Friday 28 November 2014

GAME OF THRONES: IRON FROM ICE gets a release date

The first episode in Telltale's Game of Thrones adventure series, Iron From Ice, now has a release date.

The episode will drop on 2 December - that's next Tuesday - for PC, Mac and American PS4s. X-Box 360, XB1 and other PS4 markets will follow on 3 December. The iOS release will be on 4 December, whilst PS3 owners have to wait until 9 December for unknown reasons. Android will follow up later in the month.

The game series will consist of six episodes in total. The release dates for the remaining episodes is unknown, but it's been rumoured that the game series should wind up in time for Season 5 of Game of Thrones starting on TV, likely in the first week or so of April. That would make for a pretty tight turn-around for Telltale, who sometimes go 2-3 months between episodes on their other games, but possible if they've pre-planned this series a bit more thoroughly than some of their others.


Disney and Lucasfilm have unveiled the teaser trailer for The Force Awakens, the seventh film in the Star Wars saga, due in cinemas in December 2015.

It would appear we're back on Tatooine - the busiest backwater nowhere in the galaxy, it appears - and there's also some stuff going on with the Millennium Falcon, TIE Fighters and X-Wings, which is sure to please everyone. There's a cute new robot for the little kids, but he looks more tolerable than Jar-Jar at this stage. There's also a villain with a lightsabre which has little lightsabre hilts, which is kind of adorable. It's hard to match the Darth Maul dual-lightsabre revelation from The Phantom Menace trailer, but it might be there's not much more to do with them. It's also unclear who the narrator is: it sounds a lot like Benedict Cumberbatch.

In other news, pre-production is close to starting up on the first Star Wars stand-alone film. Directed by Gareth Edwards, this film is due for release in December 2016 with production set to get underway next year (before Episode VII is even released). According to one source, this first movie will be a heist film and will see a bunch of bounty hunters being employed by the Rebel Alliance to undertake a daring raid on the Empire. The rumour is that amongst the information they seize are the plans to the first Death Star, and this will dovetail the film into the start of Episode IV. The rumours are also that Max von Sydow's character from Episode VII will appear as a young man in this film.

Disney/Lucasfilm's masterplan is for five Star Wars movies to be released annually from 2015 to 2019, consisting of Episodes VII-IX (to be directed by Abrams, Rian Johnson and as-yet undisclosed director) and at least two spin-off films, one focusing on bounty hunters and the other possibly on Yoda's backstory.

True Detective: Season 1

Louisiana, 1995. A young girl's body is found tied to a tree, the victim of what appears to be a ritualistic murder. Two officers are assigned to the case: Martin Hart, a dyed-in-the-wool traditional detective who enjoys drinking and is having an affair, and Rust Cohle, a ferociously intelligent man who ponders philosophical and existentialist concepts whilst working. Over the course of seventeen years, the case is apparently solved but then re-opened again as Hart and Cohle, whose relationship suffers seismic shocks, face the possibility that they may have gotten things wrong.

True Detective is HBO's latest big-hitter series, an anthology show in which each season will be a different, self-contained story with its own locations and characters. This first season is set in Louisiana (after True Blood and Treme, HBO probably have a discount on filming there) and is focused on a very clever serial killer who knows how to make it look like he's disappeared whilst carrying on his work.

True Detective has won enormous plaudits for a number of its achievements, and I can only join the choir here. The cinematography is breathtaking, the sense of atmosphere and place vivid and the acting by everyone, but in particular Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, is outstanding. The show's artistic ambition, using the traditional detective story framework to express thoughts and ideas about science, religion, nihilism, existentialism and corruption, is commendable. The structure of setting the story in three distinct timeframes and moving between them is also very successful, with the 1995 segment foreshadowing and the 2012 segment obliquely referencing things that happened in the 2002 segment which we then get to see unfold.

The show does have a number of problems, however. For a story that only lasts for eight hour-long episodes, the pacing often feels off. Some episodes are rammed full of incident, character development and thematic musings and are highly compelling. Others are almost bereft of substantial content until the obligatory end-of-episode cliffhanger. Or to put it another way, a show this short really shouldn't have such long periods which nothing much is going on. There is also the confusion of the show making frequent references to Robert W. Chambers's The King in Yellow (itself an inspiration for Lovecraft's Cthulu mythos) but then not making it clear that the book itself does not exist in the show's universe.

