Friday, 26 December 2014

2014 in Review: Looking Back

Today marks the end of my week-long 2014 in Review series of posts, and as has become customary, I'll be providing a short recap of earlier posts before wrapping things off. On Monday, I revealed my favorite video games released during the year. On Tuesday, I moved on to favorite songs. This was followed by favorite albums on Wednesday. And yesterday, I shortlisted my favorite movies. Now it's time to examine the year as a whole.


2014 has been a rather turbulent year, when you consider all the news that made international headlines. I'm of course talking about everything from the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 to the missing Chibok schoolgirls. But none of that felt closer to home than the Ebola outbreak which made its way across much of West Africa. It was only after Nigeria was deemed Ebola free did the entire nation breathe a collective sigh of relief. On a positive note, the scare of an outbreak in the country did help raise awareness about the need to take cleanliness seriously.


The 2014 FIFA World Cup took place in Brazil this past summer, and 32 of the world's best football teams competed. Nigeria was of course one of those teams, but we lost unceremoniously to France in the Round of 16, after barely stumbling out of the group stages. That defeat however was nothing compared to the 7-1 defeat suffered by Brazil during their semi-final match with Germany. The Brazilian defense seemed to go up in smoke as 4 goals were conceded in the span of 6 minutes. Germany would eventually go on to win the tournament, claiming their 4th World Cup title.


This time last year, I can honestly tell you that I didn't know the difference between doing squats and doing a plank. I'd never given my personal fitness any kind of consideration beyond a rudimentary desire to not get winded every time I encountered a flight of stairs. But I have come to reconsider my stance following a health-related revelation. Now, I am actively doing everything I can to ensure that I stay fit and healthy, at least long enough to fulfill the purpose for which I have been placed here.

It's funny how when you pause to think about your own mortality, you come to realize just how insignificant some of the things you've placed importance on truly are. Everything from the relationships you think you have built, to the goals you've set for yourself and the plans you've put into place, none of that matters when you're too busy rotting in a hole in the ground somewhere. Sounds harsh, I know, but truer words have never been spoken.

The important thing here is to take each day like the present it truly is. So live life to the fullest and love endlessly.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

2014 in Review: Favorite Movies

Noah



2014 was a strong year for faith-based movies, with films like Heaven is Real, Son of God, and most recently Exodus: Gods and Kings all making an impact at the global box office. But the one faith-based movie I was most excited about was Darren Aronofsky's Noah. Loosely based on the biblical account of the great deluge, the movie was a visual spectacle with great acting, and despite some significant deviations, still managed to retain the core message of its source material.

Edge of Tomorrow



Groundhogs Day meets Starship Troopers in this trippy science-fiction movie about an untrained soldier who is forced to relive the same unwinnable battle with a formidable alien foe, over and over again. Tom Cruise stars alongside Emily Blunt, neither of whom are strangers to sci-fi movie roles. The movie strikes a delicate balance between grave and lighthearted, which helps make its gruesome battles that much more palatable.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier



Easily one of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies till date, Captain America: The Winter Solider proves that a comic book adaptation can be handled with style and sophistication. Rather than take a more traditional approach, directors Anthony and Joe Russo decided to present the movie in the style of a 1970s conspiracy thriller, and the decision pays off, marking perhaps the best received entry in the MCU.

The Lego Movie



I'd spent a significant amount of my early childhood playing with legos, which might help explain why I was immediately drawn towards The Lego Movie. And there is a certain charm to the toyline's beautifully-animated big-screen debut. The movie was written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the comedic geniuses behind 2009's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the recent Jump Street movies.

Guardians of the Galaxy



Of all the MCU movies released thus far, Guardians of the Galaxy has come the closest to matching the tone of 2012's The Avengers. That said, the movie does require even more tolerance for the latter's comic nature. Most of that can be attributed to its cast of oddball characters, which include what is effectively a humanoid tree and a talking raccoon. Except the movie succeeds on so many levels that it takes these previously unknown characters, and makes them into household names.

Snowpiercer



Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic tale about a futuristic Noah's Ark. In this future, majority of the Earth's population have been wiped out by a self-inflicted ice age, and the handful of survivors take shelter in the titular train, where they are governed by a class-based system. Originally released in 2013, the movie stars Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Octavia Spencer, and it was directed by South Korean filmmaker, Bong Joon-ho.

X-Men: Days of Future Past



Timelines collide in X-Men: Days of Future Past, the latest installment in the superhero franchise that ties together the original trilogy with the 2011 reboot, X-Men: First Class. And once again, the movie centers upon Wolverine, who is sent back in time to prevent an event in 1973 that would alter the fate of all mutants. But for me, it was Quicksilver's brief appearance that stole the show, which culminated in one of the franchise's most visually-stunning action sequences.

The Maze Runner



In a year crowded with big-screen adaptations of young adult novels like Divergent and Mockingjay, The Maze Runner comes out on top as a smartly-executed introduction to a world we feel we've all seen before. What sets it apart from the aforementioned properties is its darker tone, as I remember feeling genuine dread the first time Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) steps into the maze. The movie is further helped by a competent cast and a well-written script.

The Raid 2



How do you make a sequel to one of the biggest and boldest martial arts films in recent years? By going even bigger and bolder, which is precisely what director Gareth Evans does with The Raid 2. The fight scenes are so tightly choreographed that you can almost feel the impact of every single blow. The script on the other hand has been beefed up and expanded, resulting in the movie's two hour thirty minutes running time.

Gone Girl



I usually make a point of reading the book before seeing the movie, which was why I finally read Gone Girl a few months ago. And boy was I blown away by the book's unlikely turn of events. But even that couldn't prepare me for the sheer suspense of watching those events play out on the big screen. The movie is a definite contender for next year's Academy Awards, and I foresee a best actress nod for Rosamond Pike and a best adapted screenplay nomination for Gillian Flynn, at the very least.

And the winner is...

Snowpiercer



Yes. That's right. My favorite movie for 2014 is a South Korean movie that actually came out more than a year ago. How this science-fiction gem managed to elude me for that long is anybody's guess. But of all the movies I have shortlisted, no other one has left as much of a lasting impression. Was it the premise of a world frozen over and the survivors confined to a single train that won me over? Or the hard-hitting violence? Or Tilda Swinton's portrayal of the villainous Mason? Whatever it was, it is clear that Snowpiercer has become one of my favorite science-fiction movies of all time.

P.S: Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

2014 in Review: Favorite Albums


The Chain Gang of 1974 - Daydream Forever




Indie rock meets electronic music once again in this record by the one man band, The Chain Gang of 1974. That one man in this case is none other than Kamtin Mohager, touring bassist for the duo known as 3OH!3. His song, Sleepwalking, received a significant boost in popularity after it was featured in the best-selling video game, Grand Theft Auto V. Other highlights include Witch, Mouth and Death Metal Punk.

