Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Real-Life Giant Mecha Battle… TONIGHT

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 17, 2017

The duel between the two piloted giant robot companies was more than a year overdue. But finally, in an abandoned steel mill in Japan, the battle was joined. Unfortunately, citing safety concerns, they couldn’t do it in front of a large, live audience. When mechas are shooting projectiles capable of doing damage to several tons of machinery,  you probably don’t want bleachers of spectators on the other side.

But… tonight the battle is televised. The outcome has been kept secret. But what has been revealed / implied is that:

#1 – There are some competitive “rodeo” type events first, as the giant mecha show what they can do in real life. Cool guided missiles are probably not part of this.

#2 – The Megabots team spent a bunch of time making sure their cockpit could survive a hit from a projectile weapon. So hopefully this means there’s a phase where the mechs shoot at each other.

#3 – Melee combat is a required part of the combat. And in the teaser, Suidobashi’s “Kuratas” mecha cracks the canopy glass of the Megabots’ Eagle Prime with a blow. Heh, heh… 🙂

#4 – Nobody died. That’s a good thing.

Information on how to watch this:

Watch as MegaBots, Inc. (team USA) and Suidobashi Heavy Industry (team Japan) go head-to-head in the world’s first Giant Robot Duel, 2 years in the making! Watch as internally-piloted robots that weigh up to 12 tons, stand 16 feet tall, and cost upwards of $2.5M each go HEAD-TO-HEAD in an epic battle straight out of science fiction.

The battle will be broadcast on the official MegaBots Twitch channel (http://twitch.tv/megabotsinc), starting at 7PM Pacific Time on October 17th, 2017, and will be posted to Facebook and YouTube immediately afterwards.

I’ll be watching this. I’ve been waiting for something like this since I saw my first episode of Robotech, or played my first game of Battletech. 🙂

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Writing: Word Count and Why Does It Matter?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 13, 2017

When you are talking about works of fiction, authors and editors often refer to word count. Why does the number of words matter? As a reader, I really don’t care. I’m not counting.

Naturally, when you are taking things to print, page count matters, because that directly impacts the cost of production. In the digital book world, it’s a little fuzzier, but it’s still a thing. As a reader, that impacts me as well, especially when I’m deciding between diving into a massive Brandon Sanderson tome or a thin little indie urban fantasy. A word count can be a proxy for page count (somewhere around 300 words to the page), although that’s nuanced as well. As David Farland has explained on a few occasions, from a publisher’s or typesetter’s perspective a character count is a far more useful metric. For estimating page count, they assume a “word” is six character spaces (often five letters plus a space). While I won’t argue with him, I think that the ease of obtaining the word count from word processing software is making the “incorrect” method more popular among newer editors and publishers.

Many editors charge by the word. This is a useful proxy for the amount of work that is necessary, although again… not all words are created equal, not all editing jobs are equal. Some authors may need more work done on 10,000 words than others would need in 30,000.

Back in the pulp days, things got pretty loose for a while in definitions. The magazines advertised novels, novellas, novelettes (with several different spellings of the word), serial novels, and short stories (not to mention poetry) without clear-cut definitions about what constituted what. I’ve read “novels” contained in old pulps that were probably not much more than 10,000 words. While there’s still not a clear-cut definition, many places use the definitions established by the SFWA, which they use for the purpose of awards categorization. Their definitions are:

  • Up to 7500 words: Short Story
  • 7500 – 17,499 words: Novelette
  • 17,500 – 39,999 words: Novella
  • 40,000 words or more: Novel

That’s all well and good for the purpose of award categories. In modern practice, novelettes and novellas tend to be harder sells than they were back in the pulp era. So it’s tougher to get them published, but on the plus side, there’s less competition for those award categories!

However, this isn’t just categorization for the sake of awards. The size will also impact how the story is structured, number of major characters, subplots, try/fail cycles, etc. Obviously (I hope), a short story isn’t just a really condensed novel. A novella and a novelette aren’t quite such different beasts (especially if you are talking about a long novelette and a short novella), but those sizes will impact the kind of stories that get told.

It doesn’t end there. The SFWA designations were kind of a product of the mid-20th century publishing industry, but things are changing all the time. Flash fiction has enjoyed a huge increase in popularity, carving out a niche for itself at the bottom of the short story range. NaNoWriMo has established 50,000 words as their size for a novel (“about the length of The Great Gatsby“). I’ve often seen 8000 words as the upper limit for a short story. So we can add a few more categories here:

  • 100 words (or less): Microfiction
  • 101 words  – 1000 words: Flash Fiction
  • 110,000+ words: Epic novel

For most competitions or open fiction calls, the submission guidelines rule the word count. If they say, “We want short stories of up to 5000 words,” then a 7400-word story is going to have a tough time even getting looked at, let alone accepted, even though it’s still technically a “short story.” However, some submission guidelines are a bit more loose. They may express a preference, or suggest that there’s less room for larger works like novellas. And while they might not be looking for flash fiction or really short stories (like in the 2500-word range), maybe an editor is coming in a tiny bit short one month, and that 2500 word story is exactly what they need.

