Frank and Tom Are Getting Married!

If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you’ll definitely want to make sure you open this month’s edition! I’ve written an epilogue story for the This Time Forever series, imaginatively titled “This Time Forever.” It’s pretty much fluff, which is what most of the in-between stories I write for my characters are. But for as much as I wanted to revisit all the main characters from the series, I figured my readers might like to too, so I plotted a gentle arc around Frank and Tom’s wedding.

It’s a beautiful day, everyone is there, including Charlie’s daughter and grandaughter, Brian’s nephew, Tom’s long-suffering ex-girlfriend, Frank’s sister, and a few extras. The only character I’d like to have included but couldn’t come up with a reasonable excuse to was Arthur Beckwith. I still have vague plans to send him to a senior singles resort in Florida, though. (He’d be inspired by Frank’s stories of what happens with the pool floaties… or maybe not.)

So, everyone is there… except Tom. Frank, of course, is beside himself and gets everyone else involved in the search, giving me an excuse to write a chapter from everyone’s point of view. Well, just the main characters–though I did think about including Josh. I’m going to have to write a story just for him, aren’t I?

Okay, enough waffling. How do you get this piece of literary magic? Newsletter subscribers get it first–tomorrow, Tuesday, November 12, which is just about bang on a year after Renewing Forever (Frank and Tom’s book) was released. The perfect time for an epilogue story featuring their wedding, don’t you think?

I will make the story available to everyone else by the end of the year–links to be posted on this blog later in December.

Subscribe-button

 

I Can Quit At Any Time

One day last week (not sure which, it’s all a bit of a blur), I was nestled on the couch with a blanket and a couple of cats. Too tired to read and having watched enough television to numb certain parts of my brain, I was playing solitaire on my Kindle. Though it makes little sense to play a game of logic when I’m tired, I often play solitaire in the evenings. I find it just engaging enough but just bland enough to fill in the hour I should wait before surrendering to sleep. (Going to bed too early means I get up too early and that’s an unaccountably vicious cycle.)

An ad popped up for a game called Klondike and I figured what the heck, I’d download it and give it a try. It looked even more mindless than solitaire but prettier.

Related image

The game started up with lots of easy to follow instructions. Buy some chickens, plant some wheat, and chop through these bushes to reveal hidden treasures! The juxtaposition of farming and exploring didn’t really make sense to me? Nor did having to rescue people and fix someone’s boat, but the game was telling me what to do, meaning I didn’t have to think, so I went along with it.

For three hours.

Worse, I played with breakfast the following morning. Tiredly. Doggedly. I’d accepted a challenge to cut down twelve sequoias in ten hours and waiting on the energy bar to refill between each effort was killing me.

I put the game aside to get some work done and managed to write backward, meaning I ended up with fewer words on my current WIP than I started with. I edited. Cut. Didn’t replace. Then I completely messed up another project by editing the incorrect file. I save daily and every version is dated. It’s a stupid mistake to make, but I was tired. Also, I needed to make bricks to complete the dairy and to make bricks I needed mortar and to make mortar I needed cement and to make cement I needed gravel. Gravel came from crushed up rocks and I couldn’t spare the energy to mine those rocks when I’d accepted a challenge to cut down these all these trees.

I went to bed early but took my Kindle with me, and in between chapters of I Don’t Know What I’m Reading Right Now I cut down trees, collected milk and eggs, and finally repaired the crusty old sea barnacle’s ship. Off we sailed to a new land!

Related image

It was kind of embarrassing to be caught playing the game by my husband when he returned to the house on Friday afternoon—after having seen me playing it at breakfast. I did take pains to point out that I’d not only written a full chapter, but had fixed my editing snafu, done all the laundry, mowed the lawn, cleaned two bathrooms, mopped and swept everything, and tidied another corner of our daughter’s bedroom. (She’s away at college and reclaiming that room is something like accepting a challenge to fell three hundred trees. The dust, omg, the dust. And the old plates under the bed. And the shoeboxes full of things. But that’s another blog post.)

