Friday, July 5, 2019

Cuphead and Mugman - Legendary Couch Co-op

The more contracts I take in the game industry, the more I'm appreciating the nuances of game writing. And the more I appreciate the differences between straight fiction and interactive experiences, the more I'm blown away by the creativity of some people involved in producing video games.

Cue the total, mind-bending insanity of Cuphead and Mugman. I have no idea how, or why, this game came into existence. No doubt I could search it and discover all the details I'd ever want and more, but I don't need to. Cuphead and Mugman is perfectly well appreciated simply by playing it. With visuals reminiscent of early Disney cartoons - or even early Popeye - this game is like no other.

It looks amazing. It sounds amazing, and it IS amazing, but in this case it's not the graphics, story, or even the gameplay that really make Cuphead a great experience for me. It's the all-pervasive, persistent absurdity of almost every element of the game that has me entranced. Cuphead is normally the kind of thing I would run from at a million miles an hour, because:

1) It's super-super hard
2) When you die, you're sent right back to the beginning of the level
3) In some instances death is unavoidable
4) Did I mention it's super hard?
5) It's super hard

But for the reasons mentioned above, I will play levels in this game over and over until I defeat them. And while I love video games, I'm not really all that good at them, so that means playing some of these levels a lot (like 20 times). I played with a friend and we had so much fun, despite the total carnage, because it's just that kind of game.

If you like co-op games, and you also like bouncing up and down on your couch shouting "Holy crap I'm gonna die!" for a couple of hours straight, get this game and play with a friend.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

A Hand of Knaves on Ballot for a Ditmar Award!

The title of this post says it all. My writing's been given mentions in "best of"s" and I've had the odd award here and there, but my work's never been nominated for a Ditmar award, so this is new for me.

Which isn't to say A Hand of Knaves is all "my work". It's an anthology containing the work of plenty of people, but Leife and I planned the theme, read and selected the stories, and edited them as best we could to come up with the final product - which also contains artwork from Shauna O'meara that just happens to be nominated in the Artwork category (so we're winning all 'round).

Congratulations to everyone involved with A Hand of Knaves and thanks to everyone who voted us into the ballot. As I've only ever considered myself a writer, it's strange to have something I've edited up for a national award.

Strange, but AWESOME!!! Go AHOK!


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Marvel's Spider-Man PS4

Wow. Just, wow! I had reservations about buying Marvel's Spider-Man for PS4 when I first heard tell of its development by Insomniac Games. Never, ever, ever, have I taken to a superhero game for PC or console. Even the recent Batman games were - for me at least - a soulless button-mashing exercise in kicking and punching bad guys into submission with little-to-no story or motive above the generic satisfaction derived from kicking ass.

Marvel's Spider-Man has changed the way I look at superhero games. Insomniac has managed to inject story into Peter Parker's journey, but more than that, they created a series of narrative sequences that really motivated me to want to come back time after time to unravel more of Peter's tangled web of relationships.

Sure there were predictable back-stabs and double-crosses from (mild spoiler alert) the likes of Dr Octavius and co. But because aspects of Peter's relationships with other characters were so strong, I found myself not caring. I found myself waiting out the inevitable, while enjoying the unexpected angles on his well-worn story.

And that's before we even mention the fun of swinging my way around New York at the end of a spider web, skimming the traffic, frightening pedestrians and performing acrobatic maneuvers of skill and daring. I haven't had this much fun navigating an open world map since Assassin's Creed Black Flag. In fact, the sheer joy and sense of freedom gained from swinging building-to-building saw me often foregoing the "fast-travel" option in favour of the longer (but far more interesting) route.

The level progression was well conceived, although as is the trend with RPGs these days, I found I'd managed to exhaust the skill tree by the end of the game. It's one of the game's few flaws. Rather than choosing one skill path and optimizing it, I was able to basically select every option, minimizing my desire to replay the game with a different skill-set.

The combat was fun and inventive, though not always intuitive, and I didn't see too much of a difference in difficulty between the standard and hard-core modes, though this could be due to my generally defensive style of play (I don't enjoy getting shot, no matter the diffuculty setting).

It's been a while since I posted about a game, mainly because I only do so when I play something truly great. This game came close to that. I give it eight out of ten snarky spidey-quips. Good job Insomniac. Really good job.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The CSFG Provides Fantastic Opportunities for Success

When CSFG Publishing puts out a submission call to authors across Australia and NZ, it's with a view to showcasing the fantastic work of established and emerging writers in this region of the world. This was most certainly the case with A Hand of Knaves, edited by yours truly and Leife Shallcross in 2017-18.

