Why you need to be your own boss.

CatInMirror

I’m not really a businessman. I’m a little reluctant to talk too much about self publishing and my writing career in those sort of self-help tracts you see on a lot of blogs because I’m not in the “guru” trade. My attention is, for the most part, on telling stories. But, occasionally there are thing we like to communicate because they might be helpful, or enlightening, or just for the hell of it. I talked previously about how writing became my day job without my noticing, now I’d like to write a little about being your own boss.

The best advice anyone ever gave me was to be my own boss. I didn’t listen. Now I’m a year into my writing career, not much has changed in the day to day of my life but for the first time I feel like things are on the up and up. I understand that advice a little better; I feel like I’m my own boss, and it makes all the difference in the world.

Be your own boss is one of those annoying pieces of advice that’s hard to understand until you’ve taken it. Like “just cheer up” and “try not to get stressed,” it seems like a fortune cookie saying from someone with no real experience of the problem. It incorporates other well worn bits of advice like “take responsibility for your life” and “manage your time better” then rolls them up into one dense little concept that becomes impenetrable from the outside.

I thought it was bad advice.

But when I look back at 2012 and see the little things I achieved add up to bigger things, the differences I made in my outlook and the greater control taken over my life, I understand it a little better. Being your own boss, even if you’re working a dead end job, crippled by debt and only get five minutes of free time a day means trying to own your life. Trying to own your problems, to own your future and your career and all those massive things that seem so huge and out of control.

For me, being my own boss was as little as breaking down my big ambitions into small daily tasks, and as big as learning to trust my own judgement. For you, being your own boss might mean something completely different. The cliché is so unappealing, that only you can change your own life, because we all know the truth is so much more complicated than that. Only you can run your own life, but there’s so much life to run and you are so very, very complicated. But in the end you have to own that responsibility, because nobody else will.

So, that’s why you need to be your own boss. I can’t tell you how, after all, you’re the boss, but here are a few thoughts. If you feel like your life is drifting past without your participation, take charge, make a change and shake things up. If you feel like your days are stagnant, start a project or take up a hobby. If your problems are financial, make a fiscal plan and stick do it. They don’t have to be massive endeavours either, little actions done regularly become big actions.

What’s important is that at the end of the day/week/month/year you can say you carried yourself, and the tangled web that is your life, a little bit further.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – Review

Once again I’m reposting one of my Assassin’s Creed reviews. As with my review of the first and second games, this was originally posted on Dooyoo.co.uk and lingered there long forgotten until I decided to ressucitate them here. Rereading these reviews has got me thinking about the storytelling elements in these games and I’m considering writing some of these thoughts up as a blog post. We’ll see. This time I am discussing Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, probably my favourite in the series, but my response at the time was a bit more muted. Enjoy!

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Cover It is rare that gamers are treated to a franchise as original or well developed as Assassin’s Creed. Arriving on consoles in 2007, the series has manifested in six incarnations on four different systems and each time it has surpassed expectation. The world Ubisoft Montreal are building is fleshed out with every release while the story becomes more captivating without become incomprehensible. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is probably the finest entry in the series so far.

For all the newcomers, Assassin’s Creed is a cross between period adventure and futuristic science fiction. Each entry follows the journey of Desmond Miles, a drifter from the not too distant future. A man with a distinctive pedigree, Desmond is the latest in a long line of significant, historical assassins. Using a device known as the Animus, he is reliving the memories of his ancestors, searching for clues to a puzzle unfolding in his own time. Eventually both Desmond and the player will discover an ancient conflict between the Assassin’s Order and the Knight’s Templars, each side fighting since the crusades over some oddly anachronistic technology. It’s a compelling setup that allows the series to approach both narrative and gameplay in ways quite different to many modern games.

Ezio Air AssassinationBrotherhood presents itself as an epilogue to Assassin’s Creed II. Once again we follow Desmond’s renaissance ancestor, Ezio Auditore and return to the rooftops of 15th Century Italy. Where Assassin’s Creed II turned some significant pages in the series’ overall story, Brotherhood really is a case of “what happened next?” As Assassin’s Creed II was drawing to a close, the game strongly hinted that Ezio’s role in larger events was finished. Brotherhood supports this with a story that is more concerned with Ezio’s personal struggles and the time he is confined to. Coming into conflict with Cesare Borgia leads to the destruction of his home and a revolution in Rome, while there are still secrets to uncover that will affect Desmond’s future, it basically amounts to little more than “where did Ezio leave the keys?” While the contribution to the series narrative is minimal, within Ezio’s life the game deals with much larger things; tasking you with bringing about the downfall of an entire city. Ezio himself has grown as a character. Much older than when we first joined him, he seems somewhat weary of his life in charge of the Assassin’s. A greater sense of responsibility has replaced his recklessness and while it’s a somewhat cliché development, it’s still a rewarding feeling to watch a familiar character develop. While the contribution to the series narrative is minimal, within Ezio’s life the game deals with much larger things; tasking you with bringing about the downfall of an entire city.

