Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Pulp Fiction Formula Presentation – Tomorrow!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 27, 2016

SpringIntoBooksAs previously posted, I’ll be at the Spring Into Books event at the Viridian Event Center tomorrow, Saturday May 28th. I’ll be signing books ‘n stuff. So if you happen to be anywhere around West Jordan, Utah… it’s a free event, and there’ll be lots of local authors and presentations on writing. Plus food trucks, a poetry slam, contests, and so forth. It’ll be a party!

I’ll be giving a short presentation called “The Pulp Fiction Formula – Writing Stories that Sell!” at 3:30 in the Parkview Meeting Room 2 (upstairs). If you have no idea what that’s about but are kind of interested… here’s a link to the original text by Lester Dent, AKA Kenneth Robeson, the creator of “Doc Savage.”

The Lester Dent Pulp Fiction Master Plot

WritingPulpFictionCoverI have some firsthand experience with this. I’ve had several stories published now (and, hey, I’m even an award winner!), but I have some other stories that were finding difficulty finding a home. I’m still learning and improving. I’ve known about this methodology for a while, and while it was interesting, it’s a bit loose and archaic. After all, it was published 85 years ago, and at its heart its just a story structure plus writing advice plus a few odds and ends to give it that popular, pulp-style “punch.”

But I was inspired by some of the successes of both the old pulp masters, and more modern authors who had embraced it. I met L. L. Muir in January, and she used it to write (short) novels in 3 days. As had SFF legend Michael Moorcock. Although in both cases, they had their own spin on the system… which is as it should be.

So… I used it, whipped out a cyberpunk short story in a week, sent it in… and it sold within 24 hours. Which probably ruined me for life, as I keep expecting responses in really short time. I tried it again, and that story sold on the first try, too.  That’s definitely not guaranteed with this system, but I’m a convert. I also used it to write the Frayed Knights story, The Thief and the Chalice.

BlackAmazonOfMars

One of the important points is that pulp fiction was pretty much *the* market for genre fiction back in the early to mid 20th century, but while many pulp stories were flavored by that era, a modern “pulp” story doesn’t have to read like Raymond Chandler or Edgar Rice Burroughs. Or have titles like “The Fish Men of Venus” or “Black Amazon of Mars.” Although, hey, all of the above is kind of awesome. Modern pulp should have the trappings that modern audiences expect… good characterization, modern use of language, modern themes and genres, etc.

Ultimately, it’s just plain fun to write a story this way. I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on how it works and how I use it. Hopefully other writers will find it useful. If you are interested and can be there, I’ll see ya at 3:30 tomorrow.

 

sib-2016-flyer-final-2


Filed Under: Books, Events, Writing - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



Now Crowdfunding: Mythica 5: The Godslayer

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 25, 2016

The final chapter of the indie-made Mythica fantasy film series is now in crowdfunding. Like the funding for the previous films, the movie has already been shot. This crowdfunding phase is for post-production goodness: Visual effects, sound, music, that kind of thing.

The upcoming film features Kristian Nairn (Hodor from Game of Thrones), and of course Kevin Sorbo.

Mythica5

If you’ve seen any of the other films, then you probably already know whether or not you are interested in being a backer.

Of course, it’s a little funny backing film 5 when film 4 isn’t technically out yet. I’ve seen it, but I don’t have my copies yet. So far, I still believe that Mythica 3: The Necromancer is the best of the series so far, but of course I’m told this one is going to blow them all away in an epic conclusion.

It’s been interesting to me how the movies have been consistent in character (although, since the first three were filmed at the same time, that makes sense) but have had very different styles. The first movie – A Quest for Heroes – was kind of the cute and very well-done if somewhat generic D&D style fantasy adventure. A quest to save the priestess from some bad guys, battling orcs & ogres & stuff. The second one, The Darkspore, was more epic in scope, and got a little bit darker. It was more of a little indie Lord of the Rings-style quest. The third movie, The Necromancer, was dark, gritty, personal, and a little heartbreaking. The fourth – The Iron Crown – was part comedy. It was a little over-the-top, a rollicking adventure that was fun & lighthearted to balance out the dark angsty  feel that had grown from the last two films. It ends with a tough choice being made. Or maybe a couple of tough choices. And in spite of the lightheartedness, it sets things up to be in a pretty rough place for the final film.

I am very pleased with the series. It’s not for everyone. While it is amazing what they’ve pulled off on such a small budget, these are still small-budget films. There’s some inherent cheesiness. But a lot of my friends – especially the D&D players – have also really enjoyed them. I can’t wait to see the final installment this fall.

So if you are interested in being a backer, getting an early release of the film (maybe signed?), getting your name in the credits, whatever…  here’s your chance:

Kickstarter for Mythica 5: The Godslayer

 


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The Publishers Who Will Destroy Your Career

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 24, 2016

A publisher can be awesome. Even as an “indie” – having someone else manage the crap you don’t want to may be absolutely worth it. Things are changing, and the role of a publisher is changing along with it. And in many cases, a publisher can really make a tremendous, positive difference in your sales and your career.

The best part of all is that a publisher is no longer semi-mandatory. Back in the old days, direct sales sucked, and it was either sign on with a major publisher or almost nothing. There was no other way to get in front of the mass market. Nowadays, a publisher is optional. They know this. You know it. That means you have the freedom to turn down any deal. And many times, you should. While negotiating a contract may be very stressful for a few days, signing a bad contract can screw you up FOREVER.

Some of the big publishers will bring their power and prestige to bear against you, and will try to get you to sign onerous – perhaps even ridiculous – terms. And they CAN BE SNEAKY. Don’t assume that just because they are a big, well-respected company with a long history of working with people just like you that they won’t put some sneaky language into a contract that will wreck not only this deal, but your whole career. Companies aren’t people – they are made of people who constantly change jobs and put their own mark on things. Maybe a new guy in the legal team has a chip on his shoulder. Maybe the new VP in charge of third-party relations has decided to get more aggressive with contracts and you are the first guinea pig. Who knows?

