Cooking with symuun

1 packet straight-to-wok noodles
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 small slices of jalapeno pepper (you know, the kind that comes in a jar in vinegar or whatever)
Some soy sauce
Some lime juice
Some pickled ginger
Some honey
Some unsalted peanuts
1 bottle Kloster Schleyern Hell

1. Develop a craving for noodles.
2. Look up recipes online based on a random keyword search (“noodles soy ginger”), pick holes in everyone’s spelling and grammar
3. Decide to bypass the so-called “experts” and do it yourself
4. Select ingredients based on whatever you can remember seeing on Google
4. Put everything in a frying pan
5. Add more lime juice and soy sauce
6. Stop when you think you’ve added too much
7. Taste
8. Oh God no what have I done
9. Add more honey in desperation
10. It doesn’t work
11. Decant into a bowl, eat
12. Drink beer

An introduction to Dota 2

Dota 2 is a video game played five-versus-five, five-versus-four, or one-versus-nine, depending on the game mode. The objective of Dota 2 is to gain “MMR” points in order to climb the global scoreboard as high as possible. As your MMR score rises, it will increase your power level and improve the quality of your play.

Your MMR is increased by carrying your team to victory over the enemy team. The player with the most money at the end of the match is considered the winner, so although it’s important to contest the enemy team’s farm, remember to challenge your own teammates for last hits as well, in order to promote a spirit of healthy competition that will push all of you to a higher level of performance.

Team cohesion is a critical factor in Dota 2, which is why it is so important to open the lines of communication as early as possible. At the start of the match, feel free to introduce yourself to your fellow players by saying “hello”, “how’s it going” or “mid”.

Since each player can only ever control one character, it is important for everyone to know exactly what they should be doing at any given time. It is your responsibility as a Dota 2 player to communicate that information to your teammates in a clear and direct fashion over the course of the match, and to correct their mistakes as necessary. Feel free to repeat yourself as often as you like – repetition is a great way to drill the memory of failure into people’s brains.

Finally, bear in mind that Dota 2 is a very difficult game. No matter how hard you try, you will often die dozens of times in a single match. When other players do this, it is called “feeding”. To avoid falling into this trap, simply remind the rest of your team to buy wards every time you die. And if your teammates feed, feel free to report them to the developers in order to discourage bad play.

Thanks for reading, and remember – at the end of the day, Dota 2 is all about having fun, so make sure you win as often as possible.


Lorequest World is now on Goodreads. Perhaps you’d like to leave a review? Every bit of feedback helps my ongoing plans for world domination.

Thank you so much to everyone who’s bought the book so far – you are all wonderful people.

Lorequest World – Launch Day

Oh my goodness, it’s finally time.

Title ScreenI am exceptionally proud and excited (and terrified) to announce that my digital novella, Lorequest World, is on sale right now. It’s a story about people who live on the internet, the communities we build there, and the secrets we keep from each other. It’s out now! Go buy it!

Hello! You’re early.

It’s a very exciting time in the land of symuun, let me tell you. The book is getting tantalisingly close to release. So now all I’ve got to do is set up a website, and here you are before the website’s done. Hi. Bear with me a little longer!

If you want to get updates as soon as the book’s out, you can sign up to my newsletter using the box on the right. If you’re looking for something to read, you could always have a look through my old blog below. It’s freshly imported from another site, so it might be a bit wonky in places. Let me know if something looks really broken and I’ll try to fix it.

Otherwise, come back soon!

Bounty Hunting in Elite: Dangerous

Dear diary,

Today I killed an Anaconda.

Not the snake, obviously. That wouldn’t be very impressive, considering I was flying a Core Dynamics Eagle Mk. II equipped with high-intensity laser weapons and a tricked-out power array. Also, I was in space. I don’t think the snake would have been able to breathe.

