Friday, 20 October 2017

Plotline 2 released

It's been quite a while since we put out a new app, but Plotline 2 is finally available.

Plotline 2 is designed to help writers quickly map out a story, placing them on a scrolling view of the story. Each scene has an intensity value, that is intended to show how tense or important a scene is. Typically in a novel or screenplay, this intensity ebbs and flows, but generally moves upwards as the story edges towards the finish.

I wanted the original Plotline to work on the Mac back when I was designing it, but at the time, I wasn't convinced I could make the scrolling section/scene view work. On the iPad, it's a very intuitive, tactile screen, allowing you to move the intensity values for a scene in place.

Over the summer, I decided to revisit the idea of a Mac version, and I'm happy to say that I'm really pleased with how the functionality has been translated to the desktop.

One of the best features of the iPad version is retained - the OPML export. As a writer myself, that's what's driven most of the app design that I've done - time-saving, useful functionality. I use all my apps myself.

One of the most useful is the OPML export, because I use it once I've finished the Plotline (or now Plotline 2!) outline, and use Scrivener to import the OPML file. This creates the structure of the story instantly in Scrivener's document binder, with folders for each section, and a text document for each scene. Additionally, the scene details are copied to the synopsis for the text document, allowing me to basically get writing straight away.

I hope you enjoy using Plotline 2 if you give it a try.

Happy writing!

Friday, 13 October 2017


I've been working on a version of Plotline for the Mac. Based on my own use of the iPad version, I've included some modifications to the design that help with creating the scenes. Plotline 2 has been approved by Apple, so it will be releasing soon.

There are some looming changes behind the scenes at Apple's Mac App Store, so I'll be looking at what changes if any are required for my apps.

Hopefully Plotline 2 will be released before November.

It's a busy time of year for a lot of writers - particularly if you're gearing up to have a crack at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This year, it coincides for me with work on my next novel, Mind Games, so I'll be writing every day during the period anyway.

If you're taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you the best of luck.

Happy writing.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Short-sighted entertainment industry

So, Dark Matter was cancelled yesterday by SyFy, after three seasons. Not only was it a great little show, but you could tell how much everyone behind the scenes enjoyed it. I also watched the 'After Dark' discussion show, and you could see the joy on the cast when they got together.

Of course, that doesn't matter to what we out in the audience would probably describe as a 'faceless TV exec' - it's ratings and ad revenue, and a ruthless desire to cull anything that isn't working. The crazy thing is, that by all accounts, Dark Matter was delivering on the ratings - and even more so with DVR catch-up viewings.

What's worse, is that season three of Dark Matter ended on a cliffhanger. So that's it, goodbye, no wrap-up, no resolution. SyFy have just rebranded (with a hideous colour scheme, I might add), and their tagline is now "It's a fan thing". Clearly, that's a lie. That's one of the worst things you can do to your fanbase.

Someone at SyFy gave the okay for Dark Matter to have a cliffhanger ending. I think that that decision requires the network to accept a degree of responsibility towards their viewers: if you greenlight a cliffhanger, you're saying to your viewers (your life-blood, because without people watching your network, what are you?) - "Yes, we're doing a cliffhanger, and that means we're coming back, because we're not going to leave you hanging, we respect you too much to do that to you."

Of course there has to be some commercial interests in programming - it's a business after all. But what really grinds my gears is just how short-sighted networks seem to be.

Are we ever going to see something become the sort of phenomenon that gave us Star Trek? Not if those 'faceless TV execs' have anything to say about it. Anything that isn't a massive ratings hit straight away is earmarked for destruction. Nothing is ever given the opportunity to grow. Genre television has a tough enough time as it is - if networks keep alienating viewers in this way, then they will stay away from shows.

Three seasons is barely enough to get going. Star Trek: The Next Generation just about hit its stride in season three - imagine if that had been cancelled after Best of Both Worlds Part 1?

Already, a lot of people don't like even starting a new show - because they think "it's just going to get cancelled after one season anyway" - that, SyFy, is what you and the other networks are making your audience think. How is anything going to thrive or grow or last five to seven seasons if that's the way you make people think?

