like the warm drinks that make you feel better after being outside for a while.

The summer here has been horrid, weather-wise.  100-plus degree temperatures for weeks without a drop of rain that make me sweat the moment I step outside.  No thanks.  You can only take off so many clothes before you start violating some law somewhere and your own dignity.  The last week or so, we’ve seen some days in the mid-70s and its like a breath of fresh air.  I only wish Summer would relinquish its grip, go back to sleep, and let Fall take over.

But, enough about that…

Writing Update
The Island of Istburn is currently in its review stage where my frontline editors read through the book and make suggestions.  This is the final stage before the book interior gets designed and then it all gets shipped off to CreateSpace.  After that, I review the proof, check to ensure everything looks okay, make any necessary changes, and then, a week or so later, it will be available for everyone.

If you’re like me, you like to get a preview of something before diving headlong into it.  So, in that vein, I’ve decided to start putting previews up on Scribd.com.  I have put the first two chapters of the The Thief and the Red Mandolin up on Scribd.com for your previewing pleasure.  I plan to do the same for Istburn once the book is finalized.  I may even make the books available for purchase on Scribd as an ebook, but we’ll have to see.

Recommends
Uncharted series (Game) – If you enjoy watching movies or reading adventure stories like Indiana Jones, The Mummy series (the new ones), or The Librarian, then you’ll enjoy Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.  They’re only available on the PS3, but to me, the two Uncharted titles provide one of the best experiences gaming has to offer.  If you own a PS3, you owe it to yourself to pick up this fantastic series.

 
The Last Apprentice
series by Joseph Delaney – A very well-written and engaging series.  Delaney does a fantastic job depicting the hard and sometimes gruesome life of a spook (the name given to one who keeps supernatural forces at bay).  Though aimed at ages 10 and up, it’s a horror series, so be prepared for scares and plenty of intense moments.  If you can stomach the creepy moments and occasionally gore, it’s a blast to read.

Have a good week, everyone!

First Book Signing: Done!

Posted: August 16, 2010 in Books, Games, Writing

First up, news.  The book signing on Saturday went great!  We sold all remaining copies of The Thief and the Red Mandolin that Borders had.  They had ordered five back in July and when most of those sold, they ordered fifteen additional copies.  By the time the signing rolled around it had whittled down to thirteen so I’ve sold a total of twenty books at Borders.  They told me afterward that would definitely order more copies of the book.

So, for a first book signing, not too shabby at all.  A big thanks to the folks at Borders who helped make it possible and to everyone who stopped by the table.  Even if you didn’t grab a book, I loved getting to meet new folks and chat it up with some of my friends.  Currently, there is only one other book signing scheduled, which will be at Hastings in Stillwater, OK from 7-9 p.m. on Sept. 24, but more will follow.

Weekly Writing Update
Progress continues on The Island Istburn though, as I said last post, it is a little slow, but I’m setting aside time to really crank through a lot this week and hopefully move into the final edits by the end of the month.  If you haven’t already seen it, I posted a picture of the front cover for Istburn in the Black Armor Tales page (see the tabs above).

I’m currently awaiting my last reviewer to complete their final review of my short story before submitting it.  On my drive home from lunch today, I had another short story idea pop into my head that I’ll to play around with.  I never thought I’d enjoy short fiction that much, but it’s turned out to be a nice way to exercise my creative writing muscles aside from a major project like a novel.

By the way, for you aspiring authors, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of J.A. Konrath’s e-book, “The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing.”  It compiles his many blog entries on the all the various aspects of writing into one nifty $3 package.  Some of the entries repeat information and, occasionally, he changes his opinion, but overall it is one of – if not the – best guides to beginner writers that I’ve ever read.  His honesty and bluntness are refreshing.

Recommends
Titan Quest – If you liked playing any of the Diablo games or are looking for a fun, easy way to kill a couple of hours without having to think too much, Titan Quest was made just for you.  There is a story in there somewhere, but that’s not really the point of this point-and-click action/rpg.  Kill things, get the loot, become more powerful, repeat.  Simple as that.  It borrows from the myths of ancient Greece, Egypt, and parts of Asia for a beautifully rendered setting.

