Another Quick NaNoWriMo Update.

nanowrimo logoHey all,

Just a quick post to let you know how my NaNoWriMo is going. I had a few personal hiccups last week and I’m sorry to say I fell pretty far behind. I’ve been working to catch up this week but I’m only just crossing the halfway point. At the moment my plan is not to try and catch up as fast as possible and burn out but to try and bump my daily average up a little bit every day. I’ve been working on writing around 2000 words a day which currently isn’t enough to finish on time, but I shouldn’t be too far behind by the time I get to the last few days. It’ll be a lot easier to write a big bulk of the novel when I can see the finish line.

How is it going for everyone else?

Owen.

Assassin’s Creed: Review

I know I don’t normally talk about video games on this blog much, but with Assassin’s Creed III on my shopping list I’ve been replaying one of my favourite franchises. I originally wrote this review of the first Assassin’s Creed for product review site Dooyoo a while ago, and I thought I’d repost it here. 

Altair Assassin's Creed coverI have a lot of respect for Assassin’s Creed, a game that is far from perfect and yet has been written and designed with originality, care and more than just the cynical desire to shift the product to consumers. While it suffers from the occasional poor decision, there is no sense of haste about it. I never felt shortchanged by the game even when faced with the flaws. Its positives outweigh its negatives and it remains a title I would gladly recommend.

Promoted as a period piece and action title; Assassin’s Creed is actually a sophisticated science fiction tale. The player takes the role of Desmond, a bartender from the not-too-distant future. He is kidnapped by a sinister corporation and thrust into a machine known as the “animus.” This miracle of modern engineering is a DNA analyser, capable of picking out the memories of the user’s ancestors and representing them as a form of virtual reality. From here the game splits into two threads, the exploits of kidnapped Desmond in the future and the adventures of his long forgotten ancestor, Altair. Set during the crusades, Altair is a fully trained assassin of a secret order. Waging a secret war against the Knight’s Templars, Altair must investigate different cities in the Holy Land, kill corrupt officials and generally snoop, sneak and stab. As the narrative unfurls, Desmond uncovers connections between Altair’s investigation in the past and his own kidnapping. It’s a story that serves not only as an original and interesting backdrop to the main game but serves as a setup up for tutorials and in game instructions.

The concept of the animus also relates to Assassin’s Creed’s style of gameplay. Early on it is explained that the animus works on a “puppeteering” concept. This influences how you control Altair, providing him more with instructions to follow than control his every movement specifically. While the player isn’t detached from control, you are not expected to perfectly judge ever jump and climb. Control systems such as the “free-running” mode allow you to merely direct Altair towards obstacles and allow him to traverse them. It’s a mechanic that is new and has the benefit of allow the player to spend less time hammering buttons but does occasionally create a feeling of distance between the player and the character. However, it does create a more flexible, fluid climbing and running effect which is hard to replicate.

Altair is placed inside an open world reconstruction of the mediaeval middle-east. He must take a horse from city to city, ride the road to Damascus and stop occasionally at towers and castles to survey his surroundings, filling out his map. It has a good feeling for an open world game and solid graphics supporting the setting. At times the surroundings can be quite impressive and it’s nice to feel a part of Altair’s world. Gameplay takes you from city to city to perform tasks with each city having a nice range of differences in occupants, streets, styles. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the game.

However, where the game does fall short is undoubtably in mission variety. Most goals in the game are largely similar and require a combination of tedious, repetitive actions such as pick-pocketing or overhearing. These eventually lead you to a target to kill and the mission is over. The only real obstacle to this is the guards roaming around every corner. Far to sensitive, they will chase you down for so little as running in the street and can be torment to escape from when you’re really under pressure. They can swarm and outnumber you far too easily and it is often a frustrating exercise escaping them. Beyond the missions there is far too little to do besides explore the holy land, this gets boring quickly and at times the free-roaming world of Assassin’s Creed feels a little wasted. A more dynamic range of characters, locations and activities would really have turned this from a good game into and excellent one.

From a technical standpoint, Assassin’s Creed is quite reasonable. Released at a time when multiplatform games tended to go a bit limp on the PS3, this title has quite pleasing results. Graphics are clean and clear with no glaring flaws, the look suits the game and it runs smoothly for the most. The frame rate can take a bit of a knock when high up, surveying large areas of the world but otherwise it’s usually solid. The PS3 version features Quincunx Anti-Aliasing, unlike the multi-sample Anti-Aliasing of the 360 version. This does a great job of smoothing out the jagged edges, creating a cleaner picture, but Quincunx does tend too smudge textures a bit. This gives the game a soft focus look that some have been known to object to strongly. However, the PS3’s anti-aliasing performance isn’t brilliant and many developers resort to using Quincunx which is easier to implement. It’s infinitely better than shipping a game with no anti-aliasing (something that is becoming more common, unfortunately) and the soft focus look is a lot harder to notice than jagged edges everywhere, the overall effect is a game with a polished, professional look that the developers should be proud of.