The "blind" submission process helps a lot, as there can be no subconscious (or even conscious) favouritism involved during the story-selection phase. The most exciting part of the process for me, was getting to show-off some new (and even first-time) authors to readers of short fiction in this country.

But now some of the more established contributors are getting their opportunity to shine. The recent announcement of the 2018 Aurealis Award finalists includes three stories from A Hand of Knaves:

For Best Fantasy Short Story
"A Moment's Peace" by David Versace

For Best Science Fiction Short Story
"A Fair Wind off Baracoa" by Rob Porteous
"On the Consequences of Clinically-Inhibited Maturation in the Common Sydney Octopus" by Simon Petrie and Edwina Harvey

I'm not sure whether these authors would like to be called veterans, but they are masters of their craft nonetheless. I'm so glad they decided to submit their work to our submission call, that Leife and I had the opportunity to read, select, and publish these stories. But on a personal note, I love that I had the opportunity to work with these amazing guys (and all of the AHOK contributors) throughout the process. My biggest fear when putting my hand up for the gig was that I wouldn't do justice to the material, but I think we managed to pull together something pretty special in the end.

I don't think it's any surprise that the above stories needed very little work however, and were mostly published as submitted.

Congratulations to the authors and a big thank you to the CSFG for publishing anthologies like A Hand of Knaves and creating these opportunities for success. CSFG Publishing doesn't chase awards, but when nominations come along it gives us all a boost.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

5 Dynnyrne Rd for Sale - Not Haunted!

5 Dynnyrne Rd. Hobart TAS, 7005.
Fantastic 4-bedroom home. Sought-after Tasmanian location. 

Has stood for over 100 years (sadly no centenary letter from the Queen), being one of the original Dynnyrne Station houses. Unlike the nearby whippersnappers built in the '50s and '60s, 5 Dynnyrne Rd has weathered the test of time and is a true 1915, federation-style original.

Not haunted! No ghosts, poltergeists or repeating spectral apparitions of any kind observed or reported in the past 20 years.

Protected from meteorite impacts!* Proximity to Hobart’s iconic Kunanyi/Mt Wellington means you’ll be shielded from extra-terrestrial debris, particularly from the northwest.

Well clear of predicted tsunami disaster zone. Be “that guy” posting videos of houses getting washed away while laughing quietly yourself and sipping the micro-brewed beverage of your choice, as any (standard-sized) tsunami steamrolls over Taroona, Sandy bay and Battery Point below.**

Calming Resonance Nexus. Built on rock-solid Jurassic dolerite in the year of the rabbit (by the Chinese calendar), owners of this house will enjoy the rabbit’s creativity and sensitivity, as well as the strength and sense of purpose inherent in Earth signs – or something like that … whatever.

Australia-wide internet upgrade
Connected to Super-fast National Broadband Network! If you’re yet to experience the wonders of Australia’s NBN, buy this home and enter an exhilarating realm beyond the limits of human imagination as you blast down the information superhighway at speeds your great-grandparents never dreamed possible.

Come take a look at this beautiful home. Open Saturday 15 December 2018.

You won’t be disappointed.***

*Meteorites must enter Earth’s atmosphere at an angle of no less than 15 degrees, approximately 170km to the west of Mt Wellington for total protection to apply.
**In case of an unexpectedly large tsunami, follow all SES instructions and seek higher ground.
***And if you are? Well, that’s on you.

Monday, November 12, 2018

On Being a Dinosaur

Tears and laughter. For this kid it was mostly tears.
This weekend the Royal Society of Tasmania put on a picnic in the park WITH DINOSAURS for the kids (4000 of them apparently). As I do from time to time, I was one of the dinosaurs - the Utahraptor to be precise. The little ones loved it and I had a lot of fun too. There was a baby T-rex there as well, expertly operated by a friend of mine.

You can't see much in those suits, so you need dino-wranglers to shout out when you're about to mow some poor kid down, or when one of the more "excitable" little tykes starts trying to punch you in the knee. 

Verdict: Being a dino is a lot of fun but those suits can get really, really hot inside. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Waterdeep vs Lankhmar: Dragon Heist

I've only just started my 5e D&D journey, having played through Horde of the Dragon Queen earlier this year with some friends and really loving it. On a whim (after having launched A Hand of Knaves and still feeling the roguish vibe) I picked up the Dragon Heist (Waterdeep) campaign module last week and it looks really good.

