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 #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 #10: Following the Fellowship, Part 1

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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.

Bag End

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“The riches [Bilbo] had brought back from his travels had now become a local legend, and it was popularly believed, whatever the old folk might say, that the Hill at Bag End was full of tunnels stuffed with treasure.”Chapter I: A Long Expected Party, The Fellowship of the Ring

Bag End is located at the top of the Hill, overlooking the Party Tree. Players are able to enter Bag End and look through several rooms – although many others are blocked off by piles of furniture. Who knows what lies down those tunnels?

The Ivy Bush Inn

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“… The Ivy Bush, a small inn on the Bywater Road…”Chapter I: A Long Expected Party, The Fellowship of the Ring

LOTRO has many inns and pubs for your character to visit, and several of which have unique ales and wines. You are able to ‘drink’ these, and the more you drink, the drunker your character becomes. You hear them start to sing and hiccup, and your screen becomes blurry and shaky for a short period. My hobbit Isolde sampled the Ivy Bush’s 1404 Vintage, which put her in a very jolly mood…

Bagshot Row

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“… [Gaffer Gamgee] had tended the garden at Bag End for forty years, and had helped old Holman in the same job before that. Now he was himself growing old and stiff in the joints, the job was mainly carried on by his youngest son, Sam Gamgee. Both father and son were on very friendly terms with Bilbo and Frodo. They lived on the Hill itself, in Number 3 Bagshot Row, just below Bag End.”Chapter I: A Long Expected Party, The Fellowship of the Ring

Just as described, Bagshot Row is located down the Hill from Bag End. You can even talk to Gaffer Gamgee, who sells tools and consumables for the Farming skill.

This is just a small preview of the detail included in the game – I will be sharing more and more throughout these posts, some things so tiny that you really wouldn’t notice them unless you were looking out for them specifically.

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 #1: Books That Would Make The Best MMOs

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After Asti’s recent post on trying new features, I was inspired to finally work on a feature I’ve been considering for a while, one that merges video games and books. So here it is, Prose & Pixels! It won’t be a regularly scheduled feature, but one that I post when I feel like it, rather like my discussion posts. My hope is that this new feature will allow me to combine my two loves: books and video games. I’ve spoken about video games quite a bit in the past, so surely they deserve their own feature on my blog. Before reading Asti’s post, I decided that maybe I shouldn’t post about video games – after all this is a book blog, and it might put some of my readers off. But after reading her post and thinking about it, I decided – why not? It’s MY blog, for my interests – and I’m still including books!

Today I want to discuss an idea I’ve been thinking of for a while: books that would make the best MMOs. I’ve even mocked up some ‘log in’ screens for these potential games.

I’m assuming that most of you know what MMOs are, but if not: they are massively multiplayer online games. Think World of Warcraft… I played MMOs for years, not so much recently but in the past. I’ve tried so many of them, and a couple of them I stuck with for several years (Maple Story, Dream of Mirror Online, Grand Fantasia, Eden Eternal and Lord of the Rings Online and more recently and casually, Neverwinter). I’m even still in contact with some of my old guild mates from seven years ago (my wonderful DOMO guild <3). Most MMOs are 'sandbox' games, meaning you can choose your own path and go anywhere at any time. There is no linear story you HAVE to follow at a given time. If you want to explore or craft, or just sit around and chat to people, you can. Imagine being able to do that in one of your favourite bookish worlds…

1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

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I think this is my most wanted book to MMO – the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. You could start off the game by touring through Diagon Alley and buying all the basics you need, before heading off to Hogwarts and being sorted. The houses could work like factions do in lots of games, duels would be a form of PvP (Player versus Player combat), and each level bracket (every ten levels perhaps) would advance you a school year, for a maximum level of 70. I guess the main issue would be PvE content (Player versus Enemy), but this could be done in a similar way to the console games that were released to accompany the series – lessons provide various beasties to fight. Or they could deviate from the original series and have students ‘protecting’ areas from attacks (dungeon runs)? However, I guess the main audience of this particular MMO would not be your typical hardcore MMORPG fan, but rather lots of Potter fans wanting to finally get their chance to attend Hogwarts. Basically, if a proper Hogwarts MMO existed (Pottermore was not quite what I wanted) I would never leave my room. So, er… maybe it’s for the best?

