Free Kindle Weekend: Historian’s Crusade

If you haven’t downloaded it yet, Historian’s Crusade is having a free weekend till Saturday at midnight local time. Enjoy!


Battlefield V Trailer First Impressions – How About That Historical Accuracy?

So the first “gameplay” trailer for Battlefield V dropped and people are up in arms about one detail in particular: there is a FEMALE CHARACTER(TM) in this ridiculous battle royale multiplayer extravaganza. The horror.

The argument from people like this is that it’s unrealistic to have a female soldier on the frontlines in WW2, that it’s just the identity politics people pushing an agenda, etc etc etc.

Really, that never really came to my mind when I watched the trailer. Coming from last year’s Battlefield 1, I was incredibly disappointed by that game’s attitude to historical accuracy and authenticity. For a game set in WW1 it was myopic in both its design, which felt more like a WW2 or Modern Warfare run-and-gunner with all the prototype machine guns they could get their hands on, rather than embrace the horror of trench warfare, bolt action rifles, bayonet charges, and improvised weapons. The theme should have been the savegery of industrialized warfare clashing against empire and notions of chivalry, nationalism, and jingoism. Never mind the black and black morality of empires having their poor and colonial subjects bleed for old men’s ambitions. The game failed at both of those aspects.

Now, the Second World War is a different animal in that regard, granted. Unlike the Great War, there was actually a genuine evil side. The Allies were not necessarily heroic in all aspects of war fighting either, but at least we can pretty much agree that the Allies were leaps and bounds more on the side of the angels than the Axis powers. I don’t doubt that Dice will be able to put something together in that regard.  Continue reading “Battlefield V Trailer First Impressions – How About That Historical Accuracy?”

Fallout 2 – A Game I Would Have Loved 10 Years Ago

Random Ramblings on Fallout 2 and productivity

Good news, everybody! Since the last time I have posted I was busy writing another novel. Also the next serialized story will go online at the beginning of next month. I know I said Q1 but for quality-control reasons it has to be April. Also: I played Fallout 2 and I figured I’d write a piece about my shifting entertainment priorities.

I’m not sure I’d call myself a huge fan of the Fallout series. Previously I had played Fallouts 1, 3, New Vegas, and 4, with New Vegas being probably my second-favorite game ever. So while I love that game, the rest of the series has mostly been disappointing to me. Fallout 2, which I have on-and-off again begun to play for at least five years, has this huge difficulty spike at the beginning that made me give up several times since.

This time, however, I finally buckled down and… ran into the same difficulty spike. After five hours of this I gave up, loaded up a save stat editor and cheated my way through the game on story mode. I figured, hey, if Baldur’s Gate has a story mode, so should Fallout. And while some “hardcore gamers” might be infuriated at my cheating, I have to admit that it probably saved my experience with Fallout 2.

Much like its much easier predecessor, Fallout 2 has this big, probably too big, world that is incredibly reactive to what you do and accommodates a lot of character input with lots of neat details you can follow through with. The story isn’t necessarily better than anything you can find nowadays, despite what many lovers of old-school CRPGs might tell you. The storytelling varies widely much like its predecessor, and the increased wackiness, especially in random encounters, breaks your immersion heavily. No, what makes Fallout 2 so cool is truly the reactiveness of the world, which could only be accomplished in smaller, more personable games.  Continue reading “Fallout 2 – A Game I Would Have Loved 10 Years Ago”

Infiltration at Camelot – A Pariah Company Sequel (Part 3)

When Catelin awoke, nightfall had already come. Her head pounded, her chest and arms ached. Or was it the other way around? It didn’t help that the moment she tried to get up she was jerked back by the two handkerchiefs tying her to one of the tentpoles. At least someone had put a couple of blankets underneath her. The ground beneath was icy cold. She shifted her eyes to those of a cat, immediately being rewarded with a clearer, brighter vision. The tent was empty, the front flap tied shut from within to maintain privacy. A general hexagonal shape with an opening for air at the top showed the clear night sky. The stars were off though, not those visible from Central Europe at any case.