Dragon Heist begins with a low-intensity mystery, allowing players to get a feel for their new characters, and slowly builds into a fun urban adventure. The city-based intrigue is strongly reminiscent of the AD&D 1st and 2nd ed. Lankhmar adventures, which I absolutely love. It's difficult to compare the two really, since my friends and I spent many game sessions navigating Lankhmar's dark, rogue-invested back-alleys, and I know little about Waterdeep - but still - I get a very Lankhmar-ish vibe from Dragon Heist. The city maps for both are spectacularly detailed - though I think I prefer the Lankhmar map for its colourful names and general layout.

A feature of the Dragon Heist adventure however, is its accessibility and the vast array of ready-made options, which give time-poor DMs plenty of scope to add detail, without asking them to invest hours in pre-game preparation, something older modules never really provided.

When I catch up with my playing group again, Dragon Heist will be sure to feature.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Launched - A Hand of Knaves

A couple of weekends ago I attended Conflux 14 in Canberra. I had a great time for many reasons, not least of which was because, alongside Leife Shallcross, I got to finally launch A Hand of Knaves!

Editing this fantastic collection of stories about thieves, pirates, con-artists and anti-heroes of all kinds with Leife has taken up a lot of my time over the past year and to see the finished product in the hands of readers was a real thrill for me.

It's the first collection of stories I've 'properly' edited and I think I can safely say that Leife and I struck up a great working relationship. It was a superb learning experience for me as a writer as much as anything. I learned a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses, not only through my interactions with Leife, but with the authors as well.

A couple of tipsy editors
A lot happened for both of us between the time we chose to take on A Hand of Knaves, and the date of publication. Leife beat out literally thousands of hopefuls to have her The Beast's Heart MS accepted and published by Hodder and Stoughton through their open submission call from a few years back. And I've secured contracts writing Choose-Your-Own-Adventure gamebooks for companies such as Big Fish Games. Just goes to show where editing a CSFG anthology can take you.

You could call me biased (and I am) but I really think this anthology is THE BEST. I had a hoot launching it, dressed up as the cowardly rogue Jayne Cobb, with Leife as Cersei Lannister. But neither of us could hope to match our spontaneously hilarious MC Rob Porteous, whom I suspect lives a double life as an actual space pirate.

A bunch of happy launch attendees

I'm kinda' sad it's all over now, but the launch was great fun. Thanks to all those who came along and best of luck to all the authors in this anthology. It was fun to meet some of you there.

The ever-popular signing table


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Behold - A Hand of Knaves Has Cover Art


Thanks to Shauna O'meara A Hand of Knaves now has a cover, and it's a great one. Thanks also go to Simon Petrie for the layout of the text inside and out. I'm really pleased with every aspect of this anthology and can't wait to launch it with Leife Shallcross at Conflux 14 at the end of September.

I know it's traditional only to show the front cover when announcing these things, but I like the wrap-around so much I just wanted to show off the whole thing.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

New Picard Story - Where to for Star Trek TNG fans?

So much awesome
I'm one of the many, many unashamed Star Trek: The Next Generation fans who were blown away by the recent news that Jean Luc Picard would be making a return to the Star Trek universe. Even better: Sir Patrick Stewart came out and said the character may be a little different than we remember. Character evolution and quirky surprises are what will make his return interesting and, hopefully, exciting. But what will his new story look like? And what could be the reason for his return? These are the questions fans will be asking until the new series premieres.

What will the show look like?
Hopefully not some turgid political drama involving the internal machinations of Starfleet, as some seem to be suggesting. WTF people? Name one thing that would be good about that. Just one. I dare you!

Some have suggested an Indiana Jones-style show focusing on Picard's interest in archeology. This could be interesting but there isn't much scope for high-stakes intrigue.  This could be a sub-plot. i.e. the first ep. begins like this, until Picard gets the call to return home because something much bigger has come up.

I'd like to see a show that delves deeper than that. Something that digs into Picard's past, unearthing his greatest fears and weaknesses. A show that depicts a man coming to the final phase of his life who is strong and vital but at the same time is dogged by his past. He has loose ends that need resolving.

What we think we know...
Based on various glimpses into the future in Star Trek TNG we think we know that:
  • At some point Picard married Dr Beverly Crusher (nice one!);
  • At some later point they divorced (dang!);
  • At some point (presumably in between the above two points) they had a child;
  • Dr Crusher becomes captain of a medical ship;
  • Picard develops an incurable neurological disorder known as Irumodic Syndrome, the symptoms of which can be suppressed, but not cured.
  • Wesley Crusher (Beverley's son) left Starfleet and it is presumed he began a life traveling across various planes of existence under the tutelage of the Traveller.
The above elements alone could form the basis for an incredible show, regardless of what other ideas are thrown into the mix but...

