Grady’s Retirement

 

Horse in WinterThis is an idea I was kicking around for a while, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it as a flash fiction piece or build it up into something more elaborate. In the end, I really liked the simplicity of it, so I just wrote it as I imagined. I’ve wanted to write more fantasy for a while, but my goofy Terry Pratchett infused childhood always takes over. This was an attempt to keep it (reasonably) serious. Let me know what you thought. 


Grady’s Retirement

It had been many seasons since he last set foot inside The Jolly Toad. The inn lived up to its name in only one respect, its landlord was a bug-eyed old sod who, sadly, was anything but jolly. But an inn was an inn and after he returned from the longest of his travels in a long time, he was happy for a bed and a mug of beer. With or without the smile. The place could be a little rough, he felt his hand rest on his sword instinctively. He pushed open the heavy oak doors and was pleased to see it was almost empty. Business was slow since Winter set in, but as long as he kept the fires burning, there’d always be enough coin to keep the lamps lit.

It was a small place, smaller than he remembered, and the floors hadn’t been swept in a long time. The old man ran it himself, too cheap to pay for help. He caught the old man’s eye, who returned a curt nod and then waved towards a seat in the corner. He felt the ache in his legs set in as he made his way to the seat. It would be good to take the weight off. His bags dropped with a clank, he unclipped his sheathe and let the sword lay on the table. If anyone wanted to fight him for it, let him. This would be his last trip out beyond the Forest. With any luck, he need never draw a sword again. Once he pulled off his battered gloves, he could feel the warmth of the fire return to his fingers. The old man dropped a mug of beer on the table with a slop. He slipped a hand inside his bag and dropped a purse of coins on the table. The old man took it. He would worry about collecting the change in the morning.

As he rested his eyes, he became aware that someone was moving around him. Whoever it was dragged something. He opened his eyes groggily, he must have fallen asleep. In front of him was a boy, no more than seventeen. He must have come through the snow, but he wasn’t dressed for it. He looked like he’d come straight from the stabled. Only his hat, wide brimmed and falling under its own weight, looked touched by the weather. Behind him, he dragged a heavy wooden chest, braced with Iron. A sturdy lock over the latch. The boy reached out a hand and smiled.

“The innkeeper says you might be able to help me.” But the old man was nowhere to be seen. “You came from past the forest, right?”

“Aye,” he nodded. “But I won’t be going again.”

The boy shuffled into the seat opposite, keeping an eye on the old chest at all times.

“That’s a shame, Swordsman. I could make it worth your while.”

“I’m no swordsman. Just a trader.”

“Come, come!” Said the boy. “A trader beyond the forest is like a Knight in the capital.” He fished out a coin purse of his own and dropped it on the table, beaming. “I’m willing to pay handsomely for a guide, and an adventure!”

The boy’s eyes lit up, but he’d seen it all before. Thrill seekers from the city, he’d be dead within a week. He tried to change the subject.

“What’s in the chest?”

“Caught your eye did it?” The boy looked afraid for a moment, then grinned. “Spells! From the Old College.”

He laughed. “The college is a myth.”

“Oh it is,” the boy ran a hand along the chest. It seemed to make a noise, like music. “But I’ve been there all the same.”

“Sorry kid,” it was time to end it. “Not interested.”

The boy was crestfallen. “Fine then.” He bit his lip and lifted his chest like a child cradling an anvil. He turned, but lost his footing almost immediately, stumbling towards the fireplace. He grabbed the boy just before the flames touched him, but the chest landed right in the middle.

“No!” The boy screamed, but it was too late. A noise filled the air, like voices. Whispers filled the adventurer’s ears and the boy ducked and hid under the table.

The boy scuttled away to the other side of the bar, leaving his would-be guide alone, staring into the flames. As they consumed the chest, the noises grew louder. Colours exploded from the fire, but he did not duck or flinch. He reached for his sword, but he was glued to the spot as the contents of the chest were burned. He definitely heard music now, a half forgotten melody from his childhood, but he didn’t just hear it. He could feel it, swirling around the tips of his fingers like a dream. And then a nightmare. Visions of monsters, of every fear escaping from the flames, while the walls around him seemed to melt away. Then everything went black.

He opened his eyes. Something was not right, he looked around, but there was nothing but snow. The inn was gone, and wherever it was, it left nothing of itself but the fireplace. Standing perfectly, every brick with the mortar between, stood alone in the snow. A fire burned in it, but he could feel no warmth. Without thinking, he reached for his sword, but he hands felt wrong. He looked down and saw not feet, but the hooves of a horse. He tried to speak, but the words caught in his throat and a mewling whinny was all that emerged.

