Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

STORYHACK 0! Extra pulpy!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 27, 2017

My story, “Dead Last,” will be appearing in the inaugural issue of StoryHack magazine… issue zero! Hopefully the first of many, many, many issues, StoryHack is a magazine of action & adventure stories across multiple genres. In fact, in the tradition of the early pulps that predate genre definitions, it sounds like it’s deliberately turning a blind eye to genre and just publishing action and adventure stories that “feel” pulp… fun, action, and thrills.

On top of that, I’m familiar with several of the authors, and they write really good stuff. I’m honored share the same issue with them! Well, okay, honored and puzzled, because I feel like I’m out of my league. 🙂  This is going to be a hell of a fun issue.


I was lucky enough to meet Bryce at a writing conference a few weeks ago, where he gave me the good news that he’d accepted my urban-fantasy-meets-espionage short story. We had a great conversation, and he is the real deal–a writer and pulp aficionado with perhaps a slight bias towards the classic detective stories. This initial issue is a labor of love that he’s using as proof of concept for a crowdfunding campaign for future issues (coming soon!).

If you are like me, you probably find it impossible to keep track of all the new books and authors coming out of this brave, new world of publishing where there is more good stuff than ever before… and more awfulness than ever before. Anthologies and magazines of short stories are a great way to find new authors you might like, and they are entertaining in their own right. I’ve been slammed by the day job again, so short stories are a great way to go with limited reading time at night.

And of course, I am thrilled by this resurgence of interest in “pulp-style”  stories. Again, when I’m exhausted from a twelve-hour workday and only have a few minutes of R&R time,  I want something full of action, thrills, and escapism. I enjoy having a steady stream of these kinds of stories that satisfy the craving. 🙂

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A Bundle of Books on Writing

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 26, 2017

Storybundle.com has a bunch o’ books about the craft and profession of writing. The only ones I’m familiar with are Dean Wesley Smith’s book and his video lecture series on the Lester Dent Master Plot Formula. I paid full price for the latter (about $50, IIRC), and thought it was very worth the money. So if you are an aspiring / beginning writer, I’d say this bundle is worth the price with that alone!

Hopefully the rest of the books (most of them seem pretty short and to-the-point) will prove similarly worthwhile.

Storybundle “Write Stuff” Bundle


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Sun Powered!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 25, 2017

For years, the power company has hounded us about our power usage. We use more than the neighborhood average, they said. They charged us a premium for our “above average” usage. You know, because we actually run gaming computers and stuff, and didn’t switch to those horrible CFL bulbs when they became available. They kept inviting us to install air conditioning units that THEY control remotely, so they could turn it off whenever they wanted to help manage the power load in the valley. Which, most likely, would happen when we are entertaining a house full of guests. Because we do that quite often.

The power company complained that they couldn’t keep up with the growth in the valley. They threatened rolling blackouts and brownouts during peak hours, and of course used all this to push for higher and higher rates.

Since clearly they are in such dire straits keeping up with demand, today we have officially flipped the switch to help ’em out. Our house is now powered by the sun.

Alas, we’re still on the grid and paying for the privilege … and any power we consume in excess of what we generate. But hey, since most of our food storage is in the freezer, at least it’ll stay powered half the time during an extended power outage. And I can run my A/C during those blazingly hot, bright summer days as much as I want, free of guilt or worry about the power bill.

So I guess we’re good (and financially committed) until something significantly better comes along…


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Scott Cole Interviews Me

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 24, 2017

Over at the Castalia House Blog, Scott Cole interviews me about … oh, just about everything. We start talking about my story in the latest issue of Cirsova Magazine, but we quickly go off the rails and talk about game development, problems in the games industry, my getting stuck in lockdown during Bangladesh protests, and more.

I can’t imagine anyone being as entertained as Scott and I were having this discussion, but I hope you at least find it interesting. You can check it out here:

A Conversation with Jay Barnson (Cirsova Author Series)

Have fun!

