Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, writer, and possessed by cats

Category: Gaming (Page 1 of 2)

More on ME: Andromeda and future projects

Yesterday, I blogged about my experience and thoughts on Mass Effect Andromeda – PC after the first couple of hours of game play. There are a couple of things I want to add to that post, especially since I have seen a number of reviews wondering what the hell Bioware thought when they made the game. Mind you, these reviews are from sites that I usually find myself, if not completely disagreeing with then at least thinking they have taken it a bit too far. Those reviewers and professional players (youtube channels) I respect and who tend to be my go-to when I’m not sure about a game, all seem to agree with my take on the game so far.

If you look at some of the reviews, you’ll see folks bitching about the animation of the faces of a number of the characters. Yes, there is some issue. But to say the animation has taken a step back not only at least one generation but years of game development is to overstate the case. My take is that there are two issues. The first is that some, if not all, of the concerns will be taken care of in a first day/week patch. And let’s face it, we all know there will be such a patch. Very few major games are released now without such a patch happening.

Second, and this dawned on me yesterday as I played for a few minutes, some of the animation — especially when we get a closeup of a character’s face — is like what we had when TV shows were suddenly broadcast in HD. We see every flaw in the complexion, etc. There is one cutscene in particular where we see a closeup of Sarah Ryder and it is all facial pores, imperfections and — well — normal skin. Just not what you’re used to seeing in a video game

Another complaint I’ve seen — and this predates the early access release on Origin — is that Bioware seems to have tried to make Sarah Ryder ugly. Again, who the fuck cares? I’m not particularly fond of everything about the way the default Ryder looks but you know you? She looks normal. Not every video game character, and especially not every female character, has to be a “beauty”. Don’t like the preset character, use the customization options. And get the fuck over yourselves.

Is the game perfect? No. But no game is. Some are better than others. But for most of those who are complaining the loudest, they either haven’t played the game yet or they are like me. They’ve played some or all of the 10 hour early access and, to be honest, that doesn’t get you very far into the game and, if they really thought about it, there will be patches to deal with some of the issues they have brought up. I’m willing to wait and see what happens before passing final judgment.

So far, this Mass Effect feels more like the original Mass Effect in a lot of ways. There are things I like and some that I don’t. I look forward to truly being able to explore the game when it is released and there isn’t a time limit imposed on how long I can play.

In other news, I want to once again thank everyone’s support of Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2). I especially want to thank those of you who have left reviews. You guys are great. Please keep the reviews coming. They really help. Now I’m off to work on Nocturnal Rebellion and plot the next Eerie Side of the Tracks title. Well, actually titles. I figured out yesterday the order for the next three titles in the series (one short story as well as the follow-up to Skeletons in the Closet (Eerie Side of the Tracks) and then the next novel which will be Ciara’s story). The next book, however, after Rebellion will be Victory from Ashes (Honor and Duty series) and that one is already plotted and a very rough draft mostly written. So, busy writer am I, especially since I have a couple of editing projects I’m working on as well. That means I need to get off of the internet and get back to work.

First Impressions

Yesterday, I joined a number of gamers taking advantage of Origin Access to play 10 hours of Mass Effect Andromeda – PC before the game’s official release. No, I didn’t play all 10 hours. For one, I couldn’t download the preview until 1630 hrs. Then I had to take care of a couple of things, be somewhat social with family and, as I said, I had a migraine. So, I played approximately two hours and that is enough to confirm that I am looking forward to playing some more.

I am playing the game on PC. Specifically on a ROG laptop. My video card won’t let me run the game at max specs but, damn, I don’t need to. The game is beautiful and I saw no stuttered or any other video issues.

To save a few minutes, I accepted the default build for Sarah Ryder. When I start a new game and am not on a countdown clock, I will play with the character creation possibilities. I did choose Sarah for two reasons. One, I played mainly as FemShep in the original ME trilogy. For another, the clips I’ve seen of the game leave me thinking Scott Ryder is pretty much a whiner. There is something about his voice I don’t like. So, for this limited play, I went with the character I felt would annoy me the less.

I’ll admit, the opening sequence is longer than I expected. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. But when you are watching the clock counting down, every minute of actual game play counts. Once you get through the opening sequence, you learn a little about your character and the mission. I’m going to try to go through the rest without any spoilers. So, no real discussion of plot until the game is out and I’ve managed to play more of it.

The controls are familiar. There are two main changes from the previous games. The first is your scanner. It allows you to scan tech, flora and fauna and the information you gain as a result can have an impact on the game later on. The second change is you have a jetpack. That’s pretty cool and it gives combat a whole new dimension.

There are some easter eggs you come on pretty early into the game as well. When you get to the Nexus, you can find a model of the Normandy SR2. There are also recordings from Liara. No, she isn’t a character in this game — at least not so far and not from what I understand based on interviews I’ve read with Bioware designers and execs.

There are other changes as well and I am reserving judgment on them until I’ve played some more. You aren’t tied to a class like you were in the other games. In other words, you aren’t a Sentinel or Soldier or Engineer, etc. You also can use any weapon, or so I understand. That means the decisions you can add powers/abilities to meet the sort of combat you want. The Paragon/Renegade system is also gone. That means you choose your conversation options more on how you think your character would react to the situation instead of almost automatically choosing the answer that best fits the “nature” you chose for your character.

What is going to be interesting as I progress through the game is seeing how the game developers address the events in the original trilogy. After all, more than 600 years have passed since the end of the trilogy. There is no canon ending, or so I understand. (And I still have issues with the ending of ME3). Still, there are issues that could be mentioned/addressed no matter what your particular ending was.

All in all, I am enjoying the game and am considering doing what I rarely do — pre-ordering the game. More than that, I am considering buying the deluxe edition of it. Not because I care about the multiplayer packs or extra outfits but because I like the score for the game so far and would wind up paying the price difference to buy the soundtrack. No decision yet but that’s the way I’m leaning.

