Threaded through the rhythmic combat, wall-running and puzzle-solving of 2008′s Prince of Persia is an ongoing dialogue between its protagonists, the wise-cracking vagabond known colloquially as ‘the Prince’ and the Princess Elika, heir to a decaying realm and a temple which for a thousand years has sealed away the dark god Ahriman. Yet the Tree of Life which sustained Ahriman’s bonds is broken, shattered by Elika’s grieving father.
Together the Prince and Elika delve into the ruins of her city in an attempt to heal the land, seeking to repair Ahriman’s prison before he can escape. As they face the obstacles in their path they bicker, they joke, they tell stories of their vastly-different lives. The Prince hides behind a mask of bravado, of seducing pretty girls in the marketplace, of wandering wherever the wind takes him and seeking his fortune in forgotten tombs in the heart of the desert, while Elika’s life – despite her memories of how glorious the rubble they now scamper through once was – has been one of duty. Even as her people lost faith and drifted away, she’s held on to one central tenet of belief: for the sake of the world, Ahriman must never go free.
While optional, these conversations are a core gameplay mechanic. Just as there is a button on the controller assigned to Attack, and another to Jump, there’s another specifically reserved to Talk. It’s through dialogue that the Prince encounters Elika’s determination to do the right thing at any cost, to be the hero of her story despite his exhortations to just walk away. Surely someone else can save the world without Elika risking her life? Through dialogue Elika mourns her shattered kingdom, weaving stories – as one would at a wake – of a childhood spent amongst its verdant gardens, gleaming towers and proud people. Through dialogue, the Prince’s carefree facade begins to slip as he struggles to support Elika, their quest becoming ever more perilous, and learns of her untimely death and resurrection.
When Microsoft’s Kinect launched in 2010, heralded by the crash of broken sales records, it must have seemed like a new dawn, the emergence of a fresh, revitalised form of gaming made achievable by the advance of technology. Yet by the time the Xbox One was announced with Kinect at its core, consumer interest had waned. While support for Kinect’s functionality was widespread, it was difficult to claim that its technological potential had been matched by equally revolutionary software: beyond Dance Central and its imitators, few titles could be argued to be more than traditional games with optional—and often temperamental—motion controls tacked on.
It’s a cautionary tale which the new wave of virtual reality would do well to heed: since the launch of the original Oculus Rift development kits, the first wave of big-name titles announced to support the Rift—from EVE: Valkyrie to Hawken to Elite: Dangerous, from Doom 3 to mods for Team Fortress and Half-Life—are predominantly first-person shooters and cockpit-centred flight simulators, common archetypes enhanced by the all-encompassing involvement promised by VR.
These experiences are well-positioned to be a vital touchstone at VR’s rebirth, something familiar for players—and developers—to grasp on to while exploring this new medium, one which initially seems very familiar yet brings its own nuances to interactive entertainment. Yet these are also designs heavily inspired by traditional gaming, fast action games for a medium which may not be especially well-suited to fast action. If VR as a fully-immersive medium is to achieve its potential, what key strengths can it offer? In what aspects might it potentially surpass gaming as we know it?
Fox Spirit Books’ anthology Tales of Eve – which contains my science fiction AI-training story In Memoriam – has just been nominated for the British Fantasy Society award for Best Anthology 2014! It’s hugely exciting to be included as part of such an excellent shortlist; roll on September.
Huge thanks to everyone who considered this anthology for the award, and to editor extraordinaire Mhairi Simpson for inviting me to contribute!
A commission for author K.C. Shaw of Jo and Lizzy, professional air pirates!
Find out more about their adventures here.
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem wants you to be afraid. Not of ravenous b-movie horrors, nor of dwindling ammunition, but of indescribable Ancients lurking beyond existence, intent on subjugating our world. It wants to question your sanity, to weaken the boundary between game and reality as you struggle to unravel a trail of murder and arcana across 2000 years.
An unlikely collaboration between Nintendo and Ontario-based developer Silicon Knights, Eternal Darkness is a Lovecraftian ensemble piece, of ordinary men and women struggling to prevail against an enemy whose very existence threatens to drive them to madness. Called in to identify the decapitated corpse of her grandfather in his Rhode Island mansion, you take the role of Alexandra Roivas, the modern-day focal point for an intricate web of memoirs concealed around the house. Scattered throughout history, each of the twelve playable characters tells a tale of an ill-fated encounter with forces far beyond their comprehension. They are scholars, monks, architects, war photographers, fire-fighters; not battle-hardened warriors, but pitiful humans cowering in the shifting shadows of monstrous gods.
Those who take a stand against the darkness are crushed, devoured, or annihilated, while others attempt to flee but cannot so easily escape the things they’ve seen. Yet each little act of heroism, each moment of defiance against the incomprehensible darkness, builds on those that have gone before, to offer humanity a slim hope of salvation.
Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is a case study in overcoming adversity. Born from the chaos of Square Enix’s merger and Nintendo’s brief obsession with inter-console connectivity, this multiplayer-focused title launched to critical acclaim in 2004, at the height of the Gamecube’s popularity. Not since the days of the SNES had Nintendo fans had a notable JRPG to call their own, an absence which Crystal Chronicles was perfectly poised to capitalise on.
Announced in the wake of Final Fantasy 10, it rapidly became apparent that developer The Game Designers Studio – one of Square’s internal teams, rebranded in an act of corporate sleight-of-hand to circumvent the ongoing exclusivity deal with Sony – intended this to be a very different game to the Final Fantasies which had come before.
