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Jolly Roger "book lover" (Burntwood, UK)

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The Eye of Winter's Fury: Destiny Quest Book 3
The Eye of Winter's Fury: Destiny Quest Book 3
by Michael J. Ward
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.28

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Choose-your-own-adventure has a new king., 3 Jun 2014
I'm going to start by saying that this is an impressive looking book. At nearly 700 pages long this is quite the weighty tome and people who are new to this type of adventure book might even be a little intimidated by it. Good old Fighting Fantasy looked doable whereas Destiny Quest challenges you to try. And it's a challenge worth taking.

Very quickly you can see why the book had to be so large. Other 'choose your own adventure' books kept simplicity at their core and trimmed down the excesses of regular RPGs. Destiny Quest says 'to hell with that' and crams the book with as many RPG elements as it can whilst still keeping the core mechanics surprisingly simple. The rules section is a mere 13 pages long and in that space tells you how to fill out your character sheet, undertake combat, manage your inventory, explains the key characteristics (Speed, Brawn, Magic, Armour, Health), special abilities, undertaking different quests, as well as character classes and careers. That's right, character classes and careers. Gone are the days of 'here's your fighter, go out and fight this specific bad guy'. Now you can decide if you're going to be a warrior, rogue or wizard and during the adventure(s) you can change your career, if you get the correct training, which gives you special bonuses.

You also read correctly when I mentioned 'undertaking different quests'. The book is broken down into two acts and in the front and back covers of the book are colour maps for each act. On these maps are colour coded shield symbols with a number next to them. The colour indicates how difficult the quest is while the number tells you where to turn to in the book. So while there is a central quest to complete there are also a number of sub-quests. Those 700 pages suddenly seem quite trim.

Character customisation is also well handled with this book. Between the class and career choices, as well as the massive selection of items to keep or discard, there won't be many readers with a character identical to anyone else's. This comes in particularly handy because Destiny Quest supports a kind of multi-player where several people can make a team (or even fight against one another!)

The dice required for combat and tests are D6 so those without a rack of multifaceted dice don't need to worry about not being able to play and there are no complicated tables needing referencing. In fact the combat is very much like the old Fighting Fantasy game books and involves rolling for your character, as well as the creature(s), and adding a relevant stat. There are also special abilities but those are explained with each encounter so you don't need to keep flipping back to a rules page each time you come across an enemy with a venom attack (or some such thing). If you do have a special ability yourself and forget what it does then you can quickly check the (very handy) glossary at the back of the book and then write it down on your character sheet.

Yes, of course, you will need a character sheet. You can either use the one provided in the front of the book or go online and download one because another great thing about Destiny Quest is the online support. There are a number of free downloads available, including item lists and the core rules, and it's great to see the creators put a lot of effort into supporting the players. There are some mainstream RPG companies (naming no names) that could learn a lesson or two from the folks of Destiny Quest.

However there is one gripe I must mention (but really only one). One of the key features of gaming books such as this is the notion of 'making YOU the hero'. References to the player should be generic and non-gender/race/age specific so that the reader can easily imagine themselves undertaking the quest. But with The Eye of Winter's Fury you are given a character, a young prince, which I feel is not an inconsiderable misstep. Female readers are obviously the ones most at odds with this but I also don't appreciate being told who my character is, no more than I would if I were rolling up a D&D character. For a game which boasts considerable customisation for the reader's character this flaw is quite a glaring one.

But all in all I find myself very impressed with Destiny Quest. It has managed to considerably increase the size and scope of the much-loved adventure game book format while still keeping it quick and simple to use. The online support and inclusion of team play is exactly what is needed in the modern market, with its focus on computer games, to tempt younger readers to give it a go while overall staying true enough to the old Fighting Fantasy books to keep older players happy.

If you're an old fan of Fighting Fantasy or want to introduce a younger reader to the world of gaming books then it would be hard to find a better purchase than Destiny Quest.


