2 Apr 2019

Review: Epic Battle Fantasy 5 (RPG)

It’s hard to review this game, for me personally, because I’ve been playing the series for so long; this a game steeped in nostalgia, with a history spanning a decade and two spin-offs. This is Matt’s magnum opus—I don’t think he will ever make a game that’s bigger than this one.

Before I carry on, if you’re considering buying this game: do it. The executive summary is that Epic Battle Fantasy 5 is a great RPG—one of the best, even. And I’ve played a lot of RPGs, let me tell you.

The remainder of what I’m going to write is intended for other players and Matt himself; it’s my experience playing this game after having played EBF3 and EBF4. I’m not a hardcore gamer in the sense that real hardcore players would consider, but with 72 achievements under my belt (and a similar number for EBF4) I’m definitely not your average casual.

Let me begin by saying that this game is huge. It’s even bigger than EBF3 and 4, which were pretty big games in their own right. I’ve spent 100 hours on this game, and—unlike other games where a player can tally 100 hours or more—EBF5 is not repetitive. Pretty much every hour you spend on this game is fighting new enemies, discovering new areas and treasure. In fact, I’m going to say that EBF5 is too big: Matt has bitten off more than he can chew, and it shows.

I don’t like the new cool-down system. While it’s appropriate for some skills that would otherwise be abused, overall it functions less effectively than the mana points system. All of the players except Lance can spam the same skills over and over, without having to worry about running out of MP. Lance, on the other hand, is crippled by the fact that most of his skills—especially his best skills—have long cool-downs. I would have preferred keeping the mana system and having shorter cool-downs on some of Lance’s skills: zero cool-downs for bullet hell/antimatter/plasma, as well as machine guns + airstrike. MOAB and Unload should have cool downs of 3 and 2 turns respectively.

The summon system, which initially didn’t exist until EBF4, has gotten better, but is still a little broken. I love the mechanism of catching foes and summoning them in later battles. However, most summons cost too many summon-points, which makes them rather ineffective in battle. It’s no fun having bosses and Cosmic Monoliths in your summon pool if you only use them once in a blue moon. To fix this, I would have the party receive summon points every turn based on their level, in addition to SP from foes. I would also make the summon pool larger, or else lower the summon cost of the stronger summons.

I do love having NoLegs as a playable character. Firstly, he’s super cute. Secondly, he’s an effective fighter; I would say the most effective after Matt. His evade often saves him from attacks that kill Natalie, Anna or Lance; he has good support skills; and good offensive skills.

Finally, let’s talk story. What I loved about EBF3 and 4 was the storyline: it was so wonderful to see the heroes join forces to take on dangerous bosses and save the world. I loved the wit, the banter, and the meta humour. EBF5 has many of the same elements, but the story is not as good as it could be. Partly, it’s because the characters don’t know each other in this game, which is just a big setback for character development. The ending fixes this to some degree, but... I would have liked it if the characters got flashbacks or hints from their past.

It’s also a setback for the worldbuilding, especially since the new character—NoLegs—doesn’t have a story of his own. Who is NoLegs? Does he have feline family? Why does he fight other cats? What made him choose Matt and his friends instead of Godcat?

Then there’s another problem: EBF5 has certain problematic themes that don’t really belong in an RPG. It’s one thing to portray Lance as an anti-hero who wants to take over the world; it’s another to depict him with Nazi paraphernalia. The previous games used the iron cross, which is definitely not the same thing as the swastika-like symbol in EBF5. He’s still lecherous towards women, but lacks the humorous, endearing qualities he possessed in EBF3.

The music, by the way, is awesome. Phyrrna has outdone herself yet again.

In conclusion, despite all the negative feedback, I still loved playing Epic Battle Fantasy 5. This is still an awesome game. There’s a gravestone, actually, near the masoleum, which says: “Here lies Epic Battle Fantasy 6, along with all those who ask about it.” But I think Matt is wrong. We do need EBF6. It certainly shouldn’t be as long as this game, but I think the series deserves one more shot. At the very least, I would like to see some of the game mechanics be fixed.