Porter Robinson - Worlds



With his debut album Worlds, the American EDM artist, Porter Robinson, wanted to showcase his love of Japanese culture, and that love is readily apparent in tracks like Flicker and Fellow Feeling. But even more than that, he wanted to showcase a freedom to express himself through music that didn't feel shackled by genre conventions. And he succeeds beautifully, by creating a sonic soundscape that sometimes went from epic to glitched out within the span of a single track. Other highlights include Sad Machine, Hear the Bells and Lionhearted.

Various Artists - Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1



Guardians of the Galaxy was a movie that was defined as much by its music as it was by its borderline-slapstick nature. And the associated soundtrack did indeed live up to its "Awesome Mix" moniker, containing one of the best compilation records of classics and oldies to be heard all year. Highlights include Hooked on a Feeling, Come and Get Your Love, Escape (The Pina Colada Song) and O-O-H Child.

Maroon 5 - V



For their fifth record since 2002's Songs About Jane, the Adam Levine-led band, Maroon 5, chose to continue its recent foray into adult-contemporary pop music, in favor of the more soulful jazz sound of their earlier records. Thankfully, this has led them to create even more earworm goodness to add to their portfolio of recent hits. Highlights include Maps, Animals and Feelings.

Coldplay - Ghost Stories



The recent breakup of Coldplay's lead vocalist Chris Martin from long-time partner Gwyneth Paltrow serves as inspiration on Ghost Stories. While not considered a concept album in the true sense of the word, the album does explore the full spectrum of emotions associated with breakups, as well as boasting contributions from producers like Paul Epworth, Timbaland and Tim Berling. Highlights include Magic, True Love, Another's Arms and A Sky Full of Stars.

Taylor Swift - 1989



Taylor Swift had been releasing songs that were increasingly pop-oriented in recent years, but it was in 2014 that she finally embraced the genre's mass appeal with 1989. The album serves as a tribute to the music of the 80s, the decade of her birth, a theme that has been done to death in recent years by artists like Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga. But in terms of what the record set out to achieve, 1989 easily ranks amongst the best of the best. Highlights include Shake It Off, Blank Space, Style and Bad Blood

Chris Brown - X



Chris Brown's 2014 album X serves as a much welcomed return to form, following his critically-panned 2012 album, Fortune. On X, he once again explores a range of styles that has come to be associated with his brand of contemporary R&B. It also contains high-profile collaborations with the likes of Akon, Brandy, Kendrick Lamar, Jhene Aiko, R. Kelly and the late Aaliyah. Highlights include Loyal, New Flame, Add Me In, Autumn Leaves and Drunk Texting.

5 Seconds of Summer - 5 Seconds of Summer



5 Seconds of Summer have come a long way since their days of posting covers on YouTube. They've proven that they aren't just a bunch of fresh-faced teenagers, but living, breathing musicians with (dare I say it) actual talent. And the vehicle for that all-important distinction was the successful release of their self-titled debut album. Highlights include She Looks So Perfect, Heartbreak Girl, English Love Affair and Amnesia.

Take That - III



III marks the first album from British boy band, Take That, since the group recently became a threesome following the departure of Jason Orange. It taps into the stylistic trappings of the bands previous reunion album with Robbie Williams (Progress), and its follow-up EP (Progressed), while also retaining facets of the sound the band has come to be known for over the past decade or so. Highlights include Higher Than Higher, I Like It and Into The Wild.

Robbie Williams - Under the Radar Vol. 1


Not to be undone by his former boy band's moment in the sun, Robbie Williams "pulled a Beyonce" by announcing and subsequently self-releasing an album of previously recorded songs, with no prior promotional effort. And what better way to do that than on the very same day the Take That album was scheduled to launch. Highlights include Climb On, The Cure, The Pilot and National Treasure.

And the winner is...

Taylor Swift - 1989



Long before its highly-anticipated release, Taylor Swift's 1989 had been heavily promoted as her first full-on pop record. So it was no surprise when the album debuted with around 1.3 million copies sold in its first week alone. I mean, very few artists in the industry right now could command such figures, especially at a time when album sales in general have been low and continue to dwindle. But it was the fact that the album not only met expectations, but exceeded them in every conceivable way, that makes 1989 my favorite album for 2014.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

2014 in Review: Favorite Songs

Röyksopp & Robyn - Do It Again



There is something undeniably electrifying about the way Do It Again jumps out at you, and that level of energy is sustained throughout the club banger's 5-minutes-and-something-seconds length. Perhaps this has something to do with the song's placement on the collaborative EP of the same name, making it stand out between the record's more somber tracks.

MAGIC! - Rude



The first time I heard MAGIC!, I couldn't help thinking about UB40. After all, both bands share a similar sound rooted in reggae music. And just like the latter's hit single Can't Stop Falling in Love, Rude is a song that never seems to get old, no matter how many times you've listened to it.

5 Seconds of Summer - She Looks So Perfect



Whoever said punk rock was dead needs to be shot. Or at the very least, made to listen to 5 Seconds of Summer. The Australian band was brought to the limelight through the help of fellow teenagers, One Direction, but didn't find their current level of mainstream success until the release of their international debut single, She Looks So Perfect.

Porter Robinson - Lionhearted (feat. Urban Cone)



Drawing more influence from synth pop and indie rock than the electronic sound for which he was already known, Lionhearted marked a significant shift in style for American EDM artist, Porter Robinson. But it somehow manages to retain the essence of past singles like Language, resulting in a song that is sure to please fans, and at the same time grow his existing fan base.

Liquideep - Rise Again (feat. Gregor Salto)



The South African dynamic duo Liquideep have scored yet another hit, with the perfectly crafted House-influenced sound they've come to be associated with. Rise Again is a song built around growing synths and a feel-good message about picking yourself up from the ground when the world knocks you down.

Lana Del Rey - West Coast



I've never been a fan of Lana Del Rey. But you don't need to be one to appreciate her sultry vocals and the otherworldly melodies on West Coast. This is bolstered by the production efforts of Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who was instrumental in helping the song attain its unique blend of pop and surf rock.

And the winner is...

Porter Robinson - Lionhearted (feat. Urban Cone)


As crowded as the EDM scene might seem sometimes, some artists still manage to stand out and make a name for themselves. More often than not, this is usually due to said artist managing to score a runaway hit single that resonates with party goers the world over. But it is much rarer for that artist to find that success through the strength of their work alone. Such is the case with Porter Robinson, whose song Lionhearted is my ultimate feel-good song of 2014.

Monday, 22 December 2014

2014 in Review: Favorite Games

My week-long 2014 in Review series of posts begin today, and in keeping with my theme for this year's Blogging from A-Z Challenge, I'll be kicking things off with a rundown of my favorite video games released during the year. I've got this soft spot for graphic adventure games and the independent game studios that make them, so don't expect to see many big-name, AAA titles like Call of Duty on this list.

