Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Eagle Dynamics Announces “Entry-Level” Combat Sim, “Modern Air Combat”

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 13, 2018

Eagle Dynamics, creators of DCS World (Digital Combat Simulator), just announced a new flight sim to be released this fall, “Modern Air Combat.” This simulator comes with a whole bunch of aircraft that are all extremely familiar to fans of the DCS series. The major difference is that this is a “survey sim” – an all-in-one offering of several aircraft with greatly simplified controls. The aircraft include the F-15C Eagle, the SU-27 Flanker B, the SU-33 Flanker D, the J-11A “Flanker B+” Chinese version of the Flanker B, the MiG-29 Fulcrum A, the MiG-29S Fulcrum C, the A-10A Warthog (does anyone actually call it by the official designation “Thunderbolt II?”), the Su-25A, Su-25T, F-86F Sabre, MiG-15bis, F-5E Tiger II, Mig-21bis Fishbed, and the L-39ZA (a Czech trainer & attack aircraft).

More after the really cool trailer:


Okay – my thoughts: It sounds like Modern Air Combat is really a new, improved version of Flaming Cliffs, but with twice as many aircraft and better branding. Perhaps it will be sold as more of a stand-alone game than as a DCS module, which might reduce customer confusion.

The key feature here is the shallow learning curve with a common keyboard interface between all of the aircraft (or as common as you can get between some pretty different planes). They still use the professional flight models from DCS modules, although that can be simplified to be made more forgiving for new pilots. This product is clearly oriented towards new players, not existing DCS World players (except for those who have no modules beyond Flaming Cliffs). It’s a high-end flight sim geared towards entry-level play with combat aircraft from the latter half of the 20th century.

I’m actually pretty happy with this, because it is an area that has been sorely lacking over the last 15 years. Flight sims used to be a staple of gaming, but nowadays it feels like the only options for combat sims are completely unrealistic arcade-style games (the “Ace Combat” series, etc.) or the steep learning curve of the highly realistic sims (of which the DCS modules, other than Flaming Cliffs, are the hardest of the hardcore). I think there are a lot of gamers with a casual interest in more “realistic” flight sims but who are unwilling to spend weeks and weeks of self-imposed training getting to “the fun stuff.” (Yes, the hardcore are a weird bunch, and we actually find the training part to be fun, but that’s another story, and it really is time consuming).

The “flight sim community” needs new blood, and interested players need a modern (ish) air combat game where they don’t need to spend an entire week learning how to work the radar. DCS intimidates potential players. It intimidates me, because I don’t have the time to devote to flight sims like I once did. And even back in the day, as much as I was a Falcon 4.0 devotee (which was pretty dang hardcore for its time), I had a ball playing Jane’s ATF Gold. This could be a gateway to the more hardcore simulators of DCS (I am sure that’s Eagle Dynamics’ hope). But even if it fails in that… we need a modern, entry-level combat flight sim for jets.

Now, I do have some concerns. For one thing, this package seems to be modeled after Flaming Cliffs (some fans have been informally referring to it as Flaming Cliffs 4), and in my opinion even Flaming Cliffs is a tad on the complicated side for new players. Again, if they make the simplified avionics the default (and can reduce the stigma against people using it), maybe this is less of an issue. I’m not talking “dumbed down,” but I am talking streamlined. Naturally, streamlining the pilot workload too much yields pretty unrealistic results, but some of it may be necessary.

The other issue as I see it is the aircraft. Granted, they had to work with what they had. The aircraft are all painstakingly modeled to be ridiculously detailed, and they can’t just throw in a quick-and-dirty TurboSquid model into the mix. The aircraft currently in DCS represent a broad swath of eras and roles to say the least. These are not planes that are going to mix very well in head-to-head fighting. A Korean War era F-86F is going to fare very poorly against a player in a modern Su-33. It’s an odd mix.

The other issue with the aircraft is the target audience. A military aviation buff might get excited about the chance to fly a virtual MiG-21, but probably not the more casual player. Those people are probably already part of the hardcore DCS crowd. We are the ones who were deliriously enthusiastic when they released the F-5E Tiger II. It’s not such a draw for your average Joe (or Jane) with a passing interest in jet fighters. They’d be far more interested in flying the sexy new aircraft that are too classified and require too much guesswork for the DCS people to feel comfortable making a “simulator” out of it. Hopefully Modern Air Combat can lure these potential fans in with the F-15 and Su-33, and they’ll discover the joys of flying the more primitive aircraft. And then, maybe, start giving the full-fidelity DCS modules a try.

I hope this works out for Eagle Dynamics. The flight sim community definitely needs some growth, and I think the potential audience is there. And, for my own selfish reasons, I want Eagle Dynamics to prosper so they can keep coming out with the full-fidelity simulations.


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Magic the Gathering: You Are What You Eat

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 10, 2018

My eldest daughter, Rowan, is competing in Magic: The Gathering tournaments with her husband. Just local, low-key tournaments, mind you, but still…

I feel like the geek gene has been passed down. My wife and I were playing MTG when it was the brand-new geek obsession. We had black-border alpha cards. We have cards from the limited edition alpha release. (Until I traded it, I had Birds of Paradise with the original misprint).  We didn’t realize how limited edition the Arabian Nights expansion would be, so we only got a few of those old cards, but we have lots of cards from the Antiquities and Legends expansions. Old stuff. We have only grabbed the newer blocks sporadically, and then usually just a couple of starter packs and some boosters. We haven’t been into it like we were back when it was new.

