Carlo Carrasco’s Game Review: Gears of War 4 (Xbox One, Single Player Campaign)

Believe it or not, I completely missed out on Gears of War 4 on Xbox One back in 2016. I simply had other priorities and I was unable to raise the money needed to buy the game. A year after that, I downloaded the demo of the game and managed to play

Finally, thanks to a recent sale online at Xbox LIVE, I purchased the game at last and recently managed to finish it. Gears of War 4 proved to be a lot of fun and even until now it still is a gem of game design and visual art.

To put things in perspective, I played the first three main Gears of War games from 2006 to 2011 and those games were mainly designed by the talented Cliff Bleszinski who had NO INVOLVEMENT with the latest game. Gears of War 4, by the way, is the first-ever internally developed game of Microsoft through its studio The Coalition.

The good news is that Gears of War 4 is not only a fun and engaging game. It is also a continued evolution of the game franchise’s design and it is easily the best cover shooter game design to date.

On face value, it looks like the creative team led by Rod Fergusson (The Coalition studio leader) and director Chuck Osieja decided to play safe on game design by retaining the gameplay functions from the past. Quite easily, I managed to reclaim that old Gears of War feel in terms of control, shooting, moving and aiming. Like past GOW games, you must take cover for protection from the bullets fired by the enemies then peak, aim and shoot. Then when possible move forward to take cover at the next protective object and make your way to beat the other side. Then there is the classic reload function which, when well timed, can grant you temporary strong firepower.

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Melee attacks in Gears of War 4 have improved and are more satisfying.

But as the game progressed, the new gameplay features emerged. For the first time, I can finally grab an enemy (who is crouched taking cover) from the other side of a protective object or barrier, pull the enemy and get to do a melee attack (or shoot with the gun). There is also the feature of the knocking the enemy off balance (by means of jumping over cover to kick the enemy on the other side) as well as performing the shoulder charge. Take note however that these new gameplay features – which add a lot of depth on the classic GOW gameplay – can be used by the enemies against you.

And then there are the new weapons like the Buzzkill (watch those flying sawblades ricochet!) and the Dropshot (challenging to use but very satisfying when the target gets hit!) that add new dimension to the gameplay.

More on gameplay, if you are expecting enemy artificial intelligence (AI) to be the same as before (remember all the Locusts?), you will realize that’s not the case at all. The new enemies behave differently in combat and you will be compelled to change your strategies. Expect to see the enemies (which include robots) be more tactical with their movements and attacks, and you will also realize you will need to move out of cover more and search for a new place to take cover at.

That’s not all. The weather effects impact the gameplay a lot this time. There are these windflares that not only blow strongly (watch the environment move) but also generate electricity that you must avoid touching. When the weather changes, you will not only have to take cover but be more strategic moving around as well as adjusting your aim when firing at the enemy (example: strong wind can alter the direction of the Buzzkill sawblade you fire). Lastly, there is a motorcycle chase scene that is quite action packed!

Visuals? This game really looks very great! The art is top-notch. The animation, the textures, the special effects and lighting effects really make a great showcase of the Xbox One, especially the Xbox One X (4K resolution with high-dynamic range). The character faces are very detailed and very photo-realistic! Facial expressions really will convince you into thinking you’re watching real people instead of computer-generated ones.

When it comes to storytelling, Gears of War 4 takes place 25 years after the previous game. You play as JD Fenix (son of hero Marcus Fenix and Anya Stroud) who is accompanied by Del and Kait. In terms of personality, JD is witty, striving to figure out things and he does not carry the cynical mindset of his father. Del and Kait are likeable characters for different reasons. Del is also witty while Kait has the strong, fighting lady personality. The good news here is that their respective voice actors performed nicely.

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Father and Son.

Back to the plot, the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) has been reformed but something is not right and right from the start JD and Del deserted the coalition to join the group called the Outsiders. Government leadership is felt in the story and having the COG as the anti-hero element really makes Gears of War 4’s world really look and feel new. Forget about the memories of fighting for the COG in the old GOW games, Gears of War 4 is a whole new world to figure out what’s been happening while fighting to survive. If you are the kind of gamer who has the anti-authoritarian mindset, then this game is for you.

Strangely enough, this game’s story has some notable similarities with the 2015 blockbuster film Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Without spoiling the story, I should say that Gears of War icons like Marcus Fenix (the central figure of the franchise) return in supporting roles. Instead of being the hero, he is the mentor to his son JD and even to you the gamer.