Saint by Ted Dekker – The follow-up to Showdown in Ted’s Paradise series of books.  It suffers a little from some uneven pacing during the second half of the story, but still a very fun read.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – I consider this a must-read for anyone.  A fantastic book with the barest hint of science fiction told from the perspective of a mentally handicapped man.  Be warned, it’s the kind of book that makes you glad you read it, but you never want to read again.

I’m probably one of the least consistent blog writers out there, but I assure you I haven’t been slacking off.  My blogging silence is primarily because I’ve been working on one writing project or another as well as working to set up a marketing campaign.

Book Signings
For those of you who don’t already know, I’m holding my first ever book signing at the NW Borders (near 21st and Maize) in Wichita, KS this coming Saturday, August 14 from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. If you’re in the area, swing on by and say hi, even if you already have a signed copy of my book. I enjoy getting to visit with everyone.

In case you can’t make it to that one, I will also be in Stillwater, OK on Friday, September 24 signing books at Hastings on Main St.

Writing Progress
The Island of Istburn is going well, though a little slower than I’d hoped.  However, the story continues to improve as I progress which is encouraging.  I’ve been experimenting with a different approach to editing than the first book.  As I finish a round of edits on a chapter, I’ll hand it to my wife for review and continue plugging away.  When she’s done with her review, I’ll incorporate her fixes right then.  I’m also doing something similar with my other editors though they get a larger chunk of  the book at one time.

This should save time on the back-end of the process since a lot of the editing work is happening simultaneously. I’m hoping once I hit the last chapter, it will be a matter of days before I send it to CreateSpace as opposed to weeks.

On other projects, I recently finished an 8000 word short story entitled “A Good Bowl of Ramen” that I will send off to literary magazines for publication.  The story is set in the same world as the Black Armor Tales books, but features different characters.  It’s also written in present tense from a first-person perspective.  I’m not used to writing like this, but after reading The Hunger Games (a fantastic book) I wanted to give it a try.  As it turns out, I had a ton of fun writing it.  Once it’s published (in one way or another), I hope you’ll have as much fun reading it.

I’ve also done some work on Project R, another book in a bit of a different vein from Black Armor.  It’s a science fiction story set in the distant future.  Adam, the main protagonist is, like Satchel, a young man with untapped abilities trying to find his place in the world.  But, the similarities end there.  Their personalities, attitude towards people, environments, and struggles are very different.  I’m very excited about this one and I’m eager to start working on it again once I’ve got Istburn done. 

And lastly, the first novella in the Pentinium series, co-authored with my brother Tim, will also make rounds to the various literary outlets sometime soon.  Novellas are harder to sell because of their awkward length.  Major novel publishers don’t like them because they’re too short and literary magazines don’t like them because they’re too long.  In the end, we may end up publishing it through CreateSpace as well.  This series is vastly different from anything else I’ve written.  The story has a huge cast for the size of book it is and has this hectic, zany, anything-goes kind of feel, much like the conversations between my brother and I.  There’s no real way to throw it into one genre as it has elements of science fiction, fantasy, suspense, and comedy with a splash of commentary thrown in for good measure.  More to come on this later.

Suggested Reading and Gaming
Here’s a list of books I’ve read recently and some games I’ve been enjoying that I recommend:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Incredible read, but has some violent moments that could be uncomfortable for some.  High school ages and up.

Mister Monday by Garth Nix – A strange book written by a strange man, but entertaining, nonetheless.  It’s the first book in the Keys to the Kingdom series.  Recommended for those who don’t mind the bizarre.

StarCraft – I recently purchased this game again after not playing if for nearly a decade.  The crazy thing is, it’s still just as enjoyable now as it was then, maybe even more so.  A landmark real-time strategy developed by Blizzard (the folks that gave us World of Warcraft) that’s easy and intuitive to pick up and play.  You can still buy it in stores for $20 or download it for $15.

Lord of the Rings Online – Yeah, yeah I’m playing an online role-playing game set in Tolkien’s universe.  I’m a nerd, so sue me.  But, my reasons for playing are not only that it’s LotR, but Turbine also does a great job at making it fun.  I think you can still get it in stores though you’re better off just downloading it from their website.  If you decide to play, let me know and we can tear through Middle Earth together, leaving a trail of dead orcs in our wake.

That’s a wrap this week folks.  My wife and I are working on getting a more refined routine to our lives and I’m hoping to make more consistent posts to this in the future.  Keep your fingers crossed.

