Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Dragon Age 3 speculation



Remember Dragon Age? The first game, Origins, was very rapidly followed by Dragon Age 2, but the third instalment (sub-titled Inquisition) has yet to emerge despite a lengthy wait.

Origins was widely praised and DA2 was less well-received. Thankfully, many of the problems with 2 (repetitive rooms being a big one) were clearly due to not having enough time. Given DA3 has had loads of time (it’s due out late this year, perhaps early next) this bodes well.

Before I get onto my own speculation, here’s a great video which runs down, concisely, what we know and probably know already. Some of it I was aware of it, other bits I was not (obviously the video and my own musings below will have some light spoilers):



I’d like to add a spot of speculation regarding companions. Now, Cassandra (inquisitor in DA2) was rumoured a while ago to be one. I’ve not heard anything since, but that’s a possibility, and I’d be very pleased were it to be the case. Leliana will almost certainly appear in the game (if you killed her in Origins it turns out her decapitation was merely a setback) but I personally doubt that she’ll be a companion.

It’s near certain that we’ll have party members who are elves/dwarves, and I hope we get a Qunari/Tal-Vashoth as well. The elves are going to be halfway between the humans with pointy ears of Origins and the, um, distinctive appearance they had in DA2 (just about all of them except Fenris and Merrill were ugly). Given the nature of the story (Chantry falling to bits, Templars and mages at one another’s throats and, I would guess, the Inquisition attempting to put everything back together) it seems probably that we’ll get a Templar party member (we’re near certain to have a couple of mages).

I’m not a fan of day one DLC, but I’d also suppose that Dragon Age will continue to have an extra party member as DLC (included as a pre-order bonus, as per Origins and DA2).

It’ll be interesting to see if we get a Mabari war hound as a full-blown companion, as a limited extra helper or not at all. I think it could work as a proper companion, but would need a far more substantial skill tree than in Origins.

I’m very pleased to hear about each piece of armour being personalised for each party member, allowing a persistent sense of identity/style without compromising customisation.

With all the news about the PS4 and the Xbox One EA has stated it’ll continue to support the Xbox 360 and PS3 for the next few years. This is good news, as we still don’t know what platforms DA3 will be released on. A dual generation release (PS3/Xbox 360 and PS4/Xbox One) seems entirely possible.

Excepting The Last Of Us, out in a little over a fortnight, there aren’t any other games that really have my interest at this stage. Hopefully DA3 will be out later this year.

Thaddeus



Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Console Wars: and the loser is…



A new console generation is more or less upon us. Ho hum.

Here’s a quick rundown of the state of play, which is mostly a list of console-makers getting things wrong:

Nintendo

The Wii-U has been out for a while, but has several issues. Firstly, the marketing was rubbish and almost nobody realises it’s actually a new console, not just a Wii with an extra letter at the end.

Perhaps because nobody noticed it (and it has correspondingly poor sales) fewer developers are making games for it, which has the obvious knock-on effect of making people less likely to buy it. EA did say, a year or two ago, that they would have an unprecedented approach to making games for the Wii-U, although at present ‘unprecedented’ appears to mean they’re not making any.

Sony

The PS4 is out later this year, probably, and Sony has probably cocked up the least of the consoles. Yes, there’s a stupid ‘share’ button because firms seem to think that everybody both has Facebook/Twitter and wants to share their experiences of gaming on such social media, but that’s mostly it.

There’s no backwards compatibility, which is rubbish, and also perplexing. If consoles were consistently backwards compatible it would really help Sony or Microsoft to keep people hooked into their systems, because you’d have a massive back catalogue of games and you’d be able to play them on a new console, preventing the ridiculous situation of either throwing out your old consoles/games or having an ever-increasing number of consoles.

This isn’t a Sony-only problem, but it is the biggest mistake they’ve made. (So far. They haven’t revealed the console itself, but it’d be surprising if it were wildly different in size than recent consoles).

Xbox

They’ve made some very brave decisions. First off, no backwards compatibility. This is rubbish, but as the PS4 is the same that’s not going to shift or shed sales either way.

The name Xbox One is stupid. How do you go from Xbox to Xbox 360 to Xbox One? Not serious, just innumerate.