While the gameplay is excellent and deeper than ever before, the storytelling this time lacks the depth of Gears of War 3 but in fairness, this new game’s story had to show how much had changed in the world and society in general. Gears of War 3, by comparison, is a war story and the resulting build-up from the first two games led to it having a very engaging conclusion.

Back to Gears of War 4, the ending lacked punch and yet it has a lot of intrigue or even shock, especially if you paid very close attention to the small but key details in the previous games. The ending feels underwhelming as it happened following the high-octane, final battle sequence of the game. Although the conclusion lacked punch, I still felt satisfied. By the way, there is a post-credits ending scene to watch out for.

Overall Gears of War 4 is easily the best 3rd person-view cover shooter and is a true evolution of the Gears of War game design. Now that the game costs much less, it is a great bargain! At the same time, it makes sense now to play GOW4 as Gears 5 (Gears of War 5) is expected to be released this year.

Gears of War 4 is highly recommended!


Thank you for reading. If you find this game review engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

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My Observations: X-Men: Dark Phoenix Final Movie Trailer

20th Century Fox just released what is supposed to be the final movie trailer promoting Dark Phoenix (or X-Men: Dark Phoenix in other countries) to the best they could leading to the June 2019 global opening in cinemas.

Watch the trailer here now.

To describe quickly, it is a rehash about how the story will turn out. Somewhat based on the classic comic book storyline by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, the trailer shows the X-Men going to space and then something cosmic happens that affects Jean Grey.

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For the first time in cinema, the X-Men go to outer space.

Of course there are clips again of Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) approached by a mysterious lady (Jessica Chastain) which clearly connects to further footage showing the former with cosmic powers as Dark Phoenix.

If there is anything new shown, it is the short but very sweet moment of Professor X/Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) communicating with people using Cerebro. That is a very common aspect from the X-Men comic books that remains heavily underutilized in the movies!

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James McAvoy as Charles Xavier using Cerebro for communication.

There is also added footage of Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) showing great concern for Jean Grey which resonates with me as I read the comic books. It looks like Tye Sheridan has the talent, and perhaps enough good material from the script, to bring Cyclops to life on the big screen.

The way 20th Century Fox marketed this movie gave moviegoers and fans what seems to be the core elements of the story. I am just hoping that behind the scenes, the filmmakers have prepared a big surprise or some sort of major twist kept secret from the marketing. I also hope that Simon Kinberg outdid himself as a first-time director with this movie given the fact that most directorial debuts end up as cinematic disappointments.

Dark Phoenix will open in cinemas worldwide this June. We will find out soon enough if there are enough fans and moviegoers who will care about it more than a month after the anticipated giant opening of Avengers: Endgame.

 

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker Revealed!

Let me say one thing clearly – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is a train wreck and it made me very disappointed (I saw it twice in different cinemas), even doubtful about the future of the Star Wars movie franchise in the current post-George Lucas era.   Really, I disliked the work of director Rian Johnson.

Hours ago, the official teaser trailer of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker was revealed and already it is generating tremendous buzz online not only among fans but also among moviegoers in general. The reception is overall positive and already moviegoers have something to watch out for this December. Also it is nice that director J.J. Abrams, who directed Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, is back and this time he wrote the screenplay with Chris Terrio (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice).

For your enjoyment, posted below is the official teaser trailer. Watch it now!

What can I say? The teaser trailer was nicely done which is no surprise at all. Even the Rian Johnson train wreck The Last Jedi had pretty and engaging trailers. Going back to The Rise of Skywalker teaser trailer, what made me smile was the return of Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and he was co-piloting the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca! It has been almost thirty-six years since Williams last appeared as Lando on the big screen!

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Welcome back, Lando Calrissian! Welcome to the 21st century, the age of social media!

What really intrigued was the end of the teaser trailer with the unexpected appearance of a large piece of a major structure from long ago. Equally intriguing was that recognizable evil laugh as the screen went dark. Now it is up to J.J. Abrams and his creative team to explain on the big screen those two elements.

Another intriguing thing is the subtitle involving the surname Skywalker. Who (or what) exactly is the Skywalker on the rise? We all know what happened to Luke Skywalker in the dreaded The Last Jedi and given Mark Hamill’s voice-over in the teaser trailer, it is only logical to expect that his character will return in ghost form Like Obi-Wan and Yoda. Personally I don’t think Luke will be the one on the rise.

