Today’s Art (30th November 2019)

Well, I was still in the mood for “retro” art. Although to my surprise today’s digitally-edited painting was set in the 1950s. In short, I was initially inspired by a novel set in 1950s Britain that I was reading – but, for some bizarre reason, the painting ended up being set in a highly-styled version of 1950s San Francisco instead (probably due to reading this sci-fi novel a week or two earlier).

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Tram Car 1953” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – November 2019

Well, it’s the end of the month, so I thought that I’d do my usual thing of collecting a list of links to the ten best articles (with maybe an honourable mention or two) about writing, reading etc… that I’ve posted here this month.

All in all, this month has been a bit of a strange one and although I quite like most of the articles I wrote, some of them also ended up going in very slightly more of a game-based direction since I got a modern refurbished computer at the time of writing many of them. On the plus side, this also led to non-“Doom II” related game reviews (eg: this one and this one) returning to this site for the first time in about six months or so.

Talking of reviews, I also managed to review twelve novels this month – with my favourites being “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” By Phillip K. Dick, “Virtual Light” by William Gibson, “N or M?” by Agatha Christie, “Blade Runner 2: The Edge Of Human” by K.W.Jeter, “Seventh Heaven” by Alice Hoffman and “Breeding Ground” by Shaun Hutson.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – November 2019:

– “Does Writing Style Matter More Than Plot?
– “Three Things To Do When You Can’t Use Your Favourite Writing Style
– “Imperfect Technology Is An Important Part Of The Cyberpunk Genre – A Ramble
– “Two Very Basic Tips For Reading A ‘Difficult’ Book
– “Four Reasons Why Spin-Off Novels Are So Awesome
– “When To Use Alternating Chapters In Your Story
– “Two Tips For Writing Stories That Can Compete With The Internet, Games, Phones etc…
– “Why Writers Need To Read Multiple Genres Of Fiction
– “Three Ways To Make Your Story More Readable
– “What Can A Computer Game Teach Us About Writing Horror Fiction That Focuses On One Type Of Horror?

Honourable mentions:

– “Three Reasons Why 1980s British Horror Fiction Was So Shocking
– “Is Simplification A Good Thing In Storytelling? – A Ramble

Review: “Skylar And Plux: Adventure On Clover Island” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“A Wanted Man” By Lee Child) and am also still playing the other modern games I planned to review, I thought that I’d take a look at an indie 3D Platform game from 2017 called “Skylar And Plux: Adventure On Clover Island” that I completed shortly before writing this review.

This was a game that I ended up buying on a whim after I noticed that it was on sale on GOG last Christmas (and, yes, I write these reviews very far in advance). Since I have a lot of nostalgic memories of playing old 3D platform games (eg: “Jak and Daxter”, “Ratchet And Clank” etc..) on the Playstation 2 when I was a teenager, getting this game seemed like a no-brainer.

Although my refurbished modern computer – with it’s Intel HD 2500 integrated graphics- seemed to be slightly below the system requirements, I decided to take a chance. And, with low graphics settings, the game mostly ran at a playable speed (apart from a few infrequent moments of slowdown and some pop-up scenery). Although I should point out that these low graphics settings will be reflected in the screenshots in this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Skylar And Plux: Adventure On Clover Island”:

Woo hoo! It’s one of these games 🙂

The game begins on a space station. You play as Skylar, a cyborg cat who has had her memory wiped by an evil robot villain called CRT who wants to turn her into one of his minions. However, due to a series of mishaps in the station’s training course, Skylar ends up in an escape pod.

When she crash lands on the planet below, a talking owl called Plux rushes towards the pod, hoping that it is his father returning from outer space. Although he is disappointed, he decides to team up with Skylar. It also soon becomes obvious that CRT has started taking over the planet, with three parts of an ancient artefact missing, evil robots patrolling the planet and many of the planet’s adorable creatures, called L’oa, trapped in cages….

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that, even though it has some flaws, it is a really fun and nostalgic game in a genre that doesn’t appear on the PC that often. If you don’t go into it with “AAA” expectations, then you’ll find it a surprisingly compelling experience. Seriously, it’s so cool to see a modern PC game that is influenced by things like “Ratchet And Clank”, “Jak And Daxter” etc…

Seriously, why do hardly any of these games appear on the PC?