18 Mar 2019

The Necromancer, and Reedsy Discovery

Hello readers!

Once again I have been lackadaisical in keeping the Magical Realm up to date with all my doings. I will spare you the usual litany of excuses: writing a capstone, exams, et cetera. Instead I will briefly cover what’s been going on so far, and my plans for the near future.

To begin: I am still trying to get Fallen Love published. I’ve submitted to many, many agents and have scored a few near misses and close-calls, but no contract as of yet. I will persevere insofar as it is reasonable with this. If not, I will reconsider my options.

In other news, I have decided to submit the Necromancer to Reedsy Discovery. For now, the book is only available to Reedsy reviewers. The idea is to get more reviews, and reviews = exposure. The book will go live on Reedsy on the 30th April. On the day, I will write another post reminding you, my faithful readers, to go to the landing page and upvote the book!

Naturally, I will also be running a Kindle Countdown deal from April 30th to May 3rd, and any readers will be able to buy the book for cheap during that week.

Very well, that’s all for now! I will return to the Magical Realm once again, when time permits. Until then, may the stars be with you.

1 Dec 2018

I’m back

Hail readers!

I must apologise for having taken so long to return to blogging. Several things have conspired against me; I will summarise the problems briefly. Firstly, university, with its litany of papers, exams, and other work-related demands. Secondly, my photography—a new hobby that has taken up time and money, but which is, I suppose, necessary to keep my mind active and buzzing with ideas. Finally: I’m still trying to get Fallen Love published. I have therefore submitted to a number of independent publishers and agents.

I wish to return, then, to discuss my goings-on and life in general. Those of you who have followed my blog and writing adventures will be right at home; otherwise, simply read a few posts from the archive if you want to get up to speed. Additionally, I’ll add a few choice words to the connection between writing and photography—a topic I have touched upon before, but which has gained increasing importance now that I’m spending so much money and creative energy into it. Don’t worry: it’s good for my writing as well as my visual skills.

Life

There is a debate in aesthetic philosophy regarding the extent to which art is representation—or if it is representation at all. It’s a commonly held belief that fiction is inspired by life; but the word inspired can mislead here. Some things in life do inspire me, yet the link is often abstract, its origin mysterious. Then there’s the simple fact that a lot of things in life are antithetical to art: bureaucratic papers, for example, or never-ending work.

It’s unfortunate that the last few months have been more of the latter than the former. Being in my third year of university has something to do with it, as does the simple fact that I’ve not been writing seriously. It’s as if I’m living my life on autopilot: I take care of myself, do work and chores, but nothing about my actions is important. Writing gives me purpose; without it I am lost.

It does not help that I am struggling to feel enthusiastic about my courses. They are not difficult—if anything the opposite is true: they don’t challenge me enough. I don’t feel like I’m exploring new frontiers in my knowledge, or gaining valuable and skills and insight. Although courses like programming were time-consuming and sometimes frustrating, I did learn stuff.

The concept of equilibrium also has a role to play. The last two and a half years have challenged me in a number of ways, but I have now adapted to the challenges as best I can, and there have been no major departures from this equilibrium state. While this is not the same as being unchanging (there have been many changes as of late) this kind of life does nevertheless entail a certain taedium vitae.

To put it more simply: I need something new. Something wild and magical.

Photography and Writing

There are few writers who are great photographers, and photographers rarely write well; it would seem, then, that there is no connection between these two disciplines, or even that they are mutually exclusive. This, however, would be drawing a hasty conclusion. The relationship between photography and writing is complicated, but often fruitful.

