Friday, 19 September 2014

Video Game Review: Choice of the Deathless

I don’t normally play games, and so don’t review them often, but I saw last week that Max Gladstone had a text based game set in the world of his Craft Sequence novels and - since the game was really cheap ($2.99) - I bought myself a copy.

If you’re familiar with choose your own adventure novels you’ll understand how this particular text based game works.  There’s no music or illustrations, just words on a page and options for you to choose between.

You start the game in the middle of a fight.  There’s no context, but you’re quickly given a series of flash backs that allow you to build your character, its background, and play several years of your life that ultimately land you back at the opening fight.

You’re employed by the law firm Varkath Nebuchadnezzar Stone, examining contracts, working with and battling demons, opposing a goddess, and making decisions that not only shape your life, but what ending you get in the game.  

If you’re one of those people who read choose your own adventure novels by holding the pages with various fingers so you could quickly flip back and try the other option, you’ll find yourself playing the game several times, because there’s no going back, so if you want to check out the other options you have to play again.  There are a number of different options and I played the game 3 time with quite a few left unchosen.  

There are 32 achievements to unlock, the first of which is “Die: It’s easier than you expect.”  You can’t get them all in one play through as the various endings all land you a different achievement.  And based on your choices, some endings aren’t available to you and are greyed out when you get there.

There’s some great writing, like this paragraph describing a meal in the demon dimension:

“Dinner turns out to be something best described as a steak if they made steaks out of sex and hope and joy, accompanied by a red wine with notes of autumn childhood happiness and a light finish of your first kiss.”

I made my husband - who plays a lot more games than I do and who hasn’t read the books -  play it through to see what comments he’d have about the story and gameplay.  First up, he said it wasn’t hard to understand the story, even without the background the books give of the world, though he did feel a bit blindsided by some of the situations as there’s no lead in to the various story pieces (so, for example, the scenes with demons don’t mention that gods are interactable beings).  He did have some minor complaints about the game play.  He wished there were customizable options so he could change the text style to white on black instead of black on white, as he finds that easier to read on a computer screen.  He also wished there were keyboard shortcuts so he could have tabbed through the options rather than scrolling down and clicking on them with a mouse.  He also wished the game marked what previous choices you made so you’d have an easier time trying the other options (since you won’t necessarily remember what you picked between game plays).  His final point was one I shared, which is that you can’t save your stats by character.  Once you reset the game, your stats for the previous game are gone so there’s no way to compare your results.

The game takes between an hour and a half and two hours to play, which is good value considering the cost of it on Steam.  It’s available there for all major operating systems as well as at the Apple app store, Google Play and the Kindle.  You can find all the buy options here as well as play a demo.  Steam also has a trailer for the game.

If you liked the books you’ll love this game.  If you haven’t read the books but love choose your own adventures and/or the idea of being a lawyer who deals in magic, then give it a try.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Shout-Out: The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh O’Brien

The Forge School is the most prestigious arts school in the country. The secret to its success: every moment of the students' lives is televised as part of the insanely popular Forge Show, and the students' schedule includes twelve hours of induced sleep meant to enhance creativity. But when first year student Rosie Sinclair skips her sleeping pill, she discovers there is something off about Forge. In fact, she suspects that there are sinister things going on deep below the reaches of the cameras in the school. What's worse is, she starts to notice that the ridges of her consciousness do not feel quite right. And soon, she unearths the ghastly secret that the Forge School is hiding-and what it truly means to dream there.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Video: If Disney Princes Were Real

In case you missed it, BuzzFeed did an awesome video showing what Disney princes would be like in the real world.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Book Review: Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

Pros: complex plot, interesting characters, fascinating world


Kavekana is an island with no gods of its own, where offshore interests can purchase an idol to store soulstuff.  When the priestess Kai jumps into the sacred pool to try to save her co-worker’s created idol, Seven Alpha, her actions have many unforeseen consequences.  