So maybe we passed down the geek gene.

Or maybe… it started when she was tiny (was she even a toddler then?), and we put her down for a nap at a friend’s house. This friend also played Magic: The Gathering, and collected the cards. She sold one or two of those early collections, complete black-border alpha / beta editions.

Unfortunately, she had one of those collections-in-progress in the same room as the supposedly-sleeping baby Rowan.  She managed to grab the heavy collector binder, turn right to the page with some of the most rare and prized (read: expensive) cards: multi-lands. I think they were called “dual lands” back then. By the time we’d checked on her, she’d managed to eat three cards.  I think she ate a Mox Gem card too. Yep, Rowan had expensive tastes even then. Literally.

We replaced the cards with equivalent ones from our own collection, or at least ones close enough that our friend could trade straight across for the replacements. Those cards were expensive back then, and probably 4x as expensive today, even in “lightly played” condition.

So maybe something stuck. More likely, Rowan’s husband’s love of the game turned into her own interest in participating with him. But I’ll just pretend that it was her early attraction to the cards that helped form her current hobby. I just hope she no longer tries to eat the cards.

 


Filed Under: Geek Life, Retro - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



How PC flight simulators have changed…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 28, 2018

My first simulator for the F/A-18 was Jet, by SubLogic. I think the F/A-18 in that game was just the F-16 with a different plane model and the ability to land on a blocky aircraft carrier. The real F/A-18 was newly deployed at the time, so it was probably added as an afterthought. To be honest, I think the F-16 was still the hot new aircraft when the software was being developed. Dang, I’m old… but I still think both aircraft remain some of the finest military aircraft ever produced, decades later.

 

 

There have been many other flight sims portraying the Hornet, or its massively updated (and bigger) successor, the F/A-18E Super Hornet. Some of the notable ones include F/A-18 Interceptor from EA (which also included the F-16 as a flyable aircraft) for the Amiga, the Hornet Naval Strike Fighter add-on in the Falcon 3.0 series by Spectrum Holobyte, Digital Integration’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, and Jane’s Combat Simulations: F/A-18 Hornet from EA.

The latest is from Eagle Dynamics, as part of its phenomenal DCS World series. It’s still technically in “Early Access.” If you get it on Steam, it might not be listed as such because it is considered DLC for DCS World which has been “complete” for a long time, although it’s currently on version 2.5. It’s still a pretty complete and painstakingly detailed flight sim, there are just some modes and weapon systems that aren’t yet implemented. But compare the video!

 

If you weren’t told otherwise, at first (and maybe second) glance this would be easy to assume to be real-world footage.

These are the days I was looking forward to as a gamer back in the day. If only I had more time to enjoy it! 🙂


Filed Under: Flight Sims - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



Rocksmith – Still Pushing Out the Songs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 26, 2018

This week, Rocksmith releases three songs by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: Bad Reputation, I Hate Myself for Loving You, and their cover of Crimson and Clover. Surprisingly NOT I Love Rock & Roll, but … yeah. That one is pretty easy for anyone to pick up without the game.

After the years, that’s probably a true thing I can say about a lot of songs now. I don’t devote as much time to practice to it as I’d need to to truly get good at the guitar. I have too many hobbies for that. However, it’s pushed me (or I pushed it to push myself) well beyond the boundaries that had limited me for years (decades, really). It’s still the most entertaining way to learn new songs and get the practice in. It’s still not a complete solution to learning the guitar, but it’s a very powerful tool.

So I guess I still suck, but I suck MUCH LESS than I used to. Picking up a new song is no big deal. Chord transitions that used to be impossible for me are now only moderately challenging. It takes me a while to learn them, but I can at least play some recognizable solos. I have resigned myself to the likelihood that I will never be able to play Through the Fire and Flames or Satch Boogie at 100% with anything resembling accuracy. Halsb can own that one. But I can still have fun trying.

So while I don’t need the game game to learn songs anymore (not that I technically ever did, but… you know what I mean), it remains the most entertaining way to learn them. Whenever they add an artist to the official DLC that I think should have been released a long time ago, I think about my own list of bands I’m kinda-waiting for. At this point, I assume that if they aren’t there, it’s a licensing issue, and so I’m not holding my breath. Of my short-list of bands I’ve been waiting for, the boys and girls at UbiSoft have since delivered on Jethro Tull, Golden Earring, DragonForce, George Thorogood, and 38 Special. Maybe only a single song in some cases, but we’ve got ’em.

While July looks to be… more insane than I expected, I think I’m going to have to set a goal or two for the month. That worked out pretty well for me back in October… better than just dinking around with a few songs. I’m not sure which, yet. I think I’ll make Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone one of the goals, but I may have to pick one more, because I’m already fairly close on that one. Just need to master the solo and a couple more spots, and commit it to memory. Maybe one of the new Joan Jett songs, just ‘cuz.