But that doesn’t mean the little companies can’t be even nastier predators. I have heard some fairly hair-raising stories over the years… both about game publishers and book publishers. There are plenty of good ones out there who are a delight to work with. But definitely treat any contract offered to you with an eye towards how it could be used to hurt you.

There’s an old story over at The Digital Antiquarian about how a clause in Origin’s contract with EA allowed EA to play hardball and nearly destroy Origin back in the 1980s. The use of overstock was the sticking point… something a publisher and distributor would be very familiar with, but a small software developer might be clueless about:

“This provision gives EA the ability to crush Origin, accidentally or on purpose, by over-ordering. Origin can honor the order, only to have it all come back to them along with a bill big enough to bury them when EA doesn’t sell it on. Or Origin can refuse to honor the order and get buried under a nasty breach-of-contract lawsuit. Or they can come back to EA hat in hand and ask nicely if both parties can just forget the whole thing ever happened and continue that third year of their agreement as was once planned.”

But this isn’t just ancient history. We have small “publishers” who sound like they might be the kiss of death to a game studio today, as explained in this recent article:

Game Publishers in 2016: How to throw your life’s work away in seconds.

Book publishers are no different. I thought we got away from the bad-ol’-days of the 1990s where publishers liked to create a fiction that an author’s novel was retroactively considered “work for hire” and all the property rights went to the publisher. But no, it can get even worse, even with an established, respected publisher:

Long-Term Thinking: The Non-Compete Clause (Contracts / Dealbreakers)

According to the best-selling and prolific author, Kristine Katheryn Rusch, it’s bad and getting much worse:

“Around 2012, publishers started requiring non-compete clauses in almost all of their contracts, and are making those clauses a deal breaker from the publisher’s side. In other words, the publisher will cancel the deal if you do not sign a non-compete. The choice you are given is this: either you let the publisher control your entire career just because you sold that publisher one book for $5000 or you walk.

“If that’s the choice you’re given, walk. Hell, run.

It’s dangerous out there. Temper your excitement with some well-deserved caution. It’s not paranoia when they really are out to get you. Some of them really are.


Filed Under: Biz, Game Development, Writing - Comments: 4 Comments to Read



The Downsides of the Long Tail

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 23, 2016

The “Long Tail” is a glorious thing in the modern world. Thanks to global markets, digital distribution, and so forth, things don’t really have to retire from the marketplace. Wanna buy a tested, working, good-condition Commodore 64? It’s out there. Want to buy a copy of a book published in the 1930s? There’s a chance a digital version exists, or that someone, somewhere, has a used copy for sale. A copy of a PC game published more than 20 years ago? There are several places you can go. An indie game or book that maybe only sold a few copies several years ago? Hey, if it’s digital, there aren’t many reasons for the author or studio to remove it. Might as well keep it up for the one-a-blue-moon sale.

As a consumer, it’s wonderful, if perhaps a little damaging to my wallet.

As a creator of digital content, it’s mostly awesome. One of the phenomena of the long tail… the “backlist” as the authors call it… is that a new release boosts the sales of older, related titles (titles in the same series, by the same author / studio, etc.). It means older titles continue to generate a trickle of income which may be insignificant on its own, but collectively may be worth a pretty hefty revenue stream.

But there are a couple of downsides to be aware of:

#1 – Long-term support: The advantage of cutting off the long tail is that you don’t have to worry about supporting ancient products. Let’s face it… if MS-DOS 6.x was still for sale, the insignificant amount of income it generated wouldn’t be worth the cost of supporting the product for Microsoft. While an “as-is” clause in the EULA helps, there are still the costs of supporting the purchase page every time there’s a website update, etc.

#2 – Competition Against Older Titles: This is a biggie, and it’s what I preach to all indies who are hell-bent for creating clones of favorite “classic” titles. The bottom line is: In the modern world, you are still competing against that old, classic stuff. Maybe 10 years ago, you could get away with that to a point, because the classic you are imitating wasn’t available. But that’s not the case now. In a very real way, you are competing with EVERY SINGLE SIMILAR PRODUCT EVER CREATED IN THE HISTORY OF FOREVER.  And yes, this means the field gets more and more crowded each month, without the relief the consoles enjoy when they release a brand-new generation of hardware.

Video games have traditionally enjoyed a little bit of an advantage with #2 because they have been so technology-driven. A real-time rendered human character today will probably look and move far, far better than one from 10 years ago. And it probably works on modern systems much better, etc. But especially in the indie realm, this is becoming less true.  Since they avoid the cutting edge, they age much better. And even in the AAA arena, we’ve been hitting the law of diminishing returns for a while now with conventional gaming. It’s taking far more powerful technology and far more content development budget to make a noticeable difference. The tech-curve is flattening… which means we’re back to facing #2.

The bottom line there is that we need to keep making better stuff, and different stuff.  Titles that are not just a “me, too!” imitation. Not only are you competing against the original, but against all the other “me, too!” derivatives that have ever been released. What makes yours stand out?

Neither of these problems are insurmountable or even all that significant in the face of all the advantages of the “long tail” of distribution. But it rewards those who know how to play to its strengths.


Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



All These Smart Devices Sure Can Act Stupid!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 20, 2016

Chapter 1:

I have a great new gaming laptop. With Windows 10, and a solid state boot drive. With an HDMI cable, it connects to my “Smart” TV if I want to play some games on the big screen (rare, but it happens) or play a video off the computer. It also serves the usual purpose of giving a PowerPoint presentation at a convention (something I find happening surprisingly often these days), or run a game demo with a bigger screen. I even take it with me on a couple of short trips to use it as a DVD player (yes, old school) in a hotel with mediocre WIFI. It has a pretty bad downside, though…  it doesn’t play audio through the HDMI. That’s … weird, but I adapt.

Chapter 2:

My Smart TV automatically (automagically?) updates. Which is nice, as it can now stream from Amazon again.

My laptop also updates (a few times) with new and improved Windows 10. Yay.

Except… suddenly the two no longer connect. Which was extremely frustrating when I was depending on it at the beginning of the month. WHOOPS! Nothing I tried… for an embarrassingly long time of tinkering with people waiting on me… would work.  The computer refused to recognize the TV existed.