Fair warning, if you are a multiplayer fan, ME:A does have multiplayer and it is getting pretty good reviews so far. However, there are micro-transactions included in it. That’s something I don’t like.

Anyway, I’m enjoying the game so far and will keep playing until my 10 hours are done. The release date is March 20th in the US.

In the meantime, if you need something to read,  Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods Book 2) is now available for download. Thanks to everyone who pre-ordered it. Thanks to those of you who are buying it now. I have one more favor to ask. Please leave a review. It doesn’t have to be long. Reviews are one way you can do “word of mouth” to help spread the news about the book.

 

Just Say No To Sanctimonious Rants – by Kate Paulk

(Kate is my sister from another mother. She is one of the nicest people I know — until she comes across someone climbing on their soapbox without doing adequate research. That is especially true when they are trying to talk about the evils of a bit of coding and they don’t take the time to research the topic. You see, Kate’s 9 – 5 job is to test coding and tell programmers where they’ve gone wrong. Add that to a healthy Aussie sense of humor and snark and you get the following post.)

For a variety of reasons I found myself over at the site with the jammies looking at one of their subleading lights (actually, this one, to judge by the quality of the prose and the abysmal excuse for research (no, it is not research if you pull it from parts of your anatomy best not mentioned in polite society) doesn’t even rate as a dim bulb) ranting about Pokemon Go in the guise of parental advice and concern for The Children.

So I decided, screw it, I’m going to fisk.

Original text is in italics. My commentary is not.

Pokemon Go is sweeping the nation. Millions of kids and adults are wandering around town staring at their phones (even more than usual) trying to capture Pokemon monsters, or something.

Two sentences and I know where this is going. Anyone unfortunate enough to read this piece is going to be subjected to a screaming hissy fit about the Evils of Gaming and – this being nominally a parenting column (it even has Parents: in the title) – a whole lot of raving For The Children!

For the interested: take note of the verbiage here. This is a classic piece of framing the narrative, first by the hyped claims about the popularity of the game, and then the way it’s being belittled. Now, I’m the first to admit that a parenting advice column is going to have a lot of opinion in it, but taking snide pot-shots at others is, in most venues, considered bad form (of course, for a fisking, it’s pretty much de-rigeur).

Parents are thrilled that kids are out walking the neighborhood instead of sitting in front of a screen (although one could argue that only the location has changed).

 Well, yes, one could argue that only the location has changed, but one would be committing a rather grave error in fact if one did. Walking is not the same as sitting, and no amount of opinion is going to change that. Clearly, our sage advice columnist isn’t quite sage enough to avoid the trap of the dangling participle – and it’s a bracketed participle at that, which makes the error even more egregious.

Yes, the location of the screen has changed. Is she saying that kids are out sitting the neighborhood with that parenthetical asside? (okay, that was a real typo, but too apt to edit out. So “asside” stays. If you don’t like it, this is my middle finger).

 And who am I to stand in the way of kids getting out and walking?

 Oh, dear. Dearie dearie me. Megan, sweetie, better writers than you have tried that rhetorical device and failed. You are not covering yourself with glory here – and I haven’t finished wading through your first paragraph yet.

 Satire sites are having a heyday with the new app, skewering Twitter posters who have sore legs for the first time in years from accidentally getting exercise. Seems harmless, even useful, right?

 What seems harmless or even useful? Skewing complaining Twitters (or is that Twits? I might have a Twitter account but the last time I used it was two or three computers ago, so I’m really not familiar with the thing. As you might guess, I’m a tad on the wordy side)? I’m sure that’s a lot of fun, but it doesn’t seem all that useful to me.

Yes, yes, all right. I know she meant that the game seems harmless or maybe even useful. But damn it, she’s getting paid for this: she could at least get the basic grammar right and not post crap with unclear antecedents.

 And so I downloaded it.

Which “it”? I’m risking the ultimate doom of every grammar snark (it being an unbreakable Rule that any snarking of grammar or spelling will have at least one egregious error), but ye gods. This isn’t an article or even an opinion piece. It’s got the same freaking cadence as the Nuremberg Rally, starting with apparently reasonable statements and ratcheting up the tension and paranoia at every turn. The address for the rally had a better speechwriter, though (and no, translations don’t do it justice. Something like that you need the cadence of the original language. Um. Excuse me while I go bludgeon my inner history nerd, my inner propaganda nerd, and my inner grammar nerd. They’re getting out of hand).

 I gave in to the peer pressure from every radio station DJ who said I had to have it.

 There is so much wrong with this sentence it transcends wrongitude. And if wrongitude isn’t a word it bloody well should be. What kind of mature adult gives into peer pressure from freaking radio DJs? I’ll concede the possibility that a lot of DJs were pushing the game (you know, Pokemon Go), either because they love it themselves or – more likely – their station was paid rather a lot to push Pokemon Go at every opportunity. I don’t listen to radio, so I wouldn’t know what’s being said.

However, on the rare occasions I find myself forced to watch or listen to ads, I am quite capable of resisting their siren call, taking said siren call and shoving it somewhere dark and uncomfortable for the advertiser. Metaphorically speaking. Methinks if the above is a factual statement, Fraulein Fox devotes a little too much time and attention to commercial media.

 My kids don’t have phones, but I thought maybe I would let them use my phone when we were out and about to capture a few Pokemon critters.

 Really? That sounds like a rather sad after the fact justification to me. You are allowed to admit you were just a teensy bit curious about this game that’s driving the whole country (to borrow your overblown rhetoric for a bit) wild, you know. People might actually have a bit more respect for you if you aren’t hiding behind a lame “oh, it’s for my kids” line.

