The Flamekeblog




I'm surprised I haven't written about Dave Morris' gamebook "Heart of Ice" before. I mean, I have, but I would have thought in the decade plus that I've been blogging here I would have covered it.

Growing up from about age seven we would leave south Wales during the nicest time of year and migrate to the north of England where the weather could be best described as "Autumnal" and the terrain "open" (read: barren). It was part of a contract to supply hunting falcons - they needed to be supplied trained during that period. I was dragged along because I was a child and couldn't be abandoned to enjoy the summer. On the plus side this is probably why I still revel in warm weather!

One of the highlights (as this was pre-internet access) was the local library. It wasn't amazing but it was substantially better than the one we had in Carmarthen even though it was smaller. Having revisited that library in the mid 2000s I'm still not sure what large sections of it were for.

Anyway the Haltwhistle library had a promotional standee thingy containing books. I seem to recall it showed a gorgeously printed snake creature but that could just be a false memory. In it were a series of choose-your-own-adventure style books. I'd encountered the format previously having been introduced to the Fighting Fantasy series by a friend. The relatively complex dice mechanics and similar didn't really work for me though and so I tended to read them more for the story than anything else.

I borrowed all the books from the standee at various points but the one I kept coming back to was, unsurprisingly, Heart of Ice. It had a clear slip cover on it and I loved it. I borrowed it every summer and desperately wanted my own copy. My mother tried to track one down (she'd often visit book shops and pick books she thought I might like to encourage me to read - a success but possibly the reason I'm crap at picking books for myself) to no avail.

Years later I emailed Dave Morris and he provided both a PDF and somewhere to buy a reprint. I later contacted him about developing a game based on the book. It would have been an open source game done through a small group I was involved with but whilst I received permission things never got started on that project.

Time passed.

Then last year I thought "I'm working on my own Twine/Sugarcube game - why not take a break and port the original book? How hard can it be?"

You might think the answer would be "much harder than expected" but it wasn't. In programming terms the game is relatively simple. There's no randomness, for example. The thing that took a while was importing every passage (400+) as well as scanning and processing the artwork. As mentioned in a previous post I really don't like my Twine games to be a collection of files. If at all possible I want them self-contained and for this game that meant being clever with the choice of compression. Conveniently (the book cover and map aside) all the artwork is in black and white. Literally. There are no shades of grey whatsoever. This meant I was able to use a very limited colour palette to produce high resolution versions of the images. That matters because have you looked at a modern phone or tablet?

I wanted this stuff to look sharp! The art is gorgeous and it'd be such a shame to only have some blurry JPEGs when something better would be possible with some effort. This did mean scanning in all the artwork myself though but what the hell, why not?

Amusingly because of the way Blogger works it will look fairly muddy but trust me, in the game the illustrations look great.

I also upscaled some additional artwork where appropriate from the original artist, Russ Nicholson. You can see some of it here. Quite an iconic style and the reprinted book I mentioned earlier contained at least one extra piece so in it went too!

Something that wasn't in the original book was sound - it wasn't powered by Ultraword™after all.

If I had the right gear and unlimited time I would have liked to create soundscapes for every location but unfortunately that wasn't an option. Many players may not hear the game's sounds though so I thought it might well be wasted effort regardless. I instead included a few sounds for usability:

  • Should you be unfortunate enough to die you'll be subjected to the howling wind over snowy plains.
  • Reloading a barysal gun is surprisingly uncommon and so there's a cue for that too.
  • Being unable to purchase something due to lack of funds also has a little tone.
  • There's also a sound for opening the map. The illustration on the inside cover of the original book always felt it was lacking some sort of noise so I had to figure something out!
Finally I implemented some custom fonts to convey when certain types of character speak (usually mechanical voices - I wanted Gilgamesh to be particularly unpleasant to read. Yes, that font choice was deliberate.).

I did some bug testing (not enough as it turns out - is there such a thing as "enough bug testing"?) and then contacted Dave Morris. Better late than never, eh?

If you follow Dave's blog you'll already have seen this but it became his Christmas present to fans!

