Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Wattpad Page

Watt pad?  That one!

Okay, I feel better now.  Had to get that out.

I made a Wattpad page about 6 months ago, when I wrote the first chapter of Downfall.  It didn't get any views so I just stuck with this page that already has an audience.  I've heard good things about it since then though and so I'm going to keep this page as my blog and for random writing and just link to new stories as I post them over there.

I also found a cool public domain photo which I used as a cover for the book.  Click the image below to visit my Wattpad page!

Wattpad - Downfall

Monday, 23 November 2015

Downfall Chapter 3

The light drizzle did little to wash away the blood and vomit from his clothes.  The small alley was unlit except for the night sky and was as good a place as any to catch his breath and gather his thoughts.  Jake knelt in the grass and dry retched violently.  In his mind he’d seen all kinds of horrors, but in his 8 years he had only seen the least of them for real.  And had committed none, of note.

One of his many unexplained talents was being able to extract the truth from someone, however hard they thought themselves to be.  He’d never tried it before, but had no doubt of his ability. 

The senator was involved in so much more than even Jake knew.  Drugs were just the beginning, and were just to finance his less mainstream hobbies.  It took a lot to extract all the information from him, leaving little more than a husk of a person, his confessions extracted, along with whatever humanity he may have had left.  When he was finally permitted to die, it was mercy.

But that was all.  The senator was greedy, he was evil, he was responsible for deaths and unspeakable suffering and didn’t seem to have a redeeming feature to him.  But he knew nothing.  Not a single answer he was looking for, just more crimes leading to more crimes, and no answers.

When you know you’re insane, it is hard to know the right thing to do.  Not knowing would be so much easier, he could just be whatever he was and let God or the Devil or the courts and shrinks sort him out.  But he couldn’t hide the truth from himself, he was insane, maybe even evil, but he didn’t want to be either, perhaps that was his one redeeming feature?  Perhaps the only difference between him and the senator was that he knew he was wrong.

He realised he was crying, face buried in his hands and promptly stopped.  Children cry and he was a child, but who was there to listen or care?  Who would understand if they were?  He knew he gave up his childhood when he started on this path, and there was no turning back and going home now.  He couldn’t just run home to his parents, say sorry for running off and go back to normal life like nothing had happened, not after what he’d done.  He certainly couldn’t run around playing with his friends while the voices screamed at him that he will kill them all.  Death was the only freedom.

Ringing filled his head.  He’d done all he could for the world.  Despite everything, despite the voices, the hatred, the insanity, he wanted to help.  Now he had done the best he could.  A person like him couldn’t really help others, he could only help by hurting, it’s what he was good at, it was what he did.  He rid the world of some darkness that no one else dared approach, and now he would help the world again, by ridding it of himself.  One more dangerous murderer gone.

So many more dangerous murderers alive.  No one else knows what he now knows.  All useless information.  Useless to him, but how many lives could he save if he went on just a little bit longer? Let everyone know what he found out in the last moments of the senator’s life?  Was he so selfish that he’d throw all that away just to save himself a few more days’ suffering? 

If he lived a few more days, would he lose all control and bring about more suffering than he could prevent?  He was too dangerous to live…

A murderer either way.  He was lying on his back cackling with laughter now.  If he died, countless will suffer and die at the hands of others.  If he lived, who can say what suffering will be caused by his own hands?  It was beautiful.  The voices sang to him, “There is only death,” and he only laughed in reply.

Jake drew his gun again and held it to the side of his head, a wave of sorrow washed over him for an instant and he held it down before he could break into tears again.  He looked at the bloodstained ground around him and took a deep breath, at last it would all be over, the torment would end. 

It was his duty to protect others.  It was the only thing he knew for certain.  Protect them from himself, if needed.  Protect them from himself, and allow them to be tortured and killed by others?  He was a coward.  The voices had always told him that.  He only wanted to save himself from what he might do, and was willing to sacrifice anyone to ease his own mind. No.

Anger welled up inside him as he finally rose to his feet, gun still held against his head.  He wasn’t going to blame others for his weakness, he wasn’t going to let it be someone else’s fault.  He knew what was needed to save countless lives, if he turned away, he killed them.  If he lived, he might kill many more himself.  But he was not a coward.  If people were going to suffer and die, he wouldn’t let others take the blame.  It would be by his hand, or not at all.  It was his responsibility.