 And shortly after installing it, I came to my senses.

 This statement is either a lie or delusional. Possibly both. You see, it’s quite possible to tell before you download and install a game what permissions it wants. You don’t have to install the thing to discover it requires you to sacrifice your first-born… Oh, in your next sentence you say it didn’t ask for your first born as a blood sacrifice, just your soul. Lame. No first-rate game asks for so little: every game company knows souls aren’t worth the effort these days. They’re all pre-mortgaged to caffeine.

 The app wants total control over my camera, my video, my GPS, my Google account, my emails, my photos, my soul and God knows what else.

Witness, all, the attempt at humorous hyperbole landing smack on its face because of the simple factual error in the first five words. The app does not want anything. In order to function as programmed, the application requires certain permissions. Those permissions do not amount to “total control” of anything. Honestly, folks, if you have to pontificate about something, it really helps to know what the heck you’re talking about, or you’ll just make yourself look like a complete idiot to anyone who does know the facts.

And while you – and everyone else – have every right to your opinion, however ludicrous it may be, you do not have the right to your very own set of facts. Reality is a bitch that way.

 Why are we all voluntarily signing up to be tracked everywhere we go?

 Ah, yes. I was right. This is indeed a Nuremberg Rally style deal, and we’re moving into the frothing hysteria. Of course, Freulein Fox doesn’t have the ability to make her audience come on the spot (yes, this is allegedly something that happened at those big swastika-enhanced dos), so instead it comes out kind of shrill and silly.

Oh, and the answer to the question? Some people think that what they’re getting in return for letting applications track them via GPS is worth the loss of privacy. You know, the everyone benefits thing that happens in a free market? Theoretically, anyway, since the only free markets around right now are kind of… er… black.

 Not only are we laying bare our every move to who knows who, it is every pedophile’s dream come true.

 Wow. I’m impressed. It took this long to bring out the pedophile bogeyman.

The who knows who part, if the app has been written properly, its data collection is limited to some kind of installation identifier that has zero connection to the person using the phone. It should communicate with every other app it uses (and the phone hardware) by a little bit of arcane software magic called an API.

And, sweetie, APIs are everywhere. They’re only insecure if they’re badly written, and they’re not about “laying bare our every move to who knows who” (incidentally, ‘who’ is likely to be ‘nobody’ unless, again, it’s written badly. Even Google’s location service doesn’t know who is holding the phone. It only knows where the phone has been. If it was turned on in the first place).

 Already teens are being lured into abandoned parking lots where they are then robbed.

 And this is different from a normal day how?

 Other outlets are reporting zombie-like people, not paying attention to anything but their phones, wandering onto private property without realizing it, blocking driveways and scaring people.

Apparently there are some pretty wussy people out there, if someone obsessed with a phone is scary. Oh, and this is different from a normal day how?

 (In Texas, Missouri, Arizona and anywhere else with castle laws, this could be a deadly activity since homeowners have the right to use deadly force on trespassers.)

 Error of fact. And a damn great big one, at that. Every state with a castle law has this concept called “reasonable force”, and killing trespassers who aren’t brandishing a weapon at you and posing an imminent threat doesn’t count as ‘reasonable’ anywhere that actually has a functioning rule of law (I am aware this rules out much of Chicago, Detroit, and a variable and ever-expanding radius around certain politicians).

False assertions work against propagandizing, Freulein. There needs to be enough fact underpinning your claims to make them believable. This particular little gem fails on every count and is likely to be believed only by raving leftists and paranoiacs. Maybe. If they’re having a particularly bad day.

 Kids don’t need Pokemon Go to get exercise because they should be spending their days up trees and at the beach and hiking in the woods.

 So just what is the difference between spending your day up trees and at the beach and hiking in the woods while playing a game on your phone and doing exactly the same thing while not playing a game on your phone? In terms of exercise gained, buggerall. In terms of interaction with like-minded souls, well… Sweetie, not all kids have the good fortune to have friends in their neighborhood. Are you going to keep them from interacting with their friends who live hundreds of miles away because you believe this game is a bad thing?

If you are – and the whole damn article is nothing but a badly disguised rant on the topic of “phone games Bad. For The Children!Eleventy!” – then you should fit right in with everyone else trying to force the rest of the world to follow their enlightened ways because “It’s for your own good”.

What happened to limiting screen time as much as possible?

 It turned out that, like everything, balance works better. You know, mixing it up a bit.

 It’s not good for human brains!

 Someone would appear to have mixed up the problems that come from passively soaking up the content of the idiot box (which, again, is perfectly fine in moderation, and doesn’t even need to be rationed as long as there are plenty of other enjoyable activities around) and having no parental discussion of said content with the rather more engaged processes that go with computer games of all flavors.

 Study after study shows this is true.

 Then why, my dear, did you neglect to reference more than one or two rather sub-par articles about such studies?

Electronics interfere with sleep cycles, are connected to depression, and contribute to the general malaise plaguing children who can’t seem to get off the couch.

And yet you rant against a game that works to get children up off their duffs and outside in the debatably fresh air. Which is just the beginning of the things wrong with your assertions.

To start with, those studies you’re referencing are looking at excess or outright stupidity. Of course if you leave an electronic device that lights up (however dimly) in your bedroom you’re going to affect your sleep pattern. In the immortal words of damn near every teenage girl ever, “Duh”.

As for the connection to depression, it’s rather clear you’re not actually reading it, Megan. Otherwise you’d have realized that the researchers don’t know if the connection is causal, much less which direction the cause runs. In smaller words, that means depressed people could be playing games to distract themselves. You know, the same way in times past depressed people would do things like read?

As for the “general malaise” claim, believing everything someone on the internet says is a really bad idea. Honestly, this sentence reads more like the kind of scam that uses links to scary-sounding articles to convince some sucker… customer to buy the kool-aid.

