The State of the Mind: September 2013.

Another month, another “State of the Mind.” You know what to expect from these by now, don’t you? If not, it’s simple: I rant and ramble about the things I’ve been thinking about, doing, or being entertained by, all to supplement me jabbering about the writing.

Any questions? No? Alright, let’s get to it.

First up, work-wise. The Veil is continuing on well after the recent bump into a bi-weekly upload schedule, rather than the weekly release. I personally think the last chapter was also a bit more improved because of it. The views have also been not too bad as well, so I can’t complain. However, leave it to me to not be satisfied with that amount of info. Instead, below, I’ve created a straw poll to try and get people’s thoughts on it.

If you want to participate in the poll, just click this link. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it scratches an itch of mine.

As for stuff that isn’t The Veil, there’s definitely a lot of things in the line-up. Getting back to work on Blood in the Machine is in order. At the same time, I am still frothing to sink my teeth into Dark Stars, but there’s plenty of time before that becomes a priority. I am just itching to write something new, however, and I’ve even had an idea hit me that I’d love to test.

The idea I actually want to try is a bit of a Sci-Fi horror story, though I don’t know how well I’d pull it off. It’d be more of a psychological horror attempt, using allegory about the research and creation of highly destructive weapons. Again, I have no idea how well it would turn out, but there’s also a lot of other projects to wrap-up between now and then.

On the social end, I’ve been on a bit of a silent-stretch on Google+, so I am working on changing that. At the same time, i installed and linked up Janetter for my PC and my phone, so my Twitter has been getting more organized so I can use it effectively. It’s all about that connection and such, so I may as well try and actually get connected.

On the media front, I’ve been on a bit of a binge. I finished two books (World War Z by Max Brooks and Andromeda’s Fall by William Dietz), watched three movies (World War Z due to Amazon Instant, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Silent Hill Revelation), and finished playing through Lost Planet 3.

Both the books were spectacular, with my especially loving Andromeda’s Fall. An interesting book, even if somewhat simple in concept, that had great characters and a good idea for battlefield detail. I’ve heard that Mr. Dietz intends to turn it into a trilogy, so I am rather looking forward to future runs with it. It is, as well, an exemplary showcase for how a lack of abundant visual description can help the mind create its own mental image for what you’re reading, something I believe I need to learn to adopt better.

Movies-wise, it’s a mixed bag. I thoroughly enjoyed both the novel and the film of World War Z, even if there are flat-out contradictions to the overall story including the fact that the entire film story doesn’t happen. But hey, it’s still an enjoyable zombie film, and I personally believe it’s one of the better films of the genre.

ST:ID was better the second time around, I’ll give it that. It’s an enjoyable SciFi action movie, but not a good Star Trek film. Then again, we’ve never really had a “great” Star Trek movie, so that doesn’t mean much. Silent Hill: Revelation, however was … it was an okay horror movie, maybe even a decent one, but it’s not a good tie-in to the series. Just as well, the later games in the series haven’t been good tie-ins either, so not much has changed.

As for Lost Planet 3 … ugh. I like the Lost Planet series, I even really enjoyed the emphasis on character and story in 3. However, for all of you developers out there, please do me a favor: Optimize your damn game before you release, okay?

In this one’s case, I’m one of those guys who has a fancy headset that emulates surround sound. For a guy like me who can’t use speakers without disturbing someone, it makes everything better from watching movies to playing games, even listening to music. However, LP3‘s movie files did not mesh with that surround sound what-so-ever, so every time a movie would pop up, either the game would crash or I’d have to do some dumbass dance between Windowed and Fullscreen mode.

I only found out about three-quarters of the way through that my headset was causing the conflict, so I had to swap it out for one of my older headsets. All the crashing, window-dancing, and instability really destroyed my ability to get into the game for those first three quarters, then being forced to use inferior hardware on a modern title ruined my experience for the last part. It’s a shame too, because I actually really enjoyed my time with LP3. Once they get it patched and fixed, I’ll probably go back and replay it.

I’ve also been playing Final Fantasy XIV on-and-off, really enjoying the time I spend with it. If you’re playing it as well, I am playing on the server “Coeurl”, and my character there is “Vaerys Dirion”. Currently in the high-teens now, looking to work up the tradeskills before I take my main class a bit higher.