If it were up to me?
I'd love to see a show that brought Crusher and Picard back together. Imagine the awkward friction, the unspoken tension. But how to do it? The child they had together? Possibly. For me it would be the return of Wesley Crusher to the Primeline with dire news of impending catastrophe.

Something is coming. Something that has lain waste to numerous parallel universes and planes of existence. Wesley has seen it in his journeys with the Traveler and is terrified. But what is it?

Who are the Bad Guys?
Wesley Crusher is now a powerful trans-
dimensional being.
The Borg - having been defeated by the Federation time and again - have a new strategy. They've tried to assimilate humanity into their collective but their attempts have failed. After stewing on this for several decades they've decided: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Instead of the Borg assimilating humanity into the collective, the collective have, almost imperceptibly, begun to assimilate themselves into humanity - and all other life they encounter - a strategy that proves far more effective and devastating than anyone could have imagined. Their aim? to dismantle the Federation from within. And it works. Humanity breaks ties with the other members of the UFP , because who is Borg? Who is Federation? No one can tell. The lines become blurred. Chaos reigns. Bwuuuhahahaha!

Jean-Luc
Picard is fighting a losing battle with Irumodic Syndrome (a la Netfix series River). He sees things. Hears voices that aren't there. People appear and speak to him. People he knows are long dead. People like Will Riker, dead in some battle or other with the Romulans, but who keeps showing up - offering advice just as he did when he was Picard's first officer back in the day. Picard won't admit the toll the disease is taking but the effects are becoming more noticeable, even with medication.

Then he gets the call - Wesley Crusher has been discovered in the midst of a devastated outer colony. It looks as though Wesley is responsible for the colony's destruction but he won't talk to anyone but Picard (because he can see that across all space and time, Picard is the only one with the knowledge and the connection to the Borg, who can get the job done). Wesley Crusher is now quite a powerful individual, but he can't defeat the re-born Borg on his own. Not even close. He needs Picard, and he needs Beverly Crusher and a few more as well.

The story is one of dealing with inner demons. Picard is battling Irumodic Syndrome, a disease which is tearing him down from the inside (something he's seen first-hand with Spock's father Sarek and which terrifies him) - while at the same time the Federation is being eaten away by a new and seemingly unstoppable Borg threat.

Eventually Beverly discovers a way to adapt the new, invasive Borg technology to keep the symptoms of Picard's Irumodic Syndrome at bay. Picard must face a choice between going slowly mad like Sarek, or living with Borg technology inside him for the rest of his days.

Wesley Crusher uses his immense tansformative power to nullify the Borg and probably dies in the process.

Other Returning Characters
Some have suggested Data could return as ship's computer. Awesome idea, after writers (including actor Brent Spiner) butchered his character arc in ST Nemesis. (Unforgivable. Please just forget that ever happened. Seriously.)

Dr Crusher - obvs.

Will Riker - Dead but returns at odd intervals as a symptom of Picard's dementia.

Worf - Just because hell why not?

Let's face it, you can come up with reasons to bring all of them back if you really want to. Some of them might even get Borg-ed.

This would be totally awesome and I can't wait to see the show, even if it looks nothing like the above. But if it did even a little bit ... Wow. That would be worth watching...




Wednesday, July 18, 2018

I Decided to Make Money From Writing - And it's Working

I've always wanted to be a full-time writer, but I've never had a clear understanding of how to make enough money from my writing to survive. In fact I read an article on the ABC news website this morning stating that authors in Australia earn, on average, $11,000 to $13,000 per year, which sounds about right.



I can't live on that. No one can. So my fears are clearly justified. Regardless, in 2017 I decided to throw caution to the wind and try to come up with a way to make enough money from writing that I could start to think about transitioning from my regular job to the coveted holy grail of full-time writer.

I had this vague idea of combining two of my great passions, writing and gaming, to see what would come of it. I had no real understanding, at that point, of what I was getting myself into. The answer, of course, is interactive fiction. Interactive fiction - or digital gamebooks - are the modern version of Choose Your Own Adventure stories, which were among my first reading experiences, right alongside Enid Blyton's Wishing Chair and J.R.R Tolkien's The Hobbit.

The Cave of Time, Third Planet from Altair and Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey? provided me with hours of fun as a kid, and after experimenting with all kinds of writing styles as an adult, I probably shouldn't be surprised that I'm now returning to this concept to provide a source of income. Why?