2. A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin

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Maybe this one would be tricky, but an MMO of the series A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin would be AMAZING. I could imagine it either be an open-world fantasy game or more of a tower defense sort of game, but I’d prefer the former. You could swear allegiance to any of the major houses, which would affect where you start, who your enemies are and perhaps some ‘typical’ stats, e.g. Stark bannermen are more hardy, Lannister bannermen might have something that increases the gold they make or better mercantile skills, Baratheon bannermen could be more agile. Obviously within this world, magic classes wouldn’t fit too well as they’re pretty rare within Westeros, but all sorts of knights, warriors, rogues and archers would work. Perhaps an Elder Scrolls style ‘build your own class’, where you can choose from various skill trees.

3. The Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld

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The Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld would make a great steampunk MMO. When making a character you’d have to choose whether you want to be a Darwinist or a Clanker. As in the series, choosing Darwinist will allow you to fly and ride genetically enhanced creatures, and choosing Clanker will allow you access to machines like Walkers. I guess the majority of this game would be PvP combat, perhaps it could be some sort of MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) on a huge scale. I imagine classes would matter less than the machines or creatures you use. And then I could finally have my own perspicacious loris!

4. The Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett

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The Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett would work quite well as a tower-defense (or rather village-defense) game, in my opinion. Successfully defending hamlets, villages, towns and cities from demon attacks would grant experience, and the bigger the place you’re defending, the more you earn. Or for the really brave, there could be a ‘wilderness mode’ where you just go out and fight, with a small ward circle to help you, and it would be pretty perfect for guild fights. Perhaps there could even be a mode where you fight as a demon, like the PvP in Lord of the Rings Online where you fight as an orc or Uruk. As you level up you could learn different wards, and of course the series already has loads of different types of demons, some more challenging to fight than others.

There’s one other book I would nominate, my favourite book EVER, but it already has an MMO, and I played it for several years…

The Lord of the Rings Online

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Yep, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantastic The Lord of the Rings has an MMO, and it’s pretty astounding. I played it for 2-3 years but stopped because I’d made my way through all of the content too many times, and got a little bored with it. However, don’t let that put you off! Lord of the Rings Online is quite literally packed with tiny little details and references, the developers are clearly huge fans of Tolkien and have included so many things you won’t notice unless you look. You can find Gandalf’s rune carved into a rock on Weathertop, the stone trolls in the Trollshaws, buy a hobbit house (or elf, dwarf or man if you prefer), climb the flets of Lothlorien, sit and drink in the Green Dragon or the Prancing Pony (and many many other pubs), meet so many characters from the book including Tom Bombadil (his house is a beacon of hope in that HORRIBLE Old Forest map that is an actual maze). There’s a guide to hidden gems within the game, and I know there’s a thread on the forum somewhere where players have submitted all the wonderful lore references they’ve found, but I can’t seem to find the thread!

Oh, and that’s my hobbit hunter Isolde Bumblefoot above – I got her to level 85 before quitting. I also had a level 85 minstrel called Rinn Reede (har har har) who caused heart attacks during raids. Healing is TERRIFYING but also exhilarating. I had characters from most classes, but those were my two main ones.

What bookish worlds would you like to explore in an MMO? What do you think of my choices – do you have any suggestions on how they could work?

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #7: My Favourite Fantasy Video Games

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Fantasy Friday is my own feature, posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post! Thank you to Kritika, who participated in the last Fantasy Friday!

Today I want to talk about: my favourite fantasy video games.