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StarCraft and Brood War – Now Free

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 19, 2017

One of the best PC real-time strategy games… well, okay, one of the best PC games, period… has just been patched up and released for free. It is also perhaps one of the biggest and most popular games in history, spawning an entire e-Sport and a culture around it for many years in Korea. There was even an opera.

In case you missed it… or in case the old CD-ROMs are too dinged up to read anymore… you can now download and play it for free.

Latest version of StarCraft and Brood War – Now Free

Of course, this is all preparation for the big “StarCraft Remastered” release this summer… which I am also very excited for. It’s exactly the same game and gameplay, but updated for new machines, with higher resolutions supported, support for their updated matchmaking system, updated graphics and sound, etc. I’m looking forward to it.

But in the meantime… it’s been a while since I played Starcraft. Time to see if I still suck at it…



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Simpler Dungeon Design: Consider the Antagonists

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 17, 2017

Jeffro (of Appendix N fame) has a suggestion for easier dungeon design for old-school style dungeon delving.

DUNGEON DESIGN: Start with the Wandering Monsters

In some ways, what he’s really working through is encounter design. This was a bit of an emphasis in the late 3rd edition and 4th edition D&D dungeon design style of Wizards of the Coast, too, if you abstract it down enough. Although he takes this in a little bit of a different direction, which I like.

Besides just encounter design, he’s simultaneously coming up with variations and a list of antagonists. Then he considers how the players will interact with the antagonists, how they interact with each other, and how the players may disrupt these relationships.

The nice thing here is that while he’s planning out how these encounters might play out, the insistence on including it in a wandering monster table forces a different perspective on things, unlike the WotC approach. The WotC approach was very linear. The monsters are here, the obstacles are here, the special conditions are thus, and the players must succeed by accomplishing this. Jeffro’s approach requires the DM to be in a more interactive mindset. The party may bypass combat with bribes, threats, negotiations, stealth, you name it.  It’s good for the DM to have at least a default plan… for all that the party tends to upend the best-laid plans, in practice with my own group, they stay within the lines more often than not. Just not when you expect them to…

Ultimately, it makes sense to me. Focus on the conflicts and the interesting challenges, not on the geography.


Filed Under: Design, Dice & Paper - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Closest I’ll Get to Being Nominated for a Hugo…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 14, 2017

Well, this has been a really weird turn.

The Hugo Awards aren’t quite as meaningful to me as they once were, but I enjoyed participating in the voting and nomination process in the past. I tried to be a good voter and really put effort into reading everything in my Hugo packet… which was pretty much worth the price of admission all by itself. It means reading through a TON of stuff pretty quickly if you are a conscientious voter. But… hey, you get lots of good stuff to read.

This year, Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine was nominated for the Hugo for the “Best Semiprozine.” This particular award is kind of a complicated category. To qualify, a magazine must have put out at least 4 issues total, at least one in the previous year to the Hugos, must generally be available only for a paid purchase, and must pay its contributors in more than copies, but less than pro rates. That means it occupies the realm between “fanzine” and the professional SF/F magazines (which are, sadly, few in number these days).

For the Hugo packet, my story was among several that were chosen to represent the magazine.  From what I understand, this wasn’t so much a “best of” for the year, as a cross-section of stories that exemplify the type of fiction they were soliciting. Hey, I’ll take it!

So yes, my story is in the Hugo packet… riding on the coattails of the magazine. I don’t harbor any illusions about getting a Hugo… or even being nominated… like, ever. I’ve made my peace with that one. 🙂  This is probably as close as I’ll ever get. Mostly, I’m just honored to have been chosen to be one of several stories to represent the magazine for the year to Hugo voters. That means a lot to me.  My story, “The Priests of Shalaz,” appears in Issue #4, and was a lot of fun to write. Hopefully it’s a lot of fun to read, too.

