Ethereality News & Weblog

December 26, 2011

Odds and ends

New Kitty Cat Diary entries are up:

I just got these Husky slippers:

I was searching for a pair of bear paws slippers, but came across these Husky slippers, and yelped with delight. I just HAD to get a pair. They are pretty comfy, and don’t impede with my walk that much, except when going up the stairs, they get in the way a little bit–nothing serious though. If a gigantic klutz like me can walk with them on, so can most people.

A couple of photos:

I’ve recently moved to Scrivener for most of my writing needs (although I still use Writer’s Cafe for plotting, since the multiple lane Storylines feature is indispensable during the outlining phase). I’ve customized it to match my needs, and it looks like this:

If you also use Scrivener and wants to use my layout, you can download the .scrvlayout file on this page. If you’re on the Mac, I also provided the customization numbers for the colors on that page, so you can replicate my layout.

I’ve been trying to catch up on some games that I’ve missed out on in the past. Here are some impressions:

The Witcher – I heard a lot of good thing about this game, and now that I finally tried it, I was disappointed. The game just doesn’t feel very polished in terms of storytelling and presentation. I keep reading about how the story is sophisticated and the moral grayness is its strength, but the way the story is presented is so clumsy that I just couldn’t bother to continue after the first few hours. The game expects you to know the books it’s based on and doesn’t bother trying to build a premise for you to be immersed in. The transition from the opening chapter at the Stronghold to the outskirt of Vizima was so sudden that it felt like the game glitched and skipped a cinematic or a transitioning area. The writers also did not do a good job setting up the the relationship between the characters–I just didn’t care about any of them, and felt no bond with them.

The gameplay was also a bore-fest. All you do is click on an enemy and try to chain attacks together by clicking again when the cursor turns into a flame. How is waiting for a cursor to turn into a flame icon and then clicking it interesting? You have a few fighting styles to choose from, but all you do is match them to each enemy, and that’s it–there’s no other strategy beyond that. There are magic abilities, but it’s nothing interesting–more like what Jedi’s do with the Force.

Another thing that I didn’t like about The Witcher is you don’t feel that sense of camaraderie between characters such as with Bioware’s group system, where characters banter and actually feel like living personalities. I don’t mind lone wolf type of adventures, but it has to be compelling, and The Witcher just didn’t compel me.

I tried watching some “Let’s Play” videos on Youtube and realized the story just didn’t interest me. Having plot points and characters and conflicts is not enough–there has to be emotional resonance, and that, is what is missing from The Witcher.

As a writer and a gamer, I think Bioware’s RPG’s are far stronger in emotional resonance, and I’ll gladly replay any Bioware RPG before ever trying The Witcher again, or bother with its sequel.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords – The first KOTOR game is one of my favorite RPG’s of all time, and I have always wanted to play the sequel. I had tried numerous times previously but due to strange technical issues on the PC, I never was able to run that game smoothly–I always got stuck during the tutorial level. Recently, after discovering a patch, I was finally able to run the game, and I’ve started playing it.

I was surprised by how dated it looked, and how clunky the combat and GUI felt. For all the bitching and moaning that PC gamers do about how console games dumb down the gameplay and GUI’s of RPG’s, I actually think it’s a good thing to make gameplay and GUI as streamlined and intuitive as possible. Seriously, was it ever a good thing to have dozens and dozens of commands mapped to a QWERTY keyboard? Customizing and learning the keyboard layout of a new game was always a monumental task and I never enjoyed that aspect of PC gaming. The only time it works well is for mapping individual weapons/powers of twitch-reflex games–that’s when instant access really matters. For RPG’s, I actually prefer console-styled controls more than PC ones.

I haven’t gotten very far yet in the game, so I don’t have anything to say about it yet, although it started a lot slower than the first game, and I don’t particularly like slow beginnings unless it really draws you in, which this particular beginning doesn’t.

The Longest Journey – This is one of my favorite games of all time, and recently I thought I’d play through it again to feel that nostalgic magic again. This time around, I noticed things that I was much more willing to forgive ten years ago when I first played it–for example, how slowly the characters talked. The voice acting is great, but everyone just talked too slow, like they have all the time in the world.

On a whim, I searched for “Let’s Play” videos on Youtube, and sure enough, there they were. So I think I’m just going to watch the rest on Youtube instead, since it’s not the kind of game you play for the gameplay–it’s all about the story. There are no multi-branching endings, so you can just sit back and watch someone else play. I’ve already solved the puzzles tens years ago too, so I don’t really need to do it again. Besides, I always hated puzzle-solving in adventure games, because they often have the most contrived and annoying puzzles out of all the games.

If you have never played The Longest Journey and its sequel Dreamfall, I highly recommend you watch the “Let’s Play” videos for them on Youtube. The writing for these games are excellent (although TLJ can get a little silly at times, while Dreamfall is a lot more mature overall).

Cathrine – I have no interest in playing puzzle platformers, but the story for Catherine seemed interesting, so I just watched the “Let’s Play” for it (skipping all the actual platforming).

