Thursday, May 31, 2012

Another Website Sneak Peek...

I didn't post anything here yesterday because, well, I've been knee deep in web design for the past couple weeks now and I really found some breakthrough Tuesday night, so I rolled with it until past midnight and totally neglected to write a Wednesday post.

So here's a Thursday one. And since I've had my head in this website so much, I figured I'd give everyone another sneak peek at what I've been messing with. To check out my earlier sneak peek from last week, head here.

So if you did check out the earlier sneak peek, you'll know that I settled on a certain design and was trying to implement it throughout all the pages of my website. And then I found out that I wasn't happy with it in the least. But that's how it's always been for me and web design. I can be very fickle, mainly because I'll create a site design and then look at other site designs of other authors/web designers, and get jealous and toss mine out the window.

I finally realized I needed to come up with a design that was what I wanted, and not compare it to other website designs. That's when I came up with a better version of the black and blue design of the old idea. I'll give you a glimpse of what I have so far for some of the major pages of the website, but keep in mind this is all subject to change. Although I will say that the design itself is one that I am DEFINITELY sticking with, it's just some of the positioning and alignment that may change, not the major color scheme or most of the major elements, like the paneling and the navigation set up. That being said, you'll notice some things are off alignment and a bit out of place here and there, but that's something I'll address after the major parts of this site are put together.

Here's a peek at what I have so far for the home page. The top left corner has some space in it because I'm going to have an author picture there. It will help to personalize my website, but I just haven't picked out the right one yet.

This next screenshot is of the main page for the Black Earth series. On the left will be the novels of the series, and on the right the additional stories, such as the flash fiction pieces. I have the tree from the cover of End of the Innocence as a watermark against the background, and the comet from the same cover in the top corner to spruce things up a bit.

Next is a peek at the main page for The Compendium, which has been altered to fit the black and blue theme.

Here's a glimpse of one of the actual Compendium pages, this one referring to Pulse Science, which is found in both my Black Earth and Expired Reality series.

And lastly (for now), here's a glimpse at the sales page for Black Earth: End of the Innocence. I plan to have samples of my novels that can be downloaded in PDF format straight from my website, reviews from readers, and links to other books in the same series and of course links to purchase the book.

Well, that's it for now. I'm going back to work on this beast! Enjoy your Thursday. And for those curious, I use WebEasy Professional 9 to build my site.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Webster's New International Dictionary - 1920

Over the past couple weeks, I've been busy working on the website and the timeline while I wait for edits to come back on Black Earth: Dark Masquerade. So while we all wait for the release of Dark Masquerade (which will be soon, I assure you), I thought I'd (finally) post some of the old books I acquired during my last trip to California.

The first in my collection isn't one I acquired for free - it cost me $3, and that was after I talked the guy down from $5. Call me a cheapskate if you will, but I call it bargaining. And when you don't have $$$ and you're trying to build a collection of books, you get what you can take. This little treasure is a 1920 edition of Webster's New International Dictionary. This book is HUGE!

The book's condition isn't stellar, but it isn't the worst condition I've seen a book in either. Pages are worn, as are the tabs, and the binding is a bit loose and the cloth of the binding is frayed in certain places.

When you first open the cover, you're greeted with some old newspaper articles and clippings that the owner of the book glued in. I actually don't mind this because it gives little pieces of history with the book.

The pages are India Paper, some of my favorite to be found in old books and Bibles. Because of how thin the paper is, some of the pages in the dictionary are ruined from the 90+ years this book has been around, mainly because they became folded when the book was shut and it creased the paper permanently, or the book was dropped and the pages took a beating.

What I love about this version of the dictionary is the added content. The cover states this version contains a reference history of the world, which is a nice section in the back that references exactly what it states - the history of the world. Broken down in chronological format within categories of countries and periods, it details key events in countries around the globe.

Elsewhere in the book you can find, among the basic dictionary entries, pages full of key information, like flags of the world, cathedrals, or human anatomy. This thing reads more like an encyclopedia in certain areas than a dictionary, but that's okay with me.