Chapter 3:

Cue happy ending! Another update or two later, and suddenly the computer not only interfaces with the TV again, but will play audio over the HDMI cable! Life is good…

… Until I need it again, perhaps.

The Moral of the Story:

Auto-updates are of the devil.

Well, okay. There’s more to it than that. And as a software engineer who understands the true nature of bugs and testing, I recognize that it is a hard problem. Nevertheless, when our technology and our tools become unreliable, there’s a problem. I’m glad the event in Chapter 2 wasn’t a major demo where I’d spent hundreds of dollars on a booth or something. That DOES HAPPEN, sadly.

But when things work one day, and don’t work the next, because of “smart” technology or automatic upgrades, I begin to wonder if how badly those things are named.


Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: Be the First to Comment



DOOM – then and now. Part 2.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 19, 2016

doom2016coverartSo we get to last week’s release (on Friday the 13th, naturally) of the 2016 version of Doom … AKA “Doom 4“.  It’s been over twenty years since the original’s release, and over 10 years since the release of the last game in the series, Doom 3.

Well, from my perspective, there’s bad news, good news, and indifferent news.

First the bad news, and it’s really bad. Half the time, the game is unplayable on my fairly powerful machine (which is not quite recommended specs, but well above the minimum).  Seriously, I’m talking like one frame per second or less, even in the menu (which makes mouse control really fun). The other half of the time, the game runs awesome – 60+ FPS, and except for the occasional freeze, it’s great… so long as I don’t minimize or alt-tab out or anything (which freezes everything in a black screen). And as long as I don’t die… dying in the game gives me a 75% chance of being frozen in a black load screen that has finally finished loading, but won’t let me play. I can hear sounds, I’ve hit the space bar to start, but no game.

And then there’s checkpoints, instead of being able to save and continue from anywhere. So if I have to curtail my game early – because I’m a father and may only get my gaming in 15-minute sessions – I may lose progress. GAH. What is this, gaming on the PS2?!?!?

So yeah. The game has SERIOUS problems that need to be addressed before I could recommend it to anyone on the PC. I hope the console gamers are having fun with it, at least.

DOOM2016_1But then there are times where – so long as I can avoid dying – I can have an uninterrupted, reasonably lengthy session of hardcore FPS action. Smooth frame rates, really pretty graphics, and… wow. Gore. Lots of gore. This is a game of punching through demon heads, cleaving their bodies in half with a chainsaw, and ripping out juicy, squirting heart-like objects out of disgusting demonic pods.

So during the 2.5+ hours of actual gaming I’ve been able to play the 2016 Doom, what do I think? Does it capture the feel of the original?

Well, like I said yesterday, the original was a lot of different things. The “feel” varied significantly even from level to level. Doom 3 focused on (I thought) more of the horror and jump scares.  This one, I think, focuses on the run-and-gun carnage of the original. Ultra-violence, high speed rushing around splattering monsters.

In the original Doom, all the monsters were on the map at the beginning of the game, and part of the problem-solving was figuring out how they would get revealed. You’d hear their signature sounds and know they were somewhere. Then you’d hit a switch, cross a threshold, or something and a wall panel would pull away or an elevator descend to unleash the hidden monsters. In Doom 3, they did the usual trick of just having lots of unreachable nooks and crannies from which newly-spawned creatures would emerge. In Doom 2016? Screw it. They often just teleport in.

And they teleport in a fight. Behind you. And jump to where you are. Which all works to accentuate the run-and-gun nature of the game. This is not a modern military shooter where you fight from behind cover.  Each area with major combat scripted is something of a gladiatorial arena, with pick-ups, explosive containers, environmental threats like deadly falls and molten metal. There are lots of places to run to, jump to, and temporarily hide behind. But this is a game about high-intensity, high-action combat.

Ammo capacities are tiny to begin with, which means that you can’t rely on a single weapon through a major fight. You’ll have to swap weapons, run to corners to pick up more ammo, and – if you have fuel for it – whip out the chainsaw. The chainsaw acts as an insta-kill on lesser monsters, tearing them open and causing them to explode with pick-ups like a gory piñata of ammunition. It’s… bizarre, highly video-gamey, but it works and is twistedly fun.

DOOM2016_2Encouraging more up-close and personal melee encounters, there are hand-to-hand “glory kills” you can perform once a monster begins to flash. Making a melee attack on the creature at this point treats you to a micro-cut-scene of hyperviolence against the demon. I suspect that the violence of these scenes is what drove the art direction to make the possessed humans seem completely inhuman and demonic. Squishing a ghastly demon-head is much less horrendous than squishing something that resembles a person.

And then there’s the story. Or… well, what passes for a story. I’m still not sure what to make of it. If it’s a reboot of the series, it kinda sounds like a sequel. You are the semi-magical space marine of olden times, locked away in a sarcophagus, with legendary upgrading armor. I guess you’ve been infused with the powers of Hell… or at least of surviving Hell. I dunno. But… like the original game, the story is kept pretty minimal, more often gleaned from the environment than provided in explicit exposition.

And there’s the thing about running around collecting key-cards to gain access to other parts of the map.

So is all that true to the Doom feel? Arguably, sure. Excessive violence? Kinetic combat that requires quick-thinking and changes of approach? Chainsawing the hell out of monsters? Enemies that are, for the most part, derived from their 1990s counterparts? Minimal storytelling? Colored key-cards? Lots of little hidden secrets? Check, check, check, check, check, check, and check.

So… it at least embodies part of the flavor of the original games. That’s something, right?

Now, there’s also this thing about upgrading your armor and your weapons that is… well, not Doom-like, but cool. There is something along the lines of a quest journal with a direction marker to help you go in the right direction — definitely not like the original Doom, but at least relatively welcome. This isn’t an open-world RPG we’re talking about, after all. I’d say for the most part, the impure additions really are additions that enhance the gameplay.

It’s not for the squeamish. It is wild and pretty fun. It’s GIGANTIC, taking up somewhere a little south (so far) of 100 gigs on my hard drive. The graphics are very impressive. It feels like a successor to Doom in several ways. It’s not groundbreaking, but it does offer some minor innovations to encourage a particular style of play that has been underrepresented in the genre. It has a crappy checkpoint system. It has difficulty levels that allow for pretty easy, casual play up to (I imagine) ultra-hardcore challenges. I haven’t played Multiplayer, but I can imagine it’d be great fun with friends.

