Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Sir Edric’s Temple, now in glorious physical format!

Good news!

Sir Edric’s Temple has been granted premium status at Smashwords, which means it’s now available from Barnes & Noble, Diesel and Apple. It should also become available at Kobo in due course.

In perhaps even more exciting news, Sir Edric’s Temple is now available in ye olde physical format (via Lulu). It will eventually (after 8 weeks or so) ship to Amazon, but do not wait for that. Not only will it take about 2 months, the cost (because of the discounting I’ve set up) will be about £2 more. It’ll cost £6.97 at Amazon, but is just £4.88 at Lulu (Lulu does charge for shipping, which negates much of the difference, but I’ll still make more per copy with Lulu than I will from Amazon).

So, if you were having difficulty deciding what to buy someone (or even yourself) for Christmas, worry no more and enjoy this rollicking tale of cowardice, adultery, and treachery!




Saturday, 16 November 2013

Review: Mass Effect (PS3)

I bought this as part of the Mass Effect Trilogy. I’m going to review each game by itself, and then the trilogy as a whole.


You play as commander Shepard, a man or woman (aka FemShep) likely to become the first human Spectre (a special operative working for the Council, the supreme and multi-species authority of the galaxy). After a prologue mission goes wrong, you’re tasked with stopping the rogue Spectre Saren, and his army of robot underlings.

There’s a colourful world with enough alien races to make it feel detailed and interesting. As well as the main villain, there are plenty of sidequests, and six distinct companions, four of whom are aliens.

I did almost all the sidequest missions and the game took about 35 hours, so I’d call it of middling size. The story offers plenty of scope to make your Shepard either a paragon, a renegade, or something in between.

Up until the very end (see Bugs, below) the story had a nice rhythm to it, and the last few scenes were a fantastic climax to the game.


The gameplay is pretty hands on, with Shepard and her two companions fighting as a small tactical unit. You can offer them basic commands, but they’re far less effective than Shepard (I suspect this is because the AI is slightly cautious and less decisive/aggressive than a real player). There’s a fair range of weapon types and a significant number of different weapons, which can be upgraded, as can their ammunition.

The overheating feature is a great aspect of the gun battles. Basically, if you fire your gun too much in too short a space of time it overheats and won’t work for a little while. There’s a meter to show how close your gun’s getting to the limit, and differing gun types have greater or lesser tolerance (so, three quick shots with a sniper rifle will cause overheating, but an assault rifle or pistol can fire far more). Ammunition is infinite, which I found worked well.

As well as battles on foot, you often roam alien worlds in the Mako, the bastard lovechild of a tank and a moon buggy. It took me a little while to adapt to that (keeping moving and mixing up rocket fire with the main gun works well), and I expended a lot of omni-gel fixing it.

In terms of difficulty, I had it on the default setting and found the combat to mostly be easy.


The sound effects and music are both functional, and work well enough, but are neither stand out good nor bad.

The voice-acting is generally of a good quality, and helped to make the game more engaging. I don’t think I can recall a single seriously duff performance, and rather grew to like my purple-eyed FemShep’s no-nonsense attitude.


The graphics could be better, but they’re not bad enough to be a detriment to the game. Textures (often on armour and occasionally elsewhere) take their time loading and there’s relatively little armour variation beyond colour changes.

The make-your-face aspect of character creation is a little below par, but the various aliens (particularly the turians) look pretty good. The general environs graphics are simple but look nice.

Bugs and Other Issues

For 99% of the game it’s bug-free. However, there are still some issues. The most common, and the only persistent one, is that textures (particularly on armour) can take a little while to load. Not serious, in my view.

I only had one freeze in gameplay during 35 hours of playing, when the menu became unresponsive and then lit up like a Christmas tree. Annoying, but one freeze within an entire playthrough isn’t game-breaking.

Worse were two instances of severe lag. Both occurred during set-piece ‘boss’ fights, and one almost cost me my life (obviously you can reload but if it’s Death By Pre-Determined Lag then the same thing could recur). This was pretty disappointing.

