March update: video games

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been escaping into video games a bit more so far this year. First, I finished off the original Final Fantasy VII, after starting it before the 2020 release of the remake. As one of the snooty teens who rejected the idea of Final Fantasy games moving into futuristic settings when FF7 originally released – and who has since absorbed a fair bit of lore and spoilers from the game – playing the original game was an interesting experience.

For one thing, my original impression that it was moving away from its roots was unfounded. It is very much a classic Final Fantasy game; plus, the creators really did an excellent job translating the style of game into 3D, for being the first example of it. The story was interesting, but somewhat less than I expected. I suppose the amount of lore that has built up around the story raised my expectations of what was present in the original game. Still, it was an enjoyable game, and I can see why it became a classic.

After that, I started up Spider-Man. While it looked kind of neat from videos/commercials, I wasn’t particularly interested in playing it, mainly because it’s not the type of game I normally seek out. However, a friend loaned it to me (*cough* last summer…) and I finally started it up late January.

And, if you’ll forgive the pun, it was amazing. The game play was crazy fun and the huge number of side quests were all terribly compelling. The story was fantastic with top-notch voice acting, and reminded me exactly why I love Spider-Man as a character so much. Manhattan was brought to life so beautifully I feel like I know it even though I’ve never been there. And the ending brought me to tears. It is, perhaps objectively, one of the best games I’ve ever played. 10/10. It was enough to make me immediately buy Spider-Man: Miles Morales, though I probably won’t get to that one soon with all the other games I have to play.

I tried to convince myself to start the 2018 God of War after that, since it was also loaned to me, and I even installed it on the PS4 to do just that. However, before I managed to make myself start up the game, I stopped resisting the call of Metroid Dread.

I was as much a fan of Super Metroid as anyone else, same with Metroid Fusion, but after playing Metroid Prime and (most of) Metroid Prime 2, I wasn’t as stoked about returning to a 2D platformer as so many people seemed to be. But I couldn’t own the latest Nintendo console and not get the new Metroid game, and I didn’t doubt it would be fun.

It took about five minutes of game play to get sucked in. I should’ve known better, of course; there’s a reason these games (along with Castlevania) became their own genre. There’s barely enough plot to support the action and little of it really makes sense, but none of it matters because it’s just so fun. It’s the perfect balance of puzzle-solving and dexterous button pressing with very little story getting in the way of running around, exploring areas, pew-pewing aliens, and collecting as many artifacts as I can find. I die a lot, though unlike with Spider-Man and other games, I’m actually playing on the harder (read: normal) difficulty setting.

I’m a decent portion through the game at this point, though I do keep getting sidetracked looking for new items as soon as I gain a new ability. Still, I don’t anticipate playing this too much longer. As for what’s next? I’d better get started on God of War, and hope none of my other recent acquisitions (like Horizon: Forbidden West or any of the Kingdom Hearts games) grab my attention too much first.

March 2022 update: Books

Time for my first monthly update since the year began. I’ve not made much progress on editing this year, unfortunately. Books and video games have been my poison of choice this winter, so I decided to delve into both a little more thoroughly in separate posts.

Please note: I am not a critic and do not pretend to be. I read what I like and have neither the time nor inclination to go into detail why I enjoyed/what I didn’t enjoy about the books I read.

I started off the year veering away from middle grade novels briefly, along with my usual habit of reading only one book at a time. The first three books of this year I read more or less simultaneously, which I think I’ll be avoiding from now on.

First, I finished off Cytonic, third book in the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson. I had suspected that this would be the end of the series, which turned out not to be the case. The story did go off in a different direction for longer than I expected, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had such a thing happen with Sanderson’s work. There were some interesting surprises, though overall, it was simply a fun continuation of the series.

