Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Book Signing at Winter Faire This Weekend (and NaNoWriMo Results)

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 2, 2016

cirsova4coverHi folks! I’m going to be at the Utah Winter Faire this weekend… or at least today and tomorrow. Yep, going directly from one show to another. I’m going to be so exhausted next week. It’s a really fun event. There are a lots of vendors with holiday / geek / general stuff for sale… so it’s great for Christmas shopping. Plus, there are events going on constantly, like medieval fighting (with real weapons! Yikes!), and of course dancing. It’s a good time. ūüôā

Anyway, I’ll be selling & signing books, for those interested. My copies of Cirsova #4 also came in (in the nick of time!), so I will be selling & signing copies of that one. And I’ll be dancing. I won’t have red shoes and we won’t be dancing the blues, but we’ll be teaching vintage dances from the Victorian, Regency, and even earlier periods.

And hey – NaNoWriMo just ended. If you’ll recall, I committed to it, even though I acknowledged that November generally sucks for me anyway, and this November was going to be particularly harsh. It was actually worse than I expected, as I wasn’t expecting to have to travel and work a trade show the last week of the month. Still, I managed to get 41k words written, which was a big chunk of progress, on top of 15k I’d already written. So while I didn’t “win” it was still good to force myself to work on it daily. With a bunch of 11-13 hour workdays programming, game dev programming wasn’t really happening most nights, but I could usually devote an hour or two to writing. Well, at least I intended to. There were some sessions that ended with my falling asleep at the desk, exhausted, but at least I managed to get some time in to both get words written and to “wind down” from the work day.

So… it was a good experience. I think I learned a bit more about myself as a writer, at the very least, and how my process needs to be managed. And, after three years of focusing on short stories, it’s been good to spend time working on the longer form.


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What I’ve Spent Crazy Hours Working On

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 1, 2016

gs_vrsimOkay – so… this is what I’ve been working insane hours on. Well, okay, in part. There’s actually a lot more to it than this. This press release is a tangible result of it, though… a brand new product offering from my company… a VR Crane Simulator.

Mostly, the work has been all the underlying technology to overhaul our simulator software–rebuilding most of it from the ground up–and get it up to the point where we could integrate VR technologies into it. As often happens, the most impressive stuff was often the easiest, and the stuff that we didn’t think much about turned out to be the most time-consuming. We still have a lot to do, but this trade show was a pretty big deal. We had a bigger presence than we’ve had in the past, and I’m lead software engineer.

Pressure? Yeah. Just a bit.

But on the other hand, I have been waiting TWENTY FIVE LONG FRICKIN’ YEARS for VR to get to this point.¬† Since shortly after reading Neuromancer the first time and finding out what real research was going on to make VR a reality, I’ve been expecting it to arrive “any year now” in the consumer & commercial space. I¬† hoped I would have a chance to jump in when it was new enough to still be experimental, yet practical enough to be able to be make things¬† that real people could use. And now… BAM. I’m here.

We’ve been able to push ahead in a very cool direction to solve some thorny issues that have been bugging everyone in this space, primarily mixing tactile reality with audio and visual virtual reality. You need both, when you are training skills that require physical action. This has been cool, even if my job description has required me to delegate some of the really fun, cool tasks to other people on the team. But the project has been great fun overall, even if the hours haven’t. We have one more day of the show left as I write this, and while I personally have a tough time not seeing the faults, missing features, and limitations, so far the feedback we have received has exceeded our expectations. The real proof will come later, but it’s off to a great start. We’ve had a chance to share with people some of the potential of the platform for practical training. Which, IMO, is already huge and is going to expand very quickly as the tech matures.

On Monday, I get to go back to focus on our more traditional simulators, which are still incredibly cool and powerful. Because we have contracts and customers and deadlines that still need to be satisfied. And the VR side of things is really just a tiny piece of the whole,¬† and the whole still needs a lot of work. I was pretty stressed out about this trip, but being able to show off what we’ve been doing has been a great experience, and probably a bit cathartic. Whew.