General Leia (played by the late Carrie Fisher) is Luke’s sister but as the movies of the past showed, she never identified herself as a Skywalker. The Last Jedi did show her using the Force (is Rian Johnson a Mary Poppins fan?) and MAYBE she might present herself as the new Skywalker being the only living offspring of Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker and use the Force more.

But then maybe the Skywalker-on-the-rise may not necessarily be a person related through family bloodline.

I was thinking that it is possible that the name Skywalker will go beyond family and be used to establish a brand new Jedi movement. A movement in which Force users, starting with Rey (Daisy Ridley), will have their own definition of the Jedi teachings as well as a new vision about using the Force. Considering the very limited learning of the Force and the Jedi she had with Luke plus the fact that she took ancient Jedi books with her in The Last Jedi, it is possible for Rey to establish her own philosophies of the Jedi. This would put her in similar ground with Luke Skywalker (after the events of Return of the Jedi).

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The Rise of Skywalker will open in cinemas worldwide this December. Hopefully it will turn out to be a great film and help Star Wars fans forget about the train wreck called The Last Jedi.

From this point on, we can only wait until the movie opens in cinemas globally this December. At the very least, I can say that I’m feeling hopeful that The Rise of Skywalker will be fun and, more importantly, set the direction of Star Wars properly and recover from the disaster of The Last Jedi.

There is still a new hope for Star Wars fans!


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

 

 

 

A Look Back At Prototype #1

There is nothing like witnessing a superhero use technology to fly around with high speed, blast with energy, lift heavy objects using extra strength and use whatever special features to beat the bad guys and save people from harm. I’m not talking about Marvel Comics’ Iron Man here. I’m talking about the Ultraverse parallel to him called Prototype and here is my retrospective review about the 1993 superhero comic book Prototype #1 published by Malibu Comics.

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Prototype #1 cover.

Co-written by Tom Mason and Len Strazewski with art by David Ammerman and James Pascoe, Prototype #1 is the story of the armored figure called Prototype but there is one huge thing to take note here – the armored figure is actually a high-tech project of a corporation called Ultratech and it involves more than one person piloting it.

To put things in perspective, some time in the past the Prototype armor (which was very large and bulky) was piloted by Bob Campbell until a major incident happened during an aerial exhibition that cost him his right arm. Subsequently he got replaced by a much younger man named Jimmy Ruiz. In the present, Campbell is a PWD (person with disability) who was dismissed by the company which compelled him to sue them for age discrimination.

Then he attends the stockholders’ meeting of Ultratech which was organized to be lavish and showy. It is here where Prototype (piloted by Ruiz) makes an energetic appearance sporting a leaner looking armor that closely resembles a human being.

Ruiz says “Stand back, America…it’s showtime!”

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The leaner and meaner armor of Prototype.

While showing off, Ruiz encounters some problems. He has not fully gotten used to the technology and his head feels like exploding. During the stockholders’ meeting, Bob Campbell causes some trouble prompting private security to escort him away. It turns out that Ultratech really distanced themselves from him.

Of course, the company is very happy with the Ruiz-piloted Prototype and they are confident their major financial bets will yield great results. Their executive Stanley Leland stated, “He’s not just a showpiece, he’s a corporate asset!”

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Jimmy Ruiz in the Prototype suit with the Ultratech executives.

As this is a superhero story, life is not normal. As such an incident happens that, predictably, requires Prototype to take action (and entertain readers like you and I).

Technically the story was nicely told and its pacing flowed smoothly. There is a nice balance between spectacle, storytelling and character development. Ultimately by the time I reached the 24th page, I got a grasp of the comic book’s concept, the characters (especially the two pilots) and where the series was going.

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Action for you. Really nice job done by the artists.

How does this comic book compare with Iron Man? To say the least, the concept of a large corporation owning and controlling a high-tech suit of armor piloted by their employee is not only a nice alternative but a very engaging alternative to the Iron Man concept (super rich industrialist who wears a powered suit of armor and uses his special talent on technology).

The Ultraverse was the most interesting and most entertaining superhero line of comic books I read back in the 1990s and Prototype went on to become one of the major heroes of the franchise. Prototype went on to become part of UltraForce, a superhero team that had its short-lived comic book series (with famous artist George Perez doing the art in some issues) as well as a short-lived animated series based on the said comic book series.

