Boss Fight Books 17/19: advance reviews

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Books 17 and 19 of Boss Fight Books series happen to be from two different seasons. Book 17: Katamari Damacy is the final book of season 3 while Book 19: Shovel Knight is the second book of Season 4. Having read all the books released thus far, it’s quite striking to notice the difference in feel among them. Season 4 of BFB is dubbed “Creator Access Edition”. As the name suggests it focuses most on the different studios and people involved in the creation of the chosen focus of the books. In contrast, many of the past books in this series were so much more about describing the games themselves in their intimate entirety in regards to narrative, but also the relationship of the author to said games. I should point out then that one of the books which most related to the author was Spelunky, Book 11, written by Derek Yu….the games creator!

As a backer of the season 4 of Boss Fight Books on Kickstarter, I am entitled to the entirety of the series up to the current season. Nevertheless, I received advance copies of both books for the purpose of this review. A big thanks to BFB and Gabe Durham for this opportunity! On with the books…

**Katamari Damacy

kata

Katamari Damacy is one those strange quirky games that your best friends may frown upon when they see you playing it, but secretly itching to get their hands on the controller. In my mind, I have difficulty dissociating it from Patapon which elicited similar reactions from my peers whenever I was found enjoying it. As the author points out in this books, this is a work leaning most on great gameplay, novelty and fun. It is a work of art in that it can be interpreted in depth despite its simplicity, it presents not the shallowness often coupled to the superficial fluff of improved graphics at the time. To this day I do not really always care about how pretty a game can be; a lot of people are rediscovering this fact in themselves, the critical acclaim and the sales of Octopath Traveler attest to that.

As the final book of Season 3, Katamari Damacy takes an approach more similar to the books of Season 4. It focused a lot on the creator’s journey up to and beyond the release of the game. I felt a great parallel between it and Shovel Knight which releases with it in a few days. The author did a solid overview of certain culture particularities related to the Japanese which quite frankly would have gone way over our western heads had he not written about them. Those part are some of the most interesting, more creators should, with their cultures, be this unapologetic about their unique aspects.

**Shovel Knight

Shovel

This book takes a very investigative approach to its subject. It is very more in line with my thoughts on what creator access should be, and very special in that it is as much the story of WayForward (WF) as a company as it is about the IP itself. Many publishers have had their story told and retold in a way that we could actually recite them verbatim. Examples of this are Id Software, Nintendo, Square-Enix. The story of WF relates as they represent in a way the dreams of many of us gamers who dreamt of being creators, and at the same time, they have lived through some of the hard times that we can easily imagine happens when one takes the route of independent development. It is not difficult to understand that many such teams of developers never survived beyond a game or two. Following their journey towards themselves as a group of friends and colleagues become something bigger, then towards their dream which culminated in one awesome modern NES game, was a blast. Theirs was a true journey, with many downs but their ups reached some interesting peaks to balance everything out. I would not mean to spoil anything from the narrative, nevertheless, I must that it was amazingly serendipitous that so many of their favourite creators from the golden era of the NES/SNES could meet with them, even collaborate in Shovel Knight!

Both of these books achieve their goal and the research/interviews were well done for me. Naturally, I do find myself partial to any story of an indie studio, whether of success or failure. If Katamari Damacy had focused more on the big publisher (Namco) instead of the true creator hidden behind this corporate juggernaut, I would not have like it as much. I enjoyed both books, and I recommend both, especially Shovel Knight simply for the fascinating tale of Wayforward Studios. Both Boss Fight Books come out in a couple of days. They can be easily found on Amazon: Katamari Damacy (Boss Fight Books Book 17) and Shovel Knight (Boss Fight Books) or at Boss Fight Books.

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Facets of reality

I’ve recently received a book series for my birthday, picked from a reading wishlist kept on Amazon. I populate the list with books I’ve been meaning to get myself but haven’t budgeted yet and also books I’ve read about in blogs or articles which seemed interesting enough to warrant a try.

The, here unnamed, gifter chose 3 books from an author that I had not heard about before, but they ended up on my list while I was reading an article found by chance, which concerned some interesting and yet not well-known (at least to me) pieces of Sci-Fi literature. On the same day, I added a few books that were coming out during the month of June (my birthday month). Among them were: The Freeze-Frame Revolution, Hybrid Child: A Novel (Parallel Futures), The Robots of Gotham and Summerland. The latter, written by Hannu Rajaniemi, was the most interesting entry for me. It was mentioned, in the paragraph presenting the then future release, that the author also wrote a book series called the “Jean le Flambeur” series which was heavily inspired by the Maurice Leblanc “Arsene Lupin” stories. The three books in the series are, in order: The Quantum Thief (Jean le Flambeur), The Fractal Prince (Jean le Flambeur), The Causal Angel (Jean le Flambeur).