 Have parents abandoned their inherent distrust of screens? When did that happen?

Let’s do a little word replacement exercise here, shall we? On second thoughts, let’s not. Just imagine what it would look like if you replaced “parents” with “Germans” or “blacks” or “whites”. And “screens” with “Jews” or “whites” or “blacks”. If you still think this isn’t hysterical ranting, you need remedial English.

 Now, the newest electronic craze seems sure to send your child directly into harm’s way.

 Hardly. Kids who were glued to their phone screen before Pokemon Go will do the same dumb stuff as they did before installing the game. And that’s before applying the commonsense filter of “the media will link anything they can to the hot new craze to get clicks” otherwise known as exactly what our good author is doing here: using the game in a title as clickbait for an otherwise bald and unconvincing tirade.

 If you still think Pokemon is a must have for this summer, think again.

 Oh, the assumptions buried in this one sentence. The judgment. The rancid, unmitigated superiority. Ye dogs, the poor perv this author found jacking off to porn in a public library (not something I would normally approve of – or ever, really) should have withered and melted under her steely glare. Or something.

 Do your kids a favor and give them a 1985-style summer.

 Someone’s got to say it. Judging by the tone of the article, this should be a 1984-style summer, under the benevolent, watchful gaze of Big Sister.

Drink out of the hose, ride your bike just for the pleasure of the wind in your face, and leave the phones at home.

These are my middle fingers. I will do what I think is appropriate, and you madam, can take your sanctimonious pap and shove it right beside that massive stick you have up your fundamental orifice.

 (For the curious – the original article can be found at https://archive.is/mVtNX)

***

Amanda here, now.

I wanted to add a quick counterpoint to the original article as well. What the author seems to overlook is that Pokemon Go! can and is being used as a socialization tool. Families that weren’t spending all that much time together, and especially not outside, are now going on hunts together. Communities are putting together activities for all ages so they can hunt those ever elusive Pokemon, find Pokemon gyms, etc. Yes, there are some areas asking you not to hunt on their grounds and I have no problem with it. But zoos, parks, even some museums are greeting those who are using the app with open arms and encouraging them to attend events at their locations.

In other words, as with everything, the key is educating yourself and your kids and using common sense.

One more quick note, for those of you who don’t know, Kate is also an author with a wicked sense of humor. The series we are all after her to write more in is her Con series. I’ve linked to the first book in the series below.

ConVent (The Vampire Con Series Book 1)

A vampire, a werewolf, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. Whoever picked this team to save the world wasn’t thinking of sending the very best. But then, since this particular threat to the universe and everything good is being staged in science fiction conventions, amid people in costume, misfits and creative geniuses, any convetional hero would have stood out. Now Jim, the vampire, and his unlikely sidekicks have to beat the clock to find out who’s sacrificing con goers before all hell breaks loose — literally.

ConVent is proof that Kate Paulk’s brain works in wonderfully mysterious ways. A sarcastic vampire, his werewolf best buddy, an undercover angel and his succubus squeeze. The “Save the world” department really messed it up this time.

I’m baaaack. . .

Maybe.

Yesterday was one of those days when, after too much stress, the mind and body simply got together and firmly said, “Nope, not gonna work, not gonna think, not gonna do anything.” It was one of those moments when I realized just how long it has been since I’ve had a real vacation — one where I don’t work, write or kill myself working around the house. I won’t go into the reasons behind my brain putting its foot down. Some of you know and, if you don’t, it isn’t anything of any real import now. It was just something that for a 24 hour period interrupted everything else going on and had me angrier than I have been in a very, very long time. That sort of anger is not only counter-productive but exhausting.

So I found myself yesterday unable to write or read for most of the day. Since daytime TV sucks eggs — it is ever worse that evening TV — I did some gaming. One of the things I did was play the demo for the new Doom. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to my memories of the original Doom, one of the first games I ever played on PC. The demo isn’t long, just the first mission of the game. But it was more than enough to show that the reviews I’ve seen aren’t lying. The game rocks.

If you are interested in trying out the demo, time is running out (if it hasn’t already). You can snag a copy from Steam or its equivalent if you are a console player. Try it out. I’d be interested in hearing what you think about it.

Since that didn’t take long (no more than an hour or so, if I remember correctly), I went back to playing Dishonored – PC. This is one of those games I both love and hate. I love it because it is challenging and there is no one “right” way to play the game. There are different paths you can take to reach your destination. You can choose to play a purely stealth game or you can go in gun and blade and powers blazing. The decisions you make impact how people respond to you and impacts the ending of the game.

I hate the game for much the same reasons. I tend to game to beat stress. Having to sneak around and kill as few enemy as possible is not good for lowering the stress level. In fact, at least for me, it raises it. But it is also a great mental game because you have to pay attention to everything going on around you. You need to look for patrol patterns, etc. and keep track of the number of kills you’ve made if you are working for a low chaos ending.

That also makes for replayability. That is a big consideration in my book. When you pay $50 or more for a game, I want more than a few hours of play time with little to no desire to replay the game. I am hoping when Dishonored 2 Limited Edition – PlayStation 4 comes out, it follows the same theme of your choices impacting the end of the game. I already like the fact you can choose to play the game as either Korvo or Emily and that they will have different powers and abilities. That was one of the things that made Assassin’s Creed Syndicate so much fun and gave it a replayability factor so many games don’t have.

Better yet, the gaming did give my brain enough time to process what had it demanding time off. By late afternoon, I was able to get a little bit of work done. Better yet, while I was gaming, the back brain had been working and it figured out why I was balking on the opening of the short story I’ve been working on. The story was drafted in very rough form but something just didn’t work and I couldn’t figure it out. Well, now I have and it won’t be that major a fix. Better yet, I should be able to get back on schedule in another day or two — assuming real life doesn’t blow up around me again.

