Sunday, 13 April 2014

Announcement: Malevolence – Tales From Beyond The Veil

Exciting news, readers. My first traditionally published story will be released as part of the forthcoming ghost story anthology Malevolence – Tales from Beyond the Veil, which includes 23 phantastic tales.

Amongst the other authors are Toby Frost (whose books I've reviewed on this blog, as well as doing a couple of interviews), Ian Whates and Stephen Palmer, as well as the very talented Jo Zebedee, J Scott Marryat and fellow F1 enthusiast Ken O'Brien.

The book will be released in late May. The pre-order price (print) is £7.99, compared to the post-release price of £9.49, so do pre-order directly from the publisher, Tickety Boo Press.

You can also save money if you buy a bundle of 3, buying Malevolence together with After Midnight by Joseph Rubas and Goblin Moon (Mask and Dagger 1) by Teresa Edgerton (all 3 cost £21 if pre-ordered compared to the normal combined price of £28.47).

Saxon & Khan is the title of my own small piece of Malevolence, and is both the first ghost story and the first tale set in the real world I've written. I'm also reasonably confident it's the only ghost story to have a budgerigar called Gandhi in it.


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Review: Seven Elements That Have Changed The World, by John Browne

It's slightly unusual for me to read a science book, but this seemed fairly interesting. It looks at, unsurprisingly, seven elements (iron, carbon, gold, silver, uranium, titanium and silicon) and their impact on the world. The author, John Browne, was a bigwig with BP.

Each element gets its own chapter, which progresses more or less in chronological order of use (both within chapters and between them, so silicon, being the most 'modern' element is naturally last). There's an interesting mix of history, economics and chemistry.

I particularly found the gold and silver chapters interesting (especially the negative spiral of Bunker Hunt's enormous hoard of silver), but carbon dragged a little.

As someone born in the first generation to really have computer games, mobile phones and the internet it was also interesting to read about the hopes for uranium, with nuclear-powered cars and trains anticipated but never achieved.

I do feel certain bits were missed that could have been included. For example, Henry Ford gets a mention (fair enough), but Benz and Daimler do not. There was an interesting piece about glass-making in Venice and telescopes, but glass and its magnifying powers also had a huge impact on chemistry and biology. The ability to zoom in allowed for clearer images of very small things, and glass being chemically neutral enabled scientists to use it to experiment on other things, but neither of these aspects was referred to.

The author makes use of his own personal experience of and interest in various related matters. This is a double-edged sword. The Venice glass-making piece was worth reading, but a little more science and a little less personal interest would have made the book better.

I was also mildly amused to read in the conclusion the author criticise those who pollute [counting carbon dioxide as pollution], given he was a bigwig with BP. I'm not a green but that's a bit rich. On a similar note, too many of the photos were the author with a politician/businessman/scientist instead of relevant to the subject.

There was a lot of genuinely interesting stuff in the book, and I did enjoy reading it. More focus on the subject matter and less on the author would have improved it.


Sunday, 30 March 2014

Dragon Age: Inquisition – more info

As the title cunningly suggests, there's some new information out regarding Dragon Age: Inquisition. There be spoilers below. We learn more about the world, gameplay areas, and companions. Generally the info below is confirmed or probable, and where it's not certain I've tried to make it plain it's unconfirmed speculation. If you're avoiding all spoilers then you should probably stop reading now, and I'll put a picture below so the vile sight of spoilers do not besmirch your innocent eyes.

Some of this information comes from the GameStar April edition. It's a German magazine, and some reports of what it says may be wrong, largely due to dodgy translations. Sadly, my German has been getting rustier by the year, so I doubt mein Abitur will be much use reading it auf Deutsch. Some info comes from a post on the Bioware forums regarding information in an overseas Xbox magazine, and the lack of deletion or denial of the post's contents suggests it's accurate.

Each area has realistic ecosystem with predators, prey, factions and quest/Inquisition expansion opportunities. Animals attack one another, bandits raid towns. Crafting and customising weapons (as mentioned previously) can be done, so hunting for furs and the like may very well help in this area. However, if you hunt a species to extinction then it either won't return to a given area or will take a long time to do so.

Speaking of customisation, it's possible that the Inquisition headquarters, and other keeps, will be customisable (this is beyond the previously mentioned decision of whether a keep focuses on commerce, military prowess or espionage).

I also read somewhere (and I can't find the article/video now, alas, so take this not so much with a pinch as a boulder of salt) that you will have to make special one-off decisions. For example, you might have to choose whether a certain keep researches a special sort of magic, or forging a new type of metal. You would only pick one and cannot change your mind. You'll have to make similar choices when playing the game (the well-known one about defending the village or your keep when both are under attack springs to mind). These choices will, we are told, have lasting consequences and could prevent you from doing a whole slew of quests (if you let loads of people die they won't be asking you to hunt chickens for them later on). I like the sound of it. It adds weight to choices and improves replayability.