“Almost like we’re in a different dimension,” she mused out loud, feeling her bruises. That had been thoroughly humiliating. She had fought sorceresses, warlords, demons, but never gotten her ass kicked by a random kid. Though at least she now knew that Ahmed was anything but normal. Her hunch had been right. Right but painful. She shimmied out of her restraints by distributing mass from her arms to the feet. She tried once to turn into a mouse or snake, but the had to maintain her natural mass. Her sister, the sorceress and altogether royal smart person of the group, had once babbled about ‘conservation of mass’ and ‘thermodynamics’. Nonsense words that were probably yiddish or something, Catelin had always figured, but the point stood nonetheless: once you turn yourself so small, the rest of you had to go somewhere. Alberic had carried her pieces around in a bucket for more than three weeks until Guinevere had gathered the energy for a reconstitution spell. Good times.

Once on her feet, she rubbed her worn hands, then took stock. There wasn’t much here. Ahmed wasn’t here either. There was a cut in the fabric of the tent though. Had he snuck out? In one corner she found something altogether strange: a bundle of fabric with straps and metal. She opened the flap and heard the two halves come apart with a rip. She moved it in the other direction, closing it back up. Curious. She opened it once more, finding Ahmed’s robes and beard.

Before she could dig any deeper, the cut in the tent opened and a figure stepped in, dressed in black. Catelin twirled around and, trying a different approach, crossed her arms and cleared her dry throat. “Hello, ‘Ahmed’.”

The figure that was Ahmed turned, bringing up a pistol of thoughts and – brightness! Broad daylight, concentrated into a beam, shone in Catelin’s face. She quickly turned her eyes back normal, raising her hands for good measure to block the agonizing beam. That hurt. “Slow and steady now,” said not-Ahmed. Not in the effeminate, cracking voice of a youth but the actual feminine voice of a woman. The beam of flight was averted and Catelin could now see the real person. Standing there, only a few feet away, was an athletic woman, looking 20 but saying 30 with her posture and eyes. She wore black and green, yes, but it was as strange has her rucksack. Shouldering a robe, she had the same metal strips and noise reattachable sticky fabric on it as the rucksack, while also wearing a vest with a good amount of pickets and strange devices poking out. She rolled her eyes. Not again.

“Time traveler?” Catelin sighed before she even knew the answer, lowering her arms. She sat on the ground, crossing her legs.

Not-Ahmed raised an eyebrow and for the first time Catelin could see him, her, for real: black hair, the same dark skin obviously, grey eyes. Attractive, but too muscular and thin for her customers. “You know about time travel?” She lowered her weapon, but did not holster the strange contraption. That made her smarter than most men who had Catelin on the defensive.

“You’d be surprised,” Catelin said, shrugging her shoulders, “ what we’ve seen before. What century?”

“About five-hundred years into the future. Plus or minus a decade. I think,” she answered. “The late 21st century.”

“The earliest yet,” Catelin mused, remembering the golem – what was the world again? Robot? – from a few years ago that had come to this dimension to become a real human. Why one wanted that when one could crush steel with one hand was anyone’s guess. Maybe the sex. “Let’s try this again: ‘Hello, I’m Catelin and not a backstabbing, manipulative bitch. And you are…’.”

She hesitated for a moment, then holstered her weapon. It retracted and shifted into itself till it was tiny and clicked to her belt without any straps. Magnetic? Marvelous, but Catelin tried to look aloof and not terrified as fuck. It always impressed this lot when the primitives didn’t care. “My name is Soraya. Soraya McTavish.”

Catelin wordlessly asked for her to join her on the ground, holding pallaver. “When did you get here, Soraya?”

The young woman shrugged. “A few months ago. I think. I was in Australia for a UN peacekeeping mission…” She trailed off.

“You’re a soldier?” Catelin had to pull herself together not to ask what ‘Australia’ was.

“Archeologist,” Soraya said, looking down at her gear, then remembering that Catelin didn’t know that word, “You know what a historian is? Basically that but I work for a living.”

“Are they also mercenaries?” Catelin chuckled at Soraya’s gear.

The girl smiled, returning the chuckle. She started to let her guard down. “Austria went down the drain during the Resource Wars. After FIrst Contact, well, point is I went down there with a group from my university to salvage some priceless artifacts before the Australian Evangelical Front blew them up. Long story short: I was caught in one of those dimension portals and ended up here in your dimension. Time. Took me the better part of a year to use my survival gear to get to Africa, from there I went to the Persians, then the Byzantines, then here.”