Anyway, that was my day yesterday and the reason for no blogging. Now I need to get my butt in the desk chair and get to work. Back later. Have a great day!

Microsoft at E3

I’ll admit, I didn’t have high expectations for much new coming out of Microsoft’s E3 press conference yesterday. Part of that is because I’m primarily a PC gamer. So I didn’t have a lot of interest in finding out if a new XBOX was coming out or a slimmer model, etc. While I love Halo, it’s not enough to make me buy a console just to play one or two games on. Still, when I watched a replay of the press conference, I found myself pleasantly surprised.

First of all, some of the XBox news did catch my eye. Microsoft got the drop on Sony by announcing its next console, “Project Scorpio“.  “Set to release in 2017, the new system will feature 8 cores, 320Gb memory bandwidth, and six teraflops of performance that will allow for true fully uncompressed 4K gaming. This suggests it will not simply be upscaled 2160p.” Of more interest in some ways than the specs for the new console is the fact it will supposedly be backwards compatible with the XBox One and the XBox One S, that include controllers and peripherals.

But what really made that news interesting was this next bit of news. XBox Play Anywhere will let you buy an XBox One game and then play it on your PC. This supposedly will be at no extra cost — of course, that doesn’t meant they won’t raise the base price of the game. That is something we will have to wait and see.  Confirmed games so far are:

  • Gears of War 4
  • Dead Rising 4
  • Sea of Thieves
  • Forza Horizon 3
  • Scalebound
  • State of Decay 2
  • Halo Wars 2

But what about games? Four caught my instant attention. The first is Dead Rising 4.

Next up is ReCore.

And we can’t forget Halo Wars 2.

Not to be left out, Gears of War 4.

Oooh, shiny

This time every year, gamers turn their attention to E3 to see if there will be new console or handheld gaming system announced and to see what new games are going to be teased. This year is no exception. Even though E3 hasn’t officially started, there have already been some exciting news coming out of the different venues.

Let’s start with EA’s press conference yesterday. I know, I know. EA is an abomination with Origin, etc. It also has some of my most anticipated games. So I guess it is a case of better the devil you know. . . .

Battlefield 1 has been much hyped and anticipated. It is a first-person shooter set during World War I. Due to be released this Fall, EA has been hyping this game for some time now. Looking at the gameplay trailer shown yesterday, it is easy to see why.

Titanfall 2 is another one I’m looking forward to. One of the biggest complaints about the original Titanfall was the lack of a single-player campaign. Titanfall 2 will correct that oversight and if the campaign lives up to the gameplay trailer EA released yesterday, it is going to be a lot of fun.

Finally, the game I am both looking forward to and dreading is Mass Effect Andromeda. I’m looking forward to it because I loved the Mass Effect trilogy, even with the botched ending of Mass Effect 3. I’m dreading it because I’ve been disappointed too many times by games, movies and books that don’t live up to the previous work in a series. I’m not actually worried by the fact EA/Bioware has delayed the release to the first quarter of next year (the last I looked). I would rather them do that than to push out a game that is too buggy to play or, worse, is nothing but a poor shadow of the previous games.

I will admit, I had hoped for some gameplay footage but that will have to wait. Instead, EA released this clip.

But EA wasn’t the only developer to release some exciting news. Bethesda, developer of one of my other favorite games, Dishonored, had some news of its own to release yesterday. First up was word that they would be releasing Quake Champions.

Next up is for those of us who have been drooling over the new Doom but who have yet to drop the $60 or so to buy it. Bethesda and Id are going back to the roots of Doom and offering shareware — oops, a demo — of Doom. For a limited time, you can download and play for free the first level on the campaign. Even better news, you can do it on your PS4, XBox One or your PC.

And then there was word on what is probably my most anticipated game so far: Dishonored 2. Coming out in November, if I remember correctly, it picks up with the characters from Dishonored some 15 years or so after the end of the first game. As with Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, you can play as either Korvo, the playable character from Dishonored, or as Emily. Both have their own set of abilities and the video shown yesterday is enough to have me planning on getting the game just as soon as I can.

Ubisoft has its press conference later today. It will be interesting to see what comes out of it.

Beginnings

The opening sequence of a novel has always been the hardest part for me. Oh, I know what I want to say — or at least I think I do — but somehow when I sit down at the keyboard, it just doesn’t come. There will be fits and starts before I finally get it. That may take days or, in some cases, even weeks before I have an opening I’m satisfied with and, once that happens, the rest of the novel usually flows easily.

I’m not sure why that opening scene or chapter is so difficult. Sarah Hoyt told me early into our friendship that the problem a lot of new writers have is starting a novel either a chapter too soon or too late. Then she went on to tell me to simply write the first chapter as it comes and not obsess about it. After all, material can be added or deleted during edits. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple for me.

And that has been part of the problem with Victory from Ashes. I have the very rough — and I do mean very rough — draft completed. But I knew I had an issue with the opening. When putting that first draft together, I really didn’t even bother writing a first chapter. It was a series of notes and that’s about it. While that helped with the first pass, it did nothing to help with the current draft version.

So I have struggled for the past couple of weeks, trying to get that first chapter written. It simply wasn’t coming. Instead of beating my head against the wall, I drafted out three short stories and did other work. All the while, the opening of Victory continued to percolate in the back of my mind. Yesterday, I’d finally had enough. I needed to sit down and write, whether the chapter came or not.

With that in mind, I did what I suggest to my critique group: I moved to a different work area and I wrote in a different manner. In this case, I used pencil and paper. With my notes in hand, I sat at the kitchen table and gave my muse free rein. Thankfully for my muse’s continued existence, she decided to cooperate and the words started flowing and, with them, the realization of what had been blocking me.

