The first thing you’ll notice about GRRM’s writing style is that the chapters do not have titles, they are named after the main character that the chapter follows and GRRM jumps from character to character with little to no transition. This can be highly disorientating for the first hundred pages or so, but the style has a monumental effect on dramatic deliverances during climaxes. For instance, if a main character runs away from his or her family (or enemies), and the rest of the characters do not know what has happened to them, GRRM keeps you in the dark as well. After a particularly nasty plot twist, once I recovered my book from across the room, I caught myself flipping through the pages looking for a chapter titled after the character I was afraid I had lost.
This leads me to my next point; GRRM’s character development is different than most other fantasy writers. While some of the secondary characters may be type-casted into different archetypes, none of the protagonists or antagonists are very linear. The main plot of the first book is the conflict between the Stark and Lannister families, and while the Starks are the “good guys,” the character Tyrion Lannister is a shrewd, narcissistic, and arrogant dwarf man that you cannot help but love. GRRM does a good job bringing each character’s internal and external struggles to light and he helps the readers become attached to almost all of the characters. More than once, I caught myself reading a Tyrion chapter and rooting for Tyrion (and by proxy, the Lannisters), in spite of my overall disdainful opinion of the Lannisters.
This effect was amplified by GRRM’s perspective based writing style and seemingly disconnected chapter layout. The first 400-500 pages of the book read like a murder-mystery where Eddard and Catelyn Stark attempt to find out the fate of the previous Hand of the King. As GRRM goes from chapter to chapter different puzzle pieces start fitting together and you realize how a seemingly disconnected character plays into the fate of the Seven Kingdoms in this book and in sequential books. It is an intricately planned plot with several twists that give you plenty of cause for disappointment and excitement.
Below are the top ten stories that I've ever had the pleasure of immersing myself in. They range from movies and anime to books or video games, so I included links to my favorite format of each, and since some of them cross the media spectrum, I put the links in chronological order. They also range from Sci-Fi to Drama, so there should be something in here for everyone, enjoy!
1 - Star Wars
Star Wars is an American epic space opera film series created by George Lucas. The first film in the series was originally released on May 25, 1977, under the title Star Wars, by 20th Century Fox, and became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon, followed by two sequels, released at three-year intervals. Sixteen years after the release of the trilogy's final film, the first in a new prequel trilogy of films was released. The three films were also released at three-year intervals, with the final film released on May 19, 2005.
The initial trilogy is a must see for everyone that operates in today's geek-centric society, but for those looking for more immersion into the Star Wars realm, the following list should give you a pretty good jump start into the galaxy.
Knights of the Old Republic
Knights of the Old Republic 2
Star Wars: The Old Republic
The Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones
The Clone Wars
Revenge of the Sith
A New Hope
The Empire Strikes Back
Return of the Jedi
2 - The Avengers
Marvel's The Avengers (classified under the name Marvel Avengers Assemble in the UK and Ireland) is a 2012 American superhero film produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, based on the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name. It is the sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is scripted and directed byJoss Whedon and features an ensemble cast that includes Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård and Samuel L. Jackson. In The Avengers, Nick Fury, director of the peacekeeping organization S.H.I.E.L.D., recruits Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk and Thor to form a team that must stop Thor's adoptive brother Loki from subjugating the Earth.
Technically, while The Avengers are based off of comic books and the story is usually best understood by reading it rather than watching it, the Marvel universe is undergoing a fair amount of restructuring as it movies into the cinematic realm. Watching this saga, rather than reading it, is a good way to make sure you stay abrest of the series reboot!
The story of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place on the fictional continents Westeros and Essos, with a history of thousands of years. The series is told in the third person by 31 point of viewcharacters. Three stories become interwoven: the chronicling of a dynastic war for control of Westeros by several families; the rising threat of the dormant cold supernatural Others dwelling beyond an immense wall of ice on Westeros' northern border and the ambition of Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled daughter and only remaining heir of a king murdered 15 years earlier in a civil war, to return to Westeros with her fire-breathing dragons and claim her rightful throne.
This saga is one of the most complicated reads that I have ever encountered and enjoyed. I routinely find myself taking breaks from the saga to allow myself time to recuperate as I read an easier to enjoy novel or take part in a slightly less emotional story line. A Game of Thrones is the only time I have ever thrown my kindle across the room only to instantly regret it for reasons other than the safety of the expensive piece of electronics. GRRM does a fantastic job drawing readers in to his swamp of moral ambiguity and fuzzy ethics and you find yourself rooting for the bad guys on more than one occasion.
