New domain in place

I’ve just added a redirect, so when you visit percivalconstantine.wordpress.com, you will be redirected to my new site, PercivalConstantine.com. If you haven’t yet subscribed to my new site, please do so, as that’s where I’ll be posting from now on.

Thanks for your support.

PercivalConstantine.com

I’ve made the leap and purchased my own domain name and webspace. WordPress.com has been great for getting new followers, but the site’s limitations make it difficult for me to include everything I’d like to include on my site.

Within the next week, I’m going to set up a redirect so percivalconstantine.wordpress.com will soon point to the new site, PercivalConstantine.com. For those of you who have already subscribed to this blog, I’d like to ask you to subscribe to the new one instead, as that’s where all my posts will be put up from this point on. The site also has a link to the articles I write for GaijinPot and more opportunities to connect and share the content I post with various social networking sites.

When you get to the new site, you’ll see there’s already a new layout that I think will work very well for what I want to do. I’m real excited about having increased control over my site, and I hope to see you all there soon!

My Problems with UltraViolet

ultraviolet_BIGMy first introduction to UltraViolet came through Vudu. Before I picked up my Apple TV, I would often use Vudu to rent digital movies and watch them through my PS3. Once, while searching through new rentals on Vudu’s site, they advertised a program called Disc-to-Digital. I read into it out of curiosity, and here’s what has to be done.

1. Create a Vudu account. Okay, already have one. Also need an UltraViolet account and need the two linked. Umm…okay?

2. Create a movie list of DVDs and/or Blu-rays you want to convert. You can only “convert” movies that UltraViolet has the rights to stream.

3. Take your list and the DVDs you want to convert to your local Wal-Mart. They will mark the disc indicating that it’s been converted (so you can’t loan it to a buddy and have him convert it) and unlock access for the movie through Vudu/UltraViolet.

4. The service costs $2 to “convert” DVDs/Blu-rays and $5 to “upgrade” from SD to HD quality.

So this whole “conversion” thing is not actually a “conversion” at all. I understand paying to upgrade from SD to HD, but paying to get the exact same movie with the exact same quality? This, to me, seems like buying a new DVD player and then having to pay a fee in order to play your DVDs on the new player. For someone like me, who has a collection of around 800 movies, you’re looking at around $1600 in order to have access to the movies I already own.

You’ve got to hand it to the folks behind UltraViolet, Vudu, and Disc-to-Digital: they’re finding creative ways to get you to pay for something you already own with a minimum of work on their part.

Many movies these days come with digital download codes, which is very good. These codes should be included with every movie purchase. But some movies are now locking users into the UltraViolet model, which is very, very bad.

The argument I’m going to make today is similar to the argument I made about ComiXology several months back—if you make obtaining and accessing content legally more difficult than it is to obtain them illegally, people will choose the illegal route. And in this day and age when piracy, especially movie piracy, is a real problem, then the last thing you want to do is to make piracy an attractive option for people.

When I got my first iPod, I didn’t need to pay to put all the CDs I owned onto my computer. I still don’t, I can pop a CD into my optical drive and iTunes will copy it to my computer. But according to the DMCA, I can’t do this with movies. With music, it’s legal. With movies, it’s illegal. And why? Simply because the movie studios were paid up with the right politicians. That’s the only reason.

If I have to jump through hoops in order to convert my library or to get the movie I want on the platform I want, why would I waste all my time with that when I can just head on over to a torrent site and have an HD-quality movie downloaded in a fraction of the time it takes to fill out all these damn forms and registration and verifications and whatnot?

There are a few things studios need to do in order to make things easier for the consumer, and I’m positive the vast majority of consumers will happily play ball and have less reason to complain:

1. If a movie costs the same on Blu-ray as it does on iTunes or Vudu or wherever, it should be the exact same product. That means all the same extras, same quality, everything.

2. Disc releases with digital codes should be redeemable in all formats, not just UltraViolet. I should be able to access all my movies on one device with one account, I shouldn’t need to sell my Apple TV and lose the purchases made there in order to buy an UltraViolet-compatible device.

3. Enough with this DRM and copy protection crap. Backing up your movie collection either on discs or on hard drives should not be illegal. What should be illegal is distributing them. Besides, do some research. You can’t swing a dead cat on the Internet without hitting a site offering DRM circumvention software. Some of it costs money, some of it is free. And, given that movies ripped from DRM-protected DVDs and Blu-rays are still showing up on the torrent sites, it’s plainly obvious that DRM provides zero hindrance to criminals and only serves to frustrate honest customers.

