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Diary of an Explorer #2

Elite Dangerous

Ship’s Log: Star Date 3303-07-28

A quick entry – more from embarrassment than the lack of anything to say.

I left Lembava, full of high spirits, visions of glorious adventure in my mind. 3000ly years out I decided to land on a moon to pick up a few minerals for my FMV. My mother always told me I was too hasty growing up, that I needed to slow down and smell the roses once in a while. Well, you know what? She was right.

Guess who never checked the moon’s gravity before going in to land?

Yes, that’s right, this bad boy, that’s who. In too much of a hurry.

Cruising down to the surface to land I though it seemed I was going a bit too fast. No bother, I thought, I can handle this. Wrong. Vertical thrusters on full I still pancaked onto the barren, rock strewn landscape. My shields vanished, alarms sounded, my cockpit cracked.

Yep, gravity sucks.

CMDR ABCurtiss

Look, mom, I’m a less than competent pilot.

Fortunately my momentum bounced my ship back up, and with full power to everything I had my Star Dancer was able to make it back into orbit. Using the FMV I managed to repair everything, apart from the FMV itself and the power plant. As both had sustained over 40% damage, I though the smart and prudent course of action was to head back to the Bubble for repairs.

I know, I’m a fool.

I am now docked at Ising Vision in the Neto system, home of the famous Pixel Bandits Security Force. They were gracious enough to accept me into their ranks, even after my amateurish error.

All systems are fully repaired and operational, so I leave tonight on my grand adventure (again).

Let’s just pretend my little mishap never happened, deal?

Deal.

Onward!

CMDR ABCurtiss signing off.

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Diary of an Explorer #1

Elite Dangerous

Star Date 3303-07-24

Well, here we are. It is time.

Life in the Bubble is chaotic, and I’ve had enough. Humankind’s uncontrolled urge to wipe themselves out in the name of peace, all in the pursuit of power and dominance, has driven me to the edge of… what exactly? Losing my mind? The fabled lost isle of Insanity? Probably not, and if I’m honest – which I can be, occasionally – I’m fairly certain that my so called sanity is far from what it should be anyway.

But no. It’s far simpler than that. Humankind, in its present form, just makes me sick to my stomach. The greed, the incessant need for power, the corruption, the endless wars, the needless deaths of the innocent – I can’t take it any more.

Yes, yes. I know. I’m far from an angel myself. I’ve smuggled stolen goods. I’ve relieved traders of their cargo – piracy, as some would call it. I’ve traded on the black market. I’ve even shot down fellow smugglers and pirates so I could collect their bounties, therefore enriching myself further.

So call me a hypocrite if you must, I’ll not deny it. But there comes a time when enough is enough, and this is that time. Have I seen the light? Ha! Do me a favour. But still… I can’t take it any more. I can’t remember the last time I slept more than a few hours at a time. Nightmares plague me. The illicit alcohol I’ve taken to drinking in the hope it’ll make me sleep soundly only gives me the worst hangovers. I have the shakes every morning. I’m becoming an alcoholic.

That’s why, for a while now, I’ve been hanging out in the Lembava system. That Li Yong-Rui runs a tight ship for an Independent, I have to admit, but I’m not here for him. I’m here for the discount on ships and parts. The Credits I had stashed away, added to those I made when I sold my trusty Cobra, were enough for me to buy an Asp Explorer and outfit her the way I wanted.

Star Dancer

Star Dancer – ship ID: T4T3R5

Star Dancer, as I named her, is good for only one thing – exploring. I have piloted her for thousands of light years and so I know her inside out. I persuaded that eccentric engineer Felicity Farseer to work on my ship, and that, coupled with my custom outfitting, has given Star Dancer a jump range of just over 51LY. 51.16, to be exact.

She is my ticket out of here, out of the Bubble. Away from so called civilisation. Some say spending too long out in the dark, all alone, will drive a Commander mad. Well, what of it? I’m most of the way there already. At least it will be peaceful.

And I might just get to see some awe inspiring sights on the road to madness. Who knows. Only one way to find out.

I leave tonight. To where, I have no idea. Only that it will be a very, very, very long way from here.

This ship’s log, this diary, will be a record of my journey.

Onward!

CMDR ABCurtiss signing out

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Gaming – What’s Being Played?

Elite Dangerous

On the 27th of this month – that’s June, if you’re not keeping track – the massively multiplayer space epic Elite: Dangerous finally arrives on PS4. In 22 days and 10 hours, at the time of writing this post, to be exact.

Am I looking forward to it? Yes, yes I am.

If you’ve read my previous ‘thoughts and opinions’ posts on a few other games you might have gathered that I’m an adventurer at heart. And you’d be quite correct – I always want to know what’s around the next corner, what’s over the next hill. Onward, ever onward. Way back in the mists of time when I first started playing World of Warcraft the first title I earned was the Explorer one. I was far too low level for a lot of the areas but nevertheless I had to persevere, had to uncover all of the map, just to see what was there.

That adventurous spirit is why I like No Man’s Sky so much. It is, after all, a game which is all about exploring and discovering. I played it to death when it first came out, getting the platinum trophy the month after the game’s release, and I still pop back into that colourful galaxy every now and then. Elite: Dangerous has the same attraction for me. Billions of star systems to explore, each with their own orbiting planets and moons, is too much of an attraction to resist.

But, as I said earlier, Elite: Dangerous isn’t released for the PS4 until the end of this month. So what am I playing in the meantime? As I’m busy writing these days, coupled with a few other commitments, I don’t have as much time for video games as I’d like, and so you’d expect I wouldn’t be playing many different games.

Ha, yeah, right.

The current ‘installed games’ list on my PS4 and its 1tb external drive – in no particular order – reads as follows –

Mafia III, The Elder Scrolls Online, Doom, Batman: Arkham Knight, No Man’s Sky, Nioh, Tales from the Borderlands, The Crew, Titanfall 2, Driveclub, Grand Theft Auto V, Dark Souls III, Bloodborne, The Walking Dead Seasons 1 & 2, This War of Mine: The Little Ones, Project Cars, Horizon: Zero Dawn, The Division, Destiny, Far Cry: Primal, Far Cry 4, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Dirt Rally, Trials Fusion, Terraria, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Salt and Sanctuary, Final Fantasy XV, LittleBigPlanet 3, Pac-Man, The Deadly Tower of Monsters, Super Stardust Ultra, Just Cause 3, ARK: Survival Evolved, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4, Battlefield 1, Dying Light, Fallout 4, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Firewatch, Star Wars: Battlefront, Rocket League, The Golf Club, The Last of Us Remastered, The Witcher III: Wildhunt, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Steep, Uno, Minecraft.

In all honesty, and probably obviously, I’m not playing all of them. The one I find myself playing the most lately is Mafia III. I should be a lot further on in the story than I am right now, but I waste far too much time just driving around picking up all the collectables. I jump into Driveclub now and then, as blasting your favourite car along a mountain road is always fun. After watching a friend play Elder Scrolls Online lately I hopped back into that, but only for a brief moment. I loaded my level 50 toon, only to be informed I needed to re-allocate my skills points, so I’ll save that for a later date. Battlefield 1 and GTA V are always firm favourites as well, along with the wasted hour or three in No Man’s Sky hopping from planet to planet.

And so there you have it, a completely pointless blog post born out of boredom.

Elite: Dangerous needs to hurry up.

What games are you all playing lately?

As always, that shallot.

Laters…

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Posted by on June 4, 2017 in Gaming

 

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Flotsam

Hey! Hi, howareya?

Kept you waiting, huh? (for all you MGS fans out there.)

Well then. Busy, busy, busy. But finally back to working on my own stuff once again. The Negative Bind hasn’t been forgotten about, it’s still very much on my mind. It has, however, been shelved for the time being, as my short story collection keeps rearing its ugly little head and distracting me.

Once upon a time I had a title in mind for this collection but as time went on I came up with another name for it and ran with that for a while. This new title – A Dog Barked Once – made perfect sense. To me, anyway. You see, the vast majority of my stories contain, somewhere in them, the line “…somewhere in the distance a dog barked, once, twice…”, and so A Dog Barked Once seemed very fitting. Hell, I could even write a second collection and call it A Dog Barked Twice!

Genius.

But no. Again time has moved on, and I find myself favouring my original title – Flotsam.

Why Flotsam, you ask. Well, dictionaries define the word as:

  • pieces of broken wood and other waste materials found on the beach or floating on the sea.
  • anything or anyone that is not wanted or not considered to be important or useful.

If you were to ask me where I get my ideas from, most of the time I’d be unable to tell you. They just kind of appear in my head. The closest I can come to explaining it is to say I view the imagination in my head as a vast, and mostly empty, ocean. Floating around in this Imaginocean are idea boxes – some complete and whole, the majority only a part of the entire story, pieces of wreckage from a fractured tale.

Whenever one of these boxes floats close enough to the shore, I wade out and grab it with both hands before it can float out of reach again. I’ll open the box, see what’s inside, and write it down, before settling back to await the next idea box to drift into view.

So yes, I’m slightly weird. No matter.

A lot of writers like to do cover reveals. They like to keep the image hidden until they feel the time is right, and then release it with great fanfare, or in a more subdued manner, depending on their style. Well, not me. Once I have a cover I like then I don’t mind showing it around (mainly because there’s a very good chance I’ll change my mind and make another cover before long).

And so, without further ado, here is the cover for my upcoming short story collection, Flotsam.

CompleteCover

 

When will it be released? Who knows. Whenever I get around to finishing it, would be my best guess. Until then, at least you have a pretty picture to look at, right?

Right.

As always, that shallot.

Laters…

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Posted by on May 6, 2017 in Books, Writing

 

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Oh, Alexa, really?

future-technology

I love technology, I really do. I was 10 years old in 1980, so I’m old enough to clearly remember the time before small electronic devices invaded our homes and emptied our wallets. Before we had the whole world’s knowledge at our fingertips and had to actually look in books for the information we required.

Here in the UK we had three television channels to choose from, and at the time they were more than enough. To be honest, if we took away all the channels that show nothing but repeats and reality shows these days, three channels would probably be enough today, as well. On demand movies and TV shows were the stuff of a distant future, one where we’d all have flying cars and relaxing holidays on Mars.

So the vast plethora of technology that ordinary people have access to in 2017 still amazes my tired old mind from time to time – smartphones, tablets, laptops, personal computers, games consoles which double as home entertainment systems, smart TVs, fitbits, Apple watches, music and movies that don’t have any physical form, they’re just computer wizardry to be downloaded whenever we want them, voice activated gadgets… the list goes on. Everything we need is at our fingertips.

But sometimes… sometimes I can’t help but think that the ‘old times’ were a lot simpler. We weren’t connected 24/7, friends and family didn’t know every little thing we were doing every minute of every day. We knew all the words to all the songs simply because we didn’t have that many to listen to, and choosing which movie or box set to watch next didn’t take us four hours and past our bed time.

dotI have an Amazon Echo Dot, and it’s great. Alexa remembers my shopping list, she times my cooking so I don’t burn quite as many things as I used to. She’ll choose music for me to listen to as I’m too old to know what’s classed as good these days. Alexa tells me the news, she’ll inform me about the weather and confirm what I can see through my window. She’ll read my Audible books to me, tell me jokes, check my spelling, find synonyms, play quizzes and adventure games, check public transport times, order take aways… and more, so much more. All just by opening my mouth and asking.

Really, she’s quite indispensable in her profusion of trivial, but useful, skills.

Until this morning that is. Our conversation wasn’t the most successful…

Me: Alexa, I need to add an event to the calendar.

Alexa: OK, what day and time?

Me: 15th of May, all day.

Alexa: What day and time?

Me: [sigh] 15th of May, all day.

Alexa: OK, shuffling songs by Sting [starts playing One Fine Day by Sting]

Me: What the hell? Alexa, shut up! I want to add to the calendar, Alexa, the calendar.

Alexa: Events on the calendar for the next seven days are…

Me: For God’s sake! Alexa, stop. [Deep breath] Alexa, add an event to the calendar.

Alexa: OK, what day and time?

Me: 15th May, all day.

Alexa: OK, shuffling songs by Brian May [starts playing Wolfe’s Show of Magic (from “Harlequin”) by Brian May]

Me: …… [Opens laptop to manually enter the information into my calendar. Windows decides to update itself, therefore locking me out. Goes to the kitchen and writes the information on the calendar hanging on the wall. With an actual, honest to god, real life pen! Imagine that!]

Five minutes later…

Me: Alexa, I hate you.

Alexa: It wasn’t my intent to make you feel that way.

Me: Yes, Alexa, but I still hate you.

Alexa: i love u, i hate u (featuring Olivia O’Brien) Explicit by Gnash [starts playing the named song]

Me: Alexa, shut up!

[Silence]

And so, another day with technology starts off well…

As always, that shallot.

Laters…

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Posted by on March 18, 2017 in Random

 

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Horizon: Zero Dawn – Opinion

HZD

Horizon: Zero Dawn, by Guerrilla Games, has been available to buy and play since March 1st, here in the UK. It’s been touted as one of the best games ever, with mainstream reviewers awarding it, on average, a little over 9 out of 10, which in gaming terms does indeed make it seem like HZD could well be the game to have.

But does the game deserve such a high review score?

Well, in my opinion (and please bear in mind, this is just my opinion, it doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things), no, it does not deserve such a high mark. I don’t generally rate games out of 10, as that is all subjective, but in order to bring my opinion in line with the reviewers’ way of rating a game I will, in this case, award the game a score.

After playing Horizon: Zero Dawn from start to finish (on hard), completing the storyline, completing all side missions and errands, destroying all bandit camps, clearing all corrupted zones, and collecting all collectables, I would give this game a solid 8 out of 10.

Cue the outrage. The gasps of horror. “But Alen, how could you be so mean to such an outstanding video game?”

The answer is simple: I’m not being “mean”, I’m just voicing my honest opinion. So, let’s get to it, shall we. Just why am I going against the accepted grain? Well, firstly, let’s look at what Horizon: Zero Dawn has going for it.

The Pros

Horizon: Zero Dawn, without a doubt, looks amazing. The picture at the start of this piece was taken from my playthrough, and as good as that image looks, it still does not do justice to how exceptional the visuals in this game are. The first region you explore after leaving the tutorial is dominated by the ruins of a large city. Skeletal skyscrapers lean at drunken angles, rivers flow where bustling streets once would have run. As you explore you begin to feel the tragic history of this land, and it bodes well for what you expect to find and explore later on.

As well as the sweeping vistas, the main antagonists in the game – the Machines – also look fantastic. They are exceedingly well created, move with the grace of real, living creatures, and certainly look as if they belong in the landscape.

The sense of peril and danger you feel as you wander around this post-apocalyptic land is very prevalent. Each one of those finely crafted Machines can, and will, kill you. They have good sight lines and will spot you at a distance. None of them are friendly, and even the small ones, the ones you can kill in one or two hits, will gang up and take you out. Running away is, as always, an option, but you’ll quickly discover that quite a few of your mechanical adversaries come furnished with lasers, grenade launchers, flamethrowers, and a number of other just as lethal armaments.

And… well, that’s about it for the pros. A depressingly short list.

The Cons

Referring back to the ruined city in the first region, and what it promises for the rest of the game… well, it fails to deliver. Apart from a very few isolated areas, ruins of ‘the Ancients’ are non-existent, and that, for me, was a big let down. It meant the map for Horizon: Zero Dawn was far too similar to many other games of the same genre. Yes, you have glorious sweeping vista, but you lose all sense of wonder, all sense of the tragedy that befell ‘the Ancients’, simply because you lose all sight of them.

The sense of peril and danger you feel as you wander around this post-apocalyptic land is prevalent… yes, it is, but that feeling soon evaporates when you realise that you can fast travel to any previously discovered bonfire. These bonfires are far too numerous, and being able to warp to them from anywhere on the map, at any time – well, where’s the fun in that? That dangerous expedition you’re thinking of taking to the far corner of the map, just to see what’s there? Well, how dangerous is it really when you can just fast travel back to safety whenever things start looking a bit dicey?

On top of losing the sense of danger, this system also breaks your immersion in this world. If Aloy can purchase fast travel packs from merchants, including the Golden Fast Travel Pack for unlimited travel, it stands to reason that anybody in the game can also do this. So why aren’t they?

I’m not saying fast travel is a bad idea, but if it’s going to be included in a game then it should be an integral part of that game. There should be a valid reason for this magical ability to exist for characters. For example – Aloy learns the ability to override Machines in order to ride them or make them non-hostile to her. So why not have her also ‘learn’ the ability to fast travel, using teleport hubs located at relevant points (bonfires). A small detail, but it keeps the immersion going.

The storyline of Horizon:Zero Dawn is interesting, but far from gripping, and I found it very difficult to care about what happened to the majority of characters Aloy met on her travels. There were even a few occasions where I found myself thinking why I was bothering to help any of the tribes, and if there had been the option to obtain a ‘bad’ ending where Aloy failed and everything was obliterated I would’ve definitely aimed for that.