His mind cleared and his finger relaxed on the trigger.  The ringing got louder, like it was coming from all around him now.  Sirens.  Police! 

He was too close, he was supposed to be a long, long way from here where he could never be connected to this, to protect his friends and family.  Not a few hundred meters down the block, covered in his victim’s blood.  “Idiot!”  The voices chorused the word in his head.  He got up and ran, he remembered where to go now, where no one could catch him.  He only hoped he didn’t leave his escape too long.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Downfall Chapter 2

The room was almost undefinable to the human eye.  The walls, the ceiling and floor were all near perfectly transparent.  It was as if they were crystal or diamond, but the floor was soft and warm, the walls solid and clear, the ceiling vaulted high and shining with an ethereal brightness.  Everything had a slight variation in colour, almost imperceptible.  The furniture appeared strewn about almost randomly, made of strange combinations of materials that made no apparent sense together.  The only things recognisable were a computer console and some hand written documents strewn on what must have been intended as an office table.

To Myla, the room was beautiful, to her every colour was distinct, every material complemented every other with cascades of colour and textures forming perfect gradients.  It was also practical.  No one could see inside, it was only transparent one way.  And most who entered the room had such poor perception they couldn’t walk 10 steps without falling in a heap.  Security and aesthetics in one.  Anything less would be undignified.

Standing a hand below six feet tall, with dark brown hair in a braid to her waist and green eyes, she wore a pristine white gown with sleeves covering her arms and the dress splitting down from her waist to her knees, revealing equally white skin tight pants.  Every inch of the fabric seemed to glow ever so slightly.  Imposing at the best of times, it was often said in hushed tones that she could kill with a glance.  Fortunately no one knew just how true that was.

The man standing at her door, awaiting her invitation in was clearly dangerous, even to her.  In his black, full body Guardian’s armour he stood near 8 feet tall and could readily take apart an entire space station single handedly.  The material that made up the room was her best hope of escape.  He would assume it easily destructible.  It was not.  If he wasn’t careful he could kill himself trying to shoot her through a wall or table, and he had no reason to think he need be that careful.

She stood at the largest wall of the room, looking out at the stars and the planet in the distance below and beckoned subtly with her hand, causing the door to open and admit the Guardian.

He walked in without a word right up to stand a comfortable distance from where she stood.  Most would have taken a good minute to navigate that far into the room, perhaps his visor offered better vision than she realised.  He beckoned and the door shut behind him.

“Why are you here?” Her expression and voice were entirely matter of fact, she could tell the man in the armor was angry, but not more than that.  Until she knew more, that was the best she could do.  “Your dead husband,” he paused a moment, gauging her reaction - there was none - “Tell me why he is dead.”

“Why ask me now?  He is dead because somehow a Guardian and a squadron of fighters couldn’t hold off an Outsiders attack 50 years ago.  I would have thought by now at least the Guardians would have worked out what went wrong, even if they didn’t make it known.”  She showed just the appropriate amount of offense one should show on such a touchy subject.  No one controls her emotions but her.  But this was the one topic she’d hoped he wasn’t here for, he suspects what she’s been up to.

Anger now showed through in his voice, “I’m asking you because a petty group of Outsiders does not defeat a Guardian led squadron and because in those almost 50 years a lady of your influence and alleged love for your husband has failed to make a point of that fact.”

Surely he didn’t think she was involved, imbecile.  If that was it, this would be easy.  Indignation now, “I most certainly made a point of it, I spent two years demanding the matter be looked into, and had the Emperor personally assure me…” He cut her off.  “You may have convinced everyone else that you simply stepped back and accepted his death on the word of the Emperor, but I didn’t and I know for a fact you didn’t either.”

For the first time since she heard of her husband’s death, Myla was shocked, her mouth hung open for a moment and she had to contain a gasp.  What just happened couldn’t happen.  Had never happened, must never happen!  A Guardian just told her he didn’t accept the word of the Emperor.  If anyone ever found out, they would both be killed, along with everyone who knew why, and probably everyone who knew them, just to be safe.

Her voice was weak and breathless, “What are you doing?”

“My loyalty is to the Eternal Empire and my duty is to ensure its future.  Only a Guardian could have enabled him to be killed and only the Emperor could have covered it up.  If the Emperor can no longer be trusted, there is no future.”