We went out to see a movie and as I watched, I prepared strategies for optimizing my energy use in the game. To my credit, I didn’t campaign to return home early in order to complete another challenge by the deadline instead of getting dinner out. I Like pho. I am also an experienced gamer, after all. I’m used to not getting every achievement.

I’m not used to being able to take my games to bed with me. I Klondiked into the wee hours, even going so far as to log in and check my energy bar, mine a few things, and queue up some production (can you believe it takes twenty minutes to grow strawberries? I can clear a field of wheat in just three) after visiting the loo at two in the morning. I know. I KNOW.

At breakfast on Saturday, I told my husband, “I can quit at any time!”

We both laughed.

On Saturday afternoon, he surprised me with a plan to visit the corn maze we both loved and visited every year, with maybe dinner out afterward. The deadline for mining quartz would expire while we were out, but I couldn’t say no, could I?

I told myself I wouldn’t take my tablet to bed, but my current book was on it, so I sort of had to. Right? Right! I flipped tabs between Klondike and the book for about twenty minutes before giving up on reading and just farming. Mining. Manufacturing. Browsing upcoming challenges. I dreamed of farming and mining and manufacturing, and the weird little candy swap game you play to get more energy.

When I woke up on Sunday, I took my tablet downstairs, deleted the game, and read my book for an hour.

I didn’t even hesitate, even though I wasn’t quite aware of having made a conscious decision to delete the game (without even opening it). The evening before, I’d completed a five-day challenge and received a reward and a promise that the reward would be even bigger when I got to the twenty-day mark. I really wanted to see what that reward would be! But on Sunday morning, I didn’t care. Likely, it would have been just enough energy to complete roughly twenty percent of the next mining/farming/manufacturing challenge and no more. It would have been enough XP to take me to the next level and another host of challenges. More lands, more people who inexplicably needed rescuing, and maybe this time we’d be looking for mustard pots for the mustard pot set which I could exchange for hot dogs and I don’t know what the hot dogs would have done for me, but I’d probably hope they were for energy.

I enjoyed Sunday. I played Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and Borderlands 3. I watched a movie and saw the whole thing because I didn’t have my tablet with me, or a reason not to pay attention. I went out to lunch with friends and didn’t check the time once. I cooked dinner when I got home. (Okay, yes, we’d been eating canned soup and banana and peanut butter sandwiches, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have lasted forever!)

Not once did I miss Klondike. I haven’t even played solitaire since. But I have been thinking about what it is about games that grab and hold our attention and why some games keep me and others don’t.

The first time I stayed up all night playing a game was Sim City in 199-something. I stayed glued to the PC for thirty-six hours muttering, “One more year. Just one more year.”

My propensity for mindless additions probably goes back as Asteroids, though. We had an Atari and if my dad wanted me to do anything on a Saturday, he’d have to pull the plug at the wall socket. I can still remember the shock of having that happen. The blank screen and not having anywhere to direct all the energy pent up in my entire body as I leaned forward over the joystick.

I call myself a recovering WoW addict. I played for five years, taking a break of three months only to get lost in Civ V. I never played any of those games through the night, though. I had a child by then and I was pretty fierce about putting family time before game time. I sacrificed other hobbies to the gaming gods in those years, reading very little and falling way behind on popular TV.

I never went back to World of Warcraft, even when my husband did. Once I quit, I stayed quit. I still play Sim City and The Sims often enough, but it’s usually when I’m looking for what I briefly found in Klondike. Something to do with a restless mind. An activity that swapped achievement for very little thought. No story to consider, no role to play, just a reorganizing of objects in order to reach goals. It’s no wonder I enjoy jigsaw puzzles and can often be found leaning over the same puzzle morning, noon, and night while listing all the other stuff I did that day to anyone who looks at me sideways.

There is a need for these types of activities—the sorts of games that challenge only just enough to entice, but let you win pretty easily. Because you’re tired and you really want enough points to build a cottage by the sea. (Also, you need more workers to farm all this stuff.)

