Games-less winter and bookworming away

Since I have been on a post-writing roll recently, this week’s cup of care is here for you to read! :)

I just realized I’ve gone through the last 3 months without much more than a quick session of Guild Wars 2 here and there or an hour of Final Fantasy 6 on the tablet. And to be honest, it hasn’t been too bad at all.

Do I miss it? Of course I miss it. Especially since I see my better half gaming away at Warlords of Draenor and I have to dash through social media to avoid any spoilers for Dragon Age!

But there’s one, much repeated line to be said about this…

Making games ≠ playing games.

I’ve learned about 3D modeling, animation, texturing, color theory, fundamental engineering drawing, composition and Unity instead. There’s something deeply satisfying about gaining these new skills… especially knowing what I’m aiming for after all is said and done.

Games can take a lot of time from your daily activities if you’re not careful, too. I had a habit of slipping into a comfortable gaming coma for the better part of MANY hours for the maximum satisfaction. Many people I know fall into the same category. Everything in moderation, right?

On the 6th of December I got to spend a wonderful day with my better half’s family (the occasion known as the birthday of Sinterklaas, a figure quite similar to Santa Claus), exchanging gifts and eating good food. I scored two new books on this occasion!

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans

The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans

I devoured half of this book before I got home that night. It is just that well-written with a careful focus on the important bits like world building, general story crafting, research and publishing books in general. I think one of the tips the author gives about a book needing to stand on it’s own, whether it’s a part of a series or not, is one of the more important ones. This is very evident in the Drizzt series, since I started that series in the middle – I started with Starless Night, the 8th book of the whole storyline, after all!

Imagining my little space in the world without fantasy stories is simply impossible. I occasionally write little blurbs of my own, too. Most of them stay well-hidden though. While I have a few stories in my head, I find it hard to even get started with publicizing them.

The second book of the evening that made me prance in little circles was this one.

How to draw and paint fantasy combat by Matt Stawicki

How to draw and paint fantasy combat by Matt Stawicki

This book made me want to dash home and get started with drawing right away, because it covers things like different weapons, how 2-handed weapons are being held in combat, the human figure, armor designing and creating dynamic poses. There’s even little tidbits about creating different effects with traditional media. Traditional media! It’s been a while since I touched an actual paint brush, but I should definitely try it out and make some something new.

IGAD-wise, the stress level is slowly climbing and I am losing hope of actually relaxing during Christmas vacation. Partly due to bad planning, part due to the workload, I know the time I will spend with relatives I will itch for my laptop and assignments. Ah, well. Block C is going to be a tough nut, so I better mentally prepare for that, huh?

And since I promised I would post my work-in-progress pendulum animation….

Ever since the making of this video I made a few improvements, but haven’t taken the time to render it all out just yet. I do have another animation in the pipeline, about an adorable ball with a fluffy tail and his bouncing….

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but that video will be posted as soon as I get the time for it. :)

My reason for wanting to make games: The Legend of Dragoon

I wanted to do a little dip in the past and talk about the first game I owned on the PlayStation “back in the days”. Yes, boys and girls, I’m 26 and I’m pulling the “back in the days” card on you.

*clears throat delicately and laces her fingers together, looking at you over the edge of her glasses*

My mom had bought a secondhand PS for me and my little sister somewhere in 2000 (it’s already been 14 years? Sheesh!) and I chose a game from a mail order catalog by the cover, like games were usually picked in those days.

Funnily enough, back then I had to play with a controller in one hand and a English-Finnish dictionary in another.

And then I got more hooked in this game than I have ever gotten hooked in anything. Yes, even WoW. Seriously, if you have a chance to play LOD on an emulator, or have a friend who owns the original disks and a PlayStation, I recommend you give this game a try. Just don’t come crying to me when you reach the end and find out there is no sequel.