“You can’t say such things!  A Guardian or the Emperor would never do such things!  You’re insane!”  He wasn’t, he knew, he was trying to trap her, she was a fool, he set her off balance.  Hopefully she acted horrified enough.

The Guardian removed his helmet, revealing his face.  Myla wondered if anyone had seen the face of a Guardian in her entire lifetime.  There was no law that set any penalty against a Guardian, they were above reproach, but this… He was helpless now, without full armor on, she knew she could kill him effortlessly, before he could react.  She could do it with impunity now, he exposed himself, if she killed him in self-defence he’d be written off as an impostor and that would be that.

“I don’t care for you, your dead husband or his philosophical nonsense.  I’ve gone as far as I can without help, and you are the only other one I know who is searching for the truth.  You want the truth for your own reasons.  I want the truth to save this great Empire and all its people from corruption and death.  You don’t trust me, but you won’t get any further on your own either.  If you trust me and I am lying, you will suffer and die.  If you don’t trust me, you will spend the rest of your life achieving nothing, and then probably suffer and die.  Make your choice.”

Now she knew.  He was angry at himself for having no choice but to risk coming to her.  What he said wasn’t entirely true, she was getting further on her own, but he clearly thought she was just in it to avenge her husband.  All they ever wanted was to protect and help their people, all people.  They were both willing to die, but not for nothing.  This man was willing to sacrifice everything for the good of the Empire, the people of the Empire, not just the Emperor.

Myla looked directly at him and for the first time showed him a genuine emotion in a small wry smile.  “We need to find a better place to talk.”

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Downfall Chapter 1

Jake knew he was insane, there was no point denying that.  The question he needed answered was whether he was also right.  If he was right, then he was slightly less mad than everyone else, and had to find out why.  If he was wrong… He was willing to risk a lifetime in a nut house if it meant knowing the truth.  He was willing to risk death.  He could tolerate those, but he couldn’t tolerate not knowing if he was living a lie.

Certainly if he told anyone what he really thought, he could fit just about every diagnosis in the book.  Paranoid delusions, multiple personalities, voices in his head, all there, though perhaps they aren’t “delusions”.  So far the only diagnosis he allowed himself to be given was ADHD.  Drug dealers were loathsome creatures, but when you are stuck with certain limitations you have to make do.  You can’t do much on $10 a week, and while selling off ADHD meds isn’t that profitable, it does cover the cost of travel, the occasional small bribe, and a gun.

An image flashed in his mind of a newspaper article about a kid overdosing on the same medication.  He couldn’t help but wonder if – unlikely as it is – it was one of his pills that killed them.  If he was wrong, he was nothing more than another criminal and perhaps soon to cement his label as a murderer.

Of course the mere fact he was where he was, doing what he was doing was at least some degree of proof that he was right, that he wasn’t completely insane.  He knew far too much about far too many things no one seemed to know about.  He picked up languages in a matter of days.  He followed lead after lead, from corner drug dealers, to mob leaders and businessmen right to the top.  He found his way into the house of a US Senator that he had proof was behind one of the largest drug operations in the country.  He did it, without any help from anyone, and no one else could.  That meant something.  That was truth.  But it wasn’t the answer he needed.  He needed to know why.

He wasn’t sure what to expect when the senator got home.  Part of him was fantasizing that all this would be simple.  That he’d come home and remove his head, exposing an alien body or some such thing that could be shot on the spot and revealed for what it really was.  He knew that much at least wasn’t likely… He wasn’t that far up the chain of command.  Yet.

This would be hard.  No one ever took Jake seriously, and now he needed to be taken very seriously.  This man needed to know that if he didn’t tell the truth, he would die then and there.  Hopefully the mask would help.  A crazy apparent midget in a mask with a gun, surely that would scare anyone?

This was his last chance to turn back.  He knew he couldn’t be caught, he was smart enough to avoid that.  But if he was wrong, he’d have to turn himself in.  If he was wrong, he is far too dangerous to be allowed to go free.  Maybe he’d just kill himself to be safe.  That would be best – if he is wrong.

He sat on the senator’s bed in the dark, quietly rotating the barrel of his gun.  Regardless of what happens tonight, one of the biggest drug lords in the world is about to go down.  That is a good thing at least, it won’t solve any problems for long, but at least if he is insane, the person who will suffer most for it isn’t an innocent.  All the proof needed was already on its way to the FBI and a hundred or more news stations, no point wasting all that good evidence collected over the last year.