That said, I think we can unanimously agree that 2014 was a great year for video games in general, albeit nowhere near as great as 2004, or the Holy Grail that was 1998. We had current-gen remasters of the two biggest games from 2013, Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of US, not to mention new IPs like Titanfall, Shadow of Modor and Sunset Overdrive. But what follows is my list of personal favorites, which as you of course know does not necessarily mean the best or most praise-worthy games. Got it? Great. Let's go.

The Walking Dead: Season Two



Season Two of TellTale Games' The Walking Dead was launched in December last year, and I remember feeling equal parts dread and elation the first time I'd learnt that players would be taking control of Clementine this time around. I mean, she was just a little girl and Telltale Games had garnered a reputation (by the end of Season One) for putting their protagonists through all manner of physical and emotional trauma. And they did indeed push the boundaries during the course of the season's five episodes, by presenting players with difficult choices that sometimes meant the difference between life and death.

The Wolf Among Us



Also launched by TellTale Games in 2013, The Wolf Among Us was a five-part, episodic game series based on the DC Comics series, Fables, which was itself based on classic fairy tales like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. It was a modern day re-imagining of sorts, with the aforementioned characters taking up residence in a rundown New York City borough known as Fabletown. Players took control of Sheriff Bigby (AKA The Big Bad Wolf), as he investigates a series of grisly murders that threaten the lives of the people he's been charged to protect. The game serves as a prequel to the comic books, with a noir inspired art style that captures the look and feel of that medium perfectly.


Broken Age: Act I



In 2012, Tim Schafer and his team of developers at Double Fine Productions made Kickstarter history when their project became one of the largest crowdfunding successes, raising more than $3.3 million against an original goal of $400,000. So needless to say, expectations were high on what was then dubbed Double Fine Adventure. The studio's decision to release the game in two parts was met with some backlash, especially after it was also revealed that the project had gone over budget, and was at a risk of running out of money (most of which had been spent on recruiting big name voice actors like Elijah Wood and Jack Black). But the studio soldiered on with its plan to use sales of the first part to complete funding of the second, and so Broken Age: Act I was released early in the year. It was one of the most beautiful graphic adventures to be released in years, and one that was easily elevated to the ranks of Full Throttle and Grim Fandango as one of Tim Schafer's finest.


Child of Light



Very rarely do you see a big-name studio like Ubisoft (Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia) releasing something that looks like it belongs in the portfolio of an independent game studio. But that is precisely what they did with Child of Light, a 2D side-scroller/RPG hybrid with surprising depth and a heart-wrenching story told in the form of rhymes. Players control a young girl named Aurora, who at the start of the game is seen dying on her deathbed, only to awaken in a magical world. That world is presented in a beautiful art style, and it is plagued by dark creatures big and small. The game also boasts a turn-based combat system reminiscent of the one seen in Square Enix RPGs of yesteryear.

Shovel Knight



Shovel Knight is yet another crowdfunded video game developed by an independent game studio to surface this past year. The game was heavily influenced by 2D platform games of the NES era, which is readily apparent from its 8-bit graphics and chiptune soundtrack. But its appeal didn't lie in its look and sound alone, but in its difficulty and its expertly crafted platforming gameplay and boss battles. It was released to near universal acclaim, and is presently a Game of the Year contender at numerous video game review websites.

And the winner is...

The Walking Dead: Season Two




While the culmination of the second season of The Walking Dead could be considered not quite as poignant as season one's heart-wrenching climax, the overall journey that took us there was rife with its fair share of watershed moments. The fact that we are allowed to shape Clementine into the young heroine that she eventually becomes makes her story feel even more personal than Lee's. The game also has multiple endings, with each one positioned to influence events in future episodes. Indeed, 2015 looks bright for fans of Telltale Games, with the recent launches of Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones doing so well, not to mention a third season of The Walking Dead already in the works.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

IWSG: Guide To Publishing and Beyond



It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group to share their writerly insecurities. The group was started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, and those interested in joining in can visit www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com for more information.

This year's NaNoWriMo has come and gone. I knew from the very beginning that I might not find the free time to commit to taking part in the challenge. But I also didn't want to skip out on the challenge completely, which was why I'd decided to write without trying to hit any particular sort of word-count goal.

For those wondering just how many words I did manage to write though, I haven't exactly tallied up an exact word count, but I would say I managed to write somewhere around 10,000 words. That is nowhere near the 50,000-word goal, I know, but hey, those are 10,000 words I probably wouldn't have written otherwise.



In other IWSG-related news, the IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond ebook, a guidebook for veteran and aspiring writers alike, is out now and available for download. You can pick it up from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Smashwords. I just snagged my copy from Smashwords, and can't wait to read contributions by other members of the IWSG.

Have you snagged your free copy yet? And if not, then what are you waiting for!?

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

IWSG: NaNoWriMo 2014



It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group to share their writerly insecurities. The group was started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, and those interested in joining in can visit www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com for more information.

NaNoWriMo is here again, the annual writing challenge where participants attempt to write 50,000 words of a new novel in 30 days. Last year, I took part in the challenge, but fell (WAY) short of the 50,000-word goal. This was due to work and life in general getting in the way. So this year, I've decided to take a pass on the challenge. Well, sorta...

I am presently taking a leaf from Tony Laplume's book; I am channeling the spirit of NaNoWriMo by writing along with other participants, but doing so from the sidelines, and without following any of the rules. I don't have any particular word count goal in mind. My only goal is to write as many words as I comfortably can, and to bring my book that much closer to completion.

This approach proved successful for Tony last year, so I am hoping to replicate that success somewhat, without aiming to do so, if that makes any sense. By my estimate, I would say I have put down a few thousand words, which is already more words than I'd written in the past couple of months put together.

Is there anyone else out there doing NaNo from the sidelines?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

IWSG: Staying Up-to-Date



It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group to share their writerly insecurities. The group was started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, and those interested in joining in can visit www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com for more information.

Last month, the IWSG celebrated its three-year anniversary, and members were asked to contribute between 200 and 1000 words to The IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond, a guidebook for writers. At the time, I wasn't too sure I had anything worth contributing. But following some comments stating otherwise, I have decided to put down a few words.

********

Title: List of websites with information on Digital Publishing
Category: Publishing
Bio: Michael Abayomi, author of the epic fantasy series, Guardians & The Lost Paradise
Permission: I hereby give permission for this post to be used in the IWSG guidebook.

Since the advent of the ebook revolution, the publishing industry has faced more challenges than at any other time in its history. The big publishing houses and small presses alike have been forced to reevaluate their place in the supply chain between readers and writers.

Writers can now choose to bypass the so-called gatekeepers of traditional publishing, by self-publishing their books through platforms like Amazon’s KDP, or by having those books distributed to several platforms at a time by an e-distributor like Smashwords.

But there is a tradeoff; choosing to self-publish your book means that its success rests upon your shoulders alone. You would not only need to write the book, but ensure that it is properly edited, proofread and marketed too. Some of these activities, like editing and book cover design, can be outsourced to skilled professionals, but the chance remains that you would need to address the issue of marketing, to ensure that your book reaches its audience.