The legend of dragoon start screen

The Legend of Dragoon is quite a bit like the Final Fantasy of the time period (Final Fantasy 7, which I also played), with blocky polygon graphics and a world-saving need of a whole new level. In LOD you meet Dart, our blond-haired, blue-eyed protagonist and his ridiculously large shoulder armor (guess they had to differentiate him from Cloud somehow). Dart

After having been away for several years, Dart returns to his home village and just misses the whole thing being burned into the ground and his childhood sweetheart friend Shana having been captured. Of course he takes off and rescues her, and the reasons for her capture spiral ever onwards into history of the realm of Endiness. I love the plot to bits, as stereotypical as it is. Most of the characters are plain amazing, adding to a plethora of comedic moments (let’s not forget the low-budget translation that added to the comedy value), and the ending caused me to bawl like a 6 year old.

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The graphics and animations amazed me all way through the game. A lot of effort went into designing the environments that our group of heroes would be running around in, creating a beautiful, alien fantasy world. In some cases I would stop and stare, and even try to draw, those environments. Not with much success, but it’s all oh-so fascinating when you’re young.

Crystal Palace

The combat system is, like in Final Fantasy, turn-based. What sets the combat apart from FF is the “addition” system in which the player needs to press X (or O if the enemy is blocking an attack) at the right time to execute a combination attack. These additions start off fairly easy but as your party grows in levels, you get more and more combinations that require a certain a good sense of timing to get right.

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The combat becomes even more fun when the Dragoon Spirits are introduced to the player, adding another level of tactics to any given fight. Depending on level, you could remain in a Dragoon form for several rounds and use a different set of abilities those from a human form.

Besides all the things one could stare at in this game, the soundtrack was phenomenal. The tunes were catchy and some of the ambient music was very creepy indeed.  And some pieces, like this one, were uplifting and fit in the environment in a way that I’d never seen a game do before!

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And since all of the aspects came together to create a mesmerizing story, I started wondering if I couldn’t, at some point in my life, be making games like LOD.

Granted, I wasn’t very serious about making games back then. There were no schools within reach for me to study at and since I didn’t get accepted at a local art academy, I buried that bit of the dream and went to become a web designer instead. Hey, a creative job is a creative job, they said. I could game on my free time, occasionally writing stories and drawing away, but I figured that games were out of my reach.

Photo from Unsplash

Photo from Unsplash

A lot of things happened since then. Years passed and I grew as a person, thinking I would never make games, and put my mind into being a web designer. At the back of my mind there was always a kind of an itch, though. What if I finally pursued my dream? It was a scary thought, since I had grown older (by no means do I think I’m “old” but my back disagrees with that sentiment on a daily basis) and was afraid that starting from the bottom again might mean a barely livable salary at 30.

Despite those fears I applied to IGAD and got accepted. I’m working on my first game as an artist with my team of amazing folks (ahoy, District 18!) and having a great time. Who knows where I’ll end up, since I’m finally doing what I always wanted to do.

If you’re interested in more screenshots, music and fanart of the Legend of Dragoon, have a look at legendofdragoon.tumblr.com. It’s a real treasure chest of LOD-related things!

On politics, Python and procrastination

Let’s face it, I’ve dipped my proverbial finger in a lot of subjects, but politics isn’t my favorite one.

I’ve been away from Finland for the past 6 years, but I still occasionally check on the news and the changing of the country. It just happens to be the place I spent most of my life in and would like to see it changing for the better, even if I were not ever going to live there again. But considering that the games industry there has greatly picked up, who knows if I could find a nice job there once I graduate!

Last week the parliament passed the much-discussed same-sex couple marriage law, to the joy of great many. It’s an amazing thing for the folks living there, and I had been wondering why the law wasn’t passed earlier. But like most countries, the constant tug-of-war between conservatives and liberals wages on and makes things that much harder to progress. I live by the motto of “an’ do it no harm, do as ye will” and allowing adult people who love each other to marry each other and make it official belongs to this category in my books.

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Serge Bertasius Photography / http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

Congratulations for this victory for human rights, Finland! :)

Block B is picking up in workload and I’ve spent a whole load of hours working on my scripting (Python, to be more specific) skills for an animation class. Thinking my background in HTML and CSS would help was a big mistake – I was quite lost for the first 2 weeks but then something seemed to click! With the help of these Python video tutorials from Zurbrigg as well as with those provided by the lecturer I managed to write a beautiful script that allows me to create a wire cube and align multiple objects. That proves you can do anything if you put your mind into it, huh?

