Bore of Duty Modern Warfare 3 (30/11/2011)

Posted in Critical Failures

I like first-person shooters, I really do. If I’ve got my chronology right, then so far this year I’ve played Crysis 2, Call of Duty MW2 and both Battlefield Bad Company 1 and 2 in the last twelve months. Of all of those, in hindsight, COD MW3 was the worst. Or maybe, to be fair, the least good. The least engaging.

And that, at first, struck me as a bit odd, because MW2 was awesome, if a bit short, and the graphics and settings and well the whole audio-visual experience of MW3 was as good as I remember, possibly better. And the settings! Paris, London, Prague, Hamburg. Beautiful, all of them. And all the little flips out into calling down airstrikes – yes! Explosions! Sense of god-like power! Not to mention getting to shoot the living shit out of the NY stock exchange. I seem to remember using up an awful lot more grenades than strictly necessary on that one.


But but but.

Thing is, we all know, really, that even the prettiest FPS is frequently, in essence, a long corridor with a bunch of corners. Far Cry and others kind of moved us away from that, but y’know, honestly, mostly I just get in the jeep and drive along the convenient road and then it’s a corridor again. Just bendy, instead of with corners. But dammit, Sledgehammer, these magnificent urban environments of yours do end up feeling a hell of a lot like corridors, you know. Would it have hurt to have had a few more alternative routes kicking about? Crysis 2 was probably every bit as bad, but it didn’t feel it.

The kicker, though, are the missions. Follow this bloke, follow that bloke, occasionally protect someone, but them mostly follow someone. And sometimes it’s knuckle-clenching heart-thumping action, but mostly it isn’t, and I can hide around a corner in the corridor and everything very loudly waits for me to get back to following someone.

In the final mission, there’s a sequence at the end where you have to press the right buttons at the right time to get the right outcome. At each critical moment, the game tells you exactly what to do. Kind of like a cut-scene but more irritating unless you’re good at remembering button sequences. Other shooters do the same, but it’s perfectly why MW3 was kind of disappointing. Because well over half of the game felt much the same. It’s a game that allows you to participate in its glory as a bit of a walk-on extra when you were supposed to be the star.

Fifa – a considered opinion (18/11/11)

Posted in Critical Failures

So anyway, there’s this new character I was thinking of introducing into The Black Mausoleum who comes to a fairly unpleasant end…


Random Progress Report (15/11/11)

Posted in News

There’s some real blogging over here this week (thought I’d deface someone else’s site for a change).

(Updated 22/11)

There’s a whole bunch of stuff that’s almost finished. The last read-through of The King’s Assassin is almost finished. The first structural rewrite of Dragon Queen is almost finished. Here’s a tiny tiny spoiler. It’s a story about a queen and her dragon and the dragon-queen is . . .

Ah no. But who would you want it to be?

The edits for The Black Mausoleum are (still) almost finished (definitely by the end of last week, was it? But I’m not ready for them just yet so that’s OK). The samples chapters for Mystery Project U are almost finished. A pitch for a new YA series is almost ready.

With a bit of luck, they’ll all be finished (except the edits) by the end of the week, in which case I might even have a week off and see how far I can raise my blood pressure by playing some more Dark Souls CoD MW3.

After that, back to Sodium Hydride project, and then back to Dragon Queen in the new year.

National Novel Writing Month (11/11/11)

Posted in Critical Failures

So it’s that time of year again and my Twitter stream is full of #NaNoWriMo hashtags and people jumping up and down about wordcounts. The jumping, I’ve noticed, tends to start off mostly happy at the start of the month and the gradually grow more forlorn. By the end of the month, I don’t see much jumping at all.

I have reservations about NaNoWriMo. I’ve never tried it myself because it’s never happened to fit into my schedule. When I look at my schedule now, I’ll be trying to write a novel in a month in February, and then again in May, and frankly the prospect scares the crap out of me. I’ve written probably twenty novels now (if you count all the first drafts that were completed but never went any further) and I’ve never written one in a month. I’ve never written a first draft in a month. I’ve got it from somewhere that the challenge for NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words, which is more like half a novel for me (a quarter of the one I’m beating myself up with right now). Well I’ve done that. I’ve written new material at about 15,000 words a week, and it was bloody hard work and took a long time to get there.