In terms of the gameplay, it consists of platforming, puzzles, exploration and combat. The emphasis here is on platforming and exploration, which are also the best elements of the game. The platforming segments are challenging enough to be fun, but reasonably forgiving too (thanks to things like double-jumps, a jetpack power-up, a time-slowing power-up etc..). Seriously, if you loved old-school PS2 3D platformers, then you’ll be in your element here 🙂

The design/layout of the platforms is really good. However….

However, one problem with the platforming is that, because this game was primarily designed to be played with a controller (which I don’t have), there is not only no option to customise the keyboard controls (which can be a bit counter-intuitive, like pressing “F” to interact with things etc..) but, more critically, I couldn’t find a mouse sensitivity option either.

Given that the default mouse sensitivity is absolutely sky-high, you’ll sometimes find yourself fighting with the camera during some fast-paced platforming segments. That is when the camera doesn’t freeze upon respawning (and only becomes moveable again after pressing “Esc” twice). Still, once you get used to these small annoyances, the platforming is really enjoyable.

In terms of exploration, this game is really cool. Although the levels are mostly typical 3D platform levels that have one “correct” path, a few parts are slightly more non-linear and there’s also a really interesting hub level too.

Not only are there a few interesting side-areas to explore in the hub area, but you can also meet rescued creatures too 🙂

The player is also given an incentive to explore because every level -except for the tutorial and final boss battle- contains several imprisoned L’oa that can be rescued. Not only do they make the most adorable crying and celebration sounds you’ll ever hear but, for every five that you rescue, you can return to the hub level and increase your maximum lives too.

The sound effects here are adorable. Only someone with a heart of stone wouldn’t rescue this creature.

The game’s lives system is fairly interesting. Although you’ll lose one whenever you take damage or fall off of a platform, they can be easily recovered by picking up enough of the plentiful in-game gems (which you’ll also need to rescue the L’oa). Likewise, although the game uses the dreaded checkpoint saving, this is reasonably forgiving and you’ll also have access to a fast-travel map at many checkpoints too (even if you have to move the cursor on it using the WSAD keys instead of the mouse).

Another cool thing about the game’s exploration elements is the art design. Even at low graphics settings, this game still looks really wonderful. It has the kind of whimsical, cartoonish and vaguely cel-shaded art style that made me really nostalgic for the days when games could be a bit more cheerful and stylised 🙂 Seriously, this game looks like a modern version of some of the best PS2 platformers I’ve seen 🙂

And, even on the lowest graphics settings, it still looks more spectacular than the PS2 too 🙂

The game’s combat is less frequent than I’d expected, and this is a good thing because it’s one of the weakest elements of the game. In addition to Skylar having no ranged attacks (and just three melee attacks), you’ll be fighting groups of tiny robots and a few annoying projectile-firing robots too. Although these combat segments become significantly easier, and more satisfying, once you’ve got the power-ups that can slow time and/or magnetise Skylar, expect a bit of frustration earlier in the game.

Plus, the game also includes an old-school puzzle-based boss fight too. Like in many classic games, there is a very specific way to defeat the boss and it is up to you to work it out. Likewise, although the final boss battle is the most challenging part of the game, it is still forgiving enough that you’ll probably be able to beat it after six or seven goes once you’ve worked out what you’re supposed to do.

Plus, given the lack of boss battles in the rest of the game, this part really caught me by surprise when I thought I’d finished the game.

In terms of the puzzles, this game is mostly ok. Although I’m not really a fan of puzzles in games, and aren’t that good at them, it’s an integral part of this genre. Many of the puzzles here are relatively easy and can be solved with a little bit of thought.

However, there were two frustrating slider-based puzzles (in the vaguely Zelda-inspired temple level, which also includes a cool “turning back time” mechanic) that led to me consulting a walkthrough on Youtube. Even so, puzzles are more of an occasional part of this game and most of them are reasonably straightforward.

Except for this one and the one directly after it….

Although the gameplay has some flaws, this is still a really fun game once you get used to them. Not only that, like the 3D platformers of old, this game also has personality too. Although a lot of this is done through the art style and gameplay, a fair amount is also done through dialogue.

