Tag Archives: gaming

#amgaming: Review of Stargazer, by Amaranth/John Wizard

Stargazer screen shot 3I spend a certain amount of time playing computer games, especially when I am trying to avoid doing any serious writing. And just like the books I read when dodging work, I love to talk about whatever game I’m playing. Today I am reviewing Stargazer, which was published in 2015.

I love old-school, indie-built, computer Japanese-style RPGs, and Stargazer, created by John Wizard in association with Amaranth, is one of the best games I’ve played in years. I’ve played it through four times over the last year, setting Aura’s magic up differently each time, and have not run across any glitches or bugs. Yay for that!!!

Magic no longer exists in the world, but Zach, stargazer and dreamer, doesn’t really believe that. The game begins when a meteor falls from the sky, and Zach goes to investigate it. He manages to avoid the Chancellor’s goons and discovers a girl who is suffering from amnesia. She thinks her name is Aura. There is an instant attraction there, and Zach is smitten. Their adventures begin, and they meet Scarbeck (a detective) Thyme (a healer) Grayson (a noble, but scary, knight), Kala, (has magic and rides a Firewing bird) and Amelia Mae (a 14-year-old genius).

Their romance is sweet, but not without stumbling blocks. There is no doubt how Zach and Aura feel about each other, but as for Thyme and Grayson…it’s a rocky road to the altar. And, in true Amaranth fashion, unless all the right criteria are met throughout the game, you won’t gain attraction points, and there will be no weddings.

The story line is a good fantasy story with a great quest, and the dialogue is hilarious, rife with snark and sarcasm.The art and graphics are excellent, colorful and highly detailed. Each setting is fun to roam around in. If I have any complaint, it’s the amount of walking back and forth over the same ground that one has to do to complete the many tasks, but that’s a minor irritation–the story keeps it interesting.

Stargazer screen shot 2The dungeons are difficult but not impossible, and the puzzles are challenging. The creatures are fun, and some are hard to beat, but you do gain strength, so nothing is impossible. You do have to be careful with the gold in order to get the best armor and weapons, as there are no goodie caves or secret weapons/armor stashes, although you can gain some good armor and weaponry in treasure chests.

Shybeard’s ship and Mala (the Firewing Bird) are delightfully hokey in an enlarged SNES Super Mario kind of way. Hawkeye is the lone graphic that is pretty much indecipherable.

The final battle is fun, and if you have met all the right criteria and gained enough attraction points for the two marriageable couples, you will get two weddings at the end. Or not, but either way, it’s a great game.

This is a terrific way to spend 25 or so hours, as there are over 200 puzzles and side quests to complete, all of which advance the story.

Amaranth and John Wizard are my 2 favorite indie RPG game makers, and they have lately collaborated with each other on several other games. Built using RPG Maker, their games are reminiscent of the old Enix/Square Soft games, for the Super Nintendo with strong story lines and fun side quests. They are as much fun as The Legend of Zelda, or Chrono Trigger or any early Final Fantasy game ever was.

Stargazer screen shotStargazer is available from John Wizard, or Aldorlea, or on SteamThis game is not for sale on the Aveyond.com website, which is what Google queries for Amaranthia redirect to. Amaranth has undergone some serious changes over the last year and their website is no longer the fun place it was, although gamers and indie game creators can still meet and discuss gaming and game creation in some limited forums.

I am not sure what to make of that—even though the John Wizard site redirects Stargazer questions to Aveyond, there are no forums there to discuss Stargazer, and the game does not appear on their website.

Regardless of that mystery, I give Stargazer 5 full stars, with no reservations whatsoever—I love this game.

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Filed under Final Fantasy, Game Reviews, Games

Madcap Moments of Literary Mayhem

My Coffee Cup © cjjasp 2013This weekend I saw a hilarious post on Facebook, one pointing to an article at NYDaily.com that details the fatal-flaws in the eBook version of George R.R. Martin’s  book,  A Feast for Crows.

Now, I just want to say at the outset, the only book of his I’ve read was the book, A Game of Thrones. But that was a long time ago, when it first came out as a Science Fiction Book Club book of the month. I was not really that impressed with it. I found the book distinctly hard to follow, and nearly quit reading it several times.

But just because I don’t find his work to my taste does not mean I consider him to be a hack! On the contrary, Mr. Martin deserves every one of his many awards and good for him! This is a rough business, and I love it when people succeed as authors. There are many fine, popular authors out there whose books don’t ring my bells. My own work is certainly not to everyone’s taste, although I am sure it should be. (Insert Shameless Plug Here: buy my books, please.) (The buy-links are to the right, clearly labeled.) (Just sayin’.)