For invitations to anthologies, it may also be pretty loose. An editor may say they are interested in flash fiction or short stories, or say they’d be open to something novelette-sized. In the latter case, if I have found myself threatening to go over the suggested word count in spite of my best efforts, I may talk to the editor (since it was an invitation) and see if it’s okay. Even if they aren’t paying you by the word, they may have page counts they have to work within, and you do NOT want to surprise them with something twice the size that they expected. That does not lead to happiness or repeat invitations.

And speaking of expectations, when you start getting into novels, the audiences have different expectations for approximate size, too. Genre and age category makes a huge difference. A novel for middle-grade readers might actually be less than 40,000 words, and that’s okay. But try and sell a 40,000 word novel to an adult Epic Fantasy audience, and they are likely to feel ripped off. Anything less than 100,000 words might feel too small for them. Reedsy has a good post about this on their blog, called How Many Words in a Novel?

If you are a first-time author submitting a novel to publisher, your best bet is to stay inside the size guidelines for your audience and genre. If you are an established author or an indie self-publishing your novel, then there will probably be a bit more flexibility. It’s still not wise to go too far outside the bounds unless you are taking your established audience with you. J K Rowling could only have made Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at over 250,000 words because she’d sold a zillion copies of Harry Potter and the Philosophers (Sorcerer’s) Stone at under 80,000 words. It probably didn’t hurt that she ramped up the word count on the intervening books leading to Order of the Phoenix, too.

Editing costs, print costs, audience and publisher expectations, the kind of story being told, publication plans (and pricing), genre, and audience expectations are all factors to be considered when answering the question of “how big should this story be?” And the answer is usually measured in word count. It’s fuzzy, and there are no perfect answers. The industry is changing constantly, which means the best answer today might be the worst answer tomorrow.

At least it’s not boring.

(Incidentally, this blog post is nearly 1100 words long, including this sentence).

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Burning Bright by Melissa McShane Wins the Diamond Quill Award

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 12, 2017

A little over a year ago, I reviewed Burning Bright by Melissa McShane. This is still (so far) my favorite book by her, although there are two more books in the series (Wondering Sight and Abounding Might) which are near the top of my very large To Read pile.

The best way to describe the book (the series, really) is a Regency Superhero story. The cover for this one is especially amusing because it’s not exactly subtle, but at first glance at a thumbnail you might think, “Regency Romance.” Truth be told, it has that element. But… if you note that the ship is on fire, and she’s got flames encircling her hand, then you might get a better idea of what the story is really about. It’s adventure on the high seas with pirates and super-powered heroes and villains changing the nature of the conflict. Wild and fun stuff!

Anyway, I’m pleased to note that I am not alone in gushing over the book. It’s proven to be a big seller on Amazon, has garnered over 250 overwhelmingly positive reviews, has been featured in a book bundle, and has otherwise proven that my tastes aren’t that weird after all. Last weekend, at the Fall Conference for the League of Utah Writers (now to be officially rebranded as the “Quills Conference” to recognize its more regional / national growth and the awards), Burning Bright won the Diamond Quill award. That is the highest honor of the Quill / LUW awards, awarded to the best book in all categories. There are some seriously talented, award-winning authors who compete for these awards, so this is quite an honor.

Anyway, I wanted to publicly offer a big congratulations to Melissa on the well-deserved award, and remind people that if you find yourself in the mood for some alternate-history Regency era action and adventure with superpowers and a touch of romance… well, Melissa is owning that category. Check these books out!

Filed Under: Books - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Quick Take: VR Dungeon Knight

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 11, 2017

I saw a game pop up on my list called “VR Dungeon Knight.” I was tempted to ignore it, because it was still early access. But the more I read, the more I realized that it could have been subtitled, “A Game Made for Jay Barnson.” A VR dungeon crawl with procedurally-generated levels? With cooperative multiplayer? Oh, my…

My first impressions in the tutorial weren’t all that exciting. It was kind of silly, actually. I accidentally dropped my weapon on the ground. I didn’t know what purpose climbing vines would be (still don’t, actually).

My first impressions once I passed the tutorial were MUCH better. I mean, it’s VR. You are frickin’ *IN* a dungeon, exploring and fighting monsters!!! And you could do it with friends in cooperative multiplayer! Wow! This is the game I’ve waited for since my very first D&D game on my 12th birthday.  The dungeon was a little cartoony, but creepy. The darkness down the hall was… very dark. Then I saw the two little dots appear in the darkness, and realized they were the eyes of the creature reflecting the light near where I stood. It charged. I fired at it with my flintlock pistol, then swung at it with my sword, killing it. Another orc charged forward, and I desperately shot and stabbed. It, too, fell to my weapons. I explored a bit more, but then I had to call it a night.

My second impressions–actually being able to complete a dungeon–are a little more tempered. I discovered the hall where you could pay to become a class, which gives you bonuses of various kinds. That seems cool. I don’t have a very large play area in my office, so I generally do stand-in-place playing, but I was able to get around fine. I mostly used teleportation to get around (which works well). I still get a little sick using the locomotion system, but with only occasional use I was still able to play for full session.

The exploration covers the basics… wander around a dungeon, find the keys that let you progress, kill the monsters, occasionally find little treasures. The treasure system works a little differently. While you can find things to pick up and use during play, the main reward seems to be a bunch of random weapon upgrades that you unlock. I’m still not sure what leveling up actually MEANS when that happens in the dungeon, but it does happen.

