Merry Christmas From Unusual Things!

It’s that time of year once again.

Okay, so it has been for a while now. This post is probably a little late to comment on the “arrival” of the season, seeing as Christmas Eve is tomorrow, and Christmas Day—Well, it comes right after Christmas Eve. That’s kind of a given.

The season isn’t “coming.” It’s here. And I’ll be honest, it’s one of my favorite seasons. For a lot of reasons. Like hot chocolate. The wondrous drink known as eggnog (non-alcoholic, just to be clear). Upbeat music about finding happiness and joy in family, faith, or even just the most ordinary things (I mean, think about it, what other season gets music that urges us to look at the weather and enjoy it so wholeheartedly?).

But those are all … elements. Things. And to be fair, I can enjoy them any time of the year. So while they’re part the pieces that make up the Christmas holiday … they’re not Christmas itself. They’re not integral. They’re signs of Christmas. By-products.

Because Christmas is about more than just hot chocolate, pretty lights, music, or snow. Thankfully, since I don’t even have that last one at the moment. Or the lights. But I don’t have to, because Christmas isn’t about those things. They add to it, but only because we let it.

Christmas is built, not on those, but on something grander.

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Advent Beware: X-Com Character Pack Preview!

Ever played X-Com? It’s a pretty classic series, hailing from the early 90s, that puts the player in the boots of the “Commander” of an anti-alien task force, tasked with countering an alien threat to life on Earth.

The original trilogy is well-known among PC aficionados as one of the golden series of the early 90s, offering steep, punishing gameplay, plenty of challenge, a brutal-but-rewarding sense of success as you learned to carefully juggle research, politics, and—most importantly of all—your soldiers to beat back the alien threat. Later sequels continued the trend of working with highly interconnected systems that gave players a vast array of freedom (though not success) to work with to counter the alien threat.

Of course, this series is now over two decades old, making replaying some of these older titles more than a bit difficult (not that it was ever easy in the first place). Thankfully, sometimes good things do get to come around again, and in our modern day and age, the series has been rebooted with X-Com: Enemy Unknown, and then the more simply named X-Com 2.

Like all good sequels, X-Com 2 built on the foundation before it, including one of X-Com‘s most popular ones: the ability to create and customize the soldiers under your command, right down to their names, looks, and their biography.

In other words, a determined player could create themselves and their friends in a game, then send them out against the alien threat to see how things shake out. Or create very creative likenesses of favorite characters from other sources.

X-Com 2 seized on this popularity both by giving players more customization options than ever (except when it came to faces, sadly), and by making incredibly easy to import and export character files. Meaning that anyone can invest a bit of time into the character creator and not only enjoy watching friends, family, or heroes try to save the earth in their game, but can share them with others as well so that those they know can do the same.

Right, that’s the background. Mostly for those of you who don’t play X-Com and would otherwise have no idea what this post was referring to.

You can create replications of anyone. Including characters from books. See where this is going, yet?

Yeah. Within hours of acquiring X-Com 2 for myself a few months ago, I’d spent less than three hours playing the game, and more than five hours sitting down and recreating a bunch of characters from my books and work in X-Com‘s character creator.

I’m pretty happy with the results. They’re not perfect, but I’m entirely accepting of that since I get to watch Colony‘s Anna tear through the Advent like there’s no tomorrow.

And you know what? You should be able to too.

Unfortunately, I’m still trying to figure out a way to host the Character Pools so that anyone who’s curious can download and import them (WordPress won’t let me do it without some technical trickery might not even work, and even then would have to be undone by anyone who downloaded said packs), so they’re not available just yet, but I figured I’d give you all a quick look at what you can expect when you add said packs to the game. So far I’ve got two ready for deployment, one for Colony and one for the Unusual Universe (One Drink, etc). I just need to figure out hosting, like I said. I may end up working them through the Steam Workshop. Anyway, let’s give you that look I promised. Some of it may not make sense if you’re not acquainted with X-Com, but a look at a visual rep of some favorite characters can still be fun, right?

And, for legalese, I don’t own X-Com or claim any of the rights to it. Duh.

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A Quiet Weekend

This weekend is Conference weekend.

For many, that doesn’t mean much. Sands, most of you probably have never heard of it. That’s fine. It’s a religious event.

Ah, see? Some probably ran in a panic right then and there.