The digital publishing marketplace is constantly evolving. What might seem like a surefire way for you to reach readers today might not be so sure tomorrow. As a result, there is a need to keep informed about the latest developments and marketing strategies. What follows is a list of my favorite blogs and forums for staying up-to-date about such changes:

A Newbies Guide to Publishing
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com

Let’s Get Digital
http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com

Kboards Writers’ Café
http://www.kboards.com/index.php?board=60.0

Nathan Bransford
http://blog.nathanbransford.com

Dean Wesley Smith
http://www.deanwesleysmith.com

These websites cover more than just marketing strategies; they include information on just about everything you need to know about writing and publishing. They also serve as great places to connect with fellow writers, much like the IWSG. And although writing can be considered a solitary affair, it is these writers’ communities that make us feel less alone.

 ********

So, there you have it, my contribution for The IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond, and just shy of the 300 word limit too. I hope it makes the cut and that, most importantly, it proves helpful to those that read it. Now, to the rest of you, have you visited any of the sites on my list? Also, what other sites would you include if you were making a list of your own?

Monday, 22 September 2014

Underrated Treasures Blogfest



I was making my way through the blog feeds on my reading list earlier today, when I spotted the ongoing Underrated Treasures Blogfest. Hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh, the blogfest serves as an opportunity to highlight any book, movie, TV series or musician/band you feel hasn't gotten nearly enough recognition. So without further ado, I present one of my favorite, underrated movies.

Mimic


I have chosen to highlight Guillermo Del Toro's 1997 sci-fi/horror film, Mimic. Why? Well, for starters, the movie was met with mixed reviews from critics at the time of its release. Not only that, but it also failed to recoup its $30 million budget during its box office run. But most importantly, it was here that I was first introduced to Del Toro's dark visual style.

The premise of the movie itself was fairly ludicrous. In a not-too-distant (not to mention roach-infested) future, humanity's children are being plagued by a deadly disease. To counter this threat, a group of scientists genetically engineer a new specie of insects called the Judas Breed, which are meant to curb the spread of the disease by feeding on its hosts.

But like most B-grade horror movies, things don't exactly go according to plan. In this case, the Judas Breed live up to their name when they eventually turn on their creators, after evolving into something far more sinister, with an uncanny ability to "mimic" their latest prey, us.

Don't let any of that deter you though. Mimic was packed with some pretty impressive 90s-era special effects, not to mention enough edge-of-your-seat suspense to make the trip seem worthwhile. Plus this is Guillermo Del Toro we're talking about here, a director best known for his ability to make the bizarre and otherworldly look beautiful. So you owe it to yourself to see this movie, if you haven't already.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

IWSG: Three-year Anniversary



It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group to share their writerly insecurities. The group was started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, and those interested in joining in can visit www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com for more information.

And as fate would have it, today just happens to be the group's three-year anniversary. Hard to believe its been that long already. I've only been posting as part of the group for two of those three years, but even that feels just like yesterday. How time flies, huh?

Anyways, to commemorate three years of providing support to one another, all members of the IWSG are being asked to contribute writing, publishing or marketing advice to a writer's guidebook. The book is to be published by the end of the year, and made freely available on online retailers like Amazon.

I have never contributed or taken part in any crowd-sourced projects like this before, which is probably why I am a little bit on the fence at the moment. Plus I've never really considered myself a fountain of knowledge when it comes to writing or marketing. But those that wish to contribute can do so by posting their contribution during next month's round of IWSG posts.

Have you decided to contribute? If so, have you decided exactly what you'd be contributing?

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

IWSG: Expanding My Reach



It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group to share their writerly insecurities. The group was started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, and those interested in joining in can visit www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com for more information.

This month, my post does not center upon an insecurity per say, or writing for that matter, but rather on something closer to the business side of self-publishing. Okay, so I've been talking about expanding my reach for quite some time now. And by expanding my reach, I'm referring to making my books available on other channels and retail outlets outside of Amazon (who owns more than half of the ebook market by the way).

Unlike Amazon, many of the prominent online retailers out there do not accept direct ebook submissions from self-published writers. And those that do usually have restrictions that prevent international writers from submitting, which is where a company like Smashwords comes into play; they help distribute ebooks to several sales channels like Barnes & Noble, and are in fact the only point of entry, for self-publishers, into the stores of newer subscription-based services like Scribd and Oyster.

So I'm sure you're wondering why I didn't take the Smashwords route to those channels sooner. That, my friend, was due to another bump I encountered along this long and winding road called self-publishing. Smashwords requires a PayPal account in order for you to receive payments from them. But as fate would have it, Nigeria was one of perhaps three countries excluded from using PayPal.

Thankfully, that restriction was lifted recently when PayPal decided to deem us worthy of inclusion. Ah, yes, happy times. The result? My books are now available on B&N, iTunes and others. All that is left now is for me to sort out my tax information, pending which a sizable percentage of my combined earnings would be retained by Smashwords. Hopefully the process won't turn out to be as time-consuming as I already fear it might be.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Kindle Unlimited



On Friday, Amazon launched a new subscription-based service for ebooks called Kindle Unlimited. Subscribers to the program can read as many books as they can from a pool of over 600,000 titles, for just $9.99 a month. This sounds like a pretty sweet deal for readers, especially those that tend to make their way through several books in any given month.

So how exactly do self-published authors get their books into this program, and how do those authors get compensated? Well, to understand how, we first need to understand how KDP Select works, since that is the only way to get your books into the program.

KDP Select was introduced in December 2011, and it gave self-published authors the ability to set their books free for a total of 5 days within a three-month exclusivity period, during which said books could not be listed for sale outside Amazon. At the time, it was considered a powerful promotional tool, granting those books that took advantage of it some much needed visibility.

In addition to these free promotions, those books that were a part of the program were also included in the Kindle Owners Lending Library, which allowed Amazon Prime members to borrow one book a month, completely free of charge. Authors were compensated for each borrow by earning a share of a global fund that was to be raised by Amazon on a monthly basis. Over the years, this has averaged about $2 a borrow.

Compensation for books borrowed under Kindle Unlimited would be calculated using the same system, with one important difference: the reader would need to read at least 10% of the book before the author earns his or her share of the fund. This is a requirement that is similar to that put in place by other ebook subscription-based services like Scribd and Oyster.

All that said, the big question is this: is the introduction of Kindle Unlimited enough reason to embrace KDP Select? Sadly, there is no definite answer to that question. It is something that must be assessed on a book-by-book basis. The good news though, for those already enrolled in KDP Select at least, is that your books have automatically been included in that pool of 600,000 titles.

I have a total of five books presently enrolled in KDP Select, none of which had been doing particularly well before now, so it would be interesting to see how their inclusion in Kindle Unlimited would affect their visibility and ranking. It is still too early to tell for now, but I'll be keeping a close eye on them from now on.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

IWSG: Tough Times



It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group to share their writerly insecurities with fellow members and the world. The group was started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, one of the coolest bloggers on this side of the blogosphere. For those interested in joining the group, you can visit www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com for more information.