No, I killed an Anaconda starship. A big bugger, armed to the teeth and massively overpowered compared to my little fighter craft. That’s a picture of one up there, although it’s not the same one I killed. And before you get all “moral obligations” on me and “starships are people too”, you need to know that this was one of the bad guys. The captain was called Psycho, which should tell you enough anyway, and he had a bounty on his head worth just under a hundred thousand credits. The man was infamous, and highly wanted, and he had to be stopped right there and then. Lives depended on it.

Let me back up a bit and explain. I’ve set up shop as a bounty hunter in the Kremainn system. Kremainn 2 is a gas giant planet with a mineral-rich ring system: easy pickings for miners operating out of Wohler Terminal starbase, but those miners are a tempting target for local pirate gangs as well. Those rings are crawling with criminal scum looking to mug or murder anyone they can. The Federal Security Service do what they can, but there’s too many for them to handle alone.

That’s where I come in. I’ll jump in, cruise along just above the ecliptic plane, and scan any ships that come into the area. If the scan comes back clean, they can go about their business. On the other hand, if there’s a price on their heads, I deploy weapons and take them out.

The pirates of Kremainn 2 are mostly small-time chancers, barely worth anyone’s time but still good for a little profit if you catch enough of them. Maybe two-thirds of them are flying cheap and cheerful Sidewinder fighters, and they tend to have a bounty on their heads of between one and three thousand credits. Occasionally I’ll catch someone in a Cobra who’s worth maybe fifteen Ks, and on a good day I’ll find maybe two or three. Cobras are fun to fly against because they’re big and clumsy and hit like a truck; they’re great at taking out freighters and stuffing the loot in their cargo holds, but my Eagle can outmanoeuvre them any day. Get behind them, stay in their turning circle, tear them apart slowly but surely. Easy money, provided you don’t stray into their firing solution.

So when this Anaconda named Psycho dropped into the system, I felt equal parts excitement and dread. See, an Anaconda is big. It doesn’t dogfight – it doesn’t need to. An Anaconda sprays lasers in every direction and will carve an Eagle up like a turkey dinner if it can break through your shields. They’re scary ships.

I’d like to say it was a sense of duty to the miners that pushed me to engage him, but that’d be a lie. It was all about the profit. A hundred thousand credits is a hell of a lot of money. And a Fed patrol was coming into range, as well. A half-dozen of us fighting this guy… we could probably do it, right? Probably?

It wasn’t easy. Psycho knew how to handle his ship, weaving and rolling to bring his weapons to bear on all of us. My shields fell apart and I had to back out of the fight for a while until they recharged. When I swept back into weapons range, he targeted me again and I thought it was all over. Shields collapsed, kinetic weapons hammered away at my hull, my computer consoles flickered and sparked. But then Psycho made his mistake. He’d been ducking and rolling so much, he’d ended up inside the planetary ring. So many chunks of ice and rock and metal: easy enough for our zippy little fighters to dive around and hide behind, but very tough for his gunship to avoid. He throttled back: suddenly, he was a sitting duck. I came in above him for a strafing run – his turrets nearly broke my ship apart – but as I turned away into to take shelter behind an asteroid, his contact disappeared from my sensors.

Bounty awarded: ninety-six and a half thousand credits for destruction of the criminal Psycho.

I also got a voucher for another six hundred credits, valid in Imperial space. I can’t be certain, but it’s entirely possible that those other six hundred credits may have been for an unpaid parking ticket of his.

Quake Live is my Angry Game

I was always an Unreal fanboy, first time around. This would have been about, oh, 1999. Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament were released at about the same time and – just like the Nintendo and Sony wars – as a child, it was absolutely essential for one of these things to be perfect and the other to be the worst thing ever. For me, as I say, it was Unreal. I liked the variety of game modes, and the weapon design was very cool. More than anything, it’s probably most important that I played it first. Whatever the reasons, liking UT meant I was required to hate Q3.

They both looked like arse, but I think UT was slightly prettier.

