25 March 2015

Various games

The Swapper

Of the various puzzle games I've recently purchased, The Swapper is the most playable.  It's a relaxed pace platform puzzler (my preference since I don't like the ones where you have to constantly run) and starts with you, an identityless, voiceless figure in a spacesuit, wandering about in the aftermath of a disaster that has left a mining installation abandoned.

The plot is mildly interesting, but the strength of this one is the puzzles, which involve getting into difficult places by creating a clone of yourself, transporting your consciousness into the new copy, and abandoning the old body (or positioning it strategically on switches).  The atmosphere is also nicely spooky, and I've been working my way steadily toward the end.

Never Alone

Never Alone is both similar and virtually the opposite of Swapper.  It's another puzzle platformer (with some required running, but not constant momentum).  Again it's very atmospheric, and relies on working together to get through, but the puzzles so far are not as compulsive, and the main draw is the sheer cuteness of your arctic fox companion, and the slow discovery of Alaska Native culture.

It doesn't have the same forward drive as Swapper, but I'll continue it on and off to the end.

The Unfinished Swan

The Unfinished Swan combines a fairytale story book narration with a mechanic that involves throwing blobs of paint in all directions to reveal the location of walls/floor/objects.

This is very cool for the first couple of rooms, but then begins to pall a little and even though they mix up the paint-throwing mechanism later, there's no real narrative or puzzle interest to pull me through.

I may finished it.  Maybe.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2

I've played a lot of different Resident EvilsThis one takes Claire Redfield, pairs her with a less kick-ass girl, and gratuitously kidnaps them to some sort of experimental facility where someone appears to be channeling GLaDOS, but without the entertaining passive-aggressive snark.

I'm only at the beginning of the first episode of this, and not sure I'll buy any more.  [One advantage of these chapter by chapter game releases is you save money when you discover you don't find a game interesting.]

Final Fantasy: Type 0

A pity Final Fantasy: Type 0 hadn't been released on a chapter by chapter basis!  This is a remastered PSP port, so I expected low-rent graphics (and got them).

You sure do get a lot of different characters to play with - you're an entire elite classroom, named for a deck of cards.

Unfortunately the gameplay is entirely uninteresting, and the story not much better.  I doubt I'll play more than I have.

Final Fantasy XV (Boyband): Episode Duscae

Type 0, however, came with a demo of FF XV, set in a region called Duscae.  XV has been in development for something like six years, and was long considered vaporware until the past year or so, when new trailers and now this demo have been released.  And, from the demo at least, it's a solid step forward in the franchise, leaving behind the turn based gameplay for a quicker, smoother experience.  Timefillers like the way FF combat traditionally started and ended have been removed, and the process of finding and embarking on quests is much more fluid.  And there's some funny additions, too, like cooking for buffs.

The game is also unutterably beautiful.

Of course, being Final Fantasy, there's some inevitable negatives.  I call this "Boy Band" for a reason - all the known playable characters are male (breaking a long tradition of having at least a female healer character) and during the demo the only female given any time on screen might be a mechanic, but she's a mechanic in Daisy Dukes, suffering from camera angles focused on her hips and cleavage.

 However, at least one promo image suggests there are two important female characters in the game, and while one is the typical FF ingenue, the plot outline suggests that she's an ingenue that can match the main character in battle.  [Inevitably to be defeated, of course.]

Anyway, I was already interested in playing FF XV.  I've now moved it to the top of my list of games I'm looking forward to.  The demo was that good.

08 March 2015

Life is Strange (game) - minor spoilers

I'm using my post-release break to play a few games.

Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game about a photography-obsessed girl name Max who has returned to her home town on a scholarship - and discovers she has time-rewinding powers.  Into Max's life we introduce a rich boy with a gun, an old friend with problems, a security control freak, a new friend with white-knight tendencies, and a disappeared girl.  And many varieties of bullying.  And a coming mega-tornado.