Overall, if the game actually worked right, I’d say the positives outweigh the negatives, at least if you can stomach the gore.

But these days, I rarely pay full price for a new AAA video game. As it stands, DOOM 2016 completely reinforces this behavior. One of the few reasons to play games when they are brand new is to get in on the multiplayer while it’s still popular and you can find people to play with. If I’m not doing that, I’m far better off waiting a couple of years, buying it at a discount price AFTER the game has been patched and stabilized, drivers have been optimized, and I may have upgraded to a machine that is equal or beyond the recommended specs.

Instead, I have a bunch of hard drive space devoted to a game that I’ve decided to give up on for the next few weeks. Since the game was reasonably fun when I have been able to play it, and I shelled out full price for it and I want to get my frickin’ money’s worth out of the thing, I intend to play it to completion (or to utter frustration) eventually.  Hopefully. Assuming Bethesda & id can make sure a pretty standard set of gaming hardware can run the game consistently.

Dang it, I get more far more bang for my buck out of an indie game or two-year-old mainstream title. Cutting-edge graphics are great and all, but not worth this level of frustration.


Filed Under: Impressions - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



DOOM – then and now. Part 1.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 18, 2016

wolfenstein_3d_title_screen“Guten Tag!”

If you were a computer game geek back in the early 90s, you remember that one. The greeting heard ’round the DOS gaming world. It was the intro to the boss encounter on the shareware version of Wolfenstein 3D, at least on those PCs equipped with the popular SoundBlaster card. A requirement, for those of us who remembered Muse Software’s original game, much slower paced but with the clumsy playback of actual voices on the old Apple, Atari, and Commodore sound devices.

The game was amazing, and had reportedly come out from a tiny little company of guys who were bypassing the publishers and going straight to shareware. And yet it was technologically amazing. What’s more, it was high-speed, high-action, and “voluntarily rated PC for Profound Carnage” – meaning cartoony blood and viscera on the screen. This was a big deal, because many stores and publishers still considered video games to be something intended for children.

With the design, humor, and violence level that seemed to spring from a frat-house, it probably couldn’t really be labeled as mature, but at the very least, it was clearly not intended for young children.

But Wolf3D was kind of a niche hit. Among the hardcore PC gamer set, it was amazing. It represented the brave, new world of computer gaming. Suddenly the game programming BBS forums and usenet groups (early Internet stuff, kids) were abuzz with the miracle of raycasting – the technique used by Wolfenstein 3D to render its 3D environments so quickly.

Wolf3D‘s success was relatively low-key… but more than enough to keep the tiny team at id Software happy… but afterwards, rumors of a game called DOOM from the same studio began to surface. Details were sketchy and ever-changing. A magazine ad came out that said something to the effect of, “Those of you planning to enjoy your summer… go to Hell!” Things kinda hit a crescendo (at least in the subset of the community I was involved in) in the summer of 1993 with issue #108 of Computer Gaming World: the sneak preview of Doom. It sounded amazing. Sadly, we still had many months to wait. They missed their summer deadline, but the hype was building among the gamers. All the action of Wolfenstein 3D, but with demonic enemies, more realistic environments, cool lighting, and multiplayer! Was all that even possible?!?!  (At the time, there was also supposed to be an in-depth single-player story, Tom Hall’s big focus, but that fell to the wayside).

Doom_cover_artThat December, Doom was released into the world… just hours before the end of that semester of college and I was about to leave for Christmas vacation. The release was legendary… one of those stories I can be all grandpa-gamer about. A friend who managed to acquire it copied the files on multiple 1.4 megabyte floppy disks for me. Yep, that was how we rolled, then. And for the next several months, university and business networks would be inundated with Doom packets. It was the game. While Super Mario Brothers might have been a bigger hit many years earlier and impacted the new generation of gamers more broadly, I always think of Doom’s release as the day video games started going mainstream. It wasn’t all at once, and it was hardly universal, but it seemed that was when things started to change… for better, and for worse.

It really was amazing, and had most of the technological features we expected, and more. It had a little bit of everything. Fast action. Gore. Scares. Creepy horror stuff. Exploration. Puzzles. Secrets. Competitive multiplayer. Freaking cooperative multiplayer! Tons of built-in support for modding.

It’s that variety that can make it a little hard to pin down the “flavor” of Doom. Some emphasized the jump scares and the careful, meticulous exploration of the darkened environment. Others rewarded clever tactics and problem-solving. Others were more about sheer gunslinging frenzy. Or they all but begged you to turn on god mode, arm yourself with the chainsaw, and just hack your way through teeming hordes of enemies.

But regardless of which aspects we hold up as Doom‘s signature feel, the game made a monstrous impact on gaming. Still. And while technologically it has been surpassed in every possible way, it still has big shoes to feel for any game in its genre… especially one claiming lineage.

Which brings us to the release of the newest of the series, just titled “DOOM.” A sequel? A reboot? A… well, I’m still not entirely sure. Continued tomorrow in Part 2.


Filed Under: Impressions, Retro - Comments: Read the First Comment



Revisited: A Twisty Little Maze of Passages, All Different

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 17, 2016

ColossalCaveAdventure> Kill Dragon

WITH WHAT, YOUR BARE HANDS?

I never had to answer that question myself. But that dragon was my first significant exposure to the world of computer games.

I didn’t play the game myself. Instead, I was given a walkthrough by my buddy in fifth grade, Craig Bucher, who had played it over the weekend on some “minicomputer.” I don’t even know if the computer even had a monitor – the game was played on the printer, recording his explorations to be shared later. With the huge printout in hand, he took relish in showing me the most interesting parts. Through his printout, I was able to share in his adventure (which I didn’t realize had the name, “Adventure,” at the time – AKA “Colossal Cave Adventure“). I witnessed him being attacked by nasty axe-throwing dwarves and giant snakes, saw him trying to deal with the “troll bridge,” navigate the twisty little mazes of passages, and witnessed him face down a fierce green dragon sprawled out on a Persian rug.