Ansel Adams, the famous American landscape photographer of the last century, wrote of the importance of previsualisation: the act of imagining the image you want to make, and setting up your equipment to achieve that creative vision. The same technique applies to writing—the greatest mistake a writer can make is not having a plot, a character motive, or, most importantly, a story. A bad book is much like a snapshot; it is aimless and boring.

The real difference between photography and writing—this will, by the way, annoy some photographers—is in the gear. Frankly, photography is an expensive hobby because it demands expensive equipment. Good luck trying to shoot a puffin in flight without a good telephoto lens and a fast DSLR. (If it’s around dawn or dusk, that won’t be enough, and you’ll need to shelve a couple of grand for a super-telephoto lens.) If your subject is in low light or high dynamic range, you’re going to want an expensive camera with a large sensor. Even the price of peripherals like filters or tripods (or flashes!) can give newcomers a heart attack.

On the other hand, huge bestsellers like Harry Potter were written on a typewriter by a single mum on benefits. The difference is stark.

If you are privileged enough to be able to afford photography, though, it is a satisfying art form to work with, and generally less stressful than writing. Expectations, of course, play a role: with photography, I am content to sometimes lose a shot. Difficult light, and inclement weather (think 60mph gusts and sub-zero temperatures) all play a role.

When you’re writing at my standard, though, there is much less room for error. A typo is trivial to correct, but a cliché you missed, an awkward line of dialogue here—or a chapter that doesn’t fit into the narrative—and you’ve potentially lost an editor.

Concluding thoughts

I must abandon you once again, dear readers, for work beckons. I hope I have made my somewhat scattered thoughts clear for you. There are no guarantees as to when I will write once again on the Magical Realm, but if things go according to plan, it will be sooner rather than later.

Until then!

22 Aug 2018

Under the Stars

Hail readers!

It has been a long time since I’ve written here on the Magical Realm, for which I can only express my regret. Alas, life has a tendency to catch up on you. Moreover, I’ve had a number of things to keep me occupied and otherwise indisposed.

The first of these was university, especially my second (and last, thankfully) Spanish class, which was a mess of grammar. Then the summer holidays came; school finished, but I spent a long time on the road to Romania, fell sick to an abscess in the gums, and spent much time occupied with these foibles. Then there were tuition fees to be paid, not to mention a microeconomics paper to complete.

After all that, I followed my grandparents to the countryside, where, for a time, I had no Internet. Blogging was therefore out of the question, but I still managed to work on both Fallen Love and its sequel.

Speaking of the books, I will get onto that in a moment. Firstly: I wish to discuss my latest poem, entitled Under the Stars (for which this post is eponymous).

A New Poem

Under the Stars is slightly meta-poetic, in that it refers to a poet, but its main message concerns immortality—the immortality of being remembered, of being important to the universe in a way above and beyond the normally insignificant lives led by humans. (Hence the metaphorical allusion to the stars.)

The poem is also a warning, of sorts: those who never seek to explore the world, to understand some of its mysteries, are no better than lesser animals—the poem compares them to chickens.

I should make a few things clear about this poem is not, however. The poem does not deal with any kind of physical immortality (debatable based on the definition of physical immortality and the laws of entropy). Nor does it comment on non-physical immortality (another can of worms entirely).

With that said, read on!

Under the stars Where the Heavens shine bright
In the dark shadow of the blue night
A poet dreams
The things unknown to man.

The moon dares not show herself
For her time is not yet;
The night belongs to the darkness
To the pale blue, the faint yellow
The unseen magenta hues.

It is said
That to admire those precious points of light
For too long
Leaves mortals mad.
The vast unknown is too great to ponder.

But the poet, nay;
He is no mere mortal, is he not?
For what is immortality
But remembered epics
That live forevermore in the minds of men?

On this dark night
In this bright sky
When others sleep soundly in their beds
(Fools, so little they know!)
The poet is allowed to wonder.

What lies in yonder universe?
A man feels small
Among such wise giants.
For the stars look on,
And know humanity too very well.