“Huh,” Catelin said, nodding, “and those Arabs chasing you? That costume?” Continue reading “Infiltration at Camelot – A Pariah Company Sequel (Part 3)”

Review: Mute (2018) – Flawed But Still Amazing

It’s been 9 years since Duncan Jones hit it out of the park with his debut film Moon. Since then his output has been… worrisome. But now he’s back with a force.

Duncan Jones manages to turn the grimy, ugly Berlin into something visually stunning and so believably futuristic that it serves as a terrific counterpoint to the dark story line. This is one where world-building is everything. Alexander Skarsgard, Paul Rudd, and Justin Theroux give a tour de force of performances.

The supporting cast is great too, the city of future Berlin very much included. At first you wonder if the film really needed to be near-future (cyberpunk) science fiction, and while the story could easily be told in a mundane present day setting, the themes of the story very much necessitate the futuristic elements. Much like its spiritual successor Moon, the film very much deals with isolation, compassion, and always acknowledges a baseline of humanity. I found it amazing how even the smallest of side characters gets a humanizing moment. It sells the depravity of the underworld even more, and creates a baseline of realism that often lacks in these types of films.  Continue reading “Review: Mute (2018) – Flawed But Still Amazing”

Infiltration at Camelot – A Pariah Company Sequel (Part 2)

Onto part 2 of Le Reject.

The camp at the foot of Camelot was much more permanent in design and intent than the one with the trolls and magical creatures they had passed on the way here. Catelin was leading the group through the dozens of followers, smiths, merchants, foot soldiers, a few actual hedge knights. That much was clear enough from what they had seen with the kid in Paderborn – Knight Johann or something? She had already forgotten. Apparently people were lining up to join Sigurd and his warrior princess bride. No wonder Voigt had thought it necessary to reactivate Pariah Company. Necessary and foolish, she thought, smiling.

Catelin looked behind her covertly, angry that she couldn’t just grow another pair of eyes. Achilleos and Ahmed were following her like nothing had changed. No, Ahmed eyed her suspiciously. He was going to be a problem sooner or later if she didn’t do anything about it just now. Nothing else mattered till then. Giving up Charles had bought her some time, with the Princess giving her word about the safety of her daughter extending it again, but she still needed to get out of here as soon as possible. And that, ironically, meant going in quickly, gaining Sigurd’s trust, and asking for her daughter back.

Sigurd’s lieutenant in charge of selecting the most worthy knights to join the – appropriately named – inner circle in the inner circle of the castle wasn’t hard to spot. Getting there had been more of an issue. Catelin hadn’t seen this much armor and steel in one place for a good hundred years. Not since muskets had proven as equally good weapons against knights and magical creatures, with the added benefit of allowing the meat shields that were the peasantry to carry the main burden of combat.

“It’s funny,” she said aloud, trying to make conversation, “when I first came to this world everyone was wearing chainmail to protect against swords. Full plate came around because of the musket, then went away because of its ineffectiveness against magicals. And now plate is back for some reason. Curious, curious…”

“If you say so, effendi,” Ahmed said. It was the same tone as usual, just off in the slightest intonational difference. “I am no expert in your lands and its history.”

“No, no you’re not,” Catelin replied, keeping her suspicion down. “But will you participate in the contest?”

Ahmed shrugged, but halfway through stopped, pausing. Catelin was seeing cracks in the performance. This ‘Arab’ was about as common as the rug he carried. But what way to catch him? Maybe… He pointed towards the sanded field a few meters away where the knights and soldiers competed. “Pray tell, what is Achilleos doing?”

Catelin turned quickly. Achilleos had moved past them while they had danced their dance, walking tall and wide towards this Sir Thomas. “Good sir, my friends and I wish to participate in your contest to join your Round Table.”