Nothing is going to stop piracy for good. Movie piracy and bootlegs existed long before the Internet. You cannot stop it, you can only take steps to minimize its impact. But the more loops you make the honest customers jump through, the more attractive you make piracy look.

The Muddling Middle

Yesterday, I passed the 25K mark on SoulQuest, so I’ve hit the middle of my 50K goal. Crossing the 50% mark on a project is both exciting and scary and it’s when I enter what I like to call the Muddling Middle.

On every project, when I hit the 50% mark, there are two thoughts that occur to me. The first is, “wow, I’ve made it to the halfway point! This is great, I’m going to finish this thing!” And then the second thought is one of panic: “Wait…I’m only halfway through? All the work I’ve done so far and I basically have to do it all again?”

It’s more of a state of mind than anything else. The majority of my books are novellas of only around 30K, so I’d be close to the end if I were writing those. I entered the Muddling Middle on every one of those books when I reached 15K. When that didn’t happen with SoulQuest, I thought I was in the clear and on a great track…until I hit the Muddling Middle at 25K.

So like I said, it’s a state of mind. It’s even happened on short stories of only a few thousand words. It’s this whole idea of being so close to the finish, yet so far at the same time and also a sense of, “you’ve invested this much into it now, so there’s no turning back.”

And the Muddling Middle can really be the point where a project will either see fruition…or stop dead in its tracks. There have been a number of projects of mine that just stopped dead at the Muddling Middle because I didn’t know where to go. A big part of this had to do with the fact that in the past, I didn’t plan out as much. These days, I do much more planning and I’ve got everything mapped out with SoulQuest—I know where I want to go and what I want to do. I know one theory could be, “well obviously, it’s time to change the plan if you don’t like it,” except I do like the plan and I think it makes for a great story the way everything is connecting together.

So it’s more of a state of mind than anything else. Given how long I’ve lived with SoulQuest and how much effort I’ve put into it this far, I don’t think the Muddling Middle will be strong enough to cause me to drop it. Nonetheless, it’s a difficult stage to hit, and something I’m sure many writers struggle with.

Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira

Dillon and the Pirates of XoniraThey say that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, but I’ve got a third certainty: a Derrick Ferguson Dillon yarn will always be spectacular.

I’m no stranger to Ferguson’s writing or the world of Dillon. I was both fortunate and unfortunate enough to jump onboard when the first book, Dillon and the Voice of Odin, was initially released almost ten years ago. I say fortunate because I’ve gotten to spend that time with this character, reading and in some cases re-reading his adventures. I say unfortunate because that also means I’ve had to endure waiting for the next book to come out. There have been four Dillon books to date: Dillon and the Voice of Odin, Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell, Four Bullets For Dillon (a collection of short stories), and now Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira. Each one has been superbly written, with white-knuckle action, snappy dialogue, and witty humor.

This latest tale comes on the heels of The Legend of the Golden Bell, and just like in that book, we see Dillon returning to the fictional nation of Xonira. When I first heard that this book would take place in Xonira again, I have to admit some skepticism on my part—we just finished a tale there, so why did we need to return so soon when Dillon is a global adventurer? But my skepticism was unfounded, as Xonira feels as fresh and as intriguing a setting now as it was a few years back when it was first introduced in The Legend of the Golden Bell.

Dillon, of course, is back. Along with his frequent partner-in-crime and mentor, Eli Creed (who, despite retiring, seems to be doing a very bad job of actually staying retired, and bless him for that as he’s always a fun addition). Signing up for this mission as well is Toi Lahayne, a representative of the mysterious Braithwaite Group and Allie and Shon Pierri, a mother-and-son team of French defense agents. On the other side, we have the Pirates of Xonira, commanded by a man who has some history with Dillon.

The action moves along at a brisk pace. At a little over two hundred pages, it feels like a lot less, given how quickly you can progress through the book. Ferguson very rarely lets up on his characters, even for the briefest of moments, and there’s always something either happening or on the verge of happening (or sometimes both simultaneously).

