Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

VR Quick Take: Archangel

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 8, 2018

Due to surgery, any VR gaming I did over the last week was restricted to sitting-down experiences. Actually, I didn’t do much VR at all, but I did get the chance to play Archangel by Skydance Interactive, which is available for PC and Playstation VR. Because giant piloted mechas are one of those things VR was built for, IMO. In Archangel, you pilot a 60′ tall giant walking robot of destruction.

I didn’t have the stamina to play through the whole thing, but that was due more to surgery than VR sickness. It doesn’t seem to be a long game, though there are several difficulty levels and a number of missions to play through. The game is made with the Unreal Engine, so it naturally emphasizes greater photo-realism. And, of course, flashy effects.

The game is effectively a “rail shooter” from the arcade days. You have little control over where or when you move, but you must instead focus on fighting what you find as you and your support ships progress through the level. You control rechargeable weapons that can be fired independently from each hand – rockets from one, guns from the other. You can also create limited duration force-field shields from each arm, which you can hold up to protect yourself from attacks. And best of all, in some cases, you can punch enemies and structures.

This is the kind of game I would have happily shoved quarters into back in the day (probably at $0.50 or $0.75 per play), even without the VR aspect. The VR makes it oh-so-much-cooler. Of course, this isn’t back in the day.  We live in a world where you can buy a bundle of arcade-like games for a buck. And this is a fairly full-priced indie game at $30 (I got it on sale over Christmas for I think $10 off). But… we’re also in the early days of VR, and I’m still not yet jaded.

The graphics are really good for a VR game. Not up to Fallout 4 VR or Doom VFR levels (but then Fallout 4 VR has its own graphics anomalies), but definitely decent for a small/mid-sized studio production. They’ve spent a bit of effort adding a storyline and interesting characters. The voice-over work is decent. You have the ability to upgrade the Archangel’s systems between missions, based upon your own preferences. So yeah, in many ways it’s much better than the old arcade rail-shooters even without considering virtual reality.

And that’s plenty to do. Blocking and shooting keeps you busy. You feel like you are (mostly) controlling a giant mecha. They got the sense of scale right. In spite of having no control over the Archangel’s movement, things move smoothly enough and (relatively) slowly enough, and your virtual cockpit gives you enough of a presence that sickness wasn’t really an issue. While rails-shooter isn’t my go-to gaming experience most of the time, the quality is high and I do like having another VR game I can play from my chair.

However, for a “mecha-piloting” experience, until the new VR-enabled version of Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries comes out (a year from now), the little demo game “War Robots VR: The Skirmish” comes much closer to scratching my itch. But it only lasts five minutes.


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Recovery

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 5, 2018

My apologies for being a little more quiet than usual this week. I’m recovering from hernia surgery. Recovery seems to be going pretty well, but I’m not exactly in tip-top shape.

On the plus side… I’m catching up on some Netflix watching. And sleep, kinda, sometimes, belly willing.

And even some reading. 🙂


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Goodbye 2017, and Happy New Year!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 1, 2018

Last night we said goodbye to 2017 by watching the Rifftrax of Sharknado (which was hysterical), and playing the Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords boardgame. We won about 8 minutes before midnight on the second-to-last turn before we would have lost. So… yay!

Online, people are talking about how horrible 2017 was. For me… there was a lot I’d hoped to accomplish but didn’t get to, and I was in crunch way too much of the year, but aside from that, things went pretty well. I’ve had far, far worse years.

At the day job, things are kinda taking off right now. I’m getting paid to play in Virtual Reality, which is kind of a life-long ambition. Yeah, it’s not all I’d hoped and dreamed it would be, but it’s still pretty cool. It’s challenging, interesting, and sometimes even fun. Business is going pretty well at our company. We’re as busy as the proverbial one-legged-man at a butt-kicking contest (thus the crunch), as an artifact of success, but we’re pulling things off.

On the writing front, I had six stories published in 2017 (not including the one that squeaked in via digital in 2016 but didn’t see print until several weeks later). I had a novel, “Blood Creek Witch,” accepted by Immortal Works Press, and finished the last (?) revision. It will be released in March this year (YAY!). I also wrote the next book in the series, which is about to undergo serious revision as soon as I’m done with a couple of short stories. In spite of crunch, I’ve managed to pull off the writing thing. Yay.