The production values are very high, and it's a nice, playable game, with puzzles that revolve mainly about choices leading to social consequences.  And I enjoyed playing the first episode of this game, and liked Max, and I'm probably not going to pick up the rest of the episodes.

Two issues - there's so much powerlessness going on here, so many different vortices of bullying, that I just feel no anticipation for the play experience, even if the likely end result is vindication or escape.

And - particularly in a game where the main character runs around taking photos of everything - I kept having to keep myself from shrieking "Take some video!  Gather evidence!  Video the creepy home surveillance system.  Video the rich boy with a gun!  Video the bullying security guard!"

The mega-tornado also feels weirdly unnecessary given all the other stuff going on.

Anyway - I do recommend this game to anyone with higher tolerance for this kind of story.  It's very atmospheric and interesting.  Just a not-for-me game.

Mildly spoilerish bit..
Willing to bet that the all-around-wonderful photography teacher is a creepy murderer and video-taper of girls.

28 February 2015

Pyramids Release

Out at last!

This was one of the more challenging books for me to write, just because when you start with an alt history of _our_ world you suddenly find yourself with the problem of how complex our world is. So many countries, so many different peoples, so many stories.

It amazed me, doing the research for this book, how much I didn't know about my own world. A million layers of civilisation, most forgotten, or half-remembered, or barely understood. I've read and seen stories about Egyptians all my life, but until I started properly reading about it, I didn't know what mummies were actually _for_. [And even the most knowledgeable Egyptologist can only have an imperfect understanding of a culture lost to sand.] So, anyway, alt history=HARD.

The story itself is going to sit across a dozen genres. Alt history, because I started with Earth. It's steampunk because dirigibles, but it's certainly not Victorian. It's going to read YA or even middle grade to some people, but one of its protagonists is thirty-six. It's science fiction (apparently that's where steampunk sits) and it does amuse itself with a technological impact, but it is, of all my books, the most full of the numinous, the strange and wondrous things that fantasy uses to catch your breath and then turn it to dragons.

There are quite a few dragons.

Anyway, this is a big venture for me - the first time I've embarked on a long series (five books, plus probably some shorts). I hope you all enjoy it!



Barnes & Noble (coming)
Apple (coming)
Google (coming)


25 February 2015


Pyramids is set in Prytennia, which is divided into three dragonates.  Through the magic of Julie Dillon, here are Nimelleth, Dulethar, and Athian...

17 February 2015

Pyramids giveaway and cloud

Nearly there!  So looking forward to the release.

Time to set up the giveaway. :)

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Pyramids of London by Andrea K. Höst

The Pyramids of London

by Andrea K. Höst

Giveaway ends March 01, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

And here is my semi-traditional wordle of the book!

08 February 2015

Mildly spoilerish visual preview of Pyramids

Pyramids is rather creature-heavy...

My favourite is Dimity, who is not pictured, but entertains me enormously.

Still on track for end of February release.  Busy doing my traditional end-of-book kicking of heroine. :D

08 January 2015


Kickstarter pays for groceries.

The last day or two has been full of debate about this fact, but fact it is.  Yes, on the surface Kickstarter is a way of crowdfunding arty projects - for buying paint, or cover art, or renting theatre space or what-have-you.

But pigments pay for the groceries of pigment manufacturers.  Cover art pays for the groceries of artists.  Theatre space pays for the groceries of the theatre owner, and also the construction guys who built the place, and way too many other people to list.

The reason I'm talking about this at all, as some of you have probably already guessed, is because there's been some debate over whether Kickstarter should pay for the groceries of writers.  [And whether anyone should support Kickstarters at all because there's no guarantee you'll get the product you're funding.]

This was sparked by one particular author starting a Kickstarter to fund her next book, and listing her living expenses as one of the things the Kickstarter was paying for.  Met with a debate over whether Kickstarters should only cover "production costs" of such a book, and whether the time spent actually writing the book counts as a production cost, the author promptly took the Kickstarter down.