I don’t know why it was – but the fact that the dragon was on a Persian rug really stuck with me. For the rest of my life, my mental image of a dragon wasn’t lounging Smaug-like on a bed of gold and silver, but rather sprawled out on a large, expensive Persian rug. My parents bought a Persian rug for our home, and I always thought it seemed a bit bare without a fierce green dragon on it.

I don’t know if you could call my career and hobby of making videogames a “life’s calling.” But if you choose to, then you could say that I realized it on that winter morning. I was an avid reader, and here I was reading what looked like a book (or at least a short story) that had been written by the computer in reaction to my friend’s voyages through an imaginary world. I was struck by the possibilities of it all.

I went home that night and wrote up something without the benefit of a computer on several pages of lined notebook paper. It was an adventure, and its format was vaguely reminiscent of a “choose your own adventure” book (I hadn’t yet discovered Dungeons & Dragons). I worked on it for days, and filled several pages with text and options. Much was original, but it also had nasty little dwarves with axes, and the obligatory dragon sitting on a Persian rug.

When I felt all was ready, I ran my brothers through my adventure. I played the part of the computer, reading text according to their choices.

The entire adventure ran maybe five minutes, and that was including the time necessary to give them instructions. I’d apparently underestimated the content requirements by a hair. This is a problem I still struggle with today.

I taught myself to program on my first computer, a Sinclair ZX80, which lacked the capacity to actually run any of these games (one kilobyte of memory is apparently only enough for about a paragraph of text). Later, when we got the Commodore 64, I finally had enough memory (and storage space) to start making my dreams come true. First off, I was finally able to play these adventure games myself, and finally follow in the footsteps of my friend. I finally encountered the fierce green dragon on the Persian rug, the axe-throwing dwarves, and the notorious TWISTY LITTLE MAZE OF PASSAGES for myself. And I was able to explore the Great Underground Empire, gathering the treasures I’d heard so much about. The experiences were satisfying and thrilling, but still a little short of what I’d felt a couple of years earlier.

But the best thing was that I was able to create these experiences. I started perhaps a dozen adventure games, most left incomplete in one form or another. I even collaborated with a schoolmate on one. I wouldn’t go anywhere without my notebook full of maps and notes for my next awesome project. The two adventure games I actually finished, “The Dungeons of Doom” and “The Secret of Red Hill Pass” are long-gone now. And even at the time, I realized their weaknesses (though I thought they were a bit more sophisticated than the original Colossal Cave Adventure or Scott Adams’ adventures). And of course, as I already knew the games intimately well, they weren’t so much fun for me to play.

But it was during the development of these games that I felt the magic of the dragon on the Persian rug the strongest. I still get a taste of it in other games. I think part of the reason I’m still a gamer today is that I hope to recapture a bit of that magic. I haven’t really gotten back into the text adventures / interactive fiction of the modern era so much, although I’ve tried. But I do still catch a shadow of that feeling every once in a while, and that’s enough to continue to drive me to play… and to create.

After all this time, that dragon is still there on that Persian rug. Oh, he’s available in a free download, if anyone feels like challenging him – though I doubt the magic hides there anymore. I don’t think it ever was captured in the bits of data that made up the game. Where he really lived, for me, was in my mind. My imagination. The simplicity and abstraction of the text was what invited me to create him, to give him life, and to even give him some amount of power over me.

That was where the immersiveness came from. That’s something that fantastic shaders and voice-overs cannot reproduce, and may even hinder at times. It’s all about capturing and engaging the imagination. Once that happens, the game – the medium – takes on a life of its own. The player is not just a consumer, an audience, but a participant, and the game becomes much more than the sum of its code and data.

And that’s the power of the dragon.

In spite of all his power, the dragon was actually pathetically easy to slay. That was the whole trick. The key was to think outside of the box. It was to realize that in this new medium, the rules of the “real world” didn’t necessarily apply. Adventurers were confounded, sometimes for weeks, sometimes forever, because they brought with them assumptions and baggage from the outside world with them into this new but familiar one. Because obviously, slaying a dragon is going to have to take something spectacular. Maybe something you haven’t found yet. All the tricks that worked against the other monsters in the world failed utterly before the power of the dragon.

But the solution was both simple and outrageous. It was spectacular by being non-spectacular. It involved nothing that the adventurer didn’t already have with him at the start of the game. For all his intimidating might, the dragon could be defeated by the simplest (but not the most obvious) means possible.

I lied when I said at the beginning of this article that I never had to answer that question myself. Sure, I knew the answer for the Colossal Cave Adventure. But as it set me on my path to making games, to trying to share that little bit of magic with others, particularly as an indie game developer with little resources. I haven’t felt extremely successful at it. The dragon on his Persian rug keeps defeating me, as I find myself having to answer that question over and over again. But I keep trying.

I wonder if the answer is really any different?

> Kill Dragon

WITH WHAT, YOUR BARE HANDS?

> Yes.

CONGRATULATIONS! YOU HAVE JUST VANQUISHED A DRAGON WITH YOUR BARE HANDS (UNBELIEVABLE, ISN’T IT?)

 

 

(Note: This is a revision of an article from the earlier, long-gone blog, circa November 2006.)


Filed Under: Adventure Games - Comments: 4 Comments to Read



Crunch mode and Doom!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 16, 2016

The last two weeks have been mostly crunch-mode crunchiness at the day job.  I was able to take some excursions on the side to see a movie and to participate in family activities. But it’s been late nights and weekends. Fortunately, unlike the games biz, this tends to be for short stretches, and not horrendous long-term death-marches.

But… as a result, it’s been tough to find time to do much, including writing blog articles. I’ve got to get a trailer done for Frayed Knights 2 in the next two weeks, and it’s going to be tight.

But – in spite of the time spent in the office – I managed to try a little bit of the new DOOM. I’ll have a quick-take in a couple of days if I can. Lots of gory skull-punching shootiness so far.