I’d made a wrong turn at the end of Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). No, nothing serious and nothing that impacts that book. It was just a decision made by a character about something that was supposed to happen in Victory from Ashes. Fixable, in fact, easily fixable, but I had to recognize the problem first. Then I had to figure out how to deal with the decision and change that character’s mind. Until my subconscious did all that, I was at a standstill.

Fortunately, my subconscious did just that and, over the next hour or two, 2,700 words flowed. No, not all by hand. What happened was I wrote a page or two longhand and that jogged the brain and I was then able to return to the keyboard. With coffee at hand, I pounded out a chapter that feels right and that got the problematic decision corrected. Even better, it allowed me to show a new facet of growth for Ashlyn. Best of all, it means the rest of the work of wrestling the very rough draft into a workable draft will flow easily.

Not that I won’t take time out this week to finish the first short story in the Honor and Duty universe. My plan is to have it up by Friday. If everything goes according to plan, there will be one short story every two weeks. Of course, life being what it is, I know there may be bumps along the way. That is one reason I’ve already done the rough drafts for all three stories.

What this also means is, if the muse continues to cooperate, I will begin snippeting Victory later this week. Most likely, Wednesday. In the meantime, here are some books I recommend as well as a shout out to a game being released later today.

Through Fire (Darkship Book 4)

Sarah A. Hoyt

A new chapter in Hoyt’s celebrated Darkship series dawns with revolution on Earth as the Good Men fall.

DOWN WITH THE TYRANNY OF THE GOOD MEN!

A spaceship mechanic has no place in a fairytale. But now Zen Sienna finds herself in a beautiful palace being courted by the ruler of vast lands. Yet soon Zen is caught up in a revolution that comes a bit too close to imitating the original French revolution—complete with beheadings. Swept up in a turmoil of fire and blood, she must find her footing. Torn by divided loyalties, unexpectedly in charge of protecting the innocent while trying to stop the guilty, Zen discovers both her inner strength and discovers who will remain true friends and comrades, and who will be revealed as enemies in disguise waiting to strike!

Through the fire of revolution and war, Zen must earn her citizenship on Earth and find her place in a world that’s totally changed.

TOM

Dave Freer

Tom is a cat in trouble. The worst possible kind of trouble: he’s been turned into a human. Transformed by an irascible old magician in need of a famulus — a servant and an assistant, Tom is as good at being a servant as a cat ever is. The assistant part is more to Tom’s taste: he rather fancies impressing the girl cats and terrorizing the other toms by transforming himself into a tiger. But the world of magic, a vanished and cursed princess, and a haunted skull, and a demon in the chamber-pot, to say nothing of conspiring wizards and the wickedest witch in the west, all seem to be out to kill Tom. He is a cat coming to terms with being a boy, dealing with all this. He has a raven and a cheese as… sort of allies.

And of course there is the princess.

If you were looking for ‘War and Peace’ this is the wrong book for you. It’s a light-hearted and gently satirical fantasy, full of terrible puns and… cats.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge

Larry Correia and John Ringo

TWO MULTIPLE NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHORS TEAM UP TO EXPAND LARRY CORREIA’S MONSTER HUNTER UNIVERSE!

When Marine Private Oliver Chadwick Gardenier is killed in the Marine barrack bombing in Beirut, somebody who might be Saint Peter gives him a choice: Go to Heaven, which while nice might be a little boring, or return to Earth. The Boss has a mission for him and he’s to look for a sign. He’s a Marine: He’ll choose the mission.

Unfortunately, the sign he’s to look for is “57.” Which, given the food services contract in Bethesda Hospital, creates some difficulty. Eventually, it appears that God’s will is for Chad to join a group called “Monster Hunters International” and protect people from things that go bump in the night. From there, things trend downhill.

Monster Hunter Memoirs is the (mostly) true story of the life and times of one of MHI’s most effective—and flamboyant—hunters. Pro-tips for up and coming hunters range from how to dress appropriately for jogging (low-profile body armor and multiple weapons) to how to develop contacts among the Japanese yakuza, to why it’s not a good idea to make billy goat jokes to trolls.

Grunge harkens back to the Golden Days of Monster Hunting when Reagan was in office, Ray and Susan Shackleford were top hunters and Seattle sushi was authentic.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

Available for PS4, XBox One and PC

  • First-Person Action – Get up close with your enemies. Use your freedom of movement and martial arts combat in conjunction with the environment to experience fluid first-person action unlike any other.
  • Explore the City of Glass – Roam the beautiful, high-tech city at your own pace, and unlock its many different districts. Run free and explore every corner from the highest, glass made skyscrapers to the hidden underground tunnels.
  • Witness the Rise of Faith – Brought up on her own on the margin of the totalitarian society, Faith found refuge amongst an outsider group called the Runners. Learn about her origin story, and take part in her journey as she stands up against oppression and becomes the catalyst that can change the City of Glass forever.

Review: Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

I don’t often take part in beta tests for games. One reason is I don’t usually have time. Another is I hate opening my laptop up to software that hasn’t been fully tested yet. But when I had the opportunity to take part in the closed beta test for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4, I jumped. Then I prayed I would be one of those lucky enough to be chosen. I was and I’ve spent several hours since then playing the opening sequences of the game as well as some optional missions.

All I can say is if the final game is as much fun as the beta test version, it is going to be a blast.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the game, this is the follow-up to Mirror’s Edge, one of the best games I’ve ever played. Considering this game is so very different from most everything else I play, that’s saying a great deal.

Short version, the game takes place in a quasi-dystopian future (funny how so many games take that approach — not). The main character, Faith, is a runner. Runners take to the rooftops and are the parkour heroes of the future. Mirror’s Edge was more a game of tactics and evasion than a run and shoot. I know a number of folks who played the game without ever using a gun and who prided themselves on trying to find ways through missions without engaging the enemy. And, no, this is most definitely not a stealth game.

