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.

Sparks, explosions, and burning smells. Oh, my!

Well, this has been one relatively unusual and awkward period.

I had started doing the editorial sweep for Project: Ember, got some reorganization done with it, etc. Things have started working, though circumstance hasn’t let me fall into a work-routine.

For those that pay attention to my social media feeds, you might have noticed I was having some technical issues with my computer last week. Those “technical issues,” bloomed into building a new rig. Let me explain.

Last Tuesday night, I noticed a strange tapping-like sound coming from my machine. Not wanting to deal with it, I turned it off and went to bed. I woke up the next day feeling sick (food poisoning) so I didn’t go into work. Upon turning on my machine and attempting to diagnose the sound, I noticed it came from my power supply. Noticing this, I ordered a new supply for Same-Day deliver.

Now before I continue, let me elaborate on a couple things. 1: My old power-supply was a Thermaltake TR2 600W PSU. 2: Same-day shipping, in my region, has a “no later than 8pm (20:00) delivery. 3: I have prior experience with the shipping service, it is not pleasant.

The new supply shipped by Ontrac. After shipping from Amazon’s warehouse that’s no more than roughly two hours away from my home (figuring terrible traffic), it showed up at 8:50pm (20:50). The driver, in typical Ontrac fashion, literally dropped the shipping box on my deck, ran back to his car, and sped off with nary a ringing of the bell.

Wonderful. Thanks again for your continued service, Ontrac!

Anyway, the computer had a hard-shutdown no more than half an hour after the power supply (PSU: Power Supply Unit) was making noises. Luckily, I periodically back-up my music and photos to an external drive, while my project files all save to my dropbox account, so those were all safe. I saved my bookmarks just to be sure, though it was pointless.

After work the next day, I threw in the new PSU and turned it on. Things seemed to be fixed. There was no more crackling noises, the PC hadn’t shut down in a few hours, etc. All’s good, right?

Wrong.

I tried to boot-up a game, which caused the computer to hard-shutdown no more than fifteen minutes later. I tried changing the power cable, surge protectors, etc. Gave it a whirl again with a game, only to fail once more. Re-checked the new PSU the next day just to make sure it was all hooked up right, no cables were loose, etc. Tried it again, ran fine for a few hours, then it failed.

The conclusion I arrived at was either the motherboard or processor was damaged by the short in the Thermaltake PSU, and that nothing was going to bring it back. Even pulled some reviews on the old PSU afterword and saw a proportionally large amount of people having trouble with them as well.

So, yesterday, I went and grabbed a new motherboard, processor, and case after we worked around the house. Last night, we threw it together and built up a new rig (keeping the RAM, video card, new PSU, and hard-drive from the old rig).

Of course, those of you who are computer-savvy will recognize this as grounds for a reformat.

The new machine is up and running (even surviving some time on games, so the issue is fixed), but now begins everything anew. The bookmarks restore-point from Firefox didn’t work, so I am down all of my links. I am staring at three different downloading queues while moving 90 gigs worth of music from my back-up drive to my main while writing this.

Dropbox is up and running, so my project files have been imported from the cloud. Still, it’s going to be more than awhile until I am back up and running at 100%.

During the meantime, I’ve had plenty of time to play Destiny, which I will actually write a My thoughts on… article on later. I also managed to watch Afflicted, which I might jot down some thoughts on as well (short summary: different but enjoyable).

Overall summary: I’m not dead, just out of action for a little bit due to technical problems. Things seem to be fixed and such, but it takes a lot of time for me to get a new rig up to usable levels for me.

Now, because I don’t think I can leave this article without giving some brief reviews, I am going to give some thoughts on some things below.

Thermaltake TR2 600W PSU: I purchased it thinking that it was a better quality PSU at the time, and I needed one in a jiffy to power a new video card. This unit maybe lasted me a year before burning itself up (well ventilated case, no fault there) and basically taking my computer with it. After going back and reading some reviews, I’m not entirely alone in that camp either.

Verdict: I am going to need a lot of strong praise for another Thermaltake product before I buy one again.

Corsair CX 750W Modular PSU: Picked it out due to the wattage and relatively high ratings, though the modular bit was a nice extra. Fit in nice, easy to setup, and more than powers my new machine. Rather quiet too, so not much noise coming from the machine.

Verdict: The jury’s out in regards to longevity, but it seems like a pretty good PSU.

Raidmax Agusta Mid-Tower Case (White): You look up pictures of this thing and you’ll recognize this case is a beast. Two intake fans on the front, three outtake fans on the back and two on the top (with mounting holes on the side-panel for another fan), and an air-channel that runs under the main case and PSU while serving as a hard-drive bay. It’s big, it looks like a decepticon, it pushes air like you wouldn’t believe, and is remarkably quiet.

Verdict: I am loving this behemoth next to my desk.

