State of the Mind: March, 2015

So, what does a couple months of progress look like in editing Project: Embers with my schedule?

A few chapters that have nearly been re-written from top to bottom. I’m not joking, the amount of scenes I have simply deleted and re-written from the ground up is either saddening or staggering.

Perhaps it’s both.

What prompted such a large amount of re-writing? I changed how the protagonist was introduced. In doing so, it set off a chain of events that radically reshaped how the story opens.

The intro starts closer to the main events, it’s got more tension, some characters were cut and rolled into others, etc. All of this simply from changing the protagonist’s intro.

Then there’s the pre-chapter articles, some story threads being removed or altered, building on the personalities of the existing characters, and more.

Editing Blood in the Machine took me some time to do, but Embers is an entirely different beast.

But what about things outside of Project: Embers?

Well, since the re-writes have mostly come to a stop, I am now beginning work on a new project to fill the gap. While I can’t say much about it yet, it is something a bit different with less emphasis on action and more on emotion.

It’s work-in-progress name is Project: Binary.

This project is currently in the planning phase, so nothing has been set in stone yet. However, it has been something that I’ve been dwelling on for some time while I’ve been editing Embers. Thus, I figure it’s time to start jotting down some details and start shaping it up.

I’ve also made a slight addition to the website. In the upper-right hand corner, you will find a small text section detailing my current status on open projects of note. For now, this lists my editing progress with Embers and my planning status with Binary.

Figured it should help keep is visible that I am actually working on things, yeah?

For now, however, the work continues. Embers trudges further along to completion, while Binary starts taking some form. I am eager to see the final state of the former, all while looking forward to crafting the latter.

Until next time, however, have fun.

~ James.

State of the Mind: February, 2015.

It feels like it’s been awhile since I wrote a “State of the Mind” address. Let me check and see when the last one was.

June, 2014

… Well, that was unexpected. I honestly didn’t think it had been that long ago that I wrote one. Then again, I could simply be thinking of the last time I thought about writing one.

Sod it, let’s get on to the new one! To the numerical list of topics!

~

1: I re-made my old LinkedIn profile. No, I’m not sure why, but I did. It’s over here if you want to connect to it.

2: Project: Embers is on-going, though taking some sweet time to get much of anywhere. I’ve basically had to delete the entire intro and rewrite it, so that’s fun. On the other hand, it gets moving faster and the characters feel more natural.

That’s the problem with being like me and having an issue with introductions. Everything doesn’t feel ‘real’ yet, so the end result is always going to be remarkably different. At least now, the characters feel more refined and defined, so things flow easier. It’s also giving me the chance to double-back and fix a lot of my earlier inconsistencies.

As for what how much work remains to be done to the overall draft, I have to A: re-write a ton of scenes, B: delete a small number of characters while making others more prominent, C: change existing characters to fit more suitable roles. That’s all on top of the normal grammatical sweeps and such.

3: I have a new nightly schedule. After dinner, I sit down and write 1,000 words and edit a whole scene (if the scene needs a re-write, they combine). Then, I get to relax and play around or watch stuff. Afterwards, before I hit the sack, I read a short story. Found a couple good ones so far thanks to Apex Magazine, and will probably make a list of some good finds once I have a few titles to add to it.

4: I’ve been checking out the Aeon Timeline software. When I make fictional worlds for sci-fi or fantasy, I constantly dip back and start mapping out the history to make the ‘current day’ story flow better and have reference material. I’ve been using Scapple, Scrivener’s sister program for mind-mapping to do it until now, but it just doesn’t work well.

I know some people have recommended a couple free alternatives, but it comes down to interface for me. Aeon seems to flow well and come to me intuitively, so it’s working rather well. Overall, I’m regretting not looking into it after my first two NaNo sprints where I had coupons, since I will be buying a license.

5: Also in regards to Project: Embers, I am starting the hunt for some cover art. I can’t say much has tickled my fancy yet, but we’ll see if anything comes up between now and when the cover becomes a big sticking point. As tempting as the allure of an illustrated cover is, I don’t exactly have thousands of dollars to throw just at cover art alone.

6: I am currently kicking around some ideas for other stories to write. I’d like to get more works both in publications and on the Kindle marketplace, so I am trying to figure out where I stand with what I have and what exactly to do with it. Time will tell, but if anyone has some feedback, I’d love to hear it.

7: Homeworld Remastered is coming out at the end of the month. No, this isn’t writing related, but the Homeworld series is literally my favorite in all of gaming. 15 years later and nobody has made a sequel or game of its type that is even close to as good. I am literally bouncing with glee at the chance to play it again, especially after so much time has passed.

To me, the series was masterful in its storytelling due to the simplicity and purity of the story, combined with perfect dialogue and musical score. Even the gameplay mechanics (persistent fleet, the difficulty, need to harvest everything you can) add to the emotional drive of the story.

Homeworld, to me, is an all-time classic that truly does deserve this remaster. I am eagerly looking forward to playing it, and might even be letting this schedule slip for a few days while I dive back in with the fleet.