Then there’s the always-online rumour. That turned out to be false, but only just. Xbox One as a console won’t need to be constantly online to function, but games-makers can make their individual games work that way. Depressingly, Microsoft has stated it will ‘encourage’ them to do so. Apparently the firm thinks many users actually want this. It would be fascinating to know if this is plain old bullshit or whether the upper echelons of the organisation are so far removed from reality they actually think that’s the case.

So, some games will need a constant internet connection, and some won’t. It’s hard to see how the percentages will stack up either way, but it’s immensely stupid and counter-productive. If you live somewhere with an imperfect internet connection this can and will bugger up your games, if you’re a big Xbox fan. If you live somewhere with no internet connection (*gasp!*) you might as well not bother. You can either play on Xbox with a limited range of games, or play on the PS4.

Bad news, poor people. Lots of people, realising that certain games are destined for massive sales and a fairly rapid price drop, deliberately avoid buying them at release. They then wait a few months, maybe a year, and buy the same game for half the price. It’s a clever and simple strategy if you’re a gamer but not a very wealthy one. This hasn’t been completely confirmed, but the rumour mill is now suggesting that there could be a fee for pre-owned games.

The story is this: games can be run without a disc by installing the whole game to the hard drive. Except, this means individuals could band together, have one member buy a given game, and then share it around so everyone can install it. (Of course, you could stick to the old system whereby you need a disc to play the game… but never mind). So, they’ll tie each individual game to each individual console/hard drive.

If the disc is attempted to be used on a different account (NB in the same console as the first or a different one) then a fee may be charged. Obviously, clarity on this issue is needed, but the very fact fees for pre-owned games are being discussed is not good publicity for Microsoft. “Too poor to spend £40 at release? Then we’ll charge you a fee for buying a cheap pre-owned game! Mwahahaha!”

Oh, and apparently the Kinect camera will always be on.

Now, the Xbox One will apparently have some new options regarding TV-streaming or the like. But guess what? I don’t need that. I already have a television. The ability to watch TV on my TV is not something I need a console for.

Maybe that would appeal to people who are very casual gamers and like integrated systems, but given the intensely stupid game-related decisions I think the people happiest with this reveal will be Sony. By dint of only making one idiotic choice (no backwards compatibility) the PS4 is already well ahead of the Xbox One.

And here’s a telling piece of info. Since the Xbox reveal Microsoft’s share price was down half a percent. Sony’s was up 9%.

Thaddeus



Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Retro-review: Worms Armageddon (Playstation)



I was looking through an old CD storage tower and came across a few Playstation games. Vagrant Story, Civilization II, Metal Gear Solid and Worms Armageddon were the stand out ones.

Whilst I enjoyed games like Worms and Lemmings I was never a proper fan, but I remembered liking Armageddon and thought I’d give it a crack. I put together team Bane (Horst, Rufus, Lucia and Urquhart) and dove in.

It was the most fun I’ve had for ages.

Yes, the graphics are old, but it really doesn’t matter, and no, I don’t care that the world is 2-dimensional. This game is all about the gameplay, and that is bloody excellent. It’s as accessible as Lego, but there’s still an element of challenge, particularly when you get to the higher ranks in Deathmatch (at the moment Bane are Highly Distinguished). Firing off a shot that perfectly uses the wind, bagging multiple kills at once (I love the Holy Hand Grenade) and even cocking up massively are all hilariously fun.

There’s a really good range of standard weapons, with one special extra per team and others floating down from the sky. Some get more use than others, of course, and some have unlimited ammunition (bazookas and grenades, for example), but in the last week or two I’ve probably used a good 80-90% of those that are available.

There’s a plethora of accents available for the Worms (I remembered Angry Scots was especially good and switched straight to that), which is a nice touch.

There’s actually a Worms Collection out for the PS3 (and Xbox360) for under £15 which includes Worms Armageddon, Worms and Worms: Ultimate Mayhem. If you’ve never played a Worms game I’d strongly recommend buying it and you’ll soon be cackling with delight.

Thaddeus


 

Friday, 10 May 2013

Getting the blurb right



The 'blurb' is the name given to the fairly short description of a book that the publisher/author writes.

It's hard to quantify how important the blurb is for attracting new readers, but I do think it matters quite a lot. When I'm considering buying books I usually check the blurb before reviews, and, whilst a description's unlikely to immediately persuade me to buy a book, a bad one (or one which paints a picture I dislike) could put me off.