Ezio Climbing in RomeSeries regulars will find themselves to be on familiar territory here. Many of the series’ fundamentals remain totally unchanged and you will still spend most of your time leaping from rooftops, dodging guards and sneaking into buildings to chase down your target. It feels identical to Assassin’s Creed II and rarely breaks from your expectations in this respect. As before, the series is largely centred around climbing and free running. This is fairly simple to perform, holding down a couple of buttons puts you in free run mode. Run at a wall and you’ll climb it. In the past the series has taken some criticism for this control method, the suggestion being that it removes control from the player. Rather, it is about emphasising a different form of control. The player doesn’t necessarily tell the character when to jump, however the player does find the next ledge or foothold, tracking the right path up or down. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it doesn’t bother me. Where Brotherhood branches out in new directions is in your gradual domination of Rome. Unlike previous games in the series, you are largely confined to Rome here. This isn’t too much of a restriction as Rome is significantly larger than any of the cities in previous games, however it does change the gameplay somewhat. Your long term goal is to remove Borgia influence from the city, this is done by destroying Borgia landmarks. After this is done you can the purchase businesses and beauty spots in these areas. This will provide you with an income, useful for purchasing assassin’s supplies but also creates areas in the city that are a little like safe zones where allies congregate.

Brotherhood, as the title suggests, also lets you take a little of the Assassin’s burden off your shoulders. As in all previous Assassin’s Creed titles, occasions will arise when you can save some oppressed townsfolk from harassment. Doing so will recruit the individual to your cause and give you backup in tricky situations. You can call in around five assassins at a time, useful if you’re heavily outnumbered or need a distraction. You can also assign them to assassinate specific targets, a handy option if you’re having trouble reaching a victim. Between your own escapades you can send the recruits on missions around the world for the assassins. Here they will help turn the tide against templars around the world while you sit back and collect the loot at the end. The benefit to this (aside from cash) is that your assassin’s will strengthen up and provide much better support the next time you call them in to back you up. The combination of recruiting civilians and buying up the businesses gives Brotherhood a juicy subversive feel. At times you really feel as though you’re building an army and spreading influence. It’s not perfect and I’d love to see it tackled a little more organically, fluid amounts of guards and way of taking territories based on influence and enemy strength would make it feel a lot less like risk. However, it’s a hard feeling to cultivate in a game and works well as an extension to Assassin’s Creed II.

Desmond in BrotherhoodPeriodically the game will take you out of Ezio’s life and plant you in the future. The future is a lot more compelling this time around and its nice to see Desmond and the modern assassin’s taking more action. The story is allowed to build up a lot more than normal and you get the feeling that Ubisoft are setting the stage for an Assassin’s Creed title that involves a lot less animus. When the inevitable flagship of Assassin’s Creed III sails along it’ll be interesting to see if they can bring the series to a natural, satisfying close.

One area I can find no fault is in the graphics. While I would expect no less from this series, it is one of the most stunning games I’ve seen since Assassin’s Creed II. This is partly because a large amount of effort has gone into producing detailed designs and rendering them well, partly due to style. The game reproduces renaissance architecture and then lets you climb all over it. It’s stunning to climb to the top of the tallest building in Rome and just look around. You can see for miles and it’s genuinely breathtaking. Something few games can claim.

Lastly, I suppose I should take a minute to mention multiplayer. As I’ve no doubt mentioned before, I don’t much care for multiplayer so I’m not the best person to judge, but I did enjoy it. While I didn’t spend much more than a week with Brotherhood’s multiplayer, it was a fun week. The game essentially asks you to choose a disguise, you will then be placed in a segment of town with various other players. A target will be randomly selected and you must track down that target, who will no doubt look like a lot of the civilians hanging around, and assassinate them. Meanwhile someone else out there will be tracking you down. I didn’t stick with it because after my one week, I felt I’d seen everything there was to see. But then that’s how I feel about all multiplayer so don’t let it put you off. It was fun, original and clever; it even contributed to the plot mildly. It’s definitely worth a look if multiplayer is your thing.

Brotherhood is not a perfect game by any means. Its biggest shortcoming is that it remains, at best, an expansion to Assassin’s Creed II. In its defense, it is huge, but with all that extra content it does so little. The building of an underground resistance is absolutely enthralling and I’d have loved to see more done with it but I suppose we can’t get everything. It’s absolutely beautiful, as usual, and the voice acting and writing is all to a good quality. It delivers what it promises, more Assassin’s Creed II, and I would argue that’s worth the price. Just don’t expect a revolution.

