The Coming Year…

Ahh, Merry Christmas everyone. Although I write these words exactly at 12:00 am on December 26th. Well, whatever. So Christmas has come and gone, and the New Year is almost upon us. It’s a good time to talk about the books and games I’m most looking forward to in the coming year.


I had just finished Gears of War 3 for the first time tonight. While it was a damn fine ending to the trilogy, and more than satisfactorily completes Marcus Fenix’s story, I found myself missing some elements that were more prevalent in the first two games. More paths you could choose, the campaign could have been a dash longer either through an additional act, or more portions from Baird and Cole’s point of view, like they did in the first act.

On that note, I’ll certainly be getting more of Cole and Baird soon. Gears of War: Judgment is on its way. That game will probably be second on my most wanted list.

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm is yet another one worthy of mention. Unlike most die hard Starcraft lovers, I’m just looking forward to the story and campaign. Multiplayer just isn’t my thing for RTS. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. I’m almost finished playing the first one and I am considering getting the DLC as well. I almost forgot Dead Space 3!

Finally, last and probably best of all, Bioshock: Infinite. I think that needs little explanation. But just in case, take a look at the trailer.

Now, for books I am choosing both previous and to be released books. But on my ‘most looking forward to reading’ list is All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard. That latter was recommended by C.L. Werner.

Other books of mention include Ravenwing by Gav Thorpe, and Headtaker by David Guymer. Guymer I actually met at the Black Library Weekender. Having published a few short stories, Headtaker will be his first Warhammer novel.

Finally, movies. I’m going to be a bit conservative about this, and mention Iron Man 3 and The Great Gatsby. Truth be, there are many good sounding movies, like Oblivion, Thor: The Dark Worlds, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Man of Steel, Ender’s Game and Star Trek: Into Darkness. But truth be told, I haven’t seen most of the trailers nor done any research. I’d rather wait until near release to begin looking into them.

So that’s all for next year’s excitement. Stay tuned for my new years resolution, which I will immediately fail to keep.

Why I Heart Isaac Clarke

Look at em! Ahhh, this guy's a coconut...

Sleep much?

This post containers spoilers.

The thing that makes Isaac Clarke so great is how flamin’ ordinary he really is.

You see, a lot of heroes tend to be these one-of-a-kind characters with skills and abilities above and beyond those around them. A lot of video games are made on the premise of being someone or some group’s last hope for no other reason than being unique during a time of great need.

For example, the Master Chief from Halo was the last Spartan. Captain Titus of Space Marine had some strange resistance to the power’s of the warp which helped him, on top of being one of the rarest soldiers the Imperium has to offer. In Skyrim, your character is dragon-born. In the Castlevania series, the Belmont clan has a long standing tradition of opposing vampires while Alucard is Dracula’s only son. And many main characters from the Final Fantasy series, such as Cloud Strife, Zidane Tribal and Terra Branford, all are incredibly unique and rare for a variety of reasons.

They can do it because no one else can.

But in Dead Space, there’s nothing super unusual about Isaac Clarke. Oh sure, he suffers from dementia from exposure to the marker (which is more a curse than blessing), but he’s not the only one and probably won’t be the last either. He stands up to the Necromorphs, but he’s not alone there. Nor is he the only one who can destroy the marker, as I’m sure both the Unitologists and EarthGov can. Only they choose not too.

Nope. Isaac Clarke’s quest is a bloody one of self-discovery and healing, but its overall effect on the world around him is fairly minimal, despite how huge it must have seemed at the moment of completion to the player. The player only explores the world around the eyes of Isaac in the main Dead Space series. We only ever see this world of political intrigue and struggle through the eyes of Isaac, whose condition made him highly useful, but not irreplaceable.

Indeed, Isaac is caught up in that long going struggle between church and state. Much like the Dark Ages of Europe where the popes and kings sometimes allied and sometimes struggled against one another. Neither side is particularly interested in Isaac’s welfare. Today, whether the conflict of church and state continues is a matter of personal opinion. But just about everyone knows what it’s like to be sandwiched between two power hungry giants in some shape or form, be them political, economic, religious or otherwise.