What this means to YOU is… if you choose to be a Hugo voter, you’ll get a ton of stories to read, including mine, and you can help determine who gets the awards this year in ALL the categories… including Best Semiprozine. Maybe you’ll pick Cirsova. Maybe not. Again, the nominee list is filled with really good publications. But I hope you enjoy my story no matter how you get to read it. 🙂

I want to personally congratulate Cirsova and editor P. Alexander. It’s been great working with him, and it’s a great magazine. I’ve received some small insight into the amount of work it took to pull this whole thing together. I haven’t even READ all the stories published this year, though I’ve been making my way through them with great enjoyment. And I didn’t have to go through the sizeable slush. 🙂  It’s a fantastic accomplishment.

If you are interested in voting, you can get a Worldcon membership here. The “support” membership doesn’t give you a pass to the convention in Helsinki, Finland, but it does allow you to participate in the awards voting this year, and nominations next year.

75th World Science Fiction Convention Memberships



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Virtual Reality + IL-2 = Bliss. May be nausea-inducing.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 13, 2017

Two days ago, the newest games in the IL-2 Sturmovik series received a major update to include Virtual Reality support.  On top of that, they went on sale. I’ll just post a link now and get that out of the way. Because the sale is almost over:

IL-2 Sturmovik Series (New)

Adding VR to an existing game is fraught with peril, but in the case of simulators (where you are largely in a cockpit), it’s a bit easier. There’s a big problem when it comes to simulators’ dependence on the keyboard.  Finding the right keys (or button) on a device can be a challenge. I know this all too well… it’s part of my day job nowadays.

(Here’s a killer idea for peripheral makers… create a mixed-reality keyboard that tracks in VR, and can detect hand / finger positions above the keys, and will reflect that and key presses in the virtual version. Maybe it’s niche, but dang it would be useful…)

Anyway, I couldn’t resist. I’ve loved the IL-2 series from way back, especially once they started mixing in more aircraft from other countries. I still play IL-2: 1946 irregularly.  It’s easy to just load up the quick mission editor, set up a one-on-one or a gigantic furball, and have at it. It still looks halfway decent.

Now that the new IL-2 engine powering Battle of Stalingrad and the stand-alone add-on Battle of Moscow (collectively referred to as BoX) has matured, the series has clearly achieved a whole new level of graphical awesomeness.  The nice thing about older-era aircraft is that you can fly lower and slower enough to enjoy it.

The games are on sale this week (you still have a day or so left!), so between that and the VR, it sealed the deal. Installation was (and is) a pain in the butt, because it uses a distributed download system that starts out fast and ends up in a trickle. Stopping it and restarting the launcher several times solved the problem, but that’s annoying. When the last gigabyte is trickling in at speeds an old 1200 baud modem could handle, something is seriously wrong.

The other problem I ran into in VR was failing to turn off the HUD.  This was causing frame-rates to drop well below 90 in many situations. I tried turning down the graphics quality, but the problem was only lessened. The real trick was turning off the HUD, at which points the framerates became stable for me. Setting stuff up so that the important controls (for a dogfight) are on the joystick is another issue. I still hate lifting up the visor and hitting “P” to unpause the game at the beginning of a mission… I kept forgetting to remap that key.

So… it was a slow beginning. Made slower the first night by leaving the HUD up and making myself a little sick as the frames took a nose-dive, usually at the same time that I was looking sideways (a problem anyway) to look at a smoking, damaged, high-detail bomber.  My advice from a friend when I first started getting into VR was “when you get the sweats, take a break.”  A half-hour break is good enough for me usually if I catch it early. If I try and push through another five or ten minutes, I’ll mess myself up for hours. Have I mentioned that I’m susceptible to VR sickness? I am. I hate it.

Turning off the HUD the second night did the trick. I tweaked a few other parameters, but that made the biggest difference.

