Petrina is coming

Spaceship cover
Petrina cover

Petrina has now been submitted at Createspace and Amazon, so both e-book and paperback versions should appear in the next day or so. The last month of formatting and proofreading has been a long slog, but I learned a lot about how to do it more efficiently in future.

One of the biggest issues is Libreoffice’s formatting, where you can both apply a style and directly format, and it remembers the direct formatting even if you change the style. This then causes problems when you convert to an e-book, because it looks fine in the word processor, but then you discover you’ve accidentally set a few lines in the book to the same font as the text style, so the rest of the text scales as the user selects different text sizes, but those particular lines always stay at a fixed size. The only way to track it down is by grepping for font-size and similar HTML commands in the generated file, then tracking down those lines and fixing them in the original document.

In future I’m going to use styles for everything, and then use the writer2xhtml command that strips all formatting; that should eliminate any such problems.

Simultaneous Development

I’ve been a member of a critique group for several years, and critiqued several novels and couple of hundred short stories in that time. Out of those, about a dozen have been close enough to stories I have at first draft stage or on my list of stories to write that I’ve felt I needed to add ‘BTW, I have a story similar to this that I may finish one day’ at the end of my critique so the writer didn’t come back in a few years to say ‘Hey! You critiqued my story and then wrote your own version of it! You [illegitimate person]!’

It happens all the time. I also remember an article by a Hollywood script reader saying that, one week, they read two scripts set on alligator farms. Never seen one before, never seen one since, but somehow the two they did see arrived at almost the same time.

Rage Against The Game Designers

Bought Rage in the Steam sale, mostly because I wanted to take a look at the graphics and for $5 or so it was worth a go.

After ‘Press Enter’ to start, I was subjected to a long and boring unskippable video which is apparently supposed to explain why I’m where I am at the start of the game.

I don’t care.

Really, honestly, I don’t give a damn.

I certainly don’t want to have to sit there for two or three minutes just because you’re determined to make me watch this video that you spent billions of dollars on.

All I need to know is, where the bad guys are. Story? If I wanted story, I’d read a book.

My first thought on entering the game was ‘hey, this is Borderlands, isn’t it?’ My second thought was ‘what the hell is this gibberish on the screen all the time? Press A to Accept? I pressed A, it does nothing?’

Ah, OK, when it says to press A, it means A on the gamepad if you were playing on a console. But, being a PC game and all, you’d almost think they’d know I’m going to be using a keyboard and mouse. I finally figure out that I can click on the things with the mouse and now I can get on with the actual game.

Or not. There’s a door, and I can’t open it until I wait for the computer to say stuff that doesn’t matter to me at all.

I started this game to play a game, not to be stuck in a room so you can force me to listen to pointless audio. Just tell me where the bad guys are so I know who to shoot, OK?

So finally the game lets me out the door. My first thought outside is ‘wow, look at those textures flickering as the game loads them in!’ I’d configured it with a large texture cache, I’m running the 64-bit version on a machine with 32GB of RAM and 2GB of VRAM, and it can’t even hold all the textures for a tiny little view of a small chunk of ground. I turn left, the textures on the left of the screen flicker in. I turn right, the textures I was just looking at on the right of the screen flicker in.

Damn, that’s ugly.

But still, if I keep looking in one direction it seems OK. So I walk down and, lo, I’m knocked down by a scripted cut-scene with no chance to avoid it. Now, I’m lying on the ground unable to do anything when all I want to do is shoot some bad guys.

Tedium continues as some NPC turns up and shoots them and tells me to get in his car.

I don’t want to get in his car.

I don’t care about the NPC, I don’t want to be carried around the game as a spectator.

I want to play it.

But, there’s no choice other than to get in the car. I wait as he drives around the scenery and eventually parks in a garage.

Can I walk out and find stuff to do?

Of course not. The garage door is closed and I have to follow him in. There’s a door out, but I’m magically unable to use it until I stand there and listen to him explain why I have to help the Happy Fluffy Bunny People collect rat tails for the Weasel Horde.

Or something. I really don’t care.

I wander off and see if there’s anything else in the building while he yatters on. I come back, expecting him to have finished so I can get on and maybe do something interesting.


While I was away, he stopped talking. I literally have to stand there and listen to this claptrap, when, after a minute or two of rambling monologue, it all comes down to ‘Go here and kill bandits’.

Why is that so hard? Why can’t the game just say ‘Go here and kill bandits?’ Why is listening to a monologue instead? How is that supposed to be fun?

I won’t go on much longer. I’ll have to mention the incredibly annoying popups, which tell me useful things like ‘Press S to go backwards’, as though it’s not THE SAME AS ALMOST EVERY DAMN GAME I’VE PLAYED IN THE LAST DECADE. Do they think I’m a moron? Do they think I’ve forgotten?

Not only do these things pop up all over the place, but on occasions they actually stop the flow of the game, freezing it until I press a key to say ‘yes, I read that crap, but I really want to, you know, play a game, not be reading crap’. At times, they pop up half a dozen of them in a row, so when I just want to be shooting bad guys I’m having to repeatedly press keys to say ‘yeah, I did read that crap, but I couldn’t give a damn’.

Then there’s saving. One good thing is that the game does actually have a proper save system. You can actually save in most places, not have to wait for a retarded checkpoint. But it’s slower than Duke Nukem saving to a floppy disk. Most of the games I played in the 90s would save in a split second, now I have a computer that’s a hundred times faster and it takes more like five seconds to save.