The thing I love about these older books is the treasures from previous owners that are hidden within random pages. Here's a document written (a list of dictionary words?) by who I'm assuming is the original owner of the dictionary - Ida M. Hays from Palto Alto, California 1920 - which is exactly what's written in the first blank page of the dictionary.

Ah, just blogging about this book excites me. I find it remarkable how much care and craft was put into creating this stunning dictionary, a literary item many of us take for granted, especially us writers. Of course, many of the dictionaries nowadays aren't this stellar, used more as quick, convenient tools than in-depth reference material, which is why I wanted to bring this lovely masterpiece home and add it to my small but growing collection of book gems.

As far as the history of this particular edition of Webster's New International Dictionary, I haven't been able to pull up too much information on it. Wikipedia has information on a 1909 and a 1934 edition, but the edition I have is clearly a 1920 according to the title page which states it is a revision of the 1890 and 1900 edition. There is a copyright page which lists copyrights for 1909 and 1913, but beyond that, I don't know much about this beautiful tome. Doesn't matter though, it's going to sit beautifully on my shelf until maybe I have the money someday to have it restored and preserved for the generations who come after me.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Casino Royale - Book Review

I have always been a fan of the James Bond films, and I really think the franchise hit the nail on the head when they came out with the last couple films, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, both starring Daniel Craig as the womanizing spy. My interest in these movies led me to pick up Casino Royale in paperback, the first Bond novel that Ian Fleming wrote. I'll warn you now, this review has spoilers.

Going into Casino Royale, I knew that I didn't care for a lot of Ian Fleming's writing to begin with. I've read some of the other Bond books - Diamonds are Forever, Moonraker, and Live and Let Die, and I was not impressed with some of the clunky prose or the outlandish ways Bond gets out of trouble - although that does seem to be his trademark not only in the books, but also in the films (mostly the older films.) I also couldn't seem to connect to Bond as a character in any of the aforementioned books.

That being said, I went into Casino Royale with mid-level expectations, and came out pleasantly surprised.

I can't write a decent review of this book without comparing it to the movie of the same name, only because I have very rarely (if at all if I remember right) come across a movie that did a book justice. This book in particular, Casino Royale, starts off in the Royale-Les-Eaux casino in France, with Bond playing Baccarat against Le Chiffre. It's interesting because this is where the book starts off, but the movie only reaches this point about half way through. Most of what's found in the beginning of the movie - Bond's free running chase through a construction site, his encounter with a bomber intent on destroying the prototype Skyfleet airliner, and his love affair with Solange are never mentioned in the book, but they did add to the movie and actually helped to round Bond's character out a bit.

The book follows the same premise as the movie on the whole: Le Chiffre is thwarted by Bond's card playing, Vesper is 'kidnapped', and Bond gets his manhood smashed into little tiny bloody pieces. Bond falls for Vesper, begins to gain suspicion with her strange moods, and eventually finds out she is a double agent working for the Russians. In the end, she kills herself and Bond is left the cold-hearted spy we all know and love.

The book differs slightly in many areas compared to the movie - Bond isn't run off the road by Vesper's body laying in the road, instead road tacks are used to incapacitate Bond and his vehicle. Le Chiffre doesn't torture him in the bowels of a ship, but in a quiet summer home. And the conspiracy surrounding Vesper isn't necessarily tied to the Bond's winnings at the Royale, but still follows the familiar path the movie did. It was interesting, after seeing the movie, to pick up on the small variations.

Reviewing this as a story disconnected from the movie, I give it four and a half stars out of five. I think I enjoyed this Bond adventure much more than the others that I've read because it brought Bond's humanity to light, I was able to see how he met Felix Leiter from the CIA, and I felt for him when Vesper killed herself at the end and revealed her betrayal to him and the Service. I especially enjoyed the build up towards the end where Bond begins to pick up on hints of Vespers suspicious activity but allows his feelings for her to override his instinct - in turn becoming a regret in the end.