I still think scripting is on the bottom of the fun stuff-list, though. Don’t tell our lecturer that.  

Now to get started with the rest of the assignments for this block such as starting with texturing, continuing with animation and researching some rigging terminology. One our tasks for this block is to rig a given model (a robot made by one of our lecturers) and it’s been quite confusing to try and rig it only with a step-by-step video.

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It is immediately rewarding to create a rig, as you can move him around, make him dance and giggle to your heart’s content. I spent way too much time making him bounce to “What Does The Fox Say“.

Last but not least, I’ve found a nice way to pull me out of my procrastination slump a little – keeping a daily tracker on how many hours I’ve spent on a given task. I’m running a simple spreadsheet with day, task and hours spent on doing something.

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This way it’s easier to see if you’ve spent enough time on an assignment (I found some of my block A grades disappointing, but surely earned) which will allow you to even track if a certain subject takes more time than others, and better prepare for similar work in the future. Sneaky, and probably worth the trouble…

I should probably also add a row “procrastination” and put anywhere between 30 min – 2 hours into it on a daily basis. That’s how bad it can be, but I think I am getting better at this whole “planning and acting upon it” thing.. slowly but surely.

I’m working on another piece of animation, namely the pendulum swing animation. I’ll try and put it up on YouTube next week! :)

Cable organizing & blog post cleanup

Because I like keeping things organized, I thought I’d share this tidbit of my previous setup.

See the two massive tables that were taking a LOT of space away from the living room? This is what our shared living room and kitchen setup looked like before I ran away with my gear.

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Last week we cleaned up the space, organized a little and took the spare desk to storage. And this is what our living room looks like now:

 


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I’m loving the extra floor space and the change in the lighting due to a big black desk being away. It does still admittedly look very geeky when you enter the living room, but I don’t worry about that too much. If there are two nerds in the house, you can’t really avoid that!

Cable management

We used the Ikea Galant cable tray (which they don’t unfortunately seem to sell anymore) to hide the excess cables sticking out from underneath the table. That, and a lot of zip ties. Zip ties are your friends.

Cable tray & zip ties are awesome.

Because my laptop is always on the move, I can’t just permanently tuck the cables in zip ties and call it a day. I’m planning on getting my hands on something that allows me to hang the cables off the side of my table for easy access so I can come home, put down my laptop and just plug in my cables to continue working where I left off.

Binder clip as a cable organizer

Something like this?

And IRL cleaning isn’t all I did either. I’ve also been polishing my blog by adding a new logo and removing a bunch of old, irrelevant blog posts. While I still like writing about a lot of different kind of things, games, art, school and organizing are the things that I like doing (and writing about) the most. I want to keep this blog o’ mine relevant for people interested in IGAD as well. So yeah, a lot is happening (a special thanks to NHTV for featuring me on their website!), and I’m going to try and keep a steady post stream going to keep you folks coming back for more. Since in this block my “off” days fall on Wednesdays, I will try to keep showing school things and interesting finds on those days.

What do you think of my subjects and posts so far? Let me know in the comments!

Survival tips, geekery and animation progress

Last week was the beginning of the first uphill in the rollercoaster of block B. That is, at least, how I imagine each block. It’s an unknown track where you just have to hold on for dear life and enjoy the sights!

We (the IGAD first years) received a presentation from the kind Tino van der Kraan of Sassybot Studios on surviving for the next 4 years making sure we will successfully graduate from IGAD. I have to say he showed a lot of guts giving his presentation in front of 200-ish easily distracted student louts such as myself, and all that without a microphone.