Had the Ultraverse lasted longer, succeeded and profited, chances are Prototype would have been a major contender among all other superheroes from the different publishers  today and there would have been more merchandise and perhaps even video games based on the character.

If you plan to visit a local comic book store to buy old comic books, I highly recommend Prototype #1.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article to be engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco.

 

 

 

A Look Back At Spider-Man 2099 #1

I remember decades ago when superhero comic book collecting was exciting with trends of comic creators unleashing their newest owned projects and comic book publishers publishing new comic books expanding their existing universe.

In 1992, Marvel Comics announced the launch of the 2099 universe which highlights a far, futuristic possible universe of their comic book universe laced with visual inspiration from Blade Runner and an emphasis of what the future would be like had private corporations had more control over people and society.

What kicked off interest with the 2099 imprint was the announcement of Spider-Man 2099 which is obviously a far future counterpart of the famous Peter Parker Spider-Man people knew.

Here is my look back at the comic book Spider-Man 2099 #1.

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Cover of Spider-Man 2099 #1.

Released in late-1992 by Marvel Comics, Spider-Man 2099 #1 came with a hard cover laced with red foil and in the middle was art of the superhero chased by flying police officers. The image easily reminded me of Peter Parker Spider-Man escaping from police officers who thought he committed crime.

With its story written by the legendary Peter David and drawn by Rick Leonardi (who drew some Spider-Man comics previously), the comic book introduced readers to Miguel O’Hara who is a very talented geneticist working for Alchemax with an interest on the original Spider-Man (Peter Parker). As head of the company’s genetics project (working under Aaron Delgado who answers to R&D Vice President Tyler Stone), the Latino O’Hara planned to create new and powerful beings called “corporate raiders” (which reflects Alchemax’s planned control over them).

O’Hara intends to create a new being with abilities and specialties similar to that of the classic Spider-Man and it is clear in the story that he has vested interest with him having existing records from the past.

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The classic Spider-Man referenced in this page.

Even with very high-tech equipment and resources, a genetic experiment using a living person went horribly wrong which brought way down O’Hara’s morale and spirit. Discouraged and filled with guilt he visits Stone’s office to express his desire to resign. Seeking to calm O’Hara down, Tyler offers him a drink and at this point of the story things really start taking twists leading to how O’Hara becomes Spider-Man of his era. You’ll just have to read the comic book.

From a visual standpoint, Rick Leonardi did a nice job bringing 2099’s society to life with those high-tech machines, floating vehicles, buildings with very futuristic designs, nice looking action, etc. On pages 2 and 3 you’ll see Spider-Man 2099’s first-ever appearance literally coming straight at you which is to say the least memorable. Oh yes, the late Al Williamson inked the art.

Storytelling was nicely paced. The chase and action scenes in the start were pretty fast and clearly Peter David took his time controlling the pace when it came down to emphasizing characters and telling the back story. He really defined Miguel O’Hara’s personality and within a few minutes any reader will realize that the protagonist is not the “typical and likable” hero some would expect.

In fact Miguel O’Hara is somewhat arrogant and even had the guts to stand up to Tyler Stone. He’s a lonely guy as well and spends a lot of time interacting and depending on Lyla, a holographic aid with artificial intelligence.

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Spider-Man of 2099 in action!

With regard to the presentation of genetics, Peter David was clearly influenced by the 1986 movie The Fly directed by David Cronenberg. Even that movie’s title was mentioned in the comic book. That being said the story shed light on the risks and possible unethical approach to scientific experiments that involved the manipulation of human genetics. Along the way it clearly dramatizes the complete power and freedom (and abuse perhaps) Alchemax enjoys with its operations and that nothing could stop them.

Overall Spider-Man 2099 #1 is worth looking for and collecting even though it is decades old. Sure it has that 1990s vibe in terms of visuals but it is indeed refreshing to read especially after reading many of today’s “modern” art in comics (especially with the recent Spider-Man 2099 comics). As far as importance is concerned, Spider-Man of 2099 is truly valued by Marvel and clearly the character truly defines the 2099 imprint. It is no surprise that Spider-Man 2099 was brought back when Marvel launched a new line of 2099 comic books back in 2015.

Even until now Spider-Man 2099 #1 is still one of the very best 2099 comic books ever released. It is a classic in its own right. I suggest visiting your local comic book store to find an existing copy of it.


Thank you for reading. If you found this article to be engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco.