The only real complaints I have with this book are the sometimes clunky prose that pops up every now and then, and the french that is poured on thick at times both in dialogue and description - most of which isn't translated. So there were times I had no idea what Fleming or Bond were trying to tell me. But those weren't enough to make me not like this book. I may still read more of Fleming's novels in the future, and I have The Union Trilogy by Raymond Benson on my 2012 Reading List.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Experience with Pinterest...So Far

I read an online article a couple weeks ago (I would link it here but I can't for the life of me find the bookmark) which gave ways that authors could use Pinterest to promote themselves and their books. Not really needing ANOTHER social networking outlet, I was hesitant to jump into the Pinterest craze, but I figured I'd at least give it a shot. As a side note, I'm already tired of Twitter and am probably going to move away from using it in any kind of decent capacity. Most of my time is spent on Facebook, this blog, or at other random spots around the web, but I just can't seem to keep interest in or understand Twitter's purpose.

So, I signed up for Pinterest. That in itself was a strange process. You first have to request an invitation FROM Pinterest, wait for them to invite you, then go through the process of accepting the invite and setting up your profile. Seems unnecessarily difficult and time-consuming, not to mention just a bit pretentious. It's sort of like requesting to be invited to a party I wasn't initially invited to. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

That irritation aside, I signed up and started creating boards. The main boards I have at this moment are: Books I've WrittenGuild Wars 2, Black Earth: Dark Masquerade Cover Design, and Geektastic. I've managed to get a few images pinned in each and even had one of my followers repin the cover to one of my books into her own board, Books Worth Reading, proving to me that Pinterest does have some potential for self-published authors.

For the most part, the process of pinning and re-pinning and whatnot is all fairly fast and easy, making this a user-friendly networking platform for people like me who don't really have time to spend hours online trying to convince people I have something important to say. An image IS worth a thousand words, right?

If you want to follow me on Pinterest, here's a link to my profile -

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Website Sneak Peek - The Compendium

First off, I usually post on Monday's, so I'm sorry this is a day late. I went camping this last weekend and I usually use Saturday's to sketch out my posts for the week.

So, I've been working on the website the last couple weeks, redesigning some elements, omitting others. The main thing I've been working on though is what I'm calling The Compendium (formally named the Database). This will be a comprehensive guide to many of the characters, environments, technology and creatures found in both my Black Earth and Expired Reality series. Broken into categories, The Compendium will have profiles filled with information on some of your favorite 'things' from my stories. The whole point of building it into the website is A.) give you a reason to go to my website - The Compendium will be updated with new items every week or two, B.) explore my book series deeper, C.) give fans of my series what they want.

Building The Compendium isn't a small task though. After creating the categories, I have to sit down and write out the history, applications, stats, and other various realms of information for each of these items. And the information given will vary depending on what is being showcased. For example, if I am talking about a character, then I will go into their history, their interests, and any relationships (family or romantic) that they might have. For technology and science, I will go into the origins of the particular item and then list some of its current and/or future applications in the world.

Right now I am planning on starting out with a handful of items when the new website goes live (which will be in the next month or so), and then I'll add new items every week or two, slowly building The Compendium into a handy reference guide to those who want to dig deeper into my universe. Eventually, as I said before in a previous blog post, I have plans to turn The Compendium into a self-published book, but that will be later down the road when I have added enough material to warrant such a project.

Okay, so without further rambling, here's some screenshot sneak peeks I figured I'd share with you all. These screenshots are taken from the program I use to create my website - WebEasy Professional 9. I know the images look a bit small in the post, but if you click on them, you'll get to see the full size, which is significantly larger. These changes are still  a work in progress, so if certain things don't look lined up or something seems a bit off, it will more than likely be addressed before the site goes live. I just wanted to give you all a glimpse of what I've been up to lately.

This shot is of the new home screen design. As you can see, Carrie Green from my Expired Reality series is there to greet visitors to my website. I have columns set up to showcase featured books, relay important news like book release dates and updates to the website, and showcase Compendium additions.