~

So, that is where things are at the moment. Progress is being made, though there is a ton to go. I’ll be trying to stay a bit more active on the feeds, though my nose will likely either be buried in my own work, another writer’s material, or chilling off in a game. Either way, we’re moving forward which is especially important after such a lax last year.

Until the next update, however, I’ll see you ’round.

~ James.

My thoughts on: Stonehearst Asylum.

Been awhile since I’ve done one of these, but this feels like a good opportunity to do one. So, let’s begin!

Stonehearst Asylum (formerly known as Eliza Graves) is a thriller set in 1899 that stars Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, and David Thewlis. Additional stars include Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, and others.

Dr. Newgate (Sturgess) travels to the titular Stonehearst Mental Asylum from Oxford University to get clinical experience under Dr. Lamb (Kingsley), but things start taking unusual turns upon his arrival.

Now, how did I approach this film? Plain and simply (while showing biases), I saw it at my local Best Buy while gift shopping. I’d not seen a trailer for it anywhere (which I heard drops spoilers like a fiend), though had heard the title. Seeing that Kate Beckinsale had a starring role in it along with the description on the back of the box was enough for me to buy and watch it.

Yes, it is that easy to get me to watch a Beckinsale film. Sue me.

The film, based upon a story by Edgar Allan Poe, does little to hide the fact that it has mysterious affairs abound. Some plot points were easy to spot from a mile away, though the occasional surprise slipped in every now and then.

Something the film has in abundance, however, are themes that it tries to slip you. Some have a greater impact than others, but it’s actually both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that it shows an ability to try and convey a message without coming out and screaming it from the hill-tops. The curse, however, is that since there is a hefty number of ideas it wants to put forward, it somewhat stumbles on delivering any one of them with full-impact.

The movie touches on the ideas of abuse or abandonment of those mentally ill, how a deeply disturbed individual can (for the most part) pass off as a normal person, the (to our modern senses) barbarity of past psychiatric treatments, the effects of PTSD, the sometimes violent nature of a disturbed mind, and others.

As you can see, that’s a bit of a list. When you start playing with that many themes, the impact from any one of them gets a bit muffled.

(To touch on the “barbarity of past psychiatric treatment” note, keep in mind the field and period. Injecting patients with narcotics, electroshock therapy, lobotomies, forcibly dunking them in water, and many other forms of treatment were considered necessarily effective. While we’ve made some strides in the modern days, psychiatric care has a rather heavy history behind it.)

The cast does a good – even great – job with their roles. Kingsley’s Dr. Lamb is interesting, Beckinsale’s Eliza Graves is easy to sympathize for, and the list goes on. What their performances highlight, however, is the script.

Like some of the patients at Stonehearst Asylum, the script is a bit awkward at times – sometimes in its favor and against it in others. As mentioned above, the film doesn’t really try to hide the fact that it has plot twists abound, but it did keep me wondering exactly which ideas it would run with.

Some sequences also feel somewhat jarring, though usually not by fault of the cast. One scene in particular, right before the end, felt somewhat awkwardly rushed in delivery. Since this same scene is explained in clear detail mere minutes later, it felt like it could either have had the last couple sentences snipped or rewritten.

At the same time, when it does deliver a plot point, you realize that it’s been hinting at it all throughout the film. Either through lines in the script or quirks from the actors, you know that the film’s been building up towards the reveals. Nothing feels like it is coming out of left-field, which is commendable.

The soundtrack fits the aesthetic: a somewhat quirky atmosphere with an underlying Gothic creepiness. Nothing in the theme felt out of place during the execution, so my hat’s off to the crew for keeping it consistent.

Worth a watch?: Yes, I think it is. I know I definitely intend to see it again, and knowing what I now know of the story, I intend to analyze it a bit more on my second viewing. If it sounds interesting to you, I’d give it a gander. From what I hear though, stay away from the trailers – I guess they drop spoilers like they’re going out of style.

At it’s core, Stonehearst Asylum is an interesting movie that definitely has talent, theme, and ideas. It always felt like it was just a step away from truly dedicating itself to those ideas, however, and taking the final plunge. Despite this, I found it humorously quirky in spots, but able to bite back with some unsettling themes and dread.

Fireside chat.

Good news, folks!

Fireside Magazine has opened its doors to the public for free online viewing. Traditionally, the magazine has been supported by Kickstarter funding for yearly chunks. However, they’ve wanted to try and move away from Kickstarter and to a more communal funding effort. Thus, the options for subscriptions, contributions, and patreon funding have opened up.

If you want to take a look, check out the magazine’s full catalog over here. If you’re also wanting a direct link to my previously published piece of flash fiction, Reversal, the link is right here. To directly help support Fireside, check out their “Support Us” page.

So yeah, there we go. A couple days late, I know, but things have just been manic. The rig is mostly up and running now, so I’ll be completely on my feet before we know it.

~ James.

