Saturday, 25 September 2010


You may remember that earlier this year, a certain video game was the subject of quite a few of my posts. Well, it's been a few months since the release of Final Fantasy XIII, and I think it's time for my verdict so far.

The fact that I haven't made any comments on FF XIII since purchasing it pretty much sums up the state of play. To be honest, I'm finding it a little boring, to the point where I haven't actually played it since I bought it. Only the other day did I realise that I had misplaced it during the move to the flat, which demonstrates my lack of interest. The game looks absolutely beautiful, continuing the Final Fantasy tradition of pushing graphics to the cutting edge, and the story is complex and original. However, these elements don't really make up for the dull combat system, which consists of telling your characters to 'auto-battle' over and over, the changing of their fighting style being the only useful action to be taken. Also the character evolution mechanics are equally bland, offering the player only linear paths and little choice. The weapon upgrade system seems to be based completely on chance, with no skill involved.

The word 'linear' sums up my experience of FF XIII so far. It doesn't matter how pretty it is, if it has the complexity of a 4-piece puzzle. I am going to give it another shot, when I eventually find it, but I'm not keeping my hopes up.
Whilst contemporary gaming has been a little bit of a disappointment to me recently, going back to the classics has been a rewarding experience. I dug out my copy of Pokemon Fire Red the other day, and have been enjoying some mindless leveling for the last few weeks. Where as Pokemon's story-line is fairly non-existent, it's gameplay is absolutely flawless. After the dreary experience of FF XIII, Pokemon's simple yet open-ended gameplay style has been a breath of fresh air. I've been leveling all my creatures up to level 20 at the moment, which has actually been less repetitive than playing the latest FF game!

I also recently downloaded a Playstation One classic the other day; Metal Gear Solid. This game is one of my all-time favourites. The stealth-focused gameplay is innovative and addictive, with all-out gun battles off the menu, replaced by careful sneak tactics. At the time, the graphics were cutting edge, taking the PS1's capabilities to the limit. The story is extremely complex, playing out in an incredibly cinematic style, which touches on every emotion as you travel through the game. The music, sound effects and voice acting are all equally unforgettable, making the story even more effective. I don't know how many times I've played through this game, but I have to say it never gets boring!

Let me know if there are any unforgettable classic games you're always returning to, or if a recent game has been a real let down.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

'This Dark World' - the story continues...

A few posts ago I informed you that I had started to write a novel. There's been a fair bit of progress within the past couple of months, so I thought I'd bring you all up to date, and go into a little more detail about the concept of my story, 'This Dark World'.

Paul Highcroft, a disillusioned Christian teenager, has reached the point where he needs some clarity. Why is he still going to church when it's just boring and pointless? Why does life seem so unfulfilling? Why is he the biggest female deterrent in the Southwest of England? So, he challenges God. Show me that all this 'Christian stuff' is real, or I don't think I can carry on. Put it right in front of my eyes, or I don't think I can believe anymore...

Paul gets a lot more than he bargained for when his prayer is answered. God opens his eyes to spiritual battles he and all Christians face day by day, as a part of the struggle to live out the victory that Christ won on the cross. He must enter the spiritual arena and face Satan's onslaught, taking up his armour and slaying his enemies though the power of God's word. Anger, doubt, pride - all these opponents must be faced. And when the fight is done, there's still dull homework, annoying siblings, bullies and young-love's cruel sting to be dealt with.

Phew! There's my pitch out of the way. I really want to get people on board with the concept, because I think if people can be seen to get behind that, you know you're on a good foundation. As I said before, I want this story to be a really exciting look at spiritual warfare, that will encourage Christian teenagers to take hold of their beliefs and help them tackle the issues they face as they grow up. I also aim to make this a book that will generate an interest in Christianity from non-Christian youths, who will want to know more after reading the story.

There have been a few major developments since I last wrote on this topic. I had emailed the author of the article that was the catalyst for this project, stating my purpose to undertake the task of writing a fantasy novel for Christian teenagers, and asking if the publisher they worked for would be interested in seeing the finished product. To my surprise and elation I received a message back saying they would like to see the first three chapters in their initial draft stage! This was a massive confidence boost, and a real encouragement that I was on the right path with my idea.

