Saturday, July 25, 2015

Review: Arkham Knight


Batman: Arkham Knight is the finale of the Arkham Series. 

There's dropping the ball, and then there's DROPPING THE BALL, and then, there's this. So let's get started.

First, the good. 

Visually, this game is Batman. Just like it's predecessors, the atmosphere, the look of the city and the characters are all spot-on. Each game in the series has expanded into a larger and larger area, and this one is no exception, dropping you into a good chunk of Gotham City. 

For the first time in the series, to take advantage of the huge map you get to roam, you also get the Batmobile. Well, Bat-Tank is more like it, but it comes to the same thing. You get to drive around as Batman.


And, of course, you get to BE Batman. Just like in the other games, you're beating up thugs, solving Riddler's puzzles, and you're tracking down Penguin and Two-Face. 

And...that's really all I have to say about it that's good. Sad to say.

I'll start with the newest addition, the Batmobile. Yes, this game is the end of the Arkham series. Still, it would be better to leave us wanting more than it would be to ram something down our throats as full and hard as possible. I expected the Batmobile to be like the gadgets. If you wanted to drive around town, you can drive around town. There might be a few side quests that use it heavily, and a few missions in the main story that you have to use it for, but it's not going to be the focus of the game. I was wrong.

The Batmobile is as much the focus of this game as the story itself is. An enemy in a side quest is fleeing? You HAVE to use the Batmobile. Riddler's puzzles? Race tracks. EVERY. OTHER. TASK. In the main storyline, you're jumping in and speeding through the streets either chasing something, or blowing up remote-control tanks. If I wanted a racing game, I would have bought a racing game. Or Grand Theft Auto. 

Control-wise, the game feels rather sloppy compared to the previous versions. The Batmobile slides all over the place, combat is more difficult as you try to direct yourself to the next henchmen out of a group of 10 and find yourself punching air more often than not, and there really isn't much in the way of tips or instructions when you first start out about what buttons do what. Granted this is the fourth game of a series, but the controls are NOT exactly the same.

(MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW)

Then there's the story. 

Arkham Asylum, City, and even Origins had pretty original storylines to them. While Arkham Knight does take a few loose ends from the previous games, almost anybody familiar with the basics of the Batman mythos will recognize the Jason Todd/Red Hood storyline. So the mystery of who is the Arkham Knight is pretty obvious almost as soon as it's brought up. Once that reveal is done, we're back to chasing Scarecrow, who Batman just surrenders to, unmasks for, and then defeats. After four games, countless puzzles and battles, and gadgets up the yin-yang, Batman just shrugs and goes, "Okay, you got me, guess I have no choice but to give up my secret identity." Really? We're supposed to buy that Batman had no other way to win? I mean...THIS IS BATMAN! 

There is one thing that actually saves this game from being just plain bad. In one of the loose ends from Asylum and City, we find that Joker is actually a virus. (A prion, actually, but I really don't know how many people are going to know what that is. If you don't, go look it up, and then you will have learned something new today!) A virus for which there is no cure and that Batman was infected with. So from about a third of the game on, you are regularly greeted with hallucinations of the (deceased) Joker, chatting away like you're his best friend, and giving his twisted and hilarious input on just about every situation. 

There are other villains in the game as well. Providing fodder for side quests and little else. Two-Face is robbing banks. Penguin is smuggling guns. Ho-hum. And even though apparently every super-villain in Gotham was in on Scarecrow's plans, they have no bearing at all on the main storyline. 

Oh, unless you want to count the fact that the game requires you to complete a certain number of side missions before it actually lets you finish the game. 

I'm not even going to talk about the butchered PC version, that was so horribly done it was pulled from sale days after release and STILL isn't back up. 

The ball was dropped. Honestly, enough said. 

I'm only giving this 2-stars because it is still Batman, and the hard work the Joker put in to try and save it. 






Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Path to Building a Book.

Hannah is finally coming up on the home stretch. All I have left is cover art, and sending out a few ARC copies before I push the big red "Publish" button.

It's been a long time coming and a lot of work has gone into getting this far. So I figured this would be a good time to go back and review the journey. It helps that I've pretty much documented the trip as things happened, so that makes it pretty easy. Going to be quite a few links to click if you want to get caught up.

This book started as a NaNoWriMo project back in November of 2013, right on the heels of the release of Class 5.

This was the start of my "Building a Book" series, which has actually turned out to be pretty popular. The series largely follows the progress of Hannah, even though I don't talk about the book specifically very often.

The first four posts were about writing the first draft of a book, with tips on characters, plot, and story structure.

Building a Book
Building a Book: Part 2
Building a Book: Part 3
Building a Book: Part 4, The End

Now, I didn't finish the NaNoWriMo project on time. The goal of the project is to write an entire 50,000 word novel in just one month. Hannah took me about four months to finish the first draft. Some people like to take a break between drafts on a novel. I don't, so I almost immediately dove into re-reading, revising, and making changes.

Building a Book: Second Draft

Re-vising and editing takes a lot less time to do than writing, thankfully, and a month later I was ready for the next steps.