But while I’m happy to pay sixty bucks to play Assassin’s Creed, I’ve never succumbed to the lure of microtransaction in puzzle games. I know I’m going to get at least 120 hours of playtime my first time through Assassin’s Creed and that the experience will probably wow me. I love these games. I love the worlds, I love a perfect assassination! But I’m not going to spend $3.99 on a welcome pack of energy and emeralds (that can be swapped for energy) just so I can farm more wheat and collect more milk. Why? It’s only four bucks. I’ve played Klondike for close to twenty hours in five days. (I know. I KNOW!)

I think the issue is that while I enjoy both puzzling and gaming, I have certain expectations for each. A puzzle is something to occupy my mind when I’m still buzzing, but not ready to commit to something else, like sleep. More, though, puzzles don’t tell stories. What I get out of a game like Assassin’s Creed is story. It’s what I look for, too. And if I quit a game early (Andromeda, for instance), it’s usually because it’s more a list of tasks for the same old rewards than an involved narrative. There are only so many times a game can send you after wolf pelts before you’re done, and ultimately, that’s why I quit World of Warcraft as well. I got up one morning and logged in to complete my dailies and was suddenly hit with a wave of inertia. Why was I doing this? So I’d be properly equipped for the raid that night, of course. But why was I doing that? So I’d be even better equipped for the next night’s raid—and I’d have to set my alarm to get up even earlier tomorrow because I needed to fish for elementals before I did my dailies and be done by the time my daughter got up for school.

No wonder I quit.

I already have a job. Several, in fact.

And gaming, for me, has always been about losing myself in another world for a while. Kind of like reading. Somewhere to visit and return from. Not a place where I want to live. So, no more Klondiking at three in the morning for me. Not at the moment, anyway. But, hey, as long as I use a tablet to read and get tired and easily distracted, no promises. What I can guarantee, however, is that my next silly gaming addiction will probably only last about as long as this one.

At least I hope it does…

Related image

In grabbing some images for the game (from the Klondike website), I discovered I could download it on PC. And that there were twelve maps, meaning eleven I hadn’t visited. I’ll admit I was tempted.

So far, I have resisted. I really want to finish my current WIP. Also, I can only eat so many peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

 

First Contact

The Chaos Station website has a page of extras that includes playlists, excerpts, interviews, trivia, and cut scenes from the series. Some of the links have expired, though, due to the sad disappearance of many review blogs. Because I dislike the idea of lost links, I thought I’d repost some of the missing content here, on my blog!

First up, I have an exclusive excerpt from Inversion Point, the fourth book in the series. Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t read this far in the series, reading this excerpt will spoil certain developments in both Zed’s character and his relationship with Felix.

To view a full list of excerpts and extras, visit the Chaos Station website


First Contact

Zed stood on the bridge of the Jitendra, watching the movement of ships milling near the border of Species Four space. No matter how sophisticated spacefaring technology got, humanity never failed to put windows on their ships. In the case of a tiny vessel like the Chaos, the windows might be little more than glorified portholes, but they were there. Probably out of some weird human need to see where they were going. Right now, the view distracted Zed from all the bullshit careening between his temples—only part of which was nervousness about what he was about to attempt. Communication with Species Four. 

The rest of it was nonsense about Theo Paredes. 

Zed was generally a logical guy—he prided himself on his control over his emotions, control he’d earned through a ton of work, mastering himself so his troops would have complete confidence in his decisions and leadership. There was no logical reason for his hackles to rise whenever Theo looked at Flick—they were old friends. More than friends once, yeah, but… 

Just…but. It shouldn’t matter. 

And he sure as hell shouldn’t be thinking about it now. 

“Are you ready, Major?” 

He looked down at the young communications officer. Dear God, were they recruiting kids out of high school these days? Was the AEF that desperate? She looked all fresh-faced and eager—and why shouldn’t she be? The galaxy was at peace, shit was good. 

Unless, of course, he was about to find out that Species Four had been communicating a declaration of war. That would suck. 

“I’m not sure this is something you can really prepare for,” he told her, a rueful grin quirking his lips. 

Flick nudged his elbow. “I thought you were doing your meditation thing.” 

“Hmm?” 

“Looking out the window.” 

Right. Of course everyone had been watching him. Having eyes on him all the time was something he should be used to, wasn’t it? At least this crowd wasn’t getting any closer or reaching for him, trying to get a piece of him… 

Not helping. 