The procedural level generation includes vertical elements (yay!), but it is somewhat limited in the use of room templates. That’s expanding regularly, at least. Hey, I put up with it back in the Daggerfall days just fine… 🙂  I would prefer more interactive elements inside the dungeons… while just moving around and killing monsters and picking up the (rare) key or grabbing treasure is cool, I would love to see more interactions. And, well… no load times between rooms.

But while my list of preferences could go on forever, I’m still having fun delving through dungeons and smacking orcs around in VR.

There is a ton of potential here, and the game is still in early access (yes, I know. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from some “early access” games, and these days that seems like the only kind of new indie games). So… YMMV, and I am looking forward to playing some more and seeing how it evolves. This is still largely a solo indie project here, so I don’t expect massive updates to happen quickly. But while it might be far from perfect, it’s still an example of what I wanted from VR in the first place.

Filed Under: Impressions, Virtual Reality - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Here comes another new pulp-style magazine!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 10, 2017

What? Another pulp-style magazine is starting up? I’m giddy!

Tales from the Magician’s Skull (a magazine of all new swords & sorcery fiction in the classic pulp style)

The first issue already has content. I have zero involvement–I learned about this the first day of its campaign. It’s being produced by Goodman Games, a role-playing game company known for classic play style. Yeah, I know, a game company going into fiction… it’s unheard of… 🙂 They are even including sections at the end of each story translating elements into game terms.

The first few updates have illustrated their cred and their sources, and I have to say… I approve. They seem to be inspired by the same stories that inspire me, and more. I wasn’t familiar with Harold Lamb, a predecessor to Robert E. Howard, with a sample of his writing. I like it. Goodman Games has been at this for about 16 years, so I’m personally not too worried about their ability to deliver. It looks like the first issue is almost ready to go, and scheduled for the end of the near, and the next issue will be out in the summer. As always, with crowdfunding, your mileage and risk tolerance may vary. I’m just excited that the whole “pulp aesthetic” thing continues to gain traction.

This is the kind of fiction that excites me. Action, adventure, optimism, clarity, and an emphasis on entertainment. I’m excited to see their take on things.

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Reminder: League of Utah Writers Fall Conference and VR Presentation

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 5, 2017

At the League of Utah Writers Fall Conference tomorrow, I’ll be co-presenting an “ask the expert” class on Virtual Reality. This class will be in rooms 023/025 at 1:00 in the afternoon. There is still time to register, and it’s FREE on Friday. So… yay!

The full conference (including Saturday and the awards banquet Saturday night) costs a bit more, but it’s worth it. The presenters are often working-class authors with expertise in their fields and current with the modern trends and issues. There’ll be other expert classes on portraying horses, courtroom scenes, explosives, and archery authentically without embarrassing yourself. There’ll be craft classes teaching different aspects of writing. There’ll be plenty of classes on the business of writing, including things like finding the right agent, marketing, professionalism, and so forth. There are classes that will teach you how to better use certain tools (like Scrivener) or how to take advantage of other resources available to you as a writer. Want to know how to get your book into the public library system? A veteran of the public library system (and author) will offer a presentation on that.

Other cool resources include publishers taking in-person pitches for books, and free manuscript evaluations by editors. The latter is more of a “sampler” experience so you can try out editing services and see if they’d be a good match for you.

I had a tiny bit of a dry run this week with a presentation on game development to youth. That was a lot of fun, and there were several questions about Virtual Reality. Almost all of them had enjoyed some kind of VR experience, so these weren’t all beginner questions. But what I do expect to be a common theme is how close we are to Ready Player One, Sword Art Online, etc. (I keep feeling disappointed that nobody else seems to have read the Dream Park series.) Those really are good questions, and the answers (plural) are not simple.

Anyway – for those who are coming – I’ll see you there!

Filed Under: Events, Virtual Reality, Writing - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Rocksmith: Don’t Fear the… 1100 Songs!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 3, 2017

When I was a teenager and first started learning guitar (back in the ancient Days of Shred), we didn’t normally have access to the Internet. The geekiest of us had modems and access to Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) that *might* carry certain USENet discussions. I bought songbooks the old-fashioned way, in paper form, with 30 to 100 often poorly-transcribed songs. (And by poorly transcribed, I mean that your average text-based TAB you find on the Internet is more accurate.)

It didn’t matter that the songbooks were poor… I never got very good anyway. I still have a lot of those books gathering dust on my bookshelf. I can’t bring myself to toss them, but … yeesh… am I really ever going to learn to play Black Star by Yngwie Malmsteen? It’s been 30 years, for crying out loud…

When Rocksmith 2014 (now Rocksmith Remastered) came out, I committed to playing at least a few minutes every single day. I figured it was my last chance to actually become competent with the instrument. Much to my delight, it worked. Not that I’m ever going to be a rock star or anything. I just wanted to be able to play something fun and recognizable, and I prefer rock. It’s been a lot of fun, and I finally broke waaaay past that plateau I’d been on for nearly three decades. Funny how regular practice can do that. Rocksmith made it a lot easier. Unfortunately, crunch mode on the day job (and a focus on writing in my very limited “free time”) broke that really good habit of mine.  Fortunately, that crunch has ended, and I’m set on reestablishing some good habits for a normal life.