Does humanity deserve
Such greatness?
The poet thinks, and wonders;
It does not surprise him, in truth.
Man no more deserves it than the chickens.

Poets, philosophers, and kings;
Men of science and learning;
Curiosity lives in them
Bright as the stars
Darker than space.

Yet they are so few:
Diamonds among a mass
Of dull coal, like stars in the great expanse
Of emptiness.
For many are incurious, and stupid.

Mortality is a curse;
Death and suffering are its arbiters
As surely the knife is to the chickens.
Blood flows, men die, turn to dust.
Nought comes of it.

The poet is right, aye.
Those who gaze at the stars
May one day hope to join them;
Those who think of meat and the earth
Are doomed to join the objects of their desire.

Such is the way of the world
Is it not?
The moon waxes and wanes
Day gives way to night, and night to dawn.
Only the stars can taste eternity.

The Struggle for Fallen Love

I come, at last, to my long and difficult journey in getting the book published. Primarily, the problem has been a lack of time and energy on my part; the simple fact of the publishing industry at present (and for the last ten years or so) is that it requires immense perseverance. It is, in some ways, a numbers game: the probability of getting represented by one agent is very low, so it requires a lot of queries—this is an inevitable outcome dictated by statistics. I’m willing to bet that the number of queried agents required to obtain representation is approximately normally distributed around a mean, but left skewed (i.e. all authors need to query 10+ agents, but some end up querying 100).

Another problem is of course simple faith—in the book, in myself as a writer. The publishing process is by its nature demoralising. So what am I to do? Soldier on, carry my cross? It would seem so.

I shall leave you now, dear readers, for I am to return to Amsterdam and still have much to do. Rest assured, however, that I will return to blogging. I aim to write another article on photography and my experiences with my first DSLR. Until then...

13 Mar 2018

The Journey Continues...

Hello readers!

I have not updated the Magical Realm for quite a long while, for which I am sorry. Winter has finally melted over into spring; the days have lengthened and the temperature has risen, albeit erratically, as is characteristic of Northern European climates. Though the seasons have changed, my progress on getting Fallen Love published remains somewhat glacial.

I queried 17 agents and received a handful of rejections, and another handful of no-replies. One agent asked to see part of the manuscript but ultimately did not go further. This is, in fact, entirely unsurprising: it is difficult to get traditionally published, and rejections are normal. However, all this has meant that I have spent the last 2 months twiddling my thumbs waiting.

Or, well, not quite: I have been working on the sequel. That will remain under wraps for now. (All I can say is, I have made surprising progress.) The focus nonetheless remains on getting a publishing contract for Fallen Love, and perhaps even a two-book deal.

To that end, I have submitted directly to two publishing houses that accept unsolicited submissions. In addition, I will resume querying for agents. Doing this simultaneously may seem strange, but considering the response time of the publishing houses (namely: months) and the fact that an agent can act on my behalf to negotiate a contract, it actually makes sense.

In other news, my life has progressed mostly uninterrupted: I have started a new semester, and have slowly adapted to my new course workload. My new 4K monitor has proven itself very helpful in writing—it renders text nicely, and lets me edit multiple documents at once (a much appreciated boon for this writer).

My usual interest in gaming has led me to try a new game, called Dota 2 (you may have heard of it). However, I soon gave up: the gameplay is far too complicated, and not particularly interesting either. SuperTuxKart and Battle for Wesnoth will continue enjoying my attention, as will the Epic Battle Fantasy series.

In any case, I must leave you, dear reader, before I ramble further. Keep an eye out on the Magical Realm for more writing-related news. Also, pay a visit to the Reviews page up top: there’s a particularly interesting novel I will be reviewing soon. Now, onto work...

25 Jan 2018

New Look, New Book

Hello readers!

