Resurrecting An Indie Adventure

Back in the spring of last year, my partner and I started a new blog – An Indie Adventure – dedicated to reviewing the puzzle, adventure and RPG games that we both so love to play. Unfortunately, after the first few posts, we ran out of steam; or, more precisely, our lives kicked into a completely different gear, leaving us with very little gaming time (my own writing and this blog also suffered as a result).

Now, however, as you might be able to tell from my increased posting here, we’ve got a lot more time on our hands, and felt it was time to resurrect our neglected gaming blog. An Indie Adventure, therefore, is getting back on its feet, with the first new review appearing this week. If you’re at all interested in video games – particularly indie titles in the adventure and RPG genres – we hope you’ll check it out.

Amber: Getting Into Trouble Since 2012

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about my ongoing fan-fic for Chronicles of Tyria, but I thought it might be worth a mention today. My story over there is still going strong, and Amber – my asura thief – is still getting herself into an ever-increasing amount of trouble every fortnight. And when I think about what I’ve got planned for her over the next couple of months… Well, she’s in for quite a ride!

You can find links to Amber’s entire story HERE.

It’s also occurred to me that I’ve been writing this story since December 2012. 2012! I’m amazed it’s been so long, as the time has really flown by. However, there are now 30 episodes of Amber’s tale, which amounts to – at a rough guess – somewhere around 50,000 words of fiction. And it’s all free!

So, if you’re at all interested in Guild Wars 2, or indeed just free fiction (I don’t think the story is unintelligible for anyone who hasn’t played the game), have a look at Chronicles at Tyria. We’ve a whole wealth of excellent stories, which now include a web-comic and, as usual, a boat-load of videos and podcasts. And it’s all free, so what are you waiting for?

‘Chronicles of Tyria’ and ‘An Indie Adventure’ Update

I’ve had limited time to blog here recently, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been entirely lazy, just that I’ve frequently been more active elsewhere. Today, I just want to do a quick round-up of links, and let you know what I’m up to when everything is quiet here.

Firstly: Chronicles of Tyria. My story about a snarky asura thief called Amber is well underway now, with part 3 having been released a couple of weeks ago (and part 4 just awaiting a few tweaks before it’s ready to be posted). I’ve also written a couple of ‘one shots’ for the site, one-off stories about other characters, this time around written to a holiday theme. You can find them all with the links below.

Chapter 1: Part 1 – The Golem, the Thief and the Interrogator

Chapter 1: Part 2 – Investigators Don’t Do Subtlety

Chapter 1: Part 3 – Infiltrating the Inquest

The Future the Pale Tree Shows (written for Valentine’s Day, but not as soppy as that would imply!)

A Wintersday Reunion (and my Christmas short, or ‘Wintersday’ as it’s known in the world of Tyria)

Secondly: An Indie Adventure. This is my joint gaming blog, which has admittedly been a bit slow to get off the ground. The problem with writing a gaming blog is that you’ve got to find time to actually play some games before you can review them, and that’s been increasingly difficult recently. However, my partner in crime has stepped into the breach: his first review, of the game Super Meat Boy, can be found here.

So, like I said, not entirely lazy, and I will keep posting here (although my other difficulty at the moment is that I’m struggling for time to write as well, and this has always primarily been a blog about writing). I’m hoping to get a long overdue album review up in the next week or so, and hopefully it’ll be back to my writing – or lack of it! – after that.

Launching An Indie Adventure

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll have noticed that gaming is a subject dear to my heart, and one that I discuss here fairly frequently. However, recently I’ve felt that it was about time I had a proper outlet to blog about games – although this was an idea I had some months ago, it’s only now, with the new year upon us, that I’ve actually had a chance to put my plans into action.

And so, An Indie Adventure is born! The blog will be a joint venture with my partner, and a site where we review all the adventure, puzzle and general indie games we can get our hands on. If you’re a gamer too, I hope you’ll head over there and have a look – the blog is very much in its infancy right now, but we expect to start filling it up soon.

This won’t, incidentally, affect this blog at all. Instead, I’m just more likely to shift my gaming posts over there, and keep Not All Those Who Wander primarily about writing, books and the other miscellanea that tickles my fancy.

I’m Writing for Chronicles of Tyria!

I’ve been quiet here recently as I’ve been involved in a lot of behind-the-scenes preparation for a new project: as a writer at the Guild Wars 2 fan-site Chronicles of Tyria. To really get an idea about what CoT is, have a look at their site, but in brief it’s a small number of writers producing on-going GW2 fan-fic, alongside the occasional self-contained story. My story will focus on an asura thief named Amber, and whilst obviously it’s aimed at fans of the game, I hope the story itself will be a great read for fantasy lovers of all stripes.

