Archive for February, 2009

I’ve had a bit of a play with the Empire: Total War demo and have had a few thoughts on it.

So far it looks like it will be a fun game, though there is none of the campaign mode in the demo which, for me, is the most important part of the game.

The demo itself has two battles to play – a sea battle and a land battle.  They get a little repatative after a while, but it allows you a glimpse at the game.

Firstly I’ll start wit the naval aspect of the game, something completely new for a Total War game.  I had high hopes for this, looking forward to taking ships of the line into battle, with cannons roaring and boarding actions.

Unfortunately I am a little disappointed.  The naval side of the game is very arcady. Ships can sail directly into the wind.  Ships stop on the spot when their they finish their movement orders.  Ships sink far too fast and often.  That may sound a little unusual, but in reality these ships could take huge amounts of punishment and rarely sank – they were more likely to surrender or be boarded than sink.  If you look at the Battle of Trafalgar, the combined French/Spanish fleet lost 20 of their 33 ships, and of those only one sunk outright.  Some sank later, either deliberately scuttled or lost in the storms that followed, but they didn’t sink as easy or as fast as in this game.  It could have been much better.

The land side of the game is much better, as you would expect from the long line of games that predated it.  It has the feel of the era, of long lines of men volley firing muskets, of cannons blazing away, of mad cavalry charges.  It doesn’t have enough smoke though – battlefields became shrouded in it, but in this it is barely noticeable.

Cannons are, not surprisingly, nasty.  Even the light 6 pounder horse artillery you have in the demo can cause serious damage, and if the enemy gets close enough to be subject to canister, it gets brutal.  Skirmishers and those with longer ranges of fire are annoying – you have to close in and take your losses before blasting them away with massed fire.

The downside is that the AI seems a little lacking, at least in the demo.  I hope it improves in game – in one game the main body of the enemy just stood their doing nothing as I pounded them with cannon fire, killing hundreds before the survivors decided to retreat.  They didn’t seek cover, and nor did they march forward to engage me, which would have been a more logical thing to do.

Certainly I plan on getting the full game, but hopefully a few minor things like these are fixed before then.

Sat down and finished the rough draft of another short story, so far titled The Tomb of the Togosa Kings. Currently it is a bit over 9000 words in length.

I’m not releasing it for viewing yet – I want to give it a bit more polishing first, especially the ending. I haven’t quite managed to get the hang of doing proper endings yet I don’t think. None of the short stories I’ve done so far I’m totally happy with how they end.

This one isn’t your standard fantasy, being of the later time period of the world that I have alluded to before. It also introduces a number of characters from Winter Wolves – Harry Ban, Elraes, Professor Hjalir and other – when they were younger.

Hopefully the polishing won’t take a long time to do and I can put it on the website for people to read.

From The Onion comes this amusing video, which appealed to the gamer in me immensely.

Onion Video

After last week’s stirling efforts I had hoped this week would follow a similar course.

I was wrong.  While it wasn’t the worse week on record, it was still pretty poor.  I had two decent days, without being great, two mediocre days and three days of abject failure.

On the positive side, I have got a short story close to being completed, and, baring anything wierd, it should be done so in the next day or two.

Looking back over the last eight weeks, or fifty-six days, I have written around 63500 words.  A bit over 1K a day.  Less than I would have liked, but at least above the absolute minimum I had set.

So there I was, minding my own business when another story idea emerged from my fevered imagination.  At this rate I should almost be outsourcing all these ideas and taking a cut of the profits…

Where was I.  Ah, yes, minding my own business.  Well, kind of.  Recently I had been going through my DVD collection after having an urge to watch action-adventure treasure hunting type movies – you know, the Mummy movies and National Treasure, King Solomon’s Mines, etc and so on.  Which reminds me, I still need to get Indiana Jones and the Goonies some day.

This gave me the thought that I should have a go at writing a fantasy treasure-hunting tale of the type in those movies.  Kind of like The Hobbit, but more on the action-adventury side.

And then I put the thought aside to go back and concentrate on Winter Wolves.  Except the thought didn’t like that idea and raised a name with me – Sir Richard Hammerman.  And that kind of forced back the idea into prominence.

And now we go back a step, to where Sir Richard first appeared from.

It started with a picture I saw, of a man standing at the top of a steep walled valley, on the far side a village clinging to the side.  I think it may have even had steampunk elements to it – whatever it did, it gave me an idea for a village for a steampunk setting.  In this village lived a young man called Preston who, for reason still being worked on, left the village to see the world.  He fell in with a company of explorers, lead by the gentleman-adevnturer Sir Richard Hammerman, and in the course of his adventures crossed the seas to the colonies and a wild land where ancient cities moldered amongst thick jungles and were strange creatures lived.

That was about the sum of the idea at the time.  Sir Richard’s name came from the Steampunk Name Generator at Brass Goggles and was too good a name not to use at some stage.  For a while the idea languished and may have been forgotten for some time until this new idea came to light and suggested Sir Richard.

This instantly made the story a  steampunk story, and personalities and ideas began to swirl around.  The characters – Preston, Sir Richard, Captain Archibald ‘Archie’ Hammerman, Miss Eva Redsmith and Professor Hamilton Gooding had before been only names, but now personalities began to form, perhaps inspired by the DVDs.

Sir Richard is the quintessential gentleman-adventurer.  Polite, well-mannered, with a dry, straight-faced wit and unflappable stoicism, he is the type to face the certain doom of an oncoming dragon with the line ‘Drinks at seven chaps?’