The knight looked him over, unimpressed like he saw two meter tall slabs of meat every day, even ones flanked by a fairy and an ‘Arab’. Catelin wondered if that might actually be the case, judging by the panopticon of magicals and knights running around. The knight, polished and clean shaved like the kid in Paderborn had been, yet a bit older and slightly less dumb, nodded and gazed at the sparing ground. “My name is Sir Thomas. Prince Sigurd has entrusted me with choosing the best warriors to join him. He is a gracious man, willing to show favor to the best and purest of heart. It is not just a contest of strength, but one of chivalry too. If you wish to participate you must be pure of heart.” He looked at them, smug satisfaction lining his lips from edge to edge. “Are you pure of heart?”

“Always,” Catelin said without a hint of irony, while trying to not laugh at the idea of ‘chivalry’. These fools hadn’t been around in the high times of ‘chivalry’. Honor in knights only applied to your enemies’ foul deeds while you did everything in your power to win. Rules are for losers. But she was able to play it straight, considering what she had only just done to Charles. She nodded to Ahmed. “Him first.”

The Arab glared at her, understanding her meaning. Catelin cared more about the knight’s reaction. The nobleman looked surprised, even through a face that could only be be charitably be described as ‘well bred’ if nothing else came to mind. He cleared his throat. “The contest is not to the death. Even if you cannot join the inner circle, Prince Sigurd still has need of you and your abilities. Nor will the first fight decide. I will decided by your performance once nightfall comes on the day My Liege returns,” Sir Thomas said. Catelin wasn’t sure why he was trying to speak so archaic like he had swallowed a copy of Chaucer. Then again, the last century or so were pretty much a linguistic nail in the coffin for ye olden days. The magic was to blame: too modern, too universal, influencing humanity subtle when when not throwing fireballs at their houses.

“Oh,” Catelin said with a smile, “I’m sure some will certainly get in. Maybe two,” she said cheekily, smiling at Ahmed. Getting rid of him might be easier than she thought without revealing her true motifs.

“In that case face your friend,” Sir Thomas said, instructing his master-at-arms to bring swords. Real ones too.

Catelin rolled her eyes. Served her right for not keeping her big mouth shut. She accepted the first longsword, weighing it in her hand, trying to find out if they were properly balanced. They were. Quality blacksmiths were at hand then. Ahmed also got a sword, but he carried it like a butcher might a knife. The kid was clearly out of his element, clumsy. Was she wrong about suspecting him of plotting against her? Was he just out of his element in a foreign land, did she just project her annoyance with Charles on the kid who had clearly taken a shine to him? Whatever it may be, now it was too late.

“The contest is over once the opponent yields or is incapacitated for five seconds,” Sir Thomas cried. “Begin!”

“Show me what you got,” Catelin said with a smile, gripping the sword properly and positioning her feet in an aggressive stand, ready to lunge. Just because she preferred a good gladius or pistol didn’t mean a sword was either foreign or less-than-lethal in her hands.  

Ahmed raised his sword, his feet moving slowly, deliberately. It betrayed the image of the naive youth he had oozed until then. The sword may be foreign to him, yet he knew the combat stances. It betrayed Catelin’s dulled senses, she had to admit. Too much time laying low, too much time running what amounted to a charity for desperate whores. The kid made eye contact. “Like you showed yourself when you betrayed Alberic?” He lunged, striking from above. Catelin parried, deflecting the blade easily enough, leaving Ahmed open for a killing blow. Her own blade went back to the defensive stance Frederick had taught her a good twenty – thirty? – years ago, protecting shoulder and chest perfectly while she could strike with the pummel. Ahmed recovered quickly, getting his blade up. Out of his depth he was, that much was certain, but clearly not a virgin.

“I didn’t betray him,” Catelin said truthfully, “that would imply it wasn’t the idea from the very beginning.” She struck quickly three times, pirouetting. Left shoulder, faint, center of mass. All of which Ahmed was able to parry. Barely. There were windows open everywhere that would have gotten him killed in a real battle or wounded in a training unit with Frederick. They paced around each other again. “I could offer you to join me, but I take it you imprinted on him already.” One more strike, quickly twirling around the blade to each the pummel and flinging it in a perfect arc in the air, embedding itself in the ground not far away, disarming Ahmed. “But why? I saw you first?” Continue reading “Infiltration at Camelot – A Pariah Company Sequel (Part 2)”