At any rate, I took a lot of things to heart, but specifically the bit about knowing why I’m doing this. It’s important to have self-awareness when doing a programme such as this, you know? If you don’t have a goal in mind, it would be hard enough to stick around long enough to get your propedeuse, let alone graduate. So yes, as much of a grumpy know-it-all I pretend to be, it was a sobering reminder that some of the brightest and hard-working people have had to go to some extraordinary lengths to make it through the programme. Not that I mean to make it sound harder than it is, but it’s certainly not a walk in the park!

I did, however, spot what I thought to have been typos in the presentation (don’t ask – I have a pretty keen eye for typos, and have a certain fondness, or geekery, for the English language in particular). When heading down to point them out, I got to chat with Tino for a bit – and found him an incredibly nice person to talk to. As it turned out, one of the words was used in a spelling I wasn’t used to. Whoops! No harm no foul.

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On the subject of geekery, I recently purchased an Android version of Final Fantasy VI and have been playing it on and off whenever I was sitting in the living room or after dinner if I wasn’t in a hurry.

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FF6 is quite retro by now with the little sprites.

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The controls are slightly clunky without an actual controller (touch screen controls are annoying even for me with little fingers!), but you can easily get used to them. It’s a Final Fantasy through and through, and so far I found the story amusing. Especially Cyan is a fun character to me due to his dialog and mannerisms.

I’m hoping I can eventually finish this game and not be distracted by all the new shinies (Dragon Age: Inquisition! The Witcher 3!).

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Last but not least!

As promised last week, here’s my first attempt at animating the timeless “bouncing ball” for our Animation 1 course.

While it’s still much a work-in-progress, I find myself enjoying animation a whole lot. I think it could be something for me!

What do you think of my ah-mazing bouncing ball? 

 

Applying to IGAD: motivation letter, CV and beyond

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Applying to IGAD: motivation letter, CV and beyond

I don’t know about you, but part of what drove me mad in my past job search sprees was the crafting of a motivation letter and tweaking the CV to EVERY – DAMN – POSTING.

In the best case scenario you find a detailed, well-written job posting that gives you a set of keywords to work with, a brief description of the company and their values, and even a salary indication. In the worst case scenario you find a typo-riddled pile of word vomit that mentions that you need to be a team player, be stress resistant, and they would prefer to pay you in cookies or “isn’t this a GREAT case for your portfolio? Seriously, you should pay us to hire you in the first place!”.

Well, as it turns out, applying to a school is somewhat a different story.

You’re given only a few facts to work with when creating your motivation letter, and the rest you need to put together yourself. Here’s how I went about putting together my A4 (I might have gone a little overboard) of awesomeness, and put together my CV to best support my message.

Motivation letter: how to market yourself

If you ever applied for a job, you know the basic function of the motivation letter. Your job (no pun intended) is to really have a look at the position, then have a look at yourself, your education and other experience and start putting the puzzle together in a way that doesn’t seem forcefully fitted (“But I have 3 years of experience in cat yodeling, that should seriously be a transferable skill for zen monks!“).

For a lot of people, showing off, or even finding, their good sides is hard. Like whatamIactuallygoodatIdon’tknow hard. I’m one of those people.

Listen to your guts. Listen to your family and friends. When in doubt, search for online personality tests, do them, and see if nice/fitting/amusing things pop out. For the record, I’m an INTJ, with a death stare to match.

SeverusSnapeINTJ

My favorite resources for ideas, phrases, dos and don’ts would be as follows:

The Which University website is my top favorite after all the research I went through. So many useful topics, and not only for students from the UK. There are naturally more sources for inspiration out there, and your motivation letter should truly reflect your personality and your strengths.  It goes without saying that copy-pasting someone else’s motivation letter while substituting a few words with your own accomplishments is a big no-no.  I firmly believe that if you have to copy a motivation letter, you’re going to have problems at your university programme, and should do some serious soul-searching if academics are the place for you after all.

But!

Now you get to see what I came up with. My IGAD motivation letter can be viewed here. Try not to giggle.

While it is one of the longer motivation letters I’ve seen floating around, it is a mighty fine representation of how I strive to be in my dealings with projects and life in general.  It fulfilled its’ task, and I’m fairly satisfied with it.