Well, with all of that said, I’m still wide awake and some of my work is calling. Time to get to it. I hope you lot have a good rest of the weekend, and I hope to hear from you all soon.

~ James.

The State of the Mind: August 2013.

It’s been quite a wild ride for the last month or so. Kinda thinking a monthly “State of the Mind” might be a nice thing to throw together. Gives plenty of time for some new and interesting stuff, yet not spam people’s emails and social media filters.

What’s been happening, you ask? Well, let’s go down the list…

1: I am redesigning the way that people get notified about my posts on Google+. If you follow me over there and have no idea what I’m talking about, give this post a quick check.

2: Work continues on Blood in the Machine, which might be getting a new title. Something simpler and, admittedly, more story-focused. The story itself, however, has had entire new scenes added, thousands of words in new dialogue and details, and has had quite a few of the beta notes taken into account. That said, the work still goes on with it. I am eagerly awaiting the point where I can read my own finished version.

I am quickly approaching the point where I have to start considering my options for editing and cover art. I do know a couple approaches for the editing, but the cover-art aspect actually has me quite beat. I’ll start doing some more research as time goes on, but it’s definitely going through my head.

3: The Veil … yeah, there’s definitely some problems abound with this one. While I’ve yet to hear back from anyone in regards to pacing, it still remains a concern of mine. I still love the story in my head, but it feels out of place as I put it on paper.

I know that if I went back and reworked how it opened, I would have started it much, much later on than it did. That doesn’t mean, however, that I will be abandoning the story. No, I won’t leave the story half-done or abandoned or anything like that. Instead, I’ll write it through to completion, then take a damn chainsaw to cut and trim it before reworking it into a far more coherent version.

Every first draft is shit, right?

You lot said you wanted something episode, so you’re getting it. It just happens to also be a rather transparent example of the Work-In-Progress period of a piece. For all of you non-writers out there that are reading the series and this article, think of it like a learning experience.

If I went back in time, I doubt I’d honestly stop the project from starting even if I could. Instead, I’d have just done it smarter, and perhaps rebranded it less as an episodic piece and more as an “inside the writer’s workload” project.

4: As far as gaming goes … damn, this week is gonna kick my ass. Between Saints Row 4, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and my recent foray into State of Decay, there’s a ton to go around. I’ll probably also post up some “My thoughts on …” articles about a couple of them, so there’s something for ya.

5: For something that isn’t digital, however, there’s health. As some of you might be aware, I recently made a comment on Google+ about my level of fitness. From there, I started changing my eating habits and started working out, and there’s already been results.

I started this whole thing out weighing 242 Lbs at 5’5″, none of that being muscle mass. My main diet, at that point, consisted of frozen foods, crackers, and soda. Yeah, not exactly fun to admit, but it needs to be said.

Since then, I’ve started cooking real food after having cut all frozen food from my diet, and have slowed down on the soda consumption, replacing it with more water and some Gatorade (not the best, I know, but it fills a craving and is better for ya). Now, I’m down to 234, am feeling more physically fit (still dismally bad, but an improvement nonetheless), and have had to tighten my belt a couple more notches.

What’s my secret? I cut down on my portions, I replaced M&M’s and crackers with yoghurt and apples, and am eating chicken made with dry rubs instead of boxed, frozen pizzas. Throw in some water, a bit of exercise every other night at the minimum, and it’s actually been surprisingly effective.

No massive diet overhauls, no P90X, no insanely priced gym memberships, nothing like that. Just a bit of sensibility and shame, along with the voice of a lovely sounding English woman as the straw that broke the camel’s back.

So yeah, that’s where I’m at physically and mentally. Just thought I’d air out some thoughts and let you folks know where things stand and address some topics.

~ James.

The State of the Mind – July 30th, 2013.

Here we are on this Wednesday-eve. ‘Tis the day before another segment of The Veil goes live, I’ve been alone with my thoughts for awhile, and now I wish to talk about them.

Ready? Well, I am, so on we go.

We’ve been at The Veil for more than a few weeks now, quite a bit of progress has been made, but there’s still plenty to go. The problem is, that kind of statement can be made for more than a few projects. Looking at the sidebar, I’ve got seven projects that are currently open and in some form of work.

Seven. Let that sink in for a moment, if you please.

Somewhere along the line, I decided to open more cans of worms than I could sustain. Now, at this point, it’s time to start closing some of them. Let’s face it, there’s not enough room for these current projects, let alone any more that arise.