Along with reading, gaming is another one of my big hobbies (and a major time suck!). As you can see from my Steam profile, I have way too many unfinished games. But those I actually have finished – well they were definitely worth my time, and probably yours too. So I’d like to share with you today some of the best fantasy themed video games that I’ve played. This also ties in nicely with another video game themed post I have planned for next week, and another one that me and the lovely Paola are writing together. Oh, and just a note: there will be no Final Fantasy on this list. I’ve never gotten along with that particular series… So without further ado:

The Dragon Age series

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Platform: PC & Mac, XBox 360, Playstation 3

I won’t say much about these games, because Paola and I will be discussing them soon. In fact I’ll say nothing. Apart from they’re amazing. And you should play them. Also that’s my Warden above!

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

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Platform: Nintendo Gamecube

I first played this game when I was about 16, as my boyfriend at the time had just gotten a Wii, so gave me his Gamecube. This is probably the game that got me back into adventure-RPGs again – it is absolutely beautiful with its cell-shaded graphics and fantastic soundtrack composed by Koji Kondo. Don’t let the word RPG put you off though – that side of this particular game is very simplified. It’s so fun just to be able to sail around the seas, discover hidden islands and collect ALL THE THINGS!

Tales of Symphonia

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Platform: Nintendo Gamecube

The first big RPG that I ACTUALLY finished, Tales of Symphonia is one of my absolute favourite games ever. An incredibly detailed and at some times complex Japanese RPG, it hosted a whole array of varied characters including my first video game crush: Kratos Aurion.

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I have a thing for redheads, okay?! And his voice is beautiful… But, ahem. Another favourite character is Sheena Fujibayashi, a warrior with a tough exterior, but a sad past. She’s also voiced by Jennifer Hale, the same actress who provides the voice of female Commander Shepard in Mass Effect, which equals awesome. My usual team consisted of Lloyd (the main protagonist), Kratos (where I could use him), Raine and either Sheena or Presea. Sorry to all the other characters but… just no. Regal was the most useless, I found. There is also a sequel for the Wii, which I own but haven’t finished. It just doesn’t compare to the first!

The Elder Scrolls series

Platform: PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3

If you haven’t heard of the Elder Scrolls series, I would be quite shocked. Sprawling, open-ended RPGs, they are incredibly detailed and allow the player to do exactly as they want, when they want. One aspect I really love about games is if they have a sandbox quality to them, meaning the world is open and completely free for the player to explore: and the Elder Scrolls games definitely are. You can build your character as you want – pick a couple of skills and specialise in them, or work on all the different weapon and armour types, as well as magic. If you wanted, you could even just become a trader, gathering items in the wild and selling them on. For example, in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I collected garlic. And kept it in a display case in my castle. Because I could. Then it all disappeared – I still blame the servant. The rules are totally up to you, and quests are entirely optional. Skyrim is the only game I play with headphones in, because it’s so immersive. But more on that in next week’s post! Oh, and those are my Skyrim characters above.

Orcs Must Die! 2

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Platform: PC, XBox 360

A strategic defense game with a fantasy theme, Orcs Must Die! 2 is a perfect game to play with a friend – co-op mode is just so much fun, and it’s really satisfying to see all your traps working together to take out the evil orcs! It gets pretty challenging though, especially when the ogres and dragons decide to join together…

Lord of the Rings Online

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Platform: PC, Mac

Okay, perhaps this is no longer a favourite game of mine, I kind of tired of it. But it really is a brilliantly crafted version of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, with such an amazing attention to detail. Travel to the Trollshaws and find the stone trolls, climb to the top of Weathertop and find Gandalf’s rune carved into a rock, visit the Green Dragon for a pint – as a Tolkien nerd this game is an absolute delight, and the creators are clearly incredibly passionate about his work too. So many hidden gems! I stopped playing in about July/August 2013, and if anyone is interested I was on the Withywindle server. I had quite a few characters – Isolde (85 Hobbit Hunter), Rinn (85 Human Minstrel), Ailis (56? Human Captain), Lunathien (38 Elf Rune-keeper), Inarra (33 Hobbit Warden) and a low level Hobbit Burglar that I’ve totally forgotten the name of. Plus I had a hobbit house, which was the best thing EVER (you can see it in the screenshot above).