After that she wrote a blog apologising, with an addendum about the vitriolic nature of the YA world/internet, and from there debate has raged into the usual talk about "bullying" and "entitlement" and all the things these dramas usually touch on.  [There were some problems with the wording of one of the rewards of the Kickstarter, and I feel that the words bullying and vitriol are thrown around way too quickly when what's happened is more like "push back".]

I usually stay out of internet dramas (because I don't have the energy, am not directly involved, or am supposed to be writing), but in this particular case my feelings are strong, and so I thought I'd share my opinions of Kickstarters.

First, would I ever run a Kickstarter so I could write full time?  Not very likely, since:

1. I would feel totally stressed about then writing the book.
2. I would probably just play computer games all the time and then feel stressed AND guilty.
3. I don't think many Kickstarter backers would want to pay me the hourly rate of my day job.

So I write on the train in the morning, and usually feel too tired in the afternoon and my readers wait a year or so for each of my books.  However, I fully support other people running Kickstarters so I can get the things they want to make.

The first Kickstarter I helped fund was the DoubleFine Adventure game called "Broken Age" - or "Broken In Half Age" as the developers promptly overran their budget and have so far delivered only half the game.  I'm pretty sure the first thing those Kickstarter funds went to was champagne.  I'm still happy I funded it, and am confident I'll get the rest of the game.  One day.

Another Kickstarter I funded was "Put a TARDIS in space!".  That little blue box still isn't up there, and the Kickstarter organisers post occasionally apologising because the satellite launch people keep pushing back the launch date.  I'm still highly entertained by the idea of a TARDIS in space, and will sit back and wait for it to get up there.

I've supported at least three books on Kickstarter, and have received all but one of them.  The last was a bit delayed (though not nearly as delayed as Diane Duane's several years overrun early experiment in crowdfunding), and I'm confident I'll get it.

Probably one day I will back a project where the organiser takes the money and runs.  I understand how the model works.  I'll be annoyed, but it won't stop me backing Kickstarters.  I'll continue to support Kickstarters for books I particularly want, whether they've been already written, or are still a gleam in the author's eye because - while the people who run Kickstarters seem to chronically underfund the cost of their own time - their time is just as much of a production cost as anything else in those Kickstarters.  And the time of people who write books, just like satellite launch companies, and computer programmers, eventually translates to groceries.

"Groceries" are just another way of saying "what it takes to make this thing happen".

31 December 2014

January SFF Sale

If you're looking to sample some Indie SFF, then this 1 January sale is a great place to start!  There's a wide range of sub-genres, and even a few compilation/box sets.  I haven't read all these authors myself, but can recommend Patty Jansen if you're looking to try another Australian writer.

Some of these specials will only last for a few days, and I'll be switching my prices back starting from 3 January, so get them while you can!

22 December 2014

13 December 2014

A Year's Passing Gift

To celebrate another year successfully negotiated, I've set all my (non-compilation) ebooks to $0.99 (USD/your currency variation thereof) for the remainder of 2014*.

The price changes will show up slowly over the following days on:
  • Smashwords.
  • Amazon.
  • Kobo. (changing the price seems to make this briefly appear 'unavailable')
  • Slower than the others: Apple/B&N/other vendors.
So if the holiday budget is pinching, hopefully this will at least give you some cheap reading.  Meanwhile, I'm knuckling down and heading toward the end-run for Pyramids.  Tentative release date of late February 2015 (but no guarantees there - depends on the beta and editing cycles).

* These prices will probably meander over into 2015 for a number of vendors, because it can be a real pain to get the prices back to where they're supposed to be with the way Amazon price-matching works.

17 November 2014

Update and giveaway winners

I'm now back in my own house, with a couple of weeks to play Dragon Age rest before heading back to work.  While I made progress on Pyramids, and have a much better idea of how everything works (I'm very amused by the idea of 'allegiance' in this world), it's extremely unlikely I'll get through the first draft before the end of the year - but I will play Dragon Age push on diligently and try to get a reasonably early release next year.