As much as I don't like putting up these "I haven't been writing because" posts, I'm afraid my insecurity for the new month comes down to that very fact. This past month has been one of the toughest I've faced in a long time. There is so much going on (and not going on) in my life right now that I feel I could spend an entire weeks-worth of posts just trying to explain it all.

But if I was to distill how I have been feeling into one word, it would be this one: exhausted. Things have been so hectic that the very thought of getting any significant writing done seems almost ridiculous. If ever there was a time I needed a break from all those things getting in the way, then now is the time.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

IWSG: Thanks!



It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group to share their writerly insecurities with fellow members and the world. The group was started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, one of the coolest bloggers on this side of the blogosphere. For those interested in joining the group, you can visit www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com for more information.

I almost completely forgot today was the first Wednesday of the month, which is why I am putting this post up several hours later than I normally would. Last month, I whined about wanting to make significant changes to a plot that already seemed set in stone. Since then, I have taken most of the advice I received to heart.

I am pleased to announce that the plot has started developing more naturally, now that I've loosened the reins a bit. So I'd like to use today's post to thank all those that helped nudge me in the right direction. I guess I knew what needed to be done, but I just needed to hear it from someone else. So thanks guys, for providing this writer with some much-needed support. Now, off I go to pay it forward.

Friday, 23 May 2014

NoiseTrade Books



First off, a big thank you goes out to my friend and fellow blogger, David Gaughran, who blogged about this the other day. If you are a self-published writer like myself, and don't already follow his blog, then you should seriously consider doing so. Like right now. Don't worry. I'll wait.

Back so soon? Good. On with the post then.

So what is this NoiseTrade Books I sound so excited about? Well, according to their FAQ section, it is a platform designed to help authors & publishers build their audiences by distributing free eBooks & audiobooks in exchange for reader data (email & postal code). It provides an intuitive way for writers to connect with readers outside of the more traditional channels like social media.

Here's how it works. As a writer, you sign up and upload any book you'd like to give away for free. This can be a full-length book, or some sample chapters from a full-length book. You can also specify a suggested tip amount, which the reader can elect to pay before downloading your book. As a reader, the only thing you are required to give in exchange for the free book is your email address and zip code, which is a fair trade if you ask me.

NoiseTrade has been around since 2008, but it only dealt with free music until early 2014, when the books portal was launched. At present, there are books on offer from several big name writers like Dean Koontz and Hugh Howey. And as of yesterday morning, my book, The Journey (Guardians, #1), was added to that growing number of free books. So don't hesitate to download. Heck. I'll even make it easy for you:




Wednesday, 7 May 2014

IWSG: Going with the Flow



It's the first Wednesday of the month, and time for members of the Insecure Writer's Support Group to share their writerly insecurities with fellow members. The group was started by Alex J. Cavanaugh, and you can visit www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com for more information.

Last month, I took part in the 2014 Blogging from A to Z challenge, and as a result, I was unable to post as part of the group. But if I had been able to squeeze the time between work and the Challenge, I am sure my post would have gone along the same lines with what I have shared in past months, which is that I am not writing nearly as much as I should be.

So, not to risk sounding like a broken record, I'd rather spend the remainder of this post focusing on something else entirely. And that thing is knowing when to throw in the towel. As writers, it is never easy accepting any kind of defeat. It could be something as simple as having to rewrite a scene, or something more substantial, like having to bring down the axe on a story that just isn't working.

For years now, I've been working on a particular story that has undergone more changes than Michael Jackson's nose. The present form of the story bears little resemblance to the one I originally set out to write. And I feel that the fact that I am still trying to marry these two disparate stories into one is seriously holding it back. It's high time I let loose and just allow the story go where it wants to go, rather than where I think it needs to be by the end of everything.

I guess my problem boils down to the fact that I tend to get quite rigid with my outlines. I've never been a pantsers. I prefer the structure that a well-thought-out outline brings to a story. But the very best ideas are the ones that hit you out of nowhere, while you're sitting in front of the computer and typing away. So I guess what I am trying to say is that I need to learn how to go with the flow by tapping into such bursts of inspiration more often.

What about you? Are you a pantsers or a plotter, or perhaps somewhere in between?

Monday, 5 May 2014

Reflections on the 2014 A-Z Challenge



Hey, fellow 2014 Blogging from A to Z participants. It looks like we've made it to the end of yet another one. I've just earned my third straight survivor's badge (woo hoo), which I promise to wear proudly. And as has become customary after every Challenge, participants are expected to write a reflections posts, where they get to sound off about their experiences.

For those of you who missed it, my theme for this year was video game franchises. My decision to participate was made at the very last minute, so as you can imagine, I never did get to write any of my posts beforehand. What I did get to do though was delve deep into memories from my childhood, revisiting some of the video games that have helped shape me into the person that I am today.

Unfortunately, unlike previous years, I was unable to visit as many blogs as I would have loved to. I barely got enough free time from work to write and put each day's post up. To make matters worse, I also experienced an issue with my custom domain. As a result, my blog was inaccessible for the better part of the Challenge. I've since then sorted out said issue, and my special thanks go out to J. Lenni Dorner for going the extra mile to bring it to my attention.

My thanks also go out to the various A to Z Challenge co-hosts, and of course to all those who visited my blog or left me a comment. Even those who weren't all that into video games. Our little interactions were what made pushing through the Challenge worthwhile.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Z is for Zuma



Developer: PopCap Games
Notable Releases: Zuma, Zuma Deluxe, Zuma's Revenge

We've reached the end of another Blogging from A to Z challenge. Over the course of the past 26 days or so, I have been blogging my way through the alphabet, along with more than a thousand other participants. My theme for 2014 has been video game franchises.

Since I started the challenge with a casual game series, I think it is only fitting that I end it on a similar note. And as far as casual games go, things don't really get any more so than with Zuma, a tile-matching puzzle game developed by PopCap Games.

Originally released in 2003, the game involved controlling a frog idol mounted on a spinning disc, who could spit out colored balls. Each level featured a different path into which a string of balls were constantly fed by an off-stage conveyor belt. The objective was to eliminate all the balls, by chaining together three or more balls of the same color, before the balls reached the skull at the end of path.

Zuma's simple but fast-paced gameplay would eventually propel it to win the 2004 Game of the Year award from RealArcade. An enhanced version, known as Zuma Deluxe, was released shortly thereafter. But the game didn't receive a proper sequel until 2009, when Zuma's Revenge was released. It retained the previous games' core mechanic, but introduced a bunch of new power ups and boss battles.