You can play the game here: 

The URL isn't very nice, I know, but I don't want to finalise things until I'm fairly confident it won't need to be changed again. Oh and saving the web page should get you everything as it's self-contained.

Right, I'm going to go turn the heating on!

I'm still paying Fallout 4. Whilst I'm enjoying it I'd quite like to reach the end because once I'm done I don't plan on ever playing through it again. Not in a bad way - I just can't see my future self sinking this much time into a single game.

I don't like ridiculously short games but equally if a game is over a certain length it's almost an immediate non-starter - assuming I know the approximate length of the game going in of course.

This has lead me to wish that Bethesda could do several things with a future Fallout game. I don't think there's any chance of them doing these things and that's pretty much why I'm writing about them. Furthermore as a player I only think I know what I want. Customers often say they want one thing but then purchasing patterns don't actually support that and I suspect the same would be true here. I'd like some of the following tried though!

1. A smaller game world.

As much fun as a sprawling game world is it's still too small. Y'see when it comes to worlds Bethesda doesn't make them to scale. Most developers don't. Reality is big and that's not actually all that fun to traverse. Add to that the task of detailing everywhere being immense and we're at a situation where it's either a matter of procedural generation (hard to do right) or lots of hours of work for a small army of developers (ruinously expensive and also hard).

Modern incarnations of the Gamebryo engine can at least handle tens of NPCs so the place doesn't feel quite as empty but the idea of an in-game location being a "city" is still painfully jarring. It works fine for a "settlement" but no, that's not a city. That's not even a town.

As with many things creativity is often spurred on by limitations. I wish Bethesda would embrace their limitations and try to tell a compelling and reactive story within those rather than aiming for something beyond the scope of what they can realistically realise.

2. A more reactive game world.

I'm making my way through Fallout 4's story but before I really got started I took the time to build a network of well-populated settlements. I dragged many of them kicking and screaming into civilisation. By that I mean I'd take over a settlement with people living in pathetic shacks that would in no way be suitable for the climate they live in. I'd define a perimeter to be defended and build with concrete. Proper structures that could be defended. Solid concrete walls thick enough to provide a barrier against the radiation storms that often blow in from the south west. Lighting. Water. Food.

This sort of thing is very rarely commented on in the game's story though. It's not programmed to react to my exploits most of the time. When I encountered the character of Deacon I was incredibly pleased that he was on my side on the basis of my exploits. He knew that I'd done things and should be allied with as soon as possible.

Similarly I enjoyed having the option to tell a journalist:
"You're all living in rusty shacks, killing each other, and my God, the smell..."
I'm trying to roleplay as my character and whilst she's generally a force for good I also try to remember that she's a pre-war lawyer. She is intelligent, incisive, and doesn't take any bullshit. Sometimes she will ask questions she knows the answers to in order to see what the other party thinks about the matter.

So upon being presented with Bethesda's idea of what 200 years after a nuclear war looks like I would expect her to think "Really? This is the best you could do?"

Note that this contrasts with what 200 years after the war looks like in Black Isle's Fallout universe. There they've realised that they can, in fact, build... new structures. Mind blowing.

The general point being that most of the time my character doesn't seem to be recognised by the game world. It is unaffected by her and she is unaffected by it. Companions will comment on an area but she remains silent. It's pretty immersion breaking.

Scale it down and make it react more. If I do remarkable things or establish trade networks that's a big deal. It's a big deal because everyone else seems to mostly be sitting around sulking rather than getting their shit together.

3. Stop being scared to create.

There's the headquarters of a toy company. They're a Bethesda creation (and their toy, Giddyup Buttercup is too). Well done. On a terminal one can read about possible future models of the toy that would have tie-in branding. Which companies are named? Nuka cola, Vault-Tec, and Rob-co.

Wow. Yes, obviously. Such natural fits and certainly not chosen because barely any other notable named companies exist within the canon. Would it have killed them to create some plausible tie-ins?

