All words presented in this blog are purely opinion, not fact - unless specifically stated otherwise in the post.

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Three Peaks Video

Todays post is a round up of the three peaks challenge attempt made by me last weekend. I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for watching, if you wish to donate to the RNLA please go to our page here and pledge as much or little as you can.


Monday 29 July 2013

The Good and Evil of Player Generated Content.

Personally I have a love hate relationship with Player Generated Content (PGC). I think I love the idea more than I love it in reality. For those who are unaware; PGC is content for computer games that have been made by players. Some people call it modding, some people call it developing, regardless of what you want to call it the outcome is the same; content for a game that has been created by another player, like yourself, or even your annoying little brother who can't use MS paint properly yet.
It's not a new thing, not really. People have been creating their own maps for shooting games for years. What is a new thing is companies making games specifically around the idea of user generated content. There have been good examples, the Bethesda games (Fallout games and Elder scrolls games) are a prime example of this. they created full games with lots of content, a huge world and enough to do that you could never need user generated content while simultaniously releasing a creation kit for the game so that its easy to do and readily available. (admittedly 'easy to do' is subjective, but it's much easier than having to hack into the game's code or something to make it run). However there are some games that do it poorly, or even don't do it and say they did. APB: All Points Bulletin is one of them. APB worked on the concept that the game play was going to be created by the user. the developers didn't need to do much if anything to give the players something to do because once the players were in the world they'd figure something out. This is perfectly fine and a reasonable strategy, except then they asked the players to pay them for it.
Don't get me wrong I have no problem with paying for a game subscription. In the past I have paid for Aion, Champions online, City of Heroes, City of Villains,  DC Universe online, Dungeons and Dragons online, Final Fantasy XI, The Matrix Online, Ragnarok Online, RF Online, The Secret World, Star Trek online, Star Wars galaxies, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Warhammer online, World of Warcraft, and probably a load more - just in case you were looking for my nerd creds, I alphabetised that list.
My problem isn't with paying for a subscription, my problem is paying for it and then not being given anything in return. It's like paying for a house and being given bricks and cement.

The reason I bring it up is because more and more games are releasing editors and I am not sure if its a good thing or a bad thing. It could be great. we could be ushering in a new era of gaming. People could become praised for their level design skills as much as, if not more than, their shooting skills. Equally, however, we could be ushering in an era of lazy game development. With a lack of need for developers to hire level designers and narative designers players will find themselves without easily available high quality story modes. They will still be out there buried in the PGC but much harder to access through searching through the crap.
I recently purchased a game called Shadowrun Returns. I havent looked at the PGC yet but it doesn't look like the main story is going to be particularly long. It only cost £15 and it seems to be made for PGC but if it had been more expensive and made PGC difficult to access I'd be complaining. My point is that if games are going to base themselves around their player driven content I dont think they should be able to charge for it as well. Building an environment for people to create is all well and good, but you don't charge the price of a masterpiece for a piece of canvas and an easel.

- James

Saturday 27 July 2013

Comic KHAN!!!!!! *photo heavy!*

PHEW! That was exhausting! I know, I know, I'm a few days late, but I needed a relaxing vacation after that or I would have just collapsed into a heap. Exhaustion is too simple a word for how I felt the day after Comic Con.

It was nothing like I expected and a million times more better. There was so much there so hopefully I can break it down into a few simple categories for you. Honestly, I was so overwhelmed I almost didn't even do anything!

 Cosplay - Not as much as I was hoping, but still super awesome! Silly me was expecting a nice percentage of people to dress us, but that wasn't the case. That being said, there were still plenty of people in costume and pretty much all of them were amazing.

Panels - Honestly, there was so much to do I didn't end up going to a lot of panels. Sure, I hit the nerdy Chuck Palahniuk one, as well as Mythbusters and Who Framed Roger Rabbit to name a small few, but I expected beforehand that would be all I did. It most certainly wasn't.