Building a Book: Beta Readers
Building a Book: Post Beta Reader Revisions

While all this work was going on, I was also trying to consider where I wanted to go with this book. There is an ongoing debate about which is better, Trade publishing or Self publishing. Both sides have pros and cons, and both sides have extremely passionate supporters and detractors. It's still worth considering what path you want though, and I took the time to address that.

Building a Book: Choosing How to Publish

I decided to try Trade publishing, with a few specific smaller presses. One of the main drawbacks of that being the time it takes to get a reply, and what that reply might be.

Building a Book: The Wait
Building a Book: The Rejection

After the rejections, I decided to head in a different direction. Self-publishing. Which means I have to figure out all the rest of the details, like cover art, distribution, etc. etc. This ended up being the most recent post for the series, discussing the art issues I had (have) looking for a good cover for Hannah.

Building a Book: Cover Issues

That'll pretty much do it for the Building a Book series. There will be one more post, probably, regarding the release when I get the last few puzzle pieces into place, but that'll be it for the time being.

In the meantime, I want to thank you all for accompanying me on this long and twisting journey, and I look forward to sharing with you all just how much of a success or a failure all this work turns out to be. Regardless of how this book ends, you can still look forward to more stories in the future.

~ Shaun












Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Short Story: Collaboration

Collaboration
by Shaun Horton



Everyone has at least one good story in them. I've made my living based on that idea. Unfortunately, my own story was told a long time ago, so now I tell other people's stories. They show me their ideas, their fantasies, and I put them down on paper. I think the correct phrase is 'ghost writer'. I don't particularly care for such a macabre term though. To me, it'll always be a collaboration.

I've been sitting at my desk writing the most recent book for the better part of four hours. My inkwell is almost dry. I'll have to go refill the bottle soon, and see if my partner has any new input. It's an interesting story so far. It's about a young woman whose nightmares are borne into the real world upon her waking, and then they stalk the night, seeking out and murdering those that have hurt her in the past or that might hurt her in the future.

I can't help but smile and wonder where the kids come up with these things. I certainly couldn't have thought it up on my own.

The inkwell is dry. I admit I'm a little old-fashioned. I like putting my antique fountain pen to paper a lot more than typing on a machine, even though my agent insists that it be so before he handles them. He said my original, handwritten manuscripts were too messy.

My latest partner, Anna Setsland, used to be my assistant. I hired her to come and type my stories out so they would fit my agent's requirements. It makes it bittersweet to be collaborating on a new novel, I'm happy to be working with her as an equal, but at the same time I need to find a new assistant. She's so tied up working on the story, she can't type out the pages as I write them anymore.

My age shows in the effort it takes to climb up out of my chair, joints are aching, popping, in protest to the movement. I wonder how many more books I'll get out. I know I'm getting old, and I don't really need the money anymore. Something about writing though just seems to help me feel . . . young, though. Oh, I almost forgot the bottle.

Maybe once I stop writing, I'll downsize, the stairs are very hard on my knees.

Ah, Ms. Setsland. I hope you've come up with something for the next chapter. Your characters are really in a tight spot and will need a quick escape. Oh, you've been chewing on your gag again. I've told you before not to do that. You've already broken two teeth, and I can imagine how much that hurts. Yes, yes, I've come for a refill as well, just hold still, you know the routine by now. We don't want to waste any blood.

There we are, a full jar again. Just take it easy there Ms. Setsland, you're not looking too good, and I want to make sure we reach the end of your novel. It does so irk me to have stories go unfinished.

Everything is routine. Draw the blood, inject the IV, check the straps. Then it's back upstairs.

I'm sure I can get a few more hours done before my fingers cramp up for the day. It feels good to slide back into the chair, the paper in front of me, a full inkwell to draw from. My old pen ready to continue.

Age even shows in my utensils, the fountain pen taking more than a few seconds to fill. I draw off the excess from the tip across my tongue and give it a moment to savor. Feeling the warmth, closing my eyes and drawing the story out of it. Then I open my eyes, smile, and continue with the current chapter.

Everyone has at least one good story in them. I can't wait to see how this one ends.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Review: Jurassic World

For what it's worth, I'm now pretending Jurassic Park: The Lost World, and Jurassic Park 3 never happened.


Seriously, if you haven't seen this yet, stop reading, turn off your computer, and go see it. I'll wait.

Nobody ever listens to me. Well, as usual, I'll do my best not to do any big spoilers, but you had your chance.

When the original Jurassic Park was released in 1993, it was a milestone. It was an incredible movie in terms of story, casting, and, of course, special effects. Dinosaurs in movies wasn't a new thing even in 1993. They reach back to Gertie the Dinosaur, one of the first cartoons way back in 1914. The first Jurassic Park though, showed us dinosaurs as lifelike as we've never seen them before, and there is no way to truly replicate that first sensation of wonder in a generation that has become accustomed to realistic monsters like in Godzilla and Pacific Rim.

Jurassic World comes pretty damn close though.

Granted, the sense of wonder isn't QUITE as strong as it was in the original, and a lot of it is reliant upon one either having kids or still being in touch with their inner child. But that sense of wonder that was so sorely missing in Lost World and 3 is there in spades. 