This shot is of The Compendium main page. As you can see, right now I have seven categories: People (Characters), Worlds, Science/Technology, Artifacts, Businesses, Otherworldly Beings, and Locales.

This is a shot of The Compendium's People category main page. This page is the hub for all of the profiles I will have created for the site. They will be listed in alphabetical order by first name, because some characters don't have proper last names. All of the category main pages will be done similar to this format.

And this shot is of one of the character pages, specifically for Nathan Pierce from the Black Earth series. Each of these pages will look different depending on what category the page falls in. Since this one falls into the People category, there will be various facts on the person of interest in the left side of the page, and the main information (character history) will be in the center. I have a handy link underneath The Compendium logo that will take you back to the category main page that you came from, so you don't have to link back to The Compendium main page and go through that again.

That's what I've been up to lately. I have some of the profiles already sketched out: Calamiro (Worlds), The Vine Magnate (Otherworldly Beings), Rhodenine (Science/Technology), and Nathan Pierce (People). I'll have more than these when the new website overhaul actually debuts in the next month or so. If there's anything in particular from either of my series (Black Earth or Expired Reality) that you would like to know more about, drop me a line or comment and let me know and I'll see if it can be added to The Compendium.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Goodwill Treasures

My wife and I went to Goodwill the other day, and  while I was there, I found a mound of journals for sale, most of them in pretty good condition. I perused through them, thinking one or two might be good to pick up and use for writing notes, when I found they had already been written in.

Apparently whoever had donated these books to Goodwill had used them previously, and it looks like they were aiming to sketch out the details to an RPG board or video game. What's interesting is that there were at least two dozen of these books, both in black and red covers, and each was only partially filled with the writer's notes. Some had titles written in Sharpy on the covers, others were blank on the front. I attempted to find one that didn't have anything written in it, but the closest I got was one that had a page of writing and then the rest of the book was blank - so I purchased it for a measly $2.

Before leaving Goodwill, I took some snapshots of some pages crafted from an author whose identity I'll never know -

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Progress on Black Earth: Dark Masquerade Cover Design

As you can see, my wife has been making some serious progress on the Legion mask that will be showcased in the cover design for Black Earth: Dark Masquerade.

Taking the supplies we purchased at Michael's craft store (highlighted in this post), my wife applied glue and the black sand to the white mask, giving it the stone look.

From there, she added the rhinestone design, including a premade string of white gems with some violet embellishment. Out next step is to add the feathers to the opposite side, in the head area.

So far, so good! More updates to come...

Monday, May 14, 2012

Website Database

For the past few weeks, I've been working on some new elements for my website - specifically the story timeline that spans both of my fictional novel series. It's been quite a challenge trying to figure out what to put in the timeline without allowing for spoilers, and I've had to have friends and family restrain my desire to tell the whole world my stories through the timeline as opposed to the timeline being just that - a timeline. I am a storyteller, after all, and if given the chance, I will explain the entire plot of my book from front to back - in detail. An actual timeline shouldn't dive that deep, at least not yet. After creating a baseline timeline, I can slowly add deeper elements to it as the months and years pass and my series grow.

So now that I have a pretty good idea what needs to be done with the timeline structure - killing my darlings is never easy - I am free to slide over to another project directly connected to my website: the database. I'm only calling it that right now because I don't have a proper name for it yet, but essentially the database is going to be a collection of information from both of my series and the stories/novellas between.

At first glance, the database might seem like an over-glorified glossary, but I can assure you it will be so much more than that. Right now, my thought is to have the database be broken into categories: weapons/artifacts, people/creatures, environments/buildings. Each item in the database will be plugged into one of those three pairs of categories, whichever most closely resembles the entry.

So, for example, the database entry for SilverTech Industries would fall under environments/buildings. The entry will include information on when the company originated and the circumstances under which it originated, what it specializes in - current projects and experiments, possibly a roster of notable employees, and references to any stories SilverTech Industries can be found in.