Autographs - To be fair, I didn't do much of this. I'm not a big fan of autographs, but there are a few people I was really excited to see there. I'm an artist, so my fandom is MOSTLY with the artist, and I spent FAR too much money on art. It was cool to talk with some of the people behind my favorite comics and video games.

Exhibitions - The ones I went to were actually "off-site" (though right across the street) and open to the public. They were really cool and added quite a bit of fun to our trip. 

Video Games - Want to try out the new consoles? BAM! The PS4 controller is smooth and holds really well. The X-Box...well, it's exactly the same. Maybe I would have liked it more if they had more than one demo game - or at least a demo game that wasn't completely stupid. It was like they wanted to scream "I HAVE TESTICLES!" over and over so they made this boring and dumb game. Save your time. "Ryse" is a bad game.

 ...and last but NOT least, the Exhibit Floor - I can't say enough about this. It's just a quarter mile of pure geekyness. Everything you can think of: art, video games, comics, movies, books, tv shows, it's all just crazy! I spent most of my time here, and I can honestly say I didn't see everything. It was AMAZING! And super crowded. :/

I hope that's enough for you! It was super amazing and I can't wait to go again next year.

Tatooine like you've never seen it before.

Friday 26 July 2013

Fan fiction; practice or profession?

So I'm a big advocate of fan fiction. Using someone else's universe to develop your writing style is something that I think more writers should talk about or at least think about. Reading or watching or even listening to other people's work can inspire people in tremendous ways, and they can use this inspiration to create something of their own.
That said I don't see this as anything more than practice. I see this as a nice way to develop, and maybe a bit of fun - yes fun, I enjoy writing. However kindle have recently put into effect something called "kindle worlds". Kindle worlds is a handful of book, comic and tv series that amazon have either got an agreement with or bought the Rits to various intellectual properties to allow people to write whatever ey want.

Now I'm not sure what to make of this. On the one hand it's an interesting direction to go, it opens new doors for a lot of people looking to get into writing, but on the other hand I feel that it will flood the market with crap and it will lower the bar.
Don't get me wrong, sometimes I want a lower bar, or at least a couple less hoops to jump through to get published, but one of the reasons writers are highly regarded is because they do it by themselves and its difficult.
Writers create entire worlds and theologies and histories and futures all in a single book, they entertain and enthral us with their words and that's impressive because they did it on their own. They came up with everything and worked it into their books in such a way that it was compelling and made us care (or not, in the bad cases). Fan fiction requires far less thought or originality or creativity from the writer because the world and characters are all ther. It requires less story and less of a hook because people just want to see their favourite characters in new scenarios.

I don't know what kindle worlds is the beginning of. Will it expand to the point that nobody writes original fiction anymore? Will it fizzle out as a failed experiment? Will things pretty much stay as they are   except for a select few stories that - like the twilight fan fiction know as 'fifty shades' - do incredibly well. Or, most likely, does this mark the beginning of the end? Taking us into a post apocalyptic hell where the world is split into severely polarised factions. Trekkies in one place, Star Wars nerds in another, twilight fans roaming the wastes of New England while hunger games crazies terrorise the Scottish highlands, all refusing to believe that their passion is equally or less valid than another's, none willing to let another live unless they recant their belief.
As I say, I don't know where this will lead, but I don't think I like our chances.

Blogging on the tracks (train tracks) means no hyperlinks apparently. So no tubage. If you need a video I noticed a couple other call me batman videos, go google.


Wednesday 24 July 2013

The Continuing Saga...

I know what you're saying, both of you 'Where's the podcast? we're here for the podcast! You forgot it again, didn't you?!' Oh if only my ineptitude were the problem, I'd be able to rush home after work, edit it and put it up, but alas we have none this week due to this past weekends visit to comicon and next weekends visit to a bunch of mountains.
Instead we will be posting up a full write up, with pictures and video of comicon some time this weekend. From the little bits and pieces I've heard and seen from our some time contributor, Liz/Rix It was awesome and well worth reading/looking at/watching so stay tuned to your computers for this weekend.