Similarly many of the enemies that exist in the Bethesda Fallout games have at best a very flimsy justification for being there. The same is true for various drugs found in the games. Psycho, for example, is a military drug:
A unique delivery system filled with strange and unknown chemicals of probably military origin. It is supposed to increase the combat potential of a soldier.
But of course you find it all over the place in Bethesda's games because why not?
The drug "Jet" was invented during the events of Fallout 2. You can have its creator join your party.

Fuck it though, let's ignore that and have it spread across America rather than California. We could invent a similar drug and call it something else but we didn't buy the Fallout IP not to use it.

Yeah, it's dumb, it's lazy, and it takes me out of the moment. If you need something in the game check if it already exists and could plausibly be found there. If it isn't plausible create something else to fit the bill.



In general I want a tighter experience that feels less like a load of addictive game mechanics strung together and more like a roleplaying environment. Not much point in creating a roleplaying game if the player's actions don't really matter.

I've been playing Fallout 4. I used to refer to Fallout 3 as "Bethesda's Fallout" but at this point there have been more Bethesda Fallout games than there were Black Isle Fallout games.

I'm not planning to rehash what I've said about Fallout 3 here as my opinion on that applies just as much to Fallout 4. The only thing I'm currently irked about is the vaults.

When I played Fallout 2 the discovery that the vaults were shady was disturbing. It was a brilliant revelation. These days it's such common knowledge that it's not even addressed in-game. My character, "the sole survivor", doesn't even question it. In fact she has the option to say that Vault-Tec is "evil". Arguably she'd be right but based on what?

That is to say I've encountered their work in previous games - she hasn't. She was put in a vault and frozen. It kept her safe from the apocalypse, pretty much as advertised. Nothing particularly shady happened to her aside from being cryogenically preserved - she wasn't part of any behavioural experiments or anything like that. The fate of her husband and infant son were nothing to do with Vault-Tec as far as she knows either.

So when playing the Fallout 4 DLC why does she just unquestionably assume that experimenting on people is something Vault-Tec do? Why does the overseer just blurt this out?

It's dumb and pretty much Bethesda's Fallout to a T.


Perhaps it'll turn out to be a daft set of decisions but I'm going to risk being smug in advance. Hold my text editor, lads.

I'm working on a game. As with most things of this nature it started off as something small and got wildly out of control. It's written in Sugarcube and TWINE - that is to say it's a text-based adventure played in a browser and distributed either as just an HTML file or as an archive with resources.

Personally I'm not a fan of having to package up a load of resources. Not a fan. Also when I started work on it (and perhaps still now) images that were outside the dev environment wouldn't be displayed in the preview functionality.

I opted instead to embed the files as Base64 strings. Basically taking the file data and turning it into text that a browser is happy to decode. I use this method to embed images, sounds, and text.

Of course the immediate reaction from various people I asked when implementing this was "That's probably a bad idea" and comments about bloating a browser and the like. Doing this willy-nilly would absolutely risk that but this is me we're talking about. At this stage I'm old compared to lots of the young folks creating games. I grew up in the age of dial-up, tiny hard disks, and similar limitations. If there's one thing I know it's about compressing files!

The images I'm using are mostly run through Geometrize before being resized and squashed into tiny JPGs. They're also used sparingly. I think there's two images of that kind in the game so far.

The others are PNG-8 files with very limited colour counts to keep their file sizes as low as possible without becoming hideous.

Similarly there's sound in my game. I considered using Opus for audio but Safari doesn't currently support it natively. Everyone else has got their shit together (even Microsoft's Edge browser supports it, for gods' sakes) but that's a fairly big chunk of users and the saving isn't that great. I mean, percentage wise it's excellent - about a 30% reduction in filesize - but that's not really worth the trade off when that's 3592 bytes vs. 5184 bytes. That's the largest sound file in the game.

The largest image is much larger but that's because it's a struggle to compress images with transparency in this day and age because it would seem different vendors can't agree so we're still stuck using JPEG and PNG. As a result in order to actually be supported I've got an image that weighs in at 123 KB.

Fonts are where things get properly heavy

  • 21 KB - Trash Hand Regular
  • 63 KB - Patrick Hand SC
  • 27 KB - Black Biro
  • 21 KB - Rokkitt
132 KB. Ouch. Still - worth it.