The worst bug was that after completing the game it decided the appropriate ending was a blank screen. I tried again, got the same result. After switching to casual difficulty and switching off graphical enhancements (thanks to a friend’s advice regarding this bug, which seems to affect the PS3 version fairly often) I did get through to a loading screen, but that too froze. So, try the fix, it may work for you.

I won’t spoil the story, but it was a climactic, exciting moment, the payoff from 35 hours of gameplay, and for it to just be cut off (and therefore also prevent me from importing my Mass Effect Shepard into Mass Effect 2) was seriously disappointing.


Generally a good game, with a few, mostly small, bugs and an interesting lore that’s compromised to an extent by the infuriating final freeze. Without that, I’d make it 8/10, with, it’s 7/10.




Thursday, 14 November 2013

Review: The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch

The long-awaited third part in the Gentlemen Bastard series came out fairly recently, and I’ve just finished it.

The story tells the tale of Locke Lamora and his best friend Jean, as the latter seeks to find a cure for the former’s exotic and potent poisoning. As with the previous two books in the series, Mr. Lynch flits between the present day and Lamora’s formative experiences growing up as a thief under the wing of Father Chains.

Naturally, Locke doesn’t die in the first six minutes, and gets a cure on condition that he and Jean help his saviours rig an election. After agreeing, he discovers a childhood rival has been hired to do exactly the same thing for his opponents.

The writing remains very good, and it’s easy to end up reading rather more than was intended. The time-shifts between childhood and present day storylines is handled seamlessly, and both plots are interesting in their own right (instead of one seeming like an interval or diversion to the main event).

I felt like the pacing was slightly off. The writing’s always enjoyable and easy to read (it was even spelt in proper English [armour not armor], although someone got too excited with restoring Us to their rightful place and had ‘evapourating’ a few times), but there was a bit too much preamble before the story got going.

There was also a certain lack of tension. With the childhood storyline we know Locke et al. don’t end up dead, and in the present day there was, for the most part, little in the way of mortal danger. One or two plot twists were also telegraphed (not always a bad thing, the final one was very well-written, but one or two mid-story were easy to see coming).

However, there’s also a revelation that nobody will ever have seen coming. I shan’t spoil it, but I thought it was excellent.

It was interesting to see Karthain, which had been mentioned in previous books, and have more of the bondsmagi who rule it. Personally, I found the childhood half of the story the more engaging, and the interactions between the various (youthful) Gentlemen Bastards quite entertaining.

The above might seem somewhat critical, but it’s worth bearing in mind that The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of my favourite books. Mr. Lynch has rather created a rod for his own back by writing such a stellar first story for all else to be compared to.

The Republic of Thieves is an interesting and enjoyable read, and I’m looking forward to The Thorn of Emberlain (part four in the series).




Friday, 8 November 2013

Review: The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles, by AL Butcher

The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles is a high fantasy book that follows Dii, an enslaved elven mage. She escapes her slavery, but finds herself sought by a trio of very different hunters: her master’s son Ulric, the oppressive Witch-Hunters, and the mage Archos.

The initial premise of the book is one of its strongest points, as it’s impossible to tell who’s going to find her first, and exactly what each one would do to her. After this the story turns down another path, and I felt it became less engaging. The final plot twist was another highlight, and my only gripe would be that it could’ve taken up more of the book without losing anything.

The book has a fairly bleak tone, with quite a lot of slavery, some rape, and villains who are entirely cruel. It takes a black and white approach to morality, which actually reminds me a little of The Outlaws of the Marsh.

The general world-building/lore was good. There’s a slight glass dagger feel to the magic, as in mages being intensely powerful but not without vulnerabilities. It would’ve been easy to strike the wrong note there (as mages too strong couldn’t be oppressed, and too weak wouldn’t need to be).

Whilst I much prefer violence to sex (which may explain why I’m single…) I did read the first few frisky scenes in the book. There aren’t huge numbers of them, probably around half a dozen. I thought they were very well done, and are probably the best written part of the story.

There’s quite a lot of description in the book, a shade more than I’d like, but (with one exception) it never seems excessive to the point of being a fault.

I do think a mistake was made with the balance of the book. The late plot twist (no spoilers) and the initial premise of Dii fleeing and being chased by Ulric, the Witch-Hunters and Archos were both very interesting, and could easily have taken up more of the book. I felt the story lost its way a little in the middle and meandered a bit.




Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Mass Effect: Early Thoughts

Yes, I know Mass Effect has been out for ages (a quick check reveals it was out in 2007 for the Xbox 360), but I’ve just bought the Trilogy for the PS3.

At the time of writing I’ve played it for a few hours, enough time to get a feel for the basics. I’ll write a proper review once I’ve finished the whole game. It’s made by Bioware, the same chaps who make the Dragon Age series, which I rather like.

Character and Companions

The character creator (which includes a basic set of background options) is ok. I like the background option, and you also get to pick one of six classes (it was a bit hard to tell what to go for, though, as I didn’t know how important/useful the strengths and weaknesses of each would be). The make-your-face section has standard presets, including a default Shepard and a female Shepard (aka FemShep). As usual, I went for a female protagonist and fiddled to make a unique face (blonde hair, purple eyes) but it wasn’t easy making one that looked alright.

I don’t know if I’ve got the full party yet (you have two companions with you on missions, and I presently have five to choose from), but the ones I’ve got are a nice mix in terms of both character and ability. The away team mission style also lends itself to taking different companions instead of always picking the same ones (which I do in Dragon Age).


I love the lore/world-building. There’s a good number of alien races, enough to make the galaxy feel like more than humans, an ally race, an antagonist race and a few token races. Bioware have also done a good job of making them feel individual and distinctive. I wouldn’t confuse a Krogan with a Geth, or anything else for that matter. The extensive Codex (similar to Dragon Age but with a voice-over for Primary material) won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I feel it’s a nice touch and it’s the sort of thing you can ignore if you aren’t into it.


The music’s so-so, nothing’s really grabbed me so far but it’s also not bad. Sound effects are pretty good. Voice acting also seems good, and I like FemShep’s voice actress (I think she was also Naomi in the Metal Gear Solid series, amongst other roles).


Graphics are generally quite good. The faces could be a little nicer, but I really like the slight fuzz/interference overlaid on the graphics. You can turn it off, which I tried, but it makes things seem a little better, somehow. Occasionally there’s a brief loading screen going from one area to another, but it’s only a few seconds. There is an occasional wait of a few seconds for textures to come in (typically with armour) but nothing serious.


The combat and character building works well, from what I’ve experienced. The overheating effect on guns is a clever touch, and I like the fact that you can unlock and level up weapons to varying degrees, which allows for a good range of customisation of characters (likewise with other skills). I very rarely use skills. Not sure if that’s just me, but just shooting stuff seems easier/more fun. One annoying feature (I play as an Infiltrator) is the fact that the sniper scope moves around too much. It doesn’t seem to be improved by crouching (there’s no crawl option). The whole point of being a sniper is firing a small number of highly accurate, highly damaging shots.

The galaxy seems (at this early stage) to be a very big place, which is cool. There are multiple clusters to which you can fly, and usually more than one star system per cluster. Each system has various planets (and perhaps moons/spacecraft), some of which can be surveyed and some of which can be landed upon. As well as the main quest missions there’s a large number of side missions which are pretty cool. An annoying feature is that surveying element deposits requires a mini-game. I can see the logic behind a mini-game for opening locked containers and hacking computers, but it seems a bit stupid for surveying metals and minerals. Not a major issue, though.

Bugs and other issues

A gripe I have not with the game itself but with the trilogy is that there’s no manual. Yes, you can download one and there’s a manual option on Mass Effect’s starting screen but that’s not as helpful as having one to hand. It hasn’t caused me many problems (I did forget, or misread, that grenades need to be thrown and then detonated with two touches of the Select button) but it’s still a little irksome.

I haven’t come across any problems loading/saving, no freezes to date (I did turn off auto-save. This reduced freezing with both Dragon Age and Skyrim, and I’m a compulsive saver so it’s not really needed anyway) or lag. Small loading between areas is not a problem.

Early Conclusion

Overall I’m enjoying it rather a lot. I’m glad my stubbornness (I refused to buy ME2 when it came to the PS3 on the grounds that I hadn’t played the first game, and couldn’t as, until now, it wasn’t available for the console) led to what seems like a great value buy of three RPGs for the price of one.