The series also hints that it may represent the end-point of what television as an art form can do, particularly on a short timescale. Rust Cohle returns to the ideas of the point of our existence in an empty universe, the struggling with the idea of an afterlife and the inescapable loneliness of being stuck inside our own skulls several times, but each time doesn't really develop them or have more to say on them. We get some great quotes out of these ruminations, but little more. This is because a TV show focused on a more traditional narrative drive simply hasn't got the time or space to delve into these ideas as well as a novel can. If this is the Golden Age of Television, True Detective hints at what might become its limiting factor.

Other complaints may be made, particularly over the thinness of the female characters and some rather completely out-of-place sex scenes (this is HBO, after all), but these complaints are to some degree born out of the premise, of the dwelling on the relationship between these two very different men (one of them old-school with misogynistic tendencies).

The first season of True Detective (****) is a rich, visually rewarding and structurally inventive story driven by outstanding performances and clever - if not developed fully - thematic ideas. There are also too many longueurs and moments of narrative stasis in a story that should really be unfolding with more verve and drive, but overall this is an impressive story. Whether Nic Pizzolatto can strike gold again with the forthcoming second season remains to be seen. The series is available now on DVD (UK, USA) and Blu-Ray (UK, USA).

Breaking Bad: Season 1

Albuquerque, New Mexico. Walter White is a former genius chemist who, for unclear reasons, dropped out of a high-paid salary in cutting-edge research and now works in a high school. He is married, has a disabled son and is expecting another baby, but is also overworked and underpaid, pulling shifts in a garage to make extra money. When he is diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, White realises he must take drastic action to make enough money for his family to survive when he is gone.

So, Breaking Bad. The most lauded TV show since The Wire, a critical darling and a smash popular success. Is it really as good as it made out? Potentially, although as of this time of writing I'm only a few episodes into the third season.

Unless you've been living under a rock (on Pluto), you've probably heard of the premise: underpaid government employee cooks meth with his drop-out ex-student to fund his own medical treatment and leave something behind for his family. It sounds goofy but Vince Gilligan's scripts and the powerful central performance by Bryan Cranston sell the idea completely. Things are helped by an array of talented supporting actors, from more established faces like Dean Norris and Anna Gunn to newcomer RJ Mitte, and a nice, firm grasp of tone. Gilligan and his co-writers create an offbeat-feeling world where they can switch from a dramatic, intense discussion of drug addiction to the black humour of what happens if you try to dissolve a human body with acid in a non-acid resistant bath (ignoring the fact that Myth Busters proved this wouldn't work, anyway). Breaking Bad has a heavy reputation for being about the collapse of the American family everyman into a selfish villain, but it also does goofy comedy quite well, without sabotaging the show's more serious side.

It's also a quite remarkably beautifully-filmed show. It intercuts traditionally-shot scenes on film with digital scene-setting shots of the New Mexico countryside and, in HD, these look amazing. The cinematography and lighting of the show puts many films to shame and gives it a real sense of place.

But at the core of the show in this first season is this idea that the capitalist ideal - the American Dream in the US - is a sham: you can work really hard, have great ideas, have a loving family and still end up with nothing, in debt up to your eyeballs and unable to provide for yourself, let alone anyone else. That isn't an excuse for White's subsequent headfirst dive into criminality, but it is a powerful motivation for a character driven by a remorseless sense of logic that wins out over morality or common sense. The show's unrelenting, unflinching exploration of that drive is highly compelling, if often uncomfortable to watch.

The first season of Breaking Bad (****½) is superbly written, immaculately focused, intensely acted, beautifully shot and quite impressively clever. It is let down only by a too-abrupt finale (a consequence of two more episodes being cut by the studio during the 2008 Writer's Strike) and some thinly-developed side characters (the purpose of Hank's wife is what again?). So far, it's living up to the hype. Season 1 is available now as part of the Breaking Bad Complete Collection in the UK (DVD, Blu-Ray) and USA (DVD, Blu-Ray). I highly recommend the Blu-Ray edition as it shows up the cinematography so much better in HD.

Cast announced for THE LAST KINGDOM

The BBC has announced the cast for The Last Kingdom, an eight-episode adapatation of Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories. The Last Kingdom is the name of the first novel in the series, but it is unclear if the TV series will just follow the first novel or will go beyond that timeframe.

