Blood, Sweat and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier

blood sweat and pixels

Video games, whilst often looked down on, are one of the biggest industries out there, often outstripping movies by millions (a Huffington Post article from 2016 had gaming rake in 92 billions, against Movies’ 62 billion and Recorded Music’s 18 billion). Despite this, there are not very many books about how these games are made. I’m a big gamer and I went hunting for some non-fiction on the topic and found this book.

Split into ten chapter, each sections tells the behind-the-scenes story of the creation of a game. The games range from massive AAA games such as Uncharterd 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Destiny, The Witcher 3, Star Wars 1313, to RPG’s such as Pillars of Eternity and Diablo III, and indie hits such as Shovel Knight and Stardew Valley.

It was the chapter on Stardew Valley that led me to buying the book. Unlike a lot of the other games and teams in this book, Eric Barone made Stardew Valley entirely on his own – the game, the programming, the art, even the music – over a period of four years. Six months after launching the game, Barone had made 12 million dollars from it. (We are all in the wrong business! But seriously, if you like games, and haven’t played Stardew, give it a go. I’ve spent more time playing it than any other game – 130 hours at present. Which is pretty damn good for a $15 price tag).

Anyway, this book is a captivating tale of games stories’ being chucked out the window, about release dates getting pushed back, about arguments, and game publishers breathing down the developer’s necks. If you have any interest, in any of the above games, I would suggest reading it, but honestly, if you’ve any interest in gaming, this is a fascinating, essential read that shows you exactly how the sausages are made, and why so many major games get released with so many, sometimes game-breaking, glitches (usually because they have just run out of time, and unlike every other artistic medium, publishers would rather release it as is, and patch it later, despite the huge negativity this can cause).

A fascinating insight, and highly recommended.

Brilliant Book Titles #182

boys girls and other hazardous materials

Blurb:
A debut novel from the bestselling author of Queen Bees and Wannabes!

Charlie Healy just wants a drama-free year, but it doesn’t seem like she’s going to get it. After surviving a middle school packed with mean girls, Charlie is ready to leave all that behind in high school. But then, on her very first day, she runs into her former best friend, Will, who moved away years ago. Now he’s back, he’s HOT, and he’s popular. And he takes Charlie back into the danger zone of the popular crowd. But when a hazing prank goes wrong, Charlie has to decide where her loyalties lie.

Brilliant Book Titles #181

we need to talk about kelvin
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

Blurb: 
Look around you. The reflection of your face in a window tells you that the universe is orchestrated by chance. The iron in a spot of blood on your finger tells you that somewhere out in space there is furnace at a temperature of 4.5 billion degrees. Your TV tells you that the universe had a beginning. In fact, your very existence tells you that this may not be the only universe but merely one among an infinity of others, stacked like the pages of a never-ending book.

Marcus Chown, author of Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You, What a Wonderful World and The Solar System, takes familiar features of the world we know and shows how they can be used to explain profound truths about the ultimate nature of reality. His new book will change the way you see the universe: with Chown as your guide, cutting-edge science is made clear and meaningful by a falling leaf, or a rose, or a starry night sky…

We Need To Talk About Kelvin: What Everyday Things Tell Us About The Universe is a hugely accessible exploration of quantum theory, relativity, cosmology, biology and chemistry. Taking our everyday experiences, Marcus Chown quickly and painlessly explains the unltimate truths of reality.

Our Numbered Days by Neil Hilborn

our numbered days

I had such high hopes for this.

First things first, there is, and always has been, an ongoing war between slam poets and page poets: in short, it seems that slam poets look down on page poets for not performing their work, and page poets look down on slam poets for not writing for the page.

With that framework in mind, this review might make more sense. Our Numbered Days is a slam poetry collection by acclaimed slam poet, Neil Hilborn. Now, don’t get me wrong. I was excited for this book. Like many, I saw his poem OCD online (it has had 75 millions views ! A poem! Has 75 million views) and loved it, and eagerly ordered, and impatiently waited for Our Numbered Days.

And when I got it, I found it an absolute struggle to get through.

Hilborn is a good slam poet, but, despite his love for page poets, evident from the quotes throughout the book, his poetry largely doesn’t work in the context of this collection. Sometimes page poets are told that the poem ‘doesn’t come off the page,’ but in this context, it doesn’t work on it.

And it’s a shame, because there’s some good work here, and he talks about topics that should be talked about. But largely, these are performance poems, and they just don’t work on the page (interestingly, OCD is one of the exceptions).

Also, Hilborn feels really young. He was 25 when this collection was published, and whilst his youth gives the book at times a verve, other times it makes it a little cringey, (something he pretty much acknowledges on the back cover).