Also, Isaac is a nerd.

Even without super powers or unusually beneficial aspects, gruff soldiers are a common enough hero type. The Master Chief, Marcus Fenix of Gears of War, Commander Shepard of Mass Effect. All these games make the player feel remarkably qualified to save the world.

Not so with Isaac, who carries on a growing tradition similar to Gordon Freeman of Half Life. He’s not a soldier, he’s bloody tech support. He’s the guy you call when your hard drive crashed or you need permission to install the latest version of an application, or when your engine is on the fritz. His weapons? Mostly modified mining tools. His mission? Fix the damn engine before we get charred falling into the atmosphere.

And like many nerds, Isaac Clarke doesn’t seem to have much luck with the love life either. I just don’t see a happy ending for him. Like, ever. The first game was a sick joke on the man, when he find sout that his girlfriend, who he thought was alive and helping him, was actually dead. And the second game, he wrestles with dementia as the memory of long dead Nicole tries to kill him. Oh and the new girl? Poor gal loses her eye babysitting a guy for Isaac. What a lousy first date.

So yeah. It’s a shame that Dead Space 3 maybe the last we see of Isaac Clarke. It’s generally acceptable that we have to move on from characters after a while, after their story is told and the challenge has been overcome. But I’ll bet that the archetype of Clarke will endure. It’ll be thought on, reinvented and introduced in future games, books and movies.

I’m sure Dead Space 3 will do fine for itself. It’ll be a good game that is remembered, but not the break out smash hit that the series never was. At least for now. Sometimes, today’s moderate successes are tomorrow’s greatest hits.

Gears of War Coop

My new roommate and I are taking some time to get used to one another. After two years of living with a woman whose tastes often run counter to mine, it’s nice to have a roommate you can hang out with.

It has been a lot of changes very quickly. We still need to get some living room furnishings. I gave permission for him to get a dog, and we’ve been working together to keep her happy, fed and walked. I’m also not sure how cleaning is going to go down, as we’ve no formal arrangement but sporadically look after the dishes and vacuuming. The bills and rent are paid, so at least the financials are alright.

One thing that I believe has helped smooth the transition out is our ability to play Gears of War together in coop. 

I know. Strange right?

Working as a team really smooths out the hiccups in our communication and really helps us to get to know one another. Since I’m a veteran of the game, I do my best to inform him of what’s coming out and lay out general strategies to deal with the problems ahead.

GoW is very much about teamwork. Even in single player, the game never lets you fly without a wingman at all times. It’s not good enough to lay down suppressive firepower and watch your wingman’s back- the game tests you on many levels of teamwork. One man drives, the other shoots. One goes for the light, the other has to trust his ally to guide him through the darkness lest he become Kryll bait. One player goes down, the other can revive him.

This is what great gaming is about. Not matter how fun it is single player, adding a trusted friend almost always magnifies the good times. It feels good to succeed, it feels better when both you and your buddy beat the stage. And this is a feeling that happens best when playing together in proximity to one another. Pong, the very first video game, was intended to be for dating. It was meant to enhance human social contact, not dwindle it. Even crappy games, like Brute Force, can be ridiculous fun with friends to laugh with you through it.

These kind of good times are why consoles shouldn’t go away. Sometimes, nothing beat a night like a six pack of beer, maybe some pizza, comfortable seating, a dog to pet and a bud or three to play a great game with.

Gears of Dredd

I haven’t had time this weekend, due to a wedding, to see Dredd 3D. Unfortunately, it seems that it has not done well in the box office during its most important weekend. At $6.3 million out of $45 million is a stiff bill to be stuck with. However, the later movie season is usually filled with either horror films or the Academy-aimmers. When you’re not raking in the dough, your time in the theater is cut. And when it’s cut, you make even less money. It’s a vicious cycle.

So I finished reading Karen Traviss’ Gears of War: Aspho Fields. Where Traviss isn’t the best action, she expands the characters and world marvelously. She adds everything I wish made it into the games. Thus it really takes reading the book to appreciate the game more. Perhaps I’ll replay GoW1 and 2 again while reading more books.

Hope everyone had a good weekend.