Having looked for these books on Amazon after seeing the mention in the said article (which I cannot for the life of me retrace since I regularly delete browsing history), I was immediately seduced by the premise. Jean le Flambeur, the protagonist (s?) of the stories of the series was very much similar to Arsene Lupin if Lupin lived in a post-humanist world of an extremely morphed future. Needless to say, they appeared at the top of my wishlist along with The Book of M: A Novel, which I also recommend although it requires quite the suspension of disbelief, the happenings being potentially far more magical than scientific speculation/extrapolation (Incidentally, I still have not bought or read Summerland even though it initially was the book I was aiming for). This is not to say that the “le Flambeur” series is any more grounded, but that it rather wades in waters of possibility. Before going any further, I will admit that I did not at first read the author biography or any other information apart from his name on the cover. After reading the first book, I closed the back cover and carefully read the bio. Unsurprisingly, him having degrees in Math and Physics made so much sense, and I’m glad I held out on finding out until after the end.

For anyone not remotely interested in physics or quantum mechanics, these books can be major head scratchers. As I mentioned, Jean le Flambeur is the Arsene Lupin of the post-human future. If anything, by the turn of the last page of the third book he can seem as an archetypal god of mischief, tricky enough to trick himself many times over and across a vast mindscape of his “self”. Any respectable story dealing with physics addresses in some way the nature of reality, or even time travel which is a speck of the previous topic. Rajaniemi handles all of these themes, theories, and aspects in an interesting manner. The lens through which many subjects of quantum physics are observed is that of the mind. How real is a travel back to 1970 if done within a simulation so real that it can be almost indistinguishable from reality even by the keenest consciousness? How real are you, if you also can be other, even given body and with the same level of hierarchical privilege?

The Jean le Flambeur trilogy is a ride to be taken. Above all else, it is a heist story in which the thief is often also the detective. It is also a detective story in which the thief is striving to retrieve that which he himself stole…from himself. One does not an advanced degree in science to enjoy it far from that. Most Sci-Fi aficionados will appreciate how deep the author went deep into certain aspects of physics related themes with little to no hand-holding for the reader. You either figure it out while reading or Google some of the information for a better understanding. I am loath to say more without spoiling bits of the story. I do say bits, as it seems to me a difficult thing to spoil it all without completely writing one book.

As I pondered the intricacies of the three book spanning story, I recognized a familiar flavor at the back of my mind. Following the trail, I found what it reminded me of. There is an episode in Series 4 (or Season 4 for us west of the Atlantic), called USS Callister, from the Black Mirror TV Show. I wonder if it was inspired by this author’s work in a way. Then again, this is at heart mainly a heist/detective story of a gentleman Quantum Thief, the science is universal. The use of said elements of science is quite novel and I highly recommend reading this series, just as much as I recommend watching Black Mirror.

New Book Published!

Time flew amazingly fast for me and before I knew it August moved in!

It has been an interesting time. A friend had been writing for quite a while but never got to the point of actually getting stories out there effectively, apart from episodic shares of one of them on Facebook. After some work together, editing, revising, beautifying, we finally got her published on the Amazon Kindle store!!!

French is our main language, consequently, it is the French edition of the book which is now available in Kindle format. A translated English version is in the works and should be ready soon if we can keep steam after all the current word count is at over 120K!

 

Irrévocablement liés… (French Edition)is a story of maternal love, intrigue, superstition anchored in the realities of the Haitian society. Click on the image above to go try it out and leave a review! There are more stories to come, this will encourage us more to share the many tales that live in our minds, and of course, show my friend Val that she really need to get those other books out there for all to read!!

Boss Fight Books: Kingdom Hearts II

Alexa Ray Corriea, the author of the 16th Boss Fight Books entry, has long worked in this industry, most notably as an editor at Gamespot, and currently at FANDOM. This entry in the series is focused on Kingdom Hearts II, part of one of the most unlikely and confusing crossover story in gaming. As the author so points out, it’s rather hard to have imagined that a fusion of Disney and Square-Enix could actually result in anything good. And yet, they pulled it off expertly, both in terms of gameplay and narrative.

As a reminder of how many of the books work: they are almost always a mix of the author’s experience of the game, input from the creators or members of the developing team and often a slow recap of the narrative or game progression. Some readers have complained about this last element, mostly because they went in without knowledge of it being part of how Boss Fight Books are structured.