 


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No Man’s Sky – Greetings from the Hilbert Dimension

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 29, 2016

nms-2016-09-21-22-22-26-54Before its release, I once said that I’d be happy with No Man’s Sky even if all it did was provide me with some cool, inspirational screen-shots that reminded me of vintage sci-fi covers. It did. In spades. In fact, it was pretty easy to get jaded to that style after a while. Since its release, I think I put about 100 hours into it (aside from Rocksmith, I haven’t really had time to play anything else). I got pretty used to it pretty quickly.

Lots of people have expressed hate and fury over unkept promises and overblown hype surrounding the game. I admit, I would like it to be more than it is. I finally “won” the game a couple of weeks ago, making my way to the center of the universe (or galaxy? The game kinda interchanges the two…) the “hard way.” Yay, success, and then I found myself tossed out into the Hilbert Dimension.

unity-2016-11-08-00-29-47-43

I was going to write a final post about the relative emptiness of the feel of the game (which is still probably applicable) and sort of my “last words” on the subject, having apparently put more time into it than most of the army of disappointed gamers. But… this article has been stuck on the shelf for a couple of weeks, and now I hear that a mega-patch has just come out that adds a whole bunch to the game. So… ummmm….. this half-written article has been mostly scrapped. At least I only had to scrap half.

nms-2016-09-19-23-35-11-83Anyway – so the new patch offers a whole bunch of new stuff to the game, and I won’t be able to check it out until next week. I somehow doubt it’s going to win over the people who felt misled by the hype, because NO GAME EVER could have satisfied the hype. Seriously. Now, I could agree they should have managed it better, and Murray did say some things that turned out to be untrue… an amateur mistake that indies make when they have BIG IDEAS that they honestly expect to see come to fruition that doesn’t survive the harsh realities of schedule and budget. But I feel like gamers let their imaginations run away with them. Maybe I’m just too jaded after decades of playing games with procedural content. They always end up feeling… procedurally generated. Random. Go figure.

Not that I wouldn’t like more. And maybe there’ll be more. After finally “finishing” the game after way more hours than I expected to put into it, I can’t say I’m super-enthusiastic to jump back in and try the different play-modes. Maybe when I get back from my trip (and fix my new GTX 1070 cared, which started getting all stuttery on me a few days before I left).

In the meantime… this article was originally entitled “Final Thoughts from the Hilbert Dimension.” Now… well, maybe not final. Aside from the magenta core, I can’t see anything different from the Hilbert Dimension as from the original Euclid Galaxy. But since I can still take the Atlas shortcut (I deliberately avoided it on my first play-through), maybe things aren’t as final there as I thought.


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Heads Up on Next Week

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 25, 2016

I have no idea what my access or time is going to look like next week. I’m not going to officially put the blog on hiatus… I have a couple of half-written posts that I hope to finish up before I have to head out on a plane for a business trip this weekend.

I’ve already posted about how crazy my schedule has been, so I won’t reiterate any of that. I think after next week, things level off a bit. Not “back to normal” but “less hair-on-fire frantic.” We’re still busy as the proverbial one-legged-man at the butt-kicking contest right now at The Day Job, and I’m still forging ahead as I can on the writing and game development fronts, and trying (TRYING) to get some actually reading & gaming done in bite-sized segments. And man, let me tell you… finally getting around to being able to read & play games for pure pleasure these days is like dropping into an overstuffed recliner after being on your feet all day. I’m afraid any of my “impressions” articles I’ve done the last quarter of this year might have a bit of opinion inflation, simply because any water in the desert tastes sweet.

Anyway, hopefully next week’s updates won’t be TOO sporadic! We’ll catch ya on the flip side!


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Happy Thanksgiving, and Frayed Knights on Sale!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 24, 2016

Frayed_cover_finalHappy Thanksgiving to those of us here who celebrate it.

In other news, Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon is on sale on Steam for half-price during the fall sale! It’s a great, off-beat, comedy fantasy RPG with old-school sensibilities. Knock monsters through summoned windows with Power Word: Defenestrate! Battle papier-m√Ęch√© dragons and hobgoblin wuzards. Amass loot and attempt to obtain membership in the Adventurer’s Guild! Uncover a conspiracy, and be very, very careful of imp-modified magical artifacts!

In other news, for game developers, ProBuilder Advanced is discounted right now at the Unity Asset Store. I’m in love with this tool for level-building. Whether it’s just for prototyping, or for building final levels (indies are using it for both… and we’ve used it for both with Frayed Knights 2), it lets you work within Unity’s editor and even play the results as you go. Like any tool, it has its limitations and takes some learning to get used to, but it’s pretty powerful for laying down an FPS-style 3D level.