It’s rantin’ time.  This post’s target: Mass Effect 2.  That may surprise some of you folks considering I was super-excited about this game, but after putting well over 10 hours into it, I can say that I am severely disappointed.  Much of what I say will be in relation to the original Mass Effect which was one of my all-time favorite games.  Those of you a who are gamers will probably follow and understand this pretty well.  Those of you who aren’t, well, you can skip this and chalk up to one of my nerdisms.

The Pros

First, I’ll mention the things BioWare did right.  The graphics of Mass Effect 2 are amazing, way better than the first one.  They improved the texture load time as well as the time spent going between the option screen and the game.  The animation is much smoother running, and the characters and environments are beautifully rendered.  Combat in Mass Effect 2 is vastly superior to the first game.  The controls are a little more intuitive and the action is much more intense.  With the exception of the sniper rifle, the combat is also much harder, but this is a good thing because the combat in the original was pretty easy even on tougher settings.  Your ship, the Normandy II, is a bigger and cooler ship than the original Normandy of the first game.

I also appreciated the planet scanning feature.  This replaced all the driving around and searching you did in the first one, fixing what I felt was the weakest point in the original game (that and the elevators).  The weapon system has been revamped and, while I felt this was unnecessary, it incorporated some pretty neat innovations with the armor and weapon upgrades that I applaud.  The new interrupt system for conversations was pretty cool too though one or two of them came and went with barely any time to react which led to some frustration.  Having more squad mates is also nice and I loved that they brought back some of the team members from the first game.

The Cons

Even with all these little improvements, I still feel they have utterly ruined the game for me.  All the things above were nice things to have, but, to me, not crucial.  You see, the first Mass Effect drew me in because in Commander Shepherd, you had a strong central character with a mission to save the galaxy in the manner which you saw fit.  If you wanted to be a nasty person who treated everyone like dirt (known in-game as Renegade), you could do it.  Instead, if you wanted to be the pillar of morality and all that is good and decent in the universe (AKA a Paragon), the option was there.  You could also fall somewhere in the middle.  Even if all you wanted to do was act like yourself, you could.  They presented you with choices and your character would react however positively or negatively you wanted to. 

In Mass Effect 2, your morality choice is essentially this:  be a mega-prick or just a kinda-sorta prick.  Renegade meant the same thing in this game as in the first, but Paragon apparently now means that you’re a holier-than-thou pompous jerk.  I can’t count how many times I chose a Paragon option in dialog and then regretted it because the character said something completely rude and selfish.  The dialog options did not match very well at all with what I felt they were saying and continually felt duped into choosing an option I did not want.

Another aspect of the dialog that drove me up a wall was the swearing.  Now, I’m alright with a little swearing.  I have no room to bash BioWare for the use of swear words because I cuss every now and then myself, but only when I’m especially angry or frustrated (usually when I’m dealing with cars, computers, or idiots).  Even some of the shows and movies I watch have a certain level of swearing.  Heck, Fallout 3, a dark game set in the survivalist environment of post-apocalyptic America, had a fair amount and even the first Mass Effect had a little bit here and there, and I still love both games.  But, and here’s the kicker, it wasn’t every single frickin’ character.  Whoever they got to assist with dialog was either a twelve-year-old who plays too much World of Warcraft or Fred Durst, neither of which has much vocabulary beyond ten words and most of those are swear words.  Almost every single character I came across, even if all they only had one line, cussed and rarely was it ever at an appropriate moment in dialog.  It was as if they were trying to make sentences out of swear words.  It was so jarring and distracting that I could never fully immerse myself in the characters.

They also toned down the roleplaying.  The first Mass Effect had a long list of abilities you could upgrade, much like a traditional RPG, and while it wasn’t as robust as, say, Baldur’s Gate (another BioWare title), it still played enough of a role to make a big difference and really gave you the sense that you were training and growing a character.  Mass Effect 2’s skill upgrade system has been dumbed down to a few simple items.  As an example, I mentioned earlier that the sniper rifle was easier now.  In the first one, when you first started, your aim wasn’t very good and you had to train in order to get better.  Even when you were perfect, there was a slight wobble (like, you know, a real person) whereas now Shepherd’s aim is steady as a rock from the get-go.  No training up in it, no more using skill to take a shot.  They did add special abilities to characters, but again this is more glitter and sparkle than anything of real substance.