In the meantime, I leave you with one of the coolest things you’ll see this week… at least one of the coolest *I* have seen. It’s a music video for “Highway to the Danger Zone” done Star Wars style. IMO, it’s an improvement over the original, which had Kenny Loggins singing in his rumpled hotel room apparently daydreaming about flying fighter jets instead of being a couch potato in a rumpled hotel room.

 

Star Wars – Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins from Weston Wong on Vimeo.


Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: Be the First to Comment



Spring Into Books – May 28

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 12, 2016

For the Utah peeps – I’ll be at Spring Into Books event at the Viridian Event Center on May 28. I’ll also be giving a short (1/2 hour) presentation at 3:45 on “The Pulp Fiction Formula: How to Write Stories That Sell.”

Yes, believe it or not, I’m getting experience in this area.  And it’s crazy fun!

Even crazier will be the following weekend. Salt Lake Gaming Con! But hey, one thing at a time! I’ll be here, selling & signing books, and making a nuisance of myself.

SpringIntoBooks


Filed Under: Books, Events - Comments: Be the First to Comment



Mythica 3: The Necromancer Now Available

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 11, 2016

Mythica 3: The Necromancer… the best of the trilogy IMO… is now available at Wal-Marts nationwide as of… yesterday, I guess…  It’s also available digitally from Arrowstorm Entertainment.

If you haven’t seen the rest of the series, it’s well worth it. Yeah, they aren’t Star Wars or Lord of the Rings,  but are surprisingly good for low-budget indie movies. The first one is kind of the story of an archetypical D&D party with some interesting party members and one with a scary secret… she’s actually a necromancer, with little control over her deadly abilities. The second film went both darker and more epic, as Marek’s abilities proved to be both key to victory and a deadly threat to those closest to her.

This third film takes things in a bit of a grittier direction, but in the process really explores the main characters in more detail. It’s a ground-level adventure that leads to an unexpected and game-changing confrontation.  It also features more screen time with Kevin Sorbo than the previous two movies combined, but I still take exception to the marketing that says he’s “starring” in the shows.

Epic fantasy is not something that mixes well with “indie,” but I think Arrowstorm managed to pull it off. Unless the first one leaves you cold, I recommend checking out all three. The Necromancer is the best of the bunch, a strong middle chapter before moving on to the last two films.

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Filed Under: Movies - Comments: 4 Comments to Read



Civil War and the Power of Fantasy

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 10, 2016

CA_CivilWarI came out of seeing Captain America: Civil War, and I thought, “Wow. I just saw a really great movie.”

Not “great for a superhero movie,” although there is that.  I have some friends that would balk at that, though… just on the basis of it being a fantasy. Obviously, we don’t dare talk about entertainment much, or we’d have a “civil war” of our own. For them, you can’t take a fantasy movie seriously because… fantasy. Ditto for the more far-flung science fiction.

Because made-up people in imaginary situations in impossible settings are totally inferior to made-up people in imaginary situations in settings that seem more realistic to the inexpert reader, or something. That could be something I would less charitably attribute to a lack of imagination, but that’s me being a jerk. Maybe. More charitably, it’s simply that they haven’t been steeped in the fantastic their whole lives as I have been, and find it more difficult to relate. Which is perfectly reasonable… but no excuse to hold it in disdain. Another aspect could be a call back to the pulp traditions of so-called ‘genre fiction,’ which was historically tended to emphasize plot and action over characterization and thematic resonance. Point taken, although modern speculative fiction has broadened considerably with modern tastes, and the style and quality of stories that made up the bulk of the work 70 years ago would have a tough time selling in today’s marketplace.

For me, speculative fiction – even the wild stories of impossible superheroes who can throw cars around (sometimes with only their minds) – can be just as relevant, important, and as emotionally charged as the most serious of literary dramas. Maybe more so. Because speculative fiction has a super-power of its own: The power to isolate ideas from real-world prejudices, politics, and other baggage. It allows the reader to ponder viewpoints at least somewhat divorced from their own place in the real world, without thinking about how it would personally affect them.

While it’s very difficult as an American in these divided times to watch Captain America: Civil War without reflecting on one’s own political ideology, it asks some questions about freedom, responsibility, and accountability to the will of the people through the proxy of the will of the government (which, as is noted in the movie, is frequently not the same thing). Even though the movie emphasizes the title character and his own decision, it presents several viewpoints with at least somewhat equal credibility. There are far more than two sides to the argument, which the dividing line pretty complicated.

But… it’s all about an impossible situation. Heroes using fantastical powers to do what they think is right, saving lots of people… but not all. Their choices have consequences that many are unhappy about (of course). There are tons of real-life parallels, but the fantasy of the movie allows the filmmakers to create a somewhat idealized version of the situation that has no direct bearing on anything today, yet include plenty of real-world trappings to give it verisimilitude. But it allows us to look at the question in isolation and consider the fundamentals of the problem: How much individual liberty and personal responsibility should be surrendered to society for the collective good, and under what circumstances?

Even knowing that this is a metaphor for any number of real-world issues, the fantasy breaks it free from the specifics and exceptions and arguments of the real world instances, and lets the ideas stand on their own. It may be displayed under whatever light the creators choose, but as long as it is portrayed honestly in spite of bias, it’s valid and worthwhile. And, potentially, quite powerful.


Filed Under: Movies - Comments: Read the First Comment



The Void Meets Ghostbusters

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 9, 2016

If the trailer for the new reboot for a movie that didn’t need a reboot didn’t suck, I’d be a lot more excited about this. But… we’re probably just talking about the setting and technology here. And honestly… I have a tough time imagining a more perfect match than The Void and Ghostbusters.

I’d say “shut up and take my money,” but … #1) I already live close to their HQ and have already given them my money (worth every penny) for an early experience.   #2) It sounds like this will be an exclusive experience in New York, at least for the time being. So New Yorkers… now’s your chance.

Maybe… MAYBE… they’ll bring it or something like it to Utah once that theater opens to the public.

Anyway, here’s the announcement.


Filed Under: Virtual Reality - Comments: Read the First Comment



Game Development: Try it, you might like it. Or it might consume your soul.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 6, 2016

James Wymore talked recently about the difference between those who want to write novels, and those who want to have written a novel. This resonated with me both as a writer and as a game developer.