Where do we begin? Well, let’s break it down.

  1. The Veil: I’ll keep writing for this story at its current rate. The ball is rolling and the action is flowing now, so why interrupt that and put it on the back-burner? Hell not even any good reason to slow down on the upload rate at this point.
  2. Blood in the Machine: This story is a bit of a priority for me. The writing is done and beta reading notes from Susan Miles are in, so it’s time to apply that effort. After the notes are applied, I’ll need to get it looked at for editing (might do an editing-trade for that, or open talks with RJ Blain) and getting some cover art put together (no real idea where to start here). After that, it will likely become my first upload to Amazon. Yeah, that much hope and belief in this story.
  3. Salvaging Life: Another story that I have big hopes for but have had to hold on for awhile. After Blood in the Machine is finished and goes out to Amazon, this will be the second one that gets the “wrap-up treatment.” I’ll expand it from its current size restraints in order to flesh out some sequences and events more, so there’s still more creative work to be done. After that, it’s beta reading, editing, and cover art.
  4. Under a Falling Sky: This story, sadly, has had to take a bit of a back-burner due to the work on The Veil. Once more projects get closed and finished, I’ll be able to return my efforts to this story. It’s barely even been started since the re-write was optioned, so there’s a lot of work to go before this story even gets its first editorial do-over.
  5. Echoes: Susan has volunteered to take a look at this story as well, so I am waiting to hear here thoughts on this one. Her schedule is rather full which actually helps since it’s a bit of a lower priority to me than a few other projects. After she gets a look at it and gives some notes, it’s up to editing and cover work.
  6. Guns of Asgard: I’m still torn on what to do with this story. I’ll likely pursue seeing it all the way through, I just need to get in the right frame of mind to deal with it. It’s kind of odd enough that it needs its own form of mentality to work on.
  7. The elephant in the room, the Dark Stars universe: I really want to sink my teeth into New Horizons, the starting series in the Dark Stars setting. The problem is, I want to start off my solo-stint with a smaller bang, take in the feedback I hear from it, grow from there, and then work on it. Why? I’ve got, thus far, eight books in mind for the Dark Stars setting, and it could easily grow from there. The last thing I want to do is start off with something that long and drawn out, only to have its start-up be shaky and unsteady compared to what would come later. Thus, the earlier mentioned works take a higher priority for the time being.

So yeah, that’s what things are looking like. Soon enough, I’m going to have to go out and start looking for more outside help in the form of artists and editors. Believe me when I say that I am a little shaky about that thought since I have very little idea on where to start. I do have a few options in mind, however, so I’m not entirely lost.

Well, not that all of those thoughts and details about what’s to come are out in the open, it seems a bit more stable of a plan. Now to just get to work and make it happen. Until then, I’ll see you lot tomorrow when the next chapter of The Veil goes live.

~ James.

My thoughts on: Remember Me (Video Game)

I finally got around to finishing Remember Me today, a title that has had me in a bit of a tizzy, so I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on it. By the way, this is for the video game, not the damn Robert Pattinson movie, so go ahead and cry your little Twilight hearts out.

I’ll try and not mention anything that’s spoiler material, but I might let something slip. You’ve been warned. These thoughts are also from the PC version of the game, so don’t ask about the console ports.

Remember Me caught my attention with their very first trailer, sparking my interest with its concept of memories becoming a shared commodity and specialized people being employed to pilfer and steal everything from small secrets to entire identities. In entertainment, I’m honestly not sure if I have ever seen something with a concept such as this, with the closest examples being Deus Ex in video games and Total Recall in films.

In Remember Me, you play Nilin, a memory hunter who’s been imprisoned and had her memory erased. Upon being broken free from captivity by a form of resistance that apparently has some measure of history with Nilin, she goes about trying to track down the truth about her past.

Now, this is the first time I have made a “My thoughts on” about a game, so I’m going to make a separation between the story, settings, and characters compared to the gameplay, engine, and sound assets. In this title, it actually will be quite helpful.

~ Story, setting, and characters ~

I’m not going to mince words here, the setting and main characters in Remember Me were brilliant. Seeing the world of Neo-Paris was, at times, breath-taking. I remember seeing the Eiffel Tower the first time and just stopping to admire the amazing scenery. On top of the world’s aesthetic, all of the holographic and digital displays and warnings that appear out of thin-air truly did give me the idea that this was a world of ours that had moved beyond us and our technological understanding.

