Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lost in Shadow, Ghost Trick, and Being Human  

Games: I’ve called it quits on Lost in Shadow (Wii) and submitted a review. It should be up at GameCritics soon, and it's not a positive one.

While I think the premise of playing as a shadow is strong, the developers completely squander its potential by creating a repetitive, tedious and sickeningly bloated platformer that would have easily run on the Genesis or SNES. I say this not to slander the 16-bit era, but rather to point out that the developers have utterly failed to capitalize on the strongest asset this title possesses, and instead offer something that feels incredibly dated and bereft of creativity.

Countless titles have come and gone since those golden days, and Hudson seems to have ignored nearly all the innovations and leaps forward since that time. Great idea, terrible game.


In more positive news, I started playing Ghost Trick (DS) yesterday, and it's absolutely fantastic.

Being the immense Phoenix Wright fan that I am, I had high hopes that Shu Takumi’s new work would be of a similar quality, and I was not disappointed. While the concept of playing a ghost that can possess inanimate objects has been done before (anyone remember Geist on the GameCube?) it's never been done as well or as stylishly as it is here.

The graphics and animation are top-notch, the writing is clever, and the gameplay feels fresh, engaging, and new. Controlling a disembodied spirit that navigates each level by jumping from object to object is quite entertaining, and the time-travel-to-change-destiny mechanic is pulled off admirably.

I have nothing but praise for Ghost Trick so far, and I'm loving every minute of it. If you haven't checked it out yet, do so now.


TV: The string of UK programs viewed at my house continues. This week, the wife and I started Being Human… although, how we began this show was a little unusual.

I had heard of the series for quite a while, and the basic concept of a vampire, werewolf and ghost living together in an apartment was weird enough to get my attention right off the bat. However, we never got around to watching it for one reason or another, until this week. The twist is that this show was adapted for the SyFy network, and is currently airing in the United States with a completely different cast and altered storyline.

We had no idea whether the US or UK version was better, so we decided to watch the first episode of each before committing to the rest of the series.

The US cast - Werewolf, Vampire, Ghost.
We started with the Americanized SyFy version first. It got off to a bit of cheesy start, and in general it was dark and had something of a grim tone to it. It certainly wasn't bad, but I don't think either the wife or I felt an immediate connection to it.

The next night, we watched the UK version and it was quite interesting to see (basically) the same material interpreted in completely different fashion.

The UK cast - Vampire, Werewolf, Ghost
The UK episode didn't have the same dark, violent streak and had quite a bit more humor… nothing slapstick, just a natural amiability of the characters. Despite being lighter, I think we both agreed that this version didn't have the same cheese factor. Also, when the episode began, we both bought into it immediately, and the way the director established events felt very natural and free-flowing.

The final deciding factor was the cast.

Between the US and UK actors, we both strongly preferred the UK folk. A large part of that probably had to do with the material they had to work with, but the UK version’s werewolf (Russell Tovey) was an instantly-likable nerdtastic goofball, and the UK ghost (Lenora Crichlow) was written in more relaxed fashion… she was able to touch other people and interact with physical objects, while the US version was not. It may seem like a small thing, but to me it said that the writers were more interested in focusing on the character rather than establishing a set of rigid rules that might hamper development later on. Of course, I could be completely wrong, but that was my general first impression.

As you probably guessed by now, we decided to commit to the UK version of the show, and we proceeded to watch the next two episodes as well. So far, we haven't been disappointed...

Being Human (UK): RECOMMENDED.

Being Human (US): TBD.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Interview with: Ethan Nicolle, Co-Creator of Axe Cop  

Comics: The last time I was at my local comic shop, a new collection titled “Axe Cop” caught my eye.

I didn't know anything about it and had never heard of it, but the person at the counter explained the interesting story behind its creation. That hooked me, but I also have to admit that I'm a sucker for stories which include babies with unicorn horns. Since there’s one prominently featured on the cover, what else could I do but buy it?

Suffice it to say, I thought the read was incredibly entertaining. I devoured the entire thing in one sitting and was left wanting more.

As luck would have it, one half of the comic’s creative team caught wind of some positive comments I made about the book on Twitter. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, artist/co-creator Ethan Nicolle was graciously granting me this interview…


Thanks very much for speaking with me, Ethan. So, to start, can you briefly describe how Axe Cop came into being?

The Axe Cop saga began on a Christmas visit to see my family. My father, a man with very healthy loins, has managed to produce a variety of children, ranging from me, a 29 year old comic book artist, to my 5 year old brother Malachai, a 5 year old boy genius, with four other siblings in between.

During the visit Malchai was running around with his toy fireman axe and he said he was playing "Axe Cop." He asked me to play with him, and I asked what my weapon was... so he brought me a toy flute (actually a recorder). I told him I would rather be Axe Cop than Flute Cop, and he seemed just fine with being Flute Cop. The story that followed became more and more brilliant, until I couldn't contain myself and I had to draw the whole thing into a one page comic.

From there the saga continued, and over the course of my week-long visit we cranked out the first four episodes of Axe Cop. I posted the comics to my blog and on Facebook and they got great responses. I decided to give Axe Cop a home on the internet here and attempt to continue the saga as often as I have time to draw them, and I can get Malachai to write them.

