My ‘ramblings’ about my love of Mass Effect and why you should play these games…

For this week’s blog post I am going to ‘ramble’ about a new topic, a video game that I love called Mass Effect (ME) and its sequels. Now, for those of you not familiar, ME is a science-fiction, role-playing video game where you play as Commander Shepherd and you fight to save the galaxy from the return of the Reapers, mechanical monstrosities determined to wipe out organic life in the Universe. Clearly nice, light-hearted fare. ME spans three games and a huge amount of extra content and will eat a considerable amount of your time, if you love it like I do, and with ME the creators have produced an expansive Universe with a impressively in-depth experience and a focus on world creation and character. It’s wonderful!

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Now, I am not a particularly big video gamer. Having said that, I have owned gaming machines all my life, from a Sega Mega Drive when I was much younger, through a PC as a teenager and an Xbox and then an Xbox 360 in my twenties and thirties. My gaming history has included such classics as Sonic the Hedgehog, Command and Conquer and Halo. I now have a PS3 and will likely upgrade to either a PS4 or an Xbox One when ME4 finally arrives. I bought my current console second-hand with a ton of older, but still great, games that I have been waiting to play until after I am done with ME but it has taken a really long time to get there for there is a lot of ME to enjoy!

My ME journey started with the second game, I played it through several times and loved it. I was fortunate and did not then have to wait long for the third game to be released and I played that through as well. Then I moved back to the UK, sold my console and games, and was able to grab the three games cheap from the PS3 store, along with all of the DLC for a bargain price. So I then began the ME journey in its entirety and experienced all that these games have to offer. And it is a lot!

The first Mass Effect plays as a straight role-playing game with limited (and frankly not great) combat while the second focuses more on the combat and is a much better shooter. The third game combines all that has come before together into an incredible journey, with superb combat and an in-depth experience unlike any I have ever played. But as great as the combat in the second and third games is, you should really play ME for the characters in the universe. They are the series strength and the truly impressive thing about it. I am sure that other, more experienced gamers out there could tell me of other games that provide better combat experiences, or more immersive worlds, or could describe things that they may dislike about ME, but for me this is the one that I adored, the one who’s characters I love.

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And, as I conclude my second full play-through of ME all the way from the beginning to the end, I can see that this is the way to experience it. A case could be made that the extra content should really be considered a part of the games and sold as part of the package but then I think they are so fantastic that I don’t mind paying a little more to get them. Also, I got them all on discount, so I can’t really complain ;). But even if you had to pay more, I think they are worth the time and money. And if you’ve never played the Citadel DLC for ME3 then you are missing out on some of the finest character work that this incredible series has to offer! It’s also worth playing the games back through simply to see what happens when you make other choices to the one’s that you have previously made. Even now, on my umpteenth play through, I am still discovering things that I have not found before and this is quite remarkable. I have never played a game with as much depth and this series and I don’t know if I shall again.

One of the best, and core components, of the ME universe is the focus on character. For every hour spent in combat, you spend more time than that talking and interacting with the people who inhabit this universe. So you get to know them, you can romance them and you come to love them. I adore many of these characters from Garrus to Joker, Jack to Kaidan, Tali to Ashley and all of the rest. And there are a lot of them. But for me, the real love story in this game is between Shepherd and Liara, your Asari comrade. I didn’t know Liara well the first time I played ME, starting as I did with the second game. She makes a brief appearance, which I didn’t understand the significance of, and so when she joins your team in the third game I was unfamiliar with her and Shepherds’ history. But playing the series from beginning to end it is Shepherds love for Liara that really strikes me as the heart of the series. And both times playing the game through that is who I have chosen to romance although there are also opportunities to form relationships with others even while doing so. The relationship between female Shepherd and Thane is also an incredibly beautiful piece of storytelling that I was glad that I found.

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And there are character deaths, oh the character deaths. I think ME is the only video game where a character death has really hurt, where I can respect what the makers of the game have achieved by making me care so much for the character. A significant number of these characters can die, depending exactly how you play the game and I have cried many times when playing ME through. But I am glad that I did for I am too invested in this world and with these people to not care when they die. The game has such heart and depth and is written with such humour that I can’t help but love it. Also, if you never found the scenes in ME2 where Mordin Solus singing the songs of Gilbert and Sullivan then you need to go back and find them. They’re wonderful!