New areas will be unlocked when the Inquisitor/Inquisition is strong enough (probably as basic as a certain level unlocking a given area, but it could also refer to keeps controlled, or suchlike). There will be five areas: Ferelden, the Free Marches, Orlais, Nevarra (east of Orlais), and the Dales (which lie to the west of Ferelden and south-east of Orlais).

It's nigh on certain we'll return to the Deep Roads, but can't say if it's Kal Sharok[sp] or Orzammar.

There are definitely giants (or giant bipedal tusked creatures) which look rather good. They appear similar to the cyclopes (plural of cyclops, not a typo) in Dragon's Dogma after a successful diet (or somewhat like Anima from FFX, but without all the bondage gear and bandages).

The Fade looks significantly different to the first two games, which I'm rather glad about. The Fade always made my eyes go a bit weird after a while, and I found it a bit tedious, but (visually at least) it seems to have been dramatically improved.

On that note, the graphics generally are a huge improvement, but we'll have to wait and see just how significant the PS3/PS4 difference is (I'll be buying for the PS3, but might well get an Ultimate edition [or whatever they call it] for the PS4).

It's been suggested that there will be two voice actors/actresses per gender. This has not been confirmed, nor is it known whether (if it's true) we get to pick our voice or if the voices are assigned to races and cannot be changed (except by racial selection). It's possible there will be a feature to alter the pitch of the protagonist's voice, to add a bit more customisation (this appears to be under consideration by Bioware, with no decision yet being made).

The Inquisitor will have a little prologue section, which it seems will deal with character creation. In addition, we'll be able to wear whatever armour we like, regardless of class (so you could have a warrior wearing a mage's robes). There may be penalties for having out-of-class clothing/armour.

We have a new companion confirmation: a bald elven mage called Solace or maybe Solas.

The Iron Bull, the Qunari chap we've seen a few times, has also been confirmed, but that was pretty much an open secret.

Last but not last is the elven archeress, Sera[sp]. That's six in total (as well as the three above we have Vivienne, and returning characters Cassandra and Varric). So far we have 2 each of rogues, mages and warriors, so I'd expect one more of each class.

To my immense surprise, and absolute approval, there will be no DLC companions. Even as someone near certain to preorder (and thus get a code to download said DLC character for free) I despise DLC companions. They're either good, in which case they should be included as standard, or rubbish, and therefore not worth having. So, huzzah for this unexpected decision!

Speaking of companions, Bioware are doing a feature called Followers Friday. Each month they'll reveal or post more information about a companion. The first, an introduction to Vivienne, is here:

There's also a suggestion, entirely unconfirmed, the game could be out in October. That's a shade later than the Q3 area mentioned previously, but it's better to get a game a day late than bang on time and in need of immediate patches to fix constant freezing *cough*Skyrim*cough*.

The Warden and Hawke may well make cameo appearances, but not as companions. Alistair will return. Unless he's dead. Well, maybe he could be a zombie.

There are a reported 40 endings. Now, given all the above info it's possible to see lots of variance (military, commercial and espionage approaches to the Inquisition, being brutal or merciful, siding with mages or Templars, being for or against Morrigan and so on) but 40 is a bloody huge number. I suspect much of that will be done the way Origins ended, with a few pictures stating that Bhelen was competent but an arse or Harrowmont was nice but useless.

I really like Dragon Age, and I've been looking forward to Inquisition for a while. Just about every bit of info released seems positive, and much has been in direct reaction to fan feedback after DA2. Hopefully it can come out more or less on schedule, because, if they deliver on the promise, it could be a fantastic RPG.


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Review: A Game of Battleships, by Toby Frost

A Game of Battleships is the fourth Space Captain Smith adventure, and sees the eponymous hero once again accompanied by his lunatic friend Suruk the Slayer, cowardly alcohol-enthusiast pilot Polly Carveth and love interest space hippy Rhianna.

The British Space Empire is seeking to sign a treaty so that the civilised races of the galaxy can stand together against the deranged forces of Ghast, New Edenites and Lemming-men. Unfortunately, the enemy has a seemingly unstoppable new battleship and are rather keen to use it...

The style of comedy is, as you would expect, in line with the first three books, and has many nods to the past and British stereotypes. My favourite new addition was undoubtedly the fairly brief appearance of a Hellfire space fighter's autopilot, who has all the restraint and serenity of a Klingon on crack.

There are occasional formatting issues (new paragraphs not indented) but these are minor and infrequent.

Although the enemies are not new, there is some new mockery of the EU and French, which (as one might expect) I rather liked. The spawn of Suruk (check the cover's lower left corner) are also a nice little addition.

It's an enjoyable read, and if you liked the earlier instalments (reviews/interviews here) then you'll like this. There will be at least one more Space Captain Smith book.