Needless to say, Mr. Martin’s publisher is one of the Big Boys (Bantam Books) and one would think  SOMEONE would have caught these wonderful bloopers.  The  author put his faith in the publisher, and the publisher let him down.

George R.R.Martin formatting issue 3 via book blog page views, margaret eby

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George R.R.Martin formatting issue 1 via book blog page views, margaret eby

There is the remote possibility these moments of literary mayhem could have been caused by a last-minute global change to the manuscript. If so, it is a good example of why we should never click “Replace All” when we discover a particular word we need to change. Instead we should take the time to see each appearance of the word, and determine whether or not to make that change individually.

But in this case, I don’t think that is the problem. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern to the words the blooper replaces.  I think it is an OCR error (see number 5 below.)

George R.R.Martin bormatting issue 2 via book blog page views, margaret eby

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George R.R.Martin bormatting issue 4 via book blog page views, margaret eby

What these images of the book from the NY Daily tell me is that formatting issues are common and are a hurdle the indie must overcome. If the big boys have problems with this, then formatting is a real skill set that we must develop, because we all compete on the same field, only we indies have fewer advantages.

There are a few simple ways we can avoid some of the more common issues:

1. Do not put extra empty spaces between your paragraphs. If it is a section break, make sure to put something there to indicate it:  ***  centered in the empty space will do the task of indicating the section break, and will not look ugly.

2. Make sure your page breaks are “hard” i.e. NOT made by repeatedly hitting the “enter” key. You must limit those empty spaces to less than three, preferably only one. Go to the ribbon at the top of your WORD page and use the “Insert” tab. With the cursor next to your chapter heading, click on “Insert Page Break”.

3. Do Not Use Drop Caps to begin your first paragraph, no matter how pretty they look in the print edition. They screw the heck out of eBook formatting, causing all the paragraph indents to go away, making the book nothing but a WALL of words.

4. Stick to standard serif fonts like Times New Roman, and make it a decent size, like 11 pt. Use NOTHING larger than 16 pt. and use that only for chapter headings.

5. Random inexplicable letter changes can be caused by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) errors when the uploader for Kindle or Smashwords converts the manuscript to PDF format. Converting it to PDF yourself first does not help, because the errors are hidden in the PDF. Thus you may find  all the “p”s converted to ‘bl’s. (people becomes bleople.)  I am not very knowledgeable about the WHY of this, but I have learned how to avoid it:

I always save my eBook ms in Rich Text Format (.rtf) and I NEVER upload a manuscript to eBook  format that contains headers or footers. Remove the headers and footer BEFORE you upload to Kindle, Nook or Smashwords. I think this is what happened to A Feast of Crows. Headers and footers use OCR elements and this confuses the uploader program. My theory is: someone at Bantam forgot to remove the header before it was uploaded. But I could be wrong– this whole formatting thing is magic after all, and magic is an iffy science at best.

6. Comb your eBook ms for extra spaces at the end of paragraphs and remove them. I’ve been told this will eliminate the random “Words     Spread     Across     The    Page”  problem.

7. DO NOT USE THE TAB key to indent your paragraphs!!!  DON’T DO IT!  Go to the ribbon at the top of the page and use the paragraph formatting option. Set the indent to 3 or 5 pt.  But 3 is the optimal for me as a frequent eBook reader.

The bottom line is this:  the indie must spend many long hours combing the ms for the random extra spaces, removing all the possible error producing elements before we upload it. THEN you must use the option Kindle and Nook both provide and spend more time seeing what the book actually looks like BEFORE you hit the publish button.

Unlike George R.R. Martin, you won’t be able to blame the big-name publisher if your book looks like the dog’s dinner when your friends buy their downloads. This is our curse. We indies only have ourselves to blame for our less than perfect efforts.

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What I’ve learned from Tad Williams and Neil Gaiman

Over the course of my vacation I read two books, besides working on my own. I love to read the works of other authors, immersing myself in the way they handle plot twists and show the mood of a tale.  Oddly enough, both tales are told from the first person point of view, something I usually don’t gravitate to.

the dirty streets of heaven, Tad WilliamsFirst up, I read Tad Williams’s  irreverent thriller, The Dirty Streets of Heaven, Book I of Bobby Dollar.  That was fun, a real trip down the sometimes mean streets of the afterlife.

Tad Williams’s style of writing in the Bobby Dollar series is a non-traditional take on the traditional in-your-face, hard-boiled detective novel. Bobby is an angel, but even angels have their problems.