I think that he’ll make a great book one day, but I think we’re a good few years away from that (I know, he’s a new book out in April, The Future, and I’m tempted to have a look, but I’m afraid it will be more of the same). I think, if he wrote a collection for the page, it could be amazing but given that he’s a touring performance poet, I don’t think that will happen any time soon.

So, in short, do I recommend this book? No. BUT, instead, go watch him perform his poems on YouTube, or go see him live.

Revolution by Russell Brand

revolution russell brand.jpg

My estimation of Russell Brand grew slow and steady over the years. First, I thought only of him as a loud/lewd sort of comic, bangled and bedecked; funny, but a little irritating. As his activism and journalism increased, I began to pay closer attention. He wrote a couple of books, he was interviewed frequently on current affairs programmes, often side by side with respected members of the British establishment and his YouTube channel took off. Bit by bit, his activism became more public, his journalism more vitriolic in its intolerance of injustice and, gradually, my own intolerance of him was eroded. So I thought I’d give Revolution a look. 

A fair chunk of the first section of the book (100 pages or so) recounts his own personal journey from addiction and the highs and lows of fame to a spiritual awakening. While it certainly wasn’t trying reading, I have to say I did feel a little bit cheated as I was looking for more fire and brimstone socio-political upheaval rather than spiritual musings. Nevertheless, if you’re of an open mind and not averse to yoga, meditation and all that malark you’ll still find plenty to take from Brand’s spiritual approach to life. 

There is method to the madness though, as the section does prove vital to the structure Brand would like to impose on any political or economic revolution we have in the future. Brand believes that a political, social and economic revolution is only possible and sustainable if a spiritual revolution precedes it; like a stiff breeze that heralds the coming tornado. 

As the book progresses and you get into the meat of social injustice, hence the calls for revolution. I was of the opinion before I read this that a political/social/economic revolution (and not the political revolution of GE 2011 where Tweedle-Dum replaced Tweedle-Dee) was somewhat necessary, so I was a perfect audience for Brand. However, if you’re not of that opinion, I think you’d have to concede he sells it pretty well. On the other hand, if you’re not of that opinion, I get the feeling you’d rather stay oblivious to the painful truth so you’re  unlikely to cause yourself further pain by picking up this book. Also, as Brand can be something of a marmite figure, there’s many who can conjure up plenty of reasons to object to Brand as a proponent of this kind of talk, thus further muddying the waters of revolution. 

He sums up his thesis quite well though, and I’ll conclude by relaying it here. Our current economic system has created a world wherein the world’s richest 80 people (you could squeeze them comfortably onto a double-decker bus) have more assets than half the world’s population. If that was the only example of injustice and cruelty that had come about from our horribly warped version of society, we could live with it. But it’s not. The current global economic system is quite literally killing the planet. So not only is it immeasurably fairer, kinder, nobler and more just to have a revolution, it is absolutely necessary in order to guarantee the survival of the human species.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here

Brilliant Book Titles #180

the people's republic of desire

Blurb:
An uncensored, eye-opening, and laugh-out-loud funny portrait of modern China as seen through the lives and loves of four professional women in contemporary Beijing.

Divorce, oral sex, plastic surgery. Indulging in a Starbucks coffee, admitting to the emotional repercussions of a one-night stand, giggling over watching pornography.

These once taboo subjects have become the substance of daily conversations and practices among urban women in contemporary Beijing. It seems that no one remembers what happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

A cross between Sex and the City and The Joy Luck Club, The People’s Republic of Desire follows four sassy gals as they preen and pounce among Beijing’s Westernized professional class, exultantly obsessed with brand names, celebrity, and sex.

We Are Changing Our Name (from 1st March)

Hi everyone,

So, from 1st March, we are changing the name of our blog. When I started Ballyroan Reads in 2016, all of the contributors worked in Ballyroan Library, but one part of working in libraries that all library staff know is that you can get moved from branch to branch, and now, most of the contributors work elsewhere!

So, starting from March 1st, to better reflect the contributors and what the blog now is, Ballyroan Reads will be changing its name to South Dublin Reads. The URL (librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com) will always remain the same (I figured we’d change the name eventually, which is why Ballyroan Reads isn’t in the URL!).

Anyway, a long post about a short thing: 1st March, new name!

sdr

Brilliant Book Titles #179

fantasy freaks

Blurb:
An amazing journey through the thriving worlds of fantasy and gaming.

What could one man find if he embarked on a journey through fantasy world after fantasy world? In an enthralling blend of travelogue, pop culture analysis, and memoir, forty-year-old former D&D addict Ethan Gilsdorf crisscrosses America, the world, and other worlds—from Boston to New Zealand, and Planet Earth to the realm of Aggramar.