For Bane of Souls, my first book, I had one put together but had to mangle it a little so that it would fit within the character count (Smashwords has two lengths, 400 characters and another which I think is unlimited).

Here's what I came up with:
"The trade festival of Mascezad is normally a time of plenty for Horst and his trader uncle, but when they visit Highford Horst finds himself conscripted by the city’s mages. Unable to return to his own people and abandoned by his uncle, his fortunes go from bad to worse when he discovers that the city is being terrorised by a spate of murders, and the killer has a particular taste for dead mages…"

I think the painting of the premise is sound, and the ending's nice, but the start could be rather hookier. Primacy and recency effects are something authors should consider for their books as a whole and also for the blurb in particular. Essentially, people pay most attention to the last and the first things that they hear or read. That's not to say the middle's unimportant (if the middle of a book is rubbish the end won't be reached) but that more weight is given to the beginning and end.

Because I tried to get some of the donkey work for Journey to Altmortis done ahead of time I wrote the blurb (a few versions) prior to releasing the book. I found it quite useful to check some bestsellers (I looked at books by Joe Abercrombie, George RR Martin and Scott Lynch) to see if any patterns emerged from the way they'd written theirs.

Happily, there were some pretty basic lessons to learn.

1) Have a hooky start. A single line can work well, something to pique the interest of the potential reader.

2) Have a dangling question/precarious situation at the end. Again, a single line can work or it can be a smidgen longer. This should try and make the reader wonder how the storyline of the book develops beyond the basic premise. And, whilst not essential, an ellipsis can be a good way to end…

3) Concisely set up the premise in between the hooky start and hooky end. If there's no overriding protagonist then this might explain the world/general situation, but if the story revolves around an individual or group it should probably focus on them. Don't try and explain too much. If you have a character limit then that'll be impossible anyway, and even if you don't an info-dump probably isn't the way to go. It's all about the basic premise of the plot, and trying to make it interesting. Spoilers can sometimes be tricky (Bane of Souls was especially hard in this regard because the plot is quite twisty and I didn't want to give anything away). I'd guess a good rule of thumb would be that anything in the first few chapters can be given away (it'll fall within the sample section anyway) but later stuff should be kept hidden.

4) Quotes from reviews can be a nice addition, but ask permission first. For the Amazon release I included a couple of quotes from reviews (with permission). Obviously if you happen to have one from a big organisation (say, a national newspaper) or a big name author that's the best.

Enticing readers can be tricky, and the blurb can work well. Or, it can put off readers if it's written badly. Here’s the Amazon.co.uk longer blurb:
“Never steal from a thief.

Years ago the Brothers Whitworth stole priceless heirlooms from Thaddeus and Lynette Falchester, but when the siblings learn of their whereabouts the hunt is on. The Whitworths have broken into the dead city of Altmortis, rumoured to hold the ancient treasures of the Kuhrland.

Accompanied by assorted ne'er-do-wells, they brave the harsh Kuhrisch winter, a forest dripping with blood and a village of monstrous demons to reach the remote city.

But when Thaddeus and Lynette delve into the depths of Altmortis they find more than robbers lurking in the shadows…

What reviewers said about Bane of Souls, the first novel by Thaddeus White:
"An excellent Fantasy Novel… As a read it is fast paced, fun and entertaining. What more could you want?" - Perpetual Man (Goodreads and Amazon)

"I hear tell from the author that the next book will have a lot of focus on the Kuhrisch, so I will definitely be checking that out. For this one? 4 stars." - Bella at Boom Baby Reviews”

Incidentally, as well as Smashwords and Amazon, Journey to Altmortis is now out at Diesel, where you get $0.50 (apparently) for writing a review, cutting the price to effectively $2.49.

The XK87G code (for use at Smashwords) expires on 14 May 2013, and cuts the price there from $2.99 to $1.02. It’s been granted premium status at the site, which means it’ll be (over the coming days and weeks) shipped to a variety of online retailers.

Thaddeus





Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Journey to Altmortis is now up on Amazon



Yes, the little delay is over and I’m delighted to say that Journey to Altmortis, a tale of plunder and revenge, is now out on Amazon (I believe it’s only the Anglophone sites right now, but non-English sites should follow in the next day or two).