Author’s Note: This article was originally published at my old Geeks and Villagers blog. What you read on this website was an updated and expanded version. In other words, this newest version you just read is the most definitive version

A Look Back at Starman

When it comes to science fiction movies of Hollywood, the 1980s was quite an interesting decade. Released during the decade were these epic sci-fi flicks like The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Dune. Not to be outdone were the low-budget sci-fi movies that made an impact on pop culture like The Terminator and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

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Within the big mix of these kinds of films during the 1980s was Starman which was overlooked.

Released in 1984 to positive reviews (and later an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for Jeff Bridges), Starman was directed by John Carpenter who established himself nicely in Hollywood with 1978’s Halloween. Between Halloween and Starman, Carpenter also directed genre classics Escape from New York and The Thing.

Starman follows an alien creature whose ship (a UFO) was shot down by fighter jets that acted in defense. The alien finds its way into the house of Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen) who is grieving over the sudden death of her husband Scott (Jeff Bridges) watching a personal video of their past and drinking lots of liquor. Inside the house was an album which contained a lock of hair which the alien used to create a clone of Scott instantly from infant to full adult which is the titular Starman (also played by Bridges).

This of course shocks Jenny. She sees her husband return yet it’s not really him. Starman – the alien – clearly is not used to occupying a human body but does his best to communicate with her in English. He also carries with him seven silver spheres that allow him to do special things (specifically manipulating matter) that would appear as miracles to others. Starman wants Jenny to bring him to the Barringer Crater in Arizona within three days in order to be picked up by his fellow aliens. Otherwise he would die.

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Although frightened and hostile towards him, Jenny still was considerate enough to drive him far away.

If there is anything significant about this movie, it is the sheer depth of character development of both Jenny and Starman. Equally significant is the chemistry between Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges who made their characters believable.

Jeff Bridges is excellent in his portrayal of Starman. He’s clearly an alien who is not only struggling on being in a human body but also struggles to learn about the many ways of life and expression around him on his time on Earth. This includes learning gestures, saying words and doing things that people already find normal to do.

Karen Allen delivered a fine performance as Jenny Hayden. In fact when it comes to character development, I see Jenny a more significant character than her counterpart from outer space. While Starman adapts to life on Earth, Jenny’s character is gradually and convincingly transformed from one who is stuck with the past and being bitter into a person who gets renewed by understanding that life does have more to offer, that hope exists, that miracles do happen and finding new love and inspiration to live on.

As a Born Again Christian who went through personal transformation, who gained renewed faith in the Lord, and who left the old life behind to live on with a new purpose in life, I strongly relate with Jenny’s character development a lot. The concept of renewal and personal transformation portrayed by Karen Allen is much clearer to me than ever. Not to be outdone is the element of the healing of the soul of Jenny as a result of learning and understanding Starman.

The movie also has a solid supporting character in scientist Mark Shermin nicely played by Charles Martin Smith. Shermin is the typical sympathetic and willing-to-understand scientist who strives to discover first-hand an actual living alien which puts him into conflict the National Security Agency’s plan to capture Starman dead or alive. His talk with Starman reminds us viewers that humanity is always flawed and has many times resorted to violence as a means of accomplishment whenever a challenging situation (read: the visit of Starman to Earth by space ship only to be shot down due to fear of being invaded) happens.

With regards to storytelling, Starman is a nice mix of genre elements that goes beyond science fiction. It is also a road movie and a romance. At the same time director John Carpenter told the story with a controlled pace that gives viewers ample time to understand what’s been going on and a decent amount of spectacles that highlight Starman’s miracles.

Speaking of which, the film has elements of Christianity and the miracles of Starman are just the start of it. I could emphasize further here what the other elements are but that would mean spoiling the story and that is something I won’t do. You just will have to watch the movie to realize it.

Is Starman a wonderful movie? Absolutely! Is it one of the best works of John Carpenter? Truly it is and it deserves any moviegoer’s attention. How does it compare with other friendly alien movies like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Compared to those two flicks, Starman has the best and most mature character development of its protagonists. Its dramatic performances are also better.

Starman is a true sci-fi classic that deserves your attention even if you are not fond of sci-fi or UFO movies. I highly recommend buying this movie on Blu-ray disc or by streaming it.

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Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this article, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to your fellow John Carpenter fans and sci-fi movie fans. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your project or business, check out my services.

Author’s Note: This article was originally published at my old Geeks and Villagers blog. What you read on this website was an updated and expanded version. In other words, this newest version you just read is the most definitive version.