“I’m clear. I’m calm.” Zed repeated the mantra a few times under his breath, willing it to be true. 

“T-minus two minutes,” the communications officer announced. 

“All personnel, clear all channels. Repeat, clear all channels.” Theo’s voice rang with authority through the bridge. He wasn’t the commanding officer of the Jitendra, but he was the ranking official aboard. What he said, went—unless they found themselves in a combat situation. 

Really not helping, Zander. 

“I’m right here,” Flick murmured. “Not going anywhere.” 

Zed wanted to grab Flick’s hand, brush a kiss to his lips, but he didn’t dare do either. Not with something like ninety seconds left before the Species Four message sounded across all channels. He settled for shooting him a grin over his shoulder. “Thanks. Step back, though, okay? Just…you know. Being paranoid.” 

Flick’s brows drew low but he did as Zed asked, backing up a pace. 

“T-minus sixty seconds.” 

Silence descended on the bridge, interrupted only by the soft susurrus of officers manipulating holo interfaces. Someone shuffled their feet. Someone else coughed. 

“T-minus fifteen seconds,” the comms officer reported. “Ten, nine, eight…” 

Zed followed the count in his head. His mind was as clear as it was going to get by five. At two, he triggered the Guardian cuff, making sure it was open to all channels and frequencies—just in case part of Species Four’s message was getting lost on a previously unknown layer of communication. 

At zero, the message blared across the bridge’s speakers. Nonsense words, nonsense rhythm, all known languages mashed together into a nonsensical belch of sound. The Guardian cuff vibrated—then the nape of his neck tingled. Buzzed. 

And the bridge of the Jitendra disappeared. 

On some level, Zed knew he hadn’t moved. All the AEF officers were still there, Flick was standing less than a meter away on his left, Theo was nearby, and Elias, Ness and Qek were all hovering at the back of the room. He could not quite…sense them, but almost. His consciousness, his self, had expanded, opened. 

No sooner had he realized it than something slammed into him. A force, a presence, something that seemed to recognize him. Not physical, but—oh God, there and overpowering and he couldn’t stop it, he couldn’t stop the invasion, the flood, the massive influx of alien thoughts and feelings, concepts and ideas. 

It was like the Guardians, how they communicated. Images, layers. But where the Guardians employed restraint—and he could understand that now, they had always held back to ensure they didn’t overwhelm him—this barrage didn’t stop, it didn’t let up. It battered against him, like a spring-swollen river. He was little more than a bit of flotsam being carried away by it— 

“Zed! Get the fuck off me, he needs—” A grunt, a growl, and then a hand jerked his arm, pulling him out of his ramrod-straight posture. “Breathe, damn it!” 

The spell shattered. Zed sucked in a hard breath, as though he’d just escaped the grip of deep water. He sucked in another and another—but he couldn’t seem to get enough air, there wasn’t enough air— 


Want to read more? Inversion Point is available at your favourite online retailer!

UNIVERSAL BUY LINK

What I’ve Been Reading

Non-Fiction Edition!

I’ve never been an avid non-fiction reader. I’ve wanted to read more history and science, but my mind tends to wander in the middle of a sentence as my thoughts fly toward fictional ends. The discovery of non-fiction on audio has made a huge difference for me, however, as well as choosing the right titles. I need to be sufficiently interested, and I need to take it one chapter at a time. Using both of these approaches, I’ve managed to read more non-fiction over the past couple of years than I have in the previous forty-nine put together. Sadly, that probably also includes all the books I was supposed to read for school. Better late than never, eh? Or, is it that you’re never too old to learn something new?

Following is a sampling of the great non-fiction titles I’ve consumed this year.

37569338How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

I’ve always wanted to read more biography and memoir and How to Be a Good Creature is a great place to start because it combines really interesting facts about animals with chapters of Sy Montgomery’s life and career.

Having read a few more memoir type books since this one, I’ve been able to narrow down just what it is I like about the genre so much: the sense of possibility. Montgomery has done amazing things, but for the most part, she’s living a fairly ordinary life – even if surrounded by some of nature’s most compelling creatures. But reading about the choices she made to get where she is today gave me a sense of hope that life doesn’t have to follow a predestined path. That you can grow up to be anything you want, really. There are lucky breaks and lightning strikes, but for most of us, it’s having a dream and going after it. Putting in the work and loving it. Because it’s your dream. It’s what you want to do.