Another example is pulse technology, which would fall under weapons/artifacts. I'll go into a bit of history as to where pulse technology originated from, what types of weapons currently use pulse technology, and maybe a breakdown of which stories contain various formats of pulse technology, for example pulse shotguns and pulse grenades.

Yes, I know it sounds very detail oriented. But I think each entry will add to the stories of Black Earth and Expired Reality as a whole. And my plan is to continually add new entries to the database every week or so, and also to possibly self-publish them in a compendium maybe at the end of the year or when I have enough items to warrant a book.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Yeah...I'm a Little Behind on my Reading List

I planned on doing a book review today (actually last week) on the novel currently on my reading list: Casino Royale. But, I'm a bit behind because of work on the Black Earth/Expired Reality timeline, some design work on the website, and the Guild Wars 2 beta weekend a couple weeks ago. This next week I'll be picking the book up again and getting back to my reading commitments.

Speaking of which, I think after I'm finished with Casino Royale, I'm going to hop over to the Dark Tower series and settle into the fifth book, Wolves of the Calla. I also just found out the other day that a sequel novel to Starcraft: Ghost - Nova was written and published a bit ago. It's called Starcraft: Ghost - Spectres, and it's definitely going to be on my birthday list next month.

Hope everyone has a great Friday! I'm getting really excited about the neat things coming down the line - the timeline, website changes, book releases. I better shut up now before I say too much though...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Black Earth/Expired Reality Timeline In The Works

For over a year now, I've been wanting to create a timeline for my website that incorporates events from both my edgy Christian speculative fiction series, Black Earth, and my young adult scifi/fantasy series, Expired Reality. About a hundred years spans the gap between both series, but they are connected in more ways than can be counted. Time travel and alternate realities run rampant through both series, so I figured it would benefit my fans if a comprehensive timeline was created to keep things straight and somewhat easy to understand - at least when it comes to the chronology of events.

The only thing preventing me this whole time from creating said timeline has been a good timeline program. I suppose I could have broken down and just created a timeline from scratch and slapped it together with crappy fonts and even crappier looking pieces of clipart, but luckily I stumbled upon a great website a couple weeks ago called - Tiki-Toki.

Tiki-Toki is going to help me take my timeline idea to a whole...notha'....leva'!

The easiest way to explain how Tiki-Toki works is to check out the very first timeline you see when you go to their homepage - specific timeline template is the one I am currently using to create the Black Earth/Expired Reality timeline. The boxes contain dates and a title of the event, and then when you click on the MORE button in the bottom right corner of the event box, a summary box comes up where I can include an image, video, and audio along with links to whatever I think is relevant to the story event.

My biggest challenge right now is trying to figure out what content should be in the timeline. When I asked this question on Facebook, a friend of mine asked me what I want to achieve with it - a reward for fans of the series or marketing tool to lure new readers? And my answer was that this timeline is being created with the fans in mind, although a side effect of the timeline would be for new readers to be drawn toward some of the events and maybe be interested enough to actually check out my books.

This being said, another challenge is being careful for spoilers. The great thing about this software is that I can create categories (the little tabs you see at the top of the event boxes). So I can create a spoiler tab to warn new readers that the summary box that comes up when the MORE button is pressed will contain story spoilers. Not enough spoilers to compensate for reading my novels, of course, but even that is a fine line. How much is too much? Should I just concentrate on major events, or add in the little details that can add to a fan's vision of my series?

The answer to these questions goes back to the question my friend asked: What am I trying to achieve with this timeline? I want to give fans a reason to visit my website and peruse the extra - and hopefully unique - content I'm planning on building into it. So yes, I'll appeal mostly to the fans, but the timeline will also be set up so that new readers can come by, peruse the space/time continuum, and maybe walk away with some curiosity - enough to pick up one of my novels to see what all the buzz is about.

For those of you who are eager to check out the timeline, I plan to release it - along with some other refreshing website additions - when Black Earth: Dark Masquerade is released this summer, so stay tuned!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Black Earth: Dark Masquerade Cover Design Elements

This last weekend, my wife and I went to Michael's craft store and picked up the items we're going to need to create the main focus of the cover design for Black Earth: Dark Masquerade: the Legion mask.

