So Long, and thanks for all the Fish*

* with all apologies to Douglas Adams

 

Dear all that are interested.

I’m going to be closing down this blog soon. This update will probably be one of the last updates I’ll have at this particular location. The main reason is because I’ve had a website that has suffered the indignity of not being worked on since early this year. The website calls to me and I must answer. Therefore I’ll be moving this blog to the much neglected website.

I’ll still be using WordPress but I’ll be using the software version instead. This will give me much more control over my site design without having to pay certain fees for this ‘free’ blog. Not that I’m complaining about the fees, mind you, since everyone has to make a living. I do find that I get a tad irritated that I can’t do simple things like change the colors of my theme without paying money. I’ve been cool with that for a few years and have even contemplated paying that price. I find this system is good for those that don’t have their own web-domain and host, but I am not one of those people.

I also want to start presenting myself in a bit more professional look and style. My new website will be focused on my career with a focus on writing examples and a portfolio. However, my blog will still be me. I want my blog to reflect this so I won’t have anyone able to post entries without my specific approval. I do have one or two people who have that privileges on this blog. Their input on the new blog will be a bit more limited. However, I’d like to start finding more people to guest post but not necessarily give them the keys to the kingdom. This doesn’t reflect badly on anyone that has posted here. I guess my goals for my blog have changed since I started the current iteration of Random Thoughts. That happens in life. We grow, we live and we sometimes have to move on.

I should have my new site up by Monday, July the 7th. I will post the details at that time. Thank you all for being readers of Random Thoughts and I hope to see you over at my new site.

 

- Warren C. Bennett

 

Fiction: The Choice

The writer leans back in his chair as an abandoned cursor blinks at him from the screen.  He ignores it and stares outside his office.  It is a small space, bigger than a closet but not big enough to be called a room.  It has a window and room for a desk. That is all he really needs.

Out the window is the absence of light.  The heart of winter continues to bring the onslaught of darkness, with the sun barely glimpsed during the day.  As he stares, a great longing seizes his soul.  It is one that begs him to be on the road, to be rid of this house and his responsibilities and to go beyond the reach of those who love him.  He fights this longing for a moment as it mocks him and his comfort.

You used to know what it was like to travel.  It is a dark longing, one that has teeth and can rip flesh.  It also speaks truth.

“I can’t now; my wife and family must be fed.”  His words ring hollow in his ear even as he says them.

What happened to you? What happened to the young man that wanted to backpack across Europe? The one that wanted to discover all the abandoned pools and overgrown hedges? The one that longed to look for the hidden history of the world inside long lost ruins?

The writer struggles for a moment but soon ceases.   His office is gone now as he floats in the darkness.  Lights appear to form around him, intricate patterns of various sizes start to swirl.  He can hear the faint sound of laughter and music in these patterns.  He can see the fae and the pixies dance outside the window and light up a hidden path.  It is a path that leads away from this house and his responsibilities, a path that echoes a dark freedom.

“You can have this again. The path is there, for one with the will to find it.”

It is only a voice in his head, the man thinks.  Yet, the path is there and he can see it.  The fae and the pixies form a canopy over a road in front of his house.  One that never existed there before and is going into a place.  The place fuzzy but with the outlines of towers and the existence of light –

“Dad?”

The writer jumps and his heart starts pounding against his chest. He is once more in the little room, his cluttered office full of the flotsam and jetsam of a lifetime.

“What?” He says a little more harshly then he means.  His son says nothing and he can see the stony cold creep over his face. The son shrugs and jus says “Mom.” And walks out.

His wife. The love of his life.  She is downstairs and he is up here.  Two children lay between them.

So much else in life is also between them.  Life and money, for instance.   A desire for a change.  An affair she had with the neighbor.  Moths of drunken debauchery after…

It is a love lost.  It is a love that once burned so bright that those that knew them had to succumb to the flames or leave their sphere of influence.  The writer’s heart aches as he thinks of what used to be and what it is now.

He had driven her in to another man’s arms.  Their love used to be a wild fire on which they built their life. It used to be…  Can something like that be regained?

He didn’t even want to try anymore.  He did try once.  He tried to talk to her but the conversations always turned cold a brittle.   A frost had developed between them, the fire quenched and their love nothing but a lost ember.