Today, however, we have more in the continuing saga of getting my published.
This week, having recently finished hunter as you all are aware and after starting to edit the book (and finishing editing the first 100 pages) I started sending it out to agencies. I figured that, while I did put a lot more into TLC people have gravitated more towards Hunter and its shorter, so it's less of an investment to a publishing house and an agent which hopefully means their more likely to take a chance on it.
So far this week I've sent it out to every agent in the Writers and artists yearbook that doesn't specifically prohibit fantasy, and is also willing to take E-mail submissions. I will eventually start sending out on post again, but I cant afford it at the moment, so I'm holding back until I can.
To be honest though, in this day and age I don't understand why any agents/publishers require hard copies. I suppose it cuts down on the people that aren't serious and it's nice to have a physical copy, but this is the 21st century, we use computers for everything, surely there are other ways to de-incentivise sending in crap?
Ugh, fine. But I can't afford to send it yet.

So far I've only got one rejection and that was from Diane Banks Literary. The other agencies I've applied to are as follows;

The Blair Partnership
Blake friedmann literary
CardenWright Literary Agency
Jonathan Clowes Ltd
Creative Authors Ltd
Toby Eady Associates Ltd
Fox Mason
Greene & Heaton Ltd
Rupert Heath Literary Agency
Johnson & Alcock Ltd
Eunice McMullen Ltd
Barbara Levy Literary Agency
Lutyens & Rubinstein
Madeleine Milburn Literary
The Standen Literary Agency
Wade and Doherty Literary Agency Ltd
Susan Yearwood Literary Agency

Fingers crossed I'll get a call back on one of them, if not I'll start the post stuff again.

I'll see you later guys!

- James

P.S. On a side note how self involved am I that I named this super genius detective after myself?

Monday 22 July 2013

Steam Sale Aftermath

Those of you who follow my twitter will know some of my trials and tribulations regarding the steam sale, as well as my mixed feelings.
For those of you who don't even know what the steam sale is, I'm not really sure what you're even doing on my blog, if I'm honest. Steam is the digital distribution program created by Valve to sell games, and the steam summer sale is when Valve goes CRRRRRAAAZY (that's a Plants Versus Zombies Reference, F.Y.I. ) and cuts down a load of their prices.
You can get some great deals. £15 games for a pound, £20 games for £2.50 even some £30 games for a fiver or less. The deals are genuinely awesome and well worth it most of the time, but it adds up. It's not just that you spend a lot on awesome games, that I wouldn't think twice about. On several occasions I've bought games that I would never ever play, on other occasions I've bought games that I already owned.

This year the damage was £62.74 ($96.19 for our American readers) and while I have played every one of the things I bought, that fact is only true because I went out of my way to play each of them so that I could say that I played each of them.
I bought eleven games and four DLCs. Full price of it all would have been £217.39 ($333.30 U.S. ) So I saved a lot, but of those twelve games four were gift items (games I had to give to someone else) one I already own (on PC as well) and perhaps 3 I'll actually use to their full potential. only one of the DLCs will likely get used at all.

The Steam sale is great, it gives you a chance to get games super cheap when you otherwise couldn't afford it, but also sucks you in. It sucker-punches you with sales and deals of games you will never ever play.

In the end I bought the following:
Aliens Colonial Marines
Borderlands 2: Creature Slaughterdome DLC
Elder Scrolls Skyrim: Dragonborn
Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes
Fallout New Vegas: Lonesome Road DLC
Fallout New Vegas: Old World Blues DLC
FTL: Faster Than Light
Omerta: city of gangsters (2 copies)
Risen 2 Gold
Torchlight 2 (4 copies)
The Witcher 2

Great deals, but I need more self control at the Christmas Steam Sale.

- James

Saturday 20 July 2013

Lifeboat walking

With liz away for comicon and me stuck here in the good old u of k I have to come up with my own blog posts, not that I usually run them by her, but it would be nice to have her help coming up with a topic.
What I do know is that next week I am doing a charity hike. Remember this:


So me and a couple of buddies are running the three Peaks Challenge in 82 days and we need you to help us raise money for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution).

