Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #17: The Journey Begins

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Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

A few months ago, I discussed the idea of blogging about my journey through Middle-earth on Lord of the Rings Online. And, well, here we are!

I have been playing LOTRO for almost seven years now, on and off. I started playing again this February after a break, but decided to start all over again from scratch on a different server (and also so I could join my friend). I have the following characters:

  • Isolt, Hobbit Hunter
  • Innarrah, Hobbit Minstrel
  • Eilidh, Hobbit Burglar
  • Amildeth, Elf Lore-master
  • Lunathien, Elf Rune-keeper
  • Isibeal, Human Captain
  • Sabbatha, Beorning

However the ones I am really focused on at the moment are Isolt (who is at the cap level) and Innarrah (currently levelling), so most of my adventures will be told through them. And it’s a shame that Hobbits can’t be every class, or I’d have my own Hobbit army 😉

I’ve managed to build up quite a few screenshots since I decided to start blogging about this, so for now I will just share some particularly interesting places that might be of interest to LotR fans, rather than a focus on a specific area.

This is how the Paths of the Dead looks in the game. Spirits fly around you, and there’s definitely a creepy atmosphere.

Grond, Hammer of the Underworld! This is the battering ram that was used to break down the doors of Minas Tirith during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

Whilst exploring Minas Tirith (that place is HUGE), I found this pub – ‘The Laughing Halfling’. Definitely wins an award for best name 😀

In another Minas Tirith pub (there are many), I found two NPCs taking shots at a Mumakil made of barrels, cloth and what looks like pumpkins as eyes…

Minas Tirith is basically a heaven for roleplayers. Amongst the many pubs, courtyards and gardens, there is also the Blue Theatre, a full size theatre that can be completely explored by players (even back stage, including the costume and prop rooms, and dressing rooms!)

Not a sight, but just something that demonstrates how much effort and detail is put into this game. When you reach level 111 (eleventy-one!), you get a deed that grants you the title ‘Well-preserved’, and lots of bread with a small amount of butter. A reference to Bilbo saying he feels like ‘butter scraped over too much bread’ to Gandalf. So clever and cute 🙂

Are there any particular areas of Middle-earth you’d like to see? Any particular book references you’d like me to hunt down?

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Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #16: A Journey Through Middle-earth

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Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

I have previously used this feature to talk about The Lord of the Rings Online, and used it to show how much dedication and love went into creating the game by comparing paragraphs from the book with screenshots taken by myself in-game.

I enjoyed this feature and how I was able to bring video games into the blog a bit more, and also write about Middle-earth. In February, I started playing again, and started all over on a new server. Instead of continuing what I was doing before – going through the books in order and comparing scenes with the game – I’d like to just share my progress, comment on the areas I visit as I play and any secrets I might find.

Now, what I want to know is this – is this something you would be interested in seeing on the blog?

Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #15: My Video Game Wishlist

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Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

Today I want to share my most wished for video games, and I’d love to hear yours too!

Far_Cry_Primal firewatch Stardew Valley

  • Far Cry Primal – I really love Far Cry 3, I played it pretty much throughout my entire year in Leiden. It somehow ran pretty well on my laptop (and looks super amazing on my desktop), and was a great distraction/de-stressing tool. I love the open world, sneaking around and taking over bases without being spotted. I remember feeling super epic one time as I gunned my way through a camp, escaped a burning building, rescued someone, made it to safety and then… walked straight off a cliff and to my death. It has a way of surprising me (BAM LEOPARDS OUT OF NOWHERE) and perhaps making me shout a little more expletives than strictly necessary but it’s good fun. And Far Cry Primal promises all of this, but in a prehistoric setting. You can RIDE MAMMOTHS AND SABER TOOTHS. AND TAME BADGERS. Of course I need it!
  • Firewatch – This is one of those ‘walking simulator’ type games that seems to pop up, but it looks so gorgeous and if there’s a great story to match then I’m happy playing a game that is more of an interactive story than anything. The player takes on the role of a park ranger, and is the only person in game – apart from another ranger at the end of the walkie-talkie.
  • Stardew Valley – A Harvest Moon type game, this seems to offer so much more than the series it sprung from. It is massive on Steam, Markiplier played it and loved it, and quite a few friends are just as obsessed. I did find Harvest Moon to be a little repetitive, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I will enjoy Stardew Valley a whole lot more.