“For anyone who has ever spent time within imaginary realms, the book will speak volumes. For those who have not, it will educate and enlighten.” —Wired.com

“Gandalf’s got nothing on Ethan Gilsdorf, except for maybe the monster white beard. In his new book, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, Gilsdorf . . . offers an epic quest for reality within a realm of magic.” —Boston Globe

“Imagine this: Lord of the Rings meets Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.” —National Public Radio’s “Around and About”

“What does it mean to be a geek? . . . Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks tackles that question with strength and dexterity. . . . part personal odyssey, part medieval mid-life crisis, and part wide-ranging survey of all things freaky and geeky . . . playful . . . funny and poignant. . . . It’s a fun ride and it poses a question that goes to the very heart of fantasy, namely: What does the urge to become someone else tell us about ourselves?” —Huffington Post

 

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

when we were orphans.jpg

Picked it up after Ishiguro was given the nobel prize as I had previously only read The Remains of the Day. It’s set between the wars in London and colonial Shanghai and the protagonist moves in fairly elite circles in British society. Similar to The Remains of the Day, the novel evokes the era of Britain’s disappearance as a major world power and the cocktail parties and dinners the protagonist constantly attends become synonymous with the last days of the Roman Empire. The satirical portrait of the false assurance of the British people while their empire falls apart and the critique of the consequences of Britain’s colonial past are not the real treasure of this book, however. Above all else, the book’s real power is in Ishiguro’s prose. It’s very hard to put your finger on how his sentences flow so well and I’m sure other writers tear their hair out trying to emulate him. You really notice how good he is if, like me, you dive straight into his work directly after finishing another book. A hugely enjoyable read that flies by.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

5 Romances for Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Here’s five new romances to watch out for!

Time Was by Ian McDonald (24 April 2018)
time was
Ian McDonald weaves a love story across an endless expanse with his science fiction novella Time Was

A love story stitched across time and war, shaped by the power of books, and ultimately destroyed by it.

In the heart of World War II, Tom and Ben became lovers. Brought together by a secret project designed to hide British targets from German radar, the two founded a love that could not be revealed. When the project went wrong, Tom and Ben vanished into nothingness, presumed dead. Their bodies were never found.

Now the two are lost in time, hunting each other across decades, leaving clues in books of poetry and trying to make their desperate timelines overlap.

Twice in a Lifetime by PJ Trebelhorn (13 Feb 2018) 
twice in a lifetime.jpg
Police detective Callie Burke returned to western New York after a bad breakup. She immerses herself in work as a way of avoiding any personal connections. But as her feelings for her sister’s boss and late friend’s widow move beyond friendship, she isn’t quite sure how to handle it.

Bar owner Taylor Fletcher lost her firefighter wife almost four years ago. Dating is the last thing on her mind. She gave her heart away once and isn’t willing to risk that kind of pain again. But now Callie, a woman she isn’t even sure she likes, is getting under her skin.

Because of a threat on Taylor’s life, they spend more time together, and both begin to feel things they never expected. Callie’s never had the once-in-a-lifetime type of love. Taylor has, but Callie makes her wonder if it’s possible to find that kind of love twice in a lifetime.

Emerald by Elle Casey (12 Apr 2018)
emerald
A million reasons to go home. One hot reason to stay.

Emerald Collins is nothing like her strong-willed sister Amber. When she found out her father was a member of the legendary rock group Red Hot, sensitive Em was determined to carry on as normal—she had no interest in finding out more about her dad or leaving her quiet sanctuary in Maine.

But while visiting Amber in New York, Em meets Sam, a tortured, sexy, and utterly unsuitable musician. Sam and Em are used to life behind the scenes but their undeniable attraction is about to put them right in the spotlight.

When Sam reveals a shocking secret about his past, Emerald has to make a choice. Will she follow her head and return home or is the magnetism between them and the excitement of the big city enough for her to follow her heart?

The Allotment Girls by Kate Thompson (22 Mar 2018)
allotment.jpg
During the Second World War, life in the iconic Bryant & May match factory is grimy and tough. Annie, Rose, Pearl and Millie carry on making matches for the British Army, with bombs raining down around them.

Inspired by the Dig for Victory campaign, Annie persuades the owners to start Bryant & May allotment in the factory grounds. With plenty of sweat and toil, the girls eventually carve out a corner of the yard into a green plot full of life and colour.

In the darkest of times, the girls find their allotment a tranquil, happy escape. Using pierced dustbin lids to sieve through the shrapnel and debris, they bring about a powerful change, not just in the factory, but their own lives.

As the war rages on, the garden becomes a place of community, friendship – and deceit. As the garden thrives and grows, so do the girls’ secrets . . .

The Allotment Girls is an inspiring and heartwarming novel of wartime hardship, friendship and fortitude from Kate Thompson, author of the Secrets of the Sewing Bee.

Geek Out: A Collection of Trans and Genderqueer Romance
geek out