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.

My thoughts on: World War Z (Film)

So, I just got done watching World War Z. Figured I’d jot down my thoughts for those that might be interested. First, however, let me put out a disclaimer: I have not read the book. It’s on my list, and I know there are¬†massive discrepancies between movie and book, but I haven’t read it yet. As such, I will not be making any direct comparisons between the two mediums.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way…

World War Z isn’t exactly your typical zombie film. The zombies are extremely comparable to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later-style of infected, rather than the slow, walker-style we grew up with. This, in addition to the form they’re represented in, leads to one truth.

The movie isn’t about the zombies being the end of the world, it’s about a worldwide viral epidemic. If you let this realization sink in, you’ll enjoy the film much more than if you expect a Dawn of the Dead form of zombie film. While this kind of message has nearly always existed in zombie films, World War Z opts to make it the central platform it stands on.

The zombies are nearly always depicted as this, literally, unending swarm of infection that no walls can hold back, no weapon can really kill. It’s this perspective that makes the film remarkably tense and nerve-wracking, despite its PG-13 rating, as you see city after city, nation after nation fall to this horde of disease.

Despite its rating, as well, it’s remarkably brutal and violent. People commit suicide and amputate limbs in order to try and stop infection within them, infected literally flow over walls and rooftops, slamming down onto the streets, then get back up and pursue the living. Some scenes of gore and mutilation, like you’ve most likely come to expect from pieces like The Walking Dead, are forgone but you forget that as you watch the encroaching hordes.

Plot-wise, the film centers around Brad Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, who was a former UN investigator who’s sent out across the world to find a cure for the infection. Reluctant to do so, he’s told that unless he goes out, his family will be kicked off the ship that they’ve been evacuated to. From there, he goes around the world as he pursues leads regarding the virus.

Pitt actually did quite a good job as Gerry, with solid performances by Mireille Enos who plays his wife, Karin Lane, and Daniella Kertesz who plays Segen, an Isreali soldier who accompanies him. While it may not be something you’ll be expecting acting awards to go to, it most certainly didn’t detract from the film. Due to events in the film, I actually found Kertesz’s character and performance to be quite sympathetic.

The camera-work can get a bit too shaky for my taste in some action heavy scenes, but that’s more of a personal preference than a problem with the film. The cinematography of the locations, however, is very impressive. It’s not afraid to pull the camera out and show that, “Hey, this virus is literally the fall of this entire city and this nation as a whole.”

Overall, World War Z carries two stories. The first story is about Pitt’s character and the lengths he’ll go to try and keep his family safe. The second, and far more prevalent, is simply “Be prepared.” It may not be zombies, it may not be war, but society literally can crumble down around us. In the aftermath of that, it’ll be the prepared and the dedicated who will survive.

I surprisingly enjoyed my time with the film. After hearing about how much of a departure it was from the source, along with the investment costs and ending re-shoot, my hopes weren’t terribly high. I left the theater, however, thinking that my time and money had been well spent.

Announcing: The Veil.

Time for some fun. Well, for you guys anyway. For me, it’s fun, stress, anxiety, urgency, obsessiveness, ect. Hell, I’m even still wondering how I managed to think I could pull this off, but we’ll see.

I’m here, today, to reveal my latest project, one that you guys will be able to experience a bit more frequently than most of my pieces.

TheVeil

(That cover artwork is temporary, I assure you.)

Today I am announcing The Veil, an episodic piece of urban fantasy content that will be available for anyone and everyone to read *for free.*

So what is The Veil about?

~*~

Alec Rho is a normal guy who went camping for the weekend but woke up in the hospital after a strange series of events took place that altered parts of his body. Upon waking, his definition of reality starts to warp as he not only sees but is also hunted by demons.

Breaking ties to his former life, Alec strikes out on his own so that he can come to grips with the changes he has to endure. In doing so, he winds up becoming the prey in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse pitting him against a manipulative demon who wants him dead and a pair of FBI agents who want the truth.

With only the help of a guardian angel who treats this more as a training exercise than anything, Alec must survive the hunt long enough to try and stop it. With foes both of the Human world and from beyond, the odds are stacked against him as he tries to understand what lies beyond the veil.

~*~

I know you lot probably have some questions, so let’s bop straight into the (anticipated) Q&A then, just to get the details hammered out in a slightly stylish manner. It also lets me throw out lots of details and plans without looking like I’m giving some scripted speech from a podium.

Question: What does the title mean? How does a veil play into this story?