Captain Archibald ‘Archie’ Hammerman is Sir Richard’s younger brother.  Fair-haired and blue eyed, he is charming, adventurous, excitable and with a reckless innocence that can get him in trouble at times.

Professor Hamilton is less mapped yet, but is the intellectual voice of reason and caution in the party, though his deep-seated curiosity for the unknown and mysterious can often override that caution.

Miss Eva Redsmith is even less realised yet, beyond being somewhat mysterious and a treasure trove of obscure knowledge.

The young man Preston is wide-eyed and new to the broader world, fascinated by all that he is seeing and often lead astray by Archie.

Their adventures take them across the seas to the jungles, searching for an ancient treasure, surrounded by the danger of monstrous snakes, piranhas, tribes of lizard men, crocodile men and trolls and the wonder of lost cities and magnificent winged serpents.

Therein lies the gist of the story.  The difficulty lies in not starting another story when there are already others in various stages that need working on first.

Pushing Around the Wall

Posted: February 24, 2009 in writing update
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So there I was last week thinking how well things were going and so I started this week full of hope and even got the fourth chapter done and then on into the fifth.

And then I ran into the wall.  For some reason chapter five really wasn’t working despite having the synopsis for the it there.  I just couldn’t seem to figure it out even after three days wrestling with it.

So rather than stall out trying to fight through it and loose all the recent progress that had been made, I felt it best to push around rather than through the wall.  So the plan is to skip chapter five for now and move on to other chapters, all of which have synopsis written for them, as well as trying to finish off one or two short stories that are half written.

I haven’t bought a computer game for a while, not since Fallout 3 was released anyway.  I don’t buy as many as I once did – more a reflection of the fact games aren’t made teh way i like and used to remember than anything I guess.

One that I am very much looking forward to though is Empire: Total War, and the demo just got released.  It is in the middle of downloading now so I’ll get to play with it a little later today.

Part of the reason I am so looking forward to it is that it is set in the time period that mirrors that of the world I am writing in – the age of sail and gunpowder, of exploration and empire.  For the first time in a Total War game naval warfare is involved – we can utilise ships of the line and frigates and all the fun that goes with that.

Should be fun, should be exciting – just need to wait until the full game is released now.

Medieval Stasis

Posted: February 19, 2009 in writing update
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Some of you may have stumbled upon a site called TV Tropes before. If you haven’t, it is well worth the look – but be warned, it is a trap. You venture in to look at just one thing and two hours later you still haven’t got around to reading it.

Tropes are devices and conventions that writers use that generally aren’t cliched but are commonly employed.  Despite the title, it is not just about TV, but covers a wide gamut of media – TV, movies, literature, comics, anime etc.

One of the tropes lists is Medieval Stasis, something I have mentioned before, but by different names.  My references to it have been the apparent stagnation of technology and history often plagues fantasy.

The opening paragraph of the entry reads;

So, you have a Heroic Fantasy with a long history, in order to account for the fact that the Sealed Evil In A Can has been forgotten. So, you fast forward about five thousand years (or merely place the Sealed Evil’s Back Story that far back), and reveal a world… exactly like the one you started in! Same technological level, same form of government, same culture — you wouldn’t even need to dress differently to fit in.

If one thing irks me more than most it is this.  History and cultures change.  it is something I try and work hard on in my stories and my world.  Nations rise and fall, as do people and cultures.  Technology advances.

Hopefully as I get more written this becomes apparent.  I have stories that span from the stone age right through to the age of sail and gunpowder.  The Maedari are the main culture of I write around and even they change.  There first appearance is as stone age hunter-gathers who migrate into lands occupied by early non-human bronze age cultures.  From there they become a kingdom during the bronze age before it is destroyed by a newly arrived culture, the Chelosians, towards the start of the iron age.  The survivors are either subsummed by the Chelosians or migrate to harsher lands where they fragment into many tribes or nations.  From there they languish as a minor, scarcely important people until, in time, they form a new union and the Maedari Commonwealth is formed.  The various tribes of the Maedari evolved in their own directions though between the fall of the Kingdom and the rise of the Commonwealth and have their own differences – in a way like Australians and New Zealanders share a common heritage but are different, or the Irish, Scots and Welsh – all Celtic but all different.

Anyhow, that is in a large part what my writing is about and I hope that my skills can in someway match the vision and dreams I have for my world.

Week seven kicked off in high gear with a 6000 word day, and while that pace couldn’t be sustained by the end of the week I had managed almost 18700 words, the best weeks output by a substantial margin.

All of that was done on Winter Wolves, rewriting the first three chapters and expending on the synopsis to commence chapter four. The first draft of Winter Wolves is now at around 18,600 words.

The plan now is to keep up that effort and to complete the rough draft as soon as possible so as to commence the polishing and spruiking and what not.

Thus far the first three chapters have introduced the major characters and most of the minor ones, and hopefully given them all personalities (though this will need to be worked on more when polishing). They have introduced a mystery – well more than one really. And it has also had a minor battle – little more than a skirmish, but enough to whet the appetite.

And now onwards with the story and the writing.

Bubbling Along

Posted: February 18, 2009 in winter wolves
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Been quiet on here for a few days, but that is mainly as things have been bubbling along quite nicely with Winter Wolves. Over the last six days I totally rewrote the first three chapters, cranking out over 16,500 words. The old draft of the first three chapters had only been around 12,100 words long and now is almost 16,900 words so there is a lot of new work in there.

From now however there is only the synopsis to work off and not anything more elaborate, so output may slow a little. Still, if I can keep at it for four or five weeks at this pace I may actually have the first draft of the manuscript complete ready for polishing.