No character, however small, is insignificant in the world that GRRM has created. The parallels between the Starks and their Wolves and Tyrion and his whores can clearly be seen echoing across the span of several installments in this saga. This is a must read saga for all sci-fi, murder mystery, political intrigue, and or medieval warfare enthusiasts alike. If you must watch the TV shows, do so two-three books behind the pace of your novels, or you will find yourself lost and you'll be missing out on a lot of the subtleties that only GRRM's writing style can provide.
Be warned though, this is not an afternoon read, this saga will take you the better part of a year to complete, should you find yourself with obligation other than that of reading.
4 - Alien
Alien garnered both critical acclaim and box office success, receiving an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Direction for Scott, and Best Supporting Actress for Cartwright, and a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, along with numerous other award nominations. It has remained highly praised in subsequent decades, being inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2002 for historical preservation as a film which is "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2008 it was ranked as the seventh-best film in the science fiction genre by the American Film Institute, and as the thirty-third greatest movie of all time by Empire magazine.
A very graphic, gory, and sexually targetted series of movies, this saga is not for the faint of heart; but those that can stomach the disturbing scenes will be rewarded with one of the best Sci-Fi sagas that have made it to the big screen.
A fantastic young adult series that can appeal to anyone with an interest in fantasy novels, ages 10+. These novels tread the line between ease of reading and lightweight story telling very carefully, and anyone looking for an "easy read" to allow them to wind down for the evening, or introduce an older child into the joy of novels will find this saga to be quite enjoyable.
Darkness and Light
Riverwind the Plainsman
Flint the King
Tanis, the Shadow Years
Dragons of Autumn Twilight
Dragons of the Dwarven Depths
Dragons of Winter Night
Dragons of the Highlord Skies
Dragons of Spring Dawning
Dragons of the Hourglass Mage
Dragons of Summer Flame
6 - Lord of the Rings
The plot summary for this is really quite simple: They walk for three movies, and (spoiler alert) drop the ring into Mount Doom. It's not the plot of these movies that keeps you coming back to them though, it's the fantastic battle sequences, and the modestly-above-average acting that keeps you engaged with the characters.
On a personal note, I found Tolkein's writing style to be far too tedious to enjoy the novels, so unless you can handle a large amount of tedium, I would enjoy this saga from the safety of your couch.
7 - Dragon Age
The universe of Dragon Age is in no way related to that of Westeros, but the theme of vast interconnectedness, gore, and political intrigue is very prevelant here. A little known, but incredibly obvious factoid about the game is that they did find inspiration in GRRM's writing style.
8 - Fever Series
I was very hesitant to include the Fever Series in my collection of favorites, but Karen Moning is a phenomenal writer. She managed to create a series that spans the genres of: Fairies, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Vampires, and Soft Core Pornography; and she did it with absolute perfection. Her depiction of fairies, or "the fae" is dark, twisted, and extremely sexual -- with the fae praying on humans as sexual tools in their bid for world domination. It sounds cheesy when I say it, and it is cheesy when you think about it, but the books start off girlie and end up being remarkably GRRMish.
Karen Moning is to women's literature as George R. R. Martin is to men's literature. Both authors weave an intricate story about a world on the brink of war with graphic scenes that read like war torn diaries and scenes from a soft core pornography, and both authors keep their very mystical topics of legend as undertones to avoid falling into the clichés of fantasy writers.
This series is a fantastic bridge for women looking to get into the fantasy genre, or men looking to expand their horizons with somethin a little more "girly." Put it on your Kindle, try it out and you won't regret it.
9 - Harry Potter
These books are another good introduction to the world of reading for a young adult, but these movies will serve a greater audience as an introduction into the world of fantasy and magic. For Muggles old and young alike, these movies are not among the greatest fantasy movies ever written, but their integration into our modern society is something that simply can not be matched.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
10 - Trigun
Known for its Space Western theme, Trigun is about a man named "Vash the Stampede" and the two Bernardelli Insurance Society employees who follow him around in order to minimize the damages inevitably caused by his appearance. Most of the damage attributed to Vash is actually caused by bounty hunters in pursuit of the "60,000,000,000$$" (sixty billion "double dollars") bounty on Vash's head for the destruction of the city of July. However, he cannot remember the incident clearly due to his amnesia. Throughout his travels, Vash tries to save lives using non-lethal force. He is occasionally joined by a priest, Nicholas D. Wolfwood, who, like Vash, is a superb gunfighter with a mysterious past.
As the series progresses, we learn more about Vash's mysterious history and the history of human civilization on the planet Gunsmoke. The series often employs comic relief and is mostly light-hearted although its tone shifts toward darker and more dramatic situations as the series draws to a conclusion. The story line also involves moral conflict pertaining to the morality of killing other living things.