The Art of Watch Dogs
The Art of Watch Dogs
by Andy McVittie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great., 30 May 2014
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This review is from: The Art of Watch Dogs (Hardcover)
mini-review: A well-made book by the superlative publisher Titan. However this book is smaller than other, similar, concept art books and there is considerably more CG work than traditional 2D. There is also a lot of unused space here, not like the art books that accompanied releases such as the Hobbit films and Elysium which were crammed with art, and I feel that more could have been made of this. Thankfully this book is saved from a three star rating by the location designs, which are brilliant and plentiful. This is more for the collectors than the casual appreciator of concept art. If you need to read more, read on.

Anyone who has read my previous reviews will know that I speak highly of Titan Books, the publisher of The Art of Watch Dogs, and once again they have created a solid offering. However I can't say that this is their finest concept art book and, unlike with previous books such as The Art of Assassin's Creed 3 and 4, I found the deficiencies quite glaring. But that's not to say that this is a bad book. There is still much to like and I'm not unhappy that I bought it.

The book is broken down into four chapters; characters, locations, 'The Underground', and 'everything is connected' (dedicated to the hacking side of gameplay). Of the four chapters it's the locations which dominates, both in terms of quality and in sheer quantity. Roughly twice the size of any other chapter it is also this books most enjoyable section and, I feel, even its saviour. But to begin the first chapter, 'Dramatis Personae', is a straight forward highlight of key characters. There is a lot of wasted space in this chapter which could have been used to show the development of what are, I'm sure, very interesting characters. Sadly what is included is almost entirely finished 3D renders with only a tiny amount of 2D work (my personal favourite). The handful of key art pieces are welcome but aren't enough to save this section from feeling like a disappointment. Less graphic design work and more character design is what's needed here.

Then we're on to the location work which is, I was relieved to see, excellent. While there is still a fair amount of unused page around a number of the pictures it is far less of a problem throughout this chapter than the rest of the book. There's a great mix of locations here from the historic to the futuristic and both types display this books best art. The contrast between pristine and grimy helps to give this vision of a future Chicago a more realistic edge and you can tell that the artists had fun with their subject matter. I particularly enjoyed 'The Mad Mile' and 'The Loop', which nicely show off the polar extremes of developed and deteriorating. However I find myself most drawn to 'The Wards' and 'The Docks', the really seedy areas. These kinds of places require design that has a real breadth and depth of detail and it makes for much richer art, when done properly, which this most certainly has been. There's also a small selection of logos and signs included within the locations section which rounds it out a little better.

The next chapter, 'The Underground', is both hard to describe and something I personally didn't like. More like a graphic designer's resource book than a concept art book this section is filled with the signs and symbols that can be discovered throughout the game which are related to the underground hacktivist group 'DedSec'. This book couldn't really not include this section, since it is a key part of the game, but it's not the kind of art that I enjoy.

And lastly we have 'Everything is Connected' which is all about details regarding the hacking elements of the gameplay. However, aside from a couple of key art pieces and some designs for items which can be hacked, this is almost entirely a selection of screenshots from the game. Therefore I think art lovers won't find themselves well served here.

So how to conclude? Clearly there is plenty to find fault with here; the unused spaces, the heavy graphic design elements, concluding on screenshots, and the lack of detail and design development of the characters. But there are also some parts of The Art of Watch Dogs which work very well. The location work is outstanding, vibrant and very enjoyable, not to mention abundant (which I seem to have mentioned a few times). The descriptive text is also good; unobtrusive, clear, and succinct throughout the book.

So who would most enjoy this book? Lovers of location art will find plenty to appreciate here. People who work in graphic design might also find the work here interesting as a reference book. But really, aside from those two groups, I'm not convinced many people will find this offering ticking too many boxes. More for the collectors than the casual appreciators of concept art.