Set in the 9th Century, the story focuses on Uhtred, a young Saxon who is captured by the Danes during a raid and is then raised amongst them. Returning to a England riven by war and invasion, the story focuses on Uhtred's conflicted loyalties as he seeks to reclaim his birthright, whilst also allying himself with Alfred, the only English king ever to be given the title "the Great". There are eight novels in the series altogether, with the latest, The Empty Throne, published last month.

The announced cast so far:

Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred
Matthew Macfadyen as Alfred the Great

Rutger Hauer
David Dawson
Emily Cox
Ian Hart
Tobias Santelmann
Thomas W. Gabrielsson
Peter Gantzler
Joseph Millson
Alexandre Willaume
Rune Temte
Henning Valin Jakobsen
Tomy Taylor
Jocelyn Macnab
Madeleine Power

The big hitters in the cast are Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, Fatherland and way too many films to mention) and Matthew Macfadyen (Spooks, Pillars of the Earth). Hauer's role is unclear, but the most likely fit is Ragnar the Fearless, the Danish warlord who adopts the reluctant Uhtred and raises him as his son.

The series is now filming in the UK and Hungary and is expected to air on the BBC in 2015.

Thursday 20 November 2014

BBC releases first image for JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL

The BBC has released its first promotional image and blurb for its upcoming mini-series adaptation of Susanna Clarke's 2004 novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

BBC AMERICA's new original drama series, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, is based on The New York Times bestselling novel by Susanna Clarke and adapted by Peter Harness (Wallander, Is Anybody There?). 
The seven-part series stars Eddie Marsan (Best of Men, Ray Donovan, Filth) and Olivier award-winning Bertie Carvel (Restless, Hidden, Matilda) who take on the magical roles of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Further casting includes Alice Englert (Ginger & Rosa, Beautiful Creatures), Marc Warren (Hustle, Mad Dogs, The Musketeers), Samuel West (Mr Selfridge, Fleming), and Charlotte Riley (Wuthering Heights, Easy Virtue).

Set at the beginning of the 19th Century, England no longer believes in practical magic. The reclusive Mr Norrell (Marsan) of Hurtfew Abbey stuns the city of York when he causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and move. With a little persuasion and help from his man of business Childermass (Enzo Cilenti), he goes to London to help the government in the war against Napoleon. It is there Norrell summons a fairy (Warren) to bring Lady Pole (Englert) back from the dead, opening a whole can of worms…

The series is produced by Cuba Pictures for BBC One and co-produced with BBC AMERICA, in association with Feel Films, Far Moor, Screen Yorkshire and Bell Media's SPACE. It is distributed by Endemol Worldwide Distribution.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell will premiere on BBC AMERICA in 2015.

An airdate for the series in the UK has not yet been given, but apparently it should also be early 2015, possibly as early as January.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

The World of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, Elio M. Garcia, Jr. and Linda Antonsson

The World of Ice and Fire is a companion volume to George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire novels, primarily written by Elio M. Garcia, Jr. and Linda Antonsson, the founders and administrators of the website who have also worked as continuity guides and fact-checkers for the last couple of novels in the series. Martin himself provides has written several sections of the book and provided vast reams of notes on other matters. The book is both a handy compendium of existing information from the novels, novellas, comics and websites and also a way of shining a light on many areas of both the backstory and world that otherwise would not have come to light.

Let me get this out of the way to start with: I've been a moderator on since 2005 and been impatiently waiting for this book since it was announced seven years ago. I was pre-disposed to like it, and hope I can be fair in my appraisal of the book.

Companion guides to fantasy worlds have had a fairly mixed rep, with Terry Pratchett's various Discworld companions being excellent, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time one being reasonable (atrocious art aside), Raymond Feist's being terrible and the various Tolkien ones being all over the place in quality. The World of Ice and Fire is definitely one of the better ones. The artwork is superb, the amount of new information for dedicated fans is almost overwhelming and the attempt to give the text an in-universe origin (a young maester writing a brief primer on the world for the notoriously impatient King Robert Baratheon) makes for a less dry reading experience than it might have been. There are negatives, some of them significant, but this is certainly required reading for a dedicated ASoIaF fan. Fans of the TV series will also likely find much to enjoy here, but it is not a given that the information in the book will also be canon for the TV show.