This series is a fantastic introductory series to anime as it avoids many of the clichés associated with the genre. If you've ever been curious about the genre, check out Trigun or Cowboy Bebop and you can't go wrong.
The first thing that I noticed upon loading up Guild Wars 2 is the sound, or more specifically, the noise. Even at login, the game is far louder than any game has the right to be by default, and I found myself instantly off put by the noise factor. The second thing I noticed about the game hastened my foul mood as I found myself back in the World of Warcraft and Fable style of graphics. Having come from Star Wars: The Old Republic, I was used to being in a "realistic" world where I was not front and center of every camera pan, and every step didn't bounce my character's short skirt a little higher.
After ten minutes in the game, my demeanor had gone from overly enthusiastic to down right foul. The User Interface may seem intuitive to people who played Guild Wars, but as someone who thought the original game wasn't worth the time, I found the learning curve to be outrageously difficult. However, after a few hours, I slowly adjusted to the shock. I gradually grew to enjoy the change from the dark atmosphere assocaited with being a sith lord, I learned the UI and character customization, and I began to branch out and truly play the game.
Then I started to notice some of the other things, like load times. This game is every bit as busy as SWTOR, but the load times are less than a third of the standard loading time for SWTOR. Also, need I mention Corellia? Good Lord. I also took into account the local events that happen in various places, which reward you with "Karma" one of the game's three currencies. These events encourage players to explore and accidentally group with strangers to reap performance baced rewards. They're very similar to the encounters you faced in RIFT, but far less random and more controlled; in fact, the events themselves are like prizes given to the players for completing certain tasks.
Additionally, "whereas other MMOs use the "treadmill/loop/carrot" raid model, which requires repetition of content and continuously increases your avatar's power, thus rendering content obsolete as you out-level or out-gear it, Guild Wars 2 takes a completely different approach. When you reach the level cap, you turn right around and go back the way you came, because there are still plenty of challenges, places to explore, hidden rewards, discoveries, and adventures to be had, in the world itself. The game does not revolve around endlessly increasing numbers in a single narrow tier of instanced content as its primary mode of "progression". In Guild Wars 2, You Actually Get to Eat the Carrot. From Level 1." [S]
Player Vesus Environment & Questing
Since I was all, "OMG, PVP" I didn't really do too much PVE during my beta weekends. I did, however find a phenomenal write up here:
There are no Quest givers in Guild Wars 2. NPC's will simply point you in the direction of unfolding events instead of giving you very specific instructions through walls of text. Even then, it's entirely unnecessary to interact to these NPC's as events are automatically pinged when you are within a certain distance of them. Although there will be limitations, the foremost requirement to participating in an event is simple to be in the right place at the right time.
Events are intended to prevent spawn camping and kill stealing of major objectives prevalent in other MMORPG by allowing any interested players to cooperate towards an objective without needing to form a party and each who "contributed significantly to the combat" will be rewarded for their participation and receive 100% of any experience gained. In order to prevent griefing, ArenaNet has developed an array of methods to stop potential griefers from ruining the fun for players who actively participate in an event: Events never encourage player conflict, and never have fail conditions that can be triggered by players. The conditions that may seem to fail an event actually just trigger another series of events. Higher-leveled players will be de-buffed in areas that are intended for lower leveled players.
Dynamic Events happen in real time with or without your participation while affecting the game world. An Event with Bandits ransacking a village, unless stopped, will ultimately end up with them establishing a new base of operations there, causing an Event in which the player must take back the village from the Bandits. Continuing this process, if the Bandits are left unabated, they will send out new raiding parties from the village that will cause new Events, so on and so forth. However these are not simply chains following a lateral sequence either, but can splinter off into multiple, and differing Events depending on yet unknown factors. Speculation assumes that splintering events can be triggered depending on how quick an event is completed, special items used, protecting a specific NPC, etc, but really, the potential and possibilities are to numerous to list.
Certain events will only occur when specific conditions are met, like a snow storm rolls into the map, or night falls over the graveyard. Although the cyclical nature of the system means that consequences are ultimately temporary, event results can persist for days, weeks, or even months. A player cannot know exactly what state the world is in and what one might see wandering around, even if they have quested in same zone multiple times. This means that experiencing every possible Event with all professions can never really happen. The world continually changes making it so you can never truly ‘accomplish everything’. It's almost like rewarding you for exploring the map, because according to ArenaNet, there are going to be 1500-1600 events going on in the persistent, "living" world for players to engage in.