While the roles of one of the characters seemed a bit too obvious to me at first, Ferguson flipped it on its head slightly at the end of the book. I won’t say anything more about it than that, other than it’s a very realistic thing in this situation, and serves both to give Dillon a bit more humanity by presenting him with a problem he can’t really solve as well as opening the door for a follow-up in the future. And speaking of follow-ups, the last scene hints at exactly that in a very big way.

I’m not sure when the rest of that adventure will be told, but I will be waiting for it.

Have you heard the one about Spider-Man?

So the Internet is all a-buzz right now with the big revelation from Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man #700, written by Dan Slott. This issue ends Amazing Spider-Man and Superior Spider-Man #1 will be released next month. It’s even earned Slott death threats. Seriously? Grow up, people. I don’t care how bad the story is (and it’s pretty bad), but at the end of the day it’s still just a fucking comic book.

First off, if you plan on buying this issue and haven’t yet, then I’d like to save you some money and time by advising you not to. Seriously, just don’t do it. Especially for the price Marvel is charging (¥700 on my Marvel Comics iPhone app).

Second, if you’re a glutton for punishment and still want to buy the issue, then you should probably stop reading right now. Because otherwise, I will spoil the ending for you.

In other words, spoilers follow, so turn away now. Continue reading

A decent Superman video game?

manofsteelI frequently have random thoughts.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I’m a big fan of comic books. I grew up on them. I still read them. The desire to write my favorite comic books is what led to me becoming a writer.

I also grew up on video games and I still play them as well, but I’d be described as a casual gamer at best. I go through gaming spurts and mostly, I’m just out to kill a few hours, so I tend to go for games that more serious gamers might label as unchallenging. The few times I’ve set foot onto Xbox Live or the PSN, my ass has been quickly and embarrassingly handed to me. But, I persevere and play games on lower difficulty settings in my free time and I enjoy them.

Now, being a comic book fan, I keep an eye out for games based on my favorite characters. I’ve enjoyed a good many of them. I know you’ll hear among a lot of gaming circles that there are very few games based on licensed properties that are good. But I’ll be damned if I still didn’t get quite a bit of enjoyment out of them.

Of course there are exceptions. Capcom’s Marvel fighting games, like X-Men: Children of the AtomX-Men vs. Street Fighter, and the very popular Marvel vs. Capcom series are a lot of fun, but that’s because Capcom basically took their Street Fighter series and replaced their characters with Marvel’s. And Spider-Man on PlayStation was very groundbreaking, because it went a long way in taking what made Spider-Man unique and incorporated that into the game. Then, as everyone is well aware, Arkham Asylum completely broke the mold. For the first time, people had a video game where they could really feel what it was like to be Batman. From using fear and stealth to intimidate your enemies to solving puzzles and just flat-out beating the crap out of criminals, Rocksteady hardly missed a step. There was no way it could be any better, and then Rocksteady topped themselves with Arkham City and gave you the ability to literally glide across Gotham and jump from rooftop to rooftop.

Whenever I play the Arkham games (and these days, it’s almost always Arkham City), I inevitably start thinking about the potential for other superheroes. Apparently, the game adaptation for The Amazing Spider-Man went halfway between being a groundbreaking Spider-Man game and just being a clone of Arkham City. I’m just going on reviews here, which have convinced me to not pay the (at the time of this writing) $49.99 price-tag the PSN is charging for it. But there aren’t many superhero games that really emulate what’s unique about these different characters. What about an Iron Man game where you can upgrade your armor in different ways for different purposes? Stealth armor at the expense of firepower or vice versa for different experiences in gaming.

And this made me remember a Superman game that had some good ideas, but ultimately didn’t quite mesh together—Superman Returns. Loosely based on the movie, when I read about this game, it sounded like something that was really clever. For the first time ever, Superman was literally invulnerable in this game. No matter how hard an opponent hit you, you could not die. So how to make it challenging? Well, you have to be careful how you defeat a foe, because the city of Metropolis has a health bar and the more damage you cause, the more the health bar depletes, so you have to try to be careful with how you take on opponents. But as clever as this is, in the end it’s basically a clever way of convincing you that you’re invulnerable when you’re really not. Because when the city’s health bar depletes, that’s basically like what happens when a character’s health bar depletes.