What's the solution? How about a different model for funding shows? Live ratings are a meaningless indicator. And honestly, don't get me started on 'retaining ratings from the previous show'! People are not stupid. Just because show X was on at 8pm has no bearing on who watches show Y at 9pm - guess what? Viewers are clever enough to turn the television on at the exact time they need if they choose to watch something.

The sad thing is, that Dark Matter had a lot more of its story to tell. Why isn't the show just the beginning? Why aren't networks looking at things like merchandise? Dark Matter easily could have been translated into action figures, toys, games, it's a sci-fi show for crying out loud! Why aren't networks looking at a show concept as an holistic entity - something that can be grown and expanded upon for the future?

At this rate we're never going to have new 'classic shows' - think forward twenty years. What are we going to be watching then? What will the classic shows be then?

The really sad thing is that genre television attracts some of the most passionate fans in the world. The sadness online at the moment over Dark Matter's cancellation is a testament to just how much the audience cares about the show, the characters, and the cast. You can't buy that kind of loyalty - it's earned. Dark Matter's earned that over the course of its three year run. I think that loyalty deserves something more than a shrugged shoulder from a network.

Timeless got a well-deserved reprieve earlier this year - so it is possible. SyFy, if you really do believe "It's a fan thing" - then you'll do something about keeping the crew of the Raza flying.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Disgruntled iPad owner/developer

My iPad is old. In fact, I'm pretty sure Apple considers it to be obsolete now. It's an iPad 3. It isn't allowed to update to iOS 10, let alone the soon-to-be-released iOS 11. But, it works perfectly. I'm sure I'm not the only person in this position where Apple's relentless drive to keep everyone buying new versions of almost the same product is actually getting pretty frustrating.

Thanks to the 'Brexit effect' last year, Apple hiked the price of everything. Despite the pound recovering somewhat against the dollar, that price increase hasn't been softened. So as someone who would love to develop and update my apps for the iPad, I find myself in the position of simply being unable to justify spending £600+ on a new iPad.

Most recently, I've had a notice from Apple that Shelf Life for iOS hasn't been updated in a while. So I'm doing an update for the app so that they deign to allow it to remain available on the App Store. The fact that it works perfectly well, is apparently irrelevant. I'm not one to do frivolous updates for the sake of saying there's an update. If I'm updating something, it's because I see a clear need to do so.

So hopefully they'll accept the (virtually pointless) update in the next couple of weeks - I'm still deliberately targetting older versions of iOS (8.4), because I don't want to have to force people to upgrade to use my apps. I don't want to upgrade my iPad when it still works just fine, so why should I make anyone else? I have removed the spellcheck/autocorrect on the title, author, and genre fields, as they did bug me a bit, and I've also had a little bit of a graphical tidy up around the table gridlines - but other than that, it does everything I want it to do.

As much as I love the Mac and the iPad, the Apple I grew to love when I started doing the app development seems to have lost sight of what attracted people to them in the first place.

I've been working on a Mac version of Plotline over the last month or so. In part it's come about because I've grown so fed up of the iPad. The iOS App Store is horrendous for discovery of content, and the drive to the bottom of the pricing tiers means that there's an even bigger drive towards subscriptions, for things that simply have no business being a subscription.

Anyway, Plotline 2 as it will tentatively be called is looking good so far on the Mac. It's obviously a lot easier to move text content back and forth compared to the iPad, and I've just implemented the all-important Scrivener export. So, I've got that to finish in the next month or so, as well as carrying on with my own writing.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Summer Heat

Currently listening to my cheap-as-chips air-conditioning unit work its magic as I struggle through the abnormal heat in South Wales, I've still been writing every day.

I'm waiting to hear from a few agents about Intertwined, and I've been doing background work on a new novel as well.

Wearing my app-development cap, I've been working on the Mac version of Plotline. Which has also been spurred on by the background work on the novel. It's coming along nicely, and next on the feature list to implement from the iOS version, is the Scrivener export.

