My friend Shay, who only recently took Sam and I for a tour of some interesting little bars in Melbourne, has just been diagnosed with his second bout of cancer in five years.
As horrible as this news is (and it is), something amazing has come out of it: Shay, in a truly humbling display of selflessness, has decided to blog about his experiences with cancer and the subsequent tests and treatment, as a way of giving some insight into what he is dealing with.
He hopes that his writing might help people who are going through their own experiences with cancer.
I hope everyone reads his blog, regardless.
That’s right folks, Manifesto: UF has dropped a month early and is now available in ebook form on Amazon! (details on print copies and other vendors forthcoming).
Published by Angelic Knight Press and edited by Tyson Mauermann and the awesome Tim Marquitz, Manifesto features 23 rollicking urban fantasy stories from a huge array of talented authors both established and new, and I am honoured that my own story – ‘Nephilim’ – shares the page with such esteemed company.
I will update in the near future when further details are available, but in the meantime head on over to Amazon and, if you read the book, please let me know what you think!
My wife and I lost a dear friend and family member today in our beagle Zac.
I’m not one for long, sad goodbyes, and Sam has already written something far more fitting than anything I could manage.
I keep going to write about how stubborn he was, or how loving and affectionate, or tell one of the endless funny stories. I keep trying, but I just don’t have it in me.
He lived a long and happy life surrounded by people that loved him right until the very end.
I love you buddy. You will be missed.
I’ve been playing a tonne of indie games on the PC lately, pretty much to the exclusion of every so-called AAA release out there. With that in mind, here are some quick thoughts on some games I’ve played recently:
A short but sweet 2D puzzle game where you play as a freelance spy embroiled in a very (very) tongue-in-cheek murder mystery. Gameplay revolves around rewiring items within the environments – light switches, doors, electrical sockets, surveillance cameras, etc – to help you take care of guards and reach your objectives. You also have access to a variety of gadgets, including a pair of pants that allow you to fling yourself around without falling to your death.
Clever gameplay, witty dialogue, and very stylish, Gunpoint is a fantastic game and well worth the $10. While short, what you get is insanely well-crafted and quite replayable, especially with the inbuilt level editor.
To the Moon is, at its heart, an interactive novel. The gameplay, while fun enough and cute with its 16-bit era JRPG stylings, is kept unobtrusive. It is a vehicle for the plot and nothing more.
That plot, however, is absolutely phenomenal and tells an incredibly powerful, often funny, sometimes heartbreaking story. To say any more would be doing the game a disservice – just buy it!
Antichamber will mess with your brain in a way that few other games have ever tried. Playing with the concepts of geometry, physics, and perception, Antichamber is a first-person puzzler with a gorgeous minimalist aesthetic and a strangely philosophical bent.
This is another of those games that is perhaps hard to describe in words – watch the video above and you should get a pretty good idea of why Antichamber is incredibly rad and very much worth your time (pro tip: if you find yourself stuck on a puzzle for a bit, exit and come back to it later; this is the kind of game where you can bash your head against something for hours, take a ten minute breather, and then instantly solve it upon your return).
(No official trailer for this one, so watch some guy fumble around in the alpha build instead!)
This is a brand new acquisition for me (I’ve only had it a couple of days), so keep that in mind. Castle Doctrine is a massively multiplayer game (played asynchronously), where you must build makeshift defenses in your home to protect your family and your belongings while also heading out to rob homes as well.
Gameplay is presented in a simple, top-down, pixel-art style, but the kinds of traps you can build in your home can be quite nefarious, centering predominantly on the construction of complex traps using power sources, pressure switches, trap doors, etc. What is truly interesting is that the game has permadeath, and you must test your own house to determine that your traps are fair (no such thing as a perfect fortress) before heading out to rob others.
Very interesting game with a steep as hell learning curve. It is still in alpha, so I expect a lot of the niggling issues and exploits will be ironed out as time goes on. Well worth a play, and definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Another newly purchased game, the Swapper immediately catches the eye with its beautiful claymation graphics and wonderful atmosphere. The game itself is an interesting combination of puzzle game and a Metroidvania-style 2d exploration game, where you use the ability to create several clones of yourself to navigate your way through the world.
I won’t say too much more as I am not all that far into it, but what I have seen so far has been very impressive. Take a look.
Setting the Setting
I’ve always been really fascinated by the concept of several pieces of fiction sharing a universe.
Direct sequels, prequels, spin-offs, and whatever else all have their place, of course, and are frequently awesome. Hell, most of my favourite pieces of fiction (regardless of medium) are at least trilogies, and the idea of writing some colossal, Wheel of Time-esque work of fiction is something of a holy grail of mine.