The Bottom Line

Honestly, the changes they made to the dialog, to the characters, and to the skill system were an insult to my intelligence.  I felt that they had traded in the smart, believable aspects of the game in order to appease some wider audience.  While BioWare made great improvements to the mechanics of the game, they stripped it of what made it such an enjoyable experience the first time and added in a bunch of stuff that was more fluff than substance.  A good analogy would be that they made the icing sweeter, but ruined the cake.  I can understand a galaxy that’s become darker and I know that there are places where people have lost hope for the future.  In fact, that’s the draw for me to certain games: becoming the light and hope of a world gone horribly wrong.  However, in Mass Effect 2, I felt that Shepherd was no longer that character.  He had become nothing more than a thug saving the galaxy because it would be inconvenient not to.

My reaction to this may seem strong to you, but part of the reason this is such a disappointment for me is that I waited two years for this sequel to come out.  It is one of only three games that I have ever pre-ordered (the first Mass Effect and Fallout 3 being the other two) and set aside $60 expecting to take in experience at least as good as the first.  Instead, I have now taken both Mass Effect 2 and its predecessor to GameStop for trade-ins in order to save up for a game that might actually live up to my expectations like, say, Brink.  Another reason is that when I write the first draft of a book, I give myself a reward to look forward to.  Fallout 3 was my reward for the first novel I wrote.  Mass Effect 2 was my reward for the book I finished in February and now it feels as though that reward was wasted.

I plan to take this rant and send it as a letter of complaint to EA and BioWare.  From here on, I will avoid BioWare games as a general rule.  Since they seem to be getting praise left and right from the gaming industry, and it’s sold pretty well, I doubt they will care much and I’m not even sure many people will ever read this rant as obscure as my blog is, but I felt someone needed to say something and I hope I’m not the only out there that feels this way.

End Rant

Now that I’ve gotten that load off my chest, I feel a little better.  The whole episode has actually made me re-think how I approach gaming in general and so you may see my posts about games change a little in the future.  Gaming has been a part of my life ever since I can remember and I will continue to enjoy it as a hobby.  But, I think I need to shift my perception just a little.  Anyways, next time I promise it won’t be a rant.  I’ll try to find something good and wonderful to talk about like, I don’t know, fluffy bunnies and pretty flowers…but, you know, in a manly sort of way.

As promised, I’m keeping this one short.  I’ve managed to squeeze enough hours out my evenings for the last few weeks to finish the first draft of a novella co-authored with my brother.  The title of it is Pentinium and the Fortress of Soombine.  As I mentioned in a previous post, it has a fantasy/sci-fi/comedy feel with a military backdrop.  It’s been a nice break from working on Book 2 of the Black Armor Tales and overall a wonderful experience.  The first round of edits has started and hopefully by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, I’ll have a finished copy.  We’re planning to send it to the Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine.  If they don’t accept it, then we’ll probably self-publish it through Lulu or CreateSpace.  In either case, expect to see it in print in the early 2010 timeframe.

5 Things from Sam’s Desk of Awesomeness: It Can’t Get Here Fast Enough
This week I’m just going to throw out a few things that I am highly anticipating and can’t wait to experience.

1. Iron Man the Anime Series
Iron Man? Anime? Iron Man in an anime?! [insert drooling sound]

2. Mass Effect 2
Have I mentioned that I like Mass Effect?  Well, in case you missed that, I do and I cannot wait for the sequel to come out.  The trailer speaks for itself as to why.  I’m particularly looking forward to the mini-nuke launcher.

3.  The Hobbit
With Peter Jackson as producer and Guillermo Del Toro directing (Hellboy 1 & 2, Pan’s Labyrinth) the film adaptation of one my all-time favorite stories should rock everyone’s socks off.

4. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Peter Jackson’s involved in this one too along with Stephen Spielburg.  I’m super excited at the prospect of one of my childhood comic book heroes brought to the big screen in the hands of such a talented and professional group of people.

tintin1

5. The end of Obama’s Presidency
‘Nuff said (pic borrowed from The Daily Instigator)

Obama

Alright, that’s it for this week folks.  Take care.

El Capitan