And the honorable mention goes to…

Bastion

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Platform: PC, Mac, XBox 360

I haven’t played that much of this one which is why it’s an honorable mention at the moment. But what I have played, I’ve really enjoyed – not to mention it’s an absolutely gorgeous game with hand-painted graphics.

Do you play video games? What are some of your favourite fantasy themed ones?

Thoughts

Thoughts #6: Video Game Novelisations

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I love video games. I’ve always played them, ever since I was a kid. My dad has always worked in IT, so we always had a PC at home. From a young age I was playing Doring Kindersley games, Mia Mouse – and Tomb Raider, Return Fire, Thief or Age of Empires.

It’s a hobby that has continued throughout the years. Some of my favourite games include the Mass Effect series, Tales of Symphonia, The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker, The Elder Scrolls IV: Skyrim, Borderlands and most recently, L.A. Noire.

       

I am, or more aptly was, a big online gamer. I’ve been playing Lord of the Rings Online on and off for two years, and have played so many different MMOs in the past. That was why I was so excited to read Ready Player One, a truly brilliant and completely geeky novel based in our future, where almost everyone escapes from their miserable real life to the online universe known as OASIS.So really, what could be better than combining two interests of mine, video games and reading?

Well, in all honesty, it hasn’t been quite the successful venture I’d hoped for.

As I wrote in my review of Mass Effect: Ascension, when the Mass Effect series finished I was pretty disappointed. If you’re a fan of the games you will understand, but if you’re not: the premise of the game series is that every choice you make has a consequence. You are essentially in charge of the path the game takes, your actions have a real effect. So when Bioware promised that there would be over sixteen different endings for Mass Effect 3, and your actions throughout the entire trilogy would affect it, fans were excited. But what we actually got was essentially three endings that were exactly the same, apart from being different colours. There was so much backlash that Bioware released a patch to improve the ending and clear up so many unanswered questions.


Genuine reactions to the game ending.

It really wasn’t enough. I was left with this need for more Mass Effect: so what better to turn to than the books?

It would have been better for me to turn to fanfiction.

I’ve read some brilliant Mass Effect fanfiction (Garrus and FemShep. I ship it. Hard.) – and I plan on covering the subject of fanfiction in a future ‘Thoughts’ post. The writing in the four Mass Effect novelisations that I devoured soon after the series ended was clunky, the plots were paper thin and so full of holes, the characters (even those fleshed out in the games themselves) flat.

And honestly, video game books, just like the film adaptations, have a pretty bad reputation. I was surprised by the average rating of a lot of the novels on Goodreads. But despite all this, despite knowing that the quality won’t be great, that the authors are most likely in it for the money and link to an established series more than a love of the series itself, I will probably read more of these. I know that I’ll read any Mass Effect book I can get my hands on – and I’m keeping my eye out for Assassin’s Creed and Skyrim adaptations too (though I’m interested to see how a Skyrim book would work, since the main character is completely your own). It’s probably for the same reason that I’ve stuck with a series like the Sookie Stackhouse novels, even when the quality has gone downhill – I have some great memories and feelings associated with the series, and through reading the books I’m hoping to get them back. Mass Effect is truly one of those games where you get really attached to certain characters – especially as you can be responsible for their deaths if you’re not careful.

However, I’m sure there are plenty of gamers out there who aren’t readers. Seeing a novelisation of their favourite game series might encourage them to pick up the book – and maybe more books after that. If a book gets someone into reading, then who cares what that book is? It doesn’t matter what they’re reading, whether it’s good or not (although that is completely a matter of opinion), what matters is that they are reading. The reverse may be true also: although you’re less likely to pick the books up if you haven’t played the relevant game, as many assume a basic knowledge of the game’s plotlines; a video game novelisation may introduce someone to the game series who would not have played it otherwise.

And now I turn to you, my dear readers: do you read video game novelisations? If so, what have you thought of the ones you have read? Are there any video games you’d love to read a novelisation of? Please leave your thoughts and comments below, I’d love to hear them!


Atlas and P-Body hugs for anyone who comments!