I haven’t quite gotten back to playing Rocksmith on a daily basis yet. I’m back up to once every two or three days, which is an improvement, but I want to get back to making it a daily habit. For most of us, Rocksmith has been a digital equivalent of those old songbooks. Since I’m getting back into it now, I took a little bit of an inventory. Between Rocksmith 1 (if you own it for your platform and bought the import / license tool to move the old songs over) and Rocksmith Remastered, there are something like 117 base and bonus songs, and nearly 1000 DLC songs. This means more than 1100 songs, averaging three different tracks (rhythm, lead, and bass… plus some alternates, minus some parts that don’t exist for every song) for each. That is a LOT of music to pick from, and to learn.

Now that I’m easing back into it, I’m reviewing my grand total of 544 owned songs that I’ve accumulated over five years. Even given that much of the DLC was purchased at a 40% discount on a pack for something like a buck-and-a-half per song, I could have easily bought a couple of decent guitars with the amount I spent on this game. I did buy a bass, which I rarely play. Sadly, they still don’t have some of my favorite groups represented, like Van Halen, ZZ Top, Dire Straits, Journey, Led Zeppelin, DragonForce, Metallica, Black Sabbath / Ozzy Osbourne, or Yngwie Malmsteen. Some of these (especially Led Zeppelin) will probably never, ever be available. Maybe the license-holder isn’t at all interested, or not interested for a reasonable price, or are tied into a music game exclusive with another game, or… whatever. That’s just how it goes.

But… still… over 500 songs (and 1500 arrangements!) is a lot. These run the spectrum between extremely easy (My Girl, Blitzkrieg Bop, All the Small Things, Next Girl) to a bunch of songs that I doubt I’ll master in my lifetime (  Cult of Personality, Cliffs of Dover, Play With Me, Hangar 18, Death Mental, Satch Boogie, Surfing With the Alien, Metropolis, and For the Love of God ). I could, of course, if I devoted myself. I mean, little Audrey Shida went from worse than me to being able to wail on a couple of those songs in a live band in the course of five years, just through playing Rocksmith and a few helpful tips. But I’m increasingly aware that between the day job, indie game development, and writing, my time for other hobbies and pursuits is woefully limited.

Which means… time to focus. Having nearly 550 songs to choose from is awesome, but I’ve found that my best results come from focusing on a particular song or two and really mastering them. Often I’ll find myself hitting a plateau in one song, leaving it alone for a few weeks while I master something else, and when I come back to it I’ll be able to shoot past my previous best on my first try. This stuff works! So… I guess I’m gonna publicly challenge myself here. For me, I feel like I’ve got a song down when I exceed 98% mastery. That allows for a few mistakes and I’ve not committed it to memory yet, but I feel like I can play it.

I actually wrote part of this post over a week ago, and I’ve finished up this week. I was going to go for a week-sauce challenge with the song “Hip to Be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News, which was just released a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I’m a child of the 80s. However, while it’s not one of the easiest songs in the library, it is on the easy end of the spectrum (at least for me). So between starting this post and ending it, I have already hit almost 99% mastery on it in about a dozen plays. OOPS. I’m pleased to have another song move from my “learn” list to my “review” list, but in retrospect, it wasn’t something to really challenge myself with.

As it’s now October, I want to challenge myself and learn to play something appropriate for the season. By the end of the month, I will be able to play Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult, alternate lead (this one has some of the really fun riffs in it… although I would like to learn the lead solo from the main lead arrangement as well).  Here’s the main lead arrangements (good videos of the alternate lead are hard to find… ):

This is a song I tinkered with a little several years ago, but it was a little beyond me. I haven’t touched it since. So… this month, I remedy that. I think it’s within my capabilities now.  Wish me luck!


Filed Under: Guitar Games - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

For my next trick: League of Utah Writers Fall Conference… Virtual Reality Class

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 28, 2017

Now that Salt Lake Comic Con 2017 is in the rear-view mirror, we’ve got the League of Utah Writers Fall Conference coming up. If you are interested, you can sign up here:

League of Utah Writers Fall Conference 2017

This is a two-day conference, but for the first time ever, the first day (Friday) can be attended FOR FREE! You will need to get a ticket, but the ticket price for the first day is $0. Saturday will cost more, and of course there’s a really cool banquet on Saturday Night that’s very worthwhile to attend, complete with awards and a keynote address and some amazing stuff. Also, this year we have two special guests – Kevin J. Anderson and J. H. Moncrieff!

This is a conference for professional development as a writer, from the basics of learning the craft, to specific topics of interest, to business and marketing, you name it. It’s a fantastic place to network and get to know other writers across multiple disciplines – from journalists and non-fiction writers, to the hardcore literary fiction folks, to us weirdos who write pulpy speculative fiction. I have a bias towards the latter, but respect for all of them.

If you are in Utah and are an aspiring or developing writer, you absolutely should come to the conference. Do what you can to take Friday off and come for free, if you can swing it. I learn a bit each time, and I get inspired. Anything that lights a fire under my butt is worthwhile.