The voice-acting and script in this game is quite literally “so bad that it’s good”. This is impossible to describe fully in a text review, but the game’s voice cast ham it up and/or phone it in majestically. Likewise, the script also contains so much cheesiness, corniness, cliche and random comedy (with the best examples being an early 2000s-style Limp Bizkit reference, almost all of CRT’s dialogue and the fact that Plux’s squeaky voice briefly drops several octaves when you find an artefact piece), that it actually becomes fun after a while.

Add to this the hilarious PG-rated “edginess” (eg: “Let’s get the funk out of here!” etc…) and the hilariously predictable, earnest and/or melodramatic “serious” parts of the story and this game’s narrative elements are some of the funniest things I’ve seen in a while.

As for the game’s sound design, there is some wonderful acoustic background music (with the highlights being the Ancient Egypt-style music and the hub level music) and the sound effects are also fairly decent too, with the highlight being the rescued/trapped L’oa creatures that I mentioned earlier. Seriously, the sound design in this game will make you nostalgic for the glory days of the Playstation 2.

I should probably also mention the game’s length too. Although I’ve seen this game described as “short”, this is mostly in comparison to the gigantic “AAA” 3D platformers of old. This game took me about 7-9 hours to complete (if you’re an expert at 3D platformers and/or are using a controller, then YMMV) and felt like a fairly satisfying short-medium length experience that never really seemed padded or rushed. It’s sort of a quality over quantity thing. Basically, if you remember that it’s a lower-budget “AA” game, if you want a game you can actually complete in a couple of days and/or if you wait until it is on sale, then the game’s relatively short length won’t be an issue.

All in all, whilst this game isn’t perfect, I had a lot of fun with it. If you can get over the clunky mouse/keyboard controls, the less than perfect combat, the occasional frustrating puzzle and the “so bad that it’s good” voice-acting/script, then there’s a really enjoyable game to be found here. It’s a really awesome, if somewhat rough around the edges, low-budget love letter to the early 2000s heyday of the 3D platfomer genre and this is really cool to see 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least three and three-quarters.

Today’s Art (28th November 2019)

Well, I had a bit more time and I was feeling slightly more inspired. Today’s digitally-edited painting was originally meant to be a stylised “retro” 1980s-themed painting but, whilst editing it, I ended up adding a more cyberpunk colour scheme/lighting style to it.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Video 1985” By C. A. Brown

Three Things To Do When You Can’t Use Your Favourite Writing Style

As long-time readers of this site probably know, I’ve been dabbling with longer writing projects over the past year or so. Well, after an attempt at writing a sci-fi horror thriller novel failed at about 21,000 words into the story, I tried to work out what had gone wrong. What had turned this fascinating project into the kind of dreary, unrewarding chore that I’d use literally any excuse to avoid writing more of it.

Surprisingly, the main thing turned out to be the writing style. Since I enjoy reading fast-paced novels, I’d tried to write one in this style – only to find that it was lacking atmosphere, had some fairly bland sentences and generally didn’t have the level of personality that I’d hoped.

So, I thought that I’d look at a few things that you can do if you find that you can’t use your favourite writing style.

1) Work out why: This sounds obvious, but it’s worth repeating. If several attempts at writing a novel in a writing style that you really love have failed, then you need to ask yourself why. To get the most out of doing this, you need to have enough experience with reading and thinking about books to be able to take a step back and look at your own failed fiction in the way that a critic would.

Once you’ve worked out what went wrong, then it is a lot easier to work out what to do next. Maybe you just need to practice more? Maybe you need to pay more attention to things like descriptions, characters, settings etc..? Maybe you need to plan your story more or less?

If you are having trouble with using a writing style that you really love, then you can’t really do anything about it until you know why it is a problem. So, read lots of books and look at book reviews too. Get into the mindset of a critic and then take a merciless look at your failed writing, comparing it to the books that you really enjoy and working out what the reviews would say. This might sound harsh or discouraging, but it’ll give you tons of info that will help to improve your next writing project.

2) Find your own style: Usually, if you’re having problems with a writing style, then this is because you want to be another author. You’ve read some really gripping, awe-inspiring fiction by someone else and you think “I want to write something like that!“. And there is nothing wrong with this. It is how writers learn and, often, how we get interested in writing in the first place. It is a totally natural part of being a writer.