Without giving too much away, I can say that in the story, the main character comes across a mask crafted by Legion - an alien entity bent on destroying all of creation. This mask - one of hundreds, possibly thousands - contains a human soul within.

Crafting the mask is a decent, but doable challenge, because in the book it is described as being made of the same material that forms Legion's vessels - shimmering, black rock.

So first, we needed a mask -

Then we purchased black sand - shimmering sand, no less - which we'll glue onto the surface of the mask -

In the book, the mask(s) are decorated in jewels and feathers, so we purchased a bit of both. This time we went with a purple theme (with a little bit of white), since the color scheme of Book 1's cover was blue, and Book 2's was orange -

And now, I just step back and let my wife work her crafting magic. Once she's finished putting the mask together, we'll start the photography process. For those who are curious, all of these materials, including a couple brushes to apply the glue with, cost less than $20 - and that was without coupons.

Friday, May 4, 2012

My Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Experience

I picked up the original Guild Wars on a whim about four years ago - I'm almost certain I purchased it from Target. And when I first dived into the MMO - my first - I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. As much as the game is catered toward community involvement, I have always been a solo kind of guy, so when Guild Wars allowed me to take NPCs with me on my adventures through the world of Tyria, I did so in lieu of calling on the support of real people.

And that made my gaming experience pleasurable in some areas, and not so much in others. The not so much was mainly in dungeons, where it required a lot of thinking, strategy and skill to pass through the hours of gameplay to get through a particular dungeon or even just to pass one of the game's many missions. I've never really had the patience to customize NPCs so that I have a specific group built with specific skills and specific armor in order to get through a specific I failed in certain areas of the game.

But other areas were more solo friendly, like most exploration areas, certain missions, and game festivals and events, which let me do my thing without having to call on other people - a portion of which are immature teeny boppers who don't really know what teamwork is. So overall, I was able to enjoy Guild Wars to a certain point. And when I heard about Guild Wars 2 being in production, I was ecstatic. I wondered if they would simply improve upon the areas of the game that I didn't care for, or if they would make the game even more difficult and community reliant to the point where I wouldn't want to play it at all.

Well, after playing the Guild Wars 2 beta this last weekend, I am more than happy to say they have, quite possibly, built one of the best games I have ever dived into. Not just the best MMO, but one of the best games in general.

My computer falls under the minimum system requirements for the game - so certain areas were extremely laggy, although some of that can be attributed to the fact that it was a beta and that there were sooooo many people online at one time, testing ArenaNet's servers - which is one of the points of a beta. Because of that, I didn't bother taking any game capture video. But I did take a slew of screenshots which will hopefully detail some of my experience in the world of Guild Wars 2.

When you first start the game, you are brought to the character creation screen. And for purposes of the beta, we were only allowed to pick between human, Charr, or Norn. And as much as I love the Norn and wanted to check out their storyline, I always start my games as human to see where the storyline is going to go.

So, I picked human and then I was brought to the screen where you choose your profession. I almost always - at least in Guild Wars - enjoy being the elementalist, so that's the one I picked. Then you go through the screens where you choose what your character is going to look like, questions are asked regarding what kind of background you want your character to have - which will in turn help form the storyline you will follow in the game.

After all that, here is my character. (This is after I found some armor dropped from enemies, dyed it with the color Autumn, and obtained an awesome looking magical staff through mission objectives.)
Velvet Rio

In the beginning of the game, I was thrown into the city of Queensdale where Centaurs were attacking the town. This is where I learned to use my magic skills which are connected to the weapon that I have, as opposed to strictly being connected to the character I have created. Although in this game, I don't have to specialize in any one elemental power - I can specialize in all of them: Earth, Water, Fire, Air. And I can switch between them at will, making it very easy to structure my attack strategy according to the type of enemy I am fighting.
Fighting Centaurs with fire.