Now, I know that the ending of ME3 caused consternation among a large number of people but I never understood why. ME is a sci-fi odyssey that starts with a small scale story and builds to an all encompassing epic that ends with an invasion by a fleet of Reapers and the resulting battle. And I could see that there was only ever one way that this story would end. So when I reached the ending, and it was what I thought it would be, I merely felt a sense of closure and respect for the story-telling involved. I was also saddened that I would not be spending more time with these characters but Shepherd’s story should have an ending. We should not want to be playing this character forever, however much I would love to do so, nor should we spend every game interacting with this part of the universe. Every story should end at the best point to do so.

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In case it’s not clear from my gushing praise, I adore Mass Effect and if you are at all interested, I would recommend that you start with the second game. You should be able to grab it pretty cheaply and if you play it and you enjoy it and you want more then think about playing the other two games. ME3 is a truly incredible game and ME is worth playing if you want the full play through. And then there is the DLC if you want even more. I think it is the best video game experience I have ever had and I doubt that it will ever be bested. I honestly do not see how another series could grip me and mean more than this one has and I’m heartbroken that I have now finished what will probably be the last time I play the series through from start to finish. I will doubtless play ME3 again, once I have completed a couple of other games, but I am unlikely to play the entire trilogy and all of the DLC again. It simply takes too long to do so and instead I will now await the arrival of ME4. For it has been a very long time between the third and fourth installment but now there is only one more year to go! And I can’t wait…

 

Check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on comics, politics, self-publishing and my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ which is out now at all electronic retailers! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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Ramblings: Twitter and its uses for self-published, independent authors…

So, for my latest blog post, I want to talk about the use of Twitter, as well as other social media websites, for self-published, independent authors like myself. Now, I’ve only recently discovered what Twitter is and how it can be useful. Prior to using this website for promotional purposes I did not really see the point in it, I even mocked it. Then I changed my mind, I created a personal account and began to get involved. I followed some people I like; authors, bands, comic book creators, columnists for the newspapers I like to read, that sort of thing; and I began to see how it could be useful.

Since creating an account I have had some interesting experiences. I heard about a few events on Twitter before anywhere else. I experienced the news of the death of Terry Pratchett through this medium and saw the reaction of many people I respect. The Cecil the Lion story was in my feed before I saw it on the news. Actually, I think the only reason that this story, and many others, made the news was due to the reaction on social media. I realised that one story would often dominate my Twitter feed for the entire day as it bounced around the network and I began to see the power of this medium to influence the world around us. There were many others but that is not the point of this post. The focus is on the use (and pitfalls) of social media for self-published authors, so onwards!

Now, I am hardly an expert at the use of Twitter for promoting your work but I do feel like I have learned much from my short time using this medium. My formula is this: I send out a small number of tweets a few times a day, advertising my book, I post quotes from the novel to give a flavour of the work, I tweet out a link to my blog with a description of this week’s post, and I try to draw attention to the nice things that people have already said about my book. I am not the first person to advertise in this way but I am also quite careful. I do not tweet endlessly about my book for that would bore people very quickly indeed. I have unfollowed other writers for doing just that. I am also not looking to increase the number of people that I follow too quickly as I actually like to engage with those who choose to follow me. And it works the other way too. Were I to have millions of followers it would not be possible to engage with the majority of them but that is not a problem I currently have. Not yet, anyway 😉

On the whole, the people I have interacted with have been nice and often willing to retweet my inanity. In the first few days of having an account I was fairly obnoxious. I tweeted at a considerable number of people who had not chosen to follow me and though many ignored me some, very kindly, retweeted my advert about my new book. Eventually I realised that this was not really acceptable behaviour and I refined my formula and now I only tweet at those who have chosen to follow me. And even some of those have immediately blocked me. But I am also having fun with the medium. I have managed to get myself retweeted by some people whose work I very much admire, even if my tweets were promoting their work. Still, it is always fun when that happens.