I’ve been playing Quake Live since it came out on Steam recently – it’s more or less the same game as Q3, with some tweaks for accessibility – and it turns out it’s actually pretty great. It’s particularly great for switching on some loud aggressive rock music and going to town on bots that are tuned just slightlybelow my own skill level. For example:

One thing Quake and Unreal share is an approach to movement physics which prioritises fun over realism. In Unreal Tournament, it’s a bit parkour-y: wall jumps and double jumps and sudden dodges. In Quake Live, it’s all about speed: you can keep accelerating by bunnyhopping around the level, and you can maintain it for as long as you keep moving in a straight line. Turning requires you to stop for a second, breaking the flow and making it a little easier to land a hit on. Chain together a good few jumps and it feels pretty good. Then you start launching rockets at people as well, and it feels amazing.

The bots will chat to each other during the match. It’s a bit weird.
Quake Live’s rocket launcher is probably the best rocket launcher in any shooter. (Unreal Tournament’s flak cannon is probably the best shotgun, though, so don’t go thinking my loyalties have completely flipped here.) It fires rapidly and the projectiles move fast, and it makes an excellent THOOOM noise when you launch. The skill curve is forgiving, but it rewards excellence: land a rocket vaguely near someone and they’ll catch a little bit of damage from the explosion. The closer you get to actually hitting them, the more damage you’ll do. If they make the mistake of jumping to escape from you, you can potentially launch them up into the air and juggle them with another rocket. And because the rockets themselves move quickly, but don’t instantly reach their destination, you have to plan for where your opponent is likely to be half a second from now. Frag them, and you get an exceptionally satisfying DING! sound and one more point on the scoreboard.

You can also get a power-up that makes it glow blue and do four times the normal amount of damage. That’s fun.
All of this – the music, the movement, the action and reaction and the perfect audio feedback – combine to create an incredible sense of flow. It’s one of the purest sensations of joy I’ve experienced in a video game, not watered down by the shaky-hands adrenaline of Starcraft or the intellectual rigour I’ve put myself through to start learning Dota 2. It works off aggression like nothing else, and I come out of a ten-minute match feeling refreshed, alert, and totally calm. It’s like a reset button for my brain. As someone who keeps making the mistake of arguing about politics on the internet, I can’t tell you how valuable that is.


 Quick note – I’ve just finished a turn as Overseer in the latest Something Awful Dwarf Fortress Let’s Play. It’s quite exciting to be following in the footsteps of the likes of Boatmurdered. You can read the whole thread here – which you should – or just start my year here. It’s a tale of drawbridges, catastrophes and quite startling incompetence.

Meanwhile, Le_Squide is taken by a powerful psychic premonition, he says. He’s our baron now, he says. How the fuck does he know that, I says, we’re under siege from a small army of goblins so no messengers can get through and what’s more, he’s a militiadwarf what still can’t even find his own damn battle axe. It’s a noble thing, he says. You wouldn’t understand, he says. Also, if I wouldn’t mind sorting out some more suitable quarters for him now…
Sure. You betcha, Your Baronship. I’ll get right on that. Any day now.

What Minecraft Is

Today Mojang, the developers of Minecraft, announced that they have been bought by Microsoft for 2.5 billion dollars. Two point five BILLION.
As the entire Internet is saying right now: Wow. If you’d like to say that word out loud with me, say it nervously. Almost whispered. Notch and the other founders of the company are more fantastically wealthy than ever now, and by some accounts the Swedish government will be getting a cash injection of around two billion dollars from the tax paid on this one deal. Those are good things, if slightly weird. But Minecraft’s future is uncertain now, and it’s not hard to see how Microsoft could potentially spoil it. Microtransactions? A crackdown on YouTube videos? An Xbox-exclusive sequel? I wouldn’t put any of it past them.
Of course, they might not do any of these things. They might keep Minecraft just as it is, release charming little free updates every now and then, never change the fundamental formula. They might. What I’m writing now doesn’t have to be a eulogy to the game that was, and that’s why this post is titled “What Minecraft Is”.
It might stay this way. It might. But the future of Minecraft’s development has never been more uncertain. If I wasn’t worried, I wouldn’t now be trying to document what this game means to me at this moment in time, in case some day I find it’s become something less.