Despite a cast of Caucasian characters and based totally in western culture, there’s that Japanese-centric storytelling, dialogues, visual style, and includes even a question about whether the player gets nosebleeds if he is excited/aroused. I wonder if the writers even knew that’s a totally Japanese thing and westerners have never even heard of such a thing except when they see it in anime and manga?

The story really isn’t anything all that interesting, and felt more like a much shorter story being padded to hell to make it last much longer.

The only thing about the game I really liked was the voice of Catherine (voiced by Laura Bailey). Now, that is a really cute and sexy voice. Laura Bailey’s natural voice doesn’t sound anything like that though (there are videos of her doing panels at Comic Con), but I guess that’s why she’s an awesome voice actress.

Syberia/Syberia II – I tried playing Syberia years ago and was bored by it. Now, I’m watching the “Let’s Play” for these two games, and I’m still bored. There’s just no emotional resonance in the storytelling, and some of the voice acting’s just awful. I can’t stand it when they use an adult to voice a child character, and the voice actor sucks at doing children’s voices–it completely destroys the suspension of disbelief.

December 20, 2011

2012 New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of the year again–New Years Resolutions. Let’s see how I did in 2011 first.

Here were the resolutions I made for 2011, and how I fared:

1) Continue to focus on music when I have the time and elevate the quality of my work to the next level and replace pretty much everything that’s currently on my site with better, newer, improved tracks. Also redesign the music page on my site so it’s more streamlined.

I actually didn’t get to spend much time on music in 2011, and only finished one track. I’ve been focusing on writing novels instead. I had built up a good momentum and I didn’t want to interrupt it. Novel-writing is an arduous endeavor, and it’s not easy to keep a momentum going, so when things are going well, you’d best not stop for anything.

I will definitely still work on my music, but for now, my writing is placed at higher priority.

2) Create a new workshop since the current one has run its course (after repeated runs). I have a list of topics I’d want to focus on, and it’ll be hard narrowing it down to just one. Also, I’m very meticulous and a perfectionist, so it’ll likely take a while to create. The current workshop took me over a year and half to create, so this is really serious hard work.

Turned out Becoming A Better Artist has not run its course and is still going strong. The latest run I’m teaching was only one vacancy short of selling out, and after two years of running almost back-to-back nonstop, that’s pretty remarkable. So it looks like I’ll continue to improve/evolve the workshop and I’ll go on teaching it, until one day it does run its course.

Recently, the alumni students forum I’ve been wanting to create finally became a reality, and now all of my past students get to hangout together in a private forum dedicated to them, where they can support and help each other, and I’ll continue to mentor them there for as long as they feel they still need my help. The access to the alumni students’ lounge is permanent, so it’s a really good place to build a community. They’ll also always have access to the latest versions and updates of the course material as I evolve/expand it. So basically, my workshop is unlike any other out there–it’s sort of like a gift that keeps on giving.

3) I’ve gotten some good writing done in 2010–stuff that actually reads back satisfyingly, as opposed to making me cringe. I think this is a sign that I’ve matured and grown as a writer, and I suspect it’s getting close to that time where I concentrate on finishing a novel or screenplay and send it out there to meet publishers/studios.

I was right in my forecast, and all throughout 2011, I wrote nonstop, and my writing effort has upped its seriousness level to DEFCON 3. In the past, it’s always been just DEFCON 5, or maybe 4. Does the rating seem kind of abstract? Well, I sort of see it like this:

DEFCON 5 – Strategy on paper but no action taken. Have some cool ideas and will jot them down, but will not actually take action to pursue them.

DEFCON 4 – Locked and loaded, and shots fired. Actually writing, but without a sense of grim determination and urgency to see it through as finished works ready to be submitted to agents. There may be long stretches between writing anything–it’s really more like a hobby fueled by inspiration rather than discipline.

DEFCON 3 – Heated battles raging. Determined and focused, and writing regularly as part of a daily routine (whenever possible), and it’s only a matter of time before the work is completed and sent out to agents.

DEFCON 2 – Missiles launched and heading for targets. Manuscripts have been sent out and dealing with rejections or negotiations.

DEFCON 1 – Targets destroyed, and all out global destruction imminent. Agent signed, book deal signed, and dealing with pre-publishing details like cover art, font choices, marketing strategies, and so on.

I wrote roughly 41,000 words in 2011, and while that’s not a lot by some people’s standards, I’m the type to write/revise/edit as I go, instead of banging out a first draft and then do revisions and edits later. If I just forged ahead on first drafts, I’d easily have at least double that in a year. I’m hoping to pick up the pace in 2012, but ultimately, it’s the quality of the writing that counts.

So just what the hell have I been writing? Those of you who have been followed my blog probably already know, but here’s a recap of what I’ve working on:

Promise – A bitter sweet, dark, modern fairy tale about love, faith, and sacrifice. This is the story I’ve been working on in different forms since 1998. It started as an idea for a graphic novel, then was written as a short story, then went into development as an animated short film (but funding fell through), then was planned as a multimedia novel, and now finally, being written as a novel. This is currently the main project I’m working on, and I want to finish this one first, since I sort of see it as the “defining work” due to it having been in development for thirteen years already, and a story I feel compelled to tell.