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Fyrecon this week

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 19, 2018

From Thursday through Saturday, I will be at Fyrecon! Come one, come all! Remember, this is at the Davis Campus of Weber State University, in Layton, not the one up in Ogden.  Last year’s conference was excellent, and this year is shaping up to be even better.

I will be participating in seven events:

  • Thursday 11:00 (Panel) – What a Punk! – The Different Kinds of Punk Fiction and What Makes Each Unique (steampunk, dieselpunk, cyberpunk, etc.)
  • Thursday Noon (Class) – The Air Adventure and Other Forgotten genres of the Pulp Era
  • Thursday 4:00 (Panel) – Formula vs Innovation: Which is the Better Path?
  • Friday 10:00 AM (Class) – How to Build a Virtual Reality Application in Unity
  • Friday 11:30 until 2 – VR Demo from GlobalSim, Inc. (my day job)
  • Saturday Noon (Class) – The Monsters of Appalachia
  • Saturday 4:00 (Panel) – Augmented and Virtual Reality: Gimmick or Game-Changer?

If you are going to be there, say hi! Come to classes! At some point I’ll also be at the Utah Speculative Fiction Writer’s Booth signing books, too! (Although if you already have a paper copy of any book I’m in, come see me any time and I’ll sign it!)  And yes, “The Monsters of Appalachia” is based on research I did for Blood Creek Witch.

And there’ll be a ton of other people worth meeting / listening to. David Farland will be back. Multiple award-winner Brad Torgersen will be teaching a class right after my air-adventure one on writing science fiction. Bryce Beattie will be sharing advice on writing from the pulp masters.

 


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Cyberpunk 2077 Lives!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 12, 2018

Okay, I gushed over the original teaser like… five years ago? CD Projekt Red *NAILED* the feel of the Cyberpunk / Cyberpunk 2020 RPG in that two-minute and twenty-second video. At the time, I feared that the game probably wouldn’t make it out until 2017 or so.

We’re deep in “or so” territory by now. Still no game, or even much word from the developers, but The Witcher III has been done and out for a while now. I assumed they were working on it, but the joke that the game wouldn’t be out until 2077 has been circulating for a while now. Finally, after a long period of radio silence, CD Projekt Red has released an actual trailer for the game, using real-time game-engine footage. And… I have to say, at least the people cutting these videos know what they are doing. Once again, it nails the feeling of the RPG for me. This will be an insta-buy for me… whenever it ships.

 

And… in case you don’t remember / haven’t seen the original teaser from early 2013…

Here’s hoping!


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Quick Take: Beat Saber

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 18, 2018

Beat Saber is a VR game that mixes lightsabers, Fruit Ninja VR, and Dance Dance Revolution into a package where you are slicing blocks and bobbing around a small space to music. The music and the progression of targets is human-designed, as opposed to procedurally generated, so the courses are custom-designed with new music.

The game was released on Early Access on May 1, but is entirely playable and fun now. Rumors are that the game has been a fantastic success. It is one of the fastest-selling VR games on Steam, and also one of the highest-rated games (not just VR games) on Steam. I think this game’s success can be attributed to the mixed-reality videos they did. One video has received over 2 million views on YouTube, and has been turned into videos on other social media platforms. The videos are of this woman (SwanVR), in this outfit, moving with the grace and flow of a dancer. I think whenever someone watches the video, they imagine moving as gracefully as Shuang, rather than the Star Wars Kid (which is probably how we really look).

While there are modes for using only one saber, or turning off directions, and probably some more modes coming up, the fundamentals are: You have colored blocks (and sometimes bombs) coming at you with arrows on them, timed to the beat of the various songs. You need to slice the block with the appropriately color saber in the direction of the arrow. Points are scored (currently) based on how accurate your swing direction is (entering and leaving the block, so be careful on that follow-through), and how closely you slice it to the middle.  Blocks with a circle on them can be struck in any direction. A score multiplier builds based on continuous runs without a mistake. Don’t hit the bomb, and dodge or duck the barriers that also come at you.

Okay. Sounds simple, right? It really is. Which is critical, because at higher levels things fly at you FAST and you need simple to avoid going from perfect to fail in about six seconds. The blocks don’t come at you in the easiest-to-slice angles. They don’t all appear at the same height. They sometimes come diagonally. The blue blocks are not always to the left, nor the red ones to the right. They come in tricky combos, where you have to cross the sabers with some good extension to hit blocks on the wrong side of you far apart.

The cool thing, is that as you are really getting on a roll, it feels like you are both dancing and going through some kind of martial arts kata for Jedi. It’s cool. It’s fun. And it can be a workout. I’m considering buying wrist-weights for when I’m playing this or BoxVR. Hey, I might as well get some more exercise as long as I’m having fun, right?

So is this another “killer app” for VR? Probably. If I was going to show off my Vive to someone, this might be my new “go to” game.


Filed Under: Impressions, Virtual Reality - Comments: Comments are off for this article



Some Writings About Writing Available

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 9, 2018

Wow, writing. I’ve been so slammed with the Day Job and other obligations I haven’t done very much of it the last few days. I gotta fix that. I’m starting by once again posting to the blog. 🙂  (And yes, I have had a little time to play BattleTech, which I still enjoy.)