I sent off a submission to the publisher, and continued to write, reaching 26,000 words before received a reply from them. I also let one of my friends from church, who is an English teacher and avid literature fan, have a look a section of the draft. She really enjoyed it, in terms of the concept, plot and writing style, and has been pestering me to write more every time I see her!

The week after our church youth camp, I opened my emails to find a response from the publisher. It wasn't good. They liked my writing style and thought some of the sections were very vivid and imaginative, but had found huge doctrinal issues with the fantasy aspect of my story. I was initially very disappointed and frustrated, because I think I had elevated this situation to being 'my shot at the big time'. This taught me to be realistic however, and not to peg all my hopes on one opportunity.

After studying the criticisms and issues raised, I determined that while the publisher was completely within their rights to make these statements against my novel, my early draft have not shown that I agreed with them on all the points raised. I emailed them back, arguing my case but without being rude or big-headed, because let's face it, they know a lot more than I do about publishing. I asked if they would be interested in a finished draft that covered the issues raised, and thought I'd leave it at that.

Once again, God really reaffirmed that I am on the right path with my story, because the publisher sent me another message, saying they were pleased I had taken the issues raised into account, and would definitely want to see a finished draft in due course. They also gave me a couple of really useful tips and recommendations, that have helped me reshape my plan and my story. As a young author, this experience has been invaluable to me, because I may have already avoided one wave of rejections through having this dialogue with the publisher.

I went back to drawing board, because I wanted to sort out the Biblical issues that the publisher had raised. The last thing I want to do is lead young people astray with dodgy doctrine and fictional ideas that don't mesh with the truth of God's word. So I've shelved my original fantasy concept, but I'm keeping it in reserve because I think it could work really well in another form. My new concept involves Paul being transported into an arena, where he faces his spiritual battles in gladiatorial combat. Without going into too much detail, the elements that make up this new concept fit with the Bible's teaching, and work really well as a fictional concept, so the fantasy nature has not been compromised to crow-bar the correct doctrine into the story.

I received another encouragement, and I believe this was all God's doing as well, when I met an employee of a large secular publisher at my cousin's wedding a few weeks ago. He was also a youth leader, and was very interested in my story and my progress so far. We chatted for an hour or so, and he gave me loads of advice on the publishing world and suggested a few avenues for me to pursue. I don't think all these events have come about by chance. I really feel God's anointing upon this venture, and want Him to be glorified as a result of this process.

So all that's left is to actually write the book! I had to go back and take out a lot of the content from my first draft, but I still have about 10,000 words that I can cannibalize and add into the new version of the story. One of the recommendations the publisher gave me was to make the story more concise and cut down my target word count, which I've decided to do. Now I'm aiming for the novel to be 50,000 words in length, and have set myself the target of finishing my first draft by my birthday, December 14th. I will keep you posted on my progress (13,000 words at the mo), and hopefully we'll be seeing 'This Dark World' in a bookshop near you very soon!

Matt Chandler - Defining Masculinity

I was looking for a sermon today, something to focus my time with God, and I found this on YouTube. It really challenged me as a guy as well as a newly married husband, I hope it has an impact on you too. The next section should be linked at the end of the video.

Monday, 6 September 2010

My summer cinema selections

This summer has been a very good one for movies. There's generally quite a lot of turd on at the cinemas during the (supposedly) sunny months, but I've managed to see the big three I had down on my list, and enjoyed all of them thoroughly.

Inception was the first of trio which I viewed, and found that it lived up to the hype one hundred per cent. It was hard to see much going wrong when you've got Christopher Nolan directing and actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Cillian Murphy starring. The mind invasion driven plot was complex enough to keep you interested but pitched just at the right level so that the viewer doesn't get lost. The film works on so many levels, excuse the pun, that I'm sure I'll be watching it multiple times on dvd to pick up on all its hidden facets. My favourite scene would have to be the multi-leveled dream climax, which was paced to perfection, keeping the tension up right to the end. And speaking of endings, Inception's was just what I like: unresolved...