The book is divided into several sections. The first deals with the history of Westeros and Essos, initially focusing on the ancient history and mythology of the series before the arrival of Aegon the Conqueror. There is a very lengthy section dealing with the reigns of the Targaryen kings and the various challenges and conflicts they faced, ranging from a religious uprising to the devastating dynastic conflict known as the Dance of Dragons to several ill-fated attempts to invade Dorne to Robert Baratheon's rebellion that forms the immediate backstory to the novels. The rest of the book is dedicated to exploring the world itself, from the individual regions of Westeros to the Free Cities and very distant places like Sothoryos, Asshai and the Thousand Islands. The book's conceit is that the young Maester Yandel (Garcia and Antonsson) has written the book a sort of Rough Guide to Westeros and Essos, whilst drawing on material from Master Gyldayn (Martin). Gyldayn is regarded as more authoritative but excerpts from his work are rare, since they were destroyed in the fire at Summerhall. However, he does give us some of the more evocative moments in the book, such as his detailed account of Aegon's Conquest.

The general prose style is reasonable, although prone to repetition. It is not uncommon to see a phrase used and then re-used just a few paragraphs later. It is a common writing mistake, but it's unusual to see it happen quite so often in a book which had a much longer editing period than most. The other problem is that Yandel likes to cover almost every claim in the book with lengthy caveats. Things that happened long ago are unreliable because of the time that's passed and things that happened more recently are unreliable because different historians have different takes on the subject, informed by their biases and political leanings. Clearly Martin and his co-authors want to avoid nailing things down too decisively in case he changes his mind for future novels, and in the case of the ancient mythology and pre-history stuff that's understandable, but for more recent events it's a little more frustrating. We certainly still get a lot of new information - the Targaryen family tree alone swells to a huge size with the influx of new names and characters in this book - but how much of it is 100% reliable is left up in the air. However, the book does sometimes treat this with a nod and wink: by sometimes describing an event as mythological or untrue, but when combined with the reader's knowledge of the novels it becomes clearer what conclusions the reader is being directed to.

The artwork is of course superb, with Ted Nasmith's castle artwork being a highlight (particularly a depiction of the early, ramshackle King's Landing shortly after its founding and a later depiction of the capital in all its walled glory). The only weak part are the maps. Michael Gellatly's maps are pretty to look at, but are of limited utility. They have quite a few errors on them: Saltpans is shown as being part of both the Riverlands and the Vale, and the Riverlands is shown as extended past of Gods' Eye when the text indicated that their border is at the lake itself. The Inn at the Crossroads is also repeatedly shown as being south of the Trident in clear defiance of the text in the novels and every previous map of the setting printed to date. The errors mean that the primary new information shown on these maps - the borders of each region and their major exports - cannot be relied upon, which is a shame. It's also frustrating that the locations of many frequently-mentioned castles (like Raventree Hall) remain unconfirmed and major geographical features (like the Mander's massive tributary) remain unnamed. Minor quibbles? Certainly, but still irksome. More disappointing are the continued absences of maps for castles like Winterfell, Castle Black and Harrenhal, which feel years overdue at this point. There's also the fact that the in-book world map is almost bereft of any useful information and stops at Qarth, whilst many details are given on lands east of Qarth. A more cynical reviewer might suggest that the publishers want you to buy both this book and The Lands of Ice and Fire collection to complement one another.

There is also an issue with the disparity of information given on different regions. The North gets short shrift, which is quite surprising, whilst the longest region chapter is given to the ironborn. Whilst packed with new details and it certainly fleshes out one of the less-detailed regions of Westeros, the fact that we get more new information on the Greyjoys than the Starks or Lannisters seems a bit odd. Even this is then weirdly-presented: we get tons of new info on obscure internal ironborn conflicts from centuries ago, but only a couple of paragraphs on the Greyjoy Rebellion - a critical bit of backstory for the novels - itself. It is also very strange that various obscure parts of the world are fleshed out in sometimes remarkable detail (the new information on Yi Ti and its relationship with the island of Leng is surprisingly thorough) but Slaver's Bay and Qarth, major locations from the novels themselves, are completely glossed over.