Assassin’s Creed is not a perfect game, it is however and original game. In terms of storytelling it is a pleasurable, entertaining experience and it tries new things. In a time when the industry is clogged with mindless tat and endless sequels, Assassin’s Creed is the kind of game deserving of attention despite its flaws.

NaNoWriMo: Almost half-way update post!

The Countdown ClockGood Morning Wrimos!

It’s been a slow week in a lot of ways. I didn’t get much writing out in the weekend due to work commitments and I didn’t do much better on the blog updates either. I have my Red Dwarf X post coming up but that’s not finished yet, so instead I have to tell you all about my NaNoWriMo hurdle.

Basically I’ve fallen behind.

I didn’t write anything on Saturday or Sunday, then I left it until way too late on Monday and so my wordcount went un-updated for three. whole. days! Shocking, I know. It knocked my average a bit, but I’m back on the horse now. I’ve written about 3500 words in the last 24 hours which doesn’t come close to catching up but if I can just swing 2000 words a day from here on out then I should be fine. Things will get better after next Saturday though as I’ll be completely free from the rest of the month.

I’m still feeling good about it this year. I haven’t written as much as I did last year yet, but I’ve only just fallen behind which is much, much better. On top of that, I’m finding it a lot easier overall and so I’m pretty confident that I’ll get it all done and dusted by the 30th.

I’ll see you all at the finish line,

Owen.

 

Red Dwarf X: The Beginning – Mini Review

Red Dwarf X: The Beginning ReviewAnd so we come to the final episode of Red Dwarf X. This is just going to be a mini-review. Partly because I’m going to be writing a longer post this week about the series as a whole, but mostly because I really didn’t have much to say about this episode. I could push out a few more thoughts, but they’d really be more about the overall set design, direction, themes etc. so I’d rather wait.

The Beginning is a curious episode; I thought it did interesting things but I rarely found it very interesting. It starts with a Rimmer flashback that really brought back memories of episodes like Dimension Jump and the young actor cast is absolutely excellent. (His name doesn’t seem to be on imdb yet though, weird. Sorry unnamed actor.) Once the main part of the plot gets going, however, it’s a little bit forced. Essentially the crew are ambushed by rogue simulants (them again, tut!) and are forced to hide in an asteroid while Rimmer comes up with a plan. Meanwhile, there’s a plot involving Rimmer’s father leaving a secret message and a disturbed droid who wants a duel across the universe. One of the nice features of the show this year has been the layered plots which seems to be a little ignored this time around. It feels like the writers were going for a big finale, but the results just feel a little inconsequential. There really isn’t much to say about The Beginning. It opens well, there are some good laughs scattered throughout, then there are some utterly inconsequential villains, a nice Rimmer moment at the end and then it sort of fizzles out. When it works it really works. When it doesn’t, it’s not bad, just empty. I liked the characters again and I really think the performances have hit top form, the writing is generally much less awkward that it has been too. I just didn’t get swept up with the drama this time around. It felt much more like a reject from Series VII, competent but lacking in spirit.

I’ll be back with my thoughts on the whole of Series X soon.

 

NaNoWriMo: Week 1 – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Calvin WritingGood Morning, Fellow WriMos!

We have entered Week Two of National Novel Writing Month 2012. How is everybody doing?

Since I’ve been keeping the updates a little sparse this month, I thought I’d do a quick rundown of my week.

Positives:

My word count is currently 12,555. I haven’t started writing today, but I’m certainly going to be above par by the time I finish. I’m doing better than usual this month with my daily count at around 2000 words during the week. Unfortunately, my busier weekends mean my average is sitting at around 18,000.

The scenes I’m writing are turning out quite well. I’m coming away from most sessions feeling pretty positive about what I wrote.

Negatives: 

I’m actually writing less that I planned. I’d told myself I’d writing 3000 words a day, but that’s usually a bit tougher than I expected.  I think this is because I gave the novel the same sort of plan I’d use for a short story, and it’s not really detailed enough. While I know the novel’s plot as a big picture, I’m a lot less certain about the fine details and so I’m taking a lot of time during a session to think about what’s happening next. It’s also taking me longer to get started.

Related to that, the story isn’t unfolding as smoothly as I’d like. I have the major signposts in my head, but all too often I feel like I’m just writing to kill time until a specific word count when some turn in the plot will happen. This isn’t good and it’s creating a lot of “dead air,” where I’m writing empty words for the sake of it. Maybe I shouldn’t worry about it too much. I’m ahead with my word count and this is my most successful novel attempt yet. (I got further last year, but the plot had even more problems than this one.) Perhaps this is what it’s always like to write a novel and I won’t know what I’ve got to work with until I start the editing process.