So how big is the game? Currently it's 1404 KB. It'd fit on a floppy disk. Here's the breakdown:

  • 9 KB of sound
  • 132 KB of fonts
  • 163 KB of images
  • 1099 KB of text
I think it'll be fine this way.

When is it even set?

07 March 2018

On the plane back from New Zealand I watched a few things but one stood out to me. I watched it from beginning to end and don't recall enjoying a single moment of it. I endured in the hope that there would be a reveal of some description; that in some way the pieces would fall into place and make the whole mess make sense.

I'm still baffled.

It's like the polar opposite of the TV show We Are Klang. That's hilarious, idiotic, and best described as a kid's TV show for adults. Every time I watch it I wonder how they managed to convince anyone to fund it but love that they did.

Its budget wasn't $20 million (2007) though.

This thing has a running time of 123 minutes, or about $16,000 per minute, and in my mind is best described by Moe from The Simpsons.


The thing in question is Synecdoche, New York, in which we follow Caden Cotard, a theatre director of no discernible charisma. He has a wife and a daughter and is generally miserable. Actually that pretty much describes the state of everyone in the film. No one is happy, no one ever becomes happy. The amount of misery they endure varies but basically the film is a study in people having depressing lives as inexplicable weirdness happens around them.

A character buys a house that's on fire. It remains on fire for the entire film. This is never explained and isn't a hallucination. Okay then. Po-mo.

Caden receives a MacArthur Fellowship which would, in theory, provide him with $500,000 over the course of five years. Or $25,000 per quarter. In the film this funding is open-ended and vastly in excess of that.

To try to do something with his life he tries to put on a play set in a copy of New York, in a pocket dimension. It's supposed to be a warehouse but the size makes no sense whatsoever. Yay, postmodernism.

He then spends the rest of his life feebly trying to create something in this warehouse with a small town's worth of actors with no real direction, massive scope creep, and a few different relationships.

That first wife leaves him taking his daughter with her. Said daughter grows up and has a life that could be described as equal parts Bohemian and harrowing. Caden doesn't appear to be able to understand how time works and so is constantly baffled by how she's now an adult. I don't mean in a "they grow up so fast" way - no, I mean in a very literal sense. He thinks she's still four after having been gone for six years. Oh and as a dying adult she thinks he's gay. Apparently she never actually looked into his life despite clearly being traumatised by what she was told about him. The scenes with her are uncomfortable, depressing, and ultimately nonsensical.

His other daughter from his second marriage takes no part in the narrative except to be referred to by the wrong name a couple of times when talking about his first daughter.

Oh and a mysterious illness is slowly killing him in annoying but mundane ways. I suppose this is supposed to signify decay and spiralling out of control in various ways but at this stage it's hard to really know what, if anything, this film is trying to say. In that respect it's a metaphor for itself, I guess.

Here's a trailer that makes it seem like there's anything like a coherent narrative:



Did I mention that eventually he swaps places with the actress he's hired to play a cleaner and she starts running the show? Yeah, so that happens.

I'd sum it up as "Here's a bunch of stuff that happens. You'll find it a bit emotionally disturbing. Don't expect resolution because there's none coming."

I'm mostly writing this to get this irritation out of my head and onto digital paper. It's pretentious guff that is most certainly not "extremely funny". It has nothing to say, just like the play Caden attempts, and much like that ultimately collapses under its own weight.


Did you have help?

28 December 2017

There's lots of things I'm proud of about myself but the amount of reading I do isn't one of them. It contrasts a fair bit with how things were when I was a child - I devoured books back then. Admittedly that was in the age of media poverty (a subject I could have sworn I've written about before).

Anyway, when I travel I like to read (so these days that's about twice a year...) and a better option fell through. A friend let me have a book that she'd finished in the recent past that had disappointed her in its lack of Christmas content. Apparently the name "A Christmas Cracker" and the snowy scene depicted on the cover were somewhat misleading...