When interviewing people for positions for the game studio, there were people who I felt would do anything short of selling their soul for the chance to make games (although not always for my particular studio). Then there were those who left me with an impression that they really liked games and wanted to have their name on the credits of some famous games, but the idea of creating a video game was… just another job. (Now, a lot of times, that passion for making games was crushed by the industry itself over time. Once again, let’s hear it for indie-dom!)

But that wasn’t necessarily a determiner of whether or not they’d really be passionate about making games. It was an indicator, but no guarantee. It’s tough to tell in advance. You have to try it. In the bad ol’ days, the barriers to entry prevented people from getting even that far. While it was always possible to pick up something like that as a hobby, there was plenty to dissuade some folks from getting started.

With indie-dom, it’s easier. There are no longer quite as many barriers to getting started. And if you’ve never tried it, how will you know if it’s “in your blood?”

So for those for whom slaving away in front of a computer to make a game or write that novel over and over again for little promise of any kind of compensation isn’t a passion or addition, but do put in that effort to give it a try so they can “have done that” once… There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you’ve done it once and called it good… congratulations, and I salute you.

For others who haven’t tried it… getting started is the tough part. Where do you begin? There are lots of resources out there, but it can be pretty bewildering at first. If you think it’s something you’ve got a passion for, though, I would recommend trying it. Start small. Tiny. And then, grow. If it’s really something you’ve got a passion for, just seeing the pixels move around on your simple little game will be a thrill. It may not be as big a thrill later on, but you’ll still get a sample of that feeling.

When I was a kid, I loved going to the arcades or checking out new games on my friend’s Atari. But while I loved the games on their own, part of my fascination was a desire to go home, turn on my Commodore 64, and create something like that (only better!). That passion never left.

Just be warned. It can consume your soul. 🙂


Filed Under: Game Development, Writing - Comments: Read the First Comment



The Thief and the Chalice (Frayed Knights Fiction) Part 4

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 5, 2016

This is conclusion of a four-part short story of one of Dirk’s adventures shortly before he met Chloe and Arianna and formed the Frayed Knights.  If you haven’t read them yet, I suggest you start back at The Thief and the Chalice, Part 1

Enjoy! Let me know how you like the conclusion!

The Thief and the Chalice, Part 4
by Jay Barnson

The baron emerged at the top of the stairs, the skeletal guardian following behind him. The guardian held its sword in one hand, and the chalice in the other. The pearls had lost their red glow to return to their original white luster. The chalice clearly had no effect on the undead.

If anything, the baron seemed stronger and healthier than he had several minutes earlier. The patch of gray on his temple and at the tips of his mustache had disappeared. He chuckled. “It’s the one with the questions. I hadn’t expected you to survive.”

Dirk held the dagger casually. “Baron Hargrave, remember how you promised us that one of us would go free?”

“Ah, but it was for the one who handed me the chalice. That was my faithful slave, here.” Unnoticed by the baron, the guardian’s sword flared a brighter red for a moment. The baron continued. “It doesn’t matter. I lied. These days, I need to drink a life about every two to three weeks to maintain my youth and vigor. It should hold your life force for that long if I drain you now.”

The guardian sheathed its sword, and then advanced towards Dirk. He backed away towards the wall, frantically searching for another exit. The staircase, blocked by the baron, was the only escape.

As the guardian drew near, Dirk attacked. He kicked at the chalice, trusting his boot would protect him from its life-draining power. The chalice flew out of the guardian’s hand, ringing as it spun in the air like a clunky silver bell. The baron’s face was stricken with horror as the chalice flipped end over end.

The cup’s vertical trajectory didn’t take it far, but as it landed with a hollow metallic thud, Dirk was ready. He kicked it again, launching it directly at the baron’s shocked expression. The baron caught it reflexively.

Elated, Dirk waited for the chalice to work its terrible magic.

Nothing happened.

The baron laughed. “You thought the chalice would destroy me? It’s my chalice, you pathetic fool. Or haven’t you figured it out yet?” Casually, he lowered the chalice to his side. “I am Sontex, the sorcerer. And that creature,” he motioned to the skeletal guardian, “is all that is left of the real baron. He came to me wanting the secret to living forever. He never realized he was going to be an ingredient.”

The red in the guardian’s eyes flared like the sword.

Sontex continued. “I cast a spell to transform me into his twin, and I’ve lived his life over a year now. It is so much easier to acquire subjects for my chalice now. In fact, I’ve changed my mind. I think I’ll enjoy seeing the baron’s corpse choke you to death instead. Hargrave, kill him.”

Dirk was quick with the dagger. It penetrated the creature’s emaciated neck–one of the few unarmored points of attack–before the monster grabbed his hand. There was no blood from its neck, nor even a flinch of pain. Dirk tried to twist the dagger as the creature slowly pushed his arm back. The dagger tip had caught on something, however. It was the thin chain to the amulet around its neck, marked with the “control” rune.

Dirk twisted the blade to catch the chain along the edge as his hand was forced back. The creature pushed back, adding its own strength to Dirk’s to pull the chain taught. As the creature’s other hand reached Dirk’s throat and began to squeeze, the chain snapped, and the amulet dropped to the floor.

The guardian instantly released Dirk, the red sparks in its eye sockets blazing. Turning to the wizard, it drew the sword. The blade illuminated the room in a brilliant scarlet glow. The undead creature struck with surprising speed, and the sorcerer instinctively held up the chalice as a shield. The blow knocked the cup from his hands, and the guardian continued its relentless attack on the chalice, rather than the man.

“No!” Sontex screamed, but the chalice was already snapped at the stem. Three successive blows with the glowing blade tore through the soft metal of the cup. On the fourth blow, the creature staggered, but split the bowl of the chalice still further. It raised its blade for a fifth strike, but staggered backwards and collapsed onto the floor.

Sontex fell to his knees. He no longer looked like the baron. His youthful hair bleached white, and his skin lost its tone and shriveled. The sorcerer’s eyes sank into his skull. He took one final breath before collapsing to the floor, his body imploding around his skeletal structure.