StoryBundle has a deal for the next week for eBooks all about writing. It’s curated by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who really is an expert on the subject both as a massively prolific and successful author, but also as an instructor. I have only read one of the books in the series – Writing a Novel in Five Days While Traveling by Dean Wesley Smith. I’m a fan of DWS, and have enjoyed his nonfiction, fiction, and video lectures (I’m looking forward to the one on Heinlein’s Rules included in this bundle), this particular book wasn’t quite so useful to me. It was interesting to learn what kind of work habits and approach this demanded, but it’s not something I could take advantage of considering my current stage of development.

I don’t know about Steven Barnes ‘ creative visualization MP3s, but it’s frickin’ Steven Barnes. If he thinks it works, I’ll give it a shot. I’m most interested in the “Creating Your Author Brand,” the “Heinlein’s Rules” lectures, and “Secrets to Effective Author Marketing.”

If writing is your thing, it’s worth checking out to see if enough of the included books / programs make it worth the price of the bundle.


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BattleTech – My Impressions

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 3, 2018

Over the weekend I posted a three sentence review of BattleTech:

“Oh, man, it crashed again!” (Checks clock.) “Oh, crap, I was supposed to go to bed an hour and a half ago!”

Three sessions terminated by a crash pretty much covered my first 5 or so hours playing the game. Since then, I haven’t experienced another crash, and they released an update this week specifically to deal with the problem. They also fixed another issue I ran into, with the saved games occasionally appearing unavailable. I freaked out when this happened to me, 15 hours into the game. I exited and restarted, and my saved games reappeared no problem, so that was not quite as horrifying of a bug as it first seemed.

So far, the patch hasn’t addressed the real problem: This game is dangerously addictive. I have to remember to set an alarm when I play this game, or I will blithely forget that I had  things to do (like going to bed) and completely lose track of how much time I have spent playing. If you ask me, I’ll say I’ve been playing for 45 minutes, when really more than 2 hours will have gone by.

That is the mark of a solid turn-based strategy game, in my mind. It’s dangerous to those of us with the peculiar quirk of loving strategy, whether it’s a turn-based RPG or a 4X Space Conquest game. Joking aside, it’s a good thing, we just need to learn to be careful about it.

BattleTech has been compared to XCom, which at first seems silly, but upon reflection makes sense to me. It’s not XCom–there’s a totally different feel and style. However, in the sense that the bulk of the game is made up of turn-based tactical engagements, but above that there is a whole meta-game where you run a space mercenary company, and the results of these individual battles all feed into the meta-game. You can fail (or face difficult times) at either level. Make poor decisions at the meta-level, and can go bankrupt, or at least end up fielding inferior troops and equipment on the battlefield, making your battles all that much harder. Fail on the battlefield, and you can lose Mechwarriors completely, or end up having so many of your team on medical leave and your BattleMechs getting repaired that you literally cannot accept any contracts. Either way, you end up in a positive feedback loop of suck.

The main meta-game campaign includes randomly generated missions across a galaxy of planets, with several different factions involved, as well as a storyline which appears to be something you could totally ignore if you feel like it. Of course, those storyline-based missions are extremely lucrative and provide you with equipment and options you would not receive otherwise, so it’s  worth pursuing them.  Besides being rewarding to the meta-game, these missions include some interesting storyline development, and the missions themselves contain some challenging twists and variations that you won’t find in a standard mission, as well as story-developments that occur mid-battle. There are also factions and reputation to consider, tweaking your merc company finances, buying and selling equipment (and Mechs), hiring and training your team, customizing your mechs, upgrading your ship (your headquarters), and dealing with certain story events that may have temporary impacts on … just about anything.

Then there’s the tactical game, and I could go on and on about this one. This is the deepest, yet most clearly-presented, variant of the BattleTech rules I have ever played. You don’t need to understand everything to be able to play (or even to play effectively)–you just move your Mechs around to get within range to shoot the enemy targets (including stationary turrets, buildings, ground vehicles, and of course other Mechs), and try not to get shot up too badly yourself or overheat your Mech. But as you get comfortable with the basics (and manage not to get your whole team slaughtered or run your company into the ground in the first few missions), the deeper game presents itself. You start worrying about turning your stronger armor toward the enemy, managing firing arcs, handling “status damage”, minimizing your chances of being hit, managing things like recoil and morale effects. And then you start figuring out how to get the enemy right where you want them, without you obliging the enemy the same way.

And more.