Once I helped defend the land, I decided to explore, which is by far my favorite thing to do in any game I play, especially RPGs. The neat thing about Guild Wars 2 is that when you explore, you are doing so with others, where as the original Guild Wars had you in your own instance of the game, cordoned off from others except the party you brought with you. I didn't think I'd like this change at first, but it quickly grew on me. The world just feels so alive with the other players, the environments, and the NPCs. The game does have instances where it's just you and the NPCs, but those are the tailored story lines relevant to your character. Even when there wasn't any real players on screen, I still didn't feel like I was alone - I felt like I was in a living, breathing world. And when you and countless other random strangers are all banding together to destroy a large spider wreaking havoc on some poor farmer's crops - that's epic.
Killing the giant spider is a community effort!

Now I'll dive into the areas I felt Guild Wars 2 really excels in:

Battle -
The game's battle system is pretty easy to understand. You click or press a key to activate skills, fight enemies in real time, and loot the heck out of them. Your armor can be damaged in this game - unlike the original GW - but I like the addition of that because it forces you to be strategic.

The other addition I enjoyed was the fact that you get another chance to live if you end up getting slaughtered - you can either fight back, and if you kill an enemy, you come back to life with low health; or another player can come by and heal you back to life; or you can heal yourself back to life if you can do it before you're completely slaughtered by the enemies you are fighting. (This reminded me of the system used in Left 4 Dead, but that's not a bad thing.)
Fight to survive!

You also have backpacks and bags in this game - just like the original - where you can keep the goodies you loot and find throughout the world. You can obtain/craft a certain number of bags (inventory space) throughout the game, which is always something I make as a high priority in RPGs, mainly because I am a lootaholic!
The # of inventory slots you can have can be increased as you travel through the game.

Customization -
The game is brilliant when it comes to customizing your character. In the original guild wars, you couldn't find armor as drops from enemies - you had to craft/buy it. In Guild Wars 2, enemies drop armor, and the variety is very nice. It actually makes me want to keep slaughtering those enemies just to see what goodies are going to drop into my possession.

Also, in the first Guild Wars, you could only change the color of your armor after initially designing your character if you purchased/found/traded vials of dye - some of which were rare, like the black or white. In Guild Wars 2, they give you preset colors you can choose from on a constant basis to change the color of your armor. And then you can find dye seeds and turn them into random dye - some rare, some uncommon. (I wasn't able to find where to take my dye seeds in the beta, but I hope to approach that issue once again in the next beta.) What's nice about the dye too, is that it seems some of them are themed. You'll notice the screenshot of my lone character in the beginning of this post - I dyed her with a color named Autumn and it gave her outfit an orangish, yellowish, reddish tone. Very nice!

I only happened to stumble on this by accident, but apparently you are also given an outfit you can customize and wear in town. This is really nice if you just want to putt around and talk to NPCs or actual people but want to look a bit more classy.
Rockin' the hat!

Weapons are customizable just as they were in the original Guild Wars. You can attach runes and other magical artifacts to them to make them more powerful or give them special attributes. You can also carry a greater number of accessories to raise your attributes or harness certain effects.

Crafting - 
In the original Guild Wars, you could craft armor if you had the right materials, but then the variety of armor was limited and some of the armor took a ridiculously long amount of time and hassle to get the money and materials for. Guild Wars 2 fixes that by actually allowing you to salvage materials from the environment. You can mine for metal, chop wood, or harvest plants/herbs - all which can be used in the game's extensive crafting system.
Chopping me a tree!

GW2 allows you to pick two crafting professions at a time. You can choose between weaponsmith, jewelery maker, armorer, cooking, and a slew of others. When you have enough supplies to craft something - which the game keeps record of in your character's profile screen - you can go to the station relevant to your crafting profession and craft the item. You can even find recipes - at least I could with the cooking profession.

This opens up a whole new world of discovery and exploration for the Guild Wars franchise. After playing Skyrim, which is one of the few games I thought did weapon crafting well, it's nice to see GW2 incorporating it into their already massive world.