Fifty

50pFifty posts. The blog has had Fifty Posts. There are as many posts as the infamous Shades of Grey, if you can believe it.

This might not seem like a landmark to you because, well, you are not me. (In case you hadn’t noticed.) But this is a big number for me because this blog is an important part of both my career and my life. It is my main method of communication with the world, it is where I get the chance to talk about my books, my career and sometimes (gasp) myself in more than 140 characters. Furthermore, it is doing quite a bit better than my attempts at blogging in the past have done, so I’m quite proud if it. With that in mind, I’m going to use this post to be selfish and do a bit of self promotion.

My name is Owen Adams, I am a writer living in the UK. My books are available on the Kindle store if you would like to buy them, and if you like this blog then I would be delighted if you followed me on twitter. I’m online there far too much and always interested in conversation.

Iron Man

With all the talk about gender issues bouncing around lately, I’ve been thinking about this little story from my childhood that I’d like to share. 

ironI hate being asked what I want for my birthday. Or Christmas. Or any event for that matter. This is partly because I am a grown man now and don’t feel the same inclination to exploit holidays for personal gain that I once did. It is also because my brain is a troublemaker and will happily spend most of the year thinking of colourful trinkets it would like, only to forget them when put on the spot. What do you want for Christmas? is one of those questions I never have a good answer to. Fortunately, the older you get the less people ask.

This wasn’t always the case.  I remember clearly the first present that I really wanted. I must have  been about three or four. I don’t remember what the occasion was, birthday or Christmas, and I don’t remember which parent asked me. But I remember my answer. I wanted an iron and an ironing board.

It’s funny how things can make complete sense as a child and seem so strange when you look back upon them. I don’t remember being particularly interested the real iron back then (or the ironing board) but I remember the palpable desire for an iron of my own. It seemed to fill my every waking moment, the need for an iron, and the fear that I would never have an iron. I’m sure my parents laughed it off, no doubt amused at their toddler son and his request to be furnished with the most dull of domestic appliances on this special occasion (whatever it may be). Still, my desire for an iron did not fade and I’m sure I pushed the matter from that point on.

When your parents aren’t together, extra effort must go into organising Christmas/Birthdays. I don’t remember a time when my parents were together, so perhaps I underestimated the logistics.  I’m still a bit unclear on the details, but I’m pretty sure they’d gone their separate ways before I was born. My Mum had five other kids by the time I arrived and so she was a very busy full time parent, my Dad was (and still is) a retired joiner. They weren’t together, but when I was little they always seemed to co-operate on all the right things. It wasn’t until I got older that I realised they didn’t really get along. Like a lot of kids, I lived with my Mum through the week, only seeing my Dad on weekends. I have been told since that this must have been very hard for me. This is a sentiment I have never really understood. It was what it was, it was my life and it was as regular and normal to me as any other part of my life. Though, I do remember telling the other kids with glee, that I had two houses which was obviously superior to their insignificant one house. I was practically in high school before I realised just how hard up my family was.

That next trip to my Dad’s was different though. I don’t remember any other presents I got that year, but I will never forget the thrill when I opened my iron. It was made of blue and metallic plastic, a realistic replica of a real household iron and you could fill the water tank and spray just like the real thing! To my toddler eyes it was the best toy iron in the world, but nothing could beat the next present. To accompany the iron my dad had built a child sized ironing board. He’d made it out of wood. It had folding legs with a catch to keep it stood upright. It was varnished and equipped with an ironing board cover made from an old pair of curtains, and on the underside was my name. It was written in thick felt tip, in the clean, clear writing that I will always associate with my Dad. I played with it all night and all of the next day too until it was time to go back to Mum’s. For a weekend I had all I wanted in the world.

As I mentioned, my Dad was retired before I was born. He was always older than most Dads, but he never felt it until the last few years. Perhaps I didn’t see it until I moved out and went away to University. He’s doing well for his age, but he can be forgetful, and it’s often harder to have the long, winding conversations that we used to, particularly when we disagree. He has his share of outdated ideas I now, my Dad, and he has his little prejudices that I want to argue out with him but can’t. Instead, I always try to respect my Dad for the important things he taught me. That all people deserve respect, that violence solves nothing, that everyone should have equal rights regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation. But most of all I respect my Dad because he was born in 1926, in a poor working class community, with few educational opportunities and grew in to a man who saw no problem spending an afternoon in his shed, making an ironing board for his four year old son.

Years later I asked him if he remembered buying me the toy iron.

“Of course,” he said. “I drove all over town trying to find a toy iron that wasn’t pink.”

I was a little surprised and asked if that was because I was a boy. “No, I’d have got you the same one if you were a girl.

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“You wanted one that looked like a real iron.”