The writing process is basically just me quizzing Malachai as he develops the saga. I'll just try to pry all the details out of him and write them all down until something like a complete little story has been formed. Everything in Axe Cop started in Malachai's head, all I do is sort it out and draw it.

When was the moment you realized that Axe Cop was more than just something for your own amusement?

When it went viral just over a year ago. I knew my friends found it funny, and I knew my family loved it, but I in no way saw it ever becoming something I would do enough to collect into a graphic novel except maybe way down the road after lots more Christmas visits with Malachai. I assumed what I was making was funny to me because I am partial and I love my brother. When it got the amazing reaction it did, I was sort of shocked. I also didn't think that it could last very long. I thought the joke would wear off quick, but it's been fascinating to watch Axe Cop grow up and change as Malachai does the same, and the character development is unlike anything I have ever seen, because we are really watching Malachai develop through Axe Cop.

I fell into it and I would be just as skeptical of it as anyone who thinks a comic with a story by a 5 year old can't be that great if I wasn't experiencing it first hand. I also did not think it was a new or original idea, I thought someone must have tried making a comic with a 5 year old writing it at some point, I figured it just didn't work out. I'm glad I did it, and really glad I posted it online.

In the Axe Cop collection, you make a few references to people that didn't think too highly of the collaboration with your brother. Did that become a big problem, or were those people in the minority? How does your own family feel about it now?

It does seem to be a minority. I don't get much grief for Axe Cop. You have to be a real curmudgeon to sit there and criticize the writing of a five year old, and the people who really do it only embarrass themselves.

I don't think Axe Cop is made specifically for people who love comics. It is made for people who love kids. If you hate kids and love comics you probably don't like Axe Cop. There are some people who fit that description, but what is amazing is the people who will read Axe Cop cover to cover who are totally not into comics. Old people, little kids, all sorts of people are fascinated by it, because it's interesting to see where Malachai's brain will take things.

This is Wexter.
Who is Malachai’s favorite character, who’s yours, and why?

I am pretty sure Wexter is Malachai's favorite. When he created Axe Cop he didn't even realize he was creating a character. He just wanted to play cops with me, but the nearest toy was a toy axe, so he asked if I wanted to play "Axe Cop". With Wexter he had created a few comics and had gotten the hang of the idea that he was getting to create characters and see them sort of come to life, so he really focused his kid-chi and went all out on Wexter. He really is the coolest pet ever. For me, it's Axe Cop. I love always trying to guess how he will solve a problem or deal with a situation. Sockarang is a close second. He's so hideous and weird, yet lovable.

Axe Cop does some pretty crazy things, but have there ever been some story bits or action sequences you felt were too bizarre or went too far in a weird direction to make it into the strip?

Malachai will be in silly mode where he just kills off all the characters or makes them all poop or fart nonstop. I just let him get it out of his system and go along with it. Usually he takes it back eventually anyway, especially when he realizes that the comic will be read by his parents and those kind of jokes are a no-no. I let him make them because I am his brother, not his Dad, but I'm selective in the ones I actually use.

In general, writing Axe Cop is brainstorming with Malachai, so he often gives me alternate choices to work with when I go through all his ideas and piece them together. One of the funnest challenges in making Axe Cop is taking some of his really bizarre ideas and trying to render them into something coherent.

Is there anyone in comics that you or Malachai would like to collaborate with in the future? Also, does Malachai see a future for himself in comics?

I'd love to see Axe Cop take on Godzilla, team up with The Tick or Batman, or the Ninja Turtles. There are a lot of funny possible team ups. I think the more serious the character, the better. That is one reason I am loving the Bat Warthog man storyline because Bat Warthog man is a sort of Batman parody and I like putting Axe Cop in that world.

Malachai has shown interest in writing comics when he grows up, but in general he does not see himself as a writer, he just likes to play. He never actually writes any of this down. We play or talk on the phone and I take all the notes, organize it into an outline and make it into a comic. Really, he is being a normal 6 year old. I'm just being a weird 30 year old.

Axe Cop started when your brother was five. How old is Malachai now, and what does he think of the entire Axe Cop phenomena now that some time has gone by?

He is six, but he will be seven on March 6th. We do kind of get into a routine now, and I think that when he is watching movies and playing video games he will get ideas for Axe Cop and call me up. He was on a How to Train Your Dragon kick and he called me up super excited. That is where the whole Dragony Dragon Witch portion of the Ultimate Battle came from. Malachai is not as interested in the Axe Cop phenomenon as he is just playing. Talking about Axe Cop is basically talking about what it's like to be six. That is a really boring topic for a six year old. He likes playing Axe Cop, but talking about it bores him.

So you just put out a collection with Dark Horse comics and the website is going strong. What’s next for Axe Cop? Plush toys? A movie? World domination?

Lots of possibilities and a few things I wish I could say but we still have paperwork to sign. There has been a good amount of TV, movie and video game interest. We've got interest in the realm of board games, card games, costumes, toys and other things like that too. The big next thing is the miniseries Dark Horse is releasing starting on March 2. It is a three-part full color miniseries called Bad Guy Earth and it's print-exclusive, so it won't be online. I think it's the best Axe Cop story yet.