The Scoreboard

My first draft for our anthology is complete, but I have to craft a new draft and make several improvements. It will be an ardorous process, but will be more a matter of extending than rewriting. Only one scene (to my knowledge) requires tremendous effort. I also have a few drafts to review.

Aside from this, I have two more stories to work on, both for Cruentus Libri. One is for the surgical anthology, while the other is an extensive rewrite for the ‘War is Hell’ anth.

In truth, I cannot wait to be free of the Bolthole anthology. Although rewarding and I’m learning a lot, I’m also spending time chasing other writers down, bogged with edits and taking on a horde of other responsibilities that I’ve taken for granted. I have increased respect for the role of editor and publisher.

I’ve been thinking about a certain detail when it comes to awesome action and adventure movies. A little detail I call NITMA, or “Necessity is the mother of awesome.”

See, what I love and can’t get enough of in games and books and movies are these one-of-a-kind situations. I’m not talking about something as grand as, “Save the world” but wild moments you don’t do again.

For example, in the original Metal Gear Solid, there was the torture scene and the rappling game. Gears of War had an interesting segment where you looked for light sources in order to ward off the bat like creatures that ate your flesh. In Dead Space 2 when Isaac launches himself towards the Sprawl and you have to guide him through space. Or in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past where you had to try and figure your way around the other world, despite being changed into a rabbit and cannot defend yourself.

When you think about that formula, is it any wonder how the Avengers did so well? You have several fleshed out heroses, each of which had their own movie. And the sheer impact of what was happening forced them to work together. So unorthodox, so out of the ordinary from the usual super hero stuff, it’s no wonder it took third place on the highest grossing movie list.

What makes these moments so amazing and huge is the fact that they cannot be easily reproduced. That your character was so desperate that they were forced to do something unexpected and dangerous and you get to control them through it. I don’t want to watch a cut scene where my characters stradles a bomb on its way down! I want to actively guide the bomb! Just like in Dr. Strangelove.

I suddenly realize that this was kind of what made games like Final Fantasy XI so popular years after. Events. Events with friends. We stuck together through rough Burning Circle Notorious Monsters and garrison events. We hung together during the invasion of Aht Urghan. There was so much end game stuff, it’s no wonder people clung to the game years after its release.

Unforgettable events are where it’s at. That’s the wild ride we should be looking to build in our movies, games and books.

A Whole New Year

You'll never guess what I'm finally getting to play...

You'll never guess what I'm finally getting to play...

First post of the New Year. Just boning it in.

Raziel4707 has a new blog, the Vampiric Chicken. I’ve updated his link.

I started my diet and work out regime. Just a mixture of eating better and cutting back on calories, as well as jogging and lifting weights at home. My timing was either great or terrible to start this however. I had just one more huge meal to get through for the holidays, as I was drawn into another Thanksgiving sized meal to celebrate someone’s brief return to the states.

But I had seen my sides growing and felt the fat all around me and finally said, “Enough.” So I substituted fruits and Greek yogurt in place of my usual morning pastry, switched to lighter soups instead of my lunch sandwich and have been versatile about dinner. My new iPod Shuffle has made running a joy, even in the cold. I pulled some Kanye West, 50 Cent, Linkin Park and the Yoshida Brothers to keep my mind from getting bored mid-run.

Oh, guess what my brother lent me.

Now that I have an XBox 360, I ran out to the mall yesterday and purchased both Gears of War and Gears of War 2 for $16. I tried the hardcore difficulty and almost tore my hair out of my head because the damn Drones kept shooting me down. One of the things that annoy me about games is that increased difficulty only improves enemy stats. They shoot more accurately and/or powerfully and possess more health, not increased intellect or teamwork. It’s more a test of hanging-in-there endurance than of strategy and/or skill. So I restarted it in casual.

But I’m starting to enjoy the game. The story and characters didn’t start to resonate with me until Marcus Fenix was in charge, and the quips and rib poking became the norm. I think the developers suffered from what I guess you could call stereotyped start up. It’s  a problem very common in books and television, when the writers and actors aren’t entirely certain about the direction of their characters. So they try some clichés to get started and then they develop and grow. It’s not a bad thing, but it usually makes for some slow starts.