How to Be a Good Creature conveys this sense in a wonderful way, along with real-life lessons taught to the author by all of the creatures she came into contact with.

Naturally, the chapter about the octopuses was my favourite. ❤

41016100._SX318_The Coming Storm by Michael Lewis

Fascinating and terrifying.

I have an Audible subscription and one of the recent benefits I’ve come to love is the choice of two titles (usually from their Audible Originals selection) offered for free every month. Invariably, I’ll choose one of the non-fiction downloads, because they sound so damn interesting. I mentally tagged The Coming Storm “post-apocalyptic” research when I acquired it, based on a quick glance at the synopsis. When I finally loaded it up to listen, I thought it was going to be all about weather disasters.

It is and it isn’t. More, it’s a history of weather science and how tracking the weather and interpreting historical data has helped programmers develop sophisticated statistical algorithms – thus enabling more accurate weather prediction, among other things – but how our weather is changing. And how, in some instances, corporate America is monetizing this data and these changes. Information and misinformation are both worth the same, apparently.

The most entertaining chapter by far was about Kathy Sullivan, one of the first women in space. The rest of the book is pretty scary. Oh, and the Accuweather app is so gone from my phone.

40672036._SY475_Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport

Earlier this year, author Roni Loren blogged about her 30-day social media break and credited Cal Newport’s books, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World and Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World for the greater part of her amazing productivity during that time. I found her experiment truly inspiring, particularly as for the earlier part of this year, I was feeling overwhelmed by the demands on my time, and exhausted by the effort of maintaining a social media presence.

I’d had four titles release in quick succession (one a month) in the latter half of 2018, and was working my way toward the release of Purple Haze. Generally, I enjoy interacting with friends and readers on Facebook, in the few groups I’m active in and on my personal timeline. I try hard not to spam any of these places with news of my upcoming releases and have always tried to maintain a consistent activity level so that when I do talk about my books, the post isn’t a serious departure from “what Kelly posts about.” Writing is an integral part of my life, therefore it’s a part of my timeline.

I’ve always had a difficult relationship with social media, though. I often have to make myself go online and do the thing. I assumed it was because I was old and more extroverted than introverted. I like spending time with people. I also prefer to converse face-to-face, where I can read facial cues and body language. I’m often confused by the tone (or lack thereof) of text messages. Like most older people I know, I use a lot of emojis when texting, because they help intonate. That’s me grimacing and smiling and winking. Even while texting, I’m still trying to tell you with my face how I feel about this.

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World explained a lot of my difficulties with texting and my ambivalence toward the true value of social media.

(Continue reading this review on Goodreads)

42361141._SX318_Rivals! Frenemies Who Changed the World by Scott McCormick

Another Audible Original production! Seriously, if you’re an Audible subscriber, check out the monthly free offerings. There are some true gems!

This was super entertaining! I really enjoyed The Bone Wars and the rivalry between Adidas and Puma. These two stories really do illustrate the subtitle for this volume, about how these rivalries changed the world. The war between the two paleontologists Cope and Marsh often read like (sounded) like a pissing contest between preschoolers, but their rivalry led significant discoveries and a complete retooling of the way dinosaur bones were classified.

The rivalry between Puma and Addidas spawned the ENTIRE INDUSTRY OF SPORT SPONSORSHIP. Arguably, it would probably have happened anyway, but the intense competition between these two brothers stripped decades off the natural coming pairing of sports equipment manufacturers sponsoring talented athletes.

I found the other two stories (Hamilton/Burr and Elizabeth/Mary) historically interesting but not as fascinating.

13589153How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil

If you’ve read The Singularity is Near, How to Create a Mind is a good follow-up. Renowned futurist, Ray Kurzweil, refers to his previous title reasonably often and thematically, they’re similar. Kurzweil is always looking forward.