In 2010, PopCap released Zuma Blitz on Facebook, the only version of the game to feature competitive and cooperative multiplayer.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Y is for Yoshi



Developers: Nintendo, Game Freak
Notable Releases: Yoshi, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island

Even though the 2014 Blogging from A to Z Challenge is close to an end, it is never too late to squeeze in another Nintendo mascot. After all, we can never have too many of those. And here is one that also shares the same universe with Mario, and as such, has made appearances in many of his games and spinoffs.

Yoshi was first introduced in the 1990 Super Nintendo game, Super Mario World. He is a green dinosaur with an affinity for apples. From the moment he was hatched from his egg, he assumed the role of sidekick to both Mario and Luigi. They could ride on his back, and he could swallow certain enemies whole, or stomp on them with his boots. He was as much an integral part of the game as other new mechanics like the flying cape.

Following his debut on the Super Nintendo, Yoshi's next appearance was on the NES and Game Boy, where he was the titular star of Yoshi, a puzzle game of the falling blocks variety. It was released in 1992 and developed by Game Freak. It was followed by another puzzle game called Yoshi's Cookies, this time of the tile matching variety, which was developed by Bullet-Proof Software and also released in 1992.

But Yoshi is perhaps best known as the star of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, a prequel to Super Mario World which was released in 1995 on the Super Nintendo. The game had a unique art style that helped distinguish it from other Mario games, and an equally unique take on platforming; Yoshi must protect Baby Mario by carrying him safely across each stage. The game was well received by critics and was also considered a commercial success.

Monday, 28 April 2014

X is for Xena: Warrior Princess



Developers: Vivendi Universal, Saffire
Notable Releases: Xena: Warrior Princess, Xena: Warrior Princess - The Talisman of Fate, Xena: Warrior Princess (PlayStation 2)

Movie and television tie-ins are nothing new in the video games industry. In fact, some of the most successful video games are based on material from other entertainment mediums. One reason for that is the fact that these games get to benefit from a preexisting fan base. But more often than not, these tie-ins tend to be nothing more than fan service, the Xena: Warrior Princess tie-ins being a perfect example.

Xena: Warrior Princess was released in 1999, for the Sony PlayStation. It was a third-person action-adventure game, with a story revolving around Xena's quest to save her companion, Gabrielle, who at the start of the game was kidnapped by the evil sorceress Kalabrax. The game featured hack-and-slash gameplay, as well as her trademark chakram, a Frisbee-like, long-range weapon, which could also be used to trigger switches within the environment.

A second tie-in, called Xena: Warrior Princess - The Talisman of Fate, was also released in 1999, for the Nintendo 64. It was a 3D fighting game that featured characters from the TV show. The story behind the game involves a tournament that must be held to decide which character can lay claim to the titular Talisman. Its fighting mechanics were fairly basic, but noteworthy for supporting matches between four simultaneous players.

Additional Xena: Warrior Princess tie-ins were also developed for the Game Boy Color and PlayStation 2, which were released in 2001 and 2006 respectively. But like the two aforementioned games, neither one managed to please anyone outside its target audience, namely die-hard fans of the show.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

W is for The Walking Dead



Developer: Telltale Games
Notable Releases: The Walking Dead: Season One, The Walking Dead: 400 Days, The Walking Dead: Season Two

As earlier promised at the end of my Indiana Jones post, I'll once again be touching upon the graphic adventure genre, or more importantly, its recent renaissance. At the very heart of that renaissance is Telltale Games, an independent game developer started in 2004 by former employees of LucasArts.

Over the last couple of years, Telltale Games have managed to create a number of successful, episodic, graphic adventure games based on licensed properties. These include Tales of Monkey Island, Back to the Future, and most recently, The Wolf Among Us (which was based on the DC Comics series, Fables). But their biggest success yet was their take on the Robert Kirkman comic book series, The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead: Season One was released in 2012, over a period of several months. It consisted of five episodes, each one telling the story of a group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse. Players controlled Lee Everett, a college professor who was recently convicted for the murder of his wife. The shit hits the proverbial fan on the very day he was meant to be incarcerated, and he barely manages to escape following a car accident on his way to prison.

Lee seeks refuge in a nearby house, where he discovers Clementine, a young girl who is all by herself. He saves her from her babysitter, who'd been turned into a zombie, and from that moment on takes it upon himself to protect Clementine, seeing in her a final chance at redemption. The two of them develop a father-and-daughter-like relationship over the course of the season, a bond which was tested to its limits during the heart-wrenching climax of the final episode.

The Walking Dead is noted for being story-driven, a story that is further shaped by the player's choices. Throughout the game, the player is faced with a number of watershed moments, like in the very first episode where you must decide which of your new-found companions to save or leave behind. And your choices carry through each subsequent episode, affecting the way you are treated by your fellow survivors.

It was these things (and much more) that ensured that The Walking Dead was both critically acclaimed and a huge commercial success. It won over 90 Game of the Year awards, and was recognized as one of the game industry's indie success stories.

The Walking Dead: Season Two is currently in full swing, with Episode 1 released in December, 2013, and Episode 2 released in March, 2014. This time around, players take control of Clementine, guiding her through an adventure that already promises to be every bit of an emotional roller coaster as the one experienced in the first season.

Friday, 25 April 2014

V is for Virtua Cop


Developer: Sega
Notable Releases: Virtua Cop, Virtua Cop 2, Virtua Cop 3

Quick fingers are a requisite for success in many games. But nowhere is that requirement more pronounced than in light gun shooters. And while the genre might have lost its mass appeal in recent years, it did manage to produce a number of noteworthy games during its heyday. One of those games is Virtua Cop, the first in a series of on-rail shooters about police officers in the line of fire.

Virtua Cop was released for arcades in 1994, and subsequently ported onto the Sega Saturn in 1995, and the PC in 1997. The objective of the game was to shoot all on-screen enemies as quickly as possible, without shooting any civilians. It was noted for being the first game of its kind to make use of 3D polygonal graphics, and is also credited for inspiring the N64 game, GoldenEye 007.

Virtua Cop 2 was released in 1995, with ports for the Sega Saturn, PC and Dreamcast following in 1996, 1997 and 2000 respectively. It introduced a third female character, but retained the same gameplay mechanics as its predecessor. A bundle of the first two games, known as Virtua Cop: Elite Edition, was released for the PlayStation 2 in 2002.

Virtua Cop 3 was released in 2003. It is the only game in the series that wasn't ported onto the PC or consoles; an Xbox port was in development, but was eventually cancelled.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

U is for Unreal



Developer: Epic Games
Notable Releases: Unreal, Unreal Tournament, Unreal Tournament 2003, Unreal Tournament 2004, Unreal Tournament 3

The Unreal Engine is one of the most widely used video game engines today. It has powered a number of high-profile games over the years, including Deus Ex, BioShock, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and of course the eponymous series of first-person shooters, Unreal.

The first game in the series was released in 1998. At the time, it was undoubtedly one of the most graphically advanced games, even though its moment in the sun was eclipsed by Half-Life. The series would eventually hit its stride with the release of Unreal Tournament in 1999. Unlike the first game, Unreal Tournament focused solely on multiplayer, putting it in direct competition with Quake III: Arena.