With the first sentence on page one, Williams establishes the mood of the piece and the society Bobby Dollar lives in, and he remains true to that concept throughout the entire tale.

“I was just stepping out of the elevator on the 43rd floor of the Five Page Mill building when the alarms began going off–those nightmarish, clear the building kind like the screams of tortured robots–and I realized I’d pretty much lost any chance at the subtle approach.”

Tad Williams’s work encompasses an incredibly wide range of styles, from fairy tales, to epic fantasy, to this hard-boiled detective story with his own paranormal twist.  At no point in the manuscript does the author forget where he is, or whose point of view the tale is told from. He never loses control of the many threads interwoven into this plot. The atmosphere is dark and seedy, and the demons Bobby Dollar deals with are some of the nicest people he knows.  Every sentence, every paragraph remains true to the mood established in that first sentence.

The ocean at the end of the lane Neil GaimonThe second book I read this last week was a completely different kind of tale, but it too was told in the first person.  Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Neil Gaiman’s prose is astonishingly beautiful. It is told in the style of an old-fashioned fairy-tale, and the protagonist is never named. Ordinarily, the fact the protagonist is never named would have irritated the heck out of me, but the tale captivated me at the first line and held me enthralled to the final page. This is a stunning, harsh tale, frightening and yet comforting in a strange way.

“It was only a duck pond, out back of the farm. It wasn’t very big.

Lettie Hempsteck said it was an ocean, but I knew that was silly. She said they’d come here across the ocean from the old country.”

I didn’t buy this book for the blurb or the cover– the blurb is nonexistent, and the cover is merely okay–I bought it for the title, and for Neil Gaiman.  I knew without a doubt his prose  would more than make up for the cover and I was not wrong. The protagonist is a man of late middle age on his way to the funeral for a loved one. He stops at his childhood home, and also visits the neighbor. While there he is transported in his memories back to a terrible time in his life.  There is magic, and there is mystery here, and he tells this tale from the point of view of a seven-year-old child viewing adult situations he has only a dim grasp of. The mood is dark, and yet magic.

MH900442497We indies must continually strive to produce this kind of variety and excellence in our own work.

Sometimes we are writing in a desert, a place where the words won’t come. We feel that our work is dry and uninspiring.

But I guarantee the most famous and well-loved authors have suffered the same dry-spells, suffered the same feelings of miserable failure we aspiring indies feel.

When I read their beautiful, harsh and diverse work I am inspired to believe I can do this crazy thing. I remind myself that, for me, it’s not about numbers and sales, because it can’t be. My sales are sort of dismal at best, as I don’t really push them through the traditional indie route of obsessively nagging people to death on Facebook and other social media. For me it has to be about improving the quality of my work and the telling of the tales I have locked in my brain, and getting them out there in book form to the best of my ability.

Reading and understanding how the great authors write is one of the keys to unlocking our own potential. We indies have to use every tool we have available in this rough business, and we have to know what we want to achieve. I want to achieve great sales, of course. But more than that I want to write compelling tales that move my readers. I may never achieve the first, but I think I can do the second.

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The Curse of The Indie Author, and the Cure

BIF Blog Print ScreenYou all know I write, and you all know I read.  You may not know that I read 2 to 6 books a week and I blog about the ones I really like on a book review blog called Best in Fantasy. I try to write a new post for every Friday.

I began that blog two years ago, with an eye to promoting the books I loved, books that moved me.  As it progressed, I began seeking out and promoting the books of indie authors. I do not accept free manuscripts, as I want to feel NO pressure to say nice things about a book. I always buy the downloads for this blog.

DR 3 Prism Ross M KitsonI have read some incredible, amazing work over the last 2 years–work I would never have been exposed to if not for the Kindle and the fact most indie downloads range in price from .99 to 4.99 and many can be found for free during promotional days.

This amazing access to great, innovative writing has created an entire sub-culture in the writing industry.  People like me, bloggers who regularly read and love to discuss what they read are springing up everywhere and they are talking about what they read. And let me tell you, I have read some truly well-crafted books that stayed with me.

Authors are also springing up everywhere.  Nearly everyone I meet is either a self-published author or a close relative of one. How humorous it is to find that we once-exalted tellers of tales are no longer special–everyone has a book in them or at least thinks they do, and they are publishing them.

This rapid expansion of the self-publishing industry has come with a price, however, and it is a huge one.