Game development was sadly not a great winner in 2017. When programming for the day job goes 12 or more hours, it’s hard to come home and do basically the same thing. On top of that, I’ve pretty much lost my content folks to other projects, so it’s back down to just me. This is making me reevaluate how I make games in the future. I have limited art skills, and tons of art needs in the current project. That’s a problem. I have worked on some smaller experimental projects, particularly with VR, but nothing that I’m ready to talk about or take to the next level *yet*. I intend to explore these further in 2018.

I’ve also been avoiding making some hard choices with Frayed Knights 2. At this point, there are some things that just need to be completely re-written and re-done, but I am terrified that taking that step can throw the game into an endless loop of rewrites. But it may need to be done. FK2 was a learning project for me, and I now know a whole lot of what I did wrong. Continuing in the same direction could actually take more time. But content-wise, we’re still stuck at the halfway point. It’s a rough place to be.

We got to vacation in France this year. We’ve been talking about it and saving up for it for years. CRPG developer Charles Clerc of OlderBytes.com is a friend of ours, and he opened up his home in southern France to us to explore the country beyond Paris. We had an incredible week-and-a-half out in the Toulouse area.

I definitely slacked on the guitar hobby, compared to previous years. So I didn’t make as much progress as I had. This is a carry-over from the end of 2016, and another victim of crunch mode. Mostly. However, compared to pretty much every year before 2013 since I was 17 years old, I still did pretty good. I learned to play a few more songs, and while it’s still rough, I can play Don’t Fear the Reaper, a long-time air guitar favorite. Learning to play it For Reals is a huge .

So… all told, 2017 wasn’t too bad for us. Ups and downs, but I’m calling it a win.


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A bunch of very quick takes: Star Wars Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 29, 2017

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I have taken advantage of downtime to get work done, but also to recharge the ol’ batteries a bit. Nobody’s asking, but here are a bunch of take-aways from a bunch o’ stuff:

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – I liked it better than The Force Awakens, and better than the prequels. However, I originally thought The Force Awakens was better than Return of the Jedi, but after seeing it again, my opinion of it dropped. So we’ll see how this one holds up. The film takes a bunch of situations that echo those from both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but spins them off in new directions. The theme seems to be “out with the old, in with the new,” and at the end of the film it sure feels like they’ve hit the reset button on the whole franchise so they can start with a fairly clean slate with Episode 9.

I’m… strangely okay with that. There’ll always be A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back that I can go back and watch and feel the love all over again. Beyond that… Star Wars has just been another SF franchise for me for a while now, and this felt like a better-than-average entry.

Jumanji – They opened with a clip of Twisted Metal!!!!! It was going to be hard to dislike it after that. But it was funny, way over-the-top, owned its wild premise, and was just lots of fun. Definitely worth watching.

Wonder – a story of a fifth grader with major facial deformities who goes to a mainstream school for the first time, as perceived by several different characters. It was very good.

Bright – A Netflix original film starring Will Smith, it’s an urban fantasy cop movie. It was okay, but I’d hoped for better. I would have greatly preferred a PG-13 version, but they were clearly going for the “Game of Thrones” style mature audience for this one.

Vaporum – I haven’t played much of this one, but it’s a steampunk-based dungeon crawler for the PC. It’s available on GOG and Steam, and if you are into both Steampunk and Dungeon Crawlers, it seems like a pretty worthy entry!

Avorion – Again, I feel like I have only barely scratched the surface of this one, but while it feels impossible to actually build a decent-looking ship in this game, it seems like one of the best approaches to “Minecraft in Space” that I have played. Everything is built from the same building blocks, so you have the advantage of a highly destructable as well as constructable universe to play in. But even beyond that, it looks like they’ve layered on some decent procedural gameplay on top of that. This is Good.

Kart Chaser: The Boost VR – I got this one in a bundle and dreaded trying it out, because it looked like a quick way to lose my lunch. It’s not actually the case. Yeah, it’s an indie Mario Kart clone, with cute graphics but only half the charm. However, they put the eyepoint in a very predictable spot, and I was able to play for several races without getting sick. This isn’t a game play all day long, anyway. It’s fairly cool and polished for what it is, but unfortunately, there’s no multiplayer. It’s available on Steam.

X Rebirth VR Edition – This was launched at a discount for owners of the original game. To be honest, though, I didn’t play much of the original. I’ve liked EgoSoft’s games in the past, but never warmed up to X Rebirth. I’ll give them credit for sticking with the game after the initial release was kind of a mess. By all accounts from those players who stuck with the game, the company pulled out the stops to make things right again. And now there’s a VR version. I was having some trouble getting a handle on the controls. I’ll probably have to spend some time going through online tutorials and videos to really grok this one, but that’s almost to be expected with more complicated simulators (even space sims) like this one.