It is a start, though. The important thing is to look at what Superman can do. You know how in the Arkham games, Batman has his Detective Mode that shows him where all the enemies are? Superman has that as well–it’s called x-ray vision. He’s also got microscopic vision, which can be very effective to detect things other people might mist. And super-hearing. These are powers that are often overlooked, especially in games, but can actually be really useful. Superman’s got a strict ethical code, so although he can just put his fist through Lex Luthor’s head, that’s not an option for him, because he sticks to his code. So instead of fighting Lex Luthor in a suit of armor, what if you have to try and collect evidence to prove that Luthor is involved in a crime? That’d be an interesting alternative and a cool side-quest thing to run alongside fighting enemies. Don’t forget that Clark Kent is an investigative reporter and he’s also got resources with the Daily Planet, so those are things that could be incorporated in a game so it doesn’t just turn into a smash-it-up.

That’s not to say that a Superman game shouldn’t have stages where Superman can bash the hell out of things, but it’s important to find a way to utilize all of Superman’s abilities. Speed, flight, strength, x-ray vision, microscopic vision, heat vision, super-breath, freeze-breath, invulnerability, these are all powers that can be utilized in a clever fashion. Have you seen the recent animated film, Superman vs. The Elite? That’s based on a story titled “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?” that first appeared in Action Comics #775, written by Joe Kelly. It’s one of my favorite Superman stories, and it contrasts in a wonderful way the difference between Superman’s method of doing things and the methods of more ruthless, grittier superheroes like The Authority.  But one of the clever things that happens is Superman defeats Manchester Black, a man with incredibly powerful telekinetic abilities, not by pummeling him. But rather, he uses his x-ray vision to locate the part of Black’s brain that grants him psychic abilities and then uses his heat vision to harmlessly lobotomize that part of the brain. Black is rendered powerless without ever feeling a thing and without Superman having to throw a punch.

Now that’s a clever use of power, and it’s an example that I hope the makers of the next Superman game will look to. I don’t know if there will be a game based on the upcoming Man of Steel film, but if there is, I hope the designers will pay attention to the things that make Superman Superman and try to give us something that’s unique to Superman. Because no one needs to see another game where Superman just flies around and punches bad guys with some other random powers sprinkled throughout.

The Next Big Thing: SoulQuest

I was tagged in this game by Mark Bousquet earlier this month (which shows you how off my memory can be as I just remembered). The Next Big Thing is a little game where you answer ten interview questions about your upcoming project and then tag five writers in it. For this, I’m going to go ahead and tag Alan Lewis, Jim Beard, Sean TaylorKevin Rodgers, and Sean Michael Wilson. Join in if you guys feel so inclined.

TEN INTERVIEW QUESTIONS FOR THE NEXT BIG THING

What is the working title of your book?

SoulQuest.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

Several years ago, I was searching for an artist for a project. I got two responses and one of the artists was very talented, but his style didn’t quite fit the project in question. His style reminded me of the character designs for Final Fantasy VII and Xenogears, two of my favorite video games, and it got me thinking about those games. I then came up with the idea for SoulQuest, and contacted the artist. Unfortunately, the project never came to fruition as a comic book, but the idea has stuck with me over the past several years and I’ve now decided to finally produce it as a novel.

What genre does your book fall under?

Sci-fi/fantasy. It’s very much inspired by Final Fantasy VII and Xenogears, so I wouldn’t go so far as to call it fantasy in the Tolkien sense and there’s enough science and technology in it to set it apart from that setting.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?

What, you couldn’t think of a more difficult question? In all seriousness, I’m not really sure. It’s got a fairly large cast. For Zarim, the main character and a sky pirate, I might go with Leonardo DiCaprio. Ekala, his right-hand woman, could only be played by Eliza Dushku. Swul, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking surly faerie would probably be either Jon Polito or Danny DeVito. Tanus, an ex-military guy who gets roped into this would probably be Idris Elba. There are more characters, but it’s difficult to cast them off the top of my head.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

I’m terrible at writing these things, but here goes: When the power of the ancients is awakened, the fate of the world falls to a ragtag band of pirates.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-published through PulpWork Press.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It’s not finished yet. Currently I’m at around 16,000 words, so got a ways to go. It’s been in development for a while. I first began work on it when it was going to be released digitally as a serialized novel through an original fiction site, but when that site closed down, work stalled. I’ve since come back to it and managed a good bit of progress.