And I’ve undoubtedly made some mistakes. I’ve waded into conversations that I should’ve left well alone and I’ve been duly rebuked. I’ve been blocked by a few people for being a bit stupid. Never for anything serious, but, for example for saying things that seemed funny in my head, but clearly did not read as such to the person receiving them. Eventually I learned that text carries no inflection or intonation and so you must be very careful with what you say. I’ve run into some very unpleasant people with views that I consider repugnant and we’ve had some interesting discussions. But so far I have yet to block anyone who has not blocked me first. I doubt this will last. I’ve also been blocked by someone I had a conversation or two with and very much liked and I have no idea why they did this. The discovery was quite perplexing and I was left wondering what I had done. Clearly they had not liked something that I had said but then that is what happens when you put your opinion out there. Others will not always agree.

I have yet to really encounter my first persistent troll and have found that the best way to end an argument is to simply stop replying. Now, this may give the person with whom you have been arguing the feeling that they have won the discussion but sometimes that is simply the price to pay to get out of a spiralling debate. And those discussions are usually worth leaving as soon as you can.

So far, to a small extent, my use of social media is working. I now have several people among my followers who have told me that they have read my book and have then given me rather lovely reviews (you can find them on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/pgjd68z). I also know of some others who are reading the book and letting me know whereabouts they are and I hope to hear their thoughts on the novel in due course. And it is a wonderful knowing that you have managed to persuade even a small number of people to read your work and knowing that somewhere out in the world people are (hopefully) enjoying the novel over which you slaved! 😉

I also recently discovered Reddit, another useful tool for those wishing to promote themselves and their work. I actually discovered it by accident when someone else posted a link to one of my blog posts. I got around 300 visits that day, far more than I had ever had in a single day before, and I so rushed to the site to work out how I could repeat the trick. This site is also not without its pitfalls but I have been able to draw more attention to my blog than I had without it so I recommend that you give it a go if you have a book or a blog to promote. It might help!

Now, I know that all of this doesn’t exactly amount to a coherent strategy but as I am making it up as I go along that is not surprising. I also don’t know if I will get the success that I wish to achieve with my novel through the use of Twitter and other social media but I know that I would not have a chance without it. Without the backing of an agent and a publishing company, independent authors will get nowhere without some means by which they can promote their work. And I feel that I am making ground and gaining traction, even if the process is slow. Really, bloody slow. Still, it’s better than nothing and without it I doubt anyone other than my friends and family would have read it. It’s an uphill struggle but for now there’s nothing I can do but keep on climbing!

 

Check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on comics, politics, self-publishing and my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ which is out now at all electronic retailers! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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Ramblings: My Current Favourite Marvel Comic Series!

So, for the past few months I have had a subscription to Marvel Unlimited and this has proven a very wise investment indeed. As a result I have enjoyed a significant number of series that I would not have otherwise read, as well as all of those that I would likely have hunted out anyway. What can I say, I’m a big fan of comics! And seeing as I’ve written a few Ramblings about which series are my favourites I thought I would continue in that vein. This post is about the best comics currently being published by Marvel. I doubt I will be able to write a similar post for either DC, Dark Horse or IDW as I do not read enough of their output to compile such a list. I love Hellboy and the associated series at Dark Horse but I can’t think of any others that I read from them and DC has published almost unrelenting bleakness since the New 52 began. I enjoy Scott Synder and Greg Capullo’s Batman, and I want to read both Stewart Cameron’s Batgirl and Tim Seeley’s Greyson, but I can’t think of any others that I currently love from that company. I also read Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye and Zombies Vs. Robots from IDW but that’s about it. And I’ll likely compile a list of my favourite Image comics series as they publish a lot of excellent material but for now onto my favourite series from Marvel.

Right, so here is the list: Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Loki: Agent of Asgard, Thor: God of Thunder, and Secret Avengers. Now, I am aware that two of these series have the word Marvel in their name and that several have either completed their runs as single issues or will shortly do so. But I don’t buy or read them as singles and there is delay on issues arriving on Unlimited. And most still have trades to be released or have just released their final book and so I will ignore that discrepancy.