Yep, that's actual glitter on there.
I accepted it mostly to be polite but I figured I'd give it a go in transit if I felt like reading. I might have been able to finish it if I hadn't put it down so many times amidst cries of "Oh come on!" and "Who talks like that?!"

Having never read anything by Trisha Ashley before I didn't know what to expect and was rather suspicious of the jacket comment "Trisha at her best". Mmmhmm.

Amusingly I'm the one that reads chick-lit whereas Jenny's preference is for gruesome murders and crime. Anyway, let's get into what I thought of the book and what sort of thing led to that opinion.

We'll start off with the general first act of the narrative, why not?

Tabitha (37), our plucky heroine, is convicted of fraud and sent to prison for a brief stint following a spot of undercover TV journalism. Her "friend" (who we'll get to shortly) perjures herself and this testimony somehow counts or something. It's pretty quickly glossed over how this stuff works (not that it'd make for scintillating reading, admittedly) but it's done in such a way as to feel utterly implausible. Tabitha is, of course, mostly innocent. Innocent enough that it feels incredibly unlikely that she'd receive any punishment at all, let alone a conviction.

So that's our rather spongey bedrock...

A character is introduced who descends like a big dollop of deus ex machina to give Tabitha a, sigh, fresh start. Said patron is wealthy, slightly eccentric (in the happy-clappy way, not the air baths way), and proceeds to remove material concerns of any kind from the list of Tabitha's concerns. Apparently our heroine is exactly who she's been looking for to be her PA. Prior to this Tabitha's CV seems to have consisted of warehouse work and a lengthy stint of care work prior to the death of her mother. Such an obvious good fit. I'm sure a good heart and a laughably sheltered personality will lend itself perfectly to the refurbishment and relaunch of a niche manufacturing concern.

Of course this being this book it does. Nothing presents any difficulties and the rework of the Christmas cracker factory goes off without a hitch over the course of the book. Without exaggeration there is not a single wrinkle in the plan.

  • They pitch to a prestigious shop and a chapter later they've got an order. 
  • They apply for planning permission and get it with no strings attached. 
  • None of the staff have any issues with their work area being made visible to the visiting public.
You get the idea. That aspect of the narrative was one of the most interesting and could have provided some fun character development and personal growth. Perhaps Tabitha could have learnt that she could surprise herself and feel satisfied in her ability to come up with clever solutions. Yeah, no, that'd be too interesting.

Relationships, people, and the cat

This being the kind of book it is the story is mostly a backdrop for the relationships we're supposed to enjoy reading about. Loveable characters that make us wish they existed. I think that's the general idea anyway.

As mentioned above I put this book down many times in utter exasperation.

This mostly stemmed from how utterly unrealistic the majority of the characters were. I think it's safe to say that I've met a lot of people. Tabitha's saviour, the energetic oldy Mercy Marwood, is a fairly plausible character based on my own experiences. I've met enough people that she seems like a composite of a few of them, I can totally buy that. I particularly liked the touch that she wears trainers with light-up elements on the heels, it made me smile.

Similarly the god-daughter character, Liz from Malawi, seemed fairly real too. Yep, fine, fine.

That's pretty much where it stops. The rest of the main cast are at best ridiculous caricatures and at worst cardboard.

Now, let's be clear here, at the time of writing I'm 31. The characters are supposed to be ~37, not 50+. I have no problem at all with older characters, older people, or anything in between. Lady Cecilia from Elizabeth Moon's Serrano Legacy is a personal favourite! However when that author writes a younger character there's a noticeable difference and similarly characters in their 40s are different again. They come to life and feel human.

If this book is anything to go by Trisha has very little grasp of what a woman in her 30s in 2015 behaves like. It might have been better to set this in the 1980s or something (which would probably have been delightful, if I'm honest). Choosing to set it in the present day results in strangely jarring turns of phrase on occasion:
And the background electronic tape created by one of Arlene's sons sounded wonderfully atmospheric.

We're talking about something to be played in the Christmas cracker factory shop to convey a suitable atmosphere. An "electronic tape"? Really?

That's supposed to be Tabitha's thoughts, I should add, not some sort of objective narrator.