In this book, he chronicles much of the work he and others have done in exploring and understanding not only how the human brain works, but how the mind functions – as a part of the brain and as a totally separate entity. He asks the question “what is a mind” and goes on to answer it in several interesting ways.

Kurzweil’s research led him to the development of text to speech programs such as Dragon Naturally Speaking and Siri, and it’s interesting to learn how those got started and what’s actually behind the voice. He also talks a lot about Watson, the AI that won at Jeopardy.

It’s all fascinating stuff. I took lots of notes for use in an upcoming project.

27161156Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Another memoir and not something I thought I’d ever read, let alone enjoy. J.D. Vance isn’t fabulously wealthy. He hasn’t won a Nobel Prize. He’s not on TV or in the movies. He isn’t in the Guinness Book of World Records or You-Tube famous. He’s… just a guy. He’s… lived a life. It’s an interesting life, but not particularly compelling.

It’s where he came from and where he ended up that power this book, and the honest conviction of the narrative. The lucky breaks and the hard-won victories. The idea that anyone can make a go of it in this life and that circumstances don’t necessarily have to hold you back – except when they do.

Vance challenges a lot of assumptions about poor and working-class whites and the idea of upward mobility. His passion for the subject is obvious through all the research presented, but also in his tone and how, as a person, he has both changed, but not.

18154._SY475_The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage by Clifford Stoll

Fantastic! This memoir/real-life story reads like fiction and Cliff Stoll’s voice is an essential part of the narrative.

Basically, it’s the story of how Stoll tracked a hacker through various networks, collecting the evidence that led to the hacker’s identity and capture. The book was about so much more than tracing a single hacker, though. What I found to be the most troubling aspect – aside from the fact this hacker was free to roam through military networks, gaining access to sensitive data through gaping holes in the security of over thirty poorly administrated systems – was the fact no one, not the FBI, CIA, NSA, or military intelligence, really knew what to do about it. Even more troubling, few of these organizations even seemed to care. What Stoll’s story revealed was the need for an entity focused specifically on these sorts of crimes where jurisdiction and simple dollar value weren’t points of contention. Where the breach of trust or the ethical question of: do you belong here? were the only criteria required to pursue a case. And, of course, the need to properly educate system administrators on how to secure their systems. How to classify sensitive data.

The book also chronicles Stoll’s evolution from someone who was fairly apolitical into someone who gave a shit. I really enjoyed reading his thoughts and feelings about the rights and wrongs of what this hacker was doing from his own, very personal perspective.

Also, the footnote with the cookie recipe? I giggled for ten minutes afterward. And the book just wouldn’t have been the same without these frequent glimpses into Stoll’s life with his girlfriend, Martha, and roommates.

Really, a fantastic read and highly recommended to anyone with an interest in computer security, the ethics of hacking, the evolution of cybercrime, or the history of computing around Berkely, California in the eighties. The writing never gets too technical (in my opinion) and the story holds wide appeal.

Small Packages, Good Games

In between long and involved games like chapters of Assassin’s Creed and The Witcher, I really like shorter games with tighter stories that I can play through in a week or two. Especially when I don’t have a lot of time to devote to gaming. Two shorter games I played this summer that really impressed me were Watch Dogs 2 and Soma.

Watch Dogs 2

I loved playing this game. Watch Dogs 2 has the perfect balance of open-world and a directed story. I could while away a gaming session exploring a beautifully rendered San Francisco and Bay Area, stopping for coffee at a donut shop, trying on new outfits, cruising the harbor or pretending to be a part of impromptu parties and street gatherings. I could explore hidden basements and rooftops, looking for new key data and the points to spend researching it. For a day, I could be a cab driver, toting citizens around the city – or helping them catch as much air as possible by zooming up San Francisco’s many hills and launching ourselves (in the car) from the top of them. There are so many neighborhoods to explore and reasons to do so. And, you can post it all on an Instagram type feed called ScoutX.

party

Meanwhile, there’s a fairly immersive story waiting for you that ties into real-world issues by proposing that one man, Dusan Nemec, is using the tools at the disposal of his tech corporation, Blume, to gather data on network users (hypothetically, me and you) for financial gain and influence. The data is exchanged in secret deals with health insurance companies (order a pizza using the app on your phone and your health insurance premiums might just go up), home security companies (do you know who has access to your new smart home?), the local police (use and abuse of power and cooperation with local outlaw gangs), the FBI… the list goes on up the chain until the game has you believing that no data is safe from attack and abuse. It’s pretty scary and reminiscent of reality in a way that has you thinking about the trail you leave online.