Dirk nudged the guardian’s armor with his boot. The corpse rocked lifelessly. Dirk sighed with relief, and then slumped his shoulders as the realization struck him: Nobody would believe this story.

Two hours later, when the guards finally came to find out what had happened to the baron, Dirk hid from them by pretending to be yet another dead body on the second floor. Just before he exited the tower, he took amusement at the distant sounds of chaos on the fourth floor, as the guards discovered the viper.

Days later, he sold the guardian’s blade–which never even flickered in his hands–to a fence in North Umberland. The fence raised an eyebrow as he offered Dirk a hundred and thirty gold coins for it. “This is an exceptional blade. I take it that it once belonged to a nobleman?”

Dirk nodded with enthusiasm. “I took it from his dead corpse seconds after he tried to kill me.”

The fence snorted. “Right, as if I’d believe that.”

 

The End.

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Filed Under: Frayed Knights, Short Fiction - Comments: 8 Comments to Read



The Thief and the Chalice (Frayed Knights Fiction), Part 3

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 4, 2016

This is part three of a four-part short story of one of Dirk’s adventures shortly before he met Chloe and Arianna and formed the Frayed Knights.  Parts 4 will be posted tomorrow. If you haven’t read them already,  start at Part 1:

The Thief and the Chalice, Part 1

 

The Thief and the Chalice, Part 3
by Jay Barnson

Dirk stood up. There was no point in trying to stay hidden anymore, and standing made it easier to run. He didn’t know how to fight an armor-plated undead thing that might not even be killable. If he could dodge and outrun the creature, perhaps he might find something on the upper floors that would give him some ideas.

First, he had to get past the creature. When all else fails, bluff like a madwoman, his mentor had always told him. His mentor, Samantha the Lame, didn’t bother altering the gender of her personal advice for his benefit. It surprised Dirk how often that advice paid off. Not that it was likely to work on an undead guardian, but in cases like this, it was best to seize the initiative. A bad idea was better than none.

“Hi there. We’re looking for your master, the sorcerer Sontex. Is he upstairs?”

The sword flared again, an even darker shade of red. The sudden light illuminated an amulet draped across the thing’s shriveled neck. Dirk couldn’t get a better look at it before the light faded and the guardian strode towards him. If the creature understood him, it didn’t like what he said.

As it stepped away from the pedestal, Taigan seized the chalice, and began screaming. The white pearls radiated crimson, a shade not too different from the sword, and all color fled from Taigan’s hair and skin. His eyes sank back into his head and his skin shriveled, bathed in the crimson glow.

Dirk leaped behind shelves as the guardian attacked. It didn’t move quickly, but it attacked like a trained swordsman, with more speed than Dirk had assumed. Dirk dodged and weaved behind furniture, but there weren’t many places to flee. He vaulted a table and raced past the pedestal. On the floor, Taigan’s shriveled corpse still clutched the glowing red chalice. Dirk gave it a wide berth. Only once he’d mounted the stairs did he dare to look back. The guardian halted at Taigan’s corpse. Dirk silently thanked whichever gods were responsible for extending his lead as he dashed up the stairs.

The next level, like the second floor, was littered with bones and skeletons. The scattered garments, sometimes loosely hanging from skeletal bones, seemed far less aged than the skeletons they were draped over.

What had Taigan said on the cart? The guards had arrested half the thieves in the city over the last year? Was this where they’d been taken, to be sacrificed to the chalice?

Dirk raced to the next set of stairs, expecting to hear the heavy armored footfalls of the guardian behind him at any moment. At some point, he might find a window or trap door large enough to make an egress… assuming he learned to fly in the meantime.

The next floor was a laboratory. Equipment and ingredients of all kinds filled shelves and tables. Tools, fasteners, and bits of wire sat in neat stacks organized by some unfathomable scheme. Dusty tomes sat open on the tables, and papers were fastened to the walls by spring-loaded clips. One of the papers caught his attention. It held a drawing of the amulet adorning the guardian’s neck, accompanied by writing. Dirk was proud of his literacy, but the words were of an arcane script that only sorcerers fully understood. He recognized a few runes, including a frequently-appearing one that Dirk recognized that meant “control.”

Other papers and open book pages held runes for “life”, “death,” “mirror,” “destruction,” and “sacrifice.” Three out of five were runes he’d taught himself to avoid. He was disappointed that none of the open writings contained the rune for “sex,” the first rune he’d learned as a boy. It had amused him endlessly that the mighty sorcerers still talked about sex in their arcane, supernatural writings.

A locked metal box sat on a desk. Finding a thin metal pin and a tiny mounting bracket to serve as lock picks, Dirk set to work. The lock popped open in seconds, and he opened the box.

The viper within hissed at him and pulled back, ready to strike.

A number of thoughts flashed through Dirk’s mind at this moment, such as how the viper had managed to stay alive within the case, but chief among these was how to avoid getting bit by the venomous creature, and how to get the shiny dagger underneath it.

Dirk waved his free hand in front of the snake. The serpent struck. At that moment, Dirk yanked his hand away while slamming the lid back down, pinning the snake inches behind its head. Maintaining pressure on the lid, he reached around with his free hand and took a firm grip on the serpent behind the head, and pulled it free of the case.

Holding it away from him with one hand, he reached back into the container and retrieved the dagger with the other, shaking it  free of its sheath.  The straight blade was smaller and thinner than he hoped, but etched with runes and held a keen edge on both sides. Was it an enchanted blade, or just used in ceremonies? Either way, he had a weapon.

He considered killing the snake, but he couldn’t help but feel bad for it. It was just a prisoner here, as was he… with a significant and confusing difference in that someone was still feeding and caring for it. That didn’t sound like a duty for the skeletal guardian.

With his best underhand throw, Dirk slung the creature down the stairs. It could find plenty of places to hide among the dead bodies. It landed with a thump, and slithered away.

The noise attracted attention. From two floors below, he heard the voice of the baron. “Someone’s upstairs. It sounds like one of our guests is still alive. Let’s remedy that.”

[ Concluded in Part 4! ]

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Filed Under: Frayed Knights, Short Fiction - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



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