I guess what I’m saying is that 50,000 words in a month is a big challenge, and particularly so if you have other demands on your time, like a job or a family. If you can do it, you have my admiration. If you can’t, well just keep going. Look at what you did at the end of November and consider it a success and keep going. Because that’s the other reservation I have about NaNoWriMo – writing isn’t just a thing you do for a month. Even if you finish a novel in a month, there’s rewriting and more rewriting and there’s the next novel and the one after that. Writing is for life, not just for November.

So good luck, don’t be a slave to wordcounts, and remember: It’s supposed to be fun!

The Vomit Draft (1/11/11)

Posted in News

This is a brief post about how books get written. My books, at least.

Most of the advice I’ve seen about writing a book, at least about the initial writing of a book, goes along the lines of keep writing. When I was writing my first stories (long before The Adamantine Palace), I think I used to agonise over every sentence before moving on to the next one. Now I’m working in collaboration someone else and I’m watching them do the same, it’s bringing all that back. Every. Single. Word.
Think about it.
Maybe change it.
And then rewrite the sentence five minutes later.
And the whole paragraph the next day.
And again the next.

It’s very hard, I think, when you haven’t gone through the whole process a half a dozen times, to just keep going even when you know what you’re writing isn’t your best. I’ve seen it written in probably half a dozen different places (and that’s without actually looking for such advice) that this is what a writer should do, but I’ve never seen anyone say why. So here are some whys:

Blockage: “Frank clenched his fists.” Used clenched two sentences ago? Just plain don’t like it? Feel the need for a different word but can’t think of it? Well you can either just stick with “clenched” and change it in the rewrites later or you can sit around banging your head against a Thesaurus until the right word comes along. I think I spent two days entirely stuck over one word once. Two wasted days. And with hindsight, nine times out of ten, what changes in the rewrite isn’t just the word, it’s the whole sentence. Best to keep going.

Acceptance of the rewrite: I used to think that the first draft was basically it, and so it had to be almost perfect. Rewrites are for sorting out the odd clunky sentence that somehow got away, grammatical errors, typos and the like, right? No. The first draft of Dragon Queen (in work at the moment) came in at 145k words. The second draft is going to be around 200k. One point of view has been removed completely, three have been added and two have been greatly expanded. The whole tone of the story has changed. Elements of plot have been removed, elements of character added and the setting has gone from pencil sketches to a full-colour draft. That’s what a rewrite is – or what it can be. True enough, not all of them are like that. Some first drafts come out better than others, but that’s what they can be like. Personally, I expect to do three or four rewrites before I submit to my editor. The odd clunky sentence, the typos? That’s the last of them. Now it might be that you can get a first draft almost exactly right if your painstaking about every sentence, but for me, putting that effort in to the first draft would make it almost impossible to bring myself to make massive revisions such as those I’m making at the moment. I recommend against giving yourself such an impediment. Accept the rewrite as inevitable, and then be pleased if it turns out to be easy.

And last but definitely not least…

The Plot-With-A-Will-Of-Its-Own: So here’s a situation, one I’m in right now with Volume one of Codename Sodium Hydride: you get to the last act, and you realise that there is a much, much better  denouement than the one you originally had in mind when you gave your editor your synopsis. Trouble is that to do it, you need to go back and make some changes. Maybe not big things, but lots of little things. Changing the focus a little. Bringing a couple of background characters out of the shadows a little, pushing someone you thought was going to be a major character out of focus. In essence, the realisation that there is a much better book than the one you set out to write, and it’s really not the different either. Now you can get there by painstakingly writing five hundred perfect words every day or you can get there by slamming down five thousand and using “clenched” in every other sentence, it really doesn’t matter. Both drafts give you the basic shape of your story, and both will let you know at about the same time that there’s a better one just a rewrite away. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to work out which way round is the more frustrating.

The vomit draft: Get it out as fast as you can, and it usually stinks. Embrace the joy of rewrites.