Ori_and_the_Blind_Forest_cover Dragon's Dogma No Man's Sky

  • Ori and the Blind Forest – Not only does this game look beautiful (and seriously, the opening is super sad), but it has a gorgeous soundtrack as well. More of a platformer/side scroller than an open world game, which isn’t my typical style, but just about everything else about it makes me want to play it so much.
  • Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen – An open world fantasy where you fight with a team of pawns – it looks so cool! You really have to think about how to take down enemies and finding their weak spots, for example setting a griffin on fire with a fire arrow to bring it down to the ground, where you can then attack.
  • No Man’s Sky – I am super excited for this! No Man’s Sky is a procedurally generated space exploration game. SPACE! EXPLORATION! And it just looks so super super beautiful. The game will have over 18 QUINTILLION planets, which is just absolutely insane and basically means that you can never run out of places to explore.

What video games are on your wishlist?

Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #14: What I Look For In A Video Game

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Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

So I’ve previously discussed what I look for in a book on the blog, but how about what I look for in a video game? These various factors can have a huge effect on whether I buy the game or not – and I’d love to know what your video game criteria are!

  • An open world: Sure, sometimes a linear story is good, but most of the time I absolutely love being able to do what I want, when I want in a video game. Sometimes all I want to do is just run around the video game world, not actually playing anything but just exploring. Games like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout are perfect for this.
  • A detailed character creator: I want my character to be personalised! If I can’t make a character, or I have to choose from a couple of pre-sets then I immediately feel more detached from my character. Some games have insane systems where you can customise absolutely EVERYTHING – which I simultaneously love and dread. It means I can make the perfect character – but that I’ll probably also spend 12 hours doing so.
  • A fantasy or science fiction setting: Yep, just like my fiction. Although I play games with other settings, I can’t resist a sci-fi or fantasy game set in an open world. All of those places to explore!
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  • Decent 3D graphics: I know, I know. There are loads of awesome 2D retro games out there. But I just don’t seem to concentrate quite as well on 2D games, I find 3D to be much more immersive.
  • The ability to play as a female character: Not 100% essential, sometimes the character is completely unchangeable, but I always like to have the option to play as a female character.
  • Some element of co-op: Always a bonus – being able to play an awesome game with friends.

What do you look for when buying a new video game?

Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #13: Following the Fellowship, Part 2

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Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

This particular topic is going to become a sort of sub-feature of Prose & Pixels. It is based on a Tumblr account I ran a few years ago, which is now closed. I want to show just how detailed The Lord of the Rings Online is, by illustrating excerpts from the book with screenshots from the game. I’ve previously spoken about how much detail the developers have added, including so many tiny features that you wouldn’t notice unless you looked closely, or other things that may only be familiar to the biggest fans. You can view Part 1 here.

The Party Tree

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“One morning the hobbits woke to find the large field, south of Bilbo’s front door, covered with ropes and poles for tents and pavilions…There was a specially large pavilion, so big that the tree that grew in the field was right inside it, and stood proudly near one end, at the head of the chief table. Lanterns were hung on all its branches.” — Chapter I: A Long Expected Party, The Fellowship of the Ring

The Party Tree is, as Tolkien wrote, just south of Bag End. Although there is no giant tent, the tree is decorated with lanterns and ribbons, as well as many smaller tents around it. And plenty of benches, food and drink, as well as hobbits eating, drinking, dancing and completely passed out from the excess… There’s even a small stage for players to use, as you can see in the last screenshot – with my hobbit Isolde dancing for the crowd. 😉

The Green Dragon

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“One summer’s evening an astonishing piece of news reached the Ivy Bush and the Green Dragon. Giants and other portents on the borders of the Shire were forgotten for more important matters: Mr. Frodo was selling Bag End, indeed he had already sold it – to the Sackville-Bagginses!”