However, as any piece of writing advice will tell you, trying to be another author will result in lacklustre second-rate fiction. But, why? Well, it’s all to do with how writers develop. Simply put, the best writers – the ones that inspire you to write – will often try to be a mixture of several other authors. As paradoxical as it sounds, the more writers that influence you, the more original, fresh and alive your writing will be.

It’s a bit like a palette. If you’ve only got one colour of paint then, no matter how good your painting might be, it’ll still seem a bit limited. If you’ve got lots of different paints, then you can mix all sorts of interesting colours and create a much more dramatic-looking painting.

And, this is how you find your own unique writing style. You read a lot and take influence from as many amazing authors as you can. Yes, your style might take a while to develop and it might look a bit different to what you might expect, but it’ll result in better fiction than just trying to be one other author.

3) Know yourself: Another good thing about reading lots of different authors is that you get to know what you do and don’t like in stories. And, if you’re willing to do a bit of introspection, then you might find that it is different to what you think that you like.

For example, I mentioned earlier that I enjoy reading fast-paced novels. And I do. However, the reasons for this are different to the reasons I enjoy writing. When I read fast-paced stories, I love the fact that I can just relax with them, that I can blaze through an entire book in a relatively short time and that they have the kind of ultra-dramatic focused plots that don’t take too much effort to follow. They are just fun to read.

Yet, the books that really inspire me, the ones that feel like more than “just a novel”, often tend to be a bit more slow-paced, descriptive, thoughtful, atmospheric, quirky etc… They are books that do things that only books can do, and aren’t just films on the printed page. Yes, these books take more effort to read and I don’t always feel the enthusiasm for this, but they usually tend to linger in my imagination and make me want to write something that will have the same effect on other people.

So, if you are having problems with your writing style, then it is well worth taking a deeper look at yourself. Chances are, you’re confusing what you enjoy reading with what really inspires you to write and/or what you are best at writing.

—————-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Intellivore” By Diane Duane (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I last read a “Star Trek: The Next Generation” novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at Diane Duane’s 1997 novel “Intellivore” since my second-hand copy of it has been lying on top of my “to read” pile for at least a month or two. If I remember rightly, I ended up buying a copy of this book after seeing a picture of it on a fan site for the old “Star Trek: TNG” novels.

Although “Intellivore” tells a self-contained story, it is probably worth watching at least few episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and/or seeing the “Star Trek: First Contact” movie before reading this book, since it kind of assumes that you already know the show’s main characters, the technology, the premise of the series etc…

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Intellivore”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 1997 Pocket Books (US) paperback edition of “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Intellivore” that I read.

The novel begins with Captain Picard taking a relaxing horse ride through the Alps. Of course, this is just a holographic simulation and it isn’t long before he is interrupted by a message telling him that his spaceship, the USS Enterprise, has arrived at the deep-space rendezvous point.

Following a spate of attacks on vessels and researchers in this remote region, Starfleet has ordered the Enterprise to meet up with the science vessel Marignano and another ship called the Oraidhe in order to scare away the space pirates suspected to be operating in the area. Although the mission seems fairly ordinary at first, things get a bit stranger when the ships run across a damaged pirate vessel with only one survivor on board.

Although Doctor Crusher can find nothing physically wrong with the survivor, he appears to be severely brain-damaged to the point that he is, to all intents and purposes, brain-dead. Needless to say, it seems like space pirates will be the least of the crew’s worries…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it gets off to a bit of a slow start, it’s a surprisingly compelling and suspenseful story. Unlike some of these novels, which are like extended feature-length episodes of the TV show, this one’s story is more like a traditional TV show episode- albeit with a lot more depth and detail. Although this results in a slower story that will probably only appeal to fans of the show, it contains a really good blend of sci-fi, drama and horror 🙂

In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, this novel is fairly heavy on them at times. If you like “treknobabble”, formal discussions, alien anthropology and scientific explanations, then you’ll be in your element here. This novel falls fairly heavily on the “scientific” side of things, although this is kept compelling by the mystery that the characters are trying to solve and the fact that all of this scientific stuff is used brilliantly in the novel’s epic final segment. This is a story that follows a consistent set of “rules” and a story where science is used to both unravel mysteries and solve problems in creative ways.