The variety of enemy war machines and Mechs (including your own), the inclusion of special equipment (including more-powerful versions of standard weaponry with bonuses), your evolving team’s special abilities, and the different landscapes keeps even the randomized scenarios entertaining. The challenges are never the same twice.  The AI seems to play a pretty good game. It will exploit weaknesses, take down the most dangerous mech first, sensor lock you and pummel you with long-range missiles mercilessly, outflank you to take advantage of weaker rear armor, and kick you when you are down. It also LOVES the Firestarter Mech design, and is pretty good about using them. You learn quickly to get away from those guys before they close to flamethrower range. It also likes to employ them in pairs…

The game also feels a bit like an RPG at times. While the dialog and most of what goes on involves the “fixed” NPCs of your leadership team and allies, the randomized events sometimes pull in some of your Mechwarriors into the situation. As you can train them in categories and certain special abilities, and they do come with a pregenerated bio and a nice variety of voiceovers, it does feel a bit like an RPG. On my squad, I have a character named “Glitch” who has a pretty dark background as an assassin, but she makes hysterical comments in battle. In snowy terrain, she quips, “When we’re done, we can build a snowman!” In forests, she says, “Do you think we’ll see any bears?” Another character comments when he is responsible for a particularly messy destruction of a Mech, “We can still salvage that.” Little things like that make them feel like characters and not just bonuses on a battlefield.

So – bottom line: I love the game. Harebrained seems to be aggressively patching the issues that I ran into the first week, so I feel okay passing along my recommendation. Maybe turn-based games with giant robot-tanks bristling with weaponry isn’t your cup of tea. But if it is, I think this is a more than worthy addition to genre… and to the legacy of BattleTech / MechWarrior games.


Filed Under: Impressions, Strategy Games - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



Punching and Working Out in VR

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 30, 2018

I picked up BoxVR specifically to test how well you could work out in Virtual Reality. I’ve had enough times where I’ve felt some soreness after an extended session in VR from holding a (bad?) posture for too long, so I wanted to try something that was specifically designed to work my muscles in a positive manner.

BoxVR combines real-world boxing moves with gameplay similar to Dance Dance Revolution. Rather than fighting a person (there are other boxing VR games for that), you are punching iconized targets that move towards you in VR that you have to deal with appropriately. Left and right jabs, crosses, and uppercuts, as well as blocking some targets with both of your gloves. There are also obstacles that come toward you that require you to dodge or duck to avoid. You get points for hitting the targets based on “intensity” – how hard you hit them. It forces you to really swing at ’em. There are other obstacles you need to block (both gloves up), dodge (to either the left or right), or duck. A score multiplied goes up on consecutive successful moves, and drops on misses.

Custom “house” music is timed to give you a beat and rhythm to match the timing of the targets, or you can bring in your own music and create a playlist. The game will create a workout based on the music’s rhythm. So if you really want a “workout mix” that includes Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” you are set! There are four different venues you can have your boxing workout take place within… a traditional New York gym, a haunted graveyard, a “winter wonderland”, and kind of an abstract neon electronic tunnel. Yeah, weird places to do a boxing workout, but whatever. Forget it, Jake, this is Virtual Reality. It’s fun and variety.

Unlike similar games, BoxVR was at least partly designed by professional boxing / fitness trainers. I’m not sure how much difference that makes, but hey, that’s a thing. It provides tools for tracking calories burned, goals, and so forth based on your age, gender, and body weight. Workouts can start out easy (which were challenging the first couple of times for me, but after that were pretty easy), and you can scale them up in difficulty and intensity. As far as how well it works… I can’t completely say, but the first couple of times I tried it, I worked up a sweat, and I was sore the next morning. That’s a good sign. It’s fun, which means I look forward to playing it. Does it actually teach you to box? Only in the sense that painting the house, sanding the floor, and waxing the cars taught Daniel-san Karate.

One issue that I ran into was that you can build up a sweat playing this game, and the lenses of my headset fogged up while playing. Not a huge issue, but something to consider. Also, if you are sharing your VR headset with other members of the family, you may want to spring for one of the alternative liners that are easier to clean, so nobody has to deal with the foam insert damp with someone else’s sweat (yuck!).


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Signing at Fortis College SLC Today

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 25, 2018

As a reminder – I’ll be signing books at Fortis College today, in Salt Lake City, with copies of Blood Creek Witch and other books. Melissa McShane will also be there today. I was going to say we expect incredibly long lines, so come early… but I couldn’t keep a straight face. Fun times!  Details in the pic.

 


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BattleTech Arrives for PCs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 24, 2018

When I was a kid back in the 1980s, on any given Saturday I could hit my friendly local gaming store — the kind with an area where players could run miniatures battles or run D&D games — and I would inevitably see half the tables dominated by BattleTech games. I was fascinated, but I was scared off by the budgets these guys had sunk into their collection of BattleMech miniatures and landscapes. (Then Warhammer 40k came on the scene and made the BattleTech players seem like pikers…)

I rarely played, and was never very good at it, but I was familiar with the rules and owned several of the game books. I loved the history and worldbuilding of the game. I read several of the novels. I really, really wanted to play games in that universe.

I played nearly every official computerized version of the game, from arcade games to the Infocom / Activision strategy/ adventure / RPG series (the Crescent Hawks games), and I was addicted to Mechwarrior. I eagerly awaited the Mechwarrior II release. I played the public demo dozens of times, which didn’t resemble the final game at all because the full game was re-built very nearly from scratch after the demo’s release. I joined an online clan and played Mechwarrior II competitively via Kali in the days before you could really play anything other than board games and MUDS online. (For you youngsters… Mechwarrior II was LAN only. Kali made the entire Internet seem like your LAN. And you don’t know lag until you are playing on a 14k baud modem…)  I even went to the Battletech Centers (Virtual World Entertainment) back when they were a thing in the 1990s, and played a few fan-made computer games (and even a MUD) back before there really were any official computer games.