My thoughts on: Destiny.

“Masterful game-making” – The Escapist

“Activision and Bungie have a massive new hit” – Variety

“A Thrilling new franchise” – USA Today

“A more ambitious game than anything that has come before it” – Forbes

All of these glowing endorsements come from Destiny‘s own launch trailer. Now that the game has been out for a little time now, it’s time I gave my thoughts on the game’s narrative and voice-over.

Before I begin, do note something. I am only talking about the voice-over and story aspects of the game. If you want reviews for the rest of the game and its mechanics, I’d advise checking out the myriad of other reviews including Angry Joe, IGN, etc. I found the game to be slightly above average, though kind of addicting simply because of the loot.

Now, onto the show!

For those unawares, Bungie (the developers) were the founders of the Halo series. They bought themselves back from Microsoft and were brought into Activision’s fold to make Destiny.

With Halo as your previous works, that sets a pretty high bar. Right? Sadly, Destiny disappoints.

First off, have you seen the list of voice-actors in this thing? Peter Dinklage (Tyrion in Game of Thrones), Bill Nighy (Viktor in Underworld, Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean), Lauren Cohan (Maggie in The Walking Dead TV show, Bela in Supernatural), Claudia Black (Aeryn in Farscape, Morrigan in Dragon Age), Nathan Fillion (Come on, do I really have to list his credits?), etc.

Awesome stuff, right? Too bad the vast majority of all the voice-acting feels soulless and void of life. That’s also just for what dialogue their characters actually speak, but I’ll get back to that.

The back-story is this…

Mankind has gone to Mars and made contact with this giant orbiting sphere that’s called “The Traveler.” Due to the things it teaches us, Mankind has a golden age in which Venus becomes a Garden-class world, Mars is settled, etc. AKA: Lots of good things happen.

Then, “The Darkness,” comes in and ends Mankind’s golden age and nearly destroys us. You are brought back from the dead to be a Guardian by your “Ghost” companion, an AI fragment of The Traveler voiced by Peter Dinklage. Upon your resurrection, you’re tasked with trying to push back against alien species fighting Mankind’s remnants.

And that’s the story as a whole.

No, seriously, that’s it. There’s a final boss, but there’s no real build-up as to even who or what it is. As I’m finishing the campaign, I’m feeling no more remarkable than when I started and, even worse, I’m left wondering what I even accomplished across this entire campaign.

This confusion is further expanded by questions that are left unanswered. Our Ghost tells us that we’ve been dead for a very long time and are going to see a lot of things we won’t understand. After that, we’re never actually told anything to bring us up to speed and get us informed. There are multiple moments like this throughout.

What doesn’t help this problem is the fact that, with what lore and background info that is actually there, over half of it isn’t actually even in the game.

As you play, you collect grimoire cards which give you snippets of lore and background info for the missions, the setting, and the universe’s history. Where do you view the lore from these cards? On Bungie’s website or phone app.

You read that right. Well over half the game’s background lore and even some mission briefings aren’t even in the game, they are on a website you won’t visit or a phone app you won’t want to install. You have to go ridiculously out of the way (and game) to get the big picture.

Even then the picture isn’t anything close to complete. There are holes in information all over the place, likely to be filled by expansion packs. Except, isn’t it a bit ludicrous that we’re hoping that we can buy expansion packs just so we can get an idea as to what is even going on or why we should care?

The voice-actors in that list above? They barely get a few minutes each with the exception of Dinklage. What’s worse, a number of grimoire lore entries have dialogue from their character in text-form that isn’t in the game. Worse yet, there’s more dialogue for those characters on those cards than there is in the actual game.

A nice example of this is a story that Nathan Fillion’s character tells as if he’s around a campfire. It was an interesting story, and when I was done reading it, I found myself craving the chance to have it in the game and actually voiced. You have a large list of good actors in your cast, squeeze some performances out of them and actually use them.

Bungie attempts to disguise their lack of story with subtle references in names and hinted concepts, leading you to think that the shallow pond is actually much deeper and you just don’t quite get it. Worse yet, to see it, you have to leave the game entirely in order to try and understand it.

Seriously, remember Mass Effect‘s codex? I wasted hours with the entries in that damn thing. You can’t tell me you couldn’t add a codex menu, an archive in your tower-base, or some bloody voiced comm-chatter.

In respect to the game’s narrative and delivery, Destiny is woefully lacking. It is a shallow experience that leaves me baffled at just how lifeless it feels.

From the people who brought us compelling adventures in the Halo series, filled with memorable characters who had more than their share to say, we’re left with Destiny. This new title is filled with no narrative substance that is left even emptier by soulless performances with only one or two exceptions (Lauren Cohan’s “Exo Stranger” stands out to me, though only from the two cutscenes she’s actually in).

Is Destiny the “massive new hit,” and “masterful game,” we’ve come to expect? No, it’s not. It had its sights set on a larger target, but it failed to suck me in and left me feeling like I could literally have grabbed any other shooter and played that.