Anyway, enjoy your day! Have fun!

 


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Rocksmith – Today’s the Day

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 22, 2016

I’ve been swamped by the day job worse than… well, pretty much ever, when I wasn’t traveling (traveling comes next week). So I’m sorry the blog has gotten a bit irregular of late. My word count that would otherwise go to the blog has been going into NaNoWriMo, and I’ve only managed to squeak out a few hundred words per day the last week. That’s about all I’ve had time for between the time I get home (often after my wife is asleep) and when I collapse into bed myself an hour later. It’s been like that.

rsplusguitarHowever, the system is on a truck right now, and I’ll be following it on Sunday, but in the meantime, I have some time off this week. HUZZAH! Among other things, I’ve finally been able to play Rocksmith again after about a week-long hiatus. Ya’ll know I’m a fan. It’s what I wished Guitar Hero could be back in the day. It makes practice a lot more fun and effective.

And I just discovered that Amazon has a sale going on TODAY for the new Rocksmith Remastered Edition…¬† including versions bundled with Epiphone guitars. So if you (or the person you are wanting to get this for) don’t have an electric guitar… this’ll do. I’m sure it’s a low-end starter guitar… but hey, these days those are a lot better than they were even a decade ago. Good enough for practice purposes. I had an old 90s low-end Squier I used for a while. After a year, I’d finally gotten good enough that the limitations of the guitar were worth about 0.5% of my score.¬† That, and I really wanted a 22nd fret, and a whammy bar. ūüôā (Not that I use the whammy bar like… ever. I’m lucky I remember where I put it.

Even without the guitar, the price of the game today is about the same price as buying just the cable by itself, so it’s a fantastic deal. Now’s the day to pick it up if you have been sitting on the fence!

If you were wondering if it works… well, here’s before:

And a bit more than 4 years after:

 

Video games. Now making you a rock star. ūüôā


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Cirsova #4 (and my latest published story) is out!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 16, 2016

Cirsova #4 has been released on e-Book format on Amazon and Smashwords. The print edition of the magazine is also available, for those who didn’t do the “mini-subscription” several weeks ago. If you are looking for a gift for the science fiction & fantasy fan in your life, that’s an option, right? ūüôā ¬†I will also have a few print copies available at our booth at the Utah¬†Winterfaire during the first weekend of December.

My story, “The Priests of Shalaz,” is my first foray into good ol’ fashioned sword-and-planet fantasy. ¬†Stranded on another world accessible via a portal on a tiny, remote island, Jesse Calhoun is initially relieved when rescue appears in the form of ships from the Royal Navy. But soon, he finds himself caught in the crossfire between the British imperial pursuits of the 1870s and the ruthless and powerful priests of Shalaz.

I¬†wrote this story back in March. I’d recently read The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and had discovered some of the works of Leigh Brackett, and so I was thrilled to discover a new magazine that¬†emphasized those kinds of stories. Here’s hoping¬†it enjoys continued success and growth for a long time. ūüôā

cirsova4cover

 

 


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Frayed Knights 2 at the Leonardo

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 15, 2016

FKFlythroughFriday night, I showed Frayed Knights 2 at the Leonardo Museum. I should have taken pictures, but honestly we were so busy most of the time I didn’t have a chance to even think about it. This was the Leonardo’s “Game Night”… one of their regularly scheduled 21+ events.

I hadn’t been yet… but basically, it’s a party. There’s a bar on every floor. There’s a DJ on the bottom floor. And there’s lots to do, because it’s a museum full of activities. Oh, and the Utah Indies were there with games to play, too.

Anyway – the bottom line was there was a lot of people, and a lot of folks playing our games. Including Frayed Knights 2. Once again, the ones who really “got it” were the old-school gamers who played D&D and the old classics light the Might & Magic or Wizardry series. I can’t say I learned too much new from this demo, but it did remind me of a few points:

#1 – Some people just don’t want to read. Ever. This game is not for them.

#2 – The tutorial needs some visual aids. People don’t get the new initiative system too well at first, because it’s different. After a quick explanation, they generally get it and think it sounds interesting.