After that, I finished When the Sleeper Wakes by H. G. Wells. Since I’m publishing a graphic novel adaptation of the book later this year, I thought it would be a good idea to read the original. There are some very interesting concepts presented in the book, including predicting television, propaganda being used to control the masses, and rule by an oligarchy that controls the vast majority of the money on Earth. However, other concepts in the book are… let’s generously say dated. It may not have been written that way maliciously, and there may be historical precedence for those choices, but it’s an aspect that needed to be modernized. Aside from that, Graham is a very passive protagonist, even for its time. While I enjoyed reading the book for the most part, I’ll admit it was, at least from a modern perspective, a lowlight of my year so far.

I then snuck in Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 2. Although some of the stories were shorter than I expected, I absolutely loved the variety of art and writing present, the realness and rawness of comics by indigenous creators, as well as the beauty of the stories they told that highlighted indigenous mythology. This book was a joy to read.

But, forgive me for saying that the next book has been the highlight of my year so far and since: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. I loved both The Martian and Artemis, so I really should have jumped on this book sooner, though it wasn’t until a friend started gushing over it that I finally checked it out of the library. I suppose I’ve had enough in general of the ‘story opening with a character suffering from amnesia’, though with Weir’s typical blend of excellently portrayed science, humour, and down-to-earth characters, it immediately hooked me. And, by setting up the story that way, I completely didn’t know what to expect, which made the experience that much more engaging. Suffice to say, it was a wonderful story and I highly recommend it.

After that, I returned to some middle grade novels, starting with yet another dragon-themed book recommended by my local library for the lunar new year, The Dragon Warrior by Katie Zhao. This also interested me because through the other MG books I’d read, I’d yet to encounter one based on Chinese mythology. I started off reading this book simply enjoying the fact that ’12-year-old girl goes on a magical adventure through her culture’s mythology’ has become common enough to be a trope. However, The Dragon Warrior ended up taking darker turns than I expected. It’s not as intense as some of the MG books I’ve read over the past couple years, but the directions of the story made it a surprise. It was very interesting and I currently have the second book in the series waiting to be read.

Then, I returned to another MG novel I tried to read late last year but didn’t make it through for one reason or another, Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee. This was a very different rendition of the same trope, as it takes place in a spacefaring future. The blend of science fiction and Korean mythology worked very well together and overall it was a more space opera book than any other MG I’ve read so far. This was my first introduction to Yoon’s work, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for his other writing, including his adult science fiction.

Last weekend, I took a trip to Chapters/Indigo so my daughter (and I) could spend the gift cards we got for Valentine’s Day. The books I was most interested in weren’t available in store, but a graphic novel in the MG section immediately caught my eye: Wingbearer written by Marjorie Liu. I hadn’t heard of it before, which isn’t surprising, since it turns out it was only scheduled for release this week. It is a very fantastical story of charming characters and beautiful world, with gorgeous artwork by Teny Issakhanian. It sucked me in from page one, and while the twists were for the most part fairly predictable, it was still captivating enough to make me sad that it only just released and there isn’t even talk of a volume 2 yet.

Finally, just last night I finished off one of the books that has been waiting in my TBR pile since last summer, Three Seeking Stars by Avi Silver. I’ve met Avi and partner Sienna at a few different conventions, and it was at the launch party for Two Dark Moons, the first book in the series, that I bought it, which I enjoyed enough to want to preorder the second book as soon as it was available. Continuing in that tradition, Three Seeking Stars expanded on an already richly realized world, helped along delightful characters on their journeys, and juggled both ideology and culture clashes very well. The raw emotion of the characters even brought me to tears at once point. This is a wonderful book to sink into and escape with. I shall also treasure my Instax photo of Avi and Sienna’s bearded dragon which I got for preordering.

A solid showing so far and plenty more great books to come. I want to dive back into my TBRs, though I still have three other MG books from the library to read in the next two weeks, and every time I go back I see more that interest me. Not to mention that it’s only one month until the release of the fifteenth Wings of Fire book and I haven’t read any of the books past the tenth still.

So much to read, so little time.