My specific contribution this time around will be a glorious melding of interests. The presentation is entitled, “The Matrix is Here: The Reality of Virtual Reality.” John Olsen and I will talk about virtual reality – past, present, and future – with an eye towards dealing with it in written literature (mainly fiction) in a believable fashion now that it’s a thing with which people are slowly gaining familiarity. It’s wild, it’s fun, and it’s got a TON of game-changing potential in the near future. Want examples? A sneak preview? Here you go:

Are you creating a mystery / courtroom drama? One of the uses for VR now is to improve visualization of a crime scene. VR is vastly improving the ability to understand scale and distance, something images and photos projected in a 2D surface don’t do well. Could we see juries visiting the crime scene in VR? Some companies are already working on it.

Can VR be used to treat emotional or even physical disorders? (Short answer, yes and yes, and it’s already being done.)

As someone who suffers from VR sickness pretty easily, I’ll of course be talking about the causes of VR sickness (as far as we know), and how the reality hasn’t matched our expectations because the human brain and body are a good deal more complicated and interesting than we sometimes give them credit for.

What kind of improvements in VR technology can we expect in the next 5 years? 10 years? 20?

We are teaching the class on Friday at 1:00 PM, so it’ll be possible to attend on the free ticket. 🙂  Hopefully I’ll see you there!


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Salt Lake Comic Con 2017 – Thoughts

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 26, 2017

Another year’s Salt Lake Comic Con came to a close, and I still haven’t become rich and famous and become a special invited guest. Go figure! 🙂 But I did manage to have a pretty good time. My legs will forgive me eventually. Our booth was a little crowded with authors, and we still haven’t quite gotten the hang of the whole book-pushing thing. Someday. At least this time, we had a nice, thick rug beneath us. That helped. You don’t think it will, especially with soft rubbery soles, but OH MY GOODNESS does it make a difference after 8-10 hours of standing.

Aside from manning the booth, I attended a handful of panels, did some shopping for gifts, visited with a lot of friends and colleagues, and enjoyed watching all the awesome cosplayers. As far as celebrities, I saw Dick Van Dyke and Zachary Levi. Both of them were highly entertaining. Dick Van Dyke is 91 years old, hard of hearing, but still awesome.

I attended a panel on writing Urban Fantasy with Jodi Lynn Nye, Tad Williams, Julie Frost, Cheree Alsop, and a couple other authors I’m not as familiar with. I enjoyed the discussion a great deal, even if it didn’t necessarily go into depth. Williams in particular made a point at the beginning about how “Urban Fantasy” is a category created by marketers, not authors, and one should never worry too much about what is “allowed” within a subgenre. Another panel, on writing Star Wars books, included Michael Stackpole and others who had written official stories in the Star Wars universe. It provided some interesting insight into working with a licensed property, particularly one that fans are rabid about. Jim Butcher had a Q&A session which was really fun. At least half the questions were about the Dresden Files.

One event was a book launch for Johnny Worthen’s new thriller, “What Immortal Hand.” The publisher (Omnium Gatherum) graciously shared the last half of the hour with us to launch Lynn Worthen’s (no relation) new desert-based speculative fiction anthology, “Mirages and Speculations.” Johnny Worthen is one of the authors. As am I. I don’t think I can compare my stories to Johnny’s beautiful – almost lyrical – style. In fact I really don’t want to. He’s a great writer. But that’s what the book is about… a cross-section of different kinds of speculative fiction, by authors with many different styles. It’s great stuff, and worth checking out.

On Friday night, we got together with friends and had a great dinner. I met a few new people there, including professional mermaids. After the conference Saturday, we got together with yet more friends for another dinner at a local pizzeria that I’d never tried (Rusty Sun Pizzeria). The calzone was excellent… I definitely want to go there again. 🙂

One particularly cool opportunity came when I received a visit from Adamantyr, who has been here at this blog almost as long as I have. Darius Ouderkirk, another regular around here and a fellow game developer, also dropped by. I loved having so many friends drop by. Sadly, I know at least one person came by when I wasn’t there. Hopefully I didn’t miss too many people.

And then, just like that, the party was over. Le Sigh. At least until FanX, usually in the spring. I guess in theory, I could be going to Snake River Comic Con this weekend. I was more than a little tempted. But alas, the real world waits for nobody, and I am loaded down with Stuff to Get Done.

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StoryHack #1 is out – and it’s awesome!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 25, 2017

I’ll have a report on Salt Lake Comic Con 2017 later. But for today… I have bigger news:

StoryHack #1 is out. You can get the Kindle Version here.

You can also get the ePub version from Kobo, if you prefer that, and the Nook version at Barnes & Noble.  I imagine there will be versions on Smashwords and other locations soon, but that’s what’s out now. The print version is due later this week. I already pre-ordered a print copy, but I would want to own the print version for the cover alone. Actually, I think I want a print of this cover. The artist gets it. He understands pulp.

This one also features illustrations for each story. This is ridiculously awesome, and a common element in the classic pulp magazines. StoryHack Issue #0 was a good prelude, a proof-of-concept and test run. They’ve upped the ante with Issue #1. I haven’t read all of the stories yet (it’s been a busy week), but there’s once again a variety of action and adventure stories. Most have a speculative element, but not all. That’s one thing that differentiates it from, say, Cirsova (which is also excellent).