War Robots VR Skirmish Edition – I don’t understand this one at all. It’s like… a free VR game demo that’s an ad for a mobile game? Hello? Screw that. I want to play more of the VR game. I realize there’s more money in mobile, but wow. I recommend checking this one out if you have PC based VR. It’s free. It’s ridiculously short, but it’s a good starting point for what I’d like a VR Mecha game to feel like.

The Swamps of Venus – A collection of Leigh Brackett stories by Baen Publishing.  Turn off the part of you that says Venus really is a completely uninhabitable hell-world and imagine an inhabitable and inhabited hell-world, and enjoy these wonderful science fiction stories from the pulp era. They range from good to great. It includes one story, “Lorelei of the Red Mist,” co-written by Ray Bradbury.

Anyway, there’s a grab-bag o’ stuff


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Xchyler Publishing Books *FREE* on Smashwords

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 26, 2017

There’s a year-end book sale going on over at Smashwords, and Xchyler has several of our eBook anthologies available for free there. Check ’em out!

Terra Mechanica: A Steampunk Anthology

Mechanized Masterpieces II: An American Anthology

While Beyond the Wail is pictured, I do not think it is available at Smashwords.


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



Jay’s Tales – The Complete Listing

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 21, 2017

This has been a good year for me as a writer. In 2017, I’ve had six stories published. There was supposed to be a seventh, but … we’ll see. These things get interesting sometimes. Maybe 2018, maybe never. I had a novel accepted this year by Immortal Works that we have been busy getting ready for publication. It should be released in March. I also have one short story slated for publication in an anthology next year.

In 2017, I doubled my published story count from six to twelve. Compared to some, I’m still very much a piker in this respect, but I considered it a milestone.  I set kind of a dumb goal to get four stories published this year to continue my trend. I’d had one published in 2014, two in 2015, and three in 2016, so why not? Now, I have no control over what gets published, what gets rejected, or how quickly either of those happen. That’s why it was a dumb goal. What I did have control over was how much I wrote and submitted.

Anyway, now that *I* am having trouble keeping track of what’s out there, I’ve created a page listing my published fiction. You can find it at the top menu here on the ol’ blog, the item marked “Jay’s Tale’s.” I will keep that updated as things get released or get a release date.

While I’d published several non-fiction articles previously, my first fiction acceptance by a paying market happened almost exactly four years ago today (at least that was the date of the public announcement). It’s been quite a ride. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot of how much more I have to learn. But I’m having fun. It’s been challenging doing this with a very demanding day job over the last eighteen months, but evidently it is possible. That may be the most important thing I’ve learned. Just like making indie games, this sort of thing is never “convenient.” You have to fight and sacrifice to make the time for it. But I’ve found it pretty rewarding.

I hope you find it entertaining. Enjoy the stories!


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Zombasite: Orc Schism Released (and Zombasite Quick Take)

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 19, 2017

I’m a fan of Soldak Entertainment’s RPGs. I’ve been a fan since Depths of Peril. They drive me nuts with task-overload, yet somehow I keep coming back for more. These are dynamic RPGs with tons of procedural content, but the real key is that the worlds are not static. They don’t wait until you are ready.  The bad guys will level up just like you, create a plan, and execute on that plan while you are busy doing something else. Townspeople aren’t static, either. They may turn on each other, die, get replaced, or even (in this new game) get married.

In spite of being a fan of previous games, it took me a while to try the latest game, Zombasite. I’m not into zombie apocalypse games that much, and having the world of the previous games collapse didn’t sound like a fun time for me.

I was still telling myself that when I found myself unable to quit playing two hours after I started playing. Just like the other games in the series, this one is addictive. At least for me. In a lot of ways, it’s a return full-circle to Depths of Peril. With civilization pretty much wiped out, humanity is reduced to clans. Much of the game is dealing with other clans, as allies, trade partners, or enemies, as in the previous game. You can also adventure with them and solve each other’s quests. Unlike Depths, even more of the game will involve dealing with your own clan–protecting them and trying to manage them and stop infighting, keeping them happy (and sane).  Also, you will find it necessary to arrange hunting, foraging, or scavenging parties to help keep necessary supplies stocks.