Still, once you get used to the book's eccentricities, there is much to enjoy in The World of Ice and Fire (****). The detailed accounts of Maegor's cruel reign, the Dance of Dragons and Daeron's invasion of Dorne are engrossing and it's satisfying to finally get the chronology of Aegon's Conquest and the repeated invasions by the Blackfyre Pretenders all nailed down. Fan theories will receive a lot of new fuel from this book, from the claim that the seasons used to be normal before some event threw them out of balance (actually suggested by the original cover blurb to A Game of Thrones, but only finally presented in-world here) to the relationship between the Mad King and the Lannisters to the exact nature of the Long Night, the War for the Dawn and the Others. Yes, it's a book more for hardcore fans and in fact the exacting detail of it may be off-putting for casual fans more in the mood for a casual primer, but if you fall into that bracket this is essential reading. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Star Wars: X-Wing

The Galactic Civil War is at its height. The Sullustans are negotiating to join the Rebel Alliance, but the Empire is rumoured to be constructing a weapon of incredible power. Into this chaos steps Keyan Farlander, a fresh recruit for the Alliance. He is assigned to the cruiser Independence as an X-wing fighter pilot.

Way back in 1993 - improbable as it seems now - Star Wars merchandise was thin on the ground. Timothy Zahn's Thrawn Trilogy of novels had just started a renaissance in the popularity of the franchise and West End Games had been producing a successful pen-and-paper roleplaying game for several years, but there was still a gap in the market for an iconic Star Wars video game.

X-Wing proved to be that game. Riffing off both the starfighter dogfights in the movies and the then-extremely popular Wing Commander series of games (which later upped the ante by recruiting Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, to appear in later titles in that series), X-Wing hit a sweet spot of game design. It didn't just put the player in the seat of a fighter and let them get on with it, it also gave them control over the various ships' weapons and power systems. This was a vital move as it moved the game from being an arcade shoot 'em up and instead more towards the realm of serious simulation, or at least as serious as it could be when it came to simulating fictional spaceships.

The game is played from the cockpit of one of the Rebel Alliance's iconic fighters: the X-wing superiority fighter, the A-wing fast interceptor and the Y-wing medium bomber. The B-Wing expansion (included in most editions of the game) adds the B-wing heavy bomber to the roster as well. Each ship has a different role. The A-wing is lightly-armed and armoured, is relatively fragile and has a small missile load-out but is also lightning fast and highly manoeuvrable. The Y-wing is slow and lumbering, but has hardier shields and armour, a large warhead magazine and has a secondary ion cannon which can disable enemy ships rather than destroying them. The X-wing falls between, being fairly fast and having a reasonable torpedo payload, but is also quite manoeuvrable and its four laser cannons make it an excellent dogfighter.

Each fighter has three energy systems that the player needs to manage: engines, weapons and shields. Keeping your weapons charged is necessary if you want to fire them, shields need to be kept up (or recharged after being hit) if you don't want to explode and the engines need to be charged to allow you to move fast. This sounds complicated but in practice all that is needed is two buttons which control how much power is diverted from the engines to the other systems (along with a third for rapidly dumping power from one system to another). This adds a more tactical element to the game, since you can retreat from nasty fights (by dumping all power to the engines and speeding clear), recharge your shields and weapons and then rejoin the fray. As the game continues and you gain additional ranks, you also gain the ability to give commands to wingmen in battle. Some later, complex engagements depend on your forces engaging several enemies at once. This is all handled through some pretty logical and instinctive keyboard commands.

The latest version of the game allows you to play in two flavours. The original 1993 version of the game has much more primitive graphics but better music which adapts to the changing fortunes of the battle. It also allows you to play with a mouse. The 1998 version has vastly superior graphics but a simple looping music track. It is also only playable with a joystick or gamepad. I prefer the latter for the stronger visuals, but some swear by the original.

Almost twenty-two years on from its original release, X-Wing holds up remarkably well. The gameplay is fast, enjoyable and surprisingly deep. The game's systems are relatively primitive - the energy balancing and wingman mechanics are handled through just a few button presses each - but in combination with one another provide a variety of different responses to dire situations. Dogfights are fast and furious, but the game does a good job of providing you the information you need to manage even complicated situation effectively. All in all, the game has withstood the test of time very well.

There are, however, several problems. One of these is that it's simply not as good as its sequels. X-Wing feels like a prototype for a style of game only perfected in the later TIE Fighter and X-Wing Alliance, particularly mission structure and in-mission story events. The storyline is fairly bare-bones (all of the character stuff is handled in the manual and strategy guide) and missions tend to become fairly predictable, especially towards the end of the game. Although there is a reasonable variety of craft on hand to both control and fight, X-Wing has the smallest roster of ships in any of the games and it won't be long before you have seen all the game has to offer on that front. The game also arguably fails to live up to its billing of allowing you to recreate the iconic X-wing vs TIE Fighter battles from the first film: all too often you are controlling a fragile A-wing or lumbering Y-wing and fighting Imperial Gunboats (which are more durable than TIEs due to their shields). Enemy AI is also not fantastic in this game, with the computer only having a small number of manoeuvres it can pull off which rapidly become predictable. Most irritatingly, whilst the game unleashes the main Star Wars fanfare when you've fulfilled your objectives, it doesn't provide any such notification for a mission failure. Concluding a half-hour mission only to find the ship you were escorting got blown up ten minutes ago and you need to start again is not fun.