What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

I’m not sure. I’m not familiar with a lot of books in this style, my inspiration for this comes more from video games and TV/movies.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

As I said earlier, the impetus that got me thinking was an artist’s particular style and I drew inspiration from the previously-mentioned Final Fantasy VII and Xenogears, as well as TV shows like Firefly.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

New Pulp has a lot of focus on globe-trotting adventurers, masked heroes, or period pieces. This is a different kind of story from most of the New Pulp, and I hope that will cause some people to give it a look, even if it’s out of curiosity.

Pulp Ark Award Nominations Now Open

As you can tell from the recent announcement, the nominations for the Pulp Ark Awards of 2013 are now open. Nominations can be sent to Tommy Hancock (proseproductions@earthlink.net), and voting will take place until February 15th, 5 PM Central Standard Time.

I’ve included the categories below and what I can be nominated for to make your life easier, so check these out and make sure to get your votes in! Remember that there can only be ONE nomination per category, so in categories where I’m eligible for two different works, only one will be accepted.

Best Collection/Anthology – Tales of the Rook

Best Short Story – “The Curse of Baron Samedi” (Tales of the Rook)

Best Novella – Outlaw Blues or Dragon Kings of the Orient

Best Cover Art – Outlaw Blues or Dragon Kings of the Orient

Best New Character – Carl Flint (Outlaw Blues) or Sun Wukong (Dragon Kings of the Orient)
Best Author – Percival Constantine
That’s all I’m eligible for this year, so make sure to get those nominations in soon!

Back to the well

The life cycles of my projects can be really funny sometimes, and also a bit bizarre. For example, the project that would eventually become Love & Bullets, my third novel, was actually begun before I even sat down to write my first novel, Fallen. And The Myth Hunter may actually predate both of them, it’s all kind of fuzzy. But one project, SoulQuest, might predate all those books. This project originally came about when I was soliciting artists for a comic book project. I had it narrowed down to two artists, and both of them produced awesome samples of the title character. I had to choose one over the other (who unfortunately had to quit due to a higher-profile gig), but I liked the second artist’s style a lot and wanted to do a project tailored specifically to his strengths. So I came up with SoulQuest, a concept inspired heavily by some of the RPGs I’d played when I was younger (particularly Final Fantasy VII).

The artist liked the initial script and the character concepts I came up with. He drew two initial sketches and then just disappeared. Never heard from him again, never got any e-mail responses from him, nothing. Time went on and I stumbled on the project notes about a year or two later and started soliciting for an artist again. I had a really talented guy approach me about it, but his style wasn’t really what I was looking for. As this was inspired by Final Fantasy VII, I wanted more of a manga-esque style and he definitely wasn’t that. But he asked for a shot so I said sure, sent him the notes and he came up with some absolutely amazing concept art and character designs. They were spot-on perfect. I thought I’d had finally found my guy, as he seemed just as psyched about the project as me. He came up with designs for pretty much every significant character in the series, produced about three pages for what would have been the first issue…and then vanished. I tried e-mailing him numerous times over the past five years, each time getting no response. Even when I’d decide to transform this into a novel, I asked if he’d be interested in doing the cover art on commission, but still no response.

Brief note to any artists out there: If you aren’t able to complete a project, at the very least please have the courtesy to let your partner know. Yes, sometimes things happen and you can’t respond right away. And yes, sometimes you’ll get a gig that comes along that offers higher pay or more exposure and that’s fine. But at the very least, you should let them know what’s happened and why you can’t complete the project. It’s just common courtesy, don’t leave them waiting. I’ve more or less given up on trying to put together a comic, because this has happened to me on more than a few occasions.

Anyway, back on track. A few years ago, a friend began a website for original fiction, presented in a serialized format. This caught my interest and I wanted to get a chance to put SoulQuest out there. But the site fell through as the creator became too busy to maintain it, so he told us that he’d have to bring it to an end. The image you see at the top of this page was something he threw together as a promotional image for the series, combining a bunch of images he found online that were appropriate for the series.

Once the site fell through, I put the project on the back-burner, revisiting it occasionally. Now, I’ve gone back to it once more. I looked at what I’d written before and stripped out a bunch of sections that just didn’t work, the result was that the 10,000 words I had written were reduced to about 7,000. I also broke down the story, figured out the basic outline for it and went from there. As you can see in the sidebar on my main page, I’ve managed to make up a bit of the deficit I got from that big edit and have now broken 11,000 words.

Hopefully it continues.