My first post will be available to read at the site in the next day or two, and from then on I’ll be producing a new chapter every 2-3 weeks. I’ll talk more about the challenges of writing both serial fiction and fan-fic in another post (and I’m sure there are a few extra challenges I won’t stumble across for a few weeks yet!) – but for now, have a look at the Chronicles of Tyria site, and if you’re a fan of the game, feel free to join the CoT forums and introduce yourself!

It’s the Guild Wars 2 Screenshot Bonanza!

I’m working to a deadline on a novella at the moment, as well as preparing for a job interview this week, and my brain is pretty much fried. Add to that a week away from home and lately this blog hasn’t been getting the attention it deserves. As I’m still pressed for time, I thought I’d post a few more screenshots from the activity that’s eating most of my non-writing time: Guild Wars 2.

Just two weeks ago, the game finally saw it’s official release, after months of beta tests, and the landscapes within Tyria (the world of Guild Wars 2) remain as captivating as ever. If you’re a gamer, I hope you enjoy the pictures, and even if you’re not I think there’s plenty to admire – and perhaps to give you story ideas! – in the screenshots below.

Krytan Bridge

My Not-Quite Cultural Olympiad: Poland

[Details of what my Not-Quite Cultural Olympiad is all about are here.]

For the fourth post in this series, we’re coming back to Europe, but venturing into yet another medium: video games. It’s fair to say that Poland might not be the country you’d immediately associate with game development, but that’s been changing over the last few years with the release of The Witcher and its sequel (which I’ve chosen a picture from below, because I like the artwork more), the aptly-named Witcher 2.

The games are based on a series of books and short stories (which I’ve yet to read, hence my focus on the games) by the Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, and were developed by the Polish company CD Projekt Red. The ‘witcher’ of the title is Geralt of Rivia, a mutant, an amnesiac and a monster hunter who, in the games at least, frequently gets involved in politics (despite his assertions of wanting to walk away, he never seems to quite manage it).

The gamer takes on the role of Geralt and is thrust into a world that’s both violent and beautiful, and tends to feel more believable than the settings of many fantasy RPGs (Elder Scrolls, I’m looking at you). Along the way, there’s a vast cast of characters to meet and interact with, and dozens of choices to make which affect the overall course of the game. Whilst it’s impossible, therefore, to experience every option in the storyline without playing the game more than once (the same holds true for both of the titles), these choices provide more structure than many RPGs, and give a sense almost of a choose-your-own-adventure novel, in which the player’s decisions genuinely affect the story’s outcome.

Admittedly, these aren’t perfect games. The first Witcher game, for example (which I’ve played in more depth, of the two) was frequently touted as being mature and thought-provoking, but occasionally tripped itself up with some groan-inducingly juvenile moments, particularly where Geralt’s ‘relationships’ are concerned. The plot, meanwhile, had plenty of nice touches and some strong dialogue in places, but floundered if the player didn’t complete events in the right order, or simply couldn’t work out what to do.

Still, these are impressive games, more ambitious and more intricately-plotted than many similar titles. Geralt himself is also a memorable character, no matter what path you as the gamer make him walk down – and even if many of those paths come to something of a sticky end! Despite my love of RPGs, there have been very few games that have genuinely made me care how they’re going to end, but the Witcher was one of them, and I have high hopes that the Witcher 2 will be the same.

The Shiny New PS Vita

As writers, when we talk about the New Shiny, we’re often referring to new projects, new ideas, and things we want to be working on when we really have better things to do. This week’s New Shiny in this household, though, is an actual object: a PS Vita!

Ok, so my photo is terrible, and is there mostly for anyone who doesn’t know what a Vita is. What it can’t do justice to is what a beautiful looking bit of kit the Vita is – it’s sturdy, well-designed, powerful and the screen is an absolute joy to use, whilst the combination of front touchscreen, rear touchscreen and most of the usual PlayStation buttons make it easy and mostly intuitive to use. I’ve been waiting to get my hands on one of these since about November last year, so to finally have one is brilliant, and I haven’t been at all disappointed.

There are a few cons, of course – it’s expensive, for one, and its proprietary memory cards are expensive, and its games are expensive… As a new console (it came out in Europe in February) there are also a limited number of Vita games available, although the number of download-only PSP games widen the field.

As for first impressions, there isn’t a lot more I can say that I haven’t already covered (and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of detailed reviews available online). There are a number of PSP games that I want to try, and I have a copy of the newly-released title Gravity Rush waiting at my local games shop. And the Vita itself? In the words of Ferris Bueller: ‘It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.’ I can’t say better than that.