It starts with a pair of brothers, Zach and Gray, who head to the park for their shared Christmas present, and to visit their Aunt Claire, who is conveniently enough, running the place. 

The wonder is as you follow them through the park, seeing the attractions through the eyes of the kids. We're also treated to appearances by several new species for the series, including Ankylosaurs and Mosasaurs. In addition, there's even a petting zoo, and there is seriously few things more adorable than watching some 4-year-old little girl wrapping her arms around the neck of a baby Brachiosaur. 

Of course, what kind of story would this be if the entire length of it was a walk in the park? The scientist's newest creature breaks out and proceeds to cause all kinds of havoc, eventually drawing out Owen Grady and his pack of trained Velociraptors to try and hunt it down when the human attempts fail. 


References to the original movie abound, from the statue of John Hammond (a tribute to the late Richard Attenborough), to the multiple variations on the Jurassic Park theme, to the guy working in the control room actually wearing a Jurassic Park shirt. 

We also finally see the raptors for everything they can do, from how intelligent they are by being trainable, to watching them charge full-speed through the jungle, and a reminder of how deadly they can be. 

We also get a reminder of the dangers of genetic manipulation that the first movie hinged on. 

While I love Jeff Goldblum and his portrayal of Ian Malcom, Jurassic World is the sequel that should have been, as opposed to The Lost World and then Jurassic Park 3 (Though, I will never not laugh at the group of Japanese businessmen being chased down the street by the T-Rex). Jurassic World just leaves the others in the dust and is only a hair below the original. 

Not to say it doesn't have issues. The biggest of which being not taking advantage of previously introduced characters. The character of Claire could easily have been Lex from the original, with her nephews being Lex's brother Tim's kids. That would've made a handful of scenes much more powerful and we wouldn't have to meet new characters. Lex and Tim being the grandchildren of the park's originator, John Hammond, would also only make sense that one of them would eventually be chosen to continue his legacy. Why none of the script-writers seem to have had that brainstorm, I honestly don't know. 

Still, this is THE movie to see this summer. Even more than Avengers: Age of Ultron in my opinion.

So what are you waiting for? Go! Now!


~ Shaun

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

You want a game with some longevity? From start to finish, this one took me 256 hours. And I missed a bunch of stuff too.


The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is, unsurprisingly, the third of a trilogy of games. The first was released in 2007 for PC, while the second was released in 2011 for PC and Xbox 360. The games revolve around Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher. As a boy, he was taken and given multiple tests, trials, and training, which results in a being that is more or less a superhuman. It is then their job to hunt monsters and other tasks for which regular people are poorly suited. 

In Wild Hunt, you are tasked with tracking down one of Geralt's former students, who has reappeared after years in a far away place and is being hunted by the group called The Wild Hunt, spectral horsemen and knights from another dimension. You have to search the land and find your ward before they do. Along the way you encounter monsters, sorceresses, kings, and all kinds of regular people. 

Complicating things further, is that the country is currently embroiled in a war with its neighbor, so the land is doted with bandits, deserters, and refugees. Some you will help, some you will hurt, and some you will have to face in self-defense. 

In addition to two previous games, the world is further expanded in books, giving the world a background every bit as rich as you might find in Game of Thrones or The Elder Scrolls.


The game itself is absolutely beautiful. The level of detail is absolutely incredible. From the backgrounds, to the enemies, to the fact that your character's appearance changes with every different piece of armor. The monsters are designed realistically, with none of the ones I found and killed seeming unreasonable. 

The story is intricate and involved, with decisions you made half a game ago affecting the outcome of current events and leading up to different endings depending on who you helped and how you treated people. 

The controls are well-worked and honed as well. It seems confusing at first, because there are so many different things you can do depending on the situation, but within a few hours of playing, everything lines up and makes sense, and nothing causes problems. 

Now, nothing is ever perfect, and there are a few things I had issues with. All of them are fairly minor though. After a while I found some of the music in the wilderness boring and repetitious. I also came across a handful of bugs while playing, which included the camera getting stuck and an invincible enemy. 


Minor Spoilers below the image

There is also one thing I have a personal issue with. I don't personally get full enjoyment out of "moral choice" games. I enjoy games like InFamous, Bioshock, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but games where you can be good or evil are a bit of a problem for me because I can't choose to be evil, even in video games, without feeling bad about it. (Odd that, really, considering I write Horror.)

In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, you commonly have the chance to accept or reject bribes, keep personal treasure for yourself, help people, or leave them to die. Many times, the lines between what's right and what's wrong is not clear.

For example, at one point, a smith's shop gets burned down and you have to find the culprit. Upon discovering his identity, you find he was actually a friend of the smith that started the fire in a random drunken rage and you have the option of walking away or turning him in to the smith. If you take him to the smith, despite their friendship, the smith turns him in to the authorities, who immediately hang him.

Anyway, that is how I play. I help people, be compassionate, and try to figure out the right thing to do at almost all times. For that...for that and 256 hours of play, I got the "Everybody dies" ending...

Still an awesome game. Get it. Play it.


~ Shaun