Player Vesus Player and World Versus World Combat
If you played Dark Age of Camelot, then all you need to know about the Guild Wars 2 PVP system is that it is going to tickle your fancy in a way that it hasn't been tickled for a little more than a decade. If you weren't around for the glorious days of RvR combat, then buckle your seat belts. The game play is frighteningly smooth, even for a Beta release, and the keep sieges are pretty action packed.
(Click the Image to be taken to a full Gallery of Images of WvW combat)
The Ranger got a little boring during the actual siege itself, but it became a blast again during the sallies and rallies; not to mention, the initial charges and final stands left me breathless. There was a lot more to do during the sieges than simply shoot arrows down ontop of your foes, with a resource system already in place, defenders can repair, modify, and upgrade their keep to better augment their defenses. Meanwhile, attackers can build siege weapons to attempt to expedite the storming of the keep.
The keeps are pretty well done too, and terrain is going to be a big factor in the defense of your homeland. Unlike DAoC, fortifications are placed in intelligent places in an attempt to slow the flow of invaders, and the keeps are not all created equally. I didn't make it a point to count the keep models, but I noticed at least three different models, with the main castle being just shy of stunning. The detail in the keeps were pretty high, and sitting atop the castle walls, you could clearly see the curvature of the world. Slight exaggeration, the game isn't that advanced; but you definitely got the appropriate feeling of awe that should accompany standing on top of the battlements.
Between your self heals and dodging, survivability is remarkably high; so guilds with voice communications (and the ability to identify and single out targets) are going to be paramount to the success of a realm, even in WvWvW. Guilds are also going to dominate in the Warzones, as survivability is only slightly lower in this environment. The Warzones are pretty well developed and offer no clear advantage to one side or another.
The game play in the warzones is very fast paced, and players are often times find themselves sitting at <50% life for the majority of the instance. I only managed to play by myself, so I'm not even sure if joint queuing is an option yet, but I can only imagine the PVP in this game is going to get better with social interaction. Where WvWvW is about patience, strategy, and siege weaponry; Warzones are about raw skill, survivability, and tactics. While there are some siege weapons, their use is usually at your demise.
Click the links to visit Google Plus for a full review of each class with a gallery of Screen Shots
The learning curve is still pretty steep for the Mesmer, but since it pales in comparison to the Necromancer, I got the hang of it after an hour or two. I loved it. The game play is fast paced, complicated, and involves a lot of juggling to keep your abilities on cool down, your illusions up, and your weapons swapping.
If the Ranger is the master of Long to Medium combat, then the Thief is surely the master of Close Quarters to Medium ranged attacks. Armed with a variety of weapons (My favorite was a Sword and Pistol), the theif can close gaps, evade attacks, and gun down fleeing victims. The initiative system is vaguely reminiscent of the rogue or operative play of some of the larger MMORPGs out there, and the class was a easy to play, but hard to master.
Guild Wars 2 did a great job improving upon previously released concepts from other game franchises, and the Engineer is no exception. Modeled (by accident, I'm sure) after the failed game WARHammer Online, the Engineer was by far the most enjoyable class I played during the beta weekend event. Juggling not only two weapon sets, but up to three different "packs" (which are defacto weapon sets), the Engineer is an exceptionally versatile, durable, and deadly profession.
It lacked creativity, balance, and I ultimately didn't stay with the [staff] spec for very long. However, I have to give credit where it is due; a dagger specced Elementalist is quite a bit of fun, if for no other reason than it's a very gritty and "in your face" play style. However, the lack of (long) ranged abilities and low health pool make the set up frustrating to play if you find yourself on the losing team. There's not much else I can say about it, other than I hope the development team at Guild Wars takes a good look at the class.
The class was extremely versatile and offered great DPS, had excellent survivability, and was an all around joy to play. Some of the abilities of the melee weapons were a little hard to navigate, and the torch seemed a little underwhelming, but the longbow and short bow were both deadly weapons. Pet management seemed really lacking. I rarely knew where my pet was, his pathing made it difficult to get him to engage the enemies when I was perched on a roof somewhere, and he often times died requiring lengthy revivals that were seldom worth the time investment.
How many of you recognize this label?
My guess is not nearly enough of you, since Steam has pretty much trail blazed the future of gaming, and been one of the first adopters of cloud computing. So why isn't Steam a house hold name? Largely because they have failed to take full advantage of the viral nature of the internet.
For those of you who may not recognize the full effect that Steam has on games, allow me to demonstrate with a few anecdotal factoids about my gaming history:
Since 2009, I have purchased sixty seven games for approximately $1,220. Of these, I estimate about eight of the games were purchased by word of mouth, thirty of the games were purchased because they were on sale, and about twenty were purchased because of steam client advertising. The remainder of the games were purchased because of brand recognition or an intense desire to play that video game.