But there is also something uniquely appealing about the idea of a stories that kind of…brush up against each other, for want of better term, and feature the occasional common setting or place or minor character that serve to create a sense of a greater world that exists beyond the bounds of any one particular tale.
It’s something I have experimented with a great deal, and it is now something I am trying to do with many of my current projects. Read the rest of this entry
I have decided to try and write more things for my blog that consist of topics other than what I am working on, what I am getting published, or excuses for why I am not posting about what I am working on or what I am getting published. With that in mind, I’m thinking about knocking out a few articles addressing a lot of things I get asked by friends, family, and random strangers when they find out that I’m a “writer” (I say “writer” because, even with a few published articles and stories now, I haven’t quite gotten to the stage of calling myself a writer or author when asked what I do for a living).
Productivity via Procrastination
Knowing when to write and when to walk away
One of the most valuable writing tips I ever read was to never, ever set yourself up with a dedicated writing space. This piece of advice contrasted quite a bit with a lot of what I read when I was first getting started; tips along the lines of “thou must have a desk facing a window in a spare bedroom and only write when the sun is setting and you are alone and you’ve had a beer – but not two beers, oh no, then you should not write at all – and you have the soundtrack to Grease playing and…”
Well, you get the point.
As the title implies, I have had the incredible good fortune to have my submission ‘Nephilim’ accepted in the upcoming Manifesto: UF anthology, edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson J Mauerman and to be published by Angelic Knight Press.
This will mark the second occasion that I have worked with Tim and Angelic Knight Press (the first being my story ‘Der Teufel Sie Wissen (The Devil You Know)’ in Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous), and I could not be more excited about the opportunity!
Unlike with Fading Light, where I was not able to talk about things until a bit further in, I have been given the go ahead to break the news. With that in mind, Tim has revealed the almost final version of the cover of the Urban Fantasy-themed Manifesto:
Pretty awesome, no?
Anyway, things are still relatively early days with Manifesto – in fact, submissions are still open! The tentative publishing date is September 1st, 2013. I will provide updates as we get closer to the release date, including a little bit of a sneak peak of ‘Nephilim’
In the meantime, thanks to everyone for their continuing support, and thank you to Tim, Tyson, and Angelic Knight Press for the opportunity.
- T.S.P Sweeney
A quick update on what’s been happening on the writing front.
I’m working on three projects concurrently at the moment:
- An urban fantasy short story tentatively titled ‘Neph’ that is a kind of spiritual successor to ‘Der Teufel Sie Wissen’, which I am hoping to submit here and see if lightning will strike twice
- A straight-up fantasy short story (possibly a novella) in a setting of my own devising. This story idea has been bouncing around in my head for a couple of years, and the setting itself has been worked on since I was a teenager
- My NaNoWriMo novel, which is a post-apocalyptic spy thriller set in Australia. I have stalled on this one a little bit due to a combination of burn out (I wrote more than 50,000 words in a month, I think I earned it!) and needing to think a few things through before recommencing.
In addition to the above, I am also waiting to hear back about some professional editing and marking up I will be receiving on a fantasy story I submitted for the Fantasy Faction Anthology. I unfortunately did not make it to the finals, but I am eager to get my marked up work back with the intention of working on it and submitting it elsewhere. It’s a story I really like the core of, and is another piece set in the above-mentioned fantasy world I have created.
I am also waiting to hear back regarding my submissions to the Black Library from mid last year. The word on the grapevine is that there is still quite a wait before we will know for sure.
Forlorn hope it is then.
Beyond all that, I should have a little something to chuck on here soon. We’ll see what happens.
My Game of the Year Top Ten for 2012
(A quick note: I have not played a great deal of competitive multiplayer this year, so keep in mind that my ratings of games will be talking solely about single player unless otherwise specified)
10. Halo 4
I am a huge Halo fan going way back; indeed, it was my friend John getting me addicted to Halo 1 on his rented Xbox (complete with gigantic potato “Duke” controllers) back in the day that led to me wanting a 360 over the Playstation 3…well that and the price differential.
Halo also holds a special place in my heart as being the game series that got my wife and I playing coop games together. We were both exceedingly happy with the original trilogy, as well as Reach (ODST, less so). I was filled with a little trepidation regarding the announcement of Bungie moving on and a new Halo trilogy being made by a new, Microsoft owned studio.