Bad news is that I’m working away at my brother’s gift. His computer, the same I built him two years ago, has errors upon problems upon flaws. It was fine when I gave it to him, but then he got creative. A few different OSes were installed, something went wrong with the hardware, then bam. It stopped working. I shook my head out of frustration, and have decided to get Windows 7 for him after I return the spare Motherboard I got for repairs just in case I needed it. He will need it soon. Heck, I still stick with Windows XP SP3 since it’s so reliable, but sooner or later I will have to update.

Also, I’m 20 pages into The Gildar Rift. Where does the time go…

Last of the Musicians

So it takes a lot of work to research songs for writing that don’t have lyrics and do have original composers and artists. This maybe my last music for writing update for a while.

However, I’m going out with a bang and am adding 11 songs. In truth, I found the 11th today while goofing off and looking at Fallout mods on Youtube. However, it is perfect for the upcoming Halloween season. The theme from 28 Days Later.

And now onto the list.

  1. Master Works, by Akira Ifukube.
    I’m sure you’re familiar with Godzilla and perhaps some of the crazy, giant lizard induced apocalypse music.
  2. Peter and the Wolf March, by Serge Prokofiev.
    Sounds like Peter is off to some mischief.
  3. Space Marine – A Hero’s Legacy, by Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan.
    Space Marine has some incredible music too. The gent who put this up also added much of the rest of the soundtrack if not all of it.
  4. Symphony No. 5, by Mahler.
    A heavenly piece.
  5. Chaos Legion – Solemn Voice, by Fukasawa Hideyuki.
    I’ve never played Chaos Legion, only heard the strange techno gothic songs. Runes and circuits.
  6. Ico – Entity Extended, by Michiru Oshima.
    An evil entity at that.
  7. Killzone 2 – Birth of War Retribution, by Joris de Man.
    Chorus and gunfights. Warfare tragedy. Aw yeah.
  8. Gears of War – Main Theme, by Kevin Riepl.
    Kind of like a futuristic version of Vagrant Story‘s music here.
  9. Rygar: The Legendary Adventure – Colosseo, by Takayasu Sodeoka.
    Greco-roman adventuring at its finest.
  10. Machinarium – The Castle, by Tomas Dvorak.
    I have never heard of this game, and when I found out about it, I was stunned. People still make point and click puzzle adventures? Odd…

Gears of War Day

I'll get my chance to play. Some day.

I'll get my chance to play. Some day.

So it’s confession time on GOW3-day. I’ve never played any of the Gears of War series. I’ve always wanted too, but never have.

There are a few reasons for this. First, I’m a PC gamer. I just don’t have the money to shell out for an XBox 360 when the majority of games I want come to PC. Yeah, Microsoft had a few titles I wanted to try, but the PC had more. That, and I use my PC for work as well as play.

This is a half excuse however, because the original Gears of War came to PC, eventually. But GOW2 didn’t and GOW3 probably won’t either.

The second reason I’ve held back is because Gears of War has always struck me as a series that was going to end. It’s the story of one major conflict. Conflicts always come to some conclusion. They did in the original three Star Wars movies. And when they end, I’m left hungering for more. It’s rough to hook a fan on fast paced combat and co-operative play and then tell them that the good times are over.

But what about the Halo series? I hear you. Yes, it’s being continued. And I loved the first Halo. The second one lost me when they made it shorter and the weapons more generic and less interesting. The developers felt like they tried too hard revamping the graphic engine instead of focusing on level designs and gameplay. The first Halo was something special and unique at the time. Then they tried too hard to commercialize it and to make it generic, with too much focus on the multiplayer. It stop being an awe inspiring piece of sci fi themed game play and instead became the thrill of frat boys and their frag parties.

I regarded Gears of War from a distance. I read the Wikipedia entries and watched videos. It seemed different. It did not seem to betray its core integrity. It seemed to have some story to tell that it never lost focus of. From the outside, I noticed that details changed but the central concepts didn’t. It seems as good a time as any to jump in. I’ll go hunting for the PC version of the original game and see if I can’t catch up before long.

Like a book everyone but me has read.