The Franz Kafka Award for Best Desk Job Simulation: Papers, Please
Papers, Please is weaponized monotony. Endless lines of hard-faced immigrants, labyrinthine regulations governing who is permitted to enter the glorious republic of Arstotzka, and a ticking clock counting down the seconds until the end of your shift and your inevitable confrontation with the icy fingers and empty bellies of the loving family your inattention to detail has failed. It’s spot-the-difference at an obsessive level; every passport you approve is accompanied by the fear that you’ve erred, that after five seconds of holding your breath that accursed printer will whir into action, spitting its damning citations across your already-crowded desk.
So absorbing are the minutiae that the stories creep up on you: lovers separated by barbed wire and high walls; separatists and their conspiracies; the ever-present threat of your neighbors and superiors rooting out corruption and disloyalty in the ranks; and morning newspapers full of murderers, attempted coups and the chaotic detritus of a crumbling regime. Papers, Please is at its best when it forces you to face the human cost of your petty compromises, and instead of being defined by their documents, the grim masses queuing at the border resolve once more into people.
- Rob Haines
His name is Malik. He sits across from me in one of the many identical chambers of the Shifting House, seeking a reunion. By the pearlescent light that glimmers from the lamp above our heads I can see the valleys carved by his tears, aging flesh eroded by the ravages of time and sorrow. He tries to hide his grief with a speckled grey beard, but all it conceals are the faded creases of long-lost laughter about his lips. He is sumptuously dressed in robes of purple and orange silk, clearly a man of renown outside these walls, but all men are brought low by grief. All are equal before the Sisters of the Shifting House.
He has brought me a relic: a brooch, an ornate silver rose bedecked with sapphires. A rich man’s gift. I suspect it’s worth more than everything I’ve ever owned, but any urge to covet it is driven away by the wash of emotions as I cradle it. Every object has a story, every handful of ash which trickles through my fingers has an owner. The brooch’s owner may be no more, but it remembers her, each curve of its filigree resonating with emotion’s echo. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and lower my barriers, letting the memory of desire climb my arms like tendrils of ivy, twining around my chest, choking my skin as my bones itch, realigning as my flesh melds into a form which is no longer mine.
Malik inhales sharply in recognition as I peek out from behind new eyes.
It’s been a year since I challenged myself to create the initial HeavenWard concepts in the space of only a couple of months.
Since then, the desire to turn this story into a comic has only gotten stronger, and luckily Rob’s keen on writing it. To begin with,
my original (and slightly rushed) concept art needed to be revisited and overhauled.
And so, I’d like to (re-)introduce the main character of HeavenWard, Tara!
This past weekend Rob (my loyal art sherpa) and I attended Bristolcon!
First of all, a huge thank you to all the Bristolcon staff for all their hard work! Last year was my first time attending, and this year my first time displaying my artwork, and both times now the convention has maintained a small, relaxed and incredibly friendly atmosphere. I was delighted by the number of people I’d met for whom this was their first-ever convention – both writers and fans of lovely geeky things – and time and time again they told me that everyone there was so friendly and that they felt welcome. It was a wonderful feeling to be part of an event that so positively reflected our shared interests as geeks and held no intimidation to new attendees.
Also, thank you to everyone who stopped by my table and made me feel so welcome! The time absolutely flew by chatting about steampunk monkeys, Supernatural, Dalek plushies, art, anime/manga, etc.
For anyone who didn’t get a chance to purchase one of my prints (‘The Hunting of Ducks was a big draw for many) you can find them for sale at my Big Cartel shop, along with other prints such as my Postcard From Lepari illustrations, or the Chrono Trigger piece I created specially for The Drunken Moogle.
And finally, if anyone would like to commission me, please read my guidelines first and drop me an email; I’d love to hear from you!
If you’re going to WFC, look for me and Rob there – I dunno about Rob’s plans, but you’ll likely find me running around Brighton Pier eating ice cream and taunting seagulls.
It feels like forever ago that Jenny & I attended any conventions, whereas in reality it’s almost exactly a year since BristolCon, a delightfully cosy and welcoming little convention not too far from our own shores. But feverish preparations and the annual buying of new jumpers heralds the rapid approach of this year’s conventions!
First up, we’ve got this year’s BristolCon, on Saturday Oct 26th. We’ve got a more participatory role this time around: I’ll be a panellist on the My World Is Not Your Sandpit panel alongside such fine folks as Juliet McKenna and Dave Gullen at 11am in Programme Room 2, discussing whether or not readers have the right to use existing IP to create their own spinoff works, after which point I’ll most probably be found propping up the bar for the rest of the day.
Jenny, meanwhile, will be attending as an artist and will be selling her work in the corridor outside the art room. In addition to postcards and prints, she’ll also be selling the special edition of our recently-released Postcards From Lepari ebook on a custom USB drive, available for the first time at BristolCon!
The following weekend – Oct 31st to Nov 2nd – is the World Fantasy Convention 2013 in Brighton. Apparently the only thing better than one convention in a week is two, so we’ll be haunting the halls of the Brighton Hilton Metropole all four days of WFC, hoping to get re-acquainted with previous con-friends and meet a whole bunch of new folks. I may even venture onto Brighton Pier for an ultimate confrontation with my feathered nemesis!
Provided I survive the epic battle, at 10am on the Sunday morning Fox Spirit Books and Editor Mhairi Simpson will be having a launch party for the Tales of Eve anthology, which I was lucky enough to have a story in. If you’re at WFC, why not stop by Signing Alley and join in the fun!
It’s going to be busy, but most of all it’s going to be tremendously exciting! Perhaps we’ll see you there.