Unreal Tournament proved to be the better of the two games, receiving rave reviews and numerous Game of the Year awards. Its success was no doubt responsible for the direction the entire franchise took, with Unreal Tournament 2003 and Unreal Tournament 2004 serving as follow-up titles. The first game eventually received a true sequel, Unreal II: Awakening, which was developed by Legend Entertainment.

The latest installment in the franchise is Unreal Tournament 3, which was released in 2007, while the latest version of the engine, Unreal Engine 4, was unveiled during the 2012 Game Developers Conference.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

T is for Tomb Raider



Developers: Core Design, Crystal Dynamics
Notable Releases: Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider: Legends, Tomb Raider (2013)

Not very often does a video game character get elevated to the status of a pop culture icon. So the fact that Lara Croft can be counted as such is not a small feat. Perhaps its the combination of her British accent and her sexy physique that has endeared her to the hearts and minds of so many. But for hardcore gamers, it has more to do with what she is best known for: raiding tombs.

Tomb Raider was released in 1996 on the PC, PlayStation and Sega Saturn. It was developed by Core Design, and it introduced Lara Croft, an archaeologist with a thirst for braving lost cities in search of ancient artifacts. Following its release, it became one of the most well-known 3D action-adventure games.

The game proved so successful that it received back-to-back sequels over the next few years. These include Tomb Raider II (1997), Tomb Raider III (1998), Tomb Raider IV (1999) and Tomb Raider: Chronicles (2000). Each game was considered a solid addition to the franchise, and the series didn't show any signs of losing steam until the 2003 release of Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, which was largely panned by critics.

Thereafter, the mantle was passed from Core Design to Crystal Dynamics. The first game out of the new studio was Tomb Raider: Legend, which was released in 2006. Considered a return to form by critics, the studio went on to develop two more games, Tomb Raider: Anniversary (2007) and Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008), in what would become a loose trilogy.

Their most recent effort served as a reboot to the entire series. Simply called Tomb Raider, the 2013 reboot was a critical and commercial success, proving that Lara Croft still has a couple of tricks up her sleeves.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

S is for Street Fighter



Developer: Capcom
Notable Releases: Street Fighter II, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, Street Fighter IV

The many years I have spent gaming are ripe with memories, but none as sweet as the day I had my first brush with Street Fighter II. It was at my cousin's friend's place, and a bunch of his friends were gathered there, taking turns. I can still feel the surge of anticipation in my fingers when one of the controllers was passed to me.

The match began and I found myself waving the pad this way and that (much to my cousin's embarrassment), even though motion controls were a good 14 years away. Needless to say, I had lost that first match like a little girl. But that was the defining moment where I discovered the joy of fighting games, a genre that has been all but dominated by the Street Fighter series.

The first game in the series was released for arcades in 1987. It introduced Ryu, a martial artist who players controlled as he fought his way through a worldwide martial arts tournament. A second player could drop in at anytime and challenge Ryu by controlling Ken, his rival. Both characters featured similar special moves made up of fireballs, dragon punches and hurricane kicks.

Street Fighter II was released in 1991, and for the first time in a fighting game, players could choose from a roaster of different fighters. It was followed by several iterations, some of which were released specifically for home consoles. The game was a resounding success, and the SNES version remains Capcom's best-selling game.

Several Street Fighter games were released following the success of Street Fighter II. These include Street Fighter Alpha (or Zero as it is known in Japan), which served as a prequel to the previous games and featured a new art style. The series also made its first foray into 3D with Street Fighter EX. Street Fighter III was released in 1997, and it received two additional updates, 2nd Impact and 3rd Strike.

The current iteration of the series, Street Fighter IV, was released in 2008. It features 3D stages and cel-shaded characters, although actual gameplay takes place on a 2D plane.

Monday, 21 April 2014

R is for Resident Evil



Developer: Capcom
Notable Releases: Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Resident Evil 4

Video games have been capitalizing on our fear of things that go bump in the dark for a long time; Haunted House, Sweet Home, and the Alone in the Dark series are just a few classic examples that come to mind. But the term, survival horror, wasn't coined until 1996, when it was used by Capcom to describe the first game in what would become one of the biggest crossover media franchises ever, Resident Evil.

The game was set in and around a secluded mansion on the outskirts of Raccoon City, following a virus outbreak that has turned all its inhabitants into zombies. Despite this well-grounded premise, its story drew inspiration from many classic horror films. The game also introduced series mainstays like Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine and Albert Wesker, police officers who had been sent in to investigate a series of bizarre murders and the disappearance of a prior team.

Resident Evil 2 was released in 1998, and it introduced two main characters, Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield. The game was noted for being more expansive than the first, the action taking place within and around Raccoon City. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis was released in 1999, and it saw the return of Jill Valentine as a main character. It also featured a mini-game called Resident Evil Mercenaries, where players could use other in-game characters in a series of timed challenges.

Several Resident Evil games were released over the next few years, including Resident Evil Code: Veronica for the Sega Dreamcast in 2000, the first game in the main series not to use pre-rendered backgrounds. A remake of the first game was also released in 2002 for the Nintendo GameGube, as well as a prequel titled Resident Evil Zero. It was also around this time that the series began its successful movie crossover.

Resident Evil 4 was released in 2004 for the GameCube, and it marked the most drastic shift in the entire series. It did away with the fixed camera angles of its predecessors, which was replaced by a third-person, over-the-shoulder camera. The game was met with overwhelming praise, which pretty much ensured that the same style and formula was retained for its sequel, Resident Evil 5, which was released in 2009 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.

Resident Evil 6 was released in 2012. Its reviews were largely mixed, due to deviations from the survival horror trappings of previous games, and the fact that its three main characters had different play styles that didn't make for a cohesive whole.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Q is for Quake



Developers: id Software, Raven Software
Notable Releases: Quake, Quake II, Quake III: Arena, Quake 4

In my early days of gaming on the PC, my favorite genre, by no small margin, was the first person shooter (or FPS as it is more commonly referred to). id Software is often credited for creating that genre, or at least for helping popularize it with highly-influential games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake, all of which had kick-started some of the genre's most respected franchises.

Quake was released in 1996, and remains notable for a number of reasons. It was the first game in the FPS genre to allow online multiplayer. It also featured music and sound effects composed by Trent Reznor, lead singer of the band, Nine Inch Nails. It was also one of the first games to use full 3D graphics, with character models composed of polygons, as opposed to 2D sprites. The engine powering the game was also one of the first to support hardware-accelerated 3D graphics.

Quake II was released in 1997, and it was powered by a more robust game engine than the one used in Quake (whose color palette was often criticized for being predominantly brown). The game was never intended as a true sequel to the original game, and was in fact only called Quake II when id Software failed to secure any of the other names they wanted to use. As a result, there was no continuity from the storyline in Quake.