The winners of the Five Thousand Stars giveaway are:

  • Dave V
  • Jessica C
  • rachael

I will email to arrange prize delivery.  Congratulations!

14 November 2014

Four Cities

The last bit of this holiday is cities (arranged for the end on the basis that cold autumn weather and tromping in the country aren't that attractive a mix).  So a complete change of pace as we returned the rental car (fortunately checking the return location a couple of days beforehand so that the fact that that branch had closed down didn't throw us into a complete panic), and switching to trains to go briefly to London, then Paris, Zurich, Venice - and then flying back to London to at long last actually explore it a little.

In each city we took an open top bus tour (well, in Venice we rode the vaporetto - water bus) and ate stereotypical local food (crepes in Paris, fondue in Zurich, pizza and pasta in Venice, and high tea in London). 

And chocolate and cake.  Lots of chocolate and cake (the kirsch-soaked cake in Zurich was probably the closest to drunk I've been on this trip).  The high tea was entertaining but filling.

You can't really get more than impression of a city spending only a couple of nights there - especially when constantly tired from the hauling suitcases-travel-adjust-haul suitcases cycle.  But there were plenty of highlights along the way.  I got to walk along the Seine:

We also visited the Louvre, which was freaking enormous.  Not just lots of artwork (so much, so many) but this great big spread out building with huge staircases and endless hallways.  

That was really the impression I took of Paris overall: sweeping, sprawling and festooned with statues.

Zurich, by contrast, was a more compact, keeping close to the river and lake that forms its centre (an impression increased because we were staying in the Old Town, with lots of narrow streets).  Far fewer statues, and rather persistent rain, but we ended up quite happy about this when our bus tour ended in a cable car ride up a small hill and into the first snowfall of the season.  [Only the second time in my life I've been in snowfall, and made a short walk through a forest to a chalet cafe magically lovely (and wet and cold).]

The train ride from Zurich to Venice was particularly spectacular, with lakes and dramatic, snow-kissed mountain slopes in every direction.  But it was warmer in Venice, which was also good.  Our hotel room overlooked a canal.

Each day singing gondaliers would pass below our window, and there were beautiful bells, and...sirens.

We didn't know what the sirens were about until about midday of the first full day there, when we discovered that in November and December in Venice, high tide is often....high.

The sirens are to let the locals know that today's high tide will flood the low-lying parts of the city.  The shops all sold these things called "high tide boots".

It wasn't a tremendously difficult thing, once you knew about it, and we proceeded to get ourselves lost in winding alleyways, and to goggle at the sheer variety of masks, and glasswork.  On the second day we returned just after what appeared to be a school graduation, and the streets that night were full of a different kind of singing, roistering and joyous.

After a short plane flight (so cramped after the much more comfortable trains) we were back in London, and apparently it was Christmas.

Barely scratched the surface of London, after five nights, but did enjoyably 'research' things for Pyramids (still slowly progressing, but definitely not out this year), and buy lots of tourist tat, and stumble around, not at all lost thanks to Google Maps, but rather footsore.

Next up, 24 hours of purgatory, and then...Dragon Age! :D :D

05 November 2014

County of Mists

We did manage a couple of lucky days when Cornwall was visible, but this week was definitely as much fog as not.  Still, lots of fog is a novelty to me, since we only occasionally get fog in Sydney.  We were staying in a converted fancy old hotel called the Headland, where there were coastal walks right from the doorstep.

One our first excursions was to the Eden Project.

The two domes contain a Mediterranean and a tropical environment.  The tropical environment one was not exactly a novelty to someone who grew up in Townsville, but did produce an amusing game of "didn't we have one of those in the back yard?".  Banana, pawpaw, coffee, tamarind...all familiar from home.  The Mediterranean habitat had a vine area with statues of maenads - very vibrant and full of energy and violence - impressive.

