Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Australian Crime Writers Association - Joined

 So I joined these guys:

They seem like a pretty inclusive bunch and since I'm branching into crime writing now I thought it was a good idea. They've already put me onto a couple of informative (and free) online seminars. Honestly, as most of my work (including the narrative design) comprises some level of mystery and danger, crime writing isn't much of a stretch. 

Plus - I'm loving it already!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Mandalorian S2 Climax- Super or Sellout? (Warning - Massive Spoilers Ahead)

No one who knows anything about the Skywalker saga can deny the final scenes of The Mandalorian Season 2 are anything but spectacular. The arrival of the mysterious X-wing, the green lightsaber, the black-gloved hand, all build toward an exhilarating and surprising reveal.

Personally, I thought the return of Luke Skywalker in the prime of his Jedi powers was an awesome sight. My partner on the other hand? Not so much. My partner isn't a long-time Star Wars fan. She doesn't know much about the Skywalker clan and doesn't much care to find out BUT, she loves the Mandalorian and she especially loves little Grogu. 

Toward the end of season two's final episode, while I was getting more and more excited as clues began to drop as to what was about to happen, my partner was becoming frustrated and confused.

"What's going on?" she asked, bewildered at the sudden and unexplained turn of events. "Who's this guy?"

At the time I was too overwhelmed with childish excitement to understand her confusion. "What?" I said. "That's Luke! Luke Skywalker! Holy fucking shit!"

But for some reason this explanation didn't seem to impress her as much as I thought it should. It wasn't until later, when I tried to see things from my partner's point of view, that I understood why she thought the end of season two was the absolute worst. 

Unlike every other episode, it completely ignores new fans in favour of service to long-time followers. Writers up to that point had been very careful to provide context for Easter-eggs and call-backs, and until now it's been a lot of fun for ALL FANS. But the last scenes of season two abruptly and completely abandon new fans, no explanations, no context.

Worst of all, for viewers whose primary motivation for watching the show is the
Baby-Yoda cuteness overload machine, it appears as though their favourite character has just been stolen away by a weird-looking (is that a real guy? What's wrong with his mouth?) wizard with a terrible hair-cut. 

In short, while I loved the entire episode, my partner -- who adores Baby-Yoda, couldn't give two shits about Luke Skywalker, and who is now under the impression her favourite character is exiting the show -- may never watch it again.

Was the price of alienating new fans worth the payoff for long-time Star Wars stalwarts? I suppose time will tell...

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Outer Worlds - It's [insert favorite RPG, Movie, Book, TV show] - In Space!!

The first thing I'm gonna say about this game is: I freaking love it. Everything that comes after should be seen through that lens. The second thing I'm going to say is that the writers/devs on the The Outer Worlds are sharp. You know the saying, "You can't please all of the people, all of the time"? Well, Obsidian Entertainment has shown that you really, really can.

It's been said many-a-time that "This Game" is just Skyrim with guns, or "That Game" is just Fallout in Space etc... Well, The Outer Worlds is all that and it doesn't care what you think about plundering pop culture for kicks. There are numerous nods to other games, sure, but (and I want to emphasize this) not only games. There are references to TV shows, movies, music, books, table-top RPGs, the list goes on, and it's not confined to the SF/F genres.

Conversations are 1 on 1. Very Reminiscent of Oblivion.
And like early Elder Scrolls, the voice acting is hit-and-miss.
The Outer Worlds isn't afraid to reveal it's source material, in fact it flaunts it - unashamedly - time and time again. And somehow, it works. On all kinds of levels, it works. But most of all, on the level of clever fan service in support of elegant game design. From the very beginning of this game I felt an overwhelming nostalgic twang - a feeling I haven't had since I played ES Oblivion for the very fist time, and was transported back to my Dungeons and Dragons heyday. Well, The Outer Worlds does something very similar. It draws on the best elements of all the games/books/movies you've played/read/watched before and melds them into a package that's at once so astonishingly familiar, and undeniably unique, that you'll begin to wonder if it hasn't spontaneously popped into existence due to some unacknowledged, gamer-wide yearning for this exact product.