I first played Minecraft very early in its development history. I would guess this was some time in the second half of 2009, because I remember playing it while I was in Germany. It was still browser-based back then. The world was a tightly-constrained area, a small cube of grass and dirt and rock, just hovering in empty space. There was mining, but no real crafting as such – just the ability to pick up and place blocks. And it was already fun. I would go down into the caves underground, dig up as much iron as I could find, and return to the surface to build a fort out of it. I’d slaughter all the pigs I could find to collect mushrooms to eat to restore my health, and hold out as long as I could against the skeletons that came to siege my base in the constant daylight. Every time I died – and it never took long – I’d generate a new world and start from scratch. That was fun for a while, and then I took a break to play other games.
I next came back to Minecraft in September 2010. I’d come back from the year abroad and I’d just started my final year of university. The game’s popularity had spiked to such extraordinary levels, its authentication servers couldn’t cope with the masses of players constantly trying to connect. Notch, the lead developer, responded by switching authentication off for the weekend, effectively making the game temporarily free for anyone to play. Inevitably, this caused even more people to buy it when the free week finished.
 It had changed a lot since I last played it. Now there was a day and night cycle, and the monsters only came out when it was dark. You could build tools and forge sand into glass and create architectural works of utter beauty. I mean, I couldn’t, but people in general could if they had talent. Me, I built an eight-foot-high illuminated sign that spelt out the word “ARSE”. It was a start.
And because the surface area of any given Minecraft world was several times that of planet Earth, you could go exploring. You could set off to see what was over the horizon, and if you got lost, you might never make it back. At least, not without dying and losing all the tools and resources you’d collected. That’s a unique kind of tension, and an exciting one.

Originally written 20 September, 2010
I’ve been working on building a nice little home for myself today. Dug it out of the side of a cliff, made one wall out of solid glass and panelled the rest with wood and cobblestone. Very rustic, very pleasant. Very satisfying to build, but it’s a long way from my spawn point, which I’ve long since lost.

I finished most of the building work about an hour and a half ago. The secret passageway to the outside still needs some work on it, but I was bored of cutting down trees so I decided to take the (in-game) day off and go on an adventure.

Normally when I’m travelling to new places I place a string of torches to guide me home, but it didn’t really seem worth it this time. I was only going to see what was over the next hill; all I had to do was remember which direction I was travelling and turn a full 180 when the sun reached its zenith.

But then I saw The Mountain.

It was huge. It stretched out far beyond the draw distance, into the clouds. It was practically begging me to climb it. So I did, and I planted a sign at the top to show Nature just how well it had been conquered. On the way down I even found a fantastic little valley, absolutely invisible except from above, with flowers and a single tree growing in this isolated mountain meadow. It was like Shangri-La. So I had to go and have a look.

And then I realised I didn’t know where I was.

“No problem”, thought I, “My house is right on the edge of the sea. All I have to do is follow the coast and I’ll get there eventually. It can’t be that far.”

So I picked a direction and started following the coast. Now I was leaving a trail of torches. Getting lost this time seemed an unthinkably horrible option, but it wasn’t yet midday. I was convinced I’d make it back to home base before nightfall.

But I didn’t. I realised I was in totally unfamiliar territory, just as night was falling. And I was running out of torches. Seeing a group of mobs up ahead, I ran for the nearest cliffside and dug a cave for myself to hide in. I’d left myself a tiny hole to stare out of, for psychological reasons as much as anything, and from where I hid I could just about see one of my torches, burning in the distance. My nightlight.

I could hear the monsters all night. They knew where I was, and they were all around me. They couldn’t get to me and I couldn’t see them. It was like having the entire population of Hell under your bed: fucking frightening.

The next morning I dug my way out and ran for it. Only a spider had survived the sun’s rays; my slowly-degrading iron sword made short work of it, but I couldn’t kill many more mobs before it wore out. Nothing to do, though, but to keep pressing forwards.