Answer: The Veil, in terms of in-story narrative, is the barrier that shields Mankind from the creatures (Demons and Seraph) on the other side. That said, it’s more akin to something that blocks one from noticing them, rather than stopping them from interfering with us. As such, it’s similar to a veil, and thus the title.

Q: I’ve been a longtime reader of yours and am familiar with this story. Why the balls should I care about you re-doing it?

A: If you’ve been with me for that long, you know just how bad this story was the first time around. Horribly (and I do mean horribly) constructed, long sequences with nothing happening or things happening for little to no good reason, ect. The very first version of this story, written about three years ago now, was a damn train-wreck.

This time around, that won’t happen (as badly). Between the time that’s passed by, the works I’ve published, and the feedback I’ve gotten, The Veil will be something to be proud of. The pace will be fixed, the characters will have more meaning and personality, and Alec will be less passive and at the whim of everything around him.

Q: You could have just made a new story, rather than recycle your old idea. Why are you bothering us with this?

A: Plain and simple, this is a story that I’ve never been able to let go of. Even over a year after I mothballed the story concept, it’s still something that constantly nags at my thoughts and demands for me to tell it. At the same time, hardly anybody ever saw it back in its original form, so it’ll still be fresh and new content for many members of the audience here and now.

Q: Okay, fine, but what makes this a serial project rather than just another novel?

A: It was brought up as an idea that I introduce some new free content on this site in order to give a taste of my style, along with try and draw in new readers. I figured what better way than try and release a piece of content that readers both old and new can look forward to at set times.

To that end, I’m aiming at 12 to 15 chapters which will be written every week, examined and given a read over on my end, then posted online every Wednesday (starting on 6/19). Think of it as an extended, more polished version of NaNoWriMo that you all get to see the results of on a weekly basis.

Q: Dude, you don’t have the best track record for an attention span or releasing material on time. Why should we be anticipating that you’ll actually stick to this time schedule?

A: This type of rigid timeline should hopefully allow me to focus myself better. If I am analyzing myself correctly, I’ll likely have the first draft of a chapter written in the first few days. That should allow me to spend a couple days on edits and revisions, then to continue my work on other projects as well.

Q: So, wait, what’s getting stuck on hold for this? You’ve obviously gotta be sticking something on the back-burner so you can do this project.

A: Nope, everything remains on track. This is entirely in addition to the other projects and work I currently have, so you’ll miss nothing and gain something new.

Q: You said before that you’ll release this as a paid thing after you finish. That mean you’re gonna just post up a chapter and yank the previous one down so nobody can access them later on?

A: That’s not how this will work. You’ll always be able to read The Veil on this website for free, no chapters excluded. Hell, once the story is completed and it’s edited by a third party, I’ll go back and post up the newer versions of chapters for free as well. I want you lot to be able to see and experience this story, in full, for free at any time.

The paid option you’re thinking about is a premium option for this story. It’ll be up to you to decide to read it on your kindle or phone using the app, get the bonus material, or just decide to contribute. What it’ll be is the story in a completed and edited form, as on this website, complete with cover art, some material that takes place directly after the story but doesn’t affect it, and other things as I imagine them.

Q: So how do we read it? WordPress has pretty shitty formatting for actual story content, and I don’t want to be arsed with a dozen individual file downloads.

A: Right now, I’m looking at using Google’s Drive system to host the chapters individually. That way, you can just read them straight off the web without too much hassle, yet it still retains proper formatting.

Q: Let me guess, you’re gonna charge $10 for the premium version because you can.

A: Nope, I’m gonna charge the lowest possible amount (99 cents) because I can.

Q: Bullshit.

A: Cry moar.

Q: You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?

A: Quite a lot.

Q: This sounds like you’re gonna get a bit preachy with your story, can I take this to my Sunday Service and recommend it?

A: You’ll probably get a few strange glances if you do. Make no mistake about it, this is straight-up fiction, not the, “God saves All,” kind. We’re talking about violent deaths, the ruining of lives, the effects of violent zealotry, ect. Hell, even the Seraph (think Angels) aren’t exactly lining up for their photo with Hallmark. The Veil takes some concepts used in modern day religions, but it’s more of my spin on those elements in my style of story.

So there you have it, folks. The Veil is a reality and it’ll be coming your way sooner than you might have thought. The versions that get posted online, along with that cover art I posted earlier, are not final versions. If you want to contribute to this project in one way or another, feel free to send me an email at james@jamesdarrow.com.

Until next time, it’s best I get cracking. Just when I thought I could have my week-nights back…

The battleplan is forming.