As it turns out, that trepidation was not justified. 343 Industries created a, to quote Giant Bomb, “Halo-ass Halo game,” and it did the job. Great graphics, great gameplay (barring a couple of absurd difficulty spikes in random places), great sound, and a story that would have been interesting had they bothered to explain the fiction within the game itself. Unfortunately, the new enemies were garbage to fight and some other aspects fizzled (Spartan Ops behind a pay-wall? Piss off, 343), but there was enough to like here to make me positive about the future of the franchise and to place the game in my ten best for the year.
9. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
I am a Transformers nerd. They were the first toy range and cartoon I ever fell in love with as a kid, and no amount of TMNT or anything else could steal my affection. I also think it is a setting that, when taken a little more seriously, is rife for exploring some interesting ideas often present in science fiction, with the added bonus of being about robots who transform into fighter planes who transform into bigger robots.
War for Cybertron was a fun game that didn’t have much of a story or sense of place, but gave you a good, nostalgic time playing as a selection of re-imagined favourites. Fall of Cybertron takes this to the next level, providing an interweaving narrative that removes some of the choice, but increases the amount of character as a result, as well as fitting in some cool set pieces and a tonne of fun fan service for fans of G1 while also staying mostly true to the greater Prime universe it is a part of.
With a fun story, great, freeform gameplay allowing you to transform at will, and the ability to play as some more obscure Transformers, as well as a last Chapter that will make any Transformers fan amazingly happy (plus, dat ending credits song!), this was way better than it had any right to be. Plus, this was the only new game that actually got me to commit any sort of time to its multiplayer mode this year – it is hard going back to TF2 or BF3 or whatnot when you’ve had the ability to transform into a spaceship while playing capture the flag.
8. Borderlands 2
Borderlands is the third part of Sam’s and my trifecta of co-op shooters (along with Halo and Gears of War) that we have had a tonne of fun lazing around on the couch playing. Borderlands 2 delivered everything that Borderlands 1 had, only with more of it. More plot (both good and bad), more jokes (both good and bad), more characters (both good and bad), and, of course, more guns (pretty much all good).
I had a great time with Borderlands 2. I found the absurdist sense of humour generally pretty good – Handsome Jack, to me at least, was actually kind of hilarious with how over the top he was, which then highlighted his more serious turn later on; Tiny Tina, on the other hand, made me want to murder everybody involved with her creation, and no amount of sad background story was going to change that – and the fact that there was an actual plot with actual characters was just icing when compared to the Diablo-esque blandness of the first game.
And, of course, the gameplay was ridiculously fun. Rarely was it particularly challenging in the first playthrough – and, indeed, it followed the Borderlands tradition of making you stupidly over-levelled if you actually did all the side content – but it was always exciting rambling around the much-more-visually-varied wastelands of Pandora, destroying wildlife with a gun that fired shots in an arc like a mortar, or destroying robots with an SMG designed to act as an impromptu sex toy. Borderlands 2 scratches an itch that few other games even attempt to reach.
7. Hotline Miami
Hydrogen by M.O.O.N. There is your reason for this being on my list.
…what’s that? Oh fine. Hotline Miami, besides having an absolutely killer soundtrack, is also an ultra-sharp, incredibly fun, and surprisingly challenging top-down murder simulator. It is the kind of game out of touch old people piss and moan about in the media.
It is a game that, as you find yourself becoming more and more absorbed in its stupendously fast trial-and-error gameplay, hypnotic soundtrack and pulsing, retro visual style, and oddly schizophrenic narrative, you might just start to wonder whether there is some truth to what those people have been saying for all those years.
Rarely has violence been presented in such a way in games, where you glory in the absurd viciousness of what you are doing and then are actually confronted about what you did and the feeling it created afterwards.
Plus, it is really fun to play. And that soundtrack!
Now we are getting into the contentious part of the list.
Dishonored was a game that I was always destined to be interested in: a Deus Ex style approach to open mission design, made by one of the guys that actually worked on the original Deus Ex, and all set in a cool, somewhat-Steampunk, somewhat-Dieselpunk world, with a visual style created by the dude who designed City 17 in Half Life 2. It was like this game was designed for me personally.
But then, of course, there were a few aspects that had me concerned as well, chief among them the fact it was being made by a studio (Arkane) with a track record that did not exactly fill me with confidence. Dark Messiah of Might and Magic was another game with a great deal of potential, and it failed to really achieve any of the things it set out to do.
Thankfully, Arkane have pulled out a game that hit all the right notes, creating a cohesive, legitimately interesting world that was amazingly fun to play around in and allowed the player a great deal of choice in how they went about things, including creating a stealth experience that was satisfying and non-lethal solutions that were quite well realised. While the game suffered a little from making you feel overly powerful (if you chose to go all-out in combat, it is quite easy to empty a map of enemies, especially once you gain some of the more advanced abilities and weapons) and a story that, while well written, was also predictable with characters that were often quite flat, I still think Dishonored was a fantastic experience, and one that I am eager to see a sequel to.