Mirror’s Edge also had the advantage of having been written by Rhianna Pratchett. The follow-up, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4 does not include Pratchett. In fact, much of the original team is gone. That could be problematic. Other games that have had such major shifts in personnel from one game to another have suffered. For the little bit we saw in the beta test, this one does not. Of course, I say that with reservation since the beta only lets us see a couple of missions.

So, what do I think about Catalyst? I loved it. The controls — and I was playing on PC — were intuitive and easy to get the hang of. I liked the fact that the tutorial wasn’t all at the beginning and staged as such. There was some character interaction and then “training”. Even after that, you received another mission which included some more training as well as completing a mission in the process.

Yes there were glitches. This was a beta test after all. The voice to video synching often reminded me of a badly — very badly — dubbed Japanese science fiction movie. The mouths would move and the subtitles would appear and then the voice would sound. Load screen sometimes froze or it felt like they did because it took forever to move from one to another. But it was nothing compared to some finished games I’ve played and hated.

This is a beautiful game. I wanted to spend time I don’t have just exploring the city. The fact that you can go off-track is something I enjoyed and I look forward to being able to do it in the finished product.

My recommendation is simple. If you enjoyed Mirror’s Edge, you need to check out Mirror’s Edge Catalyst – PlayStation 4. If you like games that let you use figure out the best way to get from Point A to Point B, this is your game. If you want to use your wits to avoid the enemy or if you want to confront the enemy, you can do it with Catalyst.

I don’t know about you, but I will be pre-ordering the game and waiting anxiously to be able to play the full game.

On writing, gaming and drinking coffee

Yes, yes, I know. I promised a snippet and you will get it. Not today or even tomorrow. I am going to start doing snippets on the weekends. I am hard a work on the final edits for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). I am also starting the preliminary draft for Dagger of Elanna, the follow up to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). After that, not necessarily in this order, will come Nocturnal Challenge, a secret project I can’t discuss just yet, Skeletons in the Closet, and a host of other books demanding to be written.

One thing I’m learning is that I have to take a little bit of time between projects to not only switch “voices” but to decompress. That week or so is when I try to catch up on my reading, see movies and trying out new video games. I don’t buy a new game after every finished product but I do when something interesting catches my eye or someone I trust recommends a game.

That’s why I played — and later reviewed — Rise of the Tomb Raider – Digital Deluxe Edition [Online Game Code]. It is why I am now playing Assassin’s Creed Syndicate – Gold Edition – PC. This is the first time in a long while I’ve bought the actual disc for a game. But this particular edition was a much better buy than going to Steam and paying for the game and then buying the season pass. So, I bought the disc, installed it on my laptop and started playing.

And found what has, so far at least, been my favorite Assassin’s Creed game to date. Part of it is the story and mechanics. Part is the fact I can, on many of the missions, choose which character to play. I can go more for brute strength by playing Jacob or stealth by choosing his twin Evie. Yes, for those who feel there needs to be a female playable character, Ubisoft has given you one.

I’ll follow up with a full review when I finish the game but, for the moment, I am enjoying it a great deal and it has helped with the decompression from finishing Slay Bells Ring and doing edits (which I hate doing) on Honor.

So where, you ask, does coffee come into all this? That’s simple. Like a lot of writers, I seem to live on caffeine. My brain doesn’t get going in the morning without that kickstart you can only get from a cup of coffee. I grew up in a household that used a Corningware stove top percolator, even after the company recalled them. My dad’s philosophy was that your coffee wasn’t strong enough unless your spoon could stand, unaided, in the middle of the mug. Not that he would ever ruin a cup of coffee by adding anything to it. Coffee was meant to be drunk black as night and hot as Hell (or cold as the Arctic in the summer).

Fastforward to today. I’ve done the Mr. Coffee route and the Keurig k-cups. Mr. Coffee and those type of coffeemakers can leave you with scorched coffee because you leave it on the burner. The alternative is to brew into a carafe that is a bitch to clean. K-cups will never, ever make a full-bodied cup of coffee. Sorry, it just isn’t going to happen.

So someone finally recommended Death Wish Whole Bean Coffee, The World’s Strongest Coffee, Fair Trade and USDA Certified Organic – 16 Ounce Bag. I balked at first. After all, you may as well say it is $20/lb. Ouch! Then I started looking at what I was paying for Peet’s or Starbucks to put into the reusable k-kups as well as what I spent to drink regular k-cups. By the time I added up the cost per cup and how many cups per day I was drinking, I thought I might as well give Death Wish a try. After all, if it was as strong as they said, I might not drink as much.

Boy has that been a good decision. My four or five cups (read large mugs) of coffee each day minimum I’d been drinking is down to two cups max. A pound of Death Wish lasts approximately 2 weeks. So my monthly coffee budget is $40. If I were buying k-cups (Green Mountain because that is the brand the rest of the family likes), and if I were averaging 4 cups a day, my monthly budget would be over $80 ordering from Amazon. It would be less if I were lucky enough to find a sale locally but those are few and far between. Starbucks whole beans would run somewhere between the two. So, for a great tasting coffee that has enough caffeine to get me going and that doesn’t leave me crashing later in the day, I’ll pay the price. It works out to be less in the long run.

Now, if only I could find chocolate as good as Death Wish is as coffee and that was as affordable per use, I’d be a very happy camper, er, writer.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Yes, I know. I’m late to the game when it comes to reviewing Rise of the Tomb Raider – Digital Deluxe Edition [Online Game Code], the latest installment in the Tomb Raider series of games. There is reason for it. First, I have moved away from console gaming almost completely. So I had to wait for Square Enix to bring the game to PC. In a move only understood by Square Enix and probably Microsoft, Square Enix initially released the game only on Xbox 360 and Xbox One. However, the day finally came and I snagged a copy. I’ve been playing at it for a couple of weeks and have finished my first play through and the Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch DLC.