Anyway, it’s pretty simple. Conference weekend, known among the members of my religion as General Conference Weekend, is a bi-annual (twice yearly) event in which the entire church comes together in a conference, to hear the religious leaders of the church speak directly to the entirety of the church. Given that this leadership consists of a Prophet of God and twelve Apostles, this is a pretty cool thing.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like they’re not carrying out their duties as special witnesses of Christ and his gospel the rest of the year. They do—they put some serious travel in going around the world and meeting with members of our church all over. But twice a year, they all gather—Apostles, the prophet, seventies (Exodus if you’ve not heard of that), etc—for this General Conference. And then? They teach. And that teaching is broadcast via the internet, radio, television, etc, all across the world, and the members gather and watch it. Five broadcasts, each 2 hours long, over two days.

Ten, awesome, fulfilling hours.

Right, why am I talking about this? Well, for starters, because you don’t have to be a member of our church to enjoy it. This isn’t some cliche “The end is nigh” monologue given by a man with a crazy beard in a robe. So far, in the first session we had today I’ve listened to an Apostle give counsel on how not to take the many gifts of God for granted, and how to learn to see how many truly wondrous gifts we’ve been given. Another spoke on prayer, and how it is an act of humility before God. You don’t have to be a member of our faith to get something out of it. There’s a spirit of holiness and tranquility that surrounds each message, a gentleness you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

And even if you’re not a member of my faith, well, a little bit of peace and tranquility might feel pretty welcome. Which is why I’m mentioning it (well, also and so you guys are kept up-to-date on my movements, since Saturday is normally fanfic day). Maybe you’re wondering what to do with your day. Maybe you’re feeling a little down. Maybe you just want a pick-me-up and have found that the usual isn’t doing it for you.

If so, well, this conference gets streamed live on Youtube. Feel free to listen in. Regardless of where you are in life, there’s something for everyone that gets said at these things. They talk about God. They talk about Christ. They talk about our purpose on Earth, the atonement … a plethora of topics that many people wonder about, even if they don’t put voice to those wonders.

So if you’ve got some time and you want a pick-me-up, feel welcome to check it out.

 

 

NOTE: And if you despise my religion (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and want to start a big controversy, or are thinking about posting “the truth” in the comments below in some vain attempt to save my “misguided” soul … please don’t bother. I’ve been an open member of my church online for years now; screaming, shouting, ranting, accusing, or even trying to get my books taken down from Amazon as some sort of “revenge” isn’t anything new. It’s been done before, there are better ways to spend your time, so please, go and do something productive elsewhere.

Reader Feedback: How’s the Ad Experience?

Right, so here’s a question that’s been on my mind for a while with regards to improving the site: How’s the ad experience? I ask because while WordPress informs me that ads appear, I don’t see them. Probably a combination of being the site creator and having adblock running 24/7.

But those who aren’t me, or perhaps do or don’t have adblock … how’s the ad experience? What kind of ads are you seeing? Are they loud? Distracting? Not applicable to the site and subject matter?

I ask because if I up the domain subscription, I can remove ads entirely (or have control over them), and it’s a step I’m considering taking.

So, I ask you, readers: What do you see? Is it annoying? Complimentary? Clashing?

Comment below.

No, Aven Colony is Not the Next Outpost 2

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Yesterday morning, I received an unexpected burst of surprise. I was browsing r/games on Reddit when I came across a notification of a Science-Fiction colony-builder survival game titled Aven Colony … certainly enough to pique my interest. But the real shock came when I saw that the (then) top comment was “I’ve been waiting for something to fill the void that Outpost 2 left in my heart for so long.

Yeah, that snapped at my attention right away. I spent the rest of the day (I was busy doing other things) already planning to check to see if that commentator was correct. As you may recall, I’ve written about Outpost 2 before and why I’m waiting for a successor of some kind, and to my surprise that post continues to be one of the most regular reads on the site. Scarcely a day doesn’t pass that it doesn’t get one reader (other posts get many more readers, but in batches, this one is about as stable as my home page).

Now, I know I tend to talk more about writing than anything else one here (though again, I’m always open to branching out), but since gaming is one of my biggest hobbies (not surprising, as I did study at creating games and even founded a game studio that went nowhere), occasionally snippets of that might leak through.

Like right now, when I’m reporting back on Aven Colony. I had to know: Was it truly a successor to Outpost 2? Was it a game that filled a niche that has been empty for almost two decades? Was it what this obscure reddit commentator was hoping?

