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?

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #28: Why Skyrim Is The Game For YOU!

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, and is 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!

Today I want to talk about: why you (yes you!) should play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

I am, of course, assuming that if you’re reading this post, you’re a big fan of fantasy fiction. If not then – what are you doing here?! 😉 You may or may not have heard of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game released by Bethesda in 2011. It is a huge epic fantasy RPG (role playing game) that allows the player to create their own character from a range of different races and other options, and completely choose the path their character takes. Whether you’d rather play as a stealthy assassin who kills from the shadows without leaving a trace, a swordsman who is unafraid to run straight into the midst or battle or as a mage who summons the dead, shoots fireballs and heals allies – or just about anything else you could think of – you can do it on Skyrim.

And the adventure begins...
And the adventure begins…

The reason I think this game works so well for fantasy fans, regardless of whether they normally play video games or not, is because of the sheer size of the game: it feels like you are in your very own epic fantasy novel. And there is absolutely no need to rush things; all quests can be completed whenever you like (or ignored, if you wanted). You could spend hours and hours exploring the landscape and simply level up from exploring and interacting with NPCs (non-player characters). For example, you can level Speechcraft by talking to merchants, persuading people to help you out, or intimidating them – meaning you don’t actually have to level through combat. There are places where you can buy homes or even build your own from scratch. You can get married, adopt kids, and live out the rest of your Skyrim days in a manor house by the lake.

Or you could become an intrepid adventurer. Skyrim is filled to the brim with secrets, caves and endless tunnels. Forests, lakes, mountains, every kind of landscape. It is a huge place, and all completely explorable. One day, you might search ancient Dwarven ruins for treasure, and find yourself battling the mechanised constructs left there to defend from thieves. The next, you might find yourself escorting someone from one city to another, or collecting a lost item for a villager. Then it might be on to defending a town from a dragon – you’re their only hope, their only chance of survival.

Watching the sun set over Riverwood.
Watching the sunset over Riverwood.

I have sunk over 150 hours into Skyrim, and most of that just on one playthrough. The amount of stuff you can do is literally limitless. Just recently, the Special Edition was released, with improved graphics. Skyrim was already pretty gorgeous when it came out in 2011, but now it looks absolutely stunning. I’ve started playing again, just because it feels like experiencing the game all over again for the first time. And this time, instead of a hunter/assassin, I’m going for a mage character, which has completely altered how I play. I’m taking more of the story and lore in, and spending a lot of time just staring at the landscape.

A view over Whiterun.
A view over Whiterun.

You don’t have to travel alone around Skyrim. You can take a follower with you, and there are so many to choose from. As you find each city and town, you’ll discover more and more people who want to join you – maybe they’ve heard of you and your feats, or maybe they just want an adventure. Skyrim is undeniably Norse inspired. From the names to the architecture, everything has a Scandinavian feel to it – yet still feels like something from another world. When you enter Whiterun, the first city you’ll come to on your adventure, you can’t help but be awed by the sight of Dragonsreach, the Jarl’s castle, towering over the rest of the city, like the Golden Hall of Meduseld over Edoras. Or the Gildergreen, the huge tree in the centre, reminiscent of the stories of Yggdrasil. And of course Jorrvaskr, home of the Companions, which looks like it was built from a Viking ship.

In the feast hall of the Companions.
In the feast hall of the Companions.

So, fantasy fans, whether you’re a gamer or not – Skyrim might just work for you. It’s like taking the best elements from all your favourite fantasies, mixing them all up and then being thrown into the mix yourself. You craft the character, you choose the path, and you can change the world – for better or worse.

Oh, and did I mention there are dragons? 😉

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Have you ever played Skyrim? If not, would you consider trying it?

Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2016: Exploring the Universe with No Man’s Sky

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2016, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or with the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Recently, a video game called No Man’s Sky has been hitting the news a lot, and not for good reasons. When it was released in August this year, Hello Games promised that their procedurally generated universe exploration game would feature an amazing array of extras – none of which appeared in release. Things were shown in promotional videos that aren’t in the game or look totally different. And since then, they’ve even said that they might release paid DLC to provide these promised features, which should have come with the base game.

As you can understand, players are furious. The game has now received overwhelmingly negative reviews on Steam, with anyone who bought it on release day for the full price of £39.99 feeling jilted. I was one of those fools.

Now, I’m not quite as angry as some of these people. The game promises to contain a universe with 18 quintillion planets, meaning you could never explore them all. Each one is procedurally generated, with a random atmosphere, climate, landscape and different levels of flora and fauna, as well as various hazards. If you like exploring in your games, it’s pretty good – but there’s really not much else to do apart from fly around and look at stuff.

However, I thought this could be a fun experiment for Sci-Fi Month – I’d pick some planets at random that I’d not yet visited, explore them, and document my travels. I’m hoping to do this over several posts. I’ve left all the planet and system names as the defaults, which is why some of them are unpronounceable… So here we go!

Planet #1 – Ibwayar Rolingi

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I landed on this planet, in the Ulhorinbodo system, during its night cycle, and the sky was a dark turquoise colour. It actually felt pretty creepy, as I could hear the shrieks of animals, but I couldn’t see anything. It was a grassy, humid planet, covered with bodies of water – which was actually the first one I’d found of its type in all thirty or so of the planets I’d explored before this.

Before long, the sun (or maybe suns?) came up, and the sky turned a bright yellow/orange. My surroundings were instantly a lot less creepy! The vegetation was lush, dense and colourful. I found evidence of some intelligent species having been on the planet in the form of storage pods, but I still hadn’t found any creatures.

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Finally I spotted something! A very shy, spiny creature that ran whenever I got near. After that, creatures seemed to appear everywhere and luckily they were all harmless… Even this one that looks sort of like a raptor with bunny ears. I also found an arch of rare metals, but it looked almost like there was lava flowing up through it and back down.

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Soon my HUD told me that there was an incoming storm, so I thought it might be an idea to find shelter. I’d seen something pop up earlier, so flew towards it – a base, where I was able to learn some new words of an alien language, Korvak, and pick up some new technology blueprints to help me on my travels. The storms in No Man’s Sky can be lethal – freezing, acid rain, fire – whatever they are, you do NOT want to be outside when they hit.

And with that, I decided it was time to move on. I warped to the next system to see what I could find…

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Planet #2 – Linjunguangkara

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If I thought the previous planet was creepy at night, it was nothing compared to this one. Located in the Euclid system, this planet was tropical and damp, dark and creepy, creepy, creepy! I immediately landed by a base – abandoned, and taken over by… something. Some sort of alien growth, like the red weed in The War of the Worlds. As I carefully navigated the base looking for resources, I had to keep an eye out for tentacles on the ceiling that would attack me. Ergh…

This planet also had water, typical after all those planets without. But was I going in that water? Nope. Nope. I did not trust the look of ANYTHING in that water. And there were caves everywhere. But the whole planet had me creeped out and too scared to even contemplate going anywhere risky. Who knew what could be lurking in there, waiting for me?

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Nearby, I found an alien monolith, which taught me a few words in the Korvak language. Sometimes you’ll find these scattered across the landscape, always imposing and unnatural, sometimes requiring some kind of sacrifice for a gain. It did nothing to settle my unease at this planet, so I decided it was time to leave.

I’ll be back with more intergalactic adventures soon!

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!

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  • 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.

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  • 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?