My story is entitled, “Retrieving Abe,” and is set in the “weird west” circa the mid 1880s. When a dragon abducts her husband from the tiny village of Shiblon in the Utah Territory, Lydia–the daughter of a dragon hunter–is the only one who can rescue him. But retrieving her husband may involve trading her life for his, and dragons are notoriously tricky creatures.



John Olsen has a story called “The Protector of Newington” about a steampunk superhero in London, and the one-legged Moroccan inventor who  builds the steam-powered armored suits. Julie Frost’s “Brave Day Sunk in Hideous Night” involves a werewolf PI with severe PTSD and a time-traveling vehicle that isn’t exactly a DeLorean. A young man with a possessed gun that can’t miss comes into conflict with an aging gunslinger who cannot be hit in David West’s “Under the Gun.” Mike Adamson’s “Circus to Boulogne” tells of a pilot shot down and evading capture behind enemy lines in World War II. In Jon Del Arroz’s story, “Taking Control,” an aging criminal in the old west may find herself with one last chance at a big heist courtesy of a salve from a Cheyenne medicine man. Something is causing wealthy men to suddenly give up their fortunes and commit suicide in “Dream Master” by Gene Moyers. Martians kidnap Becker’s blind date in “Some Things Missing in her Profile” by David Skinner. In “The Price of Hunger” by Kevyn Winkless, a man desperately flees through the winter woods, pursued by the Wendigo. And in the cover story “New Rules for Rocket Nauts” by Michael DeCarolis, a washed-out Rocket Naut cadet finds himself holding the line against an alien invasion.

If you’d prefer the paperback version, I can’t blame you. Watch this space and I’ll let you know when its available… probably later this week. Otherwise, the links above will get you the digital version of your choice for very inexpensive quality entertainment. There’s a lot of good storytelling to be found here, so I hope you’ll enjoy it!

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

Salt Lake Comic Con 2017, Here I Come

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 19, 2017

From Thursday through Saturday, I’ll be at Salt Lake Comic Con. My home base will be Booth 639. This is the Xchyler / Utah Authors table, and it’s going to be overflowing with books. I will have a small but not insubstantial contribution to the library, including paper copies of Mirages & Speculations, StoryHack 0, and Cirsova 4 and 5. Unfortunately, the latest edition of StoryHack isn’t out yet, and I was unable to get copies of Altered States 2, so I won’t have those. I may have a limited copies of my Xchyler anthologies available as well. I’ll be there to sign just about anything non-legally binding, as if I were a famous person.

As usual, it’ll be a blast. I’ll probably be at the booth about half the time, along with several other authors. Many but not all will have published stuff through Xchyler. Scott Tarbet will be there with his newest techno-thriller, Dragon Moon.  John Olsen will have preview copies of his brand new book, Crystal King.

Guests this time around include Val Kilmer, Zachary Levi (twice in one year!), Dick Van Dyke (!!!!!! Classic Awesomeness!), Elijah Wood, Christopher Lloyd, John & Joan Cusack, John Barrowman, Catherine Tate, Wil Wheaton, Michael Rooker, Jewel Statie, Tom Wilson, Eliza Dushku, Gates McFadden, Michael Biehn, and tons more. I don’t usually hit the celebrity panels all that often, but there are quite a few there that I’d love to see. I think Dick Van Dyke’s event will be maxed out to capacity. I saw Zachary Levi in the spring, but he’s enormously entertaining. On the author side, we’ll see Patrick Rothfuss,  Timothy Zahn, Jim Butcher, Michael A. Stackpole, and many others… including the outstanding usual Utah crowd like Larry Correia, David Farland, Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, Dan Wells, Richard Paul Evans, Michaelbrent Collings, and Mary Robinette Kowal.

And of course, there will be tons of panels to attend on all kinds of geeky topics, and the gigantic exhibitor hall that I will *never* see all of during any particular Comic Con. But dang it, I’ll try… 🙂  And while the convention is WAY too huge, I have a lot of friends I hope to see there that I don’t get to see all that often *except* during events like this.

Anyway, come by and say hi! Hopefully I’ll catch you there and we’ll talk geeky stuff. 🙂

Filed Under: Books - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

Divinity: Original Sin 2 Releases!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 14, 2017

The thing I discovered as an indie game developer is that Murphy’s Law adores release days. Today is the release day for Divinity: Original Sin 2, the next crowdfunded game where Larian shows us just what kind of games they will make without compromises made to publishers. Their campaign earned them a couple million, although I imagine the sales of the first Divinity: Original Sin provided the bulk of their funding, considering the size of their team. But… a major power-outage struck their city, and so things were a bit delayed. Hopefully that’s all been sorted out by now.

As a backer, I had early access. I decided not to take advantage of it, for two reasons: #1 – I have been slammed for time to do anything this last year, and #2 – I really wanted to wait for the final, polished release. However, I thought the first game was really well-done. They mixed some innovative ideas with some classic concepts, and while far from perfect, I really enjoyed it. I hope the sequel exceeds the original.

In particular, 4-player coop campaign and a custom “Game Master Mode” (as in Neverwinter Nights) seem really, really cool, if I could actually afford the time commitment to play. And… if my friends could, too. Wait, I do have friends, I think. I’ve been neglecting them lately, so I am not certain…


Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Easing Back into the Game

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 11, 2017

The last year has been a little bit … nuts. Some of it was nuts in a good way.  The day job, however, took its toll.