#3 – A couple of new bugs have crept in that I haven’t seen before. Probably due to changes I’ve made to the combat system lately, which I didn’t adequately check.

#4 –¬†Using the name “shots” for a single-target grenade might not be the best when I’m demoing it at a party where people are drinking. It has a totally different connotation.

Anyway, it was a good time. Tiring, but a good time.

 


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A Few Thoughts on Scrivener

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 11, 2016

As I mentioned before, I’m (kinda) participating in NaNoWriMo. I expected to throttle back a bit from the psycho pace of things at the day job at the end of the month, when the crazy effort we’re putting into a trade show demo will finally be at an end. I just found out that I get to work the trade show. So… no rest for the wicked, I s’pose. November is frickin’ brutal this year.

However, I just sold¬†another story this week, so I’m pleased there. I’ve written a few stories this year, and I think I’m getting better at it. I’ve got a few out on submission right now, and a couple more that have been rejected that I ought to resubmit. It’s been a great learning experience.

One of the tools I started using this year is called Scrivener. I promised a couple of weeks ago to talk more about it. Lots of very productive, popular writers swore by it, so I thought I should give it a look. In a nutshell, it’s sort of an all-in-one (or most-in-one) tool designed around the way writers write. In addition to word processing, it has a ton of built-in functionality to help writers plan, write, organize, edit, and prepare their work for submission and delivery. Of course, every writer is different, so it has a lot of built-in flexibility, but still probably isn’t everything to every writer.

The stories I kept hearing were along the lines of, “Oh, it’s really powerful, but it has such a steep learning curve!” My take, somewhere up the curve, is that anyone who can learn to use Microsoft Word is going to have no problem learning Scrivener. ¬†Now, I don’t know how to use half of Word’s features. Maybe I have no use for them, or maybe I simply don’t know that I really do have a use for them. There’s a lot there. It’s kind of the same way with Scrivener.

I decided to give it a try several months ago. I was up and running and doing work in Scrivener within an hour or two of running through tutorial videos and playing around with it. I used it to write a story that week. I took advantage of a handful of its features, including its ability to export a draft version of the story into a clean format that met submission guidelines for an anthology. I submitted it, and the story was accepted in record time (forever spoiling me for the sometimes long turn-around periods between submission and acceptance or rejection). The point of this story is that I was able to get up and running and be productive with it right off the bat. However, there were still a lot of features I didn’t take advantage of.

The bigger part of the learning curve is really just adapting your process to take advantage of the tool. If you have a system that really works for you, it may take some time to adapt, or you may not want to. If you are still evolving a system, then it has a nice collection of tools to help you along the way. Here are some of the capabilities I’ve taken advantage of:

Organization

Scrivener acts like a librarian for you, storing and tracking pictures, text, notes, links, and other files for you. Even files it cannot directly address, like spreadsheets. ¬†It lets you organize (and reorganize) it all at will in a “binder,” and attach meta-data over it all for ease of tracking / searching / thumbnailing. It’s an improvement over handling it all manually and loading them in multiple programs. For some folks, this might be the “killer app” element, but for me… it’s convenient, but hardly crucial.

But it can be kinda handy to have these other files opened up in a particular, well-defined layout for you. Having your research, outline, and your writing all displayed in fixed positions on-screen can be handy. Again, a little better than having multiple applications open, but not a key feature.

win-screens-corkFar more valuable for me is the whole virtual corkboard view. You can break a manuscript down into individual chapters or scenes or … whatever, really. You can title and mark up your parts on virtual 3×5 cards on a corkboard (if you want), color-code them, summarize them, tag them with keywords, give them a status, use color-coded thumbtacks, whatever. That header / metadata information is nothing that will appear in the actual text, but it’s linked¬†to the text (or picture, or other file type) when you are working with it it Scrivener so you can easily track and rearrange things.

Then you can organize and reorganize them however you want. You can use this to plan and manage your project and note problems as you go. Like, maybe you haven’t included a major character for four chapters. Or you have two exposition-heavy scenes back-to-back that need to be separated. You can organize stuff into nested corkboards and use them as your outline. Whatever. If you are writing or editing things out of order, you can have a status stamped over the card so you can see what stage all the pieces are in. And if you move scenes around on their 3×5 card, the actual text is automatically reorganized for you. You can switch to a text view and see the whole thing laid out in-order exactly as it would read in the book, if you choose. And it’s all organized in your binder correctly, too. There’s a whole lot you can do with it – it’s a pretty impressive toolbox. ¬†In my view, this is the “killer app” part of Scrivener.