I completely ran out of torches about half-way through the second day. Lacking anything else to prove I’d been here, I started leaving stone steps behind me so I’d at least be able to see something by daylight. By chance, I stumbled upon a natural cave on a tiny peninsula, and knew it was my only hope. I ran blindly into the darkness, and- yes! At the end of the tunnel I could just make out a vein of coal. More torches! I felt like a god.

Night fell again, and still I didn’t recognise my surroundings. I started swimming out further and further from the coast, hoping to find shortcuts around the bays and awkward cliffs surrounding me. I’d scaled that mountain well over an hour ago. Where in all hell was my house?

Around midnight, I saw light up ahead. My heart sank. I’d come round in a complete circle. I was hopelessly, irretrievably lost.

No, hang on a minute. I’d stayed on the coastline all the way, at sea level. I hadn’t placed any torches up that high. Could it be…? Yes! It was the edge of one of my old beacon trails, and it would lead me straight to one of my old safe houses, deep inside a mountain. It was pretty basic- I’d long since moved all the tools and chests to my home base- but I didn’t care. It had doors. I was so happy I slaughtered a cow on the spot in celebration.

But… well. This game may have low-fi graphics, but its sound effects are terrifying. As I danced around the cow’s dead corpse, I heard a TWANG! to my left. Another one, almost immediately, to my right. I might have possibly screamed out loud at this point, not really realising what was going on. I hesitated for an unforgiveable moment as I tried to place what the sound was.

Oh, yeah. Someone was shooting arrows at me.

I ran like buggery in what looked like the right direction. Another arrow TWANGed into the ground behind me. Found the safehouse. Slammed the door behind me. Didn’t dare look around to see if I’d been followed.

There are things outside, and I’m not moving until they’ve been burned away by the sun’s purifying light.

And then tomorrow, I’m going on another adventure.

I haven’t ever really stopped playing since. I’ll sometimes leave it alone for a few months, but something always calls me back eventually. I played on the Rock, Paper, Shotgun multiplayer server for a while and spent most of my time just wandering around marvelling at everyone else’s megaprojects. That got me thinking, and thinking, and thinking, and eventually, I set up a new server with some university friends and we made megaprojects of our own.

Yes, that’s a Nyancat to the right. It has a complex electronic circuit hidden behind it that plays the opening bars of the theme tune when you press a button.
All of this was before the game was “finished”, as well. When the version 1.0 release finally came out in November 2011, I started a new world again – all to myself, this time – and went exploring. I found a mountain range crisscrossed by rivers and bays and lakes, and I built a village there. When I ran out of room, I built another city inspired by Soviet and Gothic architecture about twenty minutes’ walk away, and when that was done, I started a riverside hamlet as far away in the other direction, and a Wild West-style town so distant I only know how to get there by travelling through the Nether, the parallel universe that compresses space and time. It might also be literally Hell.

I’ve been working on that world for nearly three years now, and I just keep tinkering and building and exploring. The stuff I create in there doesn’t mean anything to anybody else – most of it will never even be seen by anybody else – but it’s mine, and it’s special to me. And every single Minecraft player out there, however many tens of millions there are now, has a similar story. Entire planet-sized spaces, entirely their own, for people to share or to keep to themselves and to express themselves in.
Minecraft is special. It is sometimes achingly beautiful. Played alone, it’s lonely in a serene, reassuring kind of way. Played with friends, it’s hilarious. When you’re trapped in a cave somewhere, with your supply of torches running low, and you hear a spiders’ nest up ahead, it’s terrifying. When you come back home from a journey to another continent, and that music fades in, it’s heartwarming. When a Creeper explodes and destroys your home and belongings, it’s heartwrenching. That’s what Minecraft is.
Is that worth 2.5 billion dollars? If you can put a price on it at all, yeah, I suppose so. I just hope it stays this way. 
I mean… it might.