I’m no stranger to crunch, or (sadly) extended crunch. It came with the territory as a full-time game developer, and pretty much every programming job I’ve ever worked has had times where you have to pull out the stops to fix an emergency or meet a deadline. I’ve now worked at GlobalSim longer than I’ve worked for any other employer, and the hours have been more regular and responsible than most.

The last year was something of an exception that skewed the average a bit. I definitely have a stake in things, so it was about more than making my boss happy. We’ve been spun off as an employee-owned company, free of the shackles and oversight of a big parent company… but also free of their deep pockets to cover us when we fall short. So its been a little like working at a startup with a 15-year history, reputation, and clientele. But on top of that, we’ve been reinventing ourselves, catching up on some pretty significant technical debt, and pursuing new technology (including Virtual Reality). That’s been a lot to tackle, and we’ve all been pulling out the stops to make it all happen.

I’m very pleased to say that it looks like the hard work is paying off. It also means that AFAICT the worst is over. Of course, the former means the latter may not be the case, because success spawns more business, and we can go a little crazy keeping up. But for today, I feel like we’re at least moving in the right directions.

But this also means I am struggling to get my life back, and that is subject to some redefinition.

Game development–and even game-playing–slowed considerably over this last year. It’s really hard to jump back in front of a computer after a 12+ hour day of programming. Now I’m looking at all new versions of Unity, a game that has some programming but a lot of content left to do, and a lot of “cool ideas” for it and other games I want to tackle, but I need to get back into the game dev habit. At the very least, I’m actually able to get excited looking at stuff again. Now I have a ton of more experience with the engine, and a list of things that I need to consider doing or re-doing that I tell myself “wouldn’t be too hard” or take much time. Uh-huh.

And then I have the equipment and experience now to do VR-based games, even though I know there’s still not enough of a market out there to make any money at it. I don’t care. The Idea Fairy is strong with this one. I really want to take some time to do some game-jam type stuff to get back into the swing of things.

The blog posts, as I announced would happen many moons ago, have shifted from “every weekday” to “usually two or more times a week.” I think that change is going to be permanent. I love posting and the real-time communication, but I do have to jealously guard the time it takes.

After over two years of playing almost every day, my practice time on the guitar had  since November faded to something like once a week. I even allowed my Rocksmith habit to lapse. I’m getting back into that again, but it’s literally painful. I’m earning my calluses back. Fortunately, the once-a-week-ish practice kept my skills from deteriorating as bad as my calluses, so I’m just about back up to speed on that.

Gaming… gah. Over the last nine months, real-time strategy games (primarily old, familiar games) have been my equivalent of vegging out in front of the TV for an hour. I haven’t sunk my teeth into a really deep RPG since Pillars of Eternity was first released. Last year, I put a lot of time into the original release of No Man’s Sky. I’ve started getting back into this one, as the game has totally changed (for the better, from what I can tell), and all my old knowledge and practices have become obsolete.

One major change that impacts everything is writing. Originally, I jumped back into it after finishing Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon because I thought I really needed to work on my writing chops. While the game was praised for its writing, I still felt I could and should do better, and wondered if practicing in the old-school linear medium would help my skills (answer: Yes, I believe so, but I guess you’ll have to find out for yourself with the next game). I thought I could write some stories and compete in the marketplace. My validation would come from publication, and then I’d have scratched that itch and be able to go back on my way.


Over the last two years, that has become a growing part of my life. It’s been hit as hard as everything else with the more intense periods of crunch, but it’s also been enough of a change of pace from software development that I’ve been able to maintain it reasonably well over the last year. In 2014, one of my short stories was published in an anthology for the first time in. In 2015, I had two stories published. Last year, it was three stories (not including the one I posted here on the blog). This year, I had a goal of four, with a stretch goal of five. My fourth short story this year came out in Mirages & Speculations, and the fifth one will be coming out in StoryHack #1 hopefully by the end of the month. I have another story scheduled for release in an anthology before the end of the year.

I also had a goal to finish and query my novel before the end of the year. This is the one that was based on the RPG concept I was pursuing before switching gears to Frayed Knights. Well, I finished my internal edit, queried it, and now it’s under contract to be released early next year. I am SUPER EXCITED about this project. But it does come with an inherent “what’s next?” question, which means I am now busily working on the sequel. Fortunately, I can write a novel a lot faster than writing a CRPG (and–up to a point–it’s a solo endeavor, which makes things infinitely easier). The bottom line is… I’m a writer now. That’s become a passion as big as game development for me.

Which means I have to get a LOT more efficient with my time.

So anyway…  I’m easing back into the swing of things. It’s kind of amazing getting home from work in the evenings when the sun is still up and not being exhausted. I think I could get used to this. I just have to make sure I put the time to good use.

It’s good to be back.

Filed Under: Game Development, Geek Life, Rampant Games, Writing - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Pulp is No Excuse

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 6, 2017

Critics tend to use “pulp” as a qualitative descriptor. I think I’ve made my case enough times in the past that this simply isn’t true, unless you are one of those people who insists that newer is better, or that certain modern popular affectations are objectively superior to those of the past. For many decades, pulp was simply the genre market. Story quality ran the spectrum.