There’s an outliner view for an even higher-level view of your document. Again, this can be really cool for project planning from the get-go, helping you structure everything from the get-go.¬† There’s also a “collections” tool that I’ve learned about but never used – another tool for organizing.

There are also templates for creating works of a particular style or structure. Several are built-in, there are lots available for download, and of course you can create your own. These have built-in organization (which you can customize) and preset tools for you — like setting up standard formats for your exports appropriate for the field you are working in. Screenplays have different demands than short story manuscripts, for example.

Anyway – I’d say the #1 advantage of using Scrivener is how many tools and how much flexibility it gives you to¬†organize your work,¬†structure your story, streamline your workflow, and maintain a really big writing project.

Creation

If you are easily distracted by anything else on the screen, there’s a “full-screen” mode, showing JUST Scrivener screens (or a dimmed-out desktop). There’s also a “typewriter mode” if you are old school and want the page to move and print out like a typewriter. I’m not particularly fond of either mode, but some people may like it.

win-feature-statisticsI love the “project targets” window. You can set a target (in word or character counts) for the entire project, and you can set a “session target” for the current writing session. Like, for NaNoWriMo, you can set a project of 50,000 words, and each day you can set your session target for 1,666 words (enough to get you to 50k by the end of the month). Then you’ll get a progress bar that updates in real-time as you write. Cool, huh? Since I’m such a goal and numbers-oriented guy, this almost immediately became another “killer app” for me.

Like Word or anything else, it gives you the ability to add out-of-band comments and footnotes to your text. It also allows inline footnotes, and inline annotations. A really cool use for inline annotations (which can be easily searched for / on) is to throw in some kind of “to do” as an author. Like “technobabble goes here” – you can add that without breaking your creative flow and move on. It’s marked and highlighted and easy to find, and you can ¬†them come back later and do the research or whatever necessary to replace that annotation with something useful.

If you decide you really need to break up a section into two, you can split it at any point, and Scrivener will automatically create a new document and move the text for you. You can also right-click on a word or highlight a phrase and have Scrivener automatically go online to look it up in popular tools, like Google Search, thesaurus.com, or QuotesDictionary.com.

It even has an automatic name generator. Pick the origins. Even look up the meaning of the name. In case you really want a Sri Lankan last name.

Anyway – lots of cool stuff. I’m just touching on the tip of the iceberg here.

Editing

Most of the tools for organizing and creating are equally useful for editing. If you are nervous about completely rewriting a chapter or something, you can take a “snapshot” of it for versioning purposes, and then be able to browse back through any number of previous versions and revert or compare if need be. It’s no different from manually creating a backup, but it’s easier and more convenient.

Since projects are inherently multi-document, the ability to search for and replace across the entire project is available. There are some potent additional search / replace mechanisms, including a built-in tool to automatically convert double spaces to single spaces, and straight quotes to smart quotes (and vice versa). It can limit your search to the main text, keywords, the summary information, or any other meta-data info.

As far as I can tell, there’s not really an equivalent to Word’s change control.

Preparation

Scrivener has a bunch of export and compile options, including the ability to compile the entire document directly into ePub and Mobi e-book formats. There are plenty of configuration options to automagically strip things out, format, and fill in the information you need for a particular submission. ¬†Sometimes particular publishers demand somewhat non-standard submission formatting, so this can help set things up so its right. ¬†You can save and load up presets, so if you set stuff up for a particular market and get it JUST RIGHT, you can reload that preset for all future submissions to the same place. This means you don’t have to keep a whole bunch of copies of your story laying around when you keep having to resubmit.