A voice whispered just behind his ear. “Now, now.” He felt a hand down the back of his neck, and then a weight. Something was on his back. The voice whispered in his ear again. “It looks like we’ll be going on that adventure after all.” He felt the boy’s feet kick at his side, and he started running towards the forest.

Why I’m Quitting My Job.

The letter is signed.

The envelope is sealed.

Today I’m handing my notice in. I work there for another four weeks and then I’m gone forever. Oh, and I don’t have a new job to go to yet. I know a lot of you will think I’m crazy, but I’ve reached the point where staying put seems like a bigger risk than leaving. I graduated University in 2009 with BA in English Literature and no plan for the future. Like a lot of people back then, I ended up taking any job that fit in with my circumstances, and so for the last five years I’ve worked for a supermarket. In that five years, I have never applied for another job and, outside of writing, haven’t pursued alternative sources of income.

I don’t like my job, and it doesn’t pay well, but it provides just well enough that I’m not hungry. I’ve let myself get apathetic, and by sticking to a job that barely pays the bills, I’ve stopped myself looking for jobs that ask me to contribute what I’m really capable of, and jobs that pay me what I’m worth. It’s a risky decision, but I’m starting to understand that a risky decision is not always an irresponsible one. Taking the time to find what you really want to do in life might cost you money in the short term, but not as much as spending the rest of your life doing something that doesn’t make you happy.

For the first time since graduating, I feel excited about my future. I have no experience outside of retail, and that will hold me back, but at the same time I’m seeing opportunities to connect with people and work in ways that I was oblivious to before. I feel more positive about myself, and my potential to survive without a uniform and name badge. Just deciding to shake things up and forge a new direction for my life has given me back my self esteem in a way I hadn’t really felt possible.

Now, I’m a realist. I know positive thinking and good feelings alone don’t pay the bills, and I know I’m lucky enough to be able to take this risk. There are plenty of brilliant, wonderful, people working in jobs like mine who couldn’t afford to do the same. I’m so grateful that I could afford to go a few months without a paycheque if I absolutely had to, but I might never be in that position again. It’s now or never.

I doubt I’ll feel this positive in a fortnight, but I’ll keep you posted with how I’m getting on. For now, I hope my rambling post of half-formed observations and (probably misjudged) excitement wasn’t too self-indulgent.

Until next time.

(And if you’d like to hire a 27 year old English Lit graduate with decent writing skills, excellent computer literacy, a fondness for terrible jokes, and a weekly podcast about nothing in particular: Email Me.)

Batman: Arkham Knight Illustrates Why Change Sucks Sometimes.

Oh Arkham Knight, what happened.

Back where it all began...

In a world of cookie cutter sequels and grey First-Person Shooters, Rocksteady’s Arkham series has been like a beacon in the fog, a light at the end of the tunnel. A comic book superhero series that merges multiple genres, and some of the most beloved characters into a beautiful experience for comic book fans. Before 2009’s Arkham Asylum, I had never played a game that felt so true to its source material. I probably still haven’t. Well paced, well written and lovingly designed, I still think it’s one of the greatest games ever made.

A sequel was inevitable, and while I didn’t love Arkham City quite as much, (perfection is hard to reproduce) the same attention to detail and affection for the characters was felt throughout. The series went open world, but the same attention to pacing, the same respect for restraint, the same care permeated every decision. Arkham City was a more ambitious title, and it lost a little cohesion in the process, but it knew what worked in Asylum and it tried to build on that. Even Arkham Origins, developed by WB’s side team managed to work with the formula and strike out in a few original directions. It was clearly a B-List title, but we all knew when Rocksteady got their final chapter out, they’d blow us all away again. Be careful what you wish for.

Batman-Arkham-Origins

It has been three weeks, and I’m still blown away. I’m blown away by how misjudged Arkham Knight is, I’m blown away by how such an anticipated game can be such a catastrophe on PC, and I’m blown away by how much of a mess the game is, even when it’s working how it should. How did the game get this way? In a word; Batmobile.

Arkham-Knight-Shot-01Batman’s iconic car has made a couple of appearances in the series before, but never as a playable vehicle. Perhaps anticipating series fatigue, in the run up to release, Rocksteady started shouting about the Batmobile to whoever would listen. It was playable, you could drive it anywhere in the city, call it at any time, use it in combat. What they didn’t tell us was that you would be forced to do all these things, all the time. All the bloody time. And more, a good third of the game is actually a tank combat game, forcing you to blow enemy tanks to pieces. Of course, Batman doesn’t kill, so the game goes to great lengths to remind us these are “unmanned drones” in a gratuitous example of writing a game around a stupid decision. The Batmobile permeates every part of the game. In the past, the Riddler set the Dark Knight fiendish riddles and complex brainteasers. This time around, most of the “puzzles” are basically race tracks. Occasions where Batman would pull down a beam or a pipe with a belt gadget have now all been replaced with lengthy car sections in which Batman must open doors and lower ramps to that he can use the winch on the car. It is no understatement to say that the Batmobile is Arkham Knight’s single most prominent feature. It is the focus of the game, it is a Batmobile game every bit as much as it is a Batman game.