CV, also known as “look at my horse, my horse is amazing

I might have been kidding just a tiny little.

Most people know the function of a CV. Only a few understand to cut the uninteresting, irrelevant things out mercilessly. Whoever is reading your CV doesn’t want to know about addiction to puppies or deep-rooted passion for model windmills.

The layout of your CV should be easy to understand, and all entries should be in a logical order. As someone who has worked as a web designer for a bit before applying to IGAD, I opted to show my education first. I listed all my animation and 3D experience, and then touched upon that experience in explanations of the working tasks I’d been doing before. It was a bit of a gamble on my part, but it seems to have worked!

Always make sure your personality and abilities shine through, no matter how you construct the CV. A lot of the advice I listed for your motivation letter also applies here! Ask your family and friends, and make sure there are 0 typos in it at the end of the day.

As a final link-tip I would have a look at “What do employers look for in graduates?” post from Which University.

If you’re applying to IGAD, I wish you the best of luck!

This ends my 3-part series on Applying to IGAD. If you found these posts useful or have any questions, leave a comment! 

New Assassin’s Creed and plans for the next year

Since block B has just begun and my workload is at an alltime low, I’ve been able to catch up on some videos on YouTube. Since I can’t really afford to comfortably (aka without feeling guilty) sink down to play for as many hours as I’d like, I’ve been satisfied watching playthroughs and trailers. In between I’ve been also watching tutorials for modeling, texturing and poking my upperclassmen with annoying questions.

Last night I spent some time watching Assassin’s Creed: Unity series from The Rad Brad and had a few giggles. I’ve been following his gaming videos since he played The Last of Us, mostly to have a look at games I could never play myself without jumping out of my skin. I’m looking at you, various versions of survival horror.

AC-screenshot

As it turns out, the new AC is very pretty indeed. Whenever I could, I would look at the different buildings and props in the scene to try and analyze how they were built in 3D for the educational value. This is probably something we students should do more often – look at an existing product with a critical eye, trying to figure out how the pros did it. It’s mind boggling just how much work it has been to research and model so many props fitting for the timeframe of the game.  Nothing that I’ve seen feels out of place and it all flows together so beautifully!

The music in this series of games is also gorgeous, composed by masters such as Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones, Clash of the Titans) or Lorne Balfe (Skylanders). The composer for the soundtrack of ACU is Chris Tilton and Sarah Schachner – new names for me, but I am digging this soundtrack so far.

For now, block B has tossed a few assignments my way, including the timeless bouncing ball assignment for animation, beginnings of a rig, some scripting and some generic graphics fundamentals things. I got a decent start on the bouncing ball until I started tweaking it and I managed to ruin it good… but hey, as they say, fail early and fail hard. And who am I to quibble against such wise advice?

More big news! This week we heard that IGAD will undergo a set of major curriculum changes starting next year. In a nutshell, we will be starting with a system that will allow us to focus on bigger projects. Per block we’d be working in groups, or individually, on projects worth 15 credits each. We would be able to specialize in the things we like earlier, and even cross-learn from other specializations (heeeelllooooo level design from design and production!).

I’m really looking forward to seeing what the practical changes are, but for now the most information can be found on this page. More stuff for the potential students to think about!

Sounds exciting, right? I think so too.

Pop by again next week for updates – I will try to post my animation progress so far, as well as take a moment to reflect on Chameleon Cancellation progress and future plans.

Block A: finished!

I thought it was about time to post a quick recap of the first block for me at IGAD! Because it’s been fun and challenging, and I figured posting what I made so far would be nice to see…

Art Theory

In art theory we got run through the fundamentals of designing in 2D – color theory, composition, typography and so on. Our assignment was to design 6 screens for a fictional iPad game. Here are the assets I produced:

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Drawing Skills

On the drawing skills lessons we went to work with technical drawing. The exercises we did were great for getting better at 3-dimensional thinking. And for me a lot of them were also excellent exercises in patience – I never had to focus on drawing lines 3 millimeters apart!

 

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While technical drawing doesn’t seem very exciting, it’s a great base to build your drawing skills upon.