Next on the list was Toy Story 3. I remember going to see the first of the trilogy for my friend's birthday when I was at primary school, and it was amazing to feel the same giddy child-like excitement when watching the final installment as an adult. Although it is primarily a kids movie, Disney/Pixar haven't forgotten the big kids like me who feel like the film is really for them, and have made Woody and Buzz Lightyear's last escapade reflect this very well. The overriding response I had to the movie was laughter. Toy Story 3 is belly-achingly hilarious; the moment with 'Mister Tortilla-Head' had me it stitches. I don't know whether I would go as far as the film critic Mark Kermode and say that the Toy Story trilogy is the best movie trilogy ever made, but the third episode definitely doesn't let the side down. I'm still waiting for a bad Disney/Pixar movie, but I think it could be a long wait!

This last film was on my list of 'must-see' summer movies, but I wasn't sure if I would enjoy it. The film in question is Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Pros: directed by visionary genius Edgar Wright, responsible for Shaun of the Dead and Channel 4's Spaced. Cons: stars Michael Cera, high-pitched and highly annoying. However, Mister Cera totally makes up for everything previous with this film. Scott Pilgrim is one massive geek-fest; a turn-off for some, but the film rang true for me and my inner-nerd. The movie is very humorous, with snappy dialogue and brilliant gaming and movie references, and the fight scenes are full of high-octane action and amazing visuals. I loved the music too, and I think Sex Bob-omb may now be my new favourite band. I will add a disclaimer here: Scott Pilgrim is not for everyone. I think this film will generate a massive cult following, but also be hated and reviled by many. Definitely a Marmite thing. I say Marmite because it's a good 'love/hate' metaphor, but Bovril is a highly superior product. Anyway...

Not sure whether or not to trust my opinions? Check out the ratings for these films on Rotten Tomatoes, a website that compiles critic's reviews, and awards them a percentage rating based on the amount of positive and negative feedback. Post your favourite summer movies in the comments section!

Friday, 3 September 2010

The prodigal son returns

Humblest apologies for my couple of months radio silence. I know it's not a good excuse, and it's the one I always give, but I have been very busy. But then again, I think getting married, going on honeymoon and moving into a new flat are all things that can quite justifiably take up a person's focus. Also having no access to the internet has hampered my ability to update.

That's enough with the excuses, let's get on with things! So, I got married on the 24th of July, which was pretty awesome. The week before the wedding was hectic, what with the culmination of all the planning (my mum had written two notebooks of 'things to do' before the day) and also having my graduation two days before the 'big day'. On the morning of the wedding, I have to admit I was very stressed. But about ten minutes before the ceremony was set to begin, I thought, oh well, if anything goes wrong now, it's out of my hands. And apart from the bumper falling of our wedding car and the T-Rex song 'Get It On' being played loudly outside the church during the vows (Lauren was nearly wetting herself), the day was perfect. The ceremony went smoothly, the reception at Grittleton was great, especially the food, and everyone enjoyed themselves. Couldn't have asked for a better day. Oh yeah, and Lauren looked beautiful.

Then we were off to Rome for our honeymoon, which was also a fantastic experience. The weather was sweltering, but not too hot to enjoy the sights, and the food was amazing. It was really cool to see all the historic attractions, such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon, but I would definitely recommend getting out of the city to places like Ostia, where you can see amazing ruins without the crowds pressing in around you. And I have to repeat, the food was AMAZING! Pasta, pizza, gelato, tiramisu - all authentic and all mouthwateringly good. There were only a couple of negative points, such as our moody driver at the airport and the high prices for refreshments and entrance to attractions, but overall it was a brilliant holiday and a very memorable honeymoon.

Once back from the holiday, Lauren and I got on with moving into our new flat, sorting out our television, internet and phone, and generally settling into normal life. Now we've been in the flat for a month or so, it's starting to really feel like home. I'll be updating you soon on my progress with the novel writing, and also on the films I've seen over the summer.