I never actually got to play Kingdom Hearts, the first, simply due to the fact that I did not have a PlayStation 2 console. I eventually did get one extremely late in its life cycle, secondhand. What spurred me to jump again on the console-owning bandwagon was another RPG: Persona 4 was announced and I wanted to be ready!

This is a little story for another time…..

Kingdom Hearts II wasn’t my first game in the series though. I played a lot on handhelds, and one of my favorite GBA entries was Chain of Memories. It did well to recap things for me, as well as give some preparation for the second opus. A friend of mine purchased KH2 as soon as it came out, didn’t like it as much as I hyped for it and let me play it first!!

Frankly, I did not care about the beginning being slow at all. All I could think of: this is freaking Kingdom Hearts II!!!!!!! A lot of people could have written this book and probably give off a similar feel to how the author experienced the journey. Personally, I could not have gone as in-depth as she did in her analysis of how gender is characterized. I won’t spoil by saying much, but Alexa Ray Corriea does a great job of noticing such things. I do not remember seeing it that way, maybe because I’m a guy?

Going through the sections of the book retracing Sora and Roxas’ journey, I noticed just how much I forgot. There are some worlds that I remember vividly, and the first few hours with Roxas are clear in my mind. But when she notices some parts, I was floored to find a huge abyss in my mind!

KH2, the book, goes through the motions of a good Boss Fight Book. Nevertheless, having some direct input from members of the development team or even the publisher helps us readers delve with more accuracy into their motivations and goals during the genesis of the game. PAst books have analyzed existing interviews and facts to speculate on such points. It was quite like interpreting the words of long-dead poets, how sure can one truly be that we think they meant is what they truly mean? I believe creator access sufficiently reduces doubt in this case.

Overall, this was an awesome book by a good author who reminded just how much I truly enjoyed this unlikely mashup of universes and genres. I highly recommend it and the game too! Any JRPG fan who hasn’t played it yet, if they exist, should definitely correct this grave misstep. You guys are missing out…

Boss Fight Books: Final Fantasy V

Final Fantasy V is the first book of the latest season of Boss Fight Books, written by Kotaku editor Chris Kohler. His Wikipedia page reads as: “Chris Kohler is a video game journalist and editor who has written for several publications in the past decade, including Wired, Animerica magazine, and Nintendo Official Magazine UK. After graduating from Tufts University with a degree in Japanese, Chris attended Kyoto Seika University on a Fulbright Fellowship, and completed major research for a book tentatively titled Super Mario Nation: The Cinematic Japanese Video Game. At Tufts, he taught a for-credit undergraduate course titled “A History of Video Games” and continues to study Japanese at an advanced level.”


In many ways, the author’s experience with FFV and Japanese only titles in general mirrors my own. Personally, the first time I went through it was in Japanese. I learned about the different colors (ao-mahou was my favorite, Blue Magic), I found that it was actually still possible to finish a game without understanding the plot in its entirety. I say “still because the first game that I played and beat in Japanese was a Dragon Ball game. Knowing the anime and manga, as well as most gameplay systems of the era, my friends and I deduced many of the words we saw, especially hiragana and katakana. Kanji had us beat and we could only memorize so much. The game was a lot of fun nonetheless, it followed rather faithfully the show’s narrative, so we got the gist of it and filled in the rest with our imagination or simply creating the related dialog with funny anime voices of our own. It was only after finding the fan translation that I could truly experience the narrative of FFV on my PC using emulators. The story was crazy as always and very interesting. Nevertheless, it could not beat the greatest feature of this game no matter the language you play it in the JOB SYSTEM!


The book does very well in explaining the system, it even goes as far as unveiling just how one can go about and create the ultimate team, able to mow down anything and anyone in-game in as little rounds as possible. Those strategies require some time and dedication nonetheless and should be expected to be quick cheats such as the famous Konami Code. Knowing the job system intimately is the first aspect of building the uber-party, the second: patience…

 
Overall, Chris Kohler did a good job not only retracing the history of Final Fantasy V but mostly getting first-hand information and comments from members of the team working on it. Simultaneously, much insight is given about all other titles of the series up to Final Fantasy XIII. Many of my, and his, generation, will find that reliving those moments, their recollections of the general emotions and dreams of the time echo his own. It is a very nice read for a great game, written in a passionate voice that lends well to the structure and pacing of both the game and the well researched recounting of both the real life stories of Chris and Square (now Square-Enix) over the years, centered around the point in time when Final Fantasy truly became the Hail Mary the company needed to succeed.