Editor P. Alexander of Cirsova implies the average story quality of the pulp SFF magazines of the era were superior to today’s average… and he may be right, depending on what you sample. There’s a lot of crap on Amazon. I’ve personally found a wider mix with my random sampling of the old pulps taken from original issues. But correcting for stylistic trends of the past and present, I don’t know that he’s too far off in his estimation. Pulp-era magazines competed for real money back then.

As far as taste is concerned… well, there are some pro-rate modern SFF magazines that I’m a lot more hesitant to dive into than an old pulp PDF. We’re not talking a “best of” collection, either. I won’t suggest that this is because of pure qualitative differences. Beyond a minimum quality level, my preference for style and storytelling outweighs other factors. Mastery of language is wonderful, but for me, it’s simply the medium. I’m in it for the stories.

Most modern pulp-style stories don’t usually advertise themselves as such. That’s changing a little bit with the pulp revolution / revival thing, but until the term loses its negative connotation with the common reader, it’s only useful for a niche audience. But while I cheer the return of the pulp style, the stories still have to be good. We need solid stories and skilled storytelling. Poorly written stories wouldn’t sell in the pulp era, and they usually won’t sell today.

I’m tempted to say something along the lines of, “Modern pulp stories need to be doing it better than everyone else,” but then the question is, “Why? Who are you trying to impress?” Critics who dismiss old pulp stories aren’t going to be impressed by the new stuff with that label no matter how good it is. The readers care. We want readers to think pulp is awesome because… it is. It’s not a marketing campaign. It’s not counter-culture. Although… yes, it is a little bit of both of these things. But to me, the point is that “pulp” should be a beacon, not a shield.

Naturally, there are few barriers to entry nowadays, and no Pulp Police to prevent anyone from slapping the label on their crap story. But pulp should never be an excuse. Digital distribution is no excuse. We (authors / editors / reviewers) need to do what we can to make sure we’re putting out quality stuff, because it does matter. Not in the struggling artiste sense where every single word and syllable must be agonized over until it’s perfect, because (A) nothing is perfect, (B) quantity matters too, and (C) story is paramount. I’m talking about the kind of quality where the words become invisible and the reader is simply transported on an adventure.

That’s IMHO what pulp is supposed to be.

Filed Under: Pulp, Writing - Comments: Read the First Comment

Big Cirsova Sale!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 29, 2017

Issue #6 of Cirsova is officially coming out at the end of the week. I’d say I’m looking forward to it, but I already have my copy as a mini-subscriber. I guess I’ll no longer be able to say, “My story is in the latest issue of Cirsova!” That was a fun several months, and great having stories in two issues in a row. But don’t let that stop you. Or maybe that’ll encourage you… Issue #6 has 100% less Jay! 🙂  It’s a good one, from what I’ve read so far! Next year will go back to 4 issues… which is going to be a lot of work for the editor, but a lot of fun for us.

You can pre-order the Kindle edition of Cirsova #6 here.  Paperback and hardcover editions will be available on Friday.

In addition, Issue #1 is free this week, and there’s a steep double-discount (sale + coupon) on hardcover editions. You can get more details at Cirsova’s blog.




Filed Under: Short Fiction - Comments: Be the First to Comment

The Debugging Gumshoe

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 24, 2017

Every once in a while, it occurs to me just how insane software development is as a profession. Especially when it comes to debugging software – which I find is generally about half the job. It pretty much comes down to:

  • Here’s a complete mystery
  • Here’s the deadline to solve it!

Much of the time, it’s not too terrible. You can just about solve the mystery like Sherlock Holmes, in his parlor, when he looks at the prospective client and immediately deduces what happened. The observed behavior and a solid understanding of where that behavior comes from plus a bit of intuition borne of experience yields a guess with about 80% accuracy. You use a couple of tools to verify the problem and the fix, and you’re done.

Other times, it’s a bit more challenging, and sleuthing out the clues to try and figure out exactly what is happening is most of the battle. Being able to reproduce it is key. Eventually, the puzzle pieces fall into place. (Note: Here is the reason to have really good testers… they not only find the problems, but find most of the key information the software sleuth needs to fix it. Good testing departments are notoriously underrated in the software industry.)

But then you get these real crazy ones, the ones that would make Sherlock announce, “The game is afoot!” The ones that are not easily repeatable or observable. The ones that are really bad, but inconsistent, and leave little trace of what caused them. The ones you can’t actually be 100% sure you fixed, EVER, but you hope that if nobody has encountered it again in two weeks of trying to reproduce it, maybe the customer won’t discover it in the first 15 minutes by accident.

And when you succeed, at last, your only real reward… besides keeping your job and getting more mysteries and more deadlines dumped in your lap… is to maybe describe to a peer what you accomplished, and have them maybe understand one little iota of what you did, and maybe… just maybe… get that look in their eye that says, “Holy crap, how did you figure that out?!?!?” Because we’ve all been there.

Then it’s on to the next mystery, the next bug in your list, and you’ve got to make up time on the schedule because of that “perfect murder” you spent all your time solving. And you hope it’s not another one like the last one, because you really aren’t entirely sure how the heck you stumbled upon the solution last time.

That’s the life of the debugging gumshoe… the software detective.

Filed Under: Programming - Comments: Be the First to Comment

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