Worse, get this: while saving it actually says ‘Please do not turn off your computer.’

Am I a retarded monkey? Am I going to press the power button and turn off my computer in the middle of playing a game? Is there anyone, anywhere on the planet who would ever actually do that and have to be warned not to?

id Software used to make good games. They used to understand that when I start up a game, I want to play it. Wolfenstein and Doom threw you straight into the action. Rage… does not.

Which is a shame, because the actual shooter parts aren’t bad, other than the AI continually shouting the same things and showing little intelligence other than running straight at you. If they’d dropped all the tedious story stuff and fixed the texture popping and horrible interface, it wouldn’t be bad. And, when the textures aren’t popping, it looks pretty good.

Games For Windows Live: What A Piece Of Crap

So there I was, I hadn’t played GTA4 in years because, frankly, Grand Theft Bowling got boring real fast. But with a new PC I thought I should give it a try to see what the game looked like.

I start it up. I have to click to say no, I really don’t want to log into Rockstar’s own stupid online system as well as Steam. I then have to click to say I really, really don’t want to log into Rockstar’s own stupid online system as well as Steam. Then the game goes into unskippable screens telling me about the delights of game ratings, followed by unskippable video logos, just in case I didn’t realise that it’s a Rockstar game.

And finally I’m at the start screen. Except, oops, I have to log into Games For Windows Live, the wonderful Microsoft equivalent of Steam. And I set an account up years ago and have no damn idea what it was.

So, give up on a game I own and paid money for, thanks Microsoft.

A couple of months later I happened to come across the file where I wrote all that down. Success! I can go through all that rigmarole again and get back to the GFWL screen again and log in!

Except now, it has to download my profile, whatever that means. And, part-way through, it discovers there’s an update for GFWL and, horrors, I can’t play the game without updating it.

OK, let’s give that a try. Now I get a dialog box telling me that it’s updating, and it may restart my computer after the update is complete.

Now, think about that for a moment. I just want to play a damn game. I’ve already sat through the nonsense the game developers threw at me, and now Microsoft are going to reboot the computer to install crap that I don’t want in the first place. Retarded monkey doesn’t even begin to describe how stupid that is.

Fortunately a reboot isn’t required. But, lo, I must exit the game in order to complete the installation. Which means I have to sit through yet more unskippable videos to get to the point where I can actually exit.

Now there’s a minimised Windows installer hidden away which I have to run in order to finish the upgrade. I sit there and do it, and now I can finally go back through all the unskippable videos and yes, I really do not want to log into the damn Rockstar online service and I’m back to the GFWL login.

I told it to remember my login and password so I assume that when I tell it to log in, it will just log in. But no, that would be too easy. I get back to the login screen and it’s blank. I have to actually enter the login ID, which is some random collection of letters and numbers, at which point it tells me that, oh, it did remember the password after all.

Then there’s yet more waiting for my profile to download. Whatever that means. And finally I’m able to start the game.

Except there are no save games. What exactly was the point of waiting all that time for my profile to download when there’s nothing useful in it?

Welcome to the wonderful new world of PC gaming, where everyone wants to tie you to their online system and Microsoft believe that locking you out of your games and then making you wait more than ten minutes to start a game is perfectly acceptable behaviour.

This is why I’ll never buy another game that requires the glorious Games For Windows Live technology. It’s Microsoft through and through, where taking your time to download their updates is business as usual, and no-one is doing anything important on their computers, so randomly rebooting them is no big deal.

Petrina paperback

Petrina from Createspace

The Createspace version turned up, about a week earlier than they’d predicted. It looks good (see the traditional picture taken on the kitchen floor) and I just need to do one final copy-editing pass to fix up any outstanding problems before I can release it around the end of the month.

The Joy Of Windows

I’ve been playing Oblivion lately. As those who’ve played it probably know, it crashes a lot, particularly if you install mods that use a lot of RAM.

That, in itself, is due to the crappy Windows memory handling when running 32-bit apps on a 64-bit OS, where every single DLL an executable loads has to be flagged as supporting high addresses before the app can use more than 2GB of RAM. But that’s not the point here.

Whenever Oblivion crashes, Windows puts up a dialog box telling me it’s crashed — which I already know, since, you know, it’s crashed — and asking if I want to let it crash or check online for reasons why it might have crashed.

Of course it doesn’t set the keyboard focus to the dialog box, and I was just playing a game, so most of the screen is black and the mouse cursor is hidden. Which means I can either randomly wiggle the mouse around until it finally hits the dialog box, or I can use ALT+TAB to cycle through windows until I get to the right one and use the keyboard to kill it.

So for the sake of the minute number of people who’ve ever asked Windows to figure out why the game has crashed, the rest of us have to go through this crap every time it does. Which is the very last time Windows should be bugging me with useless dialog boxes; I’m already annoyed that the game has crashed, all I want to do is restart it, and they’re wasting my time with crap I don’t want.

What a horrible excuse for an operating system.

The old days in Hong Kong

Some neat pictures of Kai Tak airport, the old one in Hong Kong which required a ninety degree turn shortly before landing while flying between the skyscrapers.

I landed there a couple of times in the back of airliners, and once while flying a full-motion 747 simulator. I was surprised to discover that it was easier than I thought, but that was probably because I didn’t have real buildings to crash into if I screwed it up.