The Art of Wolfenstein: The New Order
The Art of Wolfenstein: The New Order
by Machine Games
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.39

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Too much goodness, 27 May 2014
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mini-review: An all too fantastic artbook. Brilliant location designs, outstanding key art, spot-on character design, great weapon, vehicle and item pieces, and just loads and loads of beautiful art. If you're a lover of concept art books then this is a must have. If you need to read more, read on:

I didn't know what to expect when I pre-ordered The Art of Wolfenstein. On the one hand it was being published by Dark Horse, the people behind some excellent concept art books (such as Remember Me and Mass Effect), but on the other hand I didn't know if I liked what I was seeing about the upcoming game. So it was with some trepidation that I opened the book. But man, oh man, am I glad that I bought The Art of Wolfenstein. Straight away, just by flipping through the pages, I could already see that this was going to be one of the better items on my concept art bookshelf. For starters there is such an abundance of fantastic art on display here. This is one of the areas where Dark Horse really excel with their artbooks, giving pride of place to the art itself rather than reams of text, and once again they have produced something really quite special.

The areas covered in this book are as you would hope and expect to see; Character designs, level designs, key art, and plenty of weapons and vehicles. Added to this is all the design work for the world itself including everything from gadgets to posters and even door locks. Interestingly what they have done this time, however, is to place the chapters in the order of the levels of the game. The contents list in the front of the book is broken down into 'Art of level 01', 'art of level 02', etc, ending with the last chapter: 'Marketing art'. I like this approach because it means you are introduced to all the elements of the game in the order in which they appear, rather than just lumping everything together by category. This would come in handy if you wanted to get the book but didn't want any spoilers whilst playing the game and could therefore read the book as you progress through the levels. Would anybody actually do that? I don't know but if they wanted to they could.

It's hard to say what I like most about this book. I'm leaning fairly hard in favour of the location designs. Firstly because there's so much of it (as you should expect from an artbook about an FPS) but mostly because it is fun to look at. I have already looked though this book three times and I know I'm going to be looking through it a good number of times more because the art draws you in. I would even go as far as saying that it is exciting to look at. It is also almost entirely detailed colour work (although the city sketches are superb) and none of the pieces are so small that you can't get a sense for the details. It makes me want to take a walk in the city of Germania they have envisioned. Seriously, cities should be built this way.

But really, picking a favourite feature about this book is a futile game of nit-picking. Why futile? Because you would have to be pretty damn stringent in your marking to find anything wrong here. Maybe you're the type of person who likes to see a lot of information from the creative talent about what they've drawn, in which case you might wish the book was a little wordier, but I really like the minimalist approach to explanations. A hundred words is about the limit to any caption contained herein and most are much shorter and I favour that style.

So in conclusion: do you want this book? Yes! It is superb. The art is of the highest quality, the book itself is of the highest quality and the subject matter is interesting and fun. Anybody looking for inspiration regarding evil technologically advanced Nazis may look upon this book as the only visual source material you'll ever need. If you're a lover of concept art books then there is no way in hell that you don't want this book. If you don't like concept art books.... why are you reading this review?


Godzilla - The Art of Destruction
Godzilla - The Art of Destruction
by Mark Cotta Vaz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 23.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A well made book., 21 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I should start by saying that this book is not really what I was hoping for. I'm a collector of concept art books and when I saw the title 'Godzilla: The Art of Destruction' I leapt at the chance to buy it. However this is not, really, a concept art book but a 'making of' book and while concept art obviously comes into that it is only a small part of it. So I was tempted to give this book three stars but before I did I double checked the description and found that what the booked contained was explained quite clearly. The fault, therefore, lies with me having the wrong expectation. That being said I can't help but wonder if 'the Art of Destruction' wasn't a deliberate choice to snag the concept art lovers, like me, since those books sell very nicely.

But enough of what I thought the book would be and what it wasn't. You want to know what it is. Put simply it's filled with production photos, interviews, design sketches and maquettes (the little statues they make to show how a thing will look in 3D, rather than just as a drawing), as well as the concept art I was expecting. The split is roughly fifty/fifty between photos and concept art and there is a lot of text getting into the nitty-gritty of making a big monster blockbuster. I was a little disappointed that the monster designs that were included, except for Godzilla, were almost all the early rough sketches rather than finished pieces. Unless they never got beyond the rough design stage (enough for the animators to work from) then I really can't see a reason for this. There are, of course, some great pictures of Godzilla which are spread across some fold-out pages and several different versions of his head.