Silent Storm – A psychological supernatural thriller that examines the relationship between obsession, illusions, and happiness. I’ve been working on this one off and on for more than ten years.

Oceanica – A sci-fi novel about a teenage girl’s involvement in a galactic conspiracy. This one has been in various stages of development for probably twenty years now.

Undead Souls – A post-apocalyptic zombie novel that investigates whether it’s possible to rebuild society after a total collapse, and how to avoid all the major mistakes of previous civilizations.

In 2012, I’d like to push even harder and finish at least one of these books and get it in a state that’s ready for agent hunting.

4) I’d love to spend more time working out, but every single year I fail at this. Will 2011 be any different?

Hahaha. I failed again, and I suspect I’ll continue to fail at this. I just don’t enjoy working out for the sake of working out, and all the physical activities I used to enjoy when I lived in the States aren’t suitable or popular in China.

I’ve always been more disciplined when it comes to mental challenges than physical ones though. It no wonder all my passions are mental ones and not physical ones (well, music involves physical challenges too, but they are minor compared to endeavors that are really physically draining).

Anyway, I’m never going to make any resolutions about working out again from now on. If I do it, great, if not, so be it.

5) If I happen to finish my current batch of music before 2011 ends, I might change my focus the multimedia novel project again.

Nope. The multimedia novel project is put on hold indefinitely as I’m now totally focused on writing novels, and I’d like to see how far I can take that.

So, besides continuing the resolutions from the previous year, do I have any new ones for 2012? Not really. The ones carrying over from the previous year are all long-term goals, and they are the main things I’m focusing on in my life currently, so I’ll just keep up the momentum and hopefully push a bit harder.

I just had another Seagate Barracuda 1.5TB hard drive acting up on me, and lost hundreds of gigabytes of data. Thankfully, most of it was backed up regularly. It’s only about a year old too, and not even used much. I had another Seagate Barracuda 1.5TB hard drive malfunctioning on me several months ago, and that one was also barely used. A few months before that, a 200GB Barracuda also acted up and had to be replaced.

That’s three Seagate Barracuda hard drives that’s failed on me in the last couple of years, and because of this, I have now sworn to never buy Seagate ever again.

I’ve ordered a Hitachi Deckstar 3TB, and I hope that one will last much longer. I still have a bunch of Seagate Barracuda hard drives in my computers, and that makes me kind of nervous. I hope the three that’s failed so far are just a coincidence, and the rest will be fine.

I did check the firmware for the failed drives and some didn’t have any new firmware to update to, and some did, but having updated the firmware doesn’t seem to solve the problems. I’ll keep trying to salvage those drives, but in general, since a hard drive becomes unstable, you can no longer trust it again, and should only use it for unimportant stuff that you don’t mind losing.

Quickie movie reviews:

Enter The Void – I had to see this because I really enjoyed Irreversible, the previous film by Gaspar Noé. I liked certain aspects of this film, but I think it was a bit pretentious and repetitive, with a lot of unnecessary gimmicky cinematography. I respect the director for doing something different, and I hope he continues to do challenging work, but maybe reign it in a notch and focus on the storytelling more and less on the gimmickry.

Red – A predictable and safe spy comedy about retired operatives. The premise was more of a gimmick than actually having something to say about retired spies.

Kung Fu Panda 2 – I thought the first one was overrated, and I think the same of this sequel. The characters and the stories just don’t resonate with me. I enjoyed the score by John Powell though (he’s one of the best among the current popular Hollywood composers).

Unthinkable – A pretty good thriller, although it felt a bit forced at times, with a contrived setup for moral debates that ultimately don’t feel convincing.

Thor – A great popcorn flick, and not much to complain about. These comic book movies are getting better all the time. If only the same would happen for video game movies. To date, we haven’t had a single really good video game movie yet.

Drumline – I found out about this movie through an interview with the Korean girl pop group After School, where they talked about this movie being the inspiration for one of their songs (where they learned to play the marching snare drum and dressed in sexy versions of the marching band outfit).

This is an unusual movie because it’s not exactly the kind of topic most people would be interested in, but that’s why I like movies about esoteric endeavors–it sort of servers as a showcase, education and entertainment all at the same time. Nick Cannon is a terrible actor, but he was tolerable in this movie. Zoe Saldana was smoking hot. The way she danced in that cheerleading outfit was just…WOW.

30 Minutes Or Less – Another bromance comedy. It was pretty fun, and the villains were surprisingly likable. Aziz Ansari isn’t a good actor though. He may be a good comedian and does well in minor supporting roles where he just mouths off and cusses, but he can’t seem to handle anything that requires more dramatic weight. As soon as he’s required to emote beyond looking annoyed, he turns into a stiff robot. Dilshad Vadsaria was a cutie–I hope to see more of her in the future.

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