The Green Dragon is the popular inn at Bywater that is mentioned several times in the book – it is clearly a popular place amongst hobbits. It is shown and mentioned in the films too – Pippin and Merry sing a song about the ale from the Green Dragon whilst dancing on a table. Players can sample the Green Dragon ale for themselves, although it can muddle your wits!

Have you ever played Lord of the Rings Online? Are there any particular locations you’d like me to find in the game?

Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #12: Currently Playing (January 2016)

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Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

Today I wanted to share the games I am currently playing!

Grand Theft Auto V

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Grand Theft Auto V was a game I was quite hesitant about for a while. I never really got on with the previous game in the series, but I’d seen so many Let’s Plays of GTA V that made it look so, so fun. I’m glad I took a risk and bought it when it went on sale (still not that cheap though), because it’s exactly the kind of game I was looking for. Open world, in a modern setting, and it lets me drive around an absolutely HUGE map to my heart’s content. There’s one bit of the story that I really haven’t liked, but the rest has been pretty fun so far.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex

I bought Deus Ex: Human Revolution a couple of years ago in a Steam sale, and it’s sat unplayed until now. I started playing it during Sci-Fi Month, as part of my challenge to consume as much science fiction as possible during the month of November. It’s a solid game, and I enjoy trying to sneak around, although I’m not very good at it… I have mostly gotten around places by using the air vents, but I love being able to explore and work out different routes. It’s a dark game, but it raises some really interesting questions about cybernetics and bio-augmentation – and how far humankind will go to preserve themselves.

Life is Strange

Life is Strange

I may have finished this by the time this post goes live, because I can’t stop playing. Life is Strange is an episodic game, told in five parts, about a young photography student who moves back to her old hometown to study. She reconnects with her best friend, who she hasn’t seen for five years – and discovers she can go back in time. It’s gorgeous, haunting and has a wonderful soundtrack. So atmospheric.

Do you enjoy playing video games? What are you currently playing?

Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #11: Books About Video Games

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Prose & Pixels is a feature that combines two of my loves: books and video games. Here I’ll discuss all sorts of things to do with the two, whether it’s recommendations, influences or just a good old chat.

Today I wanted to share a selection of books that feature video games as a major plot device.

I’m always excited to find a book that features or is set in a video game. It’s so fun to combine these two interests of mine and see how they interact. Normally I end up wanting to play the video game myself… So here is a selection of books where video games play a major role.

Erebos by Ursula Pozanski

Erebos

When 16-year-old Nick receives a package containing the mysterious computer game Erebos, he wonders if it will explain the behavior of his classmates, who have been secretive lately. Players of the game must obey strict rules: always play alone, never talk about the game, and never tell anyone your nickname.

Curious, Nick joins the game and quickly becomes addicted. But Erebos knows a lot about the players and begins to manipulate their lives. When it sends Nick on a deadly assignment, he refuses and is banished from the game.

Now unable to play, Nick turns to a friend for help in finding out who controls the game. The two set off on a dangerous mission in which the border between reality and the virtual world begins to blur.

I haven’t read Erebos, but it sounds like an interesting concept. From the blurb, it sounds like less of the book takes place within the game than others on this list, and that it is perhaps a bit of a psychological thriller. It was originally written in German, and was translated into English a couple of years after original publication.

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

Michael is a gamer. And like most gamers, he almost spends more time on the VirtNet than in the actual world. The VirtNet offers total mind and body immersion, and it’s addictive. Thanks to technology, anyone with enough money can experience fantasy worlds, risk their life without the chance of death, or just hang around with Virt-friends. And the more hacking skills you have, the more fun. Why bother following the rules when most of them are dumb, anyway?