That isn't to condemn the game fully. It's shorter and more focused than its sequels, and its opening tour of duty serves as a reasonable introduction to the series and its mechanics. It's also surprising how fully-formed the compelling gameplay of the series is in this first title

X-Wing (***½) is available now on PC from GoG. The GoG release includes both the 1993 and 1998 versions of the game, along with the game manual and strategy guide. Both expansions, Imperial Pursuit and B-Wing, are also included. Its immediate sequel, TIE Fighter, is also available now with the multiplayer-focused X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and the much more epic conclusion to the series, X-Wing Alliance, due to follow soon.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Paul Kearney and Scott Lynch updates

Solaris Books have revealed the latest version of the cover art for their upcoming new Paul Kearney novel, The Wolf in the Attic, as well as issuing a new blurb. It sounds like Solaris are very impressed with this book and are going to be pushing it out with some fanfare.

In 1920's Oxford a little girl called Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer's wine-dark sea. Anna remembers a time when Agamemnon came to tea, and Odysseus sat her upon his knee and told her stories of Troy.
But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to have it recalled.
She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, and creates worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories.
And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A Romany boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.
In this way she meets the only real friend she will ever know.

Kearney also has a Warhammer 40,000 novel, Umbra Sumus, due for release from the Black Library on 7 May 2015.

The Space Marines of the Dark Hunters, descendants of the White Scars and their savage primarch Jaghatai Kahn, are called to battle on the world of Ras Hanem, a world they thought long since liberated from the grip of heresy and returned to Imperial rule. Many years ago, the Dark Hunters defeated the traitor warband known as the Punishers on that world, in a conflict that left deep wounds in the Chapter. But now the Punishers have returned, seeking vengeance upon their would-be destroyers. Captain Jonah Kerne of Mortai Company is set to annihilate the traitors once and for all, but the cost of victory may be too high for him to bear...

Meanwhile, Scott Lynch has confirmed that, despite a slip into 2015 for The Thorn of Emberlain, there will be no more six-year waits. The novel is on track for a mid-to-late 2015 release and Lynch is promising news about some other projects between now and then as well.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

HBO options Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION novels

Isaac Asimov's Foundation series of SF novels has been optioned by HBO to develop into a TV series. Jonathan Nolan, the screenwriter of several big-budget movies alongside his director brother Christopher, is writing the project.

The Foundation series consists of seven novels: Foundation (1950), Foundation and Empire (1951), Second Foundation (1952), Foundation's Edge (1981), Foundation and Earth (1985), Prelude to Foundation (1989) and Forward the Foundation (1992). There is also a trilogy of sequel novels written by SF authors Greg Bear, Gregory Benford and David Brin after Asimov's death, although the canonicity of these works is debated by fans.

The novels are set roughly 22,000 years in the future and depict the end of the vast Galactic Empire, which is being torn apart by social and economic forces. Mathematician Hari Seldon has developed 'psychohistory', a statistical model which allows for the prediction of broad sweeps of future history based on underlying historical trends. Using this, he establishes the Foundation, a scientific think-tank and refuge located on the distant planet Terminus, which will guide humanity through the collapse of the Empire and the ensuring period of chaos and anarchy, shortening it from tens of millennia to maybe a thousand years. As the books continue, Asimov develops both the limitations of Seldon's model (the arising of a charismatic individual warlord is not accounted for by psychohistory, for example) and also ties in the mystery of the long-forgotten planet Earth. He also develops closer ties between the Foundation saga and his other major SF series, the Robots and Empire series.

Jonathan Nolan, the creator of the Person of Interest TV series and the co-writer of The Prestige, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar (directed by his brother), is working on the project which will be a co-production between HBO and Warner Brothers. The project was previously in development by Roland Emmerich at Sony, but HBO spent a substantial sum to pick up the rights.