I received an early copy of this in e-book format as a backer of the season 4 of Boss Fight Books Kickstarter. Click on the book cover at the beginning if any wish to get it in paperback or e-book format from Amazon. Another option, of course, is to get it directly from the official Boss Fight website. Stay tuned for other reviews, the next one will probably be either the book Mega Man 3 or Bible Adventures (yes, there ARE Catholic NES games out there!!).


Cheers!

The Planetary Omnibus

Comics have been a big part of my early childhood. This is mostly thanks to my larger family. Back then there was more unity between us all. My cousins lived in Florida and thanks to them I had my first contact with Comics. And the first comic I ever read was a big hardcover of the first stories of the X-Men, the one with Mimic in it. And it was MAGICAL!
Shortly after they got into DC comics, and so did I. I loved the old Superman movies so I felt more attracted to his Universe or Universes to be precise. Crisis on Infinite Earths is where I started. It was bigger than anything I ever read on Marvel! More characters, bigger scope, and so much emotion! The lost of Kara for example…
For this reason, I ended up an oddity among my friends. They were all about the X-Men, the Avengers, Spider-Man (which is my ultimate favorite character from the Marvel Universe), The New Mutants and so on. I read those a lot because we only got Marvel books at the local store, for some obscure reason. But DC had some zany stories that Marvel only got close to equal at the time with the X-Men Phoenix/Goblin Queen storyline. At least in my eyes. I liked their take on their shared universe, where one book line in Marvel could he read without even needing to read another, DC stories were connected. Lately, Marvel has done amazing strides to connect their books and I commend them on that.
Which leads me to this Omnibus. It seems like these types of books have become the rage. Marvel putting out Omnibuses also. I think it’s a great way to engage customers who do not want the hassle of tracking down every single individual issue of a story arc.
I had maybe tasted one issue of Planetary at some point, I found it strange, I had no context for the part I read. Now that they are all collected in one place I jumped on the occasion. And I have decided to take my damn sweet time. I’ve read the excellent foreword by Alan Moore and the first chapter of the story. Both were amazing.
Alan Moore is one of my favorite writers of the medium, right up there with Neil Gaiman. I hadn’t known in advance that he wrote the foreword, hence I did not expect the quality with which he handled it. As for the book itself, the fact that it is such a big hardcover worries me. The binding will most certainly not hold up to overt handling. I was more than tempted to leave it in its plastic wrap. The only thing that stopped me was curiosity about the story. The first chapter was slower paced than I expected and at the same time, it was not. I felt I did not get enough exposition and context when it came to the main protagonists. On the other hand, as a newly reformed team, they sure went quite straight to a mission. It’s a story that hints to great things to come, I mean, those of you who have read it can look back and realize how far they went with some ideas right off the bat. It left me wondering, “this was big, CAN they take it any further while keeping us interested?”. I loved the reference towards Crisis on Infinite Earths, and also the obvious nod to JLA. This is a DC fan book, there are subtle parallels with the rest of the Multiverse right off the bat and not all so terribly obvious for the non-connoisseur. Will keep update later as I slowly make my way to the last page 🙂

"Game of Thrones" first contact

Today I watched the very first episode of “Game of Thrones” the new HBO series based on the fantasy epic series “A Song of Ice and Fire”. The first book in the series is, duh, “A Game of Thrones”. Check it out on Amazon.com it seems interesting enough. Now I gotta admit that it is the very first time I’ve come in contact with this story. Why? Because I’ve had my cup full with so much to read, I have relied mostly on reviews and advice. There is so much material out there…It’s easy to stumble upon something you don’t like, and even easier to get hooked on something so hard that you forget all else.
After seeing the episode, I chose to go and find a sample of the book, just to see if my initial impression of how it could be was correct. And it was. I’m not going to include any spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen the episode or read any of the books. What I will say is that the few pages I’ve sampled this afternoon after my viewing, have partly confirmed the “feel” I’ve gotten concerning the story. It reminds me of a series of books I’d read in high school on the long troublesome period before and after the reign of French king Philippe le Bel. A story full of intrigue, passion, treachery. But also of honor, of the old knightly ways that women of our time speak so fondly of, though in truth they know nothing of it!
And quite possibly, and this may be confirmed to me in time or through comments of readers of the books, I believe this is a story that will span decades or more. “Winter is coming”, a season in this fictional world really does last decades, and so many of the characters so young, it is gonna be a hell of a ride watching/reading them grow, and carry on the burden of the aftermath of their families’ actions. It will be a show to keep an eye on, and a story to read. I look forward to acquiring the books. This post is not intended as a review but rather my initial impressions of the story and to let my friends know about this as I’m sure they were as ignorant as me until HBO decided to bring to our screens every Sunday nights.
Let us pray enough people will watch and that the future episodes will never be of lesser quality.