Izza is a thief.  When the Blue Lady she worships dies, she realizes it’s time to leave the island before her age makes her eligible for her crimes’ punishment: being placed inside one of the stone Penitents that guard the island.  But she’s soon pulled into the mystery surrounding a poet who’s lost his inspiration, and Kai’s investigation.

This is the third book published in Gladstone’s Craft Sequence series.  While it stands alone, like the others, this one uses characters from the first two books and shows some aftermath from what’s come before.  It’s storytelling that doesn’t alienate newcomers while giving more depth to those who’ve read the other books.

The world-building, as with the previous books - is top notch.  Gladstone’s created a world of interconnected everything: trade, tourism, religion, law, war, history, etc.  There’s always the sense that there’s more to know, that each book is only scratching the surface, and with each book more of the world and its past and people are uncovered.  Because the protagonists are from very different social strata, we get to see a lot of the island - security, police, tourism, slums, offices, etc. 

The characters are interesting.  Kai and Izza are both challenged by what’s going on, attempting to solve several mysteries, if from different sides.  The Penitents are a chilling - if effective - punishment, that evolves into a police force that’s 100% loyal.  Even the poet has his moments.  

The plot weaves around and eventually comes to a satisfying conclusion, though one that takes place in a world that continues on after the book ends.

These are fantastic books that take place in a fantasy realm with all the complexity of the real world.  If you like well written fantasy with some mystery thrown in, and diverse characters, these are for you.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Movie Trailer: Mockingjay Part 1

I loved the first two Hunger Games films - and the books - and this trailer rocks.  Can't wait to see it.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Shout-Out: Extinction Game by Gary Gibson

When your life is based on lies, how do you hunt down the truth?
Jerry Beche should be dead. Instead, he's rescued from a desolate Earth where he was the last man alive. He's then trained for the toughest conditions imaginable and placed with a crack team of specialists on an isolated island. Every one of them is a survivor, as each withstood the violent ending of their own alternate Earth. And their new specialism? To retrieve weapons and data in missions to other apocalyptic versions of our world.
But what is 'the Authority', the shadowy organization that rescued Beche and his fellow survivors? How does it access timelines to find other Earths? And why does it need these instruments of death?
As Jerry struggles to obey his new masters, he begins to distrust his new companions. A strange bunch, their motivations are less than clear, and accidents start plaguing their missions. Jerry suspects the Authority is feeding them lies, and team members are spying on him. As a dangerous situation spirals into catastrophe, is there anybody he can trust?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Creature Feature: Joyboy

In this column I talk about some of the more unusual fantasy creatures and/or creatures it would be cool to see in books.

While flipping through my copy of The Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were by Michael Page and Robert Ingpen, looking for a creature for today’s article, I stumbled upon this listing for Joyboy:

“The West Indian character who personifies the human need to dance, sing, and jubilate.” (p. 26)  He travelled to the Caribbean with West African slaves and has been cited as a source of inspiration by some jazz musicians. 

While he’s more of a god or a muse than a creature, it got me thinking that pantheons in the past used to be huge and often had a character whose job it was to inspire joy, revelry and - in cases of excess - chaos.  Probably the best known is Dionysus/Bacchus, the Greek/Roman god of grapes, wine, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre.

According to wikipedia Dionysus’ “wine, music and ecstatic dance frees his followers from self-conscious fear and care, and subverts the oppressive restraints of the powerful.” 

It seems like most fantasy books focus on the more modern, stern, repressive gods.  And even books that deal with Greek mythology don’t generally show the benefits or joys of following a god dedicated to letting things go.  The closest gods I can think of that do get used a fair bit are trickster gods, who, while having some similar attributes, aren’t quite the same thing. 

It would be cool to see a character like Joyboy used in a novel, a god that inspires dance and music - perhaps to excess, like the dancing mania that struck people in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries.  “It involved groups of people dancing erratically, sometimes thousands at a time. The mania affected men, women, and children, who danced until they collapsed from exhaustion.” (source)  

But even just acknowledging that people need relaxation of some sort, joy, expressed in the form of a god, even excess in revelry, would be a nice addition to fantasy pantheons of the future.