Ontrac Shipping: If I find out something I ordered shipped by Ontrac, I know a few things. 1: It’s not arriving close to on-time. 2: I’ll be lucky to get any notification when (or even if) it shows up. 3: The box and contents inside are likely not going to be in fair condition. The people at Ontrac do not care in the slightest for your shipment. After complaining on twitter about their service, I came to find out there’s even an entire account dedicated to nothing but anti-Ontrac posts (@Offtrac) If you ship items by them, you are doing all parties involved a disservice.

Verdict: My UPS service here is good and reliable, my Fedex isn’t so great, but I would bow at the feet of both these companies and sing their praises in comparison to Ontrac.

First Draft: Done

It’s done.

The first draft of Project: Ember is complete, clocking in at 102,541 words. The project started back on May 18th, so this took almost exactly three months. The average word breakdown comes down to roughly 1,140 WPD.

I might have written down a bit more than I expected to.

Now begins a few days to work on Project: Warcry, but after that, some time off from the writing. A lot of TV shows, movies, games, and so on took a pretty big backseat during this project, so spending a few days to try and catch up on some of it would be nice.

Once that’s over and the editing begins, things are going to get ugly. I need to update my codex on the setting and add in my editing notes, because there’s a lot of work to do in fixing and cleaning it.

The characters have definitely come a long way as well, though it has caused some inconsistencies with the beginning scenes. Intros are always the hardest part for me, not so much the middle or end. The last paragraph or sentence can cause some hang-up for me, but that’s about it.

The characters aren't happy about their treatment.

The characters aren’t happy about their treatment.

Either way, I am thankful to be done with this much of the work. Sure, the long and ugly part is up ahead, but I look forward to seeing a cleaner piece of work come out of it.

Project: Warcry will definitely help tide me over while I work on the editing. Admittedly though, it’s a small project with a very close deadline.

So … yeah, I should probably get working on that.

Either way, one (large) step is done. Now, to move on to the next one and not have a hard time switching processes and story.

I am working on Project: Ember as efficiently as I can, but there’s a lot of work to do on it. Thus, I can’t even begin to guess at what timetable I am looking at for it. I’ll have to get some progress made in the editing process in order to begin guessing at when it might be ready for beta, let alone release.

If you’re itching for some of my own work to tide you over until some of these projects get further along, might I suggest having a gander at Blood in the Machine, or check out Reversal from last month’s issue of Fireside Magazine.

So yeah, here’s to progress. Now, off to take a mini-break for the night before working on Project: Warcry.

Writing is crazy.

Before we begin, let me drop a simple disclaimer that I shouldn’t need to drop, but will do so anyway because this is the internet. This article is my own opinion and a general statement. It doesn’t apply to everyone, it’s not meant to, so on and so forth.

With that said, on with the show!

“Writers are crazy.”

We’ve heard this statement or something echoing it for a long time. Hell, must of us writers will admit that we are more than a little strange in our ways of thinking and that we might not entirely be of sound mind.

It’s also not true.

Most writers you will ever meet are perfectly well rounded and normal individuals. We’re maybe a bit more insular or private in our lifestyles, but nothing you could generally label as, “Serial killer waiting to happen.”

That part I said about being insular and private? It ties partly in with our creativity. We are people who silently refused to ignore the creative imagination we had as children.

Instead, we nurtured our imaginations as we grew up. Using films, books, games, and music, we helped feed it.

This can be applied to all artists. Whether you’re a musician, author, illustrator, filmmaker, etc. At some point or another, people in these lines of work ignored the call for us to stop fantasizing.

The reason people like (and including) myself say writers are crazy is because we are the ones who think of fictitious details. It is not seen as an entirely normal habit for grown adults outside of artistic fields to constantly be thinking of things such as those. Thus, we get labeled as being crazy or abnormal either by other people or even ourselves.

Take for example, my current work on Project: Ember (Under a Falling Sky/Flames & Ashes). I’ve had to think up the people, places, history, cultural habits, technology, countries, and so on that populate the world of the story. All of that, I’ll add, is in lead-up to the actual story of the book.

The first draft is almost done, by the way.

As you can imagine, when broken down like that, it takes a considerable amount of time and thought to create a fictitious world. As the saying goes, “If you want to make a pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”

This also ties in to how a number of people usually see us as quiet or privately kept. We can easily get lost in thought, so it’s not uncommon for us to seem slightly distant or shut in. We’ve got to keep track of the details in multiple worlds after all.

The truth is that most writers you ever meet are normal, well adjusted people. They might often be the creative thinkers in their households or workplaces, but they’re no more crazy than the neighbor you know who collects stamps.

Depending on how obsessively they collect those stamps, maybe even less so.

So, yeah. I’ve got the fate of worlds, the live of numerous people, and the rules of reality in my hands. I think of creative ways to tell, cause, or allude to people’s tragedies or redemption.

I’m also not crazy, nor are a lot of other writers. We’ll just tell you that we are just so you don’t look at us quite as funny when we start talking about it all.