Yet, an ember can still be stoked under the right conditions.  That ember just needed to be found.

You don’t need this.

The longing, the voice had returned.  The writer looked out the window and saw the path.  He saw freedom there, a chance to start over and renew his life.  He saw the city full of wonders.  He could have it all if he just…

At what cost? Would he lose his son and his daughter?  He loved them more than life.  Parenting could be hard and it could be so lonely.

Especially with a shrew living in the same house. The voice reminded him.

The shrew that used to be his love.  A part of his heart twitched for a moment as old memories flowed through his mind.

The path stood there taunting and inviting him.  The fae and the pixies were magical and their music intoxicating.   It was natural and primal; the music ebbed and flowed with the gusts of wind.

Your kids will be taken care of.  They are of age now.  Just say it and you will be free.

His heart ached to be free of this mess he made his life.  His kids were beyond the stage where they adored him. That seemed lost in the past now.  After a series of fights, this betrayal by his wife, finances that never seemed to stop leaking money and so many unfulfilled promises it didn’t seem possible.  These had left the whole family torn and battered.  His kids would be better off with him gone. With him here, they were only reminded of the good times.

“Maybe she will meet another that can repair her torn heart.  Maybe meet a man worthy of being called a father.”

The voice said a comforting chill setting over the writer.

Your kids will be taken care of and only remember the good times.  You might have been worthy of them once, but not now. Just say yes and you can travel down this path.  Your family will be gone and you will be free.

The writer could feel his heart beat against his chest, could feel the line drawn in the sand.  The choice was in front of him, his choice to leave his family to better things and start anew or to stay and continue the loosing battle.

You are so tired, so weary.  You will be refreshed and renewed. The voice said as the writer looked in to the dark, in to the fae and the pixies that showed the hidden path before him.

He could almost see something in the distance.  Darkness over that far off city.  A voice that was an echo of an echo, telling him to hang on because his family would be healed in the end.  He almost believed.  Almost.

He saw his wife in the arms of another man.  He saw his children standing in shock as he came home drunk and hit her.  This was not the man he wanted to be.

You could be any man you want, once you are on the road.  Your family will only remember the good things and another will help them.  You will be free.

He whispered “Yes.” And reality broke, and his heart with it.  The fae and the pixies screamed, fleeing the path and the voice laughed, going from a high-pitched squeal to a deep and evil baritone.

The writer could no longer feel his heart and he passed out in to the waiting darkness.

When he awoke, his house was bare and his family was gone.  The writer wasn’t ashamed to cry, his tears of sorrow and frustration streaming down his face.  His broken sobs filled the empty house but no one was there to comfort him. He had made his choice and now he would be walking that road alone.

‘The Gaming Goddess’ Podcast – Season 5, Ep. 11: “Thank You From Jess”

POSTED BY: Jessica “Allahweh” Brown

On the evening of June 28, I felt compelled to do one more episode of The Gaming Goddess podcast for the season, despite having claimed that the 10th episode may have been the final one for Season 5. And, to boot, I decided to make this one a video episode as well. The main reason for this was that I felt that we needed to end the season on a strong, personal note, and given the wonderful support I have had from fans of the podcast and friends of the the sites I work with, I felt a personal message with a thank-you was the best way to go about this.

So, once again, thank you guys for all your support of all the things I do, and me as an individual.

For those of you who want to stream or download this on the go, you can do so via the link below:

GG 05-11: “Thank You From Jess” (MP3)

[Review] “Munin” (Indie Puzzler)

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REVIEW BY: Jessica “Allahweh” Brown

TITLE: Munin

DEVELOPER: Gojira

PUBLISHER: Daedalic Entertainment

GENRE: 2D Platform Puzzler

PLATFORM: Steam

CURRENT PRICE: $7.49 (Reg. $9.99)

RELEASE DATE: June 10, 2014

Munin is another one of those small studio indie games that I had never heard of until I was contacted with an offer of a redeem key for the game on Steam. Of course, when the keywords “indie,” “platformer,” and “puzzler” were used to describe the game, I was immediately intrigued. A quick skimming of the game’s product page on Steam only solidified my interest in playing it and giving it a fair review.