Not only that, the novel also contains the kind of cool sci-fi stuff that would have probably been prohibitively expensive for the TV show’s special effects team. Although I don’t want to spoil too much, the final segment of this novel is indeed epic and is well worth reading through all of the slower and more science-focused earlier segments of the story for.

Plus, to my surprise, this novel also contained a few horror elements too. These are subtle, ominous, psychological and/or tragic moments that really help to add a sense of suspense and unease to the story. And, although there are some lighter moments and beautiful descriptive moments, this novel’s tone is more on the grim and serious side of things. Still, this fits in with the story really well and helps to give it the kind of atmosphere that you’d expect from a more “dramatic” episode of the show.

Thematically, this novel is fairly interesting – with most of the story’s themes focusing on the topic of life, death, medical ethics and what it is to be human. Although the novel touches on the topic of euthanasia a few times, this is more of a background element and most of the story’s moral discussions are about whether it is right to kill the mysterious force that is threatening everything in this region of space. This also links into discussions about the food chain and the survival of the fittest (with scenes describing “benevolent” civilisations that have damaged or destroyed themselves and a ruthless, amoral civilisation that has prospered).

In terms of the characters, this novel is fairly interesting. In addition to introducing a couple of new captains for Picard to team up with, this story also occasionally focuses on both Data and Dr. Crusher too. The scenes involving Crusher are probably the most interesting, given that she is shown to act at least mildly out of character for a rather dramatic reason (eg: her horror at the idea of brain injuries and her hatred for anything that can cause them). Still, although this story is fairly Picard-focused, Data gets some of the story’s best moments – with the fact that this is a novel rather than a TV show episode meaning that we also get a much deeper look at how Data experiences things too 🙂

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is reasonably good. Although it is a little bit on the formal and descriptive side of things, it is still “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving. Likewise, all of the descriptions add extra atmosphere to the story and the formal dialogue, narrative moments etc… are also in keeping with the tone of the TV show too. Still, this is very much a novel for fans of the show who, for example, don’t mind the occasional scientific explanation and/or debate.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 239 pages in length, it doesn’t feel too long. Likewise, although there are quite a few slower-paced parts of the story, they never get too slow and are usually there for a good reason (eg: atmosphere, characterisation etc…) and are supported by some well-handled mystery and suspense. Not to mention that, although the later segments of the story aren’t ultra-fast paced, they’re certainly a little bit faster and more gripping too 🙂

As for how this twenty-two year old novel has aged, it has aged reasonably well. Most of the novel’s thematic stuff is fairly timeless, although the flashback scene showing Dr.Crusher’s reaction to visiting a school for brain-damaged children during her medical training would probably be handled in a different way if it was written today. Still, thanks to the futuristic setting, the story as a whole still feels fairly fresh when read today (and even the novel’s reference to a “terabaud” data stream still sounds vaguely futuristic too).

All in all, this is a fairly good “Star Trek: TNG” novel. Yes, it’s a little bit more slow-paced than I’d expected and you’ll probably only really enjoy this one if you’re a fan of the show, but it is atmospheric, suspenseful, dramatic and also has a brilliantly gripping conclusion too 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Today’s Art (26th November 2019)

Well, today’s (very heavily) digitally-edited painting is based on this photo I took in Hamble last December. And, yes, I ended messing around with some slightly different digital effects (the “Waterpixels” effect in GIMP 2.10.8, if anyone’s curious) whilst editing this painting.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Hamble – Riverside” By C. A. Brown

The Complete “Work In Progress” Line Art For My “Damania Revisited II” Webcomic Mini Series

Well, I thought that I’d do the usual thing of showing off the “work in progress” line art for my recent “Damania Revisited II” webcomic mini series.

If I remember rightly, there weren’t really that many (if any) dialogue/art changes between the line art and the finished comics, other than correcting a few small mistakes and trying to make the dialogue slightly more legible too.

You can click on each piece of line art to see a larger version of it 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

“Damania Revisited II – Absinthe (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Revisited II – Old School (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Revisited II – Strange Noises (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Revisited II – Difficult To Tell (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown