Game of the Year 2017

Honourable Mention:

Yakuza Kiwami (PS4)

Taken from http://gimmegimmegames.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/F30AB73B-5A28-4D3C-AE1F-2A3D2D2086BF-22364-00000A15D39A382D_tmp.jpg

NANI?!

An honourable mention only because I just haven’t played enough of it yet, otherwise it might have made the list.

Runner up (for similar reasons): Dishonoured 2 (PC)

 

Most Disappointing:

Dawn of War III (PC)

Taken from https://static1.gamespot.com/uploads/original/43/434805/3057640-1.jpg

Nowhere near as cool as it looks

Somehow Creative Assembly took the worst parts of the two games preceding this one and created something that was very pretty, but ultimately kind of shallow and not particularly enjoyable to play.

 

Top Ten:

10. Persona 5 (PS4)

Taken from https://d17omnzavs9b58.cloudfront.net/assets/article/2017/04/03/persona5_feature.jpg

Styyyyyyyyyle

A contender for most disappointing game, Persona 5 makes an incredible first impression through amazing music and presentation that oozes style.  However as the game goes on, the flaws become more apparent: companions are shallow with only a couple being interesting at all; dungeon design goes from being quite cool to utterly abysmal; and, worst of all, the translation into English is garbage, robbing a lot of the dialogue of any charm it may have originally possessed.

Persona 5 is still a good game, but it pales in comparison to Persona 4 on every level except the presentation, which is a real damn shame.

9. Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4)

Taken from https://media.playstation.com/is/image/SCEA/horizon-zero-dawn-impact-poster-ps4-us-07feb17?$twoColumn_Image$

Go on, kid, climb the robo-giraffe, make yourself famous!

I’m not a big open world guy, but Horizon managed to capture my attention through a combination of a really well-realised setting and an excellent protagonist.  The story moved well, and the gameplay was pretty satisfying and presented a nice challenge.  Horizon was an entertaining and extremely pretty game and I look forward to seeing where the inevitable sequel goes.

8. Sonic Mania (PS4)

Taken from https://cdn.wccftech.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Sonic-Mania.png

Not pictured: Big the Cat or any of the other post-Megadrive bullshit

I grew up as a Sega kid and Sonics 1 through & Knuckles hold a special place in my heart.  Mania represents a return to form for Sonic games after literally decades of utter shit, and was a great and surprisingly challenging nostalgia trip.

7. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen / Long War 2 (PC)

Taken from https://cdn.2kgames.com/web/xcom.com/images/overview/xxvy3598yt/x2woc_screen_newfactions.jpg

Look at these miscreants

I’m going to cheat here and use place two major pieces of content for XCOM2 under the same heading.

Long War 2 is a massive mod that fundamentally alters the way XCOM2 plays, adding in a tonne of new content and complexity that makes the fun but flawed original game substantially more interesting, not to mention challenging.

War of the Chosen is a massive official expansion that fundamentally alters the way XCOM2 plays, adding in a tonne of new content and complexity that makes the fun but flawed original game substantially more interesting, not to mention challenging.

Of the two, LW2 was definitely the more complex and interesting, but I really liked the additions that War of the Chosen made.  It’s a real shame that it seems the the two expansions will never be truly integrated with each other.

6. Hand of Fate 2 (PC)

Taken from https://www.defiantdev.com/img/screenshots/4.jpg

I love-hate this bastard

Hand of Fate 1 was a great concept, combining rogue-like facets with a mix of collectable card game, RPG, and arena combat.  Hand of Fate 2 expands and improves on this in every way and is a fantastic game to sit down with for a half hour burst or for several hours as you try to conquer the various challenges.  Even losing doesn’t feel too bad, as every run will see you unlocking new cards to ensure that things go differently next time.

5. Pyre (PC)

Taken from https://i.gadgets360cdn.com/large/pyre_characters_1499320697424.jpg

That dog has a moustache. You can make him shave it. This should be in first place.

SuperGiant continues to hit it out of the park by creating weird genre mixes and adding in their unique style.  Similar to Persona 5, Pyre has a unique and gorgeous graphical style, matched by incredibly good music by Darren Korb.  Unlike Persona, however, the writing is as good as the presentation.  The gameplay is no slouch either, mixing visual novel aspects with a surprisingly deep religious rite version of basketball…kind of?  It’s hard to explain, but Pyre is definitely worth dipping into and finding out first hand.

4. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

Taken from https://cdn.wccftech.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Super-Mario-Odyssey-gameplay.jpg

Sleazy mustachioed bastard

This game was worth buying a Switch for.

Super Mario Odyssey plays the way you remember Mario 64 playing, and combines the best parts of that game (and mediocre sequel Sunshine) with bits and pieces of the rest of the franchise, and then tops it off with a bunch of changes and that Nintendo polish to make what is easily the best 3D Mario game.  The possession mechanic is heaps of fun, the worlds are all unique and mostly interesting, and the game oozes charm.

3. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PC)

Taken from https://cdn.wccftech.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Wolfenstein-2-Review-02-Censored.jpg

This is a good game

Wolfenstein: The New Order was an amazing game and the sequel continues literally minutes from where the first left off, leaving the fight against the world-conquering Nazis behind in Europe to instead take the fight to an America that has capitulated and collaborated.  What follows is a game that is both surprisingly emotional and, sadly enough in these times, rather cathartic in unabashedly portraying Nazis as evil and worth fighting against.

Thankfully, Wolfenstein II has the chops to let you mangle Nazis with dual shotguns while also just-about-perfectly walking the line between poignant examination of how American society could embrace Nazism and an absurd, darkly humourous alt-history 1960s where the Nazis won and built a space station on Venus.

2. PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PC)

Taken from me, meeeeeee!

Couldn’t resist using a personal screenshot for this one

Mr Unknown loves his all-caps apparently.

What is there to say about PUBG, really?  The game is a phenomenon that does nothing original, instead cribbing parts from a bunch of older games and mods (ARMA, DayZ, etc). What it does do is put those disparate influences together pretty much perfectly.  Everything in PUBG feels just right – the maps are incredibly well designed and memorable, the guns feel good to shoot, the vehicles are just the right type of shitty, and the game covers everything from horror game in Solo as you know you’re being stalked by someone, through to a fun hang out with a group of friends in Squad. You can take it as seriously or as lackadaisically as you like, and no matter what you’ll have fun.

No multiplayer FPS has grabbed me like this since probably Team Fortress 2.  I’ve put hundreds of hours in already, and I’ll be putting in hundreds more getting murdered with my crew.

1. Yakuza 0 (PS4)

Taken from http://cdn.gamer-network.net/2016/usgamer/Yakuza-Zero-Shot-03.jpg

Sorry Kuze 😦

Like many Westerners, I’d heard about the Yakuza series over the years, but had never imagined playing one.  That all changed when Giant Bomb began playing through Yakuza 0 in their excellent Beast in the East series.

It took me maybe three episodes before I decided to buy the game and I am so happy that I did.  Yakuza 0 is simply incredible. It tells a fantastic crime story, has a great combat system, and there’s so much to do that it kept me going for more than 30 hours.

Yakuza 0 isn’t just my game of the year for 2017 – it’s legitimately one of the best games I’ve ever played, and is the reason I’ve picked up Kiwami, will be picking up Kiwami 2 and Yakuza 6, and will continue to play each new remake and original game.

From Scratch – Part 3: Pantsing It

Previously on From Scratch, I managed to avoid making a decision on which story idea I wanted to go with, and instead decided to write both!

I’ve since worked a whole bunch on my still-as-yet-untitled sci-fi story of space pirates hijacking holy water, and I’m very happy with how the first draft is coming, even though I’m already over the maximum word count despite probably only being 3/4 of the way there.  Even better, I’m reasonably sure I’ve got a tonne of stuff to remove, and that I’m going to have to insert a bunch more into the early parts of the story to plant enough seeds for the later plot points to pay off (once I’ve confirmed what those are!).

Does all of this sound kind of chaotic? It is! That’s because I, with this particular story, decided to go back to where I began as a writer:

I decided to pants it.

There is a writing methodology that is all about the meticulous planning: the author writes a short overall plot description (like my earlier pitches), expands this out into, say, a page or two of plot summary hitting the key points, and then expands this out in turn to be a chapter by chapter or scene by scene summary forming a novel framework.  In the case of a short story, you’d generally not go further than the page or two of summary, although you might go further down the rabbit hole with detail there if the story was particularly complex. Obviously, this is a broad guidelines – it varies by author or project, but the key rule is taking a structured, planned approach toward your work, giving you a framework where you are essentially “filling in the gaps” until the story is done.

That is the literal opposite of what I’m doing.

Instead, I decided to write by the seat of my pants.  This has traditionally been my chosen method of writing, with the end result being a whole bunch of partially completed projects and relatively few finished ones.  Basically, I sit down with an idea, and just write.  As the words come out, the skeleton of a plot starts to form, and I can organically respond to it, following it to a conclusion.

With my new story, this has actually been working really well.  I have an idea of how I want it to end, and I’m enjoying exploring the different ways of getting there, even as I rapidly realise there’s whole chunks I’ll need to rewrite.

A lot of people I speak to about writing are blown away by idea of drafting and redrafting.  The idea that you can type the last word and know that you’re probably only a quarter of the way there (if that) frustrates a lot of people, never mind the utterly alien concept of handing said work over to someone else to read and dissect and send you back to rework whole chunks of the story.

This is a necessary process for all writing styles, but it is particularly so when writing without a solid plan.  As someone without an artistic bone in my body, I’ll nonetheless liken it to my probably misconception of sculpting. I have the roughest of designs in mind. I get the base structure into place and begin to visualise where it will end up, and then I chip away until I get there in the end.

This story is taking shape so far, and I am actually feeling pretty confident it’ll be something decent in the end.

With that in mind, here’s the intro to the story – again, this is the first draft. It’s probably garbage, is subject to change, read it at your own peril, etc, etc:

The sky was the dull sheen of gunmetal, mirrored perfectly by the ocean. The four fighters of Corsair squadron skimmed above the water, leaving chaos in their wake.

The query from Holy Ter City flight control stabbed again in Ayla’s mind – most chip communications were not intrusive, but the Cobies had a particularly blunt way of making themselves known.

‘This is Aquafex Hydronatus Lurr of flight group Zero-Two-Delta here for emergency refuel and resupply.’ Ayla pulsed back, every word untrue.

‘Acknowledged, Aquafex. Welcome to the Holy World,’ Control buzzed back, a giant mosquito somewhere in her frontal lobe. ‘Landing pad eighteen in Ter City West. Deviate and be destroyed. All praise to the Cobalt Waters’

‘We will comply, Control.’ Another lie.  ‘We have absolutely no intention of causing any trouble. Praise the Cobalt Waters of Holy Ter.’

Now that was some real crap, even down to the murky water they skimmed across most definitely not being cobalt or any other shade of blue.  Every single thing about this damn mission was lies within lies within lies.

Captain Ayla Neshitani, leader of Corsair Squadron – former soldier, current revolutionary, pretend space pirate, and extra-pretend Aquafex of the fanatical Cobalt Imperium – sighed and decided to keep her focus on ensuring her fighter didn’t plough into the smoked glass surface of the water below.

It’d be far too apropos to drown in the murk of this bullshit mission.

More about the story itself…next time, on From Scratch.

From Scratch – Part 2: No Decisions Necessary

Previously on From Scratch, I pondered which of the two water-themed story ideas I would go with:

  1. A melancholy dark fantasy story about a healer betraying her friends to defend helpless civilians who hate her and are doomed anyway; OR
  2. A space pirate adventure revolving around an attempt to steal a tanker full of holy water from the home planet of a xenophobic empire of whackjobs.

Option 1 appeals to me as a writer – dark and brooding has mostly been my go-to, and it would be a story set in a world I’ve spent a fair bit of time fleshing out for myself.

Option 2, on the other hand, is a setting I’ve only really thought about. I’ve written the first chapter of a potential future novel in this same setting, and I’ve doodled a whole bunch of spaceship designs during meetings at work, but otherwise it’s a blank slate in a new setting in a style that I haven’t really ventured into (barring some Warhammer 40,000 fan fiction back in the day, which was tonally very different to what I’d be aiming for here).

After much pondering (it took minutes, I swear!), I made the decision to not make a decision. Instead, I’m just going to write both of them.

To be honest, there’s a couple of reasons for this – I could say that both interest me equally, although that wouldn’t be entirely true.  I could say that both are gateway stories into linked novels I’ve been planning to write, which would also be true. I could even say that I miss writing short stories (which is 100% true), so why limit myself?

The real reason is that I have missed writing like this. For the first time in literal years, I am feeling inspired – like I cannot wait to drop whatever else I am doing so I can sit down and get more words down. I’m craving the redrafting; the cutting of whole pages of beloved text simply because it doesn’t quite work. I want to ruthlessly edit and get criticism from my beta readers and all of that good stuff.

Thinking about this process has made me realise just how much of a misstep focusing on writing my novel to the exclusion of all else has been. I’ve always been the kind of guy who functions best with multiple projects going at once – I’ve been one for laser focus. Focusing on rewriting and redrafting Freeburn, as useful as that has been for nutting out solutions to problems I was having, has also led to me basically not writing anything new except the odd sentence here or there for a very long time.  Obsession with getting it right has led to me resenting it a bit, and my writing process has suffered as a result.

No more!

Freeburn is on the back burner for now, and I think it will be the better for it.  In the meantime, I have begun writing the as-yet-untitled tale of Captain Ayla Neshitani and her band of roguish space pirates, and I’m about 2/3rds of the way through the first draft.  I’ve even managed to fit in a pretty decent cloaca joke that I’m hoping will make it through to the final version.

I’m very excited to discuss this first story in more detail…next time, on From Scratch.

Work In Progress Excerpt: Freeburn (working title)

Here’s an excerpt from my current draft of my action-spy-post-apocalyptic thriller, tentatively titled Freeburn.  This is a (very) rough early version of a new scene from about a third of the way through the novel and is presented without context – I hope it can be parsed well enough, both in terms of the people in the scene, but also in terms of the tone of the story.  In case you’re wondering, I’m primarily posting this to try to fire myself up to write some more, so please let me know what you think!

I sat on a stump at the edge of the woods and watched the sunset.
It had taken a while to extricate myself from the hospital after the attack – calming the terrified civvies, accepting back slaps from Gerstmann and co, seeing to Ayoub’s wounds. I’d taken a few myself, including a bullet graze on my right shoulder that I hadn’t even felt in the heat of the moment.
The sun had started to dip by the time I was ready to steal Lin’s bike and hit the road. No one tried to stop me – I had made vague noises about checking for surviving bandits lurking in the trees, and they’d been accepting enough. I admit there was a bit of an itch between my shoulder blades as I took off – I’d seen Lin sniping from the roof earlier, and she was easily good enough to peg a moving target, especially one she didn’t like that also happened to have just stolen her ride.
Thankfully, the twitchy Lieutenant mustn’t have been paying attention, and I made it without incident. I parked the bike well away from my actual destination, leaving it on its side amongst the surprisingly lush undergrowth, and moved away from the road, making sure I wasn’t followed.
The stump was perfect – in deep enough to obscure me, but not so deep that I couldn’t look down the road and over the houses dotting the distant hills, glittering prettily in the setting sun, off-white buildings stained orange and purple.
I could see clearly down the road, so naturally I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard someone clear their throat behind me.
‘How long did you know I was there?’ a deep voice, clipped and precise.
‘A while,’ I said, not turning around. My pistol was clutched in my left hand, dangling loosely against the inside of my thigh. I looked relaxed, and the gun should have been completely invisible to him, but somehow I knew he could feel the tension in both me and my trigger finger. ‘But only because I expected you.’
‘Liar,’ twigs crunched beneath his feet – an affectation, he’d never have accidentally done anything that could reveal himself. ‘If I was that predictable, I’d be dead.’
‘And yet, here I am, waiting for you.’ I smiled, finally turning to face him.
‘And yet here you are.’ He was tall, thin and muscular, looking twenty years younger than his middle age. He wore uniform fatigues, devoid of any insignia except for one: A bat-winged dagger. ‘It’s good to see you, Marcus.’
‘It’s good to see you too, Colonel.’
Llewellyn smiled at me. ‘Didn’t you hear? They made me a simulated Brigadier before they retired me. A general without an official unit, unattached to any branch of the Her Majesty’s military, and having never commanded more than two-dozen men at a time.’
I grinned at him. ‘We did more work than most battalions, simulated Brigadier General sir.’
‘That we did, Freeburn.’ His voice turned serious. ‘And how about now?’
Well, that brought us to the crux of things.
‘You killed my men. You’ve denied me what is rightfully mine.’
I shrugged. ‘The people in that hospital would probably disagree.’
‘Those people exist to allow men like us to do the hard work, you know that. I bear them no particular ill will, but they have supplies that my men need, and if we don’t have them, we will all die.’ Llewellyn had begun to pace, hands clasped behind his back – it was a pose I’d seen often, and one that usually ended with me being ordered to go kill someone. ‘You’re interfering in plans I’ve been working toward executing for more than a year now.’
‘And what plans are those?’
He ignored me, pacing silently. My hand tensed on the gun.
He stopped, instantly, eyes snapping to me. ‘Are you going to shoot me, Freeburn?’ His teeth glistened in the encroaching dark, more snarl than smile. ‘Is that what we’ve come to?’
I loosened my grip. Slightly.
‘Why did you miss our meeting?’
‘Honestly?’ I winced, actually embarrassed. ‘I was pissed about the job and drank too much on the flight, decided to grab a couple of hours of bunk time before heading up. It wasn’t personal.’
He barked something like a laugh. He stood – not at ease, never that – but suddenly more comfortable, as though the pieces had finally clicked into place and he knew what he was dealing with.
That pissed me off.
‘I didn’t realise at the time that armageddon was starting, of course.’
‘Of course,’ he replied. He stood just outside of my reach, not quite facing me, ready to move in any particular direction in an instant. He’d thickened in the middle, now that I could see him up close, although his fatigues were old and battered enough that they may have been adding to the effect. He still wore his usual beret – tan, devoid of insignia. He carried no visible weapon, but I knew that he had at least two knives on him. Not that Daffyd Llewellyn needed knives – he was deadly enough all on his lonesome, even well on his way past middle age.
‘What did you have for me?’ I asked him after the silence had stretched long enough to get uncomfortable. The sun had dropped lower in the sky, the shadows stretching between the trees. I could smell rain in the air, the first hint I’d seen since I’d woken from my long sleep.
‘I’d been ordered to kill you, of course,’ he shrugged, as though it were of no great import. A chunk of ice settled in my gut. ‘You must have worked that out by now.’
‘I had guessed.’ And I had, the more I had considered it. The night I’d been shot, the pink-haired assassin had implied I was responsible for what was happening. Budrickson and Lin had said it outright. I’d never found out why they’d believed it, but if enough people start accusing you of something and you actually didn’t do it, it probably means you’ve been set up. ‘What I want to know is why.’
‘That’s the million dollar question, son. Someone at MI6 disliked you enough to send you all the way around the world twice just so your old CO could put one in the back of you skull. What did you do?’
I shrugged, hoping I seemed mysterious rather than the utterly bewildered dickhead I felt like. I’d never seen eye to eye with the service, but I’d never done anything near bad enough to get myself implicated in the worst act of terrorism the world had ever seen. And, as Llewellyn had just said, it seemed like a particularly personal ‘fuck you’ from someone to send me on a trip just to be murdered by him.
We stared at each other as the last vestiges of light drifted away. The moon gleamed between the clouds and was absorbed a moment later as the rain began to fall.
‘I killed a lot of your men, General. I’m not sorry, they were scum.’
‘They were, but they were mine.’ He stepped close suddenly, so suddenly my hand tensed on my gun. ‘You’re mine too, Freeburn. I need you. This whole place has gone to shit, but I’ve got a plan and you increase the odds of my success dramatically.’
‘I usually do,’ I grimaced as he squeezed my shoulder, hoping he’d take it as a smile.
He reached into a pocket and handed me a piece of paper – it was too dark to see what it was, but I could guess. ‘Come to me, bring me something worthwhile, and I’ll leave these people you seem to care so much about-’
‘I don’t give a fuck about these people, Llewellyn, you know that.’
‘-in peace. Don’t interrupt me again.’ There was the Colonel I knew, voice suddenly as sharp as the combat knife tucked into the small of his back. ‘Come to me, and we’ll work this out together. I want answers as much as you do, and we’ll make whoever did this to us pay.’
He squeezed my shoulder one last time and stepped back, not turning away from me.
‘You’ve got three days.’ He said, withdrawing into the shadows, back the way he came. ‘After that, my plans will have progressed far enough that you’ll be left behind.’
I nodded. Not much else to say to that.
‘I’ll be seeing you, Freeburn. Make sure you don’t shoot me in the back.’ I saw his teeth glint in the sparse moonlight. He turned around and walked away, raising his left fist in what I initially assumed was a salute.
Then I noticed the two red dots dancing around on my chest.
‘If I was that predictable,’ I muttered, holstering my pistol with very slow, deliberate movements. ‘I’d be dead.’

Writing Exercise: Character Profile

One of the things that has come about with attempting to write longer form fiction is that my usual style of writing doesn’t really cut it.  With most of my early short stories, I tended to have a cool idea, wing it until most of the story was written, and then go back and rewrite until it came together as a somewhat cohesive tale. Along the way, the characters and main plot points would form around the core idea organically – often in unexpected ways – and I’d eventually find myself with a completed story that was almost certainly very different to where I started.

With my first novel manuscript, I started off this way as well.  Originally writing about 60,000 words for NaNoWriMo a few years ago, I did so with very little planning or idea of what was going to happen beyond wanting to write something in a post-catastrophe Australia and having a main character who was something of a lampooning of the James Bond type, where he thinks he’s a suave, sophisticated, hot shit spy, but is actually kind of a blunt weapon and a bit of a joke to those in the know, but dangerous nonetheless.

Part of the reason this is taking me forever to write is that my usual style is way too cumbersome for a full length novel. This has led to a great deal of rewriting, planning, adding and subtracting, and – crucially – outlining.

I’ve also undertaken some exercises in bringing my characters and world into focus.  One of these is profiling my characters, which has proven really useful for me, especially as I try to walk the line between seriousness and parody the story calls for.

There’s a lot of different ways you can go about this – I’ve used a simple series of headings that hit the core ideas I want to keep in my head as I write.  Below is an example for my protagonist that I hope some of you may find interesting and/or useful – keep in mind this is written as rough notes and isn’t a polished piece of fiction!

Name: Marcus Freeburn

Role in Story: Protagonist

Occupation: Secret Intelligence Service – Operative (TBC)
Previously: Joint NATO SMU (unofficial) (TBC)
British Royal Marines – Special Forces Support Group (TBC)

Physical Description: 6’6”, heavy build, muscular – almost always draws the eyes of everyone around, not an ideal trait. Shoulder-length black hair, raggedly cut post-injury. Neat beard. Dark brown eyes. Hairy. Scarred. Broken nose, but not crooked. Large, perfect teeth (like a cow’s), smiles look false. Has a habit of smirking or smiling with only one side of his mouth.

Personality: Sarcastic, arrogant. Has led a life where almost all of his decisions have been made for the purpose of defying someone or something, with very little thought given to his own goals, morals, or ethics. Has had a tendency to cling to the concept of ‘the greater good’ and serving his country as justification for the bad things he has done, even though he knows deep down this is just a cover. Has the capacity to be caring and decent, but has forced this down for so long that it only manifests unexpectedly. Smart, but thinks he is far smarter than he actually us.  A blunt instrument who thinks he is a scalpel.

Habits/Mannerisms: Internal monologues. Consistently underestimates the intelligence of those around him, but overestimates their capacity for treachery. Tends to act to provoke, but will occasionally be genuinely compassionate, kind, and caring. Can be suave and flirtatious when he wants to be, but the arrogance and falseness comes through to anyone who isn’t fooled by his outward persona. Has a tendency to move suddenly and unexpectedly, sometimes violently, with little indication until it is already done. Enters the zone when in danger, with much of the falseness falling away to reveal a calm, almost sociopathic killer.

Background: Born to wealthy, land-owning parents in Edinburgh, Scotland. Family was loving, but eventually became distant through meddling by his grandparents and some other difficulties. . Played rugby, boxed, played chess but was a middling player and lacked patience. Known for his aggression above all else. Went to university, partied hard, eventually dropped out when parents stopped supporting him. Decided to join the military to punish his liberal mother, and joining as an enlisted man to punish his propriety obsessed father, and ended up immediately being sent to Afghanistan. Adept fighter and showed genuine leadership capacity, but bad soldier – lack of discipline, questions authority, and little care for the rules. Promoted and demoted multiple times in a short period, then eventually arrested. Retrieved from the stockade by Major Llewellyn, who is leading a small team of reprobates from various NATO forces on black ops. Becomes an expert in small arms, infiltration, etc, although is generally used as a blunt instrument when all else has failed. Completes several years in this group and is “Dishonourably Discharged” by the Royal Marines, but immediately brought into the SIS. Struggles to fit in, but passes and becomes an operative, but is immediately punished for recklessness and contrary behaviour and given a series of nothing postings, the last of which is monitoring a listening post / safe house on the isle of Noumea. Finally brought home and given a mission to retrieve a package in Australia as a redemption mission.

Internal Conflicts: Obeying the orders of those he respects and completing the mission assigned to him versus thinking for himself and examining the morality on what he is doing. Hiding behind his job and false identity versus opening up to people who know who he is. Being truthful with others or lying, for purpose or habitually. Betraying people who trust him to meet his own goals or putting others first. Trust versus trusting only himself. Living in the past versus building a new life. Valuing a mentor for who they were versus who they are now or who he perceives them to be.

External Conflicts: REDACTED – here be spoilers.  I’ll just note that this would be conflicts that related to relationships between characters, as well as their place in the world and interaction with the plot (e.g. conflict with the main antagonist, not getting along with a companion, etc).

 

 

What I’ve Been… Writing

Coming up on the end of the year seems like a good time to reflect on how my writing has been going, as well as planning out a few resolutions to spend more time working at it for 2017.

It’s been a pretty rough year for me as an author, to be honest.  I’ve stalled repeatedly on my “main” novel for a couple of years now, and the frustration of that was enough to really hurt my overall interest in writing as a result.  Add in a job that is pretty stressful, and it was very easy to justify doing anything else except for writing.

Thankfully, the tail end of the year saw me getting back into it.  Part of the reason I started this blog was to give me a chance to write a variety of things, and I’ve combined that with working on a variety of projects new and old.  It may make everything a bit slower going than I would like, but it keeps me sane.

Here’s a brief summary of current projects and how I’m going with them:

Freeburn (working title)

Type: Novel

Genre: Sort-of-post-apocalyptic action spy thriller

Description: A former soldier turned failed British spy named Marcus Freeburn is sent to Sydney, Australia to meet a contact, only to be shot and left for dead. When he recovers, he finds that the country has been the target of a chemical agent that has brought society to its knees, and that he is the number one suspect for instigating the attack. Now Freeburn has to work out who is really responsible, but first he will need to learn to survive in the terrifying world he has found himself in.

Status:  I’ve been kicking this one around for years now.  I’m on what I still consider to be the first proper draft of the manuscript with about 80,000 words written.  I’ve recently changed a great deal of the plotting and created a proper outline, resulting in me rewriting large chunks.  Slow and steady at this stage, and I am hopefully to have an actual complete draft done during 2017.

Rise (A Story of the Death Throes Unending)

Type: Novella

Genre: Fantasy

Description: A decrepit inn is attacked by the undead forces of a Necromancer cabal in the middle of the night, defended only by  a band of rowdy mercenaries and a healer of uncertain origins. As bodies fall and the inn burns, the only certainty is that nothing is quite as it seems as the dead rise in the town of Riversedge.

Status: Another story I had worked on for a long time and stalled on, version 10 is completed and sitting awaiting some final edits before going back to my beta readers (my wife Sam and my friend Tristan) and hopefully being ready to submit to publications.  I really quite like how twisty and fun this story is, and I’m looking forward to finally getting it out there.

This story is a part of my burgeoning Death Throes Unending fantasy setting and serves as a prequel of sorts to the novel series currently residing on my hdd as about a dozen dot points and some character descriptions.

Corsair Squadron (working title)

Type: Novel

Genre: Military Sci-Fi / Space Opera

Description: In a far-flung future where humanity has spread across the stars, a group of misfit pilots and soldiers are brought together in a mission to clandestinely undermine the imperialistic control of previously independent worlds, but in doing so may spark a war that crushes the people they are trying to save.

Status: I’ve wanted to write a sci-fi series from the moment I first watched Star Wars, and that was an idea that was only reinforced by reading, watching, and playing various awesome things over the years.  I’ve sketched out the first book, an overall plot that could setup a trilogy of books, and have written a couple of chapters to get a feel for one of the main characters and how I want to present the world.  I’ve also doodled a great number of truly awful spaceship designs.

What I’ve been…

…watching at the movies (again!)


Rogue One (spoiler free)

Oh…oh my. That movie was amazing!

I freely admit that I’m a Star Wars tragic. I’ve been one ever since my mum showed me A New Hope as a child. I loved everything about those movies and even the godawful prequels couldn’t hurt me too much.

However, the thing that really captured me the most was the setting itself. Jedi were cool, and the space battles were cooler, but what I loved were the little glimpses of the day to day in this amazing universe. I loved how lived in it all was, how weird the aliens were, the glimpses at what society was like under the oppressive Empire.  The Extended Universe got into a lot of this stuff, but it had only ever been captured on film as incidental detail around the hero’s journey of Luke and his friends.

Rogue One is everything I ever wanted from a Star Wars movie.

This isn’t a story about a single hero rising up and saving the day. No, Rogue One is not about that, despite what trailers might have hinted at.  This is a war movie and a heist rolled into one – a gritty look at a rebellion against an oppressive government across multiple and wonderfully varied locations and what rebelling actually means; what it costs the people who are fighting and doing what might be considered bad things for what history will hopefully show were good reasons.

This is not a hero’s journey. Rogue One is dark without being dour. Adventurous without being trite.  Serious, but with that sense of humour and hint of hope that typifies Star Wars. It wasn’t a perfect movie – characterisation was a bit slim at points, I kind of hated Forrest Whitaker (not something I’m used to saying), and there were a few uncanny valley incidents that took away from certain scenes.

But overall?  This is Star Wars like I dreamed it could be. As much as I liked Force Awakens, it was a retread – A New Hope with a new coat of paint.

Rogue One is not a retread.  It is new and different and gorgeous and glorious and the standing ovation it got in the cinema I watched it in was well deserved.  I’m not sure yet where it will sit in my personal canon of Star Wars movies, but I’m pretty damn sure it’ll be high on the list.

An easy 5/5 for me.

 

What I’ve been…

A not-at-all creatively titled new series of posts I’ll be doing about the various things I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, writing, etc.  Let me know what you think!

…watching at the movies

I caught Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them over the weekend. I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan- I read the books quite late and thought they were decent but unspectacular (I enjoyed the later ones the most), and feel much the same way about the films. I’m not immersed in the Potter-verse, and knew basically nothing about Fantastic Beasts heading in.

I’m not normally a fan of spending a paragraph qualifying, but it feels necessary in this situation due to the simple fact that I really enjoyed Fantastic Beasts.

It was a fun story in a really interesting setting (1920s New York), well-acted and gorgeousto look at – I particularly liked Scamander as a lead and enjoyed the little nuances Eddie Redmayne brought to the role, but all the supporting actors were great as well, even where the characters were a little bit shallow.

There were some fun little call outs for fans of the series, but this is an excellent standalone piece of fiction in its own right, completely watchable for anyone who isn’t hugely familiar with the preceding movies/books.  It felt like a darker (but not grim) tale than Rowling’s previous work, but still retained the sense of whimsy and wonder that is missing in a lot of modern fantasy.

In short, it managed to tickle me just right despite my non-existent expectations, which is always my favourite experience when I go to the movies. At a time of year where the only hotly anticipated movie I’ve got left for 2016 is Rogue One, this was an awesome surprise and one I definitely recommend.

Have you seen Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them? What did you think?  Let me know in the comments.

 

Nephilim

Nephilim – buy now from Amazon for Kindle for only $1.99

Synopsis:

In near-future Hong Kong, a new designer drug has hit the streets, causing unimaginable bliss in some, and psychotic rage in others. Of greater concern to Dantalion – Fallen Angel and private security for the Pfay-Saxton Corporation – is the fact that this drug has been nicknamed ‘Neph’ and is being peddled by his fellow Fallen, seemingly as a trap to draw interest from neutral parties like him. As Dan follows the trail back to its source, he quickly realises he is in way over his head.

Because there are new players in the eternal war between Heaven and Hell, and neutrality is no longer an option for any Fallen, even one as stubborn and resourceful as Dantalion.

Praise for Nephilim:

A taut story which has a nice twisted ending, Nephilim reminded me a lot of the indie horror Gabriel, with a tad touch of Tad Williams’ current trilogy. Another shining effort from this collection. – Fantasy Book Critic

[Describing the stories which appeared in the Manifesto: UF anthology] I think my favorite, though, might have to go to Nephilim by TSP Sweeney. – seak, Goodreads

Background:

My second published story, Nephilim came out of a desire to continue on with the setting I’d created with Der Teufel combined with wanting to do something quite different in tone.  I did quite a bit of research into angels and demons, drawing upon a few different religious sources and a little bit of rule of cool when I created Dantalion, plus sprinkling in something a bit new with the rest of the characters.  This was also one of the very few occasions where I plotted out the entire story from the start and stuck pretty close to my original vision – in fact, there’s about 5000 words of additional material cut for space based upon my initial outline.

Nephilim was originally published in the now sadly out of print Manifesto: UF (Edited by Tim Marquitz,  published by Angelic Knight Press), my second time working with Tim, and hopefully not the last! Both anthologies were excellent in my not so humble opinion, and it was a great privilege to have my work included alongside that of so many talented people.

Excerpt:

I sensed the attack coming a heartbeat before something took me in the shoulder. That was okay. It had, I imagine, been aimed at my head, and only my innate reflexes saved me from a messy, permanent death.

I spun toward Andromalius, raising the shotgun one-handed. The blade that had struck me faded away, ethereal energy dissipating into the night.

Andromalius floated on ragged wings, sickly brown and gray feathers just clinging to raw, bloodied, black skin. There was a faint impression around him, an almost-glow, like a smudge on a camera lens.

A pale green snake, as large as anything you would see on Earth, coiled about his torso and now-whole legs, tongue flicking the air.

Remember when I claimed earlier that guns hold no fear for us? The reason is that mortal weaponry—indeed, mortal anything, from sewing needles to dropped pianos—cannot permanently harm us. For the warriors of Heaven and Hell, injuries heal almost as they occur.

For us, the process is a little bit slower and a lot more painful, but the end result is the same.

To truly hurt an angel one must call upon their own essence, their soul, to use the simplistic term, and weaponize it. For the soldiers in the Eternal War, this is easy to do, for their essence is protected and replenished by the power they fight for and the worship of their followers. For those of us without such … connections … it is a finite resource, a shallow oasis in an ever-encroaching desert. One where use can have deathly serious repercussions for the wielder.

Andromalius must have really wanted me dead.