So it's all go here, from writing, to development, to actual day-job work, with not much time in between. I did complete Mass Effect: Andromeda though recently - and highly recommend it.

Happy writing!

Friday, 19 May 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I've been playing Mass Effect: Andromeda for the last few weeks. I got it on the day of release (for the PC), and I finished the main storyline a couple of days ago. 102 hours, spread out over 41 days. I absolutely loved it.

What I find hard to reconcile, is the internet rage that accompanied the launch - utter outrage that has now culminated in the plans for future content, and indeed any sequel, being put on hold as EA and BioWare Montreal deal with the fallout.

Let's be clear here. There were problems at launch. Problems that absolutely should have been picked up and dealt with by a Quality Assurance team prior to release. That's probably what's more upsetting about this - almost all of the issues are avoidable.

There were some desperately poor animations - such as Sloane's weird, bending neck at her base in Kadara, along with horrible, dead-looking eyes on most of the human characters. The clunky crafting user interface that meant I barely crafted anything (although I didn't really need to). It didn't help that the game was being sold at such a high price - £50 on console, and £40+ on PC. For that price, people have a right to expect a polished, bug-free experience.

But, you know what, there was an awful lot to like about it too. I've always been into Mass Effect for the story, the combat was always something I had to 'get through' to get to the next story point. But in Andromeda, I actually loved the combat. The jetpack was great. Sniper rifles are wonderful, and the bigger, more open spaces meant I could approach situations from a different angle instead of being funnelled down a corridor.

The Nomad was terrific - and using it on the low-gravity moon is an instant, smile-inducing experience. I hated the original Mako sequences in Mass Effect, but the Nomad is fast, handles well, and can get to hard-to-reach places without making you grind your teeth into dust.

I really liked the supporting cast. A lot's been said about the crew of the Tempest, mostly from people who it seems just wanted to have their old Mass Effect crew back. Well, sadly that was never going to happen. But the new team: Kallo, Suvi, Lexi, Gil, Drack, Liam, Cora, Jaal, Vetra, and Peebee, all get their moments to shine.

A lot of the little moments are things that will only come about if you have a certain pairing with you. For example, go driving around Kadara with Peebee and Jaal, and you'll probably come across the moment where Peebee tries to prove that Jaal's pretending to be asleep by coming onto you - it's unexpected, and it's a wonderful moment.

I think that's what I'll take away from Mass Effect: Andromeda. So many little moments that mean it's actually competing with Mass Effect 2 for me as my favourite of the series.

I find it hard to fathom that a game can have such a negative reaction when I've put over 100 hours into it, and it never felt like a chore. I have a very low tolerance for bad experiences in games. I barely got started with Dragon Age 2 - it never clicked for me. In fact, I've never finished Dragon Age: Inquisition either.

EA and BioWare absolutely need to have a look at what went wrong - but they (and the rest of the game-playing community) also need to have a look at what went right. There's a terrific game in there, and I for one would like to see it continue.

Unfortunately, despite its finale teasing what would have been potential story hooks for a continuation, it doesn't look as if there will be a resolution. There may not even be a sequel. In the rush to condemn the game, people have instead condemned the series to an uncertain future.

Monday, 17 April 2017


I've been working in Unity lately, which is starting to click, although there's a huge amount I don't know. I'm still working on my RPG idea, and have some basic character creation screens up and running - and saving correctly to SQLite, so there are a few tiny milestones being hit here and there.

As an aside, my Macbook is coming up for seven years old, and it's still going strong. The only thing I've changed with it, is an upgrade to 4GB RAM a couple of years ago. It's running whatever the latest macOS is (I miss the cat version numbering, mountains are rubbish) without problem. Xcode does take an age to get going though, so I may have to look at a new machine this year.

The Unity work has made me think about porting my iOS apps to Unity, which would enable some different platform versions (Windows Store, Android for instance). That could be an interesting challenge. I'll have to see how it goes.

Happy writing!