This will be difficult project to adapt. The first three Foundation novels - the original Foundation Trilogy and counted by hardcore fans as the only books that count (later books were, by Asimov's own cheerful admission, written for the money) - were actually collections of short stories written by Asimov in the 1940s, and feature wafer-thin characters (and very few female characters of note), outdated science and a complete absence of any kind of sex at all. We can only assume that HBO will be changing some aspects of the story to make it work better on television. More complex is the fact that the first three books by themselves span over 200 years of history, with the series as a whole taking place over 500 years and ending with the ultimate fate and success of the Foundation unresolved. Finding a coherent structure or a regular cast of characters in this broad canvas will be challenging.

Telltale detail their new GAME OF THRONES adventure game

Telltale Games have released the first hard info on their upcoming Game of Thrones adventure game series.

The first episode will be called Iron From Ice and will launch before the end of this year. There will be six episodes in total. Release dates have not been confirmed, but the game will take place simultaneously alongside the events of Season 4, beginning near the end of Season 3 and concluding around the time Season 5 starts. This may indicate a plan to have all six episodes out and done by the time Season 5 starts airing in late March or early April 2015.

The game will revolve around House Forrester, a relatively minor house based in the North. The Forresters are vassals of House Glover of Deepwood Motte, themselves vassals of the Starks. Their seat is Ironrath, located in the ironwood. This is a small part of the wolfswood, noted for its extremely tough trees which make for excellent houses and ships. The Forrester words are also "Iron From Ice".

The Forresters are briefly mentioned in A Dance with Dragons. However, as the Telltale game is based on the TV canon rather than the novels, none of this information should be taken as being official for the books.

In terms of gameplay, the game will use five different POV characters, either members of the Forrester family or their servants. These characters will be located in both Westeros and Essos, and the locations they visit will range from Ironrath to the Wall and King's Landing. The storyline would appear to revolve around both the Forresters' involvement in the War of the Five Kings (presumably in which they support Robb Stark) and their rivalry with House Whitehill.

The game series will be available on PC, X-Box 360, X-Box One, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.

Saturday 8 November 2014

ELITE: DANGEROUS will be released on 16 December

Frontier Developments' space sim Elite: Dangerous will be released on 16 December this year.

Set in the 34th Century, Elite: Dangerous casts the player as a lowly space trader who can work his or her way up the mercenary and trading ranks, buy more ships and explore deep space. The setting is a simulated Milky Way galaxy, complete with 400 billion stars (made possible by procedural generation). The game can be played solo, in co-op with friends or as part of an enormous virtual community encompassing thousands of players.

The game was funded two years ago through Kickstarter and much of the development has been in the public eye, thanks to a hugely popular beta testing period with hundreds of people testing the game and passing on feedback to the developers. Whilst many games have now been funded through Kickstarter, few have been quite so open in their development process.

The game's launch on 16 December will also not be the end of the road. Over the next several years the game will be expanded with the addition of modes allowing ships to enter planetary atmospheres and land, and the possible addition of modes allowing you to walk around your ship or in space stations. However, the game's primary focus will remain on space trading, exploration and combat.

The game is the fourth in the Elite series, following on from Elite (1984), Frontier (1993) and First Encounters (1995). Familiarity with the previous games in the series is not required.

Blizzard unveil trailers for STARCRAFT II: LEGACY OF THE VOID and new IP OVERWATCH

Blizzard have released a cinematic trailer for Legacy of the Void, the second and final expansion to StarCraft II.

Picking up after the events of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and the first expansion, Heart of the Swarm, Legacy of the Void is focused on the Protoss species as they launch a full-scale assault on their former homeworld of Aiur. The planet was lost to the Zerg in the original StarCraft and the Protoss have been planning to retake it every since. The game will focus on Executor Artanis, one of the heroes of the original StarCraft expansion, Brood War, and on his flagship, the Spear of Adun, which will form the hub area between game missions.

As is usual with Blizzard, no release date has been set. However, with the game set to enter beta shortly, a 2015 release is possible.

Meanwhile, Blizzard have also announced their new game Overwatch. This is the first new IP that Blizzard have created in seventeen years and focuses on super-powered heroes and villains fighting on a futuristic Earth. The game will be a team-based FPS and bears more than a slight resemblance to Valve's Team Fortress 2. It looks like the game is drawing on assets and lore created for Blizzard's cancelled MMO shooter, Titan.