Nilin, as well, became a protagonist that I latched onto stronger than most. By watching the trailers and promo footage, and even by playing the beginning of the game, you get the feeling that she’ll play out as a stereotypical “badass action chick” character. Perhaps it was just me, but there came a point in the game where a pivotal plot point occurs that seemed to break that illusion and reveal a scared little girl underneath it all. To me, I found her character more human than most protagonists I find in gaming. It also helps that her voice acting was top-notch and helped convey the emotion behind the character.

The story was a bit confusing at first, but it eventually played itself out to a point where it was both comprehensible and refreshing. As large as the story seems to be in scope, it actually scales down to the story and fate of three characters. When I learned that it was actually smaller in focus than it seemed, I found myself enjoying it more.

In total, the game is one that reaches for the stars with its concept and themes. It’s refreshing and new, with an aesthetic and characters that populate it in a way that had me interested and carried me through the title.

~ Gameplay, engine, and sound assets ~

This … is where Remember Me struggles. Where as it reaches for the stars with theme and characters, it stumbles and falls a bit flat with its actual mechanics. From a gameplay standpoint, I found myself having to use my 360 controller for an input method, rather than my mouse and keyboard, due to the imprecise movements and actions. By genre, it’s an Action Platformer, but there are far better titles for both. You have essentially no freedom at all for the platforming, forced to follow guiding arrows or else you go nowhere or die. The combat, as well, relies upon you building and stringing together melee combos, but it becomes aggravating when you keep getting interrupted and lose your combo.

The engine, as well, has some issues. Between stuttering and texture popping, there comes points where it feels like the tech just couldn’t quite support the theme and aesthetic they were aiming for. At the same time, such issues were uncommon for me, and the level of detail felt solid enough to not make me note anything that detracted from the visual works on display.

For the sound assets, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The voice acting, with the exception of Nilin and another character you meet towards the very end, hovers around “average” and, sometimes, dips down into “poor”. This isn’t helped when the written dialogue for most of the characters, with the exception of Nilin and the other character, goes from “tolerable” to “cringe-worthy”. The best defense of the dialogue is that Dontnod, the developer, is a smaller French developer, so it might simply have been something lost in translation.

The music takes cues from the aesthetic and setting, sounding like a techno-remix of a dubstep album. The thing is, for this title, it works brilliantly. It blends in with the setting in a mesh that feels completely natural and helps augment the experience. While it isn’t something I’d listen to in my car or at work on its own, it helps the experience.

~ Conclusion ~

Remember Me is a title that I have a difficult time wrapping my head around. It bets everything on its characters and setting, leading the actual gameplay mechanics to fall behind a bit. Perhaps the combat and platforming aren’t as bad as I am making it sound like, but when you see how much promise the title has, the slightest fumble feels like they’re throwing themselves off a cliff. I really hate saying this, especially given the fact that it’s such a new, fresh setting that has a few great ideas in it, but it does suffer from the gameplay.

If you’re trying to make up your mind about whether to buy it or not, I’d say wait and see if you can get it on a good sale. If you’re bent on getting it or have already got it and haven’t tried it, I’d implore than you try and approach the game with the story and characters as your main focus. When you go in for the combat and platforming, I think you’ll likely be disappointed. In hindsight, I enjoyed my time with it, but I also play games with a heavy focus on story and characters, so I can look past a lot of gameplay and technical quirks.

Anyways, that’s just my thoughts on Remember Me. I hope this helps you decide if you want to take a peek at the game, but I just wanted to have a brief talk about it. Now, off to go get some more writing done.

~ James.

The Veil: Feedback

So we’re coming up on our third chapter for The Veil. It actually seems kind of amazing that we’ve already, yet only, been at this for a month now.

The views have been good, and the website’s traffic has definitely had a noticeable spike in activity, but the actual feedback has been silent. Thus, with this poll, I hope to see if we can gauge exactly how you all feel about the story thus far.

Go ahead and pick an answer that best suits you, and feel free to leave a comment below (or on one of my social feeds) about what you think of it. I’d love to know if folks are enjoying the story as it is, if they feel there are flaws that need fixing, or if there are other steps I should consider to improve the story.

Thank you for your time and attention,

~ James.