Since you mentioned it, what would the ideal Axe Cop videogame be like?

I think a beat'em up like Castle Crashers would be amazing, but the universe of Axe Cop opens itself up to all sorts of possibilities. I think a GTA type game set in Axe Cop's universe would be amazing. There are also so many characters that some sort of tournament fighter would be fun too. I want to make them all. Malachai says the name of the Axe Cop video game would be "Axe Cop VS. Evil".

[Interviewer's note - world exclusive announcement. You heard it here first, folks.]

Do you plan to do something along these lines for your own children (if and/or when you may have some) for publication or even just privately?

If it works out, I would love to. Axe Cop happened organically, so I wouldn't want to try to force my kid to fill his/her uncle Malachai's shoes, but I do often think I need to hurry up and get a kid so that I have a new writer when Malachai outgrows Axe Cop.

I imagine Malachi is in school, but what's keeping you busy when not working on Axe Cop?

Axe Cop keeps me plenty busy. Just finished the Bad Guy Earth miniseries, and we are planning more books and content. I also am planning on getting another comic rolling soon.

Open mic. Anything you’d like to say to the readers, or any current projects you want to pimp?

The project I was working on before Axe Cop took over my life is a comic called Bearmageddon. It is a comedy/action/horror about bears taking over the world. I plan on releasing it as a web comic series within the next couple months. My plan is to release a couple pages of Bearmageddon and Axe Cop each week. I don't have a set date, but now that I've finished Bad Guy Earth I want to get Bearmageddon rolling, but keep Axe Cop alive as well.


Infinite thanks to Ethan Nicolle for taking the time out to speak with me about Axe Cop.

If you'd like to read it on paper, the recent collected volume is published by Dark Horse Comics and should be available at all finer comic shops near you. If you can't wait until a physical copy is in your hands, you can click on over to the Axe Cop website and check out all of the online episodes right now. Tell ‘em I sent you! Also, a special thanks to Stephen McCall for contributing questions.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Guest Blog by Anton Strout: Writing In Games by a Writer Who Games  


Games (and also) Writing: Although I don't often have guest bloggers here at Coffeecola, I really enjoy it when I do.

Tonight is one of those times.

Returning for a second round of sounding off is Urban Fantasy author extraordinaire, Anton Strout. His cult favorite Simon Canderous series is going strong, with the most recent entry (titled Dead Waters) about to be released in two days. If you haven't checked out his books, I would strongly urge you to do so -- if you read this blog and enjoy it, the odds are that you'll enjoy Anton’s work as well.

(…And for the sake of convenience, here are links to the first three books in the series: Dead to Me, Deader Still, and Dead Matter.)

Without further ado, here's what Anton has to say on the subject of storylines in games…


Anton here.

Once again, Brad Gallaway (and have graciously yielded their floor to me.

As Brad mentioned above, I’m a writer with book four in my Simon Canderous series (entitled Dead Waters, just out) but I am also a gamer. The author bio at the back of the book reads:

In his scant spare time, he is a writer, a sometimes actor, sometimes musician, occasional RPGer, and the world’s most casual and controller-smashing videogamer.”

Part of me admittedly smashes the occasional controller because of my frantic button mashing approach, but there are a lot of specific parts in a game that can drive me to Hulk-like rage as well. Given my career as a writer, it’s probably not too surprising that I pay attention to the writing in games, above all other aspects.

When the writing is great, it’s great, and it really sticks with me even years after playing:

Metal Gear Solid has long cutscenes, but also has great characters, memorable exchanges, and it actually tried to have a message to it.

Fatal Frame - scary Japanese ghost storytelling that is right up there in the creep factor alongside films such as The Grudge and The Ring.

The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time - the first game to make me both cry over Link’s loss of childhood and laugh as rocky King Goron danced to Link playing his tune on the ocarina.

Even Katamari Damacy, simple as it was, fit the game style, with the puny prince constantly trying to please the demanding, lovable whack-job King of the Cosmos.

All those stories brought plot and character to games alongside great play mechanics and helped create a totally pleasurable experience. Then there are a different group of games that stick out for their stories, but for all the wrong reasons. That’s where I think the bulk of my controller smashing happens.

It would be easy to pick on movie games here, but I thought instead I’d talk about two franchises that have both slowly driven me mad over the years, each with their own problems, but both causing the writer vein in my forehead to pop out.

I was never much of a driving game fan growing up, but when the original Driver: You Are The Wheelman! came out, I really liked what it initially brought to the table as far as game mechanics, but something always bothered me—the premise.

You play Tanner, an undercover cop, which apparently is enough to make all the rest of your behavior throughout the games a-okay. The amount of carnage, property damage, homicide, and vehicular manslaughter I perpetrated in the name of keeping my cover as a good cop should really have earned me several life sentences.

It just didn’t make sense in the grand scheme of the story, and in direct reaction, I think that’s where my growing love of Grand Theft Auto was able to swoop in and really dominate my soul.