Also, like Depths, you have big outdoor areas to explore, many of which contain one or more dungeons. A lot of this adventuring is a lot like Din’s Curse and Depths of Peril, but with the addition of some zombie versions of monsters, and the risk of infection. Infection is curable, fortunately, but not trivially so. It adds yet another layer of depth to the game, I’ll grudgingly admit. As if these games needed any more layers of depth.

As usual, replayability is extreme. There are eight classes to choose from, to begin with, each with their own unique set of three skill “trees “. *OR* you can create your own “hybrid” class by combining two of the skill trees from any of the other classes. Each new world may present new enemies and plots. As I mention, the bad guys *will* plot against you and your clan. There are a number of victory conditions you can achieve to “win” a world / scenario and start over in a new area (taking your character progress, inventory, and clan recruits with you).  There are also all kinds of difficulty level controls, pacing choices, and unlockable modifiers to make the game mode interesting in subsequent playthroughs if you so desire.

It’s a good game. While I automatically groan at the words “zombie apocalypse” these days, I have to admit that Soldak kinda kicked butt on this one. I still feel totally overwhelmed as I’m playing, even when I’m winning.

Shortly after I get hooked, Soldak has released the expansion. I’ll just quote the press release for this one:

Soldak Entertainment today announced the availability of Zombasite: Orc Schism.

Zombasite: Orc Schism is the first expansion for the unique action RPG, Zombasite. This zombie apocalypse action RPG is set in a dynamic, evolving, fantasy world for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Zombasite: Orc Schism can be purchased (10% off the first week) at:
http://www.soldak.com/Zombasite/Orc-Schism.html
http://store.steampowered.com/app/730750/Zombasite__Orc_Schism/
https://www.gog.com/game/zombasite_orc_schism

Also, if you don’t have the base game yet, Zombasite is currently 50% off!

Long ago, when a necromancer attempted to raise Elves he thought to be dead, it went very wrong. Instead of raising an army of zombie slaves, a new race was born. The irate Orcs ripped the necromancer to shreds. Dormant necromancer magic has protected Orcs from zombie infection ever since, but the Zombasite, a zombie parasite, is intelligent. It has finally learned to break the defensive magic. The new infection swept through the entire Orc population like wildfire. Again it went very wrong. A war raged within each Orc between the Orc blood, the Zombasite, and the original Elven blood.

When the Orc blood won, a Dark Orc arose. With less Elven influence in their physiology, Dark Orcs’s aggressiveness and strength intensified, and they expanded their terrible savagery.

When the Elven blood won, the new being became one of the Mutated. The Mutated are a new, unstable Elven/Orc race. The Elven heritage has become the dominate part, but they are still corrupted with Orc blood and necromancer magic. This corruption slowly mutates them over time, sometimes in good ways and sometimes bad. No one quite understands the Mutated and everyone fears them.

And finally when the Zombasite won, a Zombie Lord was unleashed. Zombie Lords have full access to the strength of the Orcs and intelligence of the Elves. They are the most powerful and feared Zombies in existence.

With three new powerful factions rising up from the ashes of the old Orc race, how will you continue to survive the Zombasite?

Features:

Play the Bard class (Minstrel, Illusionist, and Sage specialties) (now 333 total class combinations)
Control the defense of your town
Fight new monsters (Dark Orcs, Mutated, & Zombie Lords)
Solve many more quests
Defend and explore random towns
Explore new area types
Fight with and against new clans

You can go to http://www.soldak.com for more information about Zombasite and Soldak Entertainment.


Filed Under: Game Announcements, Impressions - Comments: Be the First to Comment



Well, we’re doomed… VR-based advertising proves tremendously effective

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 13, 2017

Unsurprisingly, emotional response to VR-based advertising was tremendously more powerful than other media. And of course, Unity sees this as a positive because they are an easy tool for creating Virtual Reality-based advertising. As Agatha Bochenek, the writer of this article at the Unity Blog, puts it, “I think of VR ads kind of like going skydiving on a first date. There’s no guarantee of happily ever after, but at least you won’t be forgotten.”

Of course, right now the trade-off is that VR is still a niche technology. It has a powerful impact, but a limited audience. Now, okay… as I am a guy who is also in the business of selling my stuff,  I understand the need for advertising and selling. And as anyone who has watched the Superbowl ads without watching the Superbowl can tell you, ads can be quite entertaining in their own right. Used responsibly, these might not be terrible.