The basic premise of the game is that Munin, beloved messenger to Odin, has been cursed and stripped of her wings and transformed into a human girl by the god Loki. As a result, Munin, determined to return to her former glory, must traverse nine worlds of Yggdrasil to reclaim her lost feathers and return to Asgard.

The first things I noticed about the game, without even getting too much into the gameplay, was the unique, hand-drawn art style and the very relaxing, yet very fitting musical score. The music that Gojira put into the game has a very calming and soothing effect, creating an overall atmosphere of relaxation while you play the game. The art style is well-done, colorful, and yet reserved, adding to this calming effect. The landscapes you will traverse are varied and different, interesting, and yet not jarring. Overall, this creates an atmosphere whereby the game challenges your wits and senses, but works to keep you relaxed and in a good mood.

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At its core, Munin is more than a simple platforming puzzle game. Each area you explore has feathers that you need to collect in order to move on, and while some are easily within reach, others require a lot of thought and quick maneuvering to get to. Yet, Munin herself has a special ability that really makes this game stand out: At will, she can rotate different parts of the environment 90 degrees at a time. In the screenshot above, for example, rotating the middle area twice will put the bridge over the gap and allow the player to collect the feather. Then, rotating it back to the original position while on the other side will make the feather in that part accessible. And, what starts out rather simplistically as in the picture above quickly becomes more and more complex, requiring rotating multiple parts as if pieces in a large jigsaw puzzle to allow access to special areas, sometimes even requiring you to rotate an area mid-jump or fall to change platforms so that you can access them.

A good thing about the game is that the designers were not cruel with their layouts, and in an effort of fairness, the difficulty is simply ramped up as gameplay continues, the player being introduced to new and different challenges gradually so that nothing comes as a jarring, horrible surprise. Thus, the game is well-balanced and accessible to novices and experts alike.

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This review may be a bit short, yet it speaks of the simplicity of the game it covers. Ultimately, I have nothing negative to say about this game. The difficulty is balanced, the graphics are nice and pleasing to look at, the music is calm and soothing, and the gameplay is pretty much spot on. The story is rather simplistic and kept to a minimum, and a bit more lore could have been nice, but ultimately they put in just enough to keep you playing.

The game features 77 levels to traverse and is estimated to take around 7 hours to complete by the game’s designers, so for the regular asking price of $9.99, this seems like a pretty good deal to me.

FINAL SCORE: A-

“The Witcher 2″ Long Play: Chapter 1-1

POSTED BY: Jessica “Allahweh” Brown

CONTENT WARNING: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is a mature, adult-oriented game that contains lots of violence, direct sexuality and sexual themes, and more. This is recommended for adults aged 18 and up. Viewer discretion is advised!

If you’ve been pining away since the first episode of this new series, waiting for me to jump right into Chapter 1, your wait is over! Be warned though: This is a long video, clocking in at nearly three-and-a-half hours!

At the end of the Prologue, Geralt, Triss, and Roche boarded a ship and headed away from La Valette Castle, now finding themselves in the thick woods around the literal backwater town of Flotsam. Here, we will come to learn that the Scoia’tael is harboring the kingslayer, that there is a lot of internal politics in this backwards village, that a huge creature called the Kayran is terrorizing the people of Flotsam and the nearby hamlet, and we will meet two of our old friends and save them from a terrible fate. Also, we’ll meet a sorceress who Triss warns us about, but whose true motives yet remain to be seen.

There are a lot of side-quests we work on here, but the main storyline remains the focus. As you can tell, even with that, this will be a rather long game. Also, I finally figure out how you meditate in this one. Rather than being forced to go to a campfire to do so here, you can actually do it anywhere, so long as you are out of combat! So, we finally spend our trait points! Yay!

This video was encoded into an MKV file, but apparently YouTube doesn’t like MKV’s and is forced to re-encode it back into an MP4. The video quality is still good for 1080p, however, it is quite a bit inferior to what the original file looks like on my computer. But, lesson learned! I’ll use MP4 or AVI for future episodes so that doesn’t happen again. It’s a shame, because MKV is a superior video container format!