Parvati - You really can't help but admire her.
I could talk about any number of great features in The Outer Worlds, but instead I'll just mention the writing - because I'm a writer. For a game in which the protagonist has no voice at all, there are some instances of nuanced interactive fiction here, akin to the best of Bioware. I mean, you gotta follow the quest-line, BUT the interactions with crew-members and other denizens of the Outer Worlds are engaging, fun and sometimes touching. Parvati, in particular, is a companion the like of which  I haven't seen before. Her naivety is refreshing and her bald honesty can only be described as heart-warming - to the point where I'm more than happy to forgo the main quest line and do whatever it takes to get her on that blasted date with her partner. I think we're going to see a lot of Parvati clones in RPGs to come. I could go on but I've probably written enough for now.

In short, The Outer Worlds is funny, it's colorful, it's both nostalgic and refreshing at the same time, but most of all it's pure entertainment made by people like us who like the things we like. I feel as though you gotta give credit where it's due, and with this game, it's due.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Living (a version of) the Dream

The dream has always been to one day give up geology and become a full-time fiction writer. I'm now getting to the age where that should well and truly have come true, and but for a few technical glitches, I'm starting to think it might have - only not the way I pictured.

In order to work out whether I'm actually "livin' the dream," I need to first define what the dream entailed. Stripped back to basics, the dream was something along the lines of:

1. Work for a while as a geologist:
2. Once financially stable, begin writing career (aaaahhhahaha);
3. Once I'm earning heaps of cash from writing, discontinue being a geologist;
4. Earn even more cash from writing;
5. Perhaps sign a few movie deals and marry an A-list actress...

Now, you may look at the above list and think, "Wow, this guy is seriously deluded!" and of course, you'd be right. I was young when I first had the dream. Too young to understand how ridiculously unlikely it was to come to pass. I didn't factor in some very important variables, like not being that good of a writer at age 16. Or having to learn the trade, having kids, relationship breakups featuring financial difficulties, unexpected living arrangement etc... In other words, life. That's right, I hadn't taken into account the fact that I as alive.

Living an actual life that includes things other than dreams can be quite confronting at times - a fact I've struggled to come to terms with at various stages, and even now.

So let's see if I've achieved my ridiculously unlikely goal of "livin' the dream," or if the dream has slipped into the realms of "early childhood fantasy" along with my hopes of being the first person to take a submarine into the Mariana Trench. Addressing the above points:

1. Work for a while as a geologist - Big check (I've worked right around Australia and in parts of
Africa as well. Definitely nailed that one.)
2. Once financially stable, begin writing career - Hmm. This is where things begin to go off the rails. I took the family off to Africa for a while and had a ball over there, neglecting to begin said career. When I finally returned with the kids but sans wife, I had to set up a new life in Australia and rebuild a new career here before I could even think about writing. However, I did get things back on track eventually, and began writing short stories (and getting some published).
3. Once I'm earning heaps of cash from writing, discontinue being a geologist - This part has almost happened (the dropping geology part, not the earning heaps of cash part). After moving on from short-form writing, to settling on writing for the casual games industry, I'm earning enough to reduce my hours at my day job by a day a week. I've also moved from exploration management to geoscientific publications which is much more in line with my long term goals.
4. Earn even more cash from writing - well, the more contracts I take game-writing, the more money I can make, but I still haven't quite reached the point I'd feel confident dropping all non-writing work and jumping boots-first into the gaming industry. I got burned early on which taught me a valuable lesson in caution.
5. Perhaps sign a few movie deals and marry an A-list actress - No and no. In fact last part of point 5 is no longer part of the dream at all. Quite happy thank you very much.

So am I, in fact, "livin' the dream"? I feel like I might be. It's not quite the dream I imagined way back when, but I'm as close now as my life allows me to be, taking into account the ebb and flow of forces beyond my control.

Perhaps once I've seen my current contracts through to completion, I'll feel even more optimistic. Maybe then the dream will become a little more tangible. Maybe then I'll know for sure. For now, I feel like I'm close, and that's reason enough for celebration in my book.

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!

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...