Modeling

Modeling course has had us all diving head-first from the third floor into a pool of the unknown. You can practically feel your brain cells struggling if you have had  no or little previous experience with 3D.

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This one was the most work by far! But very educational. :)

At any rate, this weekend I will kick back and relax. Next week another “block” will begin, including extra things for me, as I was chosen as a class representative for the first-year Visual Arts students along with another guy. Can’t wait to see how the next block will turn out!

Introducing my work corner

I realized I hadn’t shown my new workspace here, so I figured it would be time to show it off a little.

Before, this room served the function of, well… a room for our guests and a room that I did some sewing in, sometimes. Then IGAD grabbed me by the ankles and started whacking me around like a pro wrestler, so I figured I needed to answer in kind!

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I am reusing the table I bought for sewing and left the other Ikea table downstairs when I’m trying to decide whether to move all of my computer paraphernalia upstairs or not. I did put all of my school books neatly within reach, and in the small drawer block I keep my drawing paper and cables (I have a LOT of cables!). The drawer I grabbed from Hema awhile back, and it’s a nice pop of color in the otherwise neutral room.

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A sneak peek into my pencil collection shows that I’m not that much into traditional drawing. A lot of this stuff was bought for school. I upgraded my compass because the previous one was very wobbly in use.

With so much table space I can also comfortably keep my tablet in a place where I can easily grab it and start drawing if I feel like it.  Win-win!

On the other side is my beloved drafting table.

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It might look old, but it’s very much in working condition and wins fiddling around with a T-square anyday. I like the extra “wall space” to put up works-in-progress and references. Though I have to admit I wasn’t planning on fitting something so large in the room, but luckily it works!

It’s quite luxurious to be able to close the door, turn up the music and work away on a blog post, drawing or a school assignment! And you know what it makes that much more a zen-moment?

A steaming cup of jasmine tea.

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Now… back to work on my assignments!

Clearing out the to-do list.

I am emerging out of my vacation full blown work week coughing dust and cat hair from being cooped up in my study room so much.

Good news is, I’m 99,9% ready to turn in a third of my workload this week. And a full week before deadline. Imagine that!

And this is what I’ve been working on for the past few days:

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And a lot of other stuff that isn’t very interesting at all to a casual observer.

Besides studying, I’ve managed to also tap into fun mode every now and then. I absolutely devoured the newest book from my favorite author, R.A. Salvatore, in a few sittings and was left wanting for more.

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Night of the Hunter was a tad bit too short for my tastes, in the 350-ish page range, but I suppose it’ll be alright since the next one will be released early next year if I’m not horribly mistaken. Which is cool, because I can entertain myself with books in short bursts. While sitting on the train, for example.

As a book Night of the Hunter was quite entertaining. I’m loving where the overall arch for the story is going where the world is concerned. It will be one epic showdown once the orc business is out of the way. I’m just loving the well-written action scenes R.A. Salvatore is so fluent in. I bet he went through a LOT of trouble to get it all choreographed so he could write it properly, bwahahaha!

But since I also follow some other authors from the corner of my eye, I could also pick up the newest book from Erin M. Evans and be thoroughly pleased.

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It seemed to have escaped me how brilliant she actually is in creating plot twists and building anticipation to the point I was holding my breath without realizing it. The characters are “stereotypical” but with very quirky and fun twists, and as a girl with a sister, I can relate with what Farideh and Havilar go through quite a bit. Also, it’s like the first fantasy book I ever read where there were 2 gay characters. Not just hinted at, but bluntly pointed out. While for some it might feel out of place, I felt it added to the characters and especially to the dynamics between the characters to the point where it would have felt WRONG if those characters were straight. Fun world, huh?

I will be staring at her blog (which you can find here) until a new book comes out. No kidding.

As briefly mentioned earlier, school year is trudging on. I made it through the autumn vacation, and now a few more squeezes for major project turn-ins and a small exam, and I should be good to go for the next block. Stay tuned to how my 3D illusion building will turn out when textured! :)