Guild Wars 2: The Second Beta Weekend

Once again, the upcoming MMORPG Guild Wars 2 opened its doors this weekend for a beta event, allowing thousands of players who’ve already bought the game to get a taste of it before release. And, being as big a Guild Wars fan as I am, I once again got involved. Here’s my quick recap of the weekend. (As last time, if you’re here for my writing posts and not interested in gaming, just have a look at the pretty screenshots and move on.)

Bugs. The last beta weekend was, stability-wise, not without its share of problems, which I covered in my last post. The situation had been much improved this time round, though – travelling between zones with a party actually worked, the lag was at a minimum, and I suffered only a handful of disconnects on Saturday, which had been mostly fixed by Sunday. Server stability was clearly one of the issues that the ArenaNet team were most determined to address, and they’ve done an admirable job.

The impressive central plaza of Lion’s Arch, the game’s largest city.

Gameplay. To say I’ve been trying to be critical of Guild Wars 2, its gameplay – and particularly combat – continues to impress. It’s smooth and intuitive, there’s a good range of quests/events, and casually joining up with groups of other players is fun and easy (and remarkably polite, perhaps because the competitive elements of many MMOs have been replaced with cooperative ones). Not being tied to a single area was one of my favourite aspects – travelling around the map is easy, quick and allows you to see a bit of everything, without getting bored. (To those players who complained about running out of things to do and having to grind level? Clearly, you weren’t trying hard enough – don’t just stay in the area you started in. GW2, unlike many MMOs, actively encourages you to get out there and see the world.)

Difficulty. Having said all that, GW2 is really quite challenging in many respects. Although the situation had been somewhat improved since the last beta weekend, I still found myself struggling with some ‘solo’ (ha!) story quests, even with help. There’s clearly still a lot of balancing left to do before the game’s release.

Another city, this time the semi-steampunk construction that is The Black Citadel.

Setting and scale. Once again, the world of Tyria impressed me a great deal. Its landscapes are beautiful, varied and truly vast. As exploring everything there is to see is my single favourite thing in MMOs, the scale of Guild Wars 2, and the thought that’s gone into its area design, makes me very happy.

Last time, I talked about being mildly disappointed. I have to say, putting aside comparisons with other games and getting to play it again has really changed my mind. Guild Wars 2 is already a stunning, accomplished game, months before final release. It’s been a massive pleasure to get to play it again, and to do my small part in making the end game even better.

Choice and Emotion in Gaming and Books

Forgive me for the slightly unwieldy title on this one – it’s the only one I could come up with that didn’t seem completely melodramatic. Anyway, today I wanted to talk about something I’ve noticed recently in gaming and reading, and how they differ in affecting our emotions. This particular aspect, at least, all comes down to choice.

Let’s start with an example, and a fairly well known one. The Mass Effect games have been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons (namely, everyone hated the end of the latest installment), but it’s important not to forget how brilliant the first game was. And yet, despite that, I never managed to finish it. A single part of the game did it for me: a section which ended with the death of a character, and left me feeling so devastated that I could never find the heart to finish the game.

Plenty of games try to evoke emotion, just as books do. I know many people found the death of Aeris in Final Fantasy VII to be incredibly moving. For me though, it was a bit of a ‘meh’ moment, and the same goes for many books I’ve read. Thing is though, even when I do come across emotionally powerful books – and I’ve talked about a few recently – I only want to read them more. So what’s the difference?

I’ve realised that it all comes down to choice, and in this case, the personal choice of the reader or gamer. You see, in Mass Effect, which character met a sticky end was down to the player. Admittedly, there were only two characters to choose from, but forcing the player to pick one to live and one to die was incredibly powerful – and made me feel terrible afterwards. I actually changed my mind and replayed that section to save the other character, but it didn’t really help. I was devastated, and I lost all enthusiasm for the game.

The same thing simply can’t happen in a book. No matter what you want to happen, the plot and the ending are always set in stone, by the author rather than the reader (perhaps one reason why fan-fic is so popular – getting to rewrite those endings and ‘fix’ the bits you didn’t like). This lack of choice is actually something I like. There’s a feeling of being in the hands of a professional, of knowing that the story will end exactly as it should, and not be messed up by my own ineptitude as reader. There’s also the fact that choice can be frustrating as well as powerful: in that Mass Effect example, there was no option to attempt to save both characters, or neither – the player was forced to choose between them, a choice I would have preferred not to make.

So which is better? Should games avoid giving you a choice – or should they always give you a choice, to make the emotional impact more powerful? It’s down to the individual game, of course, just as whether that choice is appreciated or not is down to the individual player. It’s an aspect of gaming that, for good or ill, I think is going to become more prevalent as games become more sophisticated, allowing for more plotlines and possibilities. And if that choice becomes wearing, and I just want a good story? Well, I can always reach for a book.