I have no screenshots of playing this game in VR, and if you are familiar with virtual reality, you know that no screenshots can do VR justice. No video does VR justice. It’s The Matrix… you have to see it for yourself. But from another half-hour or so of playing, I can say that this game survived the translation very well. In a game like DCS, you can sometimes move your head around and see that they didn’t design the cockpit for VR… at some angles certain areas look like painted cardboard. Not to rip on DCS… it’s fantastic and improving all the time. Maybe I’ll start noticing problems after a couple more hours inside the virtual skies. But in the 1940s, all the instruments were analog, electro-mechanical devices with a physical presence. This pops in VR. Big-time.

The whole cockpit is a cramped, detailed environment with an almost overwhelming reach-out-and-touch-it feel. One of the coolest aspects is moving my head around to aim down the optical gun sight. At the wrong angle, the crosshairs are invisible or distorted. (The picture to the right seems sparse, but you get the idea).

The nausea-inducing part of it is the necessity to keep your head on a swivel, just like real life. At least I only have the weight of the VR visor to contend with, and not the weight of multiple gravities in a high-speed turn. When I’m looking in a different direction than I’m moving… well, in intense situations, that induces nausea for me in real life, but in VR its worse because the rest of the physical feedback isn’t there. But you reall MUST. I kept finding myself trying to hit the HAT control to look over my shoulder, but that doesn’t work here. I have to physically look back, even twist in my seat, to keep an eye on the other aircraft. This is how you fly and fight. It can make me sick, but I LOVE IT.

Passing by a large aircraft (like a bomber) is absolutely amazing in VR. I always have trouble judging ranges in flight sims, but in VR this is not a problem. I can tell when we’re about to brush wingtips. I feel like could pop back the canopy and spit at them. I won’t, because I’d either leave a mess on the wall to my left, or spit on my wife at her desk beside me, and that would end my VR excursions forever.

The audio is well worth mentioning here, too. Especially in VR with headphones on, you can see, hear, and feel when a wing is about to stall.  The sound of the airflow changes. It’s subtle, but WOW. When a bullet breaks a hole in the cockpit and the air is whistling in, you feel like you are there.  When damage causes the engine to suddenly seize up and it’s suddenly dead quiet except for the sound of the airflow around your newly-made glider… it’s as intimidating as it should be. And yes, THEN the sound of the air telling you when you are about to stall or you are near the edge of your performance envelope really becomes critical, and it just WORKS.

Bottom line: There are very few ways to make this experience feel more real, aside from putting you in a real cockpit on a motion platform (or in the air).  Video cards and headsets will improve. I could improve my peripherals for better controls. But this was the kind of experience I dreamed of back in the early 1990s playing flight sims when 256-color VGA was the hot new thing.

Now I want my giant robot mecha simulator in VR…

Filed Under: Flight Sims, Virtual Reality - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Classic D&D CRPGs On Sale…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 12, 2017

And the updated “enhanced” editions, as well… over at GOG.COM

Special Sale – Dungeons & Dragons

You’ve got until the end of the week, but in case your collection is not quite complete… here you go.

It includes the original “Infinity Engine” games (Baldur’s Gate series, Icewind Dale series, and  Planescape Torment), the Beamdog “enhanced editions” of BG1 and 2 and the first Icewind Dale,  the RTS Dragonshard, the “Gold Box” based SSI D&D games, the Ravenloft series, The Eye of the Beholder series, Dungeon Hack, Menzoberranzan, the Dark Sun series, the Neverwinter Nights series, and the Demon Stone action game.

If you can handle retro-gaming, life is pretty awesome for RPG fans these days.

As a bonus, PC Gamer has an article about how GOG.COM saved many of these games from licensing hell.

In addition, the Digital Antiquarian has a couple of great articles on the Gold Box D&D games. Opening the Gold Box Part 4, and Opening the Gold Box Part 5. If you want to delve deeper into the pre-gold-box history, go for it.  It’s fascinating stuff.