In GTA3, you were unapologetically a criminal, and knowing that, it was easy to build a compelling storyline, unlike Driver where every action went against the very premise of who you were supposed to be. As the Driver franchise switched from house to house, they really tried to change up their game to keep up, but to me all future efforts felt forced and never quite reclaimed a place in my heart.

However, the series that I think could use the most help in the writing department is one that I loved at first… the Fable franchise, in particular Fable 2 and 3.

Now I have long had a love/hate relationship with Lionhead Studios and its god-emperor Peter Molyneux. While a legend in the field, he’s also an innovator whose excitement over his own ideas often kneecaps building a compelling game in the end. I keep hoping the Fable games will rally and get better, but more the fool me for keeping hope alive; his game-to-game implementation of new mechanics hamstrings the amazing tales he professes to bring us.

The part where the Fable franchise really falls apart is a huge story event in Fable 2, where you spend ten years as a prisoner in the big tower of evil before breaking free and returning to Albion.

I was kind of excited when it first happened. You see, during all my play time, I was building up my property investments, making money on all my properties and shops, so during my decade away, I was thinking “man, I am going to have so much waiting for me when I return!” So I went home… and my children had grown up (which was a nice touch) although nothing ultimately came of that.

As for my cash? Not a dime had been earned in that time, with no explanation. When your story and game mechanics do not jive, when they seem to be fighting against each other… this tends to make me throw my controller or stop playing. So, I put it aside and never looked back.

But once again, Peter Molyneux got all excitable when he started talking about Fable 3, and fool that I am, I got excited and picked it up.

Again, the story is a bit by the numbers and a bit lacking: ain’t-it-hard-to-be-king? (Not really, it turns out, thanks to new but busted innovation mechanic!). It’s a shame because there are real moments in the franchise that I love, like a miniature D&D game you get shrunk down into, but I find those moments fewer and farther apart with each passing addition to the series.

I understand part of the dilemma in building a game. I imagine the story and dialogue have to be locked in fairly early from a design perspective, but I think designers would do well to get some seasoned fantasy writers to come in and consult on the early phases of scripting. I really do think it would result in a better game play experience all around. So much goes into the gameplay mechanics, but I’d love to see the story aspects as less of an afterthought as they generally seem now.

So here’s hoping that game studios continue giving the writing in games the attention it deserves. I mean, I really would like to take “controller-smashing video gamer” out of my author bio at some point, you know?


Infinite thanks go to Anton Strout for contributing this piece, and if you are of the persuasion, please check out his upcoming book Dead Waters, or hey, his whole series for that matter.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite - Finished.  


Games: I announced this on twitter a couple of days ago, but it was such a milestone for me that I felt like a little micro-commemoration here at the blog would be appropriate.

The big event?

I finally finished the single-player campaign in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite on PSP.

Yian Kut-Ku
The thing that makes this such an accomplishment for me (to start with) the game is absolutely huge. I never would have expected a PSP game to be so deep and expansive, but it's larger than a lot of console games I've played. It's also significantly larger than Monster Hunter Tri on the Wii. In fact, I've heard there's something like a total of 400 missions (or thereabouts) in MHFU, and although I haven't verified that personally, I wouldn't be surprised at all if that was true.

The second thing that was a challenge is that the game is structured somewhat like an inverted pyramid. Well, that's how I envision it, anyway.

When a player first starts out, it doesn't take very many materials to craft weapons and armor, and most of the opposition creatures are relative pushovers. As the game progresses, it takes more effort to craft the gear needed to survive, and the bosses turn into death-dealing hellions. That's generally the norm for games anyway, but Monster Hunter takes it a bit further. As a means of illustration, it took me about two days of playing in order to collect enough materials to craft the weapon that I eventually finished the game with, and that's not counting the time invested for the armor I was wearing.

Daimyo Hermitaur
Those two factors were significant, but the final obstacle was by far the most problematic -- the camera.

Since there's only one analog nub on a PSP, camera control is mapped to the D-pad. The game offers a snap-behind camera function with the click of a shoulder button, but this is only workable on the easiest missions. Later monsters are so quick and so powerful that they have to be kept in view at all times. Losing sight of them for even a moment usually equals death.

The answer to this camera issue? “The claw”; a technique of keeping the left thumb on the nub and the left index finger on the D-pad.

The claw starts out feeling quite awkward and equally uncomfortable, and to be honest it made me quit the game for a few months out of frustration. I eventually came back and learned to perform the claw so effortlessly that I forgot I was even doing it, but it still took a lot of dedication and remains a sub-par solution the game's most crucial problem. To say that I'm looking forward to the NGP’s dual nub setup for Monster Hunter Portable 3rd is a massive understatement.

So, with all that said, the fact is that I still found the game to be compelling, exciting, and (yes) addicting enough to stick with it in the face of adversity and persevere for 239 hours and 45 minutes of the single-player adventure. This was the longest amount of time I've ever spent on a singleplayer campaign, but I did it.

(I also logged about 35 hours of co-op with my son, to boot.)

I'm sure that if I started a new game from scratch, I’d be able to whip through things in a much shorter period of time, but I don't think I did so bad. I've seen some people who've logged times in the neighborhood of 500-700 hours, and while I'm sure a lot of that is attributed to noodling around in the game’s upper-level G-Rank difficulties, I'm still going to say that 239 wasn't bad for a first time through.