I played the later games, and I also got into Mech Commander a bit… which was closer to the wargame in style. Mechwarrior Online… I’ve played. I have an account. I have mechs. I suck. I don’t really have much time to play, but I’m still enthralled by the concept, if not the execution.

So yeah, while there are many more hardcore fans out there than me, I consider myself a fan with a long history with the games, particularly the computer versions.

I have been a backer for the BattleTech game from Hairbrained Studios. As such, I had the chance to play the Backer Beta of the game a bit, and I was extremely pleased. It had the feel of the old miniatures game (or, since I played so rarely, how I envisioned the miniatures game ought to feel), but it did an even better job of handling the pilots and making them interesting, and having their skills play a tangible roll in combat. There is also a much bigger role for hand-to-hand combat than in any other computer BattleTech game I have played. I’m excited to play the full released game.

Which released TODAY.  I’ve heard it described as “XCom with giant robots.” I’m not sure how accurate that really is, but they did do a very good job in the beta of making the turn-based combat solid and fun. It’s available from GOG.COM and STEAM. If you are a fan of the BattleTech world and games, and you like turn-based combat (when done well), I think this game will be a winner.

 


Filed Under: Game Announcements, Geek Life - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



Book Signing at Fortis College

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 23, 2018

I’ll be signing (and selling) books at Fortis College on Wednesday.  I’ll have copies of my new novel, Blood Creek Witch.

I’m teaming up with Melissa McShane, who is also an amazing writer and I only half-jokingly say she writes books just for me. But dang, I do feel like I’m one of the handful of people in the bullseye of her “target audience” for some of her series. (If you haven’t read Burning Bright yet, I highly recommend it…)

As you can see from the banner, it will be at Fortis College at 3949 S. 700 E. Suite 200 (2nd floor) from 11am to 2 pm. I think we’ll be set up somewhere in the hall, so we’ll be easy to find.

 


Filed Under: Events, Writing - Comments: Comments are off for this article



Why Write Short Stories?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 11, 2018

It’s been an incredible three years for me as a writer. I’ve gone from finally having my first short story published, thinking I would “get it out of my system,” to having six stories published last year, winning the Dragoncomet short story award, my story getting included in the Hugo Award voters’ packet, and my first novel, Blood Creek Witch, releasing last month. And things continue to accelerate.

(ICYMI: You can get  Blood Creek Witch on Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble)

My focus has turned more to novels now (I’m prepping the sequel to Blood Creek Witch for submission right now), but the urge to write short stories hasn’t subsided. I’ve improved a lot since my first short story, “Dots, Dashes, and Deceit” was published a few years back. I’m still not as fast as I’d like, and I still have a lot to learn and improve upon, but writing short stories is definitely a pleasure that I can do in-between larger efforts. So… that hopefully means I’ll be able to keep up at least a moderate output of short stories in spite of trying to write two new novels this year (on top of the Day Job being as busy as we’ve ever been).

I have had one story published this year (in the Planetary: Mars anthology), and two more that have been accepted for publication this year. Before I left for Disney World, I turned in three short story submissions. One was due mid-week, and the other two were due at the end of March.

I received a rejection for the mid-week submission while I was standing in line at Space Mountain. That didn’t bother me much, as it was a reprint of a story that had already been published and the exclusivity period had expired. I was just trying to see if I could get paid twice for the same story. Plus, I was with my family ABOUT TO RIDE SPACE MOUNTAIN, and couldn’t really be bothered.  That’s probably the easiest I’ve ever taken a rejection. That’s a tough situation to repeat, so as far as advice for handling rejection, I can’t really recommend it as a strategy.

I’m still awaiting word on the other two. Those are both new stories, and I am no longer at Disney World, so I expect rejection on those to be a little bit tougher to handle. One is for Writers & Illustrators of the Future, which is extremely competitive, so my chances are slim. My goal is to become disqualified for that one within the next two to three years, which can happen if I either win or qualify as a pro. Either way would be a tremendous victory for me.

When I’m selling books at conventions, I constantly run into people who don’t bother reading short fiction. They want novels. That’s where the money is, right? So why “waste time” writing short stories? Amusingly, Jon Del Arroz wrote a big essay on why it was a waste of time almost exactly a year ago, and he’s the editor of the Planetary: Mars anthology, and has since appeared in several pulp-style magazines. He had a tough time taking his own advice. Probably because he, too, loves a good short story. Even if it doesn’t make the most business sense.

Or does it? Why might writing short stories still a valuable use of your time as a writer? Especially as a beginner, but even as a veteran, it has advantages:

Writing Practice: While there are different skills required for writing short vs. long-form fiction (and, I’d argue, short versus “flash”), there are also a lot of skills they have in common. Writing short fiction is a great way to practice and get quick feedback from readers. There’s a lot that can be learned from finishing a project and telling a complete story, and performing a full revision pass or three on it. Rather than making the same mistake for a hundred thousand words before anyone else looks at it, you can tighten your loop.

Feedback / Readers: If you are an “unproven” author, it is easier to find people willing to read your 4000 word short story than to read your 140,000 word draft novel.