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The CRPG Book Project – 5th Edition (And Still Not Final…)

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 11, 2017

Felipe Pepe has been a man with a mission for several years. He’s been gathering together reviews from a modern-day perspective of Computer Role-Playing Games covering 40 years of history.

It ain’t done yet, but the current edition clocks in at a needle-burying 450 pages, covering over 250 games across 4 decades.  Naturally, that’s not everything (I suspect there’s been that many PC RPGs released in just the last three years!),  but it covers many of the most significant, popular, noteworthy, and/or influential games over the period.

The reviews and essays are by all kinds of people… bloggers, game developers, journalists. Even li’l ol’ me… including an article where I admit that even as a guy who celebrates “old school” style RPGs and is a developer of the same… I have no idea what the hell that means. I wrote that article a few years back, and I still don’t know. Doesn’t matter.

I also got to review of two favorites… Ultima Underworld 1 and 2.

Anyway, enough yappin’.  DOWNLOAD HIS BOOK! It’s awesome!

The CRPG Book Project, Release #5

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Thor: Ragnarok Trailer – Now This Looks Like Pulp!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 10, 2017

I have no idea if Thor: Ragnarok will be any good. Using the actual Led Zeppelin original Immigrant Song (which I thought was pretty much impossible to license) definitely amps the trailer up a couple of notches in my estimation. The joke at the end is awesome.

When I think of early pulp science fiction, back in the era before it was really labeled as such, the visuals in this trailer are what I think of. Between this and the John Carter trailer — which really was based on honest-to-goodness early pulp SF and used a cover version of another Led Zeppelin song, go figure — I think I just need to watch these to get in the mood.


And the John Carter Trailer. Just ‘cuz.

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Use the Pulp, Luke!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 7, 2017

During the early-to-mid 20th century, successful pulp writers made their careers understanding how to write a good story that would sell. While a lot of things have changed today, many of the most successful modern writers apply very similar techniques. In some ways, the modern digital / indie world has it better than the pulp writers ever imagined.

David J West and I are presenting a class tomorrow at the League of Utah Writers Spring Conference in Taylorsville, Utah, on writing fiction the pulp way. This class is not about writing any particular genre, or trying to make a story sound like it came from the manual typewriter of Dashiell Hammett or Lester Dent. It’s about applying their advice and techniques to modern storytelling, and using their templates to craft audience-pleasing stories that sell.

There’s nothing magical about it. It’s just good, practical advice by people who paid their rent (or bought their yacht) through writing during an era where genre stories was mainly found in magazines printed on cheap, untrimmed paper . Some of it may be at odds with what your creative writing teacher may have taught you. But the thing is… it still works. David and I have learned this the fun way.

We’ll be sharing:

  1. What was pulp fiction?
  2. What is “modern” pulp fiction?
  3. How do you write it?
  4. How do you sell it?

Tomorrow’s event is a half-day (plus!) of classes like this one covering all kinds of writing topics, from craft to business to lifestyle and health. If you are a local writer in Utah, come join us if you can! Here’s the big not-a-secret: The discount to League members on the ticket is *exactly* the same cost as a league membership for the year. So if you want to attend, it makes sense to pay for a membership and then buy a ticket.

League of Utah Writers Spring Conference – Schedule and Registration

See ya there!

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Cirsova #5 – Now Available Digitally and in Paperback

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 6, 2017

Okay, ladies and gentlemen… the moment you’ve been waiting for has arrived. Maybe you didn’t know you were waiting for it. Vaguely aware counts, I’m pretty sure. Cirsova #5 is now fully released, in both digital and paper formats, now available on Smashwords, Amazon, and other fine sites. Featuring my story, “The Queen of Shadows.”