Ultimately, I think Scrivener is an awesome toolset for writers of all stripes. Some even use it for blog posts. Maybe it would help me if I did that, too. But like all tools, you do have to learn how to use it, and figure out how to incorporate its features into your own workflow.¬†It’s made my life a bit easier, which is ultimately the point. And the best part is that the price is very realistically within the range of even an amateur writer.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Return of Desura

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 9, 2016

1desura_headThis was announced a couple of weeks ago:

OnePlay Buys Desura And Indie Royale Brands, Will Resurrect Both In 2017

From the legal paperwork I received, all the bankruptcy stuff is done, and I am never, ever going to see the money the owed me. So for me, personally, this isn’t good news, its just news. It’s a new company with residual accounts and the old brand name.

Now, I own a lot of games on Desura that didn’t get Steam versions, and fortunately I haven’t had any problems playing them or getting access to them during their time in limbo, but I haven’t tried too hard. Right now, they cannot guarantee all games will be available to people from their old accounts. As a developer, maybe… MAYBE… I’ll consider working with this new OnePlay-owned Desura. If I see the benefit. And if I can get¬†more regular payments that don’t have to add up to $500+ for disbursement.

Once someone is at the helm and we are able to work things out, then I can decide whether or not to remove Frayed Knights. I haven’t been able to do so, so I had to just jack up the price to a point where nobody would try and buy it from Desura during their bankruptcy.

I fear Steam having such an overwhelming near-monopoly on PC games sales. These days, you all but have to work with Steam. Just like Amazon for e-Books, its the 800 pound gorilla. And honestly – they are pretty good to work with. If Gabe is immortal and never sells out, maybe it will stay that way for a while. But otherwise, I think it needs competitors – even small ones – nipping at its heals to keep it honest and reasonably fair. Maybe the new Desura can be one. We’ll see.


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Election Day

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 8, 2016

Today is a special day here in the U.S.A. It’s the very first year my youngest daughter can vote. To her, I can only say, “I’m sorry.”

“I tried to think of the most harmless candidate. Someone who claimed to support the principles I’ve loved from my childhood. Someone who could never ever possibly destroy us.”

ivoted


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Bit Rot (and Frayed Knights 2)

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 7, 2016

Frayed_cover_final“Bit rot” is a joke we programmers make about code. Code is digital, of course, and so you don’t have to worry about the deterioration of it over time and usage like you might with hardware. Parts don’t wear out.

Amazingly, code that supposedly hasn’t been touched for a long time in software which has been maintained and updated for a while will suddenly develop bugs. It just happens. It pisses off programmers to no end, because it’s an isolated section of code. It should just work. ¬†But whether it should or not, there are bugs in stuff that worked fine the last time you looked at it, and nothing has visibly changed.

Thus the term “bit rot.” As in… the digital bits (1s and 0s) have somehow decayed and don’t work anymore.

There are lots of reasons for this. In many cases, the bugs were already there but just invisible. Changes to other related bits of code finally exposed them. Or maybe totally unrelated parts of code… you were just lucky until the code size grew beyond a certain point. Maybe you updated to a new version of an API which they old code used, and the update has bugs or isn’t completely compatible with the old code. Maybe the old code wasn’t Windows 10 compatible, because Windows 10 didn’t exist when you wrote it. Maybe the code worked fine for the low kinds of loads you used to run through it, but the higher level of throughput caused a hiccup with threads and dependencies. Whatever. There’s a zillion reasons, and all of them are frustrating.

Such was the case this weekend with Frayed Knights 2: The Khan of Wrath. I’m showing the game at The Leonardo museum on Friday night. The first level of the game is really the best demo level for showing people how to play. While there are some changes I need to make to it before the game goes into full beta testing, I’ve left it alone for a long time. I’ve been working on other parts of the game. I haven’t really tested it for six months.

But of course, right before a show, I need to test it out and make sure it still works. After all, there have been plenty of enhancements to the rest of the game which will impact the menus and special effects from the get-go. But hey, those have all been tested (in other levels) and seem bullet-proof.

Oh, crap. What’s going on? Right from the get-go, the camera is facing the wrong direction for the fly-through. ¬†There are empty menu screens hanging around the screen for no reason. Stuff like that. It was running FINE last time I tested it…

… back in June…

… In a previous version of Unity.

Yeah, okay. There are a few reasons for “bit rot.” Doesn’t make it fun to fix it all, though.