The future is now

I’ve been doing new year posts for a few years now. The novelty has perhaps worn off a little, and due to various reasons I’m feeling a bit cynical about celebrating the new year. But I don’t really want to get into it and I’m sure you don’t want to read it either, so I’ll move on to the whole point of these posts: goal-setting.

First, the wrap-up from last year. Writing wasn’t quite as successful as I’d hoped, as I haven’t quite gotten the draft of the final book of my Sisters of Chaos trilogy ready for beta readers yet. I have, however, completed fairly significant edits over the text from the first draft I finished at the end of 2020. In early December, after finishing the initial edits I marked out back in last January, I did another complete reread and noted just a few smaller areas of concern I still need to work on. At that point, however, the novel went on the back burner as other projects took precedence.

I rediscovered joy in art in 2021 in a way I haven’t in many years, and even used up the last page in the sketchbook I’d been drawing in since 2012. I also tried out/revisited media I hadn’t experimented with in a long time, and tried some new techniques that visibly improved my art even in the few drawings I did last year. In fact, I have some other artwork, from as far back as last summer, that I’ve yet to share here. Obviously, adding posts to this blog hasn’t been a priority for me of late.

Music also became a stronger focus this year as I worked on learning both piano and guitar (and even got a fantastic new guitar as a birthday/Christmas present). I even recorded and shared a few covers and started composing an original song. I’m slowly making progress on both my instruments and with singing.

I ended up reading 52 books last year. 12 of them were graphic novels and 45 were middle grade (four of the remaining are classified as teen/YA books, all of those graphic novels). I’d been wanting to delve into middle grade books and found some absolute treasures among the selections I read.

I didn’t end up playing through as many video games as I wanted to this year – in fact, I fear I may have added more acquisitions than I completed. But, I had the opportunity to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Zero Dawn and am making my way through the original Final Fantasy VII.

For this year, I want to say I want the third Sisters of Chaos book to be completed and ready for publication by the end of the year. I don’t have much editing left to do on it and hopefully I can have it out to beta readers by the end of this month. What transpires past that point is difficult to predict, but it shouldn’t be a stretch to have the manuscript finished within twelve months.

Art I’m going to indulge whenever the mood strikes me. While I am enjoying both the act of drawing and improving my work, I have no goals.

The same goes for music, though I’d like to be more consistent with my guitar and piano lessons. Much as I’m enjoying recording new video game songs, I want to focus more on just playing instruments rather than trying to learn arranging, mixing, and mastering as well. I say that, of course, as I continue working on my most ambitious song yet.

I don’t have any specific goals I’m trying to achieve with reading, so I’m going to once again set my reading goal to 30 books and see where it goes from there. My TBRs have started to collect again after some purchases last year, though it’s only a handful left after reading the graphic novels this week. I’d like to expand my scope a little, perhaps start getting into some of the many ebooks I’ve purchased/downloaded. That said, there are still at least eleven middle grade books I can think of off-hand that I’d quite like to read (two of them scheduled for release this month).

As for video games, I’d just like to get into new ones quicker. I’m finding anymore that it takes me a while to get truly invested in and comfortable with new RPGs. Case in point: I just reached the second disc of Final Fantasy VII yet have only really gotten emotionally/intellectually involved with the story and game play in the past handful of play times. I like the story – liked it from the beginning – but it took me so long to get the hang of the game play and trying to figure out what’s going on and what I should be doing that it’s taken months for me to feel like I’m really playing it; the same was certainly true of Horizon: Zero Dawn, and was a large part of why I didn’t play more games last year. Considering how many games I have to play for so many different systems, I don’t think I have the luxury to take my time each time I start up a new game. I don’t really know how to overcome that, but I’ll have to figure it out somehow.

If nothing else, writing, art, reading, making music, and playing video games help to distract the mind. On that note, I think I’ll go start up the Playstation Classic.

September update: MUSIC!

A bit belated (what else is new?) but that’s right: in August, I learned and recorded a new song.