Quake III: Arena was released in 1999, and unlike the previous two games, focused solely on multiplayer game modes like Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. Matches could be played online or on local area networks, as well as with AI-controlled opponents known as bots, much like in the multiplayer FPS series, Unreal Tournament.

A fourth game, Quake 4, was developed by Raven Software and released in 2005. It served as a direct sequel to Quake II.

Friday, 18 April 2014

P is for Plants vs. Zombies



Developer: PopCap Games
Notable Releases: Plants vs. Zombies, Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare

What do you do if you look out your window and find a horde of zombies just waiting to trample over your lawn and eat your brains? You plant some flowers and mushrooms of course! Well, at least that's the logic behind Plants vs. Zombies, a series of tower defense games developed by PopCap.

The first game was released in 2009 for the PC & Mac. It was presented in a beautiful 2D art style that leaned towards bright and whimsical. At the start of each level, the player is allowed to pick from a number of plants, each with its own defensive or offensive capability. Once the game begins, the player can start putting their defense together. But each plant requires a certain amount of sun (the primary resource) to plant, and subsequent replants are limited by an energy meter.

The player earns sun by picking it up as it falls from the sky at intervals on daytime levels, or from certain plants like the sunflower. The playing field is divided into several lanes, and the zombies shamble towards the player's house through each one at random, until a final wave where they launch an all-out assault. The level is won by defeating this final wave, or lost by failing to prevent the zombies from getting into the player's house.

It is a simple mechanic that is easy to get into. But the real challenge comes in the later levels, where the player must apply different tactics based on the type of zombies they face. As a fan of the game, I can attest to just how addictive the game quickly becomes once you get into it. Completing each of the early levels rewards you with a new plant. You also face a huge variety of zombie types, my favorite being the Michael Jackson Thriller zombie, who comes complete with backup dancers.

The second game in the series, Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time, was released as a free-to-play download for iOS and Android in 2013. It was praised for its implementation of the freemium model, which ensured you didn't have to spend any money to enjoy the complete game. The third game in the series, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, was released in 2014. It was a class-based, third-person shooter, which marked a significant shift from the 2D tower defense gameplay of the first two games.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

O is for Onimusha



Developer: Capcom
Notable Releases: Onimusha: Warlords, Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny, Onimusha 3: Demon Siege

The only thing better than a samurai on a quest for revenge, is a samurai with supernatural powers, kicking some serious demon butt. This is probably why I love the Onimusha series of games as much as I do. Set in feudal Japan, the games are a blend of Japanese history with elements of fantasy. Each one follows the adventures of a brave warrior, as he tries to stop the demon overlord, Nobunaga.

The first game in the series, Onimusha: Warlords, was released in 2000. Originally intended for a PlayStation release, development was eventually shifted to the PlayStation 2. Much like the Resident Evil games that inspired it, the game featured 3D character models on pre-rendered 3D backgrounds. Players controlled Samanosuke Akechi, who was voiced and modeled after Takeshi Kaneshiro (House of Flying Daggers).

The second game, Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny, was released in 2002. It introduced a new main character, Jubei Yagyu, who was modeled after the late Yasuka Matsuda (Black Rain). The third game, Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, was released in 2004, and it had Takeshi Kaneshiro reprising his role as Samanosuke. But this time, he was joined by French actor Jean Reno (The Da Vinci Code), who voiced and provided his likeness for the character, Jacques Blanc.

Although originally planned as a trilogy, a fourth game, Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, was released in 2006. The last two games in the series, despite good critic reviews, were said to have sold considerably lower than the first two; the first game still has the distinction of being the first PlayStation 2 game to sell more than a million copies.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

N is for Neverwinter Nights



Developers: BioWare, Obsidian Entertainment
Notable Releases: Neverwinter Nights, Neverwinter Nights 2

Unlike many fans of computer role-playing games, I have never quite had the privilege of playing a pen and pencil RPG before. My first brush with Dungeons & Dragons came in the form of the 1980s animated TV series, not the well-known tabletop game. But over the years, they have been quite a number of games based on D&D rules.

Neverwinter Nights was based on the D&D 3rd edition rules. It was released in 2002 and developed by BioWare. It was set in the Forgotten Realms, and centered upon the eponymous city of Neverwinter. It came with a toolset that allowed players to create their own adventures and campaigns, much like the tabletop game.

Neverwinter Nights 2 was released in 2006, but this time around, development work was handled by Obsidian Entertainment. The game was based on the D&D 3.5 edition rules. It also came with a toolset, which was used to create the game's included campaign. The campaign itself was well received, earning the game a Best Story award at GameSpot in the 2006 Game of the Year awards.

Neverwinter Nights was met with universal acclaim, and was praised for its seamless turn-based combat that kept little details like dice rolls hidden away in the background. The second game received comparably weaker scores, with most of its criticism leveled against its many technical glitches and high system requirements.

Both games have received a number of expansion packs, as well as countless community-made campaigns.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

M is for Mario



Developer: Nintendo
Notable Releases: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, Paper Mario, Super Mario Galaxy

Surely you must have seen this one coming a mile away? I mean, how can we have any kind of discussion about video game franchises without acknowledging the Italian-American plumber's dominance over the entire industry!? With more than 856 million copies sold collectively, Mario is the best-selling video game franchise of all time.

Mario made his first appearance in the arcade classic, Donkey Kong, where he was simply known as jumpman. This was followed by an appearance in another arcade game, Mario Bros., where his brother, Luigi, was introduced. But his most well-known appearance from those early days was in the 1985 side-scrolling platform game, Super Mario Bros., which was bundled with the Nintendo Entertainment System game console.

Both the game and console found a new level of success previously unheard of in the video games industry, and that success was responsible for paving the way for future games and consoles. Several Mario games have been released over the years, spanning an entire gamut of genres, and the franchise has been featured prominently on each and every Nintendo game console.

On the Super Nintendo, Super Mario World was released in 1990, and it brought the franchise into the 16-bit era. This was followed by Super Mario Kart in 1992, a kart racing game that featured characters from the Mario universe; the game proved so successful that it has launched another franchise of its own, with more than 50 million copies sold since then.

Super Mario 64 was one of the Nintendo 64's launch titles in 1996, and it served as a showcase for the new console's 3D rendering capabilities. The N64 was also home to Paper Mario, developed by Intelligent Systems and released in 2000. It was a turn-based RPG, set in the Mario universe, that blended 2D sprites with a 3D backdrop, an effect that gave the in-game characters the paper-thin look alluded to in the title.

One of the most critically-acclaimed games in the franchise, Super Mario Galaxy, was released in 2007 for the Nintendo Wii. It won multiple Game of the Year awards from various outlets, and it eventually became the highest-rated game of all time on review aggregator website, GameRankings. A direct sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2, was also released for the Wii, in 2010, and was considered an improvement over the original.

The latest game in the franchise, Super Mario 3D World, was released in 2013 for the Nintendo Wii U, and also met with universal acclaim.