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OK, so first up is Captain Marvel, written by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Christopher Sebela with art by several artists including Dexter Soy, Scott Hepburn, David Lopez and quite a few others. I have loved this series since the very first issue, through the continual relaunches, and finally to its conclusion at the start of Secret Wars. The thing that defines this series above all else is its grounding in character and the way in which the story is told with warmth and heart. I love it! I believe Captain Marvel will be relaunching sometime in the near future with a new writer and I am looking forward to reading the new take on the series. But I do not expect it to be the same and I have to say that as I read the last page of the final issue, before the series was folded into Secret Wars, I was very moved by its conclusion. I would also recommend that you check out DeConnick’s other series like Bitch Planet and Pretty Deadly. They are both highly enjoyable!

Ms Marvel

Moving on, Ms. Marvel, from the pen of G. Willow Wilson with art principally by Adrian Alphona was a surprise hit. A series about a young, Muslim girl who becomes an inhuman and then takes on the mantle of Ms. Marvel does not sound like the easiest sell to comic book fans but this series quickly found its feet and audience soon after launch and that is a good thing indeed. For it is wonderfully told with a remarkably authentic voice that combines the kick-ass approach of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with humour and wit and cultural authenticity. Kamala Khan is a fantastic superhero and the series will soon be relaunching with a new number 1. So you have no excuse for not giving it a go!

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Next up we have Loki: Agent of Asgard. Now, I have been a fan of Loki from his depiction in Journey Into Mystery, written by Keiron Gillen, through Young Avengers, also written by Mr. Gillen, and now in this series written by Al Ewing with art principally by Lee Garbett. In my opinion, Ewing has done a phenomenal job of sculpting a brilliant, literary comic that builds on all that has come before whilst keeping Loki as the mischievous scamp we know that he is (well, sort of!). This series has recently come to a conclusion with the start of Secret Wars and I have actually finished the run, but I don’t mind cheating and including it on this list. It’s well worth a read, as are Journey Into Mystery and Young Avengers, so go find them and I hope that we will see Loki return in his own series again soon!

Thor

Fourth on my list is Thor: God of Thunder. In my opinion the main Thor series has had its ups and downs since J Michael Straczynski’s seminal run and, though I enjoyed Keiron Gillen’s run (he’s on this list quite a few times, eh!), I was less impressed by Matt Fractions’ handling of the series, which was surprising given the quality of his Invincible Iron Man run. But Jason Aaron’s series since the relaunch has been nothing less than stellar. With stellar art from Esad Ribic, Ron Garney, Agustin Alessio and more recently Russell Dauterman , Aaron has built an impressive, epic story that culminated in the son of Odin losing his hammer.  And now that the son of Odin is no longer Thor, with an at-first unnamed lady wielding the hammer, the series has continued to impress.. I can’t wait to see what Aaron does next!

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Finally we have Secret Avengers in its most recent incarnation. Following on from the series’ helmed by Ed Brubaker, Warren Ellis, Nick Spencer and most recently, Rick Remender, Secret Avengers by Ales Kot is unlike any of these. Kot’s SA is brilliant and bonkers and quite hilarious, with a distinctive art style, as we follow the misadventures of Maria Hill, Hawkeye, and Phil Coulson among others. With art by Michael Walsh, Secret Avengers is laugh-out-loud funny (no, seriously!) with heart and pathos and the tragically short run, is quite fantastic. I hope Marvel collects it in a shiny hardcover, I’ll buy it!

Now, I know that I have cheated a little by having a few series that have actually finished their runs as singles, and even on Unlimited, and I think I will write another of these in a while once I’ve had a chance to read some of the series that are coming out following Secret Wars. I will also eventually compile a list of my all-time favourite series published by Marvel though it might be quite tricky to pick only five series. For now though I recommend that you read the series listed above as they are excellent and easily found by either purchasing a Marvel Unlimited subscription, which is an incredible bargain in my opinion, or by picking up the trades from either your local comics store or by borrowing them from the library. You won’t be disappointed (I hope!).

Check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on comics, politics, self-publishing and my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ which is out now at all electronic retailers! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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