Learning to tell a tighter story: While a novel gives you far more room to explore your world and characters much more than a short story, every storyteller needs to learn to keep their writing tight and do a lot with an economy of words. Short stories can teach that.

Marketing: Short stories (and novellas) can be used to market yourself, and your books.

Earn While You Learn: Julie Frost (now a friend, but I didn’t know her at the time) once commented on a panel that while your “first million words” are generally considered practice as a writer as you gain competence, with short stories you “may as well practice submitting while you are practicing writing. And that may lead to getting practice signing contracts, and practice cashing checks.”

Contests & Awards: There are several awards out there for short stories. While this is really still more of a marketing thing, I think being an “award-winning” writer can help open a few doors and convince readers to take a chance on you. Awards can also help your confidence as you develop, add to your list of published works, and may even offer cash or cash-equivalent prizes worth equal or more than a standard sale at your level.

Experimentation: Short stories are a great low-commitment way to experiment with new things, practice unfamiliar skills, explore new genres, and basically try new things you might fail at.

Developing Professional Skills: Writing. Writing to a deadline. Writing to specifications. Revising. Proofing. Submitting. Dealing with rejection. Handling contracts. Professional communication. Writing queries. Working with editors. Writing brief synopses. Promotion. Writing author bios. Basically, getting all the crap done on time in a professional manner that is an integral part of the business. With short stories, you may be doing this not only several times a year, but maybe several times a month.

Tell Smaller Stories: Face it, there are a lot of interesting story ideas out there that can’t support 70,000 words… or even 20,000 words. Short stories give you a chance to write something smaller without shoehorning it into a novel as a subplot. Short stories can give you the chance to tell little backstories or side-stories about your characters that don’t belong in the novels, but your readers will enjoy.

Cred: Having some published works out there counts, with readers and people in he industry. Maybe it doesn’t count for a lot, but it counts. If nothing else, it raises you from being an “aspiring writer” to a “writer.” What does that mean? It means you were willing to put in the effort, submit your work to scrutiny by strangers, and probably face rejection multiple times. It means you have been developing those professional skills I mentioned above, and have been around the track a few times.

Networking: The cool thing about short stories is that they are generally collected into groups of stories by other authors. You work with different editors, publishers, get to share the table of contents with other authors, and sometimes cross-promote each other.  Short stories can be an accelerator on this process. Writing is frequently considered a solo endeavor, and it is–up until a point. And at THAT point, networking–having relationships with other people in your field–can be a huge accelerator. I won’t go into the hows and whys of it now, because that could be a whole ‘nother blog topic.

Opportunities: I subscribe to the belief that a successful business / career is made up more by “base hits” than the home runs. A lot of the writing opportunities out there are are small “base hit” short story deals that can pay a decent amount, give you greater visibility, let you work with cool people. But they may require you to exercise those professional skills, perhaps writing in someone else’s world on a tight deadline, or acting as a judge for one of those contests.

Cold, Hard Cash: The pulp-era days of making a decent living as a short story author are quite a way behind us. HOWEVER… that’s not the same as saying there’s no money in it. Especially when you start selling at pro market levels, and consider reprints and self-publishing on top of that, or get in on a royalty-based anthology with popular authors.

Fun: Bottom line, writing short stories can be a lot of fun, and can recharge your creative batteries. So why not go for it?


Filed Under: Short Fiction, Writing - Comments: 4 Comments to Read



So Where Are the AAA VR Games?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 10, 2018

Dan Ackerman of C|Net has — at least for now — thrown in the towel on VR. This in spite of accelerating sales in VR system sales last year, which may not have pleased analysts who heralded VR as the Next Big Thing, but are certainly an exciting development. His biggest complaint is the lack of major, AAA-level games for VR. With the exception of a few ports (particularly from Bethesda) and some lower-budget support from major publishers, most of the games for VR are indie.

And yeah, indie, like everything else, follows Sturgeon’s Law. I have a tough time getting excited about Yet Another Wave Shooter, myself. But then, I’m currently having a ball playing Skyrim VR, so I don’t (personally) care.

I have a different perspective, probably due to my age. Sure, if you consider the Vive and Oculus and PSVR to be products equivalent to modern console launches, they haven’t set the world on fire. But if you consider them technology launches and a fundamentally different platform to what came before them… yeah, we’ve seen cycle many times before. Game consoles didn’t start with the Nintendo Entertainment System. They didn’t even start with the Atari 2600 (AKA Atari VCS). When I was a little kid, the game consoles of the 1970s being things like the Coleco Telstar, and the Magnavox Odyssey and Odyssey 2. They weren’t nearly as ubiquitous as the Atari and (later) the Nintendo came to be, and while the technology and potential were exciting, the games were… Pong. And variants. There were a few interesting ideas, but the whole idea of playing games on your television was pretty cool.

Likewise — mobile gaming. It didn’t start with the iPhone, it only caught fire with the iPhone. I know people who were creating games for phones for years, knowing that one day it would ‘catch on.’ It took a little while.