Lacey surveyed the draped and crowned bed and then remarked, "It looks like the set from a bad porn film."
"I'll have to take your word for that. I haven't seen any kind of porn film," I said, glad that Mercy had sent me up to her room, rather than take her herself!

Call me outlandish but that doesn't gel with my experiences of women in their 30s at all. Perhaps it would be true in 2005 but these days I'm afraid that seemed unlikely (coupled with a weirdly sanctimonious attitude from someone who'd previously been living with their fiancé...).

Lacey is unpleasant throughout the entire narrative. The same is true of Tabitha's "friend" and her ex-fiancé. I'm not talking "often a bit of a dick". No. If they're talking they're being horrid. I think Lacey has a single positive comment in the entire 435 pages.

Having antagonists is good, it's how lots of us experience our lives. Except the people I've hated the most throughout my life weren't like that. I hated them because at times they did or said things that I found reprehensible. They didn't eat, sleep, and breathe malice. It's almost as if they were humans with lives, moods, and thoughts of their own.

Two dimensional antagonists are hard to get much mileage out of. If they're present we know exactly how they're going to behave. If that's the case why even bother writing lines for them to say? Oh, a phone call from Kate? I can't imagine what the content of the next passage will be!

Randal


Our male lead, Randal, is not quite as two-dimensional, but there's very little character development until the last quarter of the book. Seriously. He spends the majority of the book appearing, disapproving of Tabitha, having a tough time with his fiancé (Lacey), before vanishing for a bit.

Arguably the most poorly written parts of the book are written from his perspective. He only gets a handful of chapters to himself (rarely more than a few pages long) but they stand out. You see, dear reader, our author has not observed men in their 30s. Either that or she wasn't making any attempt to empathise with them. That makes it sound like he's portrayed in a poor light but that's not the issue - it's much more fundamental than that. He doesn't read like a man. When he's thinking, when he's talking to a friend, or whatever, he doesn't act like a man. That is to say the way he reacts to situations and assesses things doesn't feel in any way real. I find it hard to believe any normal, 37 year old British man in 2015 would use the term "...I'd been cross about her not telling me she was bringing...".

Cross? Is the inside of an Enid Blyton book?

Let's clarify something here - I'm not sure what Randal's upbringing resembled but it seems based on the narrative that it mirrored my own fairly well. Boys at boarding school do not get "cross". They get "pissed off", "annoyed", "peeved", or any number of other (worse) terms. When they become men this doesn't go away. Earning a salary doesn't transform their vocabulary to that of a 1950s matron.

If we pretend that Randal is a real heterosexual man in the year 2015 with a job that pays improbably well then the question becomes - okay, but what does Lacey see in him? She's supposed to be 27, astonishingly gorgeous, and an utter nightmare. Apparently he is a "safe option" for her. Mmmhmm. Okay. So what does Randal see in this narcissistic piece of work? She doesn't seem to care about him in the slightest and there appears to be no chemistry between them either. What does he get out of this..?

More to the point, why is he engaged to her? Dating her, perhaps, for the sake of argument, fine. But what would make him pull the trigger, so to speak? He's not written as someone shocked that she's interested in him and wanting to keep things going, for example.

Yeah, that's a question without an answer. It does rather model the major flaw with the relationships that occur throughout the book though. They feel as real as a crayon scribble.

I was supposed to mention the cat, Pyewacket, wasn't I?

The author apparently thinks we've not met cats before and want to read about him being a cat. He's a cat. He does cat stuff. This is seemingly of endless interest to the author for whatever reason. Like an actual cat he's just sort of there. He doesn't take an active role in the events of the book for the most part but it's rare for more than a few pages to go by without him getting a mention. Make of that what you will.

Right, let's come to a conclusion. Well, in a moment. First I've got to mention technology and 2015.

It seems that the author's idea of technology is from roughly 2006 with a few later touches. Phone charms are mentioned as cracker charms in new cracker designs they're introducing. Uh huh. Is it even possible to attach a phone charm to a smartphone?