In the thirteen years that I gamed prior to Steam, I purchased (or caused my parents to purchase) approximately eighteen games for approximately $700. All of these were purchased because of brand recognition or an intense desire to play that game.
Steam copies, such as Origin, have only weaseled a measly two purchases (with an expected third (Dragon Age 3)) valuing roughly $300. All three of these were purchased because of brand recognition or an intense desire to play that game.
I recently shared an article on Google+ about Steam coming to Linux, and the move makes perfect sense. Steam owes a large amount of its success to being the innovator that trail blazed cloud computing and social gaming. However, as excited as I am about leaving the world of Microsoft for Linux goodies, I believe that Steam is focusing its considerable resources in the wrong direction. Rather than increasing their client base with the relatively small number of linux gamers, Steam should be tapping into the millions of people who utilize social media on a daily basis.
Like it our not, Social Networking sites are dominating and defining our generation. Take this video with over fifty million views (about eighty may be from me - oops).
How many views do you think that video got before it hit a social media site? Well, let's see:
The video got approximately eleven million views prior to its first share on social media. Take recent videos, like this recently viral release by Noah, that instantly know to post it on Facebook to get the news out and traffic forwarded to their content. Noah has had 1.9 million views/referrals from Facebook and who knows how many from Google+ (odd that YouTube doesn't do stats for G+, ain't it?). The Dubstep video nearly breaks the four million mark.
Great, but what's the point? Well, the point is that Kickstarter may do a lot to get indie games started, but it doesn't do much for getting indie games the publicity they need to survive once they're developed. That's where Steam comes in, Steam has a fantastic business model to facilitate indie game developers' need for instant publicity with a low risk factor. While Valve may have the marketting power to not rely on the viral nature of the internet, they would be wise to tap into it. Tapping into the viral web would bring them more users, developers, and indie games.
It's important to note that not many companies are developing software specifically for social media sites, they're merely using Social Media to help their preexisting products. For example, Amazon's integration with Facebook has worked wonders for Amazon, and would do amazing things for Valve's success with Steam.
Additionally, if Steam allowed us to share purchases (or more importantly recommendations or usage statistics) with our friends on Facebook or Google+ as an opt-in option, that could open up a lot of purchases. Example:
Valve has figured out that Johnny's birthday is in three weeks and has "liked" Electronic Arts, Dragon Age, and RPGGuy's page by skimming his Facebook information. By looking at his Steam information, Valve has figured out that Johnny has played Drakensang, Torchlight, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and thirty-two other games, doesn't own Dragon Age: Origins, and his most played genre in the last two weeks is Role Playing Games.
Therefore, Steam suggests to me that I purchase Dragon Age: Origins (Sequel to Dragon Age) for him as a gift. Steam makes a commission, I have an unbelievably easy time buying Johnny a gift, and Johnny has a game that statistically should tickle his fancy.
What do you guys think? Should Valve go Social?
It's with a bitter sweet taste in my mouth that I move on from Star Wars: The Old Republic. The sporadic nature in which Bioware updates the game, the mediocrity of the content, and the weaning server populations have made the MMORPG the first ever MMOSPG. It's with reluctance that I say that, at this point, a game that had potential to be such a trail blazer simply created a new genre of Massively Multiplayer Online Single Player Games.
Midnight Reveries, which was once ranked tenth in the world, has retired from raiding. We were very active raiders and theory crafters in this game and offered well written reviews containing specific suggestions to the development team. Version 1.2 "Legacy" was the defining moment for SW:TOR. The first major content patch of any MMORPG defines the tempo in which the game lives or dies; and while it is possible to recover from a poor showing in that first major patch, it is certainly difficult.
The majority of the challenge from the game consisted of run times, trash clearing, and fighting bugs. While we did manage to down Kephass hard mode with the bugs, after they were fixed, we had no difficulty in downing him -- the encounter was almost trivial; but prior to this we spent nearly thirty hours tilting at the windmill known as poor programming.
This same poor programming would lead us to become excited at work arounds for game functions we took for granted in TOR's predecessor, World of Warcraft. Functions like damage meters were cumbersome and required third party applications with a simplistic, but painful, pass phrase system to synchronize with fellow party members.
With Diablo 3 out and MMO enough to saite our appetites until Guild Wars 2, most of our raiders have retired and are cancelling our accounts as I type this message. Farewell Bioware, good luck, and I hope your game makes it long enough for me to return to it. I loved the game, but a dying game is simply no fun.
Kysimir Di'itru the Infernal