Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Giant Worms! A brief note on playing Gears of War 2



This last week we have been mostly playing Gears of War 2. Yes, Gears of War 2. I liked the look of the trailer for the newest game, but being all shiny and new, and given that I have no idea what these games are like, I decided to opt for the decidedly cheaper GoW2, to see if I liked that sort of thing or not.


As it turns out, I like it very much so far. It’s sort of like all the running and shooting bits of Mass Effect, with all the complicated thinking and decision making removed. I adore Mass Effect (as you can see from my previous blog post) but sometimes it is quite nice to disengage brain slightly and be taken on what is essentially a very violent Disney World ride of a game (honestly, that’s what it reminds me of).


The real fun with Gears of War 2 (or Geezer Horse as it’s now known in our house. Or Cheesy Whores) starts when you play co-op. So far Marty & I haven’t really had a game where we can both play together, meaning we’d have to take turns with the controller and try to avoid spoilers. With this we can shout at the screen together, feeling very manly and team-like: “I’m bleeding here, dude, medic me!”, “There’s a ticker behind you, yep, just there, behind the…*KABOOOOM*...  nevermind” and “IT’S GIANT WORMS!!”.


In conclusion, it’s good, explodey fun, and I may even keep an eye on the price of Geezer Horse 3.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

3 Reasons Why Mass Effect is the Greatest of All Video Games*


I’m playing Mass Effect 2 again at the moment. Yes, again. I think this might be roughly my fourth or fifth play-through, but I do have an obsessive need to unlock all possible happenings, and this means it's time to play as super-ass-kicking-space-bitch Shepard, ramp up my renegade bar to the max and punch a few mercs through windows. In which case, I present to you three reasons why Mass Effect is the greatest video game series ever made.


All the Stories in the ‘Verse: It is enormous, and the attention to detail is staggering. Each civilisation, from the Asari to the Krogan to the Volus, has a complicated history, tricksy political problems and a unique outlook on the universe at large. On a smaller scale, every bit-part character you meet will have a decent voice actor and a wee story of their own to tell. Get absorbed into the story and you’ll soon start recognising ME’s own little in-jokes (Krogan have four testicles, so they’re referred to as “quads”, a certain part of the Asari body is nicknamed “azure”- because they’re blue, get it? And Issac Newton is the deadliest son of a bitch in the galaxy).



The Horizontal Charleston, Alien-style: At the heart of Mass Effect are the relationships between the characters, or, in other words, the “which of these fine sprites will I be boinking by the end of the game?” element. In the first instalment your choice was a little limited – for the boys there was poetry quoting xenophobe Ashley Williams, the girls had the easily embarrassed Kaidan Alenko, or for both there was Liara, the quiet and reserved archaeologist who was secretly the Normandy bike. In ME2 Bioware have very wisely thrown all caution to the wind and now practically everyone is bionkable, even your PA, and the Doctor seems quite willing to get you drunk too. Even Garrus, easily the coolest character in the entire Mass Effect universe, can be awkwardly chatted up in the battery array- is it bad that I find it all the more amusing because it’s a little bit weird? I secretly think even the writers of ME2 have decided Shepard and Garrus are BFFs foreverz. Just don’t ingest his fluids.



To Be a Shit, or Not to Be a Shit: Complex moral choices. Bioware seem to specialise in making the sort of games where you have to put the controller down for a bit & have a really good think about the consequences of your actions. Shepard is continually confronted with decisions that are actually morally very tough: whether or not to allow genocide for the greater good (a theme that turns up over and over in ME), which of your team to sacrifice, whether or not to buy those fish you know perfectly well you’ll forget to feed… It’s choices like these that add to Shepard’s heroic status- she may well be able to take down a charging Krogan with one well placed kick to the quads, but she also makes some hard decisions for the sake of the universe, and that makes her the greatest of galactic heroes.


*Other than Dragon Age: Origins... Look, you and I both know I'm too obsessed with that game to make a sensible judgement, so let's just drink the tainted blood and move on.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Campaign for Real Fear Review

Just a quick note to flag up a nifty happening: Peter Tennant has been reviewing all the stories published in Black Static, including the Campaign for Real Fear competition. If you go here, you can read a lovely little summary of my flash fiction piece, The Price.