However I can't help but notice the things that are missing. There are very few location designs, not much military stuff and aside from the big set pieces of the movie, along with the big guy himself, not much else seems to be touched upon. Fine, it might seem like mundane stuff but some people, myself included, like to see the stages of the design process. It definitely, in my opinion, would have made for more interesting pictures than the handful of photos of actors in front of green screens being told what to do by the director.

So to sum up: I would say that, as an art book collector, I was disappointed. I like to see books brimming with art and only a bare essential amount of text to go with it. However, since that's not what this book claimed to be (in the description, at least, if not in the title) then I can't really knock it down for failing to meet my expectations. So I would say that if you are a lover of 'making of' books then you will find here a great book. The interviews are interesting, the photos revealing, the art that is there is good stuff and the fact it covers all areas of the creation process will be a treat. I've said it before and I'll say it again now, Titan know how to make a good book. Fact.

However if, like me, you're more interested in the concept art than anything else then I would suggest giving this one a miss, certainly until you can have a look through it and decide if the amount of art justifies the price of the book.


Elysium: The Art of the Film
Elysium: The Art of the Film
by Mark Salisbury
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.39

4.0 out of 5 stars A very nice artbook, 19 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Mini review for those who (like me) don't fancy reading a long-winded opinion: A great artbook filled with nice concept art covering places, ships, weapons, tech, clothes, buildings and cities and anything else that needed designing to sell a vision of a futuristic world. The art is great quality and this book is easily of interest to anyone with a love of concept art and science-fiction. Now if you want to read more, read on...

This artbook is another fine offering from the creative minds at Weta Workshop. It is packed with design work so that there's hardly any wasted space and the commentary that accompanies this is succinct, insightful, and interesting. This isn't a perfect artbook, in my opinion, because it also includes production photography which I normally hate to see. However, having said that, it isn't so much that it overtakes the art (as some 'art' books have in the past) and you aren't left with the feeling that this isn't really an artbook so this is more of a minor gripe (almost on principle, really) rather than a major detractor.

The areas covered in this book are what you would expect for a high concept sci-fi film. There has to be conceptual work for just about everything on the screen and so we're treated to designs for buildings, vehicles, weapons, clothing... everything, basically. And this is nice art. There's a lot of the key art pieces but also a lot of the early, vague, initial concept stuff too which many 'art of' books leave out. I particularly like the concept work for Elysium itself which has been based on the old Torus ring station designs originally created by NASA in the 1970's. Why this nostalgic little touch should please me so much I'm not sure but I find it makes me warm to it all the more. Perhaps seeing the modern designs, drawn with modern techniques, and seeing how closely they resemble those original drawings, appeals to me. Whatever it is, I like it.

I'm also a big fan of Aaron Beck's robot designs. Should the world go to hell and a future evil dictatorship should take the obvious step of having a robot police force then I hope they at least have the decency to have Beck design them. Again we can see quite a bit of the design process here so we're not just treated to the finished product, something I appreciate.

As with the work done for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies there is a wealth of detail on offer here. I like that the creators don't just work on what there will be in the future but how people will use (and abuse) it. Graffiti tags, decay, modification unintended by the manufacturer, and retrofitted tech has all be concepted and it adds a wonderful depth to the work on show. It makes the world of Elysium, both Earth and the Station, seem more real and less a science fiction as a grim possibility.

I should perhaps note that there are also some pretty grisly pictures contained in the book which have then been backed up with photos of how that played out in the film. Perhaps not best suited to those with a delicate stomach (unless you're comfortable with a stunningly realistic picture of what a man's face looks like after a point-blank blast from a shotgun).

So all in all this is a great artbook, packed with fantastic designs and pictures, and well worth a place on any concept-art fan's bookshelf.


White Cloud Worlds
White Cloud Worlds
by Paul Tobin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.67

4.0 out of 5 stars A nice anthology, 22 April 2014
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This review is from: White Cloud Worlds (Hardcover)
A mini-review for those with no time for wordy accounts of other people's opinions: An excellent book filled with quality and varied artwork which easily deserves it's place in any artbook lover's collection. To read more, read on...