I’ve always been of the opinion that if someone finds me interesting enough to trace, good luck to them. I surf recipe sites, book review sites, gaming sites, some science, a little porn, and too much social media. I’m really not that interesting. But my digital footprint could be useful in the right hands when it comes to manipulating my opinion on certain subjects, such as an election.

The point of the game is to take down Blume and the process is fairly straight forward. Get some dirt, spread it around, and invite others to roll in it with you. Of course, this gains Nemec’s attention and he’s not a friendly foe. The stakes rise far higher than I expected from this outwardly fun game, and the plot points hit harder. I came to truly care for the members of Dedsec, even though they sometimes felt a little too young and radical for my homecooked and mow it to perfection twice a week self. 

What I Loved Most

Driving. Or, more accurately, riding my Sayanora motorcycle from one end of the city, across the Golden Gate Bridge and up into the hills behind Oakland. I only killed one other motorcyclist on these trips (which I, of course, felt terrible about), and managed to limit collateral damage to a few traffic lights and several stop signs. I was much more dangerous with four wheels beneath me. Or should I say Marcus was? Marcus was much dangerous in a car. In a van, he was downright destructive. The guy was a terrible driver. 😉

I never got tired of driving across the Golden Gate Bridge or simply watching the city unfold around me. The environment is amazing and the fact you can stop off at any point and engage with it never failed to tempt me.

I also really enjoyed learning to sneak around Umeni security corps and gang members. I excelled in the art of distraction and spent most of my research points learning to sow greater chaos.

The network puzzles were awesome, except the ones that had timers attached. I actually sucked at those but managed to get through all of them, sometimes with naught but a second to spare.

And shopping. I really enjoyed shopping. In what other game can you buy and wear a donut shirt?

donutshirt

What I Didn’t Love

Not much, to be honest, though the level of violence available never stopped bothering me. For some reason, I thought hackers would be peaceable types who favored quiet takedowns or a completely hands-off method to achieving their goals. Probably naive of me.

Apparently, if you immediately freeze, Umeni Corps won’t shoot. They’ll arrest you and escort you from the premises. I never managed this feat. I was shot every time and had to replay several missions several times in order to learn the path of least resistance out of a building – until I become a more accomplished chaos engineer, that is.

I also didn’t like that it was so easy to kill people with things like, um, forklifts. The first time was an accident and I stared at my screen, completely horrified. The second time was deliberate as I learned to remotely pilot forklifts, cars, motorcycles, vans, and scissor-lifts into enemies, maiming, crushing, and killing. Bad guys. Mostly bad guys. Load up something explosive and the effect is even better. I never felt quite right about killing people, though, and opted in most cases for a melee attack that probably broke necks, but I could tell myself they were simply knocked out. You know, like in Assassin’s Creed.

Dusan Nemec was a tool. I loved his eventual takedown. So, I didn’t love him, but his character was perfectly scripted. From the man-bun and not a hair out of place face fur to his stupidly expensive track pants.

In Summary

While searching online for the reason there was so much trash blowing around the streets of San Francisco (I thought it might be a real-world effect caused by my causing too much chaos, like in Dishonored), I came across a lot of Reddit and other forum comments calling the game trash, a waste of time, and absolute garbage. I disagree. I thought the game was FUN, well-scripted, just difficult enough to be a challenge, and filled with enough activity outside the main quest to be worth the sticker price. I grabbed it on sale for less than $20 and wouldn’t have been upset to have paid the usual $50-$60.

The game ran bug-free and seamlessly on my PC, which is running a fairly old (now) Intel Core i5-4460 CPU with only 16Gb of RAM, and a GeForce GTX 970 graphics card.

I logged 40 hours of playtime and though I completed the main quest and quite a few side activities, I felt I’d barely scratched the surface of the world environment. There was a lot left to do and the main quest holds (in my opinion) substantial replay value.