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea. The RNLI’s volunteer lifeboat crews rescue an average of 22 people every day around the coasts and waterways of Britain and Ireland. From 235 lifeboat stations, they are well trained and equipped to put to sea in the most fearsome conditions when the call comes. RNLI lifeguards patrol more than 140 beaches in England and Wales.
As well as rescuing people from the water, they are also on hand for first aid and safety advice, making sure everyone can make the most of their day at the beach. Are you passionate about the water? Do you want to be part of a lifesaving team? Whatever the reason for your interest in our work, we’d love to have you onboard. The RNLI is an independent charity and receives no government funding. We rely on public support.

 To give to this great charity please go to this page:

and press Donate Now.

When you do donate make sure to set the
"Which member of the fundraising team would you like to allocate your donation to?"
section to either the group as a whole or James Varma.

It might be charity but I still need to win >.>

Ok, thanks guys,"

That's next weekend! You should give us some money!


Tuesday 16 July 2013

Packing for Girls is harder than it looks

Hello, I'm new here. Enough with the introductions.

For the past several years, I've been trying to get tickets to THE Comic-Con in San Diego. You hear stories about how they sell out in half an hour (which is true), but what they don't tell you is how the website gets so clogged that even if you managed to load the page that lets you get tickets, the odds of loading the next page to actually pay is near impossible.

This year, however, they tried something a little different. It still involved complete luck on getting the website to load, but with a large team at my side, I was finally able to get tickets.


Now six months later I'm completely freaking out. What do I pack!? What should I wear!? Will I do ANYTHING I want to do or spend the whole time waiting in line to find out I'm screwed!?

I only have tonight and tomorrow night to pack and am completely going insane. My $1,000 budget for the week was dramatically cut when I was forced to get a hotel last minute. That means more brought food and less gross take-out, which probably isn't a bad thing. STILL! Packing is a nightmare.

Stay tuned for plenty of Comic-Con related posts, including a fancy podcast I'll throw together while I'm there. Photos and videos will also be provided.

Now the important question - what shoes will I bring?

Monday 8 July 2013

Boys and their toys

So I get an iPad mini today, I'm pretty excited, so I decided to let you in on a little secret; when I first heard about the iPad mini I did not like the idea, not one bit. My initial response was 'that's just another name for iPod touch and we have those. It seemed like a ridiculous, ludicrous idea.
Then I started working at a mobile games company with a couple of iPad minis and I knew then that I had to own one.
I almost bought one last month but decided to get a 3DS instead. this month, however, when my laptop died it was either get a 64GB iPad mini for £99 +£36/m with 8GB data allowance on 4G, or pay £400 + £100/m + £2000 in 11 months for a top of the line lap top.
I want the laptop eventually, but in the short term it's better for me to get the iPad.

So yeah... my iPad mini should arrive today and I wanted to talk about some accessories that I want or am buying as well as some of the more essential apps that I've bought for my iPad or already owned for my iPhone.

Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard for iPad Mini
A keyboard for the iPad is an essential piece of kit for me since I need to be able to use it for writing. I wasn't going to buy the iPad mini, but then I saw this piece of kit and everything changed. iPads work with any blue tooth keyboard, but carrying one of those around with you gets unmanageable. This keyboard is an ultra thin cover that doubles as a stand. It makes it much easier to do anything that has anything to do with writing and even movie stuff.
Pretty nice looking tech.

SAMRICK iPad mini Back Cover Tough Hydro Companion Smart Gel Protective Case
From everything I've read about the iPad mini the back scratches easily and often so this protective case seems like a good idea, especially since it is compatible with most if not all covers, like the keyboard above.

As a writer I need some way to do some writing and with only a moderately good 3G connection I need an offline writing application as well as an online one. Pages is an actually pretty remarkable application. Something not done by any of the major office providers, like Microsoft or Open. Pages isn't perfect. You can't download documents on your device and use them (as far as I know) you have to go via iTunes, and I'm not sure if it's any easier to get the documents off the device, but when you have a period of time when you'll only be using the ipad? seems like a great writing app.

