So I’ve just finished my story.

As in, I’ve actually written the whole thing. Done. Complete.

*ahem*

I know I’ve got a loooong way to go before it’s *actually* complete and not full of glaring errors and downright embarrassingly purple prose, but it feels so good to have actually written a whole full, length novel.

Not since I sat down and conceptualized this novel two years ago have I ever finished it through to the end. Over that time the whole piece has undergone a massive evolution in terms of narrative, plot and characters, but I never lost site of the overall story I wanted to tell. 

I just simply refined it. 

The length and breadth of Skyrim

I created this blog to act as a diary for writing, but I’ll be damned if it hasn’t become more than that.  For anyone who knows me at all, even just a little bit, will know that I love video gaming and RPGs in particular. Second only to that love, is the (really quite addictive) desire to mod out one of my favourite RPGs: Skyrim.

In short, I present a series of scenic screenshots taken in and around the various regions of Skyrim and my mage-character’s journey.  I’ll probably add some more at some point.

(click to enlarge)

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From the blustery cold top of Dawnstar…

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…to the foggy marshes of Morthal…

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…to the warm planes of Whiterun…

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…and the ancient beauty of Markath.

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A visit to an Orcish stronghold.

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And rest by a warm fire.

Picking the seems: the themes behind King of Sparrows

Self-determination and the question of destiny.

He chooses to be, as do we all, long before any of your meaningless freedoms are presented.

 -Dragon age 2

Thus spoke the Arishok on the subject of existence, though it perhaps seems contradictory. Nobody “chooses to live” after all, for we have no way of experience life without living. Perhaps what it actually infers is that existing without a purpose is not existence.

Fantasy is rife with the cliched peasant child embroiled in a conflict that will inevitably result in his coronation, becoming the stalwart hero of the land/heir to the throne/fulfiller of the prophecy (delete where appropriate), and yet it baffles me that the theme of self-determination is tackled so rarely. What if the prophecy remained unfulfilled, or the hero did nothing at all and the land went to pot? For all we know the hero is actually defeating the evil-du-jour out of a sense of obligation, rather than a desire.  To what extent is the future theirs to control? Does he have any say in what is essentially a pre-determined destiny? Is his choice merely an illusion, is it really freedom?

Writing in itself is a wonderful way of describing a predefined destiny. As a planner, I already know the whole that my characters will face. They may choose to wander from the path, as we all do in life, and yet they will always arrive at the inevitable.

Did you lead, or were you simply led?

The theme of self-determination and the question of destiny in King of Sparrows is embodied by this phrase. The main character, Dakka Bel, is given many choices, both tactically and morally, but he is seemingly dragged through much of the story by others, and at times, an unseen hand. As a slum-dweller, an Outcast, his role in life is to live behind a gigantic brick wall, built by those that sit on his shoulders. He is seen as a slave, one who has allowed himself to be subjugated, rather than a victim of social struggle. It is his desire to break away from his origins that encompasses all that he is and all that he does, but to what inevitably?

We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us.

-Andrew Ryan, Bioshock

My thoughts on Bioshock Infinite

Indebted to the wrong people, with his life on the line, veteran of the U.S. Cavalry and now hired gun, Booker DeWitt has only one opportunity to wipe his slate clean. He must rescue Elizabeth, a mysterious girl imprisoned since childhood and locked up in the flying city of Columbia.

Infinite opens with our typical gritty gun for hire Booker DeWitt being transported to Columbia, a city that is seemingly paradise itself. The player is drawn into a world filled with pastel colours, laughing children and joyful citizens for the first 10 or so minutes, but it doesn’t take long before the gear shifts a notch and Columbia’s truest colour is shown.

And it’s blood, lots of it.

Much like Rapture in the original game, lots of care and attention has been poured into Columbia to really bring the city to life. Audio logs make their present felt once again, this time in the form of Voxphones and Kinetoscopes – which give a brief, few second snapshots into aspects of Columbian society and culture. I really admire the developers for not shying away from the period history (1912) but displaying the harsher side – the poverty and racism that existed at the time.

Within the city, Booker’s sole  motivation is to rescue a girl named Elizabeth and bring her to New York as a way of repaying his gambling debts. It soon becomes apparent, however, that there is far more at stake within Columbia  and together they must uncover the sinister secrets it hides. Both Booker and Elizabeth are wonderfully characterized and the chemistry between them strikes a natural balance.

Elizabeth is by and large my favourite character. It’s so rare to see a fully-rounded and fleshed out female character in any medium and rarer still in video games. Despite the box art strongly depicting Booker Dewitt, this is without a doubt her story and her game. Her characterisation grows as her almost child-like, innocence is shattered by being suddenly plunged into an adult world with terrible situations and terrible consequences. Given she is 16 years of age, it’s a nice representation of her leaving behind her childhood and stepping into adulthood.

Booker is pretty interesting too. I was a little skeptic about having a voiced protagonist, but this was needlessly so. He’s the typical gruff, gravely gun-for-hire, but as the player learns more about him, there are moments when he seems to express regret for his past misdeeds and genuine sympathy for Elizabeth’s situation.

The game-play mechanics are mostly similar to that of the original, but the use of skylines to sail around the battlefield and using Elizabeth’s strange powers to warp in turrets, health and weapons adds something to the mix and allows the player to strategically plan their way around.

All in all, it’s a terrific game even if my “review” doesn’t seem to do it justice. On the surface, Columbia may appear to be a bright and shinning city, but it sure hell ain’t as innocent as it seems.