936786And it’s such a shame because the Batmobile can be fantastic. Calling it at any time, using it to trump obstacles in an unscripted situation is exciting, and very rewarding. But when it’s forced upon you, it feels more like being forced to take your little brother with you to the mall. Nobody wants it around, and you can’t have any fun with it there, but you’re stuck with it. And like your cringe-inducing parents telling you what a great time you’ll have, the game itself keeps trying to sell you on the concept. Gliding over passing goons and nine times out of ten you’ll hear them discussing just how cool the Batmobile is. It has the effect of making Rocksteady sound massively insecure about the whole thing while all the time they’re cramming it down your throat.

If you want to see it for yourself, here’s me “enjoying” one of the first extended Batmobile sections:

 

Game developers are in a difficult position. Customers want sequels, they want their favourite properties to keep going, but nobody wants to play the same game over and over. The players, and the press, demand “innovation” and the publishers and the marketing department wants new gadgets to throw on the box. It can be hard to get the balance right, but the most successful franchises (Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, etc.) have been those that found ways to innovate without disrupting the core formula. When they do (Assassin’s Creed III, for example) sales often take a hit, but it’s hard to think of a sequel that has changed the formula as much as Arkham Knight has.

Perhaps the saddest thing is that somewhere, underneath the tires of the Bat-Tank, there’s a very good game in Arkham Knight. Not on PC, of course, but if you’re lucky enough to play on consoles, then at times you’ll see some of the best set-pieces in the series so far. There’s a character driven sub-plot that, while the ending is super-obvious to anyone who has read a comic recently, is really well handled. The voice acting is pretty great, and there’s a first-person opening sequence that really captures the feeling of Gotham in Rocksteady’s eyes. There are long, extended sections where you aren’t allowed to take the Batmobile (and you’re supposed to feel sad about this) where the game really comes alive. Unfortunately, another tank combat sequence isn’t far away.

But in the end Arkham Knight is not a good game. It’s like a great painting with cartoon ducks scribbled over the top, and they’re nice ducks, and one or two ducks look like they’re part of the picture, but the rest of the ducks cover everything up so you can’t appreciate the painting, and they’ve painted in a sign saying “look at those fucking ducks.”


Those Aren’t Biscuits – 029 – B.B King’s Dojo of Death

So, I’d stopped posting these updates to the blog because I try to keep this place writing centric and Those Aren’t Biscuits is not to everyone’s taste, but I’d like to start including more of a round up of what I’m getting up to outside the blog. With that in mind, the latest episode of Those Aren’t Biscuits is now live, as usual you can subscribe on iTunes of your usual RSS feed.

In this week’s exciting episode of Those Aren’t Biscuits we discuss Steven Seagal’s Martial Arts mentor, the world’s finest Caribou Romance, Han Solo’s second job and the woman haunted by a life in music.

Source, Direct Link.

Writers Block and Music

 

Writer's Blocks
Writer’s Blocks

I never really suffered from writer’s block.

That’s not me gloating or anything, it’s just something that never really hit me. I think part of that is because I’m a little bit of a sloppy first drafter. I really don’t worry about quality until I rewrite. I hate editing, but when it comes down it, well sometimes you can polish a turd.

Lately I’m starting to feel for all those troubled authors, because whatever writer’s block is, I have it. It started slowly. I was a little unhappy with the way my writing career has progressed, I let myself dwell on it and soon after I’d ended up in a full blown funk. From then on, whenever I’d sit to write, the words just wouldn’t turn up. It was if my mind had just given up and carried the sentiment right down to my fingers. I couldn’t write, and on some days, I couldn’t even figure out why I wanted to write. It was depressing.

Like I said, this isn’t a problem I’ve really faced before, so I had to figure out how to deal with it.

So I started learning to play the keyboard. Two weeks later, I know a few songs, and today I started writing a story that I really want to write. I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to fix your own writers block, but I can tell you that just getting some distance from writing, while keeping my mind working on something creative was just what I needed. I found myself reverting back to my long haired, pale-skinned teenage self who would hide away in his bedroom learning to play Stairway to Heaven on an old classical guitar I fished out of a skip.

And I know why I’d developed writer’s block. I’d let myself lose my love for writing and focus so much on a daily routine and good habits that it had become like a fiction factory line for me. I didn’t know why I was going forward or how I wanted to develop as a writer.

I still don’t, but at least I have a little to think about.

If you guys ever suffer from the dreaded block, I’d love to hear how you get past it.