The Mixed: 

A lot of new elements have been introduced in this first draft. There’s a whole new character and plot line that I had not planned on including that isn’t particularly well planned out, but does seem to add to the overall tapestry.

The pacing is screwed up but I’m not necessarily sure this is a bad thing. The passage of time isn’t how I imagined it in my plan, but it’s opening up new perspectives for me.

It’s not as funny as I thought it was. There are some good laughs in it, I think, but they don’t last anywhere near as long as I’d expected. However, the more serious aspects replacing it are working for me.

The End.

 

NaNoWriMo: Day 5

Thunderbird Five
Day 5 is brought to you by Thunderbird 5.

Day 5 of NaNoWriMo is nearly over. It’s been a busy few days but I’m keeping just about par, my wordcount is currently 8628, which I’m pretty happy with.

Fellow WriMos can add me as a buddy. Username is Illogicology.

How’s it going for the rest of you?

Red Dwarf X: Dear Dave – Review

Red Dwarf X Dear DaveWow, I can’t believe that next week will be the last episode of Red Dwarf X. I spoke last week of its ups and downs, but I’m happy to say that this week’s review will be staying firmly in the “ups” department.

Dear Dave is probably my favourite episode of Red Dwarf X so far. I liked its plot, I liked its jokes and I liked it for being true to both the series as a whole and the style of Series X. Dear Dave finds Lister feeling a little bit down because he’s the last human being alive. Things are made worse when he receives some very old mail from an ex-girlfriend who tells him he might have had children. What follows is a clever and warm story that focuses on Lister as a character in much the same way as the also excellent Fathers and Suns. 

What makes Dear Dave work so well is in its strong anchoring to the core values of a single character. Lister’s defining feature is that he’s the ultimate reflection humanity at its most mundane, and its most normal. The show rarely explores the tragedy of his isolation as the last man alive, and Dear Dave doesn’t really dwell on it either, but it does finally explore how that defines him as a person.

Another great strength about this episode, and something that has been working well for the whole series, is consideration of what life on board Red Dwarf is like. In previous episodes this year we’ve seen the installing new AI, getting mail from the on-board computer and been introduced to the rest of the ship’s mechanical inhabitants. This time around the vending machines from Fathers and Suns play more of a part in the story, and it really works. I really liked these vending machines the first time around, and it fits in well with the show. We’ve had talking vending machines before, but giving them personalities a bit more in line with the very popular Talkie Toaster is a winning combination.

I get the feeling that, though the scripts haven’t always been great, the writers have been very good at finding a balance in the setting this year. They understand that the claustrophobic episodes work best, but they still try to show you more of the ship. In fact, I think this is one of the first seasons in which the size of the ship really feels apparent from internal shots. But they’ve also found the balance in the amount of characters and the feeling of an isolated universe. In Series 7 we saw the re-introduction of Kochanski, Series 8 saw the resurrection of the crew, both moves that fundamentally changed the nature of the show. In Series X we finally find a middle ground that works. We have the main cast, and a supporting cast of computers, vending machines, garbage trucks roaming the hallways. We’re also seeing encounters with other races that are more indicative of a giant, empty universe than the Star Trek-esque common encounters of Series 6.

Best of all, the cast seem on top form this week. Dear Dave was a pleasure to watch. We’re certainly back to the high standards of the first two episodes, but it’s also probably the first really standout episode of the series. I liked Fathers and Suns a lot, but I think Dear Dave will be the episode that I remember (like Backwards or Gunmen of the Apocalypse) as an icon of its series.

NaNoWriMo – Day 2

Number2Day 2 of NaNoWriMo.

Just a quick wordcount update. I’m now up to 5216 words. That’s above par according to the little graph, but I’m working all day tomorrow so I might not get much time to write and I wanted to get ahead.

As usual, you can add me as a writing buddy. My username is illogicology.

-Owen

NaNoWriMo – Day 1

nanowrimo logoGood Afternoon, fellow November Novelists.

My first day of NaNoWriMo leaves with with the wordcount of 3176.

I’m very happy with this for the first day.

How is everyone else doing?

-Owen

Free books still free.

Just so you know, both my Timewasters short stories are still free on the Kindle store.

time trial book cover

Time Trial – Amazon.com /Amazon.co.uk

Harbour is the nicest place to live in the known universe. Unless you’re a time traveller. 

It has been weeks since Annie left Earth and all she wants to do is go home, but first she and her friends must stand trial.

Unfortunately, they are all guilty. 

Christmas Past Book Cover

Christmas Past – Amazon.com /Amazon.co.uk

The Time Travel story with a dark side.

A man died while the snow fell. His body would be hidden until summer, but there are strangers in the woods today. During a long forgotten Christmas, three time travellers come to town; is their presence just a coincidence or are there darker secrets hidden beneath the ice.