A car quietly rolled up to the garage and came to a halt.  It was time.  Jake wished he could have waited a few more years to do this.  He felt a pang of sadness thinking about his friends, his family.  There was no going back to them now.  If he is wrong, he would end his own life somewhere a long way away and no one would ever know who he was.  If he is right… If he is right, everything will change.

Jake couldn’t help but wonder if there were any other 8 year olds in the world who have gone through the same thing.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Geriatric Backpacker

I feel I've been left behind a bit here.  My dad has just last month decided to start blogging!  I on the other hand stopped blogging over a year ago.  Dichotomy!

Having recently returned from a trip through Europe, there are probably some things to say!  But for now, pretty photos:



So my ideal for a holiday is to go around in luxury, but then do as many potentially life threatening things as possible between resorts.

My dad on the other hand is going for something a bit more hardcore.  So follow his 500km travail... I mean travel, across Hungary at his new blog, Geriatric Backpacker!

Friday, 9 January 2015

BioShock Infinite - Gameplay vs Story

So I almost finished writing this ages ago, specifically one day before this video came out:

And it says everything I wanted to say, only in cool video form, so uhmm, go watch that... But I figured I wrote enough I might as well put it up anyway.

With the Easter long weekend came another opportunity to play a game start to finish in a short period! The game of choice on this occasion was BioShock Infinite (Sinfinite as it shall now be known).

If I were to choose one game to compare Sinfinite to overall, it wouldn't be Bioshock or even System Shock 2, but Spec Ops: The Line.  This might seem an odd comparison, but the main thing that stood out for me about both games isn't the plot, the characters, the twists or even the game play, but it is how the game play in both cases seemed to just get in the way of everything else.

I stumbled around with this concept in writing my review of Spec Ops but could only put my finger on the fact that the game wasn't that fun; which seemed to distract both from the story (I was bored waiting for the next plot event to happen) and the overall message of the game (i.e. "You shouldn't be having so much fun killing people," well I wasn't...)

Now that another game (that I have played) has come and done the same thing, I've started to see what is actually going on here.

A couple of people have discussed this to some degree already.  Chris Plante from Polygon wrote a piece titled "Opinion: Violence limits BioShock Infinite's audience — my wife included".  While I don't agree with his premise - that violence specifically is the problem - his point that all the violent game play seems to be utterly out of place in the context of the game is entirely correct.

Similarly this video from Youtuber MrBtongue, which came out before Shinfinite, also talks about violence in games, but gets a bit closer to the point.  Or at least to my point.

Be warned; ahead there will be Sinfinite spoilers.  So many spoilers.  Terrible, game destroying spoilers.  If you read ahead your life as you know it will be spoiled beyond recognition, you will develop a shock of grey hair and a haunted look that will stay with you until the end of time.

SPOILERS AHEAD - You might die.

Sinfinite is a decent game, the endless 10 out of 10 reviews may have indicated that to you already. I can only assume such good reviews came from people who haven't played System Shock 2 or simply "Want to Believe" that gaming has actually developed in a meaningful way over the last 10 to 15 years.

To start with the good, Sinfinite looks amazing. The art, level design, characters, theme, everything is outstanding. It's a world you want to explore and learn more about. The opening scene gets you right into the curious mindset of wanting to know what the hell is going on, why are you there, what is this place?

Finally you get up to the scene where you choose who to throw the baseball at and you are spotted as the "false shepherd." Then you kill people for 14 hours. Then there is an awesome ending that messes with your head! The end.

And herein lies the problem. Sinfinite is ostensibly a game trying to tell a really cool story in an awesome and immersive world. For some reason though it also wants to be a mindless shooter with endless hordes of enemies spawning out of nowhere and slowing your progress through the story.

Because I am not small, fluffy kitten, I don't have a problem with violence in media.  Movies and games where people get dismembered, eaten, burnt; dismembered, burnt and then eaten, and then the person who ate them gets dismembered, eaten, burnt, flayed, puréed, with bacon and peanut butter sauce... Wait, what was I saying?