Exploration - 
I don't really have the time to get into the massive amount of exploration this game has. I'm not sure how many hours I actually played during the beta weekend, but I know I didn't even scratch the surface of this iceberg. The original GW was huge, but this game is MASSIVE.
This isn't even the whole world map. O_O

Even the town settlements are huge.

GW2 added underwater exploration, which is a very nice addition and seems to run pretty smoothly - at least more smoothly than other games which allow for underwater exploration.

And you never really know who you're going to run into.
What is that?!

Economy - 
The economy setup in GW2 is beyond brilliant. They have trading posts set up where people can post their items into the game's economy for others to purchase or they can purchase items others have put up for sale. It's all based on supply and demand, just as in the original GW. It did take me a while to figure out how to use GW2's system - I ended up ordering 23 Mystic Chests as opposed to the 2 I wanted because I kept clicking the BUY button not realizing the items I purchased could be found under the PICK UP tab.

There are three types of currency in the game: gold, karma, and gems. You gain gold as drops from enemies, from chests, from selling items, etc. The norm. You get karma by doing favors for NPCs around the world. You can trade this karma for certain items/armor/weapons. There are also gems - an item which can be purchased with real world money or traded with in-game gold. That is really nice because it means I can get gems just by putting more time into the game if I don't really care to dig into my wallet. Or, if I want convenience, I can just purchase gems. It's nice that I have the option to do one or the other.

Gems can be used to purchase items that allow for game convenience or character appearance. Nothing that can be bought with gems has anything to do with making your character more powerful - which is nice because it bars someone from taking advantage of the system.

The game also has a mail system that allows you to send in-game mail attached with items to other people in the game. It is also the system used to gain certain rewards from NPCs for helping them with certain objectives.
You've got mail...

I also found that GW2 has a greater variety of items you can purchase from merchants.
Wurm Poppers?

Achievements - 
The most impressive addition to GW2 are achievements.

There are daily achievements - which give you a reason to pick up the game every day.

There are monthly achievements, which give you something to strive for each month.

And there are overall achievements.

I think you gain rewards for achieving specific requirements - the reason for the treasure chest up on the daily and monthly page - but I didn't receive anything for accomplishing the daily achievement in the game, so I'm not sure what the reward is. (Something I reported as a bug.)

And although it was disabled during the beta, they have the Hall of Monuments achievements up which connects to the titles and trophies you earned in the Hall of Monuments in the original game and carry over as awards in GW2.

Level Up -
One of my biggest complaints of GW was that once my character hit Level 20, that was it. I couldn't really get more powerful or level up anymore. In GW2, I'm not sure what the level cap is - although I've read somewhere that it's 80 - but you can earn skill points and trait points as you level up, both of which you can spend towards unlocking new skills and traits. Although I wasn't able to unlock the traits before end of beta because I didn't realize you have to purchase a book to unlock the Traits bars.

Your weapons level up as well - the more you use certain weapon skills, the more other skills unlock. It's  nice, because you can level up the skills that you want instead of feeling like you're forced to stay with certain ones. At least this was the case with my elementalist and the four elements I was destroying everything with. (Although I always lean more toward fire.)

Artwork - 
My final category of praise for GW2 is the artwork. There were areas in the original GW that I really didn't care to traverse - most of Nightfall comes to mind. It just looked dreary to me, which I understand was the point, but it didn't make me want to play through most of the environments. But the new paint style and environments and character design in GW2 - it's all just absolutely phenomenal.

Loading screens have never looked so good!

All in all, I was extremely pleased with the beta weekend. I didn't take time out to try out Player Vs Player or World Vs World, nor did I really get around to trying out Charr or Norn races, but I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to check them out in future betas.

Yeah, there were issues, but it was a beta, and none of those issues looked to be issues that are going to stay with the game. I did feel lost at times when it came to using certain mechanics of the game, but I'm certain that came with it being a beta and with lack of game manual. ArenaNet did a great job crafting surveys that I would find along the way to give back my input on the game. And after you sift through the minor errors and whatnot, you have a game that is going to, beyond the shadow of a doubt, dominate the MMO community when it releases.