If you want to download it, you can do it here: Jinx – Hope and Tragedy

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m a follower of Dwelling of Duels, a monthly themed video game arrangement competition with the requirement of at least one real instrument used per entry. I actually submitted my own songs to DoD this year for the first time, though the previous entries weren’t very good.

When they announced that August would be a free month (no theme, no restrictions on game/track/style), I immediately knew which song I wanted to play. However, the month had barely begun when I listened to “Now Flightless Wings” from the Secret of Mana soundtrack and an entirely different project took shape in my mind.

The inspiration struck quite suddenly to combine several tracks from the Secret of Mana soundtrack representing the most hopeful, and saddest, parts of the game into a solo piano performance.

Thus, “Hope and Tragedy” was born. I spent all month finding sheet music for the various tracks I wanted to include, simplifying them for my ability, and learning to play it all together. It may not sound that impressive, but I’m proud of my work on the song and how it turned out.

Of course, I haven’t touched either piano or guitar since I finished the song…

With huge thanks to JohnStacy for mixing/mastering the recording for me and making it sound so much better.

September update: Writing

Two months since the last update, and I’ve been distracted by indulging in a few different creative outlets, so I’ll try to do a few different posts rather than lump everything together in one.

First and most importantly, of course: progress on the final book of my Sisters of Chaos trilogy. It’s not for nothing that I’ve been getting distracted from working on it, but I’m in the home stretch for the first round of edits. Four POV characters have had initial edits done and one remains. The last one requires a lot of rewriting – well, writing, as I didn’t even attempt earlier scenes from this character in the first draft – and trying to work out said scenes have had the manuscript untouched for the past two and a half weeks.

Reading was also far too easy a distraction away from writing, as I got through ten books in August (fifteen since my last update here). While reading good books has helped regain some motivation for writing, it’s still time spent not writing, but I have quite enjoyed my selections this summer.

Right now, I’m trying to buckle down on the novel, because there’s always something else shiny grabbing my attention. One of those, in fact, is a number of short story ideas that have taken over my mind of late. Much as I am looking forward to taking some time to work on those once the novel is in beta readers’ hands, I am still forcing myself not to write anything else until this draft is done. Maybe that’s a mistake, but darn it, I’m close and I want it done.

New art: Flights of fancy

My daughter asked me to draw her as a magical girl, and I decided to take that a step further with some additional drawings.

I do intend to add backgrounds to the latter two, but I scrambled to get these done in time for her birthday, and now that that’s past, I have two other goals I want to achieve before the end of the month, so finishing these is going on the back burner for now. (Along with getting better scans.)

All images done in marker (with backdrop on the magical girl picture in pencil crayon).

July update

Here we are, halfway through the year. School is out and summer weather is upon us. And it’s time for my (mostly) monthly update.

Didn’t progress quite as much with book three of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy as I had wanted to, but as might be evidenced from the last few posts, I’ve been engaged with art lately. I’m also working on a few bigger pieces at the moment, much as I would like to continue doing quicker sketches. I’ve really been enjoying doing art over the past month plus and it’s a lot easier to sink into when I’m not feeling writing, as I have been a bit of late.

I didn’t accomplish much else in June. Failed to keep myself off YouTube videos. Rarely touched the video game I was playing or either piano or guitar. Still haven’t finished the miniatures I was trying to finish painting. I’ve mentioned before about how I have too many hobbies, but lately, they’ve all been clamoring for my attention more than usual.

On the bright side, my plants are growing well. Last year’s jalapeno plant sprouted a flower that hung on long enough to become a full pepper, which is ready to harvest any day now. The tomatoes that a month ago were maybe four-inch seedlings have now surpassed the height of the tomato cage, and have bloomed their first flowers. The bell peppers are a little behind them, but love the hot weather we’ve had of late and continue to grow as well. One lettuce container is crammed full and has made a few delicious meals already. The other is much more sparse of plants, but those growing in it are quite happy with the additional space.