Okay. I don't really have a problem with violence in my entertainment. If you think your four year old daughter might have trouble sleeping after watching Kill Bill, I'd advise not letting her watch it.  I'm wise that way. But violence is and always has been a fact of life and while in some movies (the so called "torture porn" genre, like Saw, The Human Centipede and so on) it is plainly just there to be sick, in a lot of movies it is either funny (Commando!) or poignant (Pan's Labyrinth - that movie still haunts me), or just generally awesome (The Matrix).

But you'll note I'm naming movies here and not games. This is a bad sign.

Games have developed in many ways over the years, but in some ways they appear to have been utterly stagnant since the late 90s, around the time of Half Life and System Shock 2. First of all, and entirely unrelated to this discussion, why does Half Life still have the best enemy AI of any first person shooter before or since?  Just sayin'.

But looking at games as an artistic medium, what has been going on over the last 10-15 years? Well what is a game, or specifically what is a computer game? To wrap all games into a single category is senseless. It would be like comparing Dances With Wolves to a porno filmed by a pair of 40 year old crack addicts.  There are different classes of movies, as there are different classes of games (and books too!)

The first kind of computer game is just a game, plain and simple. There is no story (or no story of relevance) there is simply some kind of challenge for you to partake in. Games like pong, SimCity, Civilization and so on are obviously in this category (though you can argue in the latter games you make your own story). In fact the number of games that fall into this category are quite large, yes Mario, Doom, Quake and so on have some kind of plot, but the purpose of those games is a fun challenge, the plot is a bonus.

There is also a different kind of game though. The story driven game. These have been around a long time, Zork, Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment.  The gameplay is still core to the experience, if you don't like Dungeons and Dragon's gameplay you can't enjoy the story of BG2.  But a large part of the motivation to play isn't just the challenge, but the story.  In fact in Torment the challenge largely is the story, in that you can play through the entire game without any combat, just conversation.

The problem comes in though, where over the last 10-15 years there has been very little development on the integration of these two points, gameplay and story. Computer games are an artistic medium.  They can incorporate the video of a movie, the writing of a book and allow you to interact with them. In theory they are the ultimate story telling device. So why aren't they?

Half Life and System Shock 2 are games that really leaped ahead in this area.  Half Life was predominantly a fun shooter, but anyone who has played it will say that the story really drew them into the game and made it far more fun. The story was an important part of the game and it was told through the gameplay. The story never distracted you from playing the game and playing the game never seemed to get in the way of progressing in the story, playing the game was progressing the story and playing the game was fun.

System Shock 2 leaned a bit more the other way, the story was key to the entire experience. As a shooter the game was actually rather poor, but the style of game play complemented the story and environment so well that rather than thinking "damn this is slow and clunky next to Half Life" your thoughts are "OH MY GOD I'M ABOUT TO RUN OUT OF AMMO AND DIE!!!"  It was an outstanding combination and a more engrossing game than any of the Shocks since.

But then what? Where is the advancement since then?  COD4 had a few nice set pieces but I can't say I remember any of the story. And since then? What?

Well there are two answers to that question.
Shinfinite and The Walking Dead.

The two games show two different directions games are (or at least could be) going in.

The Walking Dead is a game I absolutely love, in fact I consider it one of the best games I've ever played... Only it isn't really a game. In fact it has taken the story driven game to the final level, where the interaction with the game is not about giving you a challenge, a game, but more about involving you emotionally in the story.  It is an amazing cross between the experience of watching a movie and playing a game, that gets you just involved enough in what is going on to experience the story far more intensely, without pausing the story while you try to figure out some puzzle for half an hour.

So The Walking Dead basically shows what is possible with interactive media, but stops trying to be an actual game and instead just aims to tell a story in the most engrossing way possible.

I'd love to see more games (or whatever you might call them) like this. Yes I know point and click adventures have been around forever, but anyone who has played TWD and others will know the difference. However I'd also like to see great games with awesome stories in the future too.

Shinfinite is sadly not an example of this. It takes some really cool characters, a really cool plot and ending, an amazing world, and then dumps it on a generic, boring FPS that drags the story out over 10-14 hours. Just like Spec Ops. And no where near on par with System Shock 2 or Half Life as a whole.

I don't understand the 10/10 reviews Shinfinite has been getting and I can only assume they are from people who love the story and world so much they had to rate it high or who have simply never played Shock 2.

And here we abruptly end...