The ease with which anyone possessing the ability to read, access  a computer and use the internet can publish their work independently has sparked a revolution. If you have read your American history, revolutions are NOT easy nor are they bloodless and pain-free.

For every book by an indie (or indeed by a traditionally published author) that I can feel good about recommending on Best in Fantasy, I see on average 6 that are just plain awful. These are books that would never make past the intake editor or an agent.

Some indie books are so abysmally edited it is apparent the author is the only person who has ever seen the manuscript. Some are moderately edited but not very well or professionally, and the author (as in my case with The Last Good Knight) gives way too much back-story up front and in huge info-dumps. This loses the attention of all but the most determined reader immediately, people who would ignore most typos and slight inconsistencies for a really good tale. This is where the unbiased eye of the editor can make a great novel out of a promising tale.

There are an incredible number of people writing books who have absolutely no concept of how to tell a coherent story. Not only is the book over-the top with descriptions (which take all the fun out the book) the whole thing can sometime feel like one long ego-stroking, autobiographical trip through the personal fantasies of the author, with him as the main character.  Those books have what I think of as the ‘creepy-voyeur’ factor built into them, and I just can’t get too far into them before barfing.

the Book of Ruth - jane HamiltonOthers start with a great idea, but the author leaves you wondering what happened to that kernel of brilliance, as the story sort of dies at the end and you are left wishing you had quit reading at page fifty.   This happens with just as MANY traditionally published books as with the indies, folks! Take “The Book of Ruth” for example.  How it made the Oprah Book Club I will never know, but it is one of the most depressing and abysmal books I have ever read, and I have read quite a few bad books. It totally turned me off of The Oprah Book Club.

The big 6 traditional publishers pretend that much of the crap they publish is all sheer magic, while loudly pointing out the faults inherent in self-publishing.  And, while it makes me angry that they decry us as worthless but leap to publish us the minute we show any sign of real success, there are hard truths here we indies who are committed to the CRAFT of writing must face.

What this ability to publish any piece of garbage that falls out of your head does for us as indies is to tar us all with the same brush. THIS is the curse of the indie author.

The cure for this curse is as follows:

1. Learn how to write in your native language. Grammar and Punctuation are essential, even in modern literature.

2. Join a writing group and meet other authors, either in your local area or on-line. This will help you with steps 3 and 4. Enter writing contests such as Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Awards and participate in the boards and threads. Ignore the trolls, they pop-up everywhere (usually with badly written ego-stroking crap to their publishing credit.)

3. Develop a thick hide, and find an unbiased eye among your trusted acquaintances to read your work as you are writing it, so you can make changes more effectively and not be overwhelmed at the prospect of rewriting an entire manuscript from scratch.

4. Lose your ego. Your ego gets in the way of your writing.  Are you writing for yourself or for others to read and enjoy your work?

5. Find a good professional editor. Check their references, and when you do engage their services, do not take their criticisms personally. This editor must be someone you can work closely with, who makes suggestions and lets YOU make the changes on your masterpiece yourself. They must understand it is your work and you have the right to disagree with any suggested changes. If you have this symbiotic relationship, you will turn out a good final product.

This blog-post today has been inspired by the fact that over the last three weeks, I cracked open a total of 19 books, both indie AND mainstream, and was only able to find one book that I enjoyed and gave four stars to because of editing issues, and one AWESOME, amazing book that will get 5 stars from me.

Traditional publishers are failing us as readers by pushing their successful authors to spew a book or even two a year,  beating dead horses and creating long-winded series that go nowhere and have no entertainment value.

Some of the worst books I read over the last two years were written by two authors who have also written books I really enjoyed, but their best books were written in the early days, when these authors were not book-producing machines.

I expect more from a traditionally published book than a boring info-dump at the beginning, and lackluster characters you don’t give a hoot about.  I hold every book I read to that standard, and I am willing to forego some editing bloopers, which with the rush to publish nowadays, they ALL have, traditional or non-traditional.

A Lesson for the Cyclops Jeffrey Getzin

I just want to read a good story!

I want to be swept away to new lands and people I want to know and meet.

I want to be challenged and entertained.

Books are my drug and my addiction, and I am compelled to talk about them, to share them and re-read them.  That is why I blog every Friday on what I enjoyed reading that week.  Stop by this coming Friday afternoon and see what I am reviewing this week on Best in Fantasy. There will be a new review posted by 7:00 a.m. PDT.

In the meantime you can checkout the review for A Lesson for the Cyclops, a wonderful novella written by indie Author Jeffrey Getzin.

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Filed under Adventure, Books, Fantasy, Literature, Uncategorized, writer, writing