Fortunately, by the end of the weekend 90% of the problems were fixed. ¬†We’re almost back to the old demo, which seems so incredibly ancient to me yet is new to like… everybody who isn’t part of the team or a regular where it has been shown. ¬†And hey, there were some nasty crash bugs last time that have gone away, some new and improved texturing in spots, Drama Stars (which won’t have any impact on the first level, really), some improved spell effects, more balanced spells and equipment, an automap, a world map, improved AI, and … well, a bunch of other things that nobody’s gonna notice. Except me.

Unless I fail to catch any more bit-rot. THEN people will notice. It’s like cleaning your house. Nobody notices unless you don’t do it.

 


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Movie Impressions – Doctor Strange

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 4, 2016

doctorstrangemovieposterI went to a¬†special preview showing of Doctor Strange¬†¬†a few hours before its general release. That’s strange enough on its own… These days, I’m usually the guy who ends up seeing films just before they leave the theaters (fewer crowds) or at home. This time, we made it a special occasion, and had a blast.

Now, we were with a whole bunch of geeks who were predisposed to be loud and cheer at all the best parts. IMO, in this day of HD TVs, that’s the sort of thing that makes going to the movie theater still worthwhile. It’s an experience and a group event.

The movie itself — I don’t want to give anything significant away. If you’ve seen the trailers (or read the comics), you know what you are in for. But if you don’t know anything about the character from the comics and want to be completely unspoiled altogether, then quit reading now.

Remember the world-twistiness of Inception? Yeah, expect a lot of that. Half the action sequences take place in other dimensions or planes of existence.¬†I think even Star Wars movies aren’t so dependent on CGI and special effects. Fortunately, all that post-production craziness isn’t at the expense of story or acting. The amazing thing is how well it is all blended together.

There are some tiny¬†off-hand references to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The one placing it after the events of Captain America: Civil War is sort of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it piece of dialog. But at least until the now-traditional teaser during the ending credits (and there are TWO, stay until the very end of the credits!), there’s nothing that requires you to have seen any of the other Marvel movies. If you are a fan, they are little inside jokes. If you are not, they are tiny backstory references.

One thing that fascinated me (especially afterwards, in fridge-logic thinking about the film later) was how the sorcerers of the film are presented. In the comics as well as the movie, Doctor Strange is freaking powerful. He’s up there at the top of the power-level for the superheroes… yet he’s still fundamentally a plain ol’ mortal guy. The sorcerers may have some arcane defenses and the ability to escape certain death situations a bit more easily than the average Joe, but otherwise they are as “squishy” as any other person. That, and like Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Falcon, their greatest powers have to come from devices… arcane relics rather than technological items, but still. It’s a thing. ¬†That theme gets hit a few times throughout the film… someone may be awesomely powerful in many respects, but they still have to be humble and not only come to grips with their mortal limitations, but embrace / surrender to them.

Now, that does parallel Tony Stark’s arc in the first Iron Man movie, which might add fuel to the fire of the super-hero film haters out there. Because, hey, we can’t allow two movies to exist where the hero starts out as an over-achieving pompous douchebag who receives an overdue karmic smack-down and has to learn humility to become someone better. Fortunately, no non-superhero movies in the history of Hollywood have ever used that story arc… Anyway, it’s a very common arc, and it was fun to see what they did with it.

Anyway, bottom line: It’s a strong entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not the best, maybe, but in the top 50%. Which… considering how much I enjoyed even the weaker entries (like all of the Thor films so far)… is still¬†high praise.


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Adapting Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to the computer in the Gold Box era.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 3, 2016

CurseOfTheAzureBondsThese articles (I’m late linking to them) are about the “Gold Box” official adaptation of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to computers. While they are officially entitled, “Why the Economy Sucks in SSI’s Gold Box Games,” they mostly talk about how the dice & paper evolved and how SSI adapted it – and the¬†compromises they had to make to get a game intended for human moderation… and one riddled with confusing, sometimes contradictory rules.

I understand that even Gary Gygax himself didn’t adhere to the rules too strongly. IIRC, he included the weapon speed modifier tables at the behest of a player but never actually used them, and the encumbrance rules were more of a threat in his campaigns than a regularly-followed rule. If you seemed to be carrying too much crap around with you, it’d be time for an audit. And I guess the (cool-sounding but poorly implemented) psionics rules were lobbied for by Brian Blume, and Gygax later regretted putting them in there. (But hey, Dark Sun fans can be forever grateful… otherwise that might never have been a part of D&D).

