Ramblings (Blog)

I’m a grumpy bastard. This isn’t news for anyone who knows me. Ask me an opinion on anything, and I’ll almost certainly leap straight for the flaw. Show me a beautiful piece of artwork, and I’ll have something to say about the quality of the frame, or the fact that it’s not hanging level. Yes, I’m a grumpy bastard, and I also love Doctor Who, which means that the last eight years have been quite trying for me, and for anyone who innocently broaches the subject. In case you can’t guess, I’ve not really meshed with the post-McGann era of the show. I’ll confess that some of this is rose-tinted nostalgia at work. Peter Davidson was my first Doctor, and I was hooked early on. Over the years, I painstakingly assembled a complete run of the old Target novelisations, and loads of VHS tapes (later replaced by DVDs), Doctor Who audio dramas and fantastic spin-offs. I still remember going to see Jon Pertwee in the Ultimate Adventure and I know waaaaay too much about which episodes are still missing from the archives. Nonetheless, I’ve never described myself as a Whovian, because I’ve never felt the need. (And because I don’t […]
(Spoilers for Destiny can be found below. I had to work really hard to find something to spoil, but they’re there all the same. You have been warned.) I’m still more than a bit bemused by Destiny. If you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last couple of years, Destiny is the newest game by Bungie, the company that created the Halo franchise. It wears its Halo colours proudly, as well as a few other things nabbed from other games – not least the excellent Borderlands series, and the MMO grind made successful by World of Warcraft. Let’s get this out of the way first: I’ve had plenty of fun with the game. Its core game mechanics are rock solid, and I don’t begrudge any of the time I’ve spent with it. In fact, I’m perhaps a bit more forgiving than most of the reviews I’ve seen. Destiny’s drawn quite a lot of flak for being a bit half-arsed about some of its systems: there are character classes that you can level up as you play, but they’re paper thin and don’t really reward different play styles; the open world sections aren’t large compared to a traditional MMO; the […]
Picture this, if you will: A man is transported across vast tracts of space and/or time to an unfamiliar landscape. He falls in love with an exotic princess, fights monsters, overthrows the local warlord, and makes a new life in a land not his own. It’s a common enough story outline – one, I suspect, that has its roots go back a very long way, when a man could carve out a kingdom for himself in a distant land. However, as the terra incognita of our world slowly gave way to maps and explorers, fictional heroes found themselves being fired into an entirely different unknown: space. This is the set up for countless science fiction stories; it’s the underpinning of many a fictional hero – Flash Gordon, Adam Strange, and Buck Rogers, to name but three of the more famous ones (I could argue Superman belongs in that list too!) – and the romantic, swashbuckling appeal has proved its ability to speak to audiences time and again. So, that being the case, why did 2012’s John Carter fare so poorly? It’s a question that comes back to me every time I watch the movie. I grew up with Star Wars, […]
So, this is a bit of an odd feeling. Nagash (available now) marks something of a milestone in many ways. For one, it’s the first time in at least ten years Games Workshop has moved the Warhammer settings forward, with bleak consequences for pretty much every character, race and realm. (If you’ve not seen it yet, it’s definitely worth taking a look at, as is the incredible piece of artwork from the book – seen on this page. Seriously, it’s the most awesome piece of fantasy art I’ve seen in years.) Whilst I, of course, sympathise with all those folk getting ground beneath the boot heel of fate, it’s not why Nagash marks a milestone for me, personally. Thing is, it’s the first book that I wrote (co-wrote, actually) to be released since I left Games Workshop. As I said at the start: feels a bit weird, that. It won’t be the last. In fact, the book I’m hands-down proudest of is yet to come, but as with killing people (I’m talking about characters, I swear) the first time is always the hardest. The occasion of Nagash’s release also gives me a reason to break my self-imposed rule about not […]
Last time, I expounded on the topic of continuity – the weight of in-universe history (also referred to as background, lore, canon, or fluff in various circles) –getting in the way of telling new stories. Lots of words with a simple message: continuity is often only as much of an obstacle as you want it to be. Thing is, what do you do if the obstacle has simply become too big and too unwieldy to work with? Regardless of the medium, the favourite option tends to be the retcon. Retcon – or retroactive continuity – is the dark art of delving back into your setting’s past and deliberately altering some key event in such a manner that it changes the present. A retcon can change anything, from key events, to a character’s actions, their personality – or even their mortal state. Simply screwing up a bit of background and repeating past events incorrectly doesn’t count (and still goes on, despite the best efforts of writers and editors). It has to be a deliberate change. The most common application of a retcon is to bring someone back from the dead. That character you thought had been killed off at the start […]
The subject of continuity (a consistent setting and history over a series of works) always lingers around genre fiction like a bad smell. Regardless of the medium, works of sci-fi, fantasy and the like are often accused of having labyrinthine backstory. This, in turn, is then blamed for raising a barrier to entry so high that no one in their right mind will jump aboard. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard this argument, either professionally, or stated in a press release for a series I love. Problem is, it’s nonsense. A rich continuity is not, in itself, a barrier to entry. The younger the reader/viewer/gamer, the truer this is. Kids and teenagers are information sponges – something society reinforces through phrases like: ‘You get as much out of something as you put in’. My (doubtlessly flawed) proof? The average child knows the names of more dinosaurs than his or her parents. Geekdom, in particular, is a knowledge-based hierarchy, where absorbing the minutiae of your chosen field of obsession is a goal in and of itself. Problem is, some people get less inclined to learn as they get older. Other pressures take over: jobs, family, mortgage etc. and […]
I thought I’d take a moment for a brief reprise of last week’s topic (a real blog post will come soon). This week, as many of you will be aware, is E3 week, where the big video gaming companies strut their stuff and hype their future releases. I don’t take a lot of active interest, if I’m honest, because there have been plenty of high-profile turkeys emerge from E3 in the past, ones that have left me wondering whether less money should be spent on fancy-dan presentations, and more on the games themselves. But anyway… The reason I’ve ended up putting digital pen to virtual paper, is that Ubisoft creative director Alex Amancio has stated that there’ll not be any female playable characters in co-operative play for the forthcoming Assassin’s Creed: Unity. The reason? Because it’s resource intensive* (I’m paraphrasing for concision). On one level, fair enough. Games design costs money, and you can’t always put in all the features that you want. (The Thief reboot notably skimped on many things in final release, including a plot that hung together, and characters you could give a damn about). Furthermore, I know from my own experience that the realities of business’ […]