For those that are curious, here’s my info as of finishing off the final campaign mission:

Hidden Stinger Lance

Gravios S Armor, full Blademaster set

Gem Skills: Defense +40, Guard +1

Attack: 437 (+50% Affinity)

Defense: 445

Guild Points: 26,582

In terms of items, I had 20 Mega Potions, 5 Mega Juices, 2 Mega Demondrugs, 2 Mega Armorskins, 1 Ancient Potion, 5 Flash Bombs, 5 Cool Drinks, 20 Whetstones… and that was about it. I didn't even use everything that I brought, so although the Mega Potions and Mega Juice (for Stamina) were great, a lot of the stuff I was lugging around ended up being unnecessary.

So, now that I've seen credits roll, what next?

Well, there's still a ton of content I haven't even seen and I could easily put another 200 hours into the game if I wanted to, but I decided to put it aside so I can focus on other things for review. However, as you might have guessed from the statement above, my son (age 9) is every bit as addicted to hunting monsters as I am. I have a feeling that when he comes back out to stay with me for spring break, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite will find its way back into my PSP for another round of co-op…


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dead Island, Some Links, Monster Tale, and Doctor Who Xmas  


Games: The hottest thing off the presses today was the teaser trailer for an upcoming zombie-fest called Dead Island.

There's not a lot of specific info on it at the moment, but from what I can gather, it's a first-person melee-heavy game. Apparently, players take on the role of a person vacationing on a tropical island which becomes overrun with the undead, and developers Techland (Nail’d) are aiming for quasi-realism by not giving the player tons of firepower.

I have a sneaking feeling that a certain ginger-tinged PR rep over at SouthPeak will have quite a bit to say about Dead Island in the very near future, but the meantime, check out the provocatively poignant video. You may even want to watch it twice.


In case you haven't voted yet, click on over to this site and cast your ballot for which games will be featured in the Smithsonian museum’s upcoming videogame exhibit. There are quite a few unconventional choices, and visitors to the site are asked to choose one title out of a cluster of three or four. Many of the clusters are no-brainers, but there are a few which are nearly impossible to decide on -- it's a fun problem to have.


Apparently this animated video criticizing Nintendo (in Silent Hill style, no less) made the rounds a while ago, but I somehow overlooked it. It's brilliant, sick and twisted, and a definite must-see. Big thanks to @iwatttfodiwwfa for hipping me to it.


If you love the DS’s Henry Hatsworth the way I love Henry Hatsworth (and by god, do I love Henry Hatsworth) you want to make sure to add Monster Tale to your list of titles to keep an eye on.

I'm a little hazy on specifics at the moment, but it seems to be a mash-up of platformer/pet sim. While that may seem a little bizarre, given how spectacular Hatsworth’s platformer/puzzle mash-up turned out, I'm more than willing to give developers DreamRift (formerly of EA Tiburon) the benefit of the doubt. Props to @NaviFairyGG for reminding me that this title existed.


TV: As of last night, the wife and I got completely caught up on our Doctor Who. Well, the new series, anyway. We still haven't touched any of the old stuff yet... Anyway, the last thing we needed to check off our list was the 2010 Christmas episode, and it did not disappoint.

While it was essentially a retelling of A Christmas Carol (you know, Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim and all that) Matt Smith gave a fantastic performance as the Doctor, and the plot made great use of the show's time travel element.

My favorite episodes of Who are ones where the writers really capitalize on the ability of the TARDIS to jump back and forth in the timeline of the universe. It may seem a bit strange, but I don't think that many of the episodes really do; rather, it seems more often used as a simple transport. That's a bit of a shame, although in fairness to the writers, I can certainly understand how difficult it is to craft a strong tale while wrestling with the complexity of time travel. It's a lot harder than it sounds, so when someone pulls it off with style, my hat is off to them. In this Christmas episode, the Who team nailed it. It may be a bit early to say this, but I think this one is going to end up being one of my favorite episodes overall.

Getting back to Smith for a moment, I really, really enjoy his portrayal. Odd, alien, yet captivating and magnetic, I think the qualities he brings to the role are absolutely perfect. I also quite enjoyed that he seems to be getting more comfortable as the Doctor, as well. I hope that he sticks around for at least another season past the next.

… still not too crazy about Amy Pond though. She and Robo-Rory can feel free to make their exit at any time.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Antivirals Successful!  


Once again, many thanks to all the super-sharp people on Twitter. My PC has been running just fine since last night, and it's thanks to all of the advice I received in my time of need.

Despite being a youngish-looking dude with glasses, don't let appearances deceive you -- I'm really not very techno-inclined, and tinkering with computers is one of my particular weaknesses. I certainly know how to use one well enough for my day-to-day activities, but as soon as the first thing goes wrong, I'm worthless.


Writing: Progress on the Speaking in Forked Tongues edits has been going well. At this point, I think I'm about a third through what needs to be done, and although I would've preferred to have been a little further, I'm not complaining. Not much else to report other than to say that it's coming along.