In the garden, of the seeds I planted, only the zucchini took off, but boy did it. Each plant has several eight-inch leaves and is sprouting a lot more. A little bummed that I won’t be getting pumpkins again this year, but not overly surprised that nothing else grew.

I didn’t quite reach my yearly goal of reading 30 books by halfway through this year, but I’m only one short, and I certainly want to start reading more. Summer holiday means checking out plenty of books from the library for my daughter, and as they’re middle grade books, I’m quite interested in reading them as well. Perhaps one of these days I’ll also get back to the many ebooks I’ve downloaded or least sampled.

For this month, I’d really like to kick my perfectionism to the curb. It’s been taking time out of everything I want to do. I can’t just do something; I have to do it well. I have to do it right. This makes everything feel intimidating – such as the video game I’ve been playing, which feels like a huge time commitment, yet when I sit down and play it, it’s just a fun story to sink into, and there’s even frequent enough save points that I don’t have to devote an hour or more to play. The end result of feeling so intimated, however, is it’s easier to just watch videos than do something productive.

I’m tired of doing that. I can just sit down and play a few minutes of my video game. I can open up a book and read a few pages without having to devour the entire thing in a night. I can pick up the guitar or sit down at the piano and just practice a few bars of a song. And even if I only write two sentences in an evening, at least it’s progress.

And I really want to finish this novel. I’ve almost finished my first edit of the third POV character’s scenes. That only leaves two to fix up afterward, one of which is only going to have an handful of scenes. If I actually sit down and work on it, maybe I could even have my edits done by the end of this month.

So, here we go again with the same goal from last month: just do more. I’ve seen plenty of memes and threads and inspirational quotes about perfectionism, but right now, taking a cue from Disney’s Luca, perhaps a simpler message would help me just do the things I want to do: Silenzio, Bruno.

May update

Writing:

  • Finished initial edits on two characters’ scenes in book 3 of the Sisters of Chaos trilogy. (Not as big an accomplishment as it may sound, as one of those characters only had a handful of scenes.) Still have some edits to do on one character’s scenes because another character I haven’t tackled yet is going to affect them. I do, however, feel vindicated in my approach of editing one POV at a time, as the one I’m working on now had a timing issue I might not have noticed doing the entire draft in order.

Art:

  • I’m doing it. More importantly, I’m enjoying the process of making art and proud of my results, more than I have been in many years. Also really enjoying trying out new techniques and media that I haven’t touched in years. I mentioned in my last art post that I recently watched a video about the benefits of keeping a sketchbook and have been inspired to do more casual art/art for its own sake/just experimenting of late. My recent drawings have brought me within ten pages of the end of my current sketchbook, which I have been using since 2012. I’m looking forward to filling up those last pages and looking for a new sketchbook, one better suited to mixed media so I can continue to experiment with watercolour and other media.

Reading:

  • Slowing down; only read two more books this month, both middle grade. Still greatly enjoying those. I am, however, getting back into the habit of spending at least part of most evenings watching YouTube videos, rather than reading or doing something else productive. Although, said videos have inspired the motivation to do art lately, and I have watched a few tutorials on art as well, so I guess it’s not a total waste. Still, some of those videos could be time better spent.

Video games:

  • Avoiding commitment. Tried to overcome that by starting Horizon Zero Dawn last week, though I haven’t touched it since after realizing that game is definitely a commitment, not just in time but in play frequency.

Music:

  • Fell by the wayside with the increased interest in art. Need to just sit down and practice more.

Garden:

  • A cool month had things going slow and a few plants spending quite a bit of time inside. While the progress of late came after the end of May, a few hot days had my tomatoes and peppers springing up. Last year’s jalapeño plant has even bloomed several flowers now. The first fell off at the stem before it could create a pepper, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed on the next ones.

Goals for June? Just do more rather than resort to YouTube. Perfectionism keeps making me think things are harder/more work to do than they are and I need to take my recent accomplishments as proof that it’s wrong.