I believe we’re in the same place with VR. As a consumer technology, it’s still in early adopter stage. We’re still experimenting and learning what we can do with the technology. It’s not exactly what we imagined. We’re discovering some incredible possibilities, especially outside of gaming. In training (my day job), the potential is astronomical, and the reality *right now* is pretty awesome.  Studies in areas like architecture and design, medicine, and even law have demonstrated capabilities in Virtual Reality that are potential game-changers.

In the world of entertainment —  where VR was most expected to set the world on fire — things have been a little slow for obvious reasons. The install base isn’t to the level necessary to support AAA game development exclusively on the VR platform. 4 million installed systems are great, but a AAA game with a $30+ million budget is probably going to need about 5 million sales to break even. And you cannot expect a 100% penetration. So yeah, we’re going to be a while before the major game studios feel safe making VR-exclusive AAA titles. Even one of the original “killer app” VR titles IMO, Star Trek Bridge Crew, added a non-VR mode to expand the user base.

None of this concerns me much. The prices have to come down, and the tech has to mature a bit before I’d expect to see big VR-only investments from major game publishers. I certainly hope to see more (and better) VR versions of AAA games. I hope to see more (and better) high-end indie titles for VR. The tech is still growing. And I think mainstream adoption might not be too far away. A year or so ago, I was constantly explaining to people what VR was, and giving them their first taste of it. Today, it’s a lot harder to find someone who hasn’t tried it. To me, that says something.


Filed Under: Tech, Virtual Reality - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



Lessons I Learned from the Mouse This Week…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 6, 2018

I just got back from a family trip to Happy Mouse City in Florida. Here are some things I learned from the Mouse (although I don’t think he deliberately meant to teach me many of these):

There are two kinds of people who stand in line. There are the kinds that keep the gaps small and keep the line moving. Then there are the kinds that seem to think, “Screw it, I’ve got my spot, the rest of the line can wait for me! It’s not like any of us are getting to the ride any faster. I’ll move forward when I feel like it.” I am very much of the first category most of the time, especially when the sensors at traffic lights interpret a gap as a reason to turn red, even when there’s a mile of traffic waiting to turn left behind said “I don’t feel like it yet” driver. However, after three full days walking many miles in the hot sun, when you are in a shady spot where you can sit or lean for a few seconds, and you are reading a paperback to make the hour+ – long line go faster, I can definitely feel the temptation to exhibit the behavior of #2.

Raw, unadulterated capitalism in even a relatively free market is naturally inclusive, diverse, and inoffensive to the point of being obsequious. The only color that matters is the color of money.

EPCOT stands for “Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow” (or “City Of Tomorrow” – Walt Disney used both). It was supposed to be an actual planned, living city constantly updated with the latest technology for communities, especially with transportation & communication. It was already in early production and arrangements being made with the state when Walt Disney died, and the company quickly nixed the idea of having it be an actual city after his death. They kept the name EPCOT, in part, so that people wouldn’t keep asking them, “So when are you building EPCOT?”

NOBODY knows how to leverage Intellectual Property like The Mouse. This is sometimes to the detriment of the IP, as stuff may get thrown in to strengthen the brand while actually weakening the product.

I must be getting old. I’m to the point now where if it ain’t the original trilogy, Star Wars just doesn’t thrill me. Well, maybe original trilogy + Rogue One. I’m a little disappointed to find I’m surrounded by a wealth of Star Wars stuff, and I’m all, “meh.” It wasn’t like the original series wasn’t crassly commercial from the get-go. I had a bunch of those Kenner action figures as a kid. But now, I’m more like, “Huh… now I know why you have all these masked characters… so you can have anyone put on the costumes and pose for pictures, and probably save money on actor’s fees because you aren’t using their likeness.”

A change of context and a level or two of indirection can do wonders to make a person reset their impression of the value of money. Have it pre-paid and call it “entitlements” and give it a point value instead of a dollar value, surround it with things of similar anchor value, and it’s amazing how something that seemed way overpriced back at home becomes perfectly reasonable at the park. Sadly, I think governments have learned that lesson all too well.

Do not underestimate the vomit capacity of a skinny eight-year-old boy. He can fire off several rounds without a reload. My pity for the poor people in front of him in the line who got caught by the initial spray, and for his poor, panicked mother. And for the kid, to be honest. But HOLY COW…!

I also learned that I’m pretty lucky to be jaded working with simulation, VR, and motion platforms on a regular basis – plus having a pretty awesome gaming rig. So much of the newest, high-techy attractions are based on a motion platform, a pre-rendered video (sometimes in 3D, requiring 3D glasses), and cool theming… which I still thought was pretty neat, but the magic wasn’t really there. On the other hand, the live performances, the really cool sets (especially in the lines), the animals, and of course the good ol’ fashioned roller coasters were lots of fun.

While I may have gained a bit more of my “VR Legs” and I’m *slightly* less susceptible to VR sickness than I used to be, the improvement has not translated to roller coasters as I can tell. Especially going backwards.  Especially on an empty stomach (surprisingly). Fortunately, with the one exception, the coasters were exactly long enough that they were done before I got too uncomfortable, and I was fully recovered within ten or fifteen minutes.

Also, fresh pineapple seems to help with motion sickness.

Spring Break Season. Fear it.


Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: Comments are off for this article



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