For those who aren’t familiar with Rise of the Tomb Raider, it is the second game in the re-imagined Tomb Raider Series. The first, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition – PlayStation 4, (also available on PC and XBox) came out a couple of years ago. Instead of picking up the series where it had left off, Square Enix did something smart. It rebooted the series with the story of how Lara Croft became the Tomb Raider. That game, while good, felt a bit short and wasn’t quite the Tomb Raider I, or many like me, remembered. It was more a run and shoot than a searching of tombs and solving of puzzles. Gamers and reviewers let their displeasure, mild though it was, be known and Square Enix listened.

This latest installment picks up after the events of Tomb Raider. There are tombs aplenty and enough moments when a big bad — whether it be animal, human or something else — to cause a few starts and nervous laughs. This Lara is not only older but a bit more jaded. Part of that is because of what happened in the first game, although I don’t recall those events being directly mentioned, but mainly because of what she remembers of her father and the events leading to his death. In short, Lara is on a personal quest to prove that the mystery her father had been chasing not only exists but that he had been right all along. As the story progresses, she has to decide whether that quest, and the quest to clear his name of the shame that had been attached to it, was more important than the truth she was uncovering.

This is, in truth, a story about choices, not only Lara’s choices when it comes to either using stealth to avoid danger or approaching it headlong but also with regard to what she will do when she come to the truth surrounding the secrets her father had been chasing. Then there is the truth about the circumstances surrounding his death.

For anyone who saw the travesty that was the Tomb Raider movies, no, the Illuminati is not part of this plot. However, there is a super secret organization with ill intent out there. Called Trinity, you never see the leaders. That is part of how the developers have set us up for another game to come. Part of it is also because one of the big baddies we do meet in this game, Ana. She plays a pivotal part in not only what happens in the game but in the events that are the background for it.

If you buy the season pass, you will have access to some new outfits and such and one playable DLC right now. That DLC, Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch DLC,  was a fun addition to the game. I played it as part of the general progression of the game instead of finishing the game and going back to it. Part of that was strategy. I wanted to see what sort of weapon upgrades I might find in the DLC but I also wanted the experience upgrades before heading off to do the final mission of the game.

As the title of the DLC suggests, the plot draws its inspiration from the Baba Yaga tales. Yes, there is a house on chicken legs — or is there? There is an evil witch with ill intent in mind. Or is there? Those are only two of the questions Lara much answer in the DLC. It’s not a huge DLC, certainly nowhere near as long as The Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3 Digital Deluxe Version [Download]. But then, there weren’t as many upset fans with Rise of the Tomb Raider as there were for ME3, not by a long shot. Still, if you are a perfectionist and want to work to get 100% on the DLC, you will have several hours — or more — of game play.

The graphics on the game are great. It is one of the best looking games I’ve seen. While there is the occasional camera angle problem, those are so few that I almost hate to mention them. The background score is good and the plot is interesting if somewhat derivative at times. The bad guys, while bad, aren’t necessarily truly evil. They are flawed and those flaws blind them to the folly — and evil — of their intentions. One of the good guys isn’t quite as good as you think at the beginning. Lara herself is flawed and that is one of the things I like. She has doubts. She has a temper.  She is driven, often to the point where it puts others in danger. Yet she does make the right decisions when she needs to.

If I had to complain about the game, it’s a bit short. After playing the Dragon Age series and some others (and yes, I know. Different types of games), Rise of the Tomb Raider seems short. Still, it costs less per hour of game play than going to the movies, much less. I also am not a fan of releasing DLC so soon after a game comes out. Game developers have, for some reason, started releasing playable DLC within a month or two of the release of the games and that, to me, feels like cheating. Then there was releasing on only one platform for awhile. That bothered me more than any of the rest of it.

But those are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things. I would give this game a 9 out of 10. It is a definite recommend. I am looking forward to seeing what Square Enix does next with the franchise.

Since I mentioned Dragon Age, let me add a quick note here about the last playable DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Dragon Age: Inquisition – Trespasser – PS4 [Digital Code] (and it too, is available on Playstation, XBox and PC platforms) is one of the best playable DLCs I’ve played in a very long time. It takes place several years after the end of the main game. It not only lets you get reacquainted with the characters from Inquisition, but you find out what has happened to them in the interim. Some of it is determined based on choices you made during the main game. The basic conflict begins because the governments have grown concerned about the power — and respect — the Inquisition holds. The danger to their lands is over and now they want to rein in the Inquisition and hamstring it. Before that can happen, trouble once again breaks out and it is up to the Inquisitor to find out who is behind it and stop it before war breaks out.

The writers of the DLC left everyone who played Trespasser nodding their heads, convinced not only that there will be a sequel but that they know where on Thedas it will take place. Then there is the fact that, if we aren’t misreading the seemingly obvious hints in the DLC, Solas will play a major role in the next game and it isn’t going to be as the hero.

So, if you have played Inquisition and haven’t played Trespasser yet, do so. The only negative I can say about Inquisition — and it doesn’t play much of a role in Trespasser — is the endless collecting of resources and a crafting menu that gets too complicated if you are a completionist. But, it is one of those things you can do as little or as much with as you want. But, if you’re like me and you do your damnedest to get a 100% completely, that hunting-gathering gets old and does make it less inviting to play the game a second time.

Still, I give DA:I a 9 and Trespasser is the one playable DLC that I say is a must get if you enjoyed the game. The others are okay but they don’t really expand the story like this one does.

So there you have it. One game and one DLC review.

Snippets will follow later today.

 

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