There must be something in the water down in New Zealand to produce such a preponderance of quality artists. In total there are 27 such artists whose work is on show and many of the names are either on my 'ones to watch' list or my 'already watching because they're awesome' list. In particular I see the names Gus Hunter, Nicholas Keller, Ben Wootten, Aaron Beck, as well as others, whose work I was just enjoying in the concept art book for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. So we have well established artists on show here along with the newly emerging.

The work is predominantly fantasy and science-fiction (weighted in favour of fantasy) but there are a few pieces which fall outside of those categories. The comic book work of Ben Stenbeck will be known to the many fans of Dark Horse comics B.P.R.D. There is also the sculpture work of Stephen Lambert which is both fascinating and somewhat troubling at times (but in a good way). Paul Tobin's work is just excellent and I can't get enough of his Asian Sherlock Holmes. While the robot designs of Christian Pierce are always a pleasure to behold (I especially like his WW1 robot work and would love to see more of it) and it's just a shame that there couldn't be more of it due to fitting in all 27 artists. I suppose they could have made a bigger book but then they'd be forced to take more of my money.

My point being that there is not just a wealth of art in quality and quantity but also in variety. This is both brilliant but also the downside inherent in anthologies. Because an anthology will almost always feature work that I'm not so very fond of and I have to admit that I'm no fan of the super-cute nor the gothic to the point of gruesome. I don't mind grim, I can even appreciate dark, but I feel it is possible to have too much blood and sutured flesh. But that's just me and maybe you're different. Thankfully there's very little of this type of work within these pages, just enough to warrant a cautionary mention and a docked star.

However, all in all, this is a book filled with stellar artwork and which I feel easily deserves its place in any artbook lover's collection.


WCS Ultimate Adventure #2: Mars! (Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure)
WCS Ultimate Adventure #2: Mars! (Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure)
by Borgenicht
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 7.25

5.0 out of 5 stars Now I know what to do I'm off to the red planet., 22 April 2014
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I bought this for my nephew last Christmas and he was delighted with it. When he was finished with it I had a go and I was delighted too. A nice gift for younger readers or for those adults with fond memories of choose-your-own-adventure books. The added bonus that these books have been written with input from experts in the fields they cover, and are thus something of an educational tool, just makes it all the better. I now have no worries about dropping my nephew off into hostile environments. Something I have considered often.


Worst-case Scenario Ultimate Adventure : Everest!: No. 1
Worst-case Scenario Ultimate Adventure : Everest!: No. 1
by David Borgenicht
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 6.85

5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff., 22 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought this for my nephew last Christmas and he was delighted with it. When he was finished with it I had a go and I was delighted too. A nice gift for younger readers or for those adults with fond memories of choose-your-own-adventure books. The added bonus that these books have been written with input from experts in the fields they cover, and are thus something of an educational tool, just makes it all the better. I now have no worries about dropping my nephew off into hostile environments. Something I have considered often.


GrandGadgets ® Electric Healthy Popcorn Maker 1200 Watts Midnight Black
GrandGadgets ® Electric Healthy Popcorn Maker 1200 Watts Midnight Black
Offered by iBox Ltd
Price: 15.45

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Need a healthy snack? Make one., 22 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a great little machine. Makes a bowl of popcorn in a few minutes, no mess no fuss, and is ideal for people looking for a way to make a low calorie snack. I had a version of this machine years ago which died when I used it too long and it overheated (I was trying to pop those last few kernels), something which won't happen with this model because it has an automated cut-off. In a show of good thinking this happens just as the last few corn kernels pop, so clearly someone sat down and timed it.

All in all this is a surprisingly good item for the price and I'm perfectly happy with it.


How to Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against the Badasses Who Ran This Country
How to Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against the Badasses Who Ran This Country
by Daniel O'Brien
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.83

4.0 out of 5 stars A good, fun read (not for kids!), 22 April 2014
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I enjoyed this book immensely and while the premise is clearly just some silly fun the details contained within, about the presidents lives and actions, are fascinating. The chapters are also quite short (3-4 pages each) so it's easy to read a couple of chapters before bed each night and still have the book finished in about a week.

If you fancy learning some history without feeling like you're having a history lesson then this is the book for you.


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