The second article goes more to the point of the economy, but it also paints a picture of how the “official” AD&D rules and its money sinks were quite a bit different from what most of us played. In some campaigns, we did do the whole paying-money-to-level-up thing, and we noticed right away that its only purpose was to keep the party very, very poor. And the whole idea of hiring a veritable army of henchmen, hirelings, and so forth… I don’t think we ever did something like that.

The thing is… a lot of the limiting factor in old-school AD&D was logistics. I’m a geek, and so I actually find logistical challenges interesting once in a while. A long while. Every game session, trying to pay all the hirelings and figure out how to haul all the treasure out of the dungeon and go from town-to-town to try and sell it all? No. That is not fun. That’s something to be abstracted out of the game, maybe mentioned in passing. It’s something one might be in the middle of doing when some other adventure happens.

An important thing to remember – as noted in the second post – is that there may be a weird treasure-accumulation problem in these games, but that’s noteworthy primarily because the games¬†were not only outstanding in their time, but also quite enjoyable today, old-school graphics and UI clunkiness notwithstanding.

Why the Economy Sucks in SSI’s Gold Box AD&D Games, Part 1

Why the Economy Sucks in SSI’s Gold Box AD&D Games, Part 2

 

 


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Final Scary Movie Impressions: The Hallow, and The Invitation

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 1, 2016

the_hallowOkay — it may be late for this year’s Halloween season, but here’s a quick ¬†take on two more scary(ish) films:

The Hallow – Ah, a film about Ireland and the fairy folk. Except, not. There’s a reason that old house the family moves into has iron bars across all of the windows, and it’s not to stop mortal burglars!

A conservationist, his wife, and baby boy (Finn) take on a new home and new job surrounded by a great forest, and proceed to ignore the warnings of the superstitious locals. And then, they learn the meaning of terror in a full-bore monster movie.

Overall, I liked it. It’s tense, has some interesting twists and unusual situations, and was appropriately stressful and freaky. It also gets bonus points for the flaming scythe! Somehow I imagine that was one of those images / scenes that was at the core of the idea for the entire movie… some dude standing in the dark woods with a flaming scythe, just like the poster to the right (which I hadn’t seen before watching the film). ¬†That’s just rule-of-cool material there. So if you are looking for some pretty conventional low-budget monster-movie thrills, this is a decent choice. Not great, but didn’t suck.

the_invitationThe Invitation – Will and his girlfriend Kira receive a formal invitation to a dinner party from his ex-wife Eden whom he hasn’t seen in two years, following the death of their son. Eden and her new husband David live in Will’s old house in the Hollywood Hills, and they have invited many of Eden’s and Will’s old friends, as well as a couple of strangers (emphasis on strange) who are friends of Eden and David. Will has trouble dealing with the situation, haunted by memories of his son, and is suspicious of the motives of his ex-wife and her husband.

And… begin slow-moving dinner-party movie, full of tension, awkwardness, strangeness and potential threat.

Now, I’ve got enough introverted tendencies that as soon as things start getting uncomfortable for me at a social event, I’m looking¬†an excuse to leave. So watching this movie, I was like, “Oops, things are getting awkward, time to go. Make up an excuse. Get outta there.”

Here, warning signals get ignored out of politeness. That’s kind of a new twist on the horror / thriller genre for me, where people usually ignore the warnings because they are stupid, skeptical, or overconfident. Here, there’s the whole group dynamic, the peer pressure, and¬†nobody wanting to be the person who seems unreasonable or intolerant. Maybe I like that because it justifies my own tendencies, but the truth is… I’m the same way. We all are, to an extent. Predatory people prey on that.

I dock it a few points for being a little too slow and repetitive. It’s a solid hour of interesting characters and situations stretched into an hour and a half… virtually in real-time. However, things played out very believably, giving it a plausible realism all the way through. The payoff was solid, and surprised with its avoidance of certain overused tropes in favor of more of that realism which contrasted nicely with unreality of the situation. ¬†While it’s saggy and could really have used tighter storytelling, the ending redeems it pretty well. It is a decent, disturbing film.


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Happy Halloween!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 31, 2016

It’s that most wonderful time of the year…

 


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