I am at last getting back to you after the long pause here on the Magical Realm. I have some news for you: the most obvious is, of course, the new theme. I have redesigned the Magical Realm so that it is a) more interesting to look at (the old theme was getting a bit long in the tooth) b) works better on high resolution displays—that took some testing and c) references Fallen Love, my new novel.

Subtlety is not really thing when it comes to web design, incidentally. The fallen angel background—and the colour scheme, with its blacks, dark reds and light blue accents—are all meant to quickly convey what my blog and book are about. In that respect, I think I’ve succeeded; however, feedback is appreciated, as the current design should still be considered beta.

Speaking of Fallen Love, I have received a handful of rejections from agents, but several more have yet to reply. In truth, finding representation is a slow and sometimes difficult process—I don’t expect to get an agent on board until February at the earliest. I, and you, dear reader, must remain patient.

Instead, this post will be about two other things: a brief discussion about my Spanish course this month, and a slightly longer (but still concise) explanation into my shiny new 4K monitor!

The Monitor: An Explanation of Sharpness

To translate from the marketing jargon, a 4K monitor is a monitor with a 3840x2160 resolution: that is to say, it has 3840 pixels on the horizontal side, and 2160 on the vertical, to form a matrix of 8.4 million pixels.

This is significantly more than a more standard 1080p display (1920x1080 yielding 2.1MP in total) and quite a bit more even than a 1440 display (2560x1440, 4M pixels in total). What does this mean in practice? Well, a few things. Pixel density is one: on a 27-inch diagonal monitor, a 4K resolution results in a ‘pixel pitch’—a measure of how fine the pixels are—of 163ppi. A 1080 monitor at the same size, by comparison, has only 81.5ppi.

Diagram

The above diagram is a good representation of the phenomenon.

But what does it mean in practice? Images show much more detail, for example: I can now edit my photos and actually see all of my mistakes. If focus is not quite right, or the lens have poor sharpness, or if noise smoothing has smeared detail, or if compression has introduced artifacts; any imperfection is shown up in frightening clarity.

But the biggest difference is text. On a 1080p monitor of the same size, text would look... frankly terrible. (1080p monitors at this size should never have existed: they’re awful for any kind of desktop use.) On a higher resolution 1440p monitor, text would look bearable. On a 4K monitor, text looks... good. Almost as good as a high quality print—the key word being almost.

I will not go into all the details of font rendering and its various technical complexities right now; there are many excellent websites that cover the topic, such as Adobe’s Typekit . I will simply state that it is incredibly difficult to render sharp, clear text on any kind of LCD display—especially one that is desktop size. It’s much easier to print sharp text, and to render it on smaller screens like the ones found in phones.

The reason is ppi, as mentioned above. What we perceive as ‘sharpness’ is determined by how small the individual pixels are relative to our ability to discern them. Sharp text is achieved only when the display has a ppi greater than our eye’s maximum at the display’s typical viewing distance. The PC experts Puget Systems have a nice explanation complete with a ppi calculator: https://www.pugetsystems.com/labs/articles/Can-you-see-the-difference-with-a-4K-monitor-729/

Another variable, which I haven’t mentioned, is eyesight. Old people with low visual acuity can’t tell the difference between a 4K monitor and a lower resolution equivalent. I, however, possess the eyesight of an eagle. It’s a blessing, but also a curse: even my 4K monitor isn’t nearly good enough.

The Monitor Itself: the LG27UD69

That said, I am very happy with this monitor. It looks beautiful, for one: it has fashionable thin bezels, and a curved stand. For two, the stand supports height adjustment and tilt, and ergonomics are vital to comfortable computer use. Thirdly, contrast is good, especially with proper lighting—though the monitor still suffers from backlight bleed (a common foible with LCD screens). Finally, colour accuracy is OK; the monitor is factory calibrated.

If all of the above sounds complicated—and display technology is complicated—let’s just say that it’s a very good monitor. In fact, it’s probably the best monitor at its price point, and it’s almost as good as LCD tech gets.