Games: I don't know exactly what it is, but I've been in a bit of a game slump lately. I haven't been very excited (or incensed) by many recent releases, and I was a little hesitant to commit to a review while feeling so generally wishy-washy. Still, I usually average one review a week, and it feels a little weird to not be working on something.

Under these circumstances, I started up Lost in Shadow, a recently released art-house platformer on the Wii. (And wow, I can't remember the last time I turned the thing on.)

In case the name isn't ringing a bell, this is the one in which the player takes control of a boy’s shadow and makes progress by jumping and climbing on the shadows of objects in the environment. Manipulating light sources moves the shadows around, and gives the player an extra element to contend with as the journey unfolds.

Early impressions are good. The aesthetic and art design is appealing, although there is no question that the quality of the game shares more than a little in common with Fumito Ueda’s Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. This isn't necessarily a bad thing since I'm a huge fan of both of those titles, but the similarity in tone and vibe is a bit eyebrow-raising.

The premise of the action happening on the plane of shadows is a good one, and there are certain segments that are quite clever – the depth of field on-screen creates some neat visual effects, and shifting my brain to pay more attention to the background rather than the foreground is a pleasantly heady feeling.

On the other hand, there have been a few sections that felt quite “gamey” to me, losing the sense of being a shadow in a real environment and instead replacing it with a series of platforms and levers that don't make any sense in three dimensions. The combat feels a bit dodgy, as well. I'm still quite early in the game, but so far it doesn't seem any more complex than rushing forward and mashing the attack button. A block or a dodge maneuver (granted, there may be one later) would be quite welcome.

Although I'm liking it well enough now, the play has been fairly one-note and I found my attention wandering after a handful of levels. Speaking to a few reviewer friends, the word is that the game apparently takes about twenty (!!!) hours to complete, and if that's true, that's entirely too long for an action game of this sort. If the formula doesn't vary much from what I've seen so far, my feeling is that this would have been a perfect fit as a reasonably-sized DLC adventure. As a twenty-hour campaign? Hmm… not too sure.


In other games news, PC Gamer recently ran a story by Dan Griliopoulos (@GriddleOctopus on Twitter) about a disabled player in the UK named Gareth Garratt.

This particular piece was quite touching, and I've got to say that Gareth must certainly be one of the most hardcore gamers I've ever heard about. As much as I enjoy videogames, I'm not sure that playing by manipulating a mouse with my chin would be enjoyable enough for me to continue to choose games as my hobby of choice. My hat is off to you, Gareth!

Anyway, the piece speaks for itself (so I will let it do so) but this is just another example of an area where games need to advance. Although some developers get it, far too many completely overlook disabilities of also kinds -- control re-mapping options, visual cues for auditory input, even something as simple as having subtitles for dialogue isn't an industry standard yet.

Surely we can do better.


Music: While recording the most recent GameCritics podcast, host Tim Spaeth called out a brand-new video from musician Stan Bush. Although the name may not be well-known, anyone who's ever seen the original animated Transformers movie will surely recall the surprisingly-rockin’ soundtrack.

This is not Stan Bush, but I bet he knows the lyrics to Stan's songs...
Stan’s still writing tunes apparently, and this link leads to his latest. However, I'm not including it here because I'm in love with the song. No, I'm including it because the video is absurdly ridiculous. Take a look and see for yourself.


Finally, I admit that I don't usually post links or comment on things that feature cuteness as their primary draw, but this featuring a little boy performing Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” on ukulele is just too adorable for words. Why? The singer doesn't know any of them. This video has received something like thirty-five million hits so the odds are that this is old hat to you, but I only just saw it yesterday for the first time myself.

S0 AD0R3ABL3Z!!!


Monday, February 14, 2011


Misc: Sorry about the lack of content. I had planned another update tonight, but I got inexplicably hit with a nasty virus while researching weapon trees for Monster Hunter. Out of all the places online to be careful of catching a virus, I admit that *wasn't* one of them.


Anyway, my PC was knocked out of action for several hours while the sharp folks on my Twitter feed helped me out with rehabbing my poor machine. They were successful (and infinite thanks to everybody who chipped in) but I had to postpone the new material. Apologies, but it'll be up as soon as possible.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Series of Shout-Outs, and the BBC's Jekyll  

Music: It's no secret I'm a big fan of local nerd rockers Kirby Krackle. I love these guys. LOVE ‘EM.

You should love them too.

If you've never heard their stuff, you can check out their website and listen to a ton of free music. While you're at it, here’s a link to their latest video, "Secret Identity".

Give a listen and become a fan.


Games: The good folk at Atlus have priced a ton of PSN download titles at half-off. Persona 3, Riviera, Kenka Bancho, and Yggdra Union are all available on the cheap, among others.

If you’ve been intending to catch up on some of the quality in this back catalog, now’s your chance.


Games: Mike Dunbar over at Chronoludic has put together a pretty fascinating podcast about music choices and sound design, specifically in reference to Deadly Premonition and how it relates to Twin Peaks and Angelo Badalmenti.

It's a great, great piece and a sweet morsel for the ears. Take a listen right here.


Books: Man-about-town @Batrock has posted a great book review of Richard Kadrey’s ‘Kill the Dead’ over at his site.

I can't say that I'm a great fan of Kadrey, but the breakdown of the work is an entertaining read and also serves my ulterior motive of increasing the Urban Fantasy profile at this blog. Don't tell, though... that's a secret.


TV: The BBC streak at my house continues -- the wife and I just completed the Jekyll miniseries from 2007, written by Steven Moffat. This six-episode piece was a fairly fascinating thing, although quite unbalanced.

As you might expect, the tale was a modern-day update of the classic story by Robert Louis Stevenson. Without getting into spoiler territory, the show did a fairly neat job of connecting itself to that famous piece of literature, and the interpretation of the themes was well done.

Even better was the performance given by James Nesbitt. This is the first time I've ever seen him in anything, and his work was quite riveting. While the program did not resort to drastic makeup or special effects to portray the two sides of Jekyll and Hyde, Nesbitt drew a very clear line between them and fleshed out each personality effectively -- especially as Hyde. The darker of the pair was a genius lunatic with superhuman abilities, and his barely-hanging-on mental state kept me on the edge of my seat. I genuinely felt as though he was capable of anything; a frightening monster you don't want to be near, yet one you can't look away from.

(Side note: I've heard that Nesbitt was heavily favored to become the next Doctor Who before Matt Smith was chosen. After seeing Jekyll, I'm inclined to think that he would've been a great choice, somewhat along the lines of Christopher Eccleston’s edgier Doctor. I love Smith to be sure, but I think Nesbitt might have worked out all right if the choice had come to fruition…)

However, I can’t say that the series finished as strong as it started.

The first three episodes were certainly action-packed and tense, and I caught myself holding my breath a few times. The dramatic buildup was fantastic, but then something odd happened… episodes four and five were essentially two hours of flashback storytelling filling in the Jekyll mythology, and I can't imagine the sixth and final episode satisfying anyone.

I think one of the biggest problems was that the writers ramped things up to such a ferocious degree in the first three hours that there really was no other place to take it. They needed the cool-down period of the flashbacks since that pace could not have been sustained. I understand that and have no problem with it (although two hours was a bit excessive) but where I do have a problem is the failure to rev things back into high gear for the finale.

As I stated earlier, Hyde is basically a black-tinged superman capable of incredible feats. It seemed like a safe assumption that the finale would have been pants-wettingly exciting, but instead, most of the hour was spent rather sedately. Worse, the final scene has Hyde in such a tightly-controlled situation that there really isn't any chance for him to shine in a visceral way, and this muted finish combined with the subdued pacing of the previous flashbacks meant that things cooled off in the middle of the series and never got going again.

I'm glad that I watched the series and I am still quite impressed with Nesbitt’s work (especially in the first three episodes) but I can't help but wonder if the split personality of the series was some sort of meta-commentary on the part of the writers. Jekyll/Hyde, light/dark, action/cerebral… I think a pretty good case could be made that the division of three adrenaline episodes and three thinky episodes was a direct reflection of the subject -- a neat trick pulled off by the writers, perhaps, but one that left me feeling more than a little dissatisfied at the conclusion.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Randomness: The Two Worlds II Winner, Dark Souls, Simply Saline and Depression Cake  


Games: As promised in the last update, the randomly-drawn winner for the 360 copy of Two Worlds II is...

Ashley King!

Congratulations! Please contact me via DM or email and let me know where you'd like your game sent!


Games: If you read this blog with any regularity or if you're a follower of, then you no doubt know that I hold Demon’s Souls (PS3) in extremely high regard. Not only was it chosen as Game of the Year when it was released, it immediately landed a spot on my Top Ten of All Time. Naturally, it's pretty safe to say that I'm a wee bit excited for the spiritual sequel.

Titled Dark Souls, it's from the same development team as Demon’s Souls, though it is not a direct sequel (as in, it will not continue the storyline of Boletaria) and it's switched publishers as well.

I don't know any of the details of the deal, but I will say that I was disappointed that Atlus didn't land it. If you ask me, Atlus did a wonderful job launching the first game, and gave a truly superior level of post-release support. I can only hope that Namco-Bandai will match that effort.

In any event, here’s a link to the official trailer and a very nice interview posted at the PlayStation Blog courtesy of the always-effervescent Sid Shuman. Check out the vid if you haven't already seen it. Oh, and start getting yourself ready -- early word is that the developers have substantially increased the difficulty.

Yes, I said increased. Just let that sink in for a moment.


Medical: At the moment I'm currently recovering from a cold/sinus infection sort of thing that really kicked my ass this week. Whenever I come down with something like this, there generally isn't much that makes me feel better outside of rest and some hot tea, although there is one thing:

Simply Saline nasal spray.

This really isn't a paid advertisement or anything, I just like this stuff so much that I totally swear by it. The beauty of it is that it doens't sting at all, the way some nasal sprays can. You can shoot it all around, and all it does is moisturize and cleanse without any pain whatsoever. it's a beautiful thing. I definitely recommend it to anybody who has sinus issues, and if I had any money to spare, I'd buy stock in the company. It's good stuff.


Food: One last thing to round out the blog tonight, and in keeping with the theme of being random, it's a egg-free, milk-free, butter-free chocolate cake recipe -- and it's dynamite.

Apparently this recipe (and others like it) were developed during the Great Depression when those three ingredients were expensive and hard to get. Clever people during hard times came up with this workaround, and to be perfectly honest I enjoy it much more than a "regular" chocolate cake recipe. It's got a great mouth-feel, and the flavor is subtle and chocolatey without being overpowering.

It's probably one of the favorite desserts my wife makes, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who needs a recipe avoiding those three ingredients, or to anyone who wants a super-tasty chocolate cake in general. Seriously, it's great.

Depression Cake:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup cocoa powder
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cup water

To make:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix all dry ingredients together by hand. Add all wet ingredients until well combined. Pour into an 8×8 pan coated with non stick spray. Bake for 30 minutes until done, and completely cool before serving.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Book Talk, Two Worlds II, and the BBC's Jekyll  

Writing: No, you're not at the wrong blog. Although I generally write about games for the vast majority of the time, my original intention for this space was that it would be more of a split between writing and video games. (Hence the header...)

Soon after starting, I decided to scale back on the writer talk for a few reasons.

The primary reason was that I had a ton of people start following me on Twitter who are (or who want to be) writers. Nothing wrong with that at all, but I quickly noticed that following most of them was incredibly boring.

Of course, there are the exceptions like @MsAnnAguirre, @Staciakane, @AntonStrout, @BettyViolaBlue, and THE KING of fun tweeters, @BrianKeene, but for every one of these interesting people who also write books, there were at least a dozen who tweeted incessantly about their problems with agents (or lack thereof), their problems with picking the right genre, and about a hundred thousand other problems that "prevented them" from actually writing.

I unfollowed most of these people, and I decided that I did not want to be one.

The other reason that I decided not to talk about writing much is that I find it to be a very personal, very internal thing. Well, it is for me, at least.

I didn't see much value in talking about the difficulties of constructing good characters, or how incredibly problematic it is to try and write a time travel story without hitting plot-killing paradoxes at least once a chapter. It wouldn't mean much to the average reader, and talking about it would just take away from the time I should be spending doing it. Basically, I didn't want to come off like someone who didn't have anything to say if it wasn't complaining about some part of the writing process, and I didn't see much point in jotting down something like ‘Woo, got another chapter in the can today.”

(I think another, smaller part of omitting writing might have been that I didn't want people to be keeping tabs on how slow I was working, either…)


Now that the new year has begun, I've decided to break my self-imposed silence and talk a bit about my upcoming project for the purposes of drumming up awareness. I won't be talking about it a ton until it's ready to be purchased, but the PR wheels need to start turning sometime, and now is as good a time as any.

Titled Speaking in Forked Tongues, my book is a full-length Urban Fantasy novel about a man named Bren Barran who summons demons for a living. His primary purpose in life is to earn a decent wage and find someone to love, but along the way he becomes entangled in a string of events that have proved fatal to many. Hoping to avoid the same fate, he needs the help of his friends (both Earthly and otherwordly) and a whole lot of luck…

I’ll have more specifics later, but right now I feel comfortable announcing that it’s essentially completed, and only in need of some final edits before submission. I have a publisher locked in place, and the goal is to make the book available later this year. My hope is that it will be of interest to people who are fans of fantasy, horror, demons, unsatisfying jobs, transsexuals, teriyaki, plus-sized women and pan-dimensional murder plots. Also, videogames. More on this to come.


Games: Not much to report here. With my little boy being under the weather (nothing serious, just a really fierce cold) it's been a bit of a struggle to find time to play lately. When I DO play, I've continued to put more time into Two Worlds II.

Wait, the UK shipment was wrecked at sea?!? SERIOUSLY?!?
I was really hoping to finish the game and get my review up as close to the launch window as possible, but it's a pretty sizable title any way you slice it, and pursuing even a small number of the sidequests makes it even longer. Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not complaining -- I've definitely enjoyed all the time spent with it so far, it's just tough to balance playing quickly and playing thoroughly.

Although my final write-up isn't complete, there is no doubt it's going to be very positive. If you're on the fence about picking it up, I'd say it's a no-brainer.

Oh, and ABOUT THE TW2 GIVEAWAY CONTEST- the winner will be announced in the next update. Sorry to keep you waiting, but I must.


TV: The BBC continues to dominate at our house lately. We’re still awaiting new installments of Doctor Who and Torchwood (by the way, follow @Torchwood4Fans for constant updates on season four being filmed as we speak) but in the meantime, I've collected a list of programs to check out thanks to all the wonderful people on Twitter who’ve clued me in. The first we're starting is Jekyll, starring James Nesbitt.

We've only just seen the first episode, but it's gotten off to a cracking start, and so far Nesbitt has been giving a great performance as the suffering Doctor and his nefarious alter-ego. There have been quite a few tense moments, the tone is right, and the plot seems to be more than just a basic reboot thanks to its modern elements and hints of a possible sci-fi slant.

If the rest of the BBC shows suggested to us have been as good as this one seems to be, we won't need to worry about what to watch for quite some time…