Earlier on, we talked about the results of my recent poll. Now we’re gathering around to see what I intend to do with this information. So grab some alcohol, take a shot every time I say something ridiculous, and we’ll all be shit-faced before the night’s out.

If we focus entirely on what the numbers tell me, it’s that folks are either split between what type of content they want to see from me, or they just don’t care. That said, the consensus I also saw was that people want to see me try and make my way onto the Kindle marketplace.

If we look at the discussions that have been popping up in the comment threads every now and then, however, we get a better idea of what folks want. The overall theme was, simply, “Write what you want, but do it for what you feel strongly about.”

At first, this notion didn’t exactly break my old question of, “What, amongst my many ideas that I long to pen, do I feel people want to see first?” Then I read some more feedback and an idea clicked. So, below, I’m going to detail my plan of attack for what’s to come.

~

1) Short stories. Let’s face it, people are busy creatures, so even if a novel from a newbie is horribly inexpensive, it’s a massive time commitment. Something that not a lot of people will chance for a fresh face. To counter this, I will be beginning a staggered roll-out of short material onto the Kindle marketplace. I currently have Echoes, Guns of Asgard, Salvaging Life, and the novelette Blood in the Machine in the editing or reserve line that can fill this role.

2) Novel work. Under a Falling Sky is on track now. The story feels solid, the characters feel tight and gripping to me, and the world feels fitting for the story to tell. Work will continue on UaFS, I will do a number of editing sweeps on the drafts, then I’ll likely solicit other writers for a mutually beneficial trade.

We read, comment, and attempt to edit each other’s works. This will help keep costs down, but also open the story up to a critical set of eyes that aren’t my own. As for artwork … we’ll see when we get there.

3) Free, promotional content. Susan Miles had a great idea that I had given little thought to. As it stands, there are two stories that are available for a free download here on this website. Looking back, however, I can’t help but feel that they’re … lacking. She had suggested offering up some free short stories for anyone to chance upon and read.

I’m thinking of not only going with this suggestion, but taking it a step further. Before I continue on, however, I want to stress that this is not concrete and is open to feedback.

I’m planning out the notion of creating a serial piece of content of unknown length and posting segments of it up on the website at set times and dates. The segments would all be hosted online indefinitely, so anyone at any time could come back and read over the old pieces.

My hope is that this would act not only as free promotional content, but also generate an increase in my readership and in traffic to this website. There’s also the idea of putting it all together, after it’s all wrapped up, and making an “enhanced version,” of it and offering it at the minimum price on Kindle (a buck) while still offering each piece for free on my website.

I’m still building the concept for the story and the logistics of how I could make such a thing possible, with what time-frame, ect. What I can say is that I’d likely see it as the means to bring the character of Alec Rho back and to tell his story in a more proper way than he ever had before.

For those unfamiliar with Alec Rho, likely all of you, his original story was about how he was a normal, every day guy who gained the ability to see and interact with Angels and Demons. From there, his life is stripped away from him as he is pursued not only by the Demons that fear being exposed by him, but also by an FBI agent who is trying to find the truth behind Rho and his seemingly otherworldly abilities while maintaining the law.

Alec’s tale was one I had written my first novel on, but due to my inexperience at the time, it didn’t meet my quality standards so I mothballed the entire thing. The idea of using a serialized piece as a method to rewrite and bring his story back has me rather excited since it has been a tale that I’ve never been able to get out of my head.

4) After the serialized piece’s conclusion and possible future post-completion, Under a Falling Sky would be released on the Kindle marketplace. This plan, then, effectively comes across as a serialized piece to catch some people’s attention and be free content for anyone, gets followed-up by short fiction on the Kindle marketplace to try and create a profile for myself there, then concluded by the release of a full-blown novel.

~

This plan will be a lot of work and effort. It’s going to require that I apply myself to this harder than I have yet in order to be finished before we’re all old and gray. At the same time, it seems like not only the more logical of approaches, but also the most fulfilling to both current and potentially new readers.

That said, this plan is not entirely concrete yet, especially item #3. The details and planning still need to be smoothed out and fully mapped before I start truly bringing this idea to fruition. At the same time, I am also open to feedback on all of the points discussed here and in every facet.

Think waiting that long for a novel is dumb? Want even more short fiction? Despise the notion of having a premium collection of the serialized work while the story segments are free to read? Cool, let’s discuss it and I’ll hear anyone and everyone out on it.

For now, this is the course I am setting. Until everything is firmly set in stone, as far as the details go, this at least provides me with a rough direction to go in. As always, folks, feel free to leave your thoughts either below, in the comments section on your social site, or drop me an email. For now, I have some details to plan.