5. Mass Effect 3
A great deal has been said about Mass Effect 3, particularly in regards to the entire debacle surrounding the ending to the game. My opinions on the ending, the sense of entitlement from a vocal minority of players, and the subsequent spineless backpedalling by BioWare over their creative work has been documented elsewhere, but suffice it to say I thought the ending was a good idea executed poorly.
All of that, however, does not take away from what was otherwise a very good game, albeit probably the worst game in the trilogy. It was obvious playing this that, like in Dragon Age 2, BioWare had not been given sufficient time to put their usual layer of shine on this game. As a result, it felt stripped back; side quests were kind of pathetic, bugs were rife, and the sense of exploration and wonder so prevalent throughout the previous two games was almost non-existent.
However, what they did deliver was the best playing game in the trilogy, and a tight, taut quest to bring to a close all the events built upon in the previous two games. Visiting old friends, solving long-standing crises, and uniting the galaxy all felt suitably dramatic, and the scale of the game was, at times, quite breathtaking. While there were faults, this was still a fantastic overall experience and a terrific game. The fact that it was merely an adequate end to the series says more about the quality expected from BioWare than it does about the game itself. Oh yeah, and the multiplayer was surprisingly rad, even if the monetisation of it was downright sleazy.
4. FTL: Faster Than Light
This game. This fucking game! The last couple of years have seen me become fascinated with games based around punishing difficulty (as seen further down this list), which has most often been reflected by a shallow flirtation with certain games, like FTL and the Binding of Isaac, that have been termed “rogue-like-likes” by genre-definition-obsessed douchebags in gaming forums all over the world.
FTL combines several things that I love into one neat, retro-graphics package. Large space ships? Check. Large space ships shooting lasers and missiles at other large space ships? Double check. Crew members of large spaceships suffocating to death due to pinpoint ion strikes on their oxygen systems? Oh man, I love this game.
Simple in idea and fiendish in execution, FTL is a punishing, frustrating, wonderful, absorbing experience, and is one that I am absolutely addicted to. The strategic gameplay combined with the steady yet somehow frantic pace (both in battle and in your retreat from pursuing enemies in the galactic map) make your almost certain doom as enjoyable as those very few times you succeed in your quest. FTL is a game that encourages you to tell stories to your friends about the time you teleported your four-Mantis assault squad aboard the Rebel fighter, only to have them counter-board you, set your engine room on fire, and then destroy your door controls while you are open to space and venting oxygen.
Don’t let the simple appearance put you off; this is the game Star Trek and Star Wars geeks have dreamt about for decades. Just give me a version for tablets already!
3. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Speaking of games that encourage you to tell stories: gather round and listen as I regale you with the tale of Colonel Hollywood “Hulk” Hogan, Heavy extraordinaire, and his band of poorly armed squaddies as they bravely (and stupidly) took on a Very Difficult late-game abduction mission which ended with the deaths of all but two of the rookies (including the Hulkster himself), both of whom went on to participate in the final assault on the alien mothership and die horribly in a mind control incident I’d rather not talk about.
I have never been a turn based strategy guy. RTSes? Sure. Your Civ-style strategy games? No worries. But this kind of game has never been overly appealing to me. Indeed, the punishing difficulty of the original X-Com games may well have been part of the reason for this aversion to the genre, considering experiencing those in my childhood just about broke me as I threw myself with youthful exuberance at a game that required steady nerves and flawless tactical acumen.
Enemy Unknown, however, is just so slick. From the presentation to the funky personalisation options for your troops, through to simply presented but surprisingly deep combat and metagame options, XCOM has streamlined and updated and spit-shined while staying true to the spirit of its predecessors. While the game has its share of bugs, and I wish it had substantially more content (it is still a long and varied game, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t feel as huge as it should), it is still a fantastic modern interpretation of a classic franchise that has reinvigorated a genre that has not been relevant on the main stage in quite a long time.
It was also destined to be my 2012 Game of the Year until only a couple of months ago (indeed, it was due to be second until yesterday…)
2. Spec Ops: The Line
And then this came along.
There is one word that describes my time with Spec Ops: ‘harrowing’. It was not harrowing in the way that, say, Homefront was harrowing, which was made so due to being a steaming pile of hot garbage. No, Spec Ops is something else entirely.