Cirsova #5 on Amazon

Okay… if you’ve missed my previous posts, part of this issue is devoted to storytelling in a shared world, the “Eldritch Earth.” This supposes a human race long before recorded history, inspired by Burroughs and Lovecraft, when the continents were still kind of mashed together and way too hot along the equator for humans to adapt. The powerful alien Great Ones have barely (but not entirely?) passed,  and the creatures of Lovecraftian fiction were still lurking beyond the tiny pockets of embryonic human civilization. Humans, developed as a servitor race for the Great Ones, find themselves fighting for survival in a world where they are far from the top of the food chain.

My story takes place below one of the few human cities of this time – Deodanth. After receiving a distressing message from his sister, Jorgan returns to Deodanth to find her missing, and that the mystery involves far more sinister things than an old family feud.

Anyway – like all of the issues, it’s a fun magazine filled with pulpy, adventurey goodness. Yes, “adventurey” is totally a word.  In addition to the links above, you can get it in different electronic formats at Smashwords, and even get a hardcover version at Lulu.

UPDATE: And I just found out that the magazine is officially Hugo-nominated. So there’s that. For what it’s worth.

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Soldak on Lessons Learned in 13 years of making RPGs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 4, 2017

Wow… has it been 13 years already? Steven Peeler of Soldak Entertainment talks about making indie action-RPGs for the last thirteen… what he’s learned, what’s changed in that time, etc.

Gamasutra Q&A:  Soldak’s Lessons Learned in 13 Years of Making RPGs.

Long-time readers will know I’m a big fan of Soldak’s games, my favorite still being Din’s Curse. I haven’t played Zombasite yet, but it’s on my shortlist. I have high hopes it will be my new favorite.

One interesting excerpt:

One aspect of your games that is constantly being criticized is their graphics. Do you feel that they hold your games back in terms of commercial success, or are there enough customers more interested in mechanics than in eye candy?

I’m sure we would sell more copies of our games if they had better graphics. However, I’m not sure Soldak would survive spending a lot more money. It’s basically a gamble that could make the company much more successful or bankrupt us.

There are many gamers out there that care more about gameplay than eye candy. It has been a struggle over the years getting their attention though.

Serious truth!

Anyway, enjoy the article!

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Unity 5.6 is released

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 3, 2017

Unity 5.6 Released

This release is supposed to finish the “Unity 5 Cycle” – which is really only interesting to the people who bought Unity 5 under the older licensing scheme.

The biggest changes (in my mind) are improved lighting (desperately needed) and other graphical improvements. Vulkan support is pretty exciting too, as is the 2D collision and graphics improvements.


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Thimbleweed Park and Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 31, 2017

Ron Gilbert’s early-90’s-esque point & click adventure game Thimbleweed Park has been released, and is now for sale at the expected haunts. Ron Gilbert is the mastermind behind the SCUMM engine and many of the classic Lucasfilm Games / LucasArts adventure games, including the legendary Monkey Island games. He was also the founder of Humongous Games, where he oversaw the development of lots of popular educational point-and-click games for younger audiences. I was a backer on this one, and I’m excited to be able to see how it turned out.

You can find more details here:

Thimbleweed Park

And… to make things more exciting… the remastered version of critically acclaimed classic RPG Planescape: Torment is coming out in a couple of weeks, and available for pre-order right now on several sites. The “spiritual sequel” Planescape: Tides of Numenera just came out a few days ago, so if you haven’t played the original (or even if you have), the new one works on tablets, and has been remastered for modern operating systems, higher resolution screens, remastered music, and some gameplay enhancements and bug-squashing. This is kind of my go-to example when people complain about how the D&D rules lead to a same-ol’, same-ol’ kind of adventures and stories. Granted, they’ve made some changes to the rules, and the combat isn’t too far removed from other D&D games made with Bioware’s Infinity Engine. But there’s no question that it has one of the most unique and dramatic stories to be found in CRPGs, let alone D&D-based CRPGs.

Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition is also available for pre-order from the usual suspects on Windows, Mac, and Linux. It will be released on April 11th. It is also coming soon for tablets.

Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition



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