I did some digging. Watched a video. And now I have an answer.

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The Problems with the Arguments Against “The Great Wall”

So, you may have heard of a movie that’s trailer dropped this weekend called The Great Wall. If you haven’t, you should go give the trailer a watch. The film, as you can probably guess, is about the famous landmark of China, and asks the question “What was it built to keep out?”

It turns out, the answer is dragons. Yes, this is a fantasy flick from the director of Hero and House of Flying Daggers (movies that are a bit more known over here, so far from his home). The great wall is built to keep out dragons. I am completely sold.

Unfortunately, not everyone is so impressed. In fact, some people are angry at the film. Why?

Because one of the stars is Matt Damon. Who is, as the detractors have pointed out, white. Which in their eyes makes the film racist. No joke. You can read some of the fire about it here (and I recommend this article over the USA Daily one because this article at least did some research and points out the glaring flaws in the stance, while USA Daily, in what I feel is likely their usual sense of journalistic integrity, couldn’t be bothered to fact check anything).

Now I’m not going to get into the factual inaccuracies of the mud being slung at Hollywood for this, except to point out the obvious: This is a film made in China by film production companies based in China. Not Hollywood. They have little to do with this outside of distributing the film in the US. So the blame for them is pointless.

No, what I want to point out is the delicious hypocrisy of the backlash against this movie, which is, alongside the everyday usual racist commentary, declaring that movies should be more diverse in their casting and look outside their box.

Completely missing that this is what the film is doing.

Let’s look at this for a minute. We have a film made in China by a talented Chinese director. The movie stars a number of major film stars in China, who are all—wait for it—surprisingly (yes, that is sarcasm) Chinese. And alongside those individuals, for diversity (oh, that beloved buzzword), Zhang has also cast someone who isn’t a major Chinese actor: Matt Damon. Along with three other actors from around the world such as Pedro Pascal and Numan Acar.

So we have a movie set in China, filled with actors from China, and one “white man” (Wu’s words, not mine). Plus the three other actors from around the world. Which … oddly enough, would be diversifying the cast a little.

So, surprise surprise, the backlash against this film doesn’t pass the flip test. Yet again.

As for me? I look forward to seeing the flick. Dragons versus The Great Wall. I’m sold on the concept, and I’ve quite enjoyed some of Zhang’s other movies, so I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy this one.

Whether or not you want to see the film, just … do yourself a favor and ignore the made-up, hypocritical “controversy” that really boils down to an American Social Justice movement attempting to exert control via it’s values over a foreign film studio (Oh hey, that sounds a lot like western imperialism …). It’s hypocrisy, it’s pointless, and it’s really not worth much of our time.

Unusual Events Has Been Removed From SPFBO 2016

All right, guys, it’s official. I just heard back from Mark Lawrence, the head of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, and now that the competition has begun, my book could not be moved to another reviewer, so instead, I’ve elected to withdraw my entry from the competition (for the reasons for doing so, see this post here). It’s sad that it had to be done, but I feel my reasons were sound.

It is somewhat of a disappointment, however, in more ways than one. First, it’s a shame that it had to come to a removal. I was really interested to see what reviews would have cropped up from the SPFBO, as well as what sort of extended audience I could gather. But in light of their review practices … no gain would have been worth throwing my support behind it. Secondly, it is a shame that such review practices are even a small part of the SPFBO. Perhaps that will change, I would put my voice out as saying I strongly encourage them to do so, but I’m not holding my breath.

So, that’s the bad news. Sort of. I can’t help but feel it’s a good thing, in the long run. There are some things one just shouldn’t associate with, and reviewing and rating books with the focusing lens of “Is the character/writer X race or not?” is one of them.

In other news, the book in question can still be read and enjoyed by those of you who won’t care so much what Samantha’s, Alma’s, Jacob Rocke’s, or Mathoni’s gender or ethnic heritage happen to be over getting a great story. You can find the book here.

Thanks for the advice, guys, and thanks for standing with me on this one. I’m glad I’m not the only one who considers this important.

 

EDIT: Whoa. This blew up. This was just supposed to be news for my regular readers. So let me make something very, very clear, just in case. This was a news post keeping my readers up to date. I voiced a concern about one of the sites in the larger picture, and when SPFBO couldn’t bump me to a different review site, decided to withdraw. That’s what it is, please don’t make a mountain out of a molehill or put undeserved antagonism on the wrong party, and keep a level head.