Initially, and without knowing much about the background of the game, Spec Ops looks like a B-tier example of every other modern military shooter out there – just another take on the sub-genre popularised in the modern era by Call of Duty 4. Indeed, the only thing that initially differentiates it from your CODs and MoHs is that the gameplay seems ripped from Gears of War, complete with third person perspective, cover mechanics, etc.
Where the game differentiates itself is in the story and character and, indeed, how it incorporates gameplay into both of these things in a way that extends far beyond the typical linear crawls punctuated by set pieces so typical of shooters. It is impossible to discuss the story of the game without spoiling what it is that makes it special, but I can say that this is both a clever and cunning subversion of the tropes of this genre, and also a grand psychological experiment, both in terms of the characters within the game, but also for the players of the game and why it is that we are so willing to go along with living out the super soldier fantasy presented by these games. It will test you and make you question why you did the things that you did; there was one particularly moment, for example, that I did something absolutely reprehensible in game without even considering that there might have been a peaceful alternative (there was), something that shocked me to my core afterwards.
Spec Ops: The Line is a short game. It is, in many ways, a flawed game. I understand why opinions on it were divisive. I understand why many refused to pay full price for it, what with a five hour campaign and a multiplayer that feels entirely irrelevant. I understand all of this, but I still have no reservations whatsoever in recommending that you acquire it. It is, completely and unreservedly, a game that is worth experiencing. I can’t promise it will be enjoyable, but I can promise that it will make an impression.
1. The Walking Dead
Much of what I said to describe Spec Ops: The Line also applies to the Walking Dead. It is, at its core, an adventure game of the point-and-click variety, with the added bonus of some generally unobtrusive but not exactly fun action elements thrown in. In short, it is a game that, perhaps ironically considering where it is sitting on my list, does not ‘play’ particularly well in the traditional way that we define such things.
Where The Walking Dead shines, however, is in one aspect of its gameplay that would ordinarily be, at best, an incidental system, and at worst, completely ignored altogether in other games. What I am talking about here is the intelligently designed and incredibly captivating character interaction.
The Walking Dead seems to take cues from the Mass Effect series (and their RPG ilk), building upon the multiple dialogue options and subsequent influence gain/loss, etc, and creates a world where everything you say appears to matter, and where a flippant remark in the first episode might come back to bite you at the worst moment during the tense finale.
The magic that Telltale has weaved here is nothing short of breathtaking. As the player, you inhabit the character of Lee in this messed up world where the most that can be hoped for is a little respite before the waves of the undead or the remnants of humanity drag you to your grave. The zombies themselves are almost a force of nature; a cataclysmic event that forms the backdrop to what is, at its core, a story of a man caught up in a truly desperate situation, thrust into the often conflicting roles of survivor, leader, and surrogate father of a lost little girl, and just trying to survive in a world that seems to exist to snuff out all hope before ending your life.
I have never been caught up in a story like I have with the Walking Dead. I found myself becoming Lee; inhabiting him as a character, thinking and reacting like I believe he would. Instead of me projecting myself onto a Commander Shepard or Revan or whatever, I instead was drawn into this character and this fiction in a way that I rarely experience with any kind of fiction. Telltale deserves all of the accolades they have received for crafting such an amazing game. The Walking Dead shows (indeed, as does Spec Ops) that gaming is a medium that can tell poignant stories that are about more than big tits and guns. Indeed, the interactivity and the ability to slip into a role as an actor within the script is something that no other artistic medium can really offer, and it is wonderful to see Telltale create something that truly shows what video games are capable of.
The Walking Dead is deserving of all of the many accolades it has received, my own included. This is a game everyone should play, and I am happy to name it my Game of the Year for 2012.
Orcs Must Die 2 – a solid sequel with the addition of co-op, but too similar to its predecessor to really excite
Natural Selection 2 – a great game that has been long awaited, but my lack of interest in multiplayer has prevented me from giving this the time it deserves.
CS: Global Offensive – a surprisingly solid update to the CS formula. I played more of this than I ever expected to, but was impressed by what I saw.
Mark of the Ninja – I honestly have no doubts this would have made my list, but I have not had enough time to play it yet to be sure.
Fez – Similar to Mark of the Ninja, Fez is an amazing game that would be comfortable on any GotY list. Unfortunately, a big part of what makes the game special was spoiled for me before I ever sat down to play it, and that has caused me to hold off for the foreseeable future.
WWE 13 – I’m as surprised as anyone to see this even get mentioned, but the Attitude Era mode is a great addition for those of us who grew up during the Monday Night Wars. Plus the story editor has reached the logical point of utter stupidity, which makes me very happy. CHOCOLATE DROP!