Characters are constantly turning their phones off. There's no signal at the house where Tabitha ends up so her phone is usually off. If it's a dumbphone it'd have a ridiculous battery life and if it's a smartphone then why would she turn it off? What does she keep her calendar on (she's a PA, remember?)? What about music? Or all the beauty that she sees around her that she later makes art of - a camera might be handy for that, I would have thought...

Yeah, stuff like that stands out because technology is so ubiquitous in this day and age. My mother was 71 in 2015. Do you know which phone she had then? A Samsung Galaxy S5. I know this because I received it as a hand-me-down some time later. Of my friends only one held onto a dumbphone - which he got rid of years ago at this point. A basic android handset wasn't anything implausible, especially considering the character had a job before her conviction.

My general point is that a smartphone is a given and smartphones aren't just phones. They stay on.

There was also a mention of internet cafés in Vietnam and spotty internet access there. I can't say I've checked but I would be utterly shocked if they weren't everywhere by 2010, let alone 2015.

Conclusion

This all boils down to the fact that the characters, situations, and world of A Christmas Cracker struggle to stay plausible from chapter to chapter. There's the occasional passage where the author's spark can be seen and characters come to life and actually talk to each other. When they appear it's refreshing and fun. Unfortunately there's only about four of those at most in the entire damned book.

Other things: 
  • If Emma doesn't love Desmond anymore why does it take a physical altercation before she actually goes ahead with the divorce she's been talking about for half the bloody novel?
  • Emma's son, Marco, is seven and a half. Do you know what age Mr. Potato Head is aimed at? Come on.
  • Men generally court characters at least a little before proposing, even in an Austen novel, especially if their previous fiancé was problematic. It is rather the done thing.
  • Stop rehashing the events of the book. We read those chapters already. You don't need yet another character explaining what's going on to another in a clunky exposition dump. It's not a complicated plot, get on with the narrative.
  • The Quaker thing is kind of weird and the book is a bit preachy at times, in a between-the-lines kind of way.
  • There's about thirty pages of the book set at Christmas. Methinks the cover art was telling a bit of a whopper...
I could probably think of more things like that but it's getting late. I'm glad I read the book as it makes me feel a bit better about my own writing. I could probably rework the book into something else as finishing a first draft is a mammoth task in and of itself. It wasn't created without skill but if I was handed this to give notes on you can see there'd be quite a lot of red ink on the manuscript!

I'd give the book 2.5/5. It's coherent. The English countryside rubbish is saccharine and twee to the point of ridicule but there's a happy ending. On the last page and not before. Fin.

Here's a post that might get a bit of traffic as I've had no luck finding the answer to this problem elsewhere.



This has been driving me up the wall over the last few days. The missus old Kindle Keyboard died (fairly thoroughly - I'd need a serial cable to check whether there's anything going on in there at all!) and the K3 (B008) I found to replace it was still running 3.4 (1725970040).

Plugging it into a computer and transferring the update files from Amazon didn't work. Some suggested using the other files and changing B006 (or B00A) to "B008" and that didn't work. The file was there but the option to update remained stubbornly greyed out. I was looking into Kubrick to see whether there was a way to force an update on the accursed device. While the USB stick was being prepped for that I decided to try something that actually worked:

Update to 3.4.1 first.


Amazon say that updating from 3.4 should work but as this thread clearly shows, that's cobblers.

I grabbed 3.4.1 from Softpedia (which in itself seems rather dubious but was thankfully fine.) and transferred it to the Kindle's root directory.

Voilà! The settings menu immediately allowed me to update!

Once that was done and dusted I transferred the 3.4.2 update over as per Amazon's original instructions and it then happily updated.

I don't have a "before" image because, well, why would I?
But here's an after:
Updated to 3.4.2 (2687240004)

It now happily connects to WiFi and the missus should be good to go on downloading her purchases. Also look at that - a third page of settings! Dead fancy.

I've mirrored the updates here:
  1. Update_kindle_3.4.1_B008.bin
  2. Update_kindle_3.4.1_3.4.2_B008.bin
Hopefully this post will make life easier for some other Kindle Keyboard owners out there!