Recommended!

Soma

Before playing The Evil Within, I hadn’t known horror survival was a genre. What I love about games like this is the tight, compact story, and the different style of gameplay they encourage. These aren’t necessarily “kill them first and ask questions later” kind of games. You don’t advance by learning to hold two guns (swords, machetes, flame throwers) at once. More usually, the player is presented every level with a new puzzle that encourages you to think about what you’ve already learned and apply it in a new and interesting way. Sort of like Prince of Persia, but with way less jumping.

I had forgotten everything about Soma by the time I got around to playing it, except that maybe I’d bought it on my daughter’s recommendation. I once watched a trailer for this post-apocalyptic game set under the ocean where you went from station to station in a sub, avoiding scary things. It was a top-down, 3D affair (think Diablo III) and looked pretty immersive. I forgot to add it to my wishlist, though, and never saw it again. Then my daughter started talking about a game called Soma that was post-apocalyptic and underwater. And it was on sale. So I picked it up.

Soma is eerily similar to that lost game, except that it has an FPS interface and the only sub you get your hands on breaks soon afterward because of course it does. Getting around in a sub would be too easy – and boring.

Basically, the story is that you’re this dude, Simon, and you have something wrong with your brain. The result of an accident. The game begins with you (as Simon) visiting the doctor who is going to scan your brain with the hopes of developing a treatment regimen. You go to this lab and sit in a chair and a mechanical screen lowers over your head as you engage in foreshadow-y banter with the doctor – about how Native Americans believed that cameras could capture a person’s soul. As Simon is plunged into darkness, you, the player, is, of course, thinking about what this computerized brain scan is going to capture.

When the screen lifts, you’re in a different room. It’s dark and really, really creepy, and once you figure out how to turn the lights on, it’s not much better. The room is littered with broken machinery, which has, ah, something sort of growing on it, something that at first glance is part machine, part biological – maybe – and then there are these suits.

20190801085546_1

You quickly ascertain that you’re not where you thought you were and over the course of the game, you also discover that you’re not what you thought you were. Oh, and the world has ended, and you’re basically humanity’s last hope.

What I Loved

While you’re dodging scary AF creatures that KILL YOU, the story delves more deeply into the themes of what makes us human, and thoughts about our viability and survivability as a species. All stuff I LOVE.

The voice acting is thoughtful and I really enjoyed getting to know the two main characters in the game, Simon and Catherine. I was invested in their adventure.

The creep factor is real and I jumped several times as horrors ducked around corners and crept up behind me. I further loved the fact that there is no combat option – the only way to survive the game and win all objectives is to sneak your way through the increasingly weird and depressing ruins of the Pathos station.

20190804121934_1

Oh, and there are a couple of neat twists to the story, and one or two decisions you must make that really hit quite hard.

What I Didn’t Love

The way the ending was handled. No spoilers, but initially, there was a complete sense of “well, damn.” I was depressed about how things had turned out and a little annoyed that the developers had ended the game the way they had. Tabbing out of the end game credits delivers an epilogue that is much more worthwhile, being the ending I’d expected all along. I don’t know if the first ending is a fake-out? If so, I think the segue into the second ending could have been handled a little more elegantly.

In Summary

Overall, I loved this game. I’ve raved about it to several other gamer friends and despite the small hiccup toward the end for me, I thought the story was super solid. Deeply thoughtful and compelling. The first ending does work quite well, it’s just… I like my endings a little happier.

I was hooked by the story from beginning to end and played this game in two days – which is nearly unheard of for me. I usually don’t have that sort of time to devote all at once, but also, this is a really short game. I clocked only 12 hours over the course of a single weekend.

I got this one on sale and would probably wait for a sale again rather than pay $30, but I did think the bang was worth the buck. Soma delivered a nearly flawless gaming experience and a totally immersive story. It’s easy to learn the rules, and while the story is tight, you can roam off the beaten path to explore more of the world if you want to. I can imagine the game could be replayed a couple of times, therefore revealing more clues.

Highly recommended. I’ll be looking out for more from Frictional Games.