I say almost, again, because there are 5K displays out there. That’s right: 14 million pixels! There are only two models on sale right now. The iMac is one (the screen is manufactured by LG, of course) and Philips makes the other.

The reason I didn’t buy the Philips, aside from price, has to do with another complicated aspect of display tech: bandwidth. A 4K monitor can’t be connected to just any computer: to run properly, it needs to be connected via the latest version of HDMI (version 2) or DisplayPort (version 1.2+). Those old VGA and DVI cables aren’t gonna cut it. In fact, I had to buy a new graphics card for my desktop; the installation took all day.

A 5K monitor can only be connected in one of two limited ways. Option 1: two DisplayPort 1.2 cables. Option 2: a single DP 1.3 cable. The former isn’t properly supported under Linux. The latter would work best, but there aren’t any DP 1.3 monitors on the market... yet.

Anyway, I’m pleased with my shiny new monitor. Below are screenshots. (Yes, I’m bragging.)

Spanish

Moving on, I am currently engaged with studying Spanish. The university requires me to study two foreign language courses as part of my degree—a requirement that I dislike intensely. Although Spanish itself is a nice enough language (indeed nicer than Dutch, and not too idiosyncratic) the teaching format just doesn’t work for me. There’s not enough time—only 4 weeks—and there’s too much emphasis on grammar and test-taking.

Still, I must do my best. Español es una lengua muy bonita! Pero no es fácil.

Final Words

This has been a long enough post, and I have conveyed much information to you. I would write more; but alas, time does not permit. My Spanish lessons demand study, and I am occupied with numerous other hassles. I can only ask, instead, that you keep an eye out on the Magical Realm. I am busy now, but there will come the day when Fallen Love will be published. Until then, keep following!

5 Jan 2018

Now it begins...

Hello readers!

There is a considerable amount of news I wish to relay today; therefore, I will start in order of importance. The first and most notable event is my completion of the second draft of Fallen Love. My new novel has been revised significantly—plot points have been simplified and streamlined, character voice has been rethought, and numerous improvements to the fluency of the writing have been made.

The second draft is what I consider to be “ready for viewing”: that is to say, it is significantly more polished than the first draft, and its overall plot structure and character arc closely resembles the final product. (Or so I hope, anyway!) It will, of course, still have to be edited: I am hoping to receive editorial guidance from the publisher who ultimately accepts it for publication. My agent may also have some changes to propose.

Speaking of agents, I have queried several. They are, of course, slow to reply—and by the nature of the modern publishing industry, most of them will reject me. That’s okay; I only need one, after all. Even Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, received 14 rejections from agents before being represented.

This is why I’ve chosen to title this post “Now it begins...” I have completed another major milestone in my journey—but the way is long. From now on in, it’s a waiting game. So to help you wait, I have updated the page named “Fallen Love” with the new blurb and revised first chapter. Enjoy! (And if you wish to give me feedback, look to the “Contact” page for ways to get in touch with me.)

In other news, I am currently in Romania for the winter holidays. I am soon to return to Amsterdam, where I shall begin learning Spanish before starting my second semester.

To be perfectly honest, this year’s first semester was not easy going. Despite my rather good grades (A, A, A- and B+) it came at a considerable personal cost—to my health especially. My frequently-melancholy self was too stressed, and too preoccupied, with the substantial number of exams, essays and papers. I even developed a minor drinking problem: thankfully, my appetite for alcohol has diminished, and I have drank only a little this holiday period.

But enough about that. I will get through this degree one way or another (it is really only a question of whether I will do well or exceptionally well).

Fallen Love is where my passion really lies–it is the product of more than a year’s work, not to mention the year and a half I spent working on its abandoned predecessor (the Ark, if you recall). There were times when I never thought I’d finish it; there were times when the rest of my life seemed too pressing, too difficult, and overwhelming.

So let me start 2018 with a promise: it’s time to have some fun and relax. Now it begins...