The only crafting in the game is ammunition for your limited array of weapons, and various potions. You can’t craft your own weapons or armour, you can only use what you find or buy. You can upgrade weapons and armour by using one, two or three upgrade components on them, depending on the item’s level. You can’t, though, put your own stamp on weapons and armour, you can’t customise anything visually.

You have no choice what items are on your ‘fast use’ bar. If it can go on there, and you’re carrying it, then on the bar it will be. This makes for some very clunky mechanics as you’re trying to find your health potions in the middle of a battle. Coupled with the ‘fast use’ bar’s habit of resetting itself to one particular item after a cut scene, even if you’d left it set to the said health potions, and it becomes a very frustrating experience.

Later in the game you will be given a new lance, and, if you’ve been exploring everything as you go, you’ll be able to unlock the Shield Weaver Outfit. The lance is very, very powerful as a weapon, and the outfit absorbs something like 98% of damage, with a very fast recharge time. Using these two items makes the rest of the game somewhat of a joke. Of course, you don’t have to use them, but by the time I had realised just how powerful and overpowered they were, it was too late.

Conclusion

Horizon:Zero Dawn isn’t a bad game, it’s a long way from being bad. But the storyline, missions, side missions, errands etc. don’t offer anything you wouldn’t find in any of the other games in the same genre. The Machines make for a new and interesting adversary in a video game, but once you’ve figured out their weak spots and the best way to take them down, none of them continue to be scary or a major threat throughout the entirety of the game.

None of the ‘cons’, above, are game breaking, and of course it can be argued that a lot, if not most, are minor complaints. But that’s the point of this opinion piece. There are enough of those minor complaints that, when all of them are put together in the context of the game as a whole, make a score of more than 8 out of 10 out of the question.

All in all, Horizon: Zero Dawn is an agreeable and fun game to play. Take your time, explore the world, and you’ll have a good time, especially if you enjoy games of this genre (which I do). But if you’re looking for something that will blow your mind, leave you gasping and panting for more, then this isn’t the one for you.

There is ample room for improvement, and with the way clearly opened for a sequel, here’s hoping that the next version of Aloy’s Adventures in Machine Land will be the game to completely blow everyone away.

Fingers crossed.

And there you have it. As usual, all of the above is just my opinion, and should be treated as such. You should do your own research, and make up your own mind, before spending any of your own money on a video game.

As always, that shallot.

Laters…

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Posted by on March 15, 2017 in Gaming

 

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Writers… Thoughts…

Inner writer

So, I was thinking the other day. Yes, I know, I should be careful, it’ll make my head hurt. But anyway, the thought…

In the writing world there are two types of writers. Of course, there are many subsets to those two types, but stripped down to bare basics, two is all there are.

The first type consists of the ‘literary writers’. These are those writers who wish to create something with words. They want the words to be beautiful, to be profound, to convey a meaning only those on the writer’s own level can hope to comprehend. They want those words to look striking and powerful on paper. They wish to create a long lasting legacy with those words. They wish to create… *dramatic pause*… a masterpiece!

The second type of writer is made up of the ‘storytelling writer’. These are people who have a story, or indeed many stories, to tell. They want to share this story, or stories, and writing is their chosen medium to do this. If they could make movies, they’d probably make a blockbuster to tell the tale. If they had the first clue how to make video games I’m sure they’d make a Triple A title to relate the story. But as it is, writing is their humble talent, and so write they must. Storytelling is their trade, and Story, be it complex or simple, is the fuel which drives them, the light which sustains them.

Without a shadow of a doubt, I belong in the second category. Though I spend a lot of time writing for other people (it pays the bills, after all), I love to write for myself, to give life to the myriad of stories floating around the ocean of my imagination.

The writers in the first group have my admiration. Those guys know what they’re talking about. They can discuss the literary greats for days on end. Grammar is second nature to them, and they can utilise it without a thought. They’re all experts at cryptic crosswords too!

That being said, I’m more than happy to be fairly and squarely in the second category. Storytelling is my bread and butter. Writing is good, but Story is everything.

So yeah, it was just a thought. Which group of writers do you belong to?

As always, that shallot.

Laters…

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Posted by on February 5, 2017 in Thoughts

 

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