‘The Retro Play Show’ #25: “Sonic Adventure” (DC, Part 2)

WRITTEN BY: Jessica “Allahweh” Brown

On June 20, 2014 I continued my live-stream of Sonic Adventure for the Sega Dreamcast (1999), picking up where we left off. Last time, we had just completed Snow Cap zone and saw the arrival of the Egg Carrier. This time around, we zip through a couple more major zones, finally fly up to and explore the Egg Carrier itself, crash land deep within the jungles of the Mystic Ruins, and add a couple new characters to our team.

According to the in-game menu, we are 80% done with Sonic’s storyline and thus one more episode should complete it! :)

If you don’t yet, please subscribe to me on YouTube (I really want to hit 200+ subscribers soon) and follow me on Twitch so you can see awesome stuff like this live!

[Review] “Blockstorm” (PC)

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REVIEW BY: Jessica “Allahweh” Brown

TITLE: Blockstorm

DEVELOPER: GhostShark

PUBLISHER: IndieGala

GENRE: Voxel-style FPS

PLATFORM: Steam

EARLY ACCESS DATE: June 6, 2014

These days, it seems like the idea of opening a game to Steam‘s “early access” mode is the way a lot of developers like to handle beta testing. In a way, though, it seems like a pretty good idea as well as a lucrative one. Essentially, by opening a game up to early access, the company behind it can get some money up-front to pay for the continued development of the game as well as get some beta testers on board. In a way, it seems sort of like the idea of Kickstarter, except that you already have to have a somewhat-finished product to work with.

Blockstorm is a game that I had heard of before and read about at various points, and although it looked pretty cool at the time, it just didn’t stick with me to where I felt I needed to look up more about it. Part of this is likely due to the fact that as a whole I am not hugely into first-person shooters, though don’t get me wrong: I am not against them either. I used to play stuff like Goldeneye 007 back in the day, and even had my time where I was really into Counter-Strike back in my early college years, so I am not a stranger to the genre. Yet, as a whole I won’t just gravitate to these types of games, and that’s probably why I overlooked this one at first. Yet, having been given a copy of the game from the great PR Hound, my uncertain nature quickly gave way to admiration for an awesome product.

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First thing’s first: If you think that by being a voxel game this title will lose out in terms of graphics, shading, lighting effects, character details, and much more – you’re wrong. In fact, despite still being a block-based world, the game’s graphics are really nice, on par with what you can do in Minecraft when you install a bunch of custom shading mods along with ultra high-res graphic choices. Here, the world around you has full shadows with good light-sourcing, and the character models are surprisingly detailed. Even the basic models are really cool, but one thing that players will really like (that is, if they have a lot of time on their hands) is that there is a full-feature editor available right down to each individual “pixel” that makes up the character models, letting you paint pretty much whatever it is you envision for your character. Time-consuming? Yes. But awesome? Definitely!

When I first fired up the game, the very first thing that stuck with me was the music. Now, yes, this is a first-person shooter and unlike a lot of games, I wouldn’t say that music will make or break it, but the song that fires up when you load the game is pretty awesome. Really, it’s a great way to hook you in and then get your adrenaline fired up so you want to log on and go shoot some folks!

The combat in the game is right up there with the aforementioned Counter-Strike in my opinion, and the game runs so smoothly that it is easy to get lost in trying to shoot people and forget about some of the other really cool aspects of the title, like the fact that you can literally destroy just about anything in the map. Is the tree in your way? Cut it down with a volley from your AK-47. Can’t get around that wall? Toss a grenade at it and stand back. You also have a shovel you can use to dig, plus you have a block tool you can use to construct things. So, in essence, each map is a living organism you can work with on the fly, resulting in some really cool matches you will participate in!

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Another strong selling point of this game is the fact that all of the tools used by the game’s developers to create the character models and maps you see are freely available in the game for you to use to make your own characters (as mentioned before) and your own awesome custom maps. So, not only is the game itself a hybrid in its gameplay by mixing in construction and destruction aspects, but you can spend hours if you want making really great custom maps to share and play in online.

This game is technically early access as I write this review, but I have been told this is very close to what the “final” product will be like, and thus have no qualms with providing a score here for this game.

Ultimately, with the game only costing $11.99 on Steam (or $39.99 for four copies), I find that for the large volume of content this one has to offer, you simply really can’t go wrong here.

FINAL SCORE: A