Because the popularity of mobile devices makes interactive fiction big news. Bigger than I expected. The most successful providers of digital gamebooks are companies like Pixelberry Studios. Pixelberry sell their products via an app called Choices: Stories you play. The Choices app sits somewhere between 20-40 week-in week-out, on Google Play's list of highest-grossing apps. It has been downloaded tens of millions of times, and that's just Android devices, never mind iOS. There are 50-60 titles available through Pixelberry's app with more being added all the time. The market is huge and hungry, and I thought it would be great to have a go at breaking into this growing area.



After playing around with a few scripting platforms like Choicescript and Twine, I thought I'd submit an application to a casual gaming company in the US, just to see whether I'd get a response and maybe some feedback. What I ended up with was a contract to write a gamebook, and since then, interest in further projects. In short, way more than I was expecting. The transition from writing short fiction to longer-form interactive fiction hasn't been difficult for me, and it's been great fun working with a team, rather than in isolation.

The money? I'm not going to quit my day job just yet, but compared to what the ABC says is the annual income for writers in Australia, it's positively outstanding. Every writer has to work out the best path for them to achieve their writing goals. Interactive fiction may not be everyone's cup of tea, but there is a huge market for it right now and it is a great match for my skill set. Plus, I find it far more rewarding to win a contract and write the story, knowing there's a good chance of the work being published, than writing in isolation and hoping I can convince someone down the track to pick up the project and run with it.



Friday, February 9, 2018

A Hand of Knaves - Author List Released

Leife and I have worked for several months to cull the list of fantastic submissions down to nineteen of our favourites for A Hand of Knaves. There are some really fantastic stories in our bucket and it was great to finally put the author's names to their writing (as the reading for CSFG anthologies is done blind).


I've been abroad of late and while I was away the CSFG released the list of stories and authors so I'd like to belatedly congratulate the successful writers, and let those who didn't make the cut know that we had a wealth of excellent stories to choose from so don't be too disappointed.


Our list of authors/stories is as follows:


  • Eugen Bacon, Ace Zone
  • Amy Brown, A Tale Of The Marriage Of Gawain
  • David Coleman, Immortal, Coiled
  • Tom Dullemond, The Killblaine Legacy
  • Maureen Flynn, Gardening Through the Danse Macabre
  • Rebecca Fraser, The Pedlar
  • Isobel Johnstone, The Apothecary’s Apprentice
  • Grace Maslin, A Question Of Identity
  • Chris McGrane, Trojan Thoughts
  • Claire McKenna, The One Who Walks The Permanent Way
  • Cassandra Page, The Best Heist Yet
  • CH Pearce, The Last Magicians of Sad Hill
  • Simon Petrie & Edwina Harvey, On the Consequences of Clinically-Inhibited Maturation in the Common Sydney Octopus
  • Louise Pieper, A Widow’s Worth
  • Robert Porteous, A Fair Wind Off Baracoa
  • Charlotte Sophia, Stardust
  • HK Stubbs, Lost Property
  • David Versace, A Moment’s Peace
  • Angus Yeates, Anchor Point


  • While I was away I was editing on the road and with Leife pushing me (in the nicest way) from Australia we have completed first round edits. I'm clearly biased but I also feel completely confident in saying that A Hand of Knaves will be an excellent anthology and I'm pretty sure I speak for both of us when I say we can't wait to share these tales of space piracy, magical slight of hand, necromancy, dangerous school girls, Ned Kelly-esque legends, assassins-in-training, vengeful hackers and so much more...

    Monday, December 11, 2017

    Knaves Submission Window Closed and Reading Complete

    It's Done! Submissions are in and Leife and I have read them all. Every single one. There were a good number of entries given that the call was limited to Aussie spec-fic writers and there were some fantastic stories.

    I was truly amazed at the breadth of interpretation of the topic, with some writers really pushing the brief while still meeting the criteria and creating inventive material.

    Now it's time for Leife and I to don our gladiatorial armour and enter the ring to fight for our fave stories Hulk vs Thor-style.

    It's gonna be one helluva smackdown.

    Also, the crowd-funding campaign to raise some extra script to pay our long-suffering authors is up and running. The CSFG's anthologies are a significant part of the Aussie spec-fic writing landscape so please, please, please consider contributing, keeping in mind it's a not-for-profit organisation.

    Visit the Indiegogo campaign here:
    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/a-hand-of-knaves/x/17109762#/

    We need your help!

    Friday, October 20, 2017

    A Hand of Kanves - Submissions closing soon!

    If you're an Aussie writer and you haven't yet submitted your most knavish story to the CSFG's newest anthology, A Hand of Knaves, THEN GET ON IT!


    YOU ONLY HAVE UNTIL 15 NOVEMBER YOU FOOL!