I'm so proud of that story, and it's appearance in Black Static- I remember being all excited at Alt:Fiction because they were selling copies in the dealer's room; the first time I'd seen my work in print.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

On Finishing The Snake House and the Nature of Evil


With all the stuff that’s been happening lately I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about finishing The Snake House. It’s interesting for me (if no one else) to look back on a project afterwards, especially one as fast-paced as this one, and have a think about what I learned from the experience and what I’ll take with me into the next book.

            In terms of prep, this time round I wrote a big old plan over three pieces of A4 paper (I wrote most of it while on holiday in Conwy, scribbling away, huddled under a blanket- Wales is cold, yo), made some character notes, and then dived straight in at the beginning of July. In the end, I wrote the entire novel (around 100,000 words) in two months, which is definitely something of a record for me. The story wandered away from the set course a few times, and various nasty scenes I wasn’t expecting popped up here and there, which was nice (Snake House is a horror novel, after all) but mostly it went according to plan. I think what I will remember from this noveling experience – other than the faint squealing of my sanity as I raced to finish before the end of August – is how I was trying to consciously say something with this story.

Most of the time, themes and meanings grow with a book organically, and often I only notice them on the second read-through; Ink for Thieves is about change and responsibility, I realise now, and Bird and Tower is about growing up. These issues, for me, are usually bubbling under, to be brought out further in re-writes and edits, but this last book was slightly different.

            The Snake House is asking questions about the nature of evil- whether it is a real, malevolent presence in human lives, or an absence of something that leaves the human animal easy prey to horrendous appetites (blimey, that’s a bit much. It’s something like that, anyway). When doing my research for TSH I inevitably had to read a lot about serial killers, and aside from being generally depressing and wildly unpleasant, such reading leads you to a number of uncomfortable questions. What makes these people kill repeatedly? Is such behaviour always born of a childhood of abuse, or do they come in to the world that way? Where can you draw the line that divides the sane from the insane in cases like this? Jeffrey Dahmer was thought by some to be experiencing severe psychotic episodes when he was torturing his victims, and maybe it’s easier to think of Ted Bundy as a monster possessed by a demonic presence, yet this was a man willing to drive for hours in a calm and rational state to spend the night with the bodies of the women he murdered.

            Obviously I have no answers to these questions – perhaps no one does, or will – but when I started writing The Snake House those were the issues I wanted to explore; it is undoubtedly my darkest book, and in lots of ways it was the hardest to write. I grew up on Stephen King books, so you’d think I’d be fairly immune to the wibblies at this stage, yet there were times where I questioned whether I even wanted to carry on with the story. It seems that reading a book that deals with monsters, and inviting monsters to come and play in your head, are two very different things.


Friday, 9 September 2011

A Round Up: Dark Fiction Magazine, Pseudopod and the Cambridge Film Festival

All right, not a very catchy title for the blog today, but a lot of stuff has happened this week and I’ve utterly failed to write about it, so it’s time for a quick catch up.


First of all, the finalists for Dark Fiction Magazine’s Epic Flash Competition have been announced - a big ol’ congratulations and a hearty huzzah to all those picked. I helped out with reading the submissions this time round and it was an amazingly difficult process. There were so many cool ideas and top stories, sorting out which ones should go forward to be judged by James Barclay was very tough indeed. Well done to everyone who sent in a story - you all rock. If you want to read the (officially "woobie") little short I wrote when inspired by the competition, it's still up on the blog over here.


I’ve been on the narration duties over at Pseudopod, the podcast that brings scary fiction to your lugholes. If you would like to experience the extra creepy thrill of listening to my sarf-lahdan accent read a story, Blue Eyes by Jay Caselberg is up at the moment, and a very unsettling piece of fiction it is too. Go listen!


In a change from all the short stories and editing, I wrote a little article about Silent Running and WALL-E for Take One, the magazine of the Cambridge Film Festival. It’s out now and you can read it here, or if you happen to inhabit the actual Cambridge, you should probably be able to pick up a print copy! This pleases me enormously.