One place I particularly wanted to see was St Michael's Mount (confusingly similar to Mont St Michel in France), where the outgoing tide uncovers a causeway.  We had a couple of fortunate hours exploring before the fog rolled back in.  Also one of the busiest places we visited - due to something called "half-term".

The last of our walks was along the southern-most coastline in mainland Britain - an area delightfully named "The Lizard" (with a town called Lizard).

After this, no more country walks, but instead lots of trains.

26 October 2014

Wily, windy moor

I found Exmoor windy, for sure, but wasn't sure why it would be wily - until we met one of the boot-stealing boggy bits, that tried to leave us barefoot halfway through a walk.  Definitely the muddiest we've been after a walk.

We were staying in Minehead, which is the starting point of one of the larger coastal walks.

Our little cottage also had a bit of a view...

Our first walk started at a stone bridge called Tarr Steps.

This was a walk in two halves.  The first half followed the river, and was all autumn leaves over water.  [And mud.]  The second followed a brisk climb up to the edge of the moor, and involved plenty of pheasants shrieking and hurling themselves into the sky in front of us.  Also lots of fences built by planting trees on top of muddy ramparts.  And there was mud, mud, mud and sucking mud.

We also had a brief glimpse of Exmoor ponies on the way:

Minehead was very close to Porlock, so we were careful not to embark on any epic poetry, but did head over to do a walk that again started down by a bridge over a river (this type of bridge is a 'packhorse' bridge - it's cobbled, and designed for use in places not accessible even by wagons:

Once again after a forest walk, we climbed up to the moor.  This was the most extended vertical climb we've done, and involved resting a bit on the way up, and then being rather nervous of the drop on the trip down.

Two different garden visits this time: one at a place called Hestercombe (nice place, but not exceptional at the time of year we visited):

And also the grounds of Dunster Castle, where we found a garden of dozens of different varieties of dahlia, including one called "War of the Roses".

Next up the last of our holiday lets, in Cornwall.

21 October 2014

Light, Lifting

I really didn't arrange these last couple of holiday lets very well, since going up to the north of Wales after the Forest of Dean, and then down again, meant a lot of driving that wouldn't have been necessary if I'd swapped a couple of houses around.  We've driven around 3,000 miles so far.

I'm kind of over driving.

Particularly after the amusing gone-down-the-wrong-way incident in Wales, where we ended up in a winding single car-width lane between a rock wall and a watery ditch - only to find the lane stopped at a farm gate.  I'm not someone who particularly enjoys driving, let alone trying to reverse (what felt like miles) with the prospect of scraped paint on one side and bogging on the other.  And then, of course, someone came driving along from the direction of the gate.  They kindly didn't seem to laugh too much and waited patiently as my sister hung out the window and called left, right, other right!, for a short eternity.

So over driving.

But otherwise, northern Wales was very pretty.  We were staying near Conwy, which has a big castle sitting over a bay, and was marvellously scenic in every direction.

The weather was again variable, but we had a couple of good sunny days, one of which we used to visit Bodnant Gardens, which was up there with the absolute top gardens I've ever been to.  It wasn't very floral at this time of year, but still managed to be lovely - there were both multiple tiers of formal gardens below the house:

and the sculptured woodland ramble:

We weren't particularly early, but there in time to see the dew steaming off the foliage:

Bodnant also finally made clear a mysterious term from many a novel.  Pictured here is a ha-ha.

The purpose of the ha-ha is to stop stock from wandering into the bit of the garden you don't want them in, while not blocking your sweeping view of a lawn.  [This picture is from the 'stock' side of the ha-ha, showing the wall - the other direction you'd only see grass.]  The word ha-ha comes from the French term for this ditch, which is 'ah-ah' - the sound you apparently make when you fall into it.

We were also near one of the bigger seaside resorts in Wales, Llandudno, and headed up there to check out the very long pier, and also to take a cable car up a hill called "The Great Orme", which had some pretty fine views.

Visiting Wales also involved eating lots of Welsh Rarebit. :)  Next up, Exmoor.