But some rules were made for a reason. Some technology is too dangerous to fool with. And recent reports claim that one gamer is going beyond what any gamer has done before: he’s holding players hostage inside the VirtNet. The effects are horrific—the hostages have all been declared brain-dead. Yet the gamer’s motives are a mystery.

The government knows that to catch a hacker, you need a hacker. And they’ve been watching Michael. They want him on their team. But the risk is enormous. If he accepts their challenge, Michael will need to go off the VirtNet grid. There are back alleys and corners in the system human eyes have never seen and predators he can’t even fathom—and there’s the possibility that the line between game and reality will be blurred forever.

I read and reviewed The Eye of Minds by James Dashner in June this year, after it had been sitting on my Netgalley shelf for a while. It comes from the same author as The Maze Runner, and whilst I didn’t find it quite as enjoyable or fast-paced, it was still a fun read. The third book in the series (The Mortality Doctrine) was released last month.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

It’s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We’re out of oil. We’ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS – and his massive fortune – will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.

Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions – and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.

I have written a LOT about Ready Player One in the past – I’ve reviewed it, shared five reasons why you should read it, recommended it to YA readers, listed it as one of my top ten books of 2013, made it part of my definitive sci-fi reads challenge and listed it as one of my top ten sci-fi reads overall. So, yeah. I like this book quite a lot. It can be a bit hit and miss depending on when you grew up and if you’ve always loved video games, but most other people I know who have read it absolutely loved it too.

Elusion by Claudia Gabel

Elusion

Soon, Elusion® will change the world and life as we know it.

A new technology called Elusion is sweeping the country. An app, visor and wristband will virtually transport you to an exotic destination where adventure can be pursued without the complications — or consequences — of real life.

Regan is an Elusion insider. Or at least she used to be. Her father invented the program, and her best friend, Patrick, heir to the tech giant Orexis, is about to release it nationwide. But ever since her father’s unexpected death, Regan can’t bear to Escape, especially since waking up from the dream means crashing back to her grim reality.

Still, when there are rumors of trouble in Elusion — accusations that it’s addictive and dangerous — Regan is determined to defend it. But the critics of Elusion come from surprising sources, including Josh, the handsome skeptic with his own personal stakes. As Regan investigates the claims, she discovers a disturbing web of secrets. She will soon have to choose between love and loyalty… a decision that will affect the lives of millions.

I’ve not read Elusion and found it especially for this post. It sounds like the program within the book, Elusion, is a Second Life type game, where the player can become whoever they want, and do whatever they want. It seems to have received quite mixed reviews from my Goodreads friends though!

The .hack// series

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Old-fashioned role-playing games have experienced a renaissance on the World Wide Web. Twins Rena and Shugo are two middle-school students who enter ‘The World’ as level one game characters. When Shugo’s character dies, he is transported to another level where he is entrusted to bear the Twilight Bracelet by the mysterious Aura. Shugo must find out who Aura is and why she gave him this powerful weapon to protect his sister from the peculiar characters in ‘The World’.

The description above is for .hack//Legend of the Twilight, which is one of my favourite manga series. However, there are lots of different .hack// series with different story arcs and characters, all set within ‘The World’. Most of them have also been adapted into anime series. If you’re thinking of trying them out, I’d recommend you start with this one – it’s fairly short and a good introduction.

Armada by Ernest Cline

Armada

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe. And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada — in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders.

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills — as well as those of millions of gamers across the world — are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little… familiar?

Yep, another Ernest Cline book! Armada was released earlier this year, after a long, long wait. I was lucky enough to get a review copy, and reviewed the book a couple of months ago. It didn’t have quite the same wow factor as Ready Player One, but it might work better for those who don’t get all the 80’s/video game references in the previous book.

What books about or set in video games have you read and enjoyed?