The price tag is an incredibly low $2.99 (£1.98), although I would remind readers that until the 14th if you buy through Smashwords and use the code XK87G you can get it for a positively criminal $1.02.

So, please do buy it, tell your friends, tweet, rate and review it.

I also hope you like the map, which proved a bit fiddly to put in, but next time (well, the time after next, the comedy will probably not have one) it should be much easier. A bigger version can be found on my website under the Artwork tab (http://thaddeuswhite.weebly.com/artwork.html). Click on them for an enormous version. (I did the map almost entirely myself, but I must thank Yoong, my cover artist, who helped out with the background).

Word of mouth and reviewing books really helps authors, both in terms of getting noticed and finding out what people like and didn’t like.

Although I obviously enjoy reading positive reviews more than negative ones, when people raise areas for improvement that hopefully means I’ll be able to take their thoughts on board and make the next book(s) better.

Thaddeus




Monday, 6 May 2013

Journey to Altmortis is now on sale!



Yes, you lucky people, Journey to Altmortis has been released extra early. Admittedly, that’s because my computer may explode at any second and I’d rather willingly publish early than be forced to delay, but it still means you get to enjoy my second book (also stand-alone).

It’s only on Smashwords at the moment but the site offers a wide variety of formats and, if you use the code XK87G the already low price tag of $2.99 will tumble to a positively criminal $1.02.

The code expires on the 14th, so don’t dally.

 
After much fiddling, the Amazon version is in the pipeline (it takes a while to be verified) and the Smashwords version should be shipped off to numerous other retailers as time progresses.

So, please do buy a copy, and if you like it why not write a review or rate the book, and emotionally blackmail everyone you’ve ever met into doing likewise suggest buying it to your friends and family?

To whet your appetite, here’s the description:
Never steal from a thief.

Years ago the Brothers Whitworth stole priceless heirlooms from Thaddeus and Lynette Falchester, but when the siblings learn of their whereabouts the hunt is on. The Whitworths have broken into the dead city of Altmortis, rumoured to hold the ancient treasures of the Kuhrland.

Accompanied by assorted ne'er-do-wells, they brave the harsh Kuhrisch winter, a forest dripping with blood and a village of monstrous demons to reach the remote city.

But when Thaddeus and Lynette delve into the depths of Altmortis they find more than robbers lurking in the shadows…

Thaddeus



Thursday, 2 May 2013

Review: The Burning of Cherry Hill, by AK Butler



This was Book of the Month over at the Indie Book Club on Goodreads. Not fantasy, but dystopian/sci-fi. It's slightly out of my usual genre, but I've read 1984 and Brave New World, (and have read a little about Iron Heel and We), so I didn't feel lost by the dystopian approach.

The first person protagonist is Zay, a teenager. He and his sister, Lina, are growing up on Block Island, which is a low tech but rather charming place. But it does not stay that way for long. An invading force brutalises their parents and kidnaps the children. They're taken to the mainland and placed into a seemingly civilised adoption system.

The culture shock of shifting from a world with practically no technology to a high tech (22nd century) city is immense, and coincides with the emotional shock of losing their parents. At first the world seems rather well-ordered and civilised, but the fa├žade does not last long.

The writing style is generally easy to read, and the world is well-constructed. Unlike some dystopian books (1984 and Brave New World both fall into this trap) the characters are actually of some interest rather than being mere vehicles by which to give the reader a tour of the horrible world.

After an initial speedy start I felt that the first half of the book could have been paced a bit faster. In addition, one aspect of the plot felt a bit too obvious. However, after the halfway point the pace picked up significantly, and then increased again nearer the end.

About 80% into the book I had a feeling for how the ending was going to go, but turned out to be wrong (in a good way). The ending fits the world/plot very well.

I'm not a fan of book ratings because what might be awful for one person might be minor for another, and likewise for good stuff, so I prefer to go without them usually. However, for books I read as part of the Book of a Month I'm intending to rate them on Goodreads. Cherry Hill falls slap in the middle of the 4 star bracket. I'd like the first half to be faster, but the ending is good, the second half is nice and rapid, and the world is well-constructed.

So, if you're into dystopia or want to try something new, why not give The Burning of Cherry Hill a crack?

Thaddeus