Assassin’s Creed II: Review

I’m currently playing through Assassin’s Creed III which arrived as a very well thought out present from Santa. It’s not  a bad game, but it has got me thinking about the highs and lows of the series so far. I posted my review of the first Assassin’s Creed a few weeks ago and had some nice feedback, so I thought I’d share my review for the sequel. As with the first review, this was originally written for Dooyoo.co.uk in 2010, and I’d like to say my writing has improved a little since then. My opinions haven’t changed however, so here they are.

Assassin's Creed IIAssassin’s Creed II

If I were running my own little award ceremony for video games, Assassin’s Creed II would have to be a strong contender in the “Most satisfying creative development in a sequel” category… it would also probably be the only contender.

In my review of the first game I praised it highly for being an original, interesting game that had a strong sense of being developed by invested and enthusiastic developers. While it had flaws aplenty, it never felt lazy or cheap and it earnt a lot of respect from me on that basis. Assassin’s Creed II continues down that path excellently while really taking time to correct some of the flaws of the first game. The final product is a game with great characters, an entertaining story and unique, addictive gameplay. Because of this it is easily one of 2009’s best titles.

The games framing narrative takes place in a future where protagonist, Desmond, is using a device known as an animus to relive the memories of his ancestors. While the first game placed you in control of 12th century assassin Altair, the latest outing sees you controlling renaissance Italian, Ezio. Part of the noble Auditore family, Ezio moves from one iconic city to another, fighting against a sinister conspiracy. The Knight’s Templars return as adversaries though the story is significantly more exciting this time around.

Ezio Diving Assassin's Creed IIImmediately Assassin’s Creed II benefits from a more interesting setting. The game will take you through cities such as Florence, Venice and Rome and its free climbing gameplay allows you to scale reproductions of some of the most fascinating and beautiful buildings in the world. Coupled with some truly beautiful graphics, the game is almost as inspiring as the cities themselves and it is a joy to look at and a joy to play through. In this world is a collections of characters ripped straight from the memoirs of Casanova as well as real life figures such as Leonardo DaVinci and the infamous DePazzi. The renaissance is not a common setting for a video game but it works excellently and it is one more way in which this game works to define its genre.

Exploring this world is made a little easier this time around with quick travel spots letting you jump back to previous cities, though you can always take a long journey by horse if you’re patient. Smaller towns and settlements are scattered all around and exploring every region would take a long time. Townspeople, thieves, courtesans and messengers populate every city, everyone has their jobs to do and they’ll get on with their lives while you do your thing. It’s wonderful to feel like you’re exploring a living, breathing world and the game accomplishes this moreso than any other.

As before the main thrust of your goals involves hunting down targets for assassination. This time around there is more variety to your missions and more flexibility in accomplishing them. It’s nice to see a game in which failure to complete a mission a certain way will not force you to try again, most of time you need only achieve the ultimate goal. On top of this there are a variety of messenger missions, side quests and collectables. The repetitiveness of the first game is gone and forgotten.

Assassin’s Creed II is my favourite game of the year, I would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in action games.

So, that was 2012?

The Collected Corks of January 2nd.
The Collected Corks of January 2nd.

One of the satisfying things about the New Year is being allowed to indulge in a little pointless naval gazing. It is a chance to talk about the last twelve months positively, regardless of what they contain, and dwell a little in introspection while safe in the knowledge that you have successfully traversed another year on the Earth. A new year is a chance for people to enjoy a little perspective on their lives, to distance themselves from the daily grind and look at all they have achieved. And I think that’s something we all need once in a while.

With that in mind, I’d like to share some of the good things I achieved this year, and some things I’d like to achieve in the year to come.

2012 was the year I became a writer. I wrote the first story I was happy enough to send out into the world, Christmas Past. Starting in the ancient past of December 2011, but finished in January. This was my first step into self publishing and writing as a career. Sometimes it feels like a very small achievement, but I think it is significant nonetheless. Recently I followed this up with my second story, Time Trial, which is another little step forward that I’m very proud of. Most recently I participated in, and completed, National Novel Writing Month 2012. The first draft of my very first novel sits awaiting a much needed second look as we speak.

In 2013 I would like to match, and hopefully exceed, these contributions. My hope is to keep writing, but complete pieces for publication sooner and more often. I hope to end 2013 with at least another two short stories released in to the world, as well as publishing a novella I have been working with for some time. I am also planning on completing another novel for NaNoWriMo in 2013.

If I have any regret for 2012, it is that I did not keep up pace with my work throughout the year. Too often I let projects fall behind, or became distracted. In 2013 I’d like to stay more focused on my goals and try to keep more plates spinning at once.

And those are all my thoughts for the 1st of January, 2013. Feel free to share your own in the comments.