Google Drive
For those of us who use google drive, this application is essential. Only useful when online, but when you are you can do anything you could do if you had the PC. It does give the option of making documents available offline, but they're read only when they're like that. Not very useful.

Gives remote access to your PC from your device, so long as the PC is on. It's been handy from time to time when I've forgot files and stuff.

Plants Vs. Zombies
I absolutely love Plants Vs. Zombies. U bought it on steam and then on iOS as soon as it came out. It's an awesome piece of gameplay, a simplistic tower defence game with style.

Knights of Pen and Paper
Basically just your standard JRPG, but interestingly it's from the point of view of a bunch of DnD players (and it is a game of DnD). Its actually really cool. Has lots of fun little geek references and is totally worth the £0.00 I paid for it when it was on app-a-day.

Galaxy on Fire 2 HD
A surprisingly beautiful looking space fighter simulator. I was pretty blown away by how good it actually looks.

My Fitness Pal
Essentially just a calorie counter but I use it and it helps.

It pretty much just tracks your work outs but it can be very useful for keeping you on track.

Kindle and Audible
With these 2 apps you don't have to carry your Kindle with you everywhere if you don't want to. you can use all the same books and all the same audiobooks just at the click of a button.

Well that's all my most important apps and accessories. Feel free to comment and help me add to my list.

- James
p.s. for the record I'm not an apple nerd, I just really like the iPhone and when I went for a tablet I realised that if I didn't get an iOS device I'd have to buy everything all over again, however going with iOS I already have 200 apps right from the beginning.

Monday 1 July 2013

End of the Hunter

So as anyone who reads my twitter will have realised;
I finally finished my fantasy detective novel, "On the Hunt; A tale of the Hunter". I'm actually surprisingly pleased with it. I say surprisingly because I very rarely like anything I write when I go back over it. I'm editing it now and other than mistakes and a couple of little wording issues I haven't changed much- if anything.
I do, of course, keep making slight alterations to make the end make perfect sense, add little extra clues where I see the opportunity to make it a bit more... realisable? that's not a real word is it?
No. Ok.
Well, thats all I'm really doing, adding clues where I think they make sense and fixing little things. I'm a bit of a perfectionist so I am very surprised I still like it.

What's harder is creating the synopsis and the cover letter. I've finished both of them now but it wasn't easy. The synopsis started out as 4 pages, then I re-wrote it down to 1 and a half, then to 1 page and 1 line and finally down to a single page, but in order to do so I had to change the font, remove hte titles, get rid of all side plots, even when they directly influenced the main plot... it was very annoying.

But it's done now and I've edited the first 50 pages so I'm soon going to be sending it out again. I'm going to start with companies that allow e-mail submissions and then I'll move onto the ones that I submitted to before and then spread to others.
Fingers crossed it all goes well!

Here is the edited first chapter:


Tues. 06/05/2011 16:54
Ferron Tower

Why do you do it? I always get asked the same question. I’m always asked ‘why’. There are a million other careers I could have chosen. So many other choices I could have made. So many other things I could be doing. I had so many opportunities, but every time I think about it I always come back to this choice. I know that this is the path I should be on.
Still… that doesn’t mean I always know why I do it. It doesn’t mean I never question my choice. I’d be insane if I didn’t.
I’m a private detective. A guy with a laminate and a gun. If I were an element maybe it’d make more sense. If I could throw fire, control water, move the air, control electricity, hell even augmenting my body with the world’s natural minerals would be a huge help in this line of work, but I can’t.
I’m not an element. I’m just an ordinary guy. Well… not ordinary. I’m smart, very smart. They told me when I was a kid that I’d be a doctor or an astronaut. An accountant or a scientist. Never an investigator for hire.
I had a lot of options. A lot of options. But no matter what I imagine I keep coming back to this.
I must have a death wish.
“Alex Ferron, put the gun down.” I call across at the soon to be former heir to the Ferron house. He’s a lord but he lost the right to be called such when he murdered his brother.
He wipes his brow, but there’s no sweat there, despite the sweltering heat of his office. It’s a side effect of his condition, any moisture is instantly absorbed into him, sweat included. His eyes dart around the room looking for both a way out and a reason for the temperature.
I ignore the sweat dripping down my forehead, keeping my eyes focussed on him. I’m not as hot as he is; I took my coat and jacket off before I came into his office. I’m no fool, I know what I’m doing.
I believe that fact less every time I have to remind myself of it.
My gun is level, held straight and braced against the recoil that I hope I don’t need to feel. His gun is shaky, pointed over my shoulder more than it’s pointed at me but he can’t be expected to know that. He’s not trained with a pistol.
Unlike me, he is an element. His ‘condition’ as I so kindly put it is that he is a Soaker, capable of releasing water through his body’s pores or controlling and manipulating it with his mind after drinking or absorbing it through physical contact.
I knew he was a soaker before I came in to confront him about the death of his brother, that’s why I went down to the boiler room and turned all of the heating systems up to maximum.
A little uncomfortable for me, paralysing to him. The heat dries out the room, dries out his skin, the water he’s absorbed to fuel his magic evaporates and he’s left as a normal man. A normal man with a gun.
I wasn’t expecting the gun.
Most elements rely so heavily on their powers that they don’t carry weapons. Their arrogance is usually why I can best them but when Ferron realised I’d come here to arrest him he drew the pistol from the top draw of his desk.
“I said; put the gun down.” I repeat as he levels it on me. Now it’s aimed at me. Suddenly I wish I owned a bullet proof vest. I make a mental note to have my office administrator buy one for me- then remember I’m in the process of replacing the admin after my last one quit. “The police are on their way. You can’t run from this.”
“How did you know?” The lord asks, wiping his shirt sleeve across his head. “How did you figure it out?”
Why do they always ask? Do they think they’ll be able to get a do-over?
“Murder weapon was too clean.” I tell him. “When a normal person wipes their finger prints off there’s still traces of blood. A soaker cleans it and they remove all traces. The blood becomes a part of the magic and it gets taken away.”
“That’s all you got?” He asks.
I notice a slight upwards curve of his lips, relief? I’m not sure. Put me in a controlled setting and I’d be able to read him like a book, but here? Now? I’m not sure. The heat, the high stress indicators…? I’m just not sure.
“No.” I shake my head. “That’s how I figured out I should be looking at the nobility, not his staff. At first I thought there was a house war I didn’t know about. Killing one of your father’s sons would be a strong message from the other nobility, but it’d have been a stronger message if they went for the heir.”
“He was about to be made heir.” Ferron Shouted.
“Yeah, I know.” I respond. “Your father told me. He told me how he was planning to name your younger brother heir to the Ferron fortune and take your name off the inheritance documents.”
“One of them found out! They wanted to hurt him!” Ferron argues.
I shake my head. “It wasn’t public knowledge. The only people your father had told were your mother, you and your brother.” I pause and take a step forward. “Must have made you angry; to have him take everything you worked for, and give it to your little brother?”
“I didn’t kill him.” He shouted. Anger shows on his face. His hand moves up to touch his hair. A subconscious indicator of guilt, corroborating what I already know.
Or maybe it’s just really hot in here.
“Your dad told you what he planned to do and you lost it.” I tell him, calmly. “You confronted your brother, but he wouldn’t listen, so you took the tyre iron from his tool kit and you hit him over the head with it.” His gun lowers slightly as his eyes dip and his lips curve down in shame. That one I can tell for certain. “You hit him again and again and again…”
“I-” his gun droops to point at the floor. Mine remains raised, but at least I’m less worried about his. “I didn’t mean to-” he looks up at me, “I was just so angry!” He reaches up and runs his free hand over his face. “I just wanted to talk to him. I offered to work alongside him. Me and him running the company, but-” I step forward and let go of my gun with one hand, reaching out for his. “He told me that as soon as he had control; I’d be out on my own.” He looks at me again as my hand grips the barrel of his gun. He lets go and looks into my eyes. “How could he do that? He was my brother.”
The irony isn’t lost on me.


- James