However, VR can be intensely personal, and I’m a little reluctant to surrender that space to some of these marketers and what they might consider a “good idea.” This ad for Jigsaw? I don’t think I would want want to go through that.

But you can get the scoop, some numbers and graphs here:

Interactive VR ad achieves higher emotional response than traditional formats


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



Quick Take: Fallout 4 VR

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 12, 2017

Fallout 4 VR is out now. I’ve got somewhat faster Internet now, so I was able to play it the day it released, instead of the next day after an overnight download. It’s “only” about 25 gigs, which comes out sort of lightweight by today’s AAA game standards. I never played the non-VR version of Fallout 4. I was swamped by real life and in the middle of other games when it came out, so I didn’t grab it until it was deeply discounted. Shortly thereafter, before I got around to installing it (with an overnight install with said slower Internet), I heard that Fallout 4 VR was coming. So… I made the decision to wait. I would experience the whole thing for the first time in Virtual Reality.

Now, as a gamer (even a no-longer-hardcore-gamer like me), it was pretty much impossible to avoid all spoilers about the game. I was fine with that. It is a familiar enough world and system for me at this point, after four previous games–not including Fallout Tactics, which is still on my “to play” list. I knew it was more streamlined of a game system than some of my friends preferred, which disappointed me, but might be really good for VR where you really want things more streamlined. Story-wise… well, I knew it started out just prior to the apocalypse hitting. I was kinda looking forward to that look into the retro-future before the bombs fell.

My first few minutes involved watching the intro video in a black nothingness with a big movie screen where I had to step back to see it all. I have a very small play-space for my Vive, so I don’t get to do a lot of moving around. The video was good, but the black nothingness felt a bit unpolished. Then there’s the bit where you are supposed to be looking at yourself from the vantage point of a mirror. That doesn’t work well in VR, either. I imagine it’s a holdover from the original game, but it’s weird bobbing your head around inside a medicine cabinet.

After that, though, things get better. First off, there’s locomotion in VR. By default, Fallout 4 VR uses a teleport system that’s mapped conveniently into the game system. You’ll hear your own footsteps following you a bit, but you burn action points with your movement and have maximum walk / run distances. It seems to work pretty well for me. Players who do not experience Virtual Reality Sickness as easily as I do may use other locomotion systems built into game. But here’s the big win for me: I played the game for over an hour and a half with only a couple of quick breaks (‘cuz nature does call, even in VR). I never experienced any noteworthy VR sickness. Many times, I quit a VR game because I start getting “the sweats” – the first symptoms of VR sickness, and I have learned not to push it. That never happened in Fallout 4 VR. I quit because I was getting tired of standing and had other things I had to get done.

I’m still getting used to the rest of the interface, but things seemed to have been simplified enough that they work really well in VR.  Aiming weapons is pretty natural in VR (I just have to be careful not to accidentally hit a bookshelf or something in my play space). It’s a bit more challenging than aiming with the convenient mouse with target crosshairs and everything, but it feels very real. The Pip Boy works amazingly well in VR. You just raise your off-hand (you can choose your dominant hand preference in the VR options menu) and look at the Pip Boy to activate it. It enlarges as you bring it up, so you can read it clearly. From there, you just use the pad on that controller to navigate around. When done, lower your arm. Easy-peasy.

The VATS system also works really well. You press the menu button on the main controller, and everything slows down to bullet-time. You pick your target by literally aiming at it, and the numbers pop up to the side of it.  This is a little more challenging at long distances, so we’ll see how it goes with something like a sniper rifle. But if you want to use VATS, it’s pretty straightforward.

Finally, there’s the story and visuals. This is the part I wanted to experience first in VR. I’m not sorry. There’s still a world of difference between watching stuff play out on a screen–even when you are in control of it–and having it happen around you when you are in that world. Even though there are limits to the brightness, having a nuke go off in the distance when you are standing on the hilltop is at least twice as visceral as having it play out on a monitor. There are other events which I also think pack a bit more wallop when you are there in the middle of it.

It is somewhat noteworthy that people seem to all be about six feet tall in this world. I’m not used to thinking of myself as short–I’m pretty much average height. On a monitor, things look small unless scaled up a bit. In VR, however, this subtle scaling factor makes everything look a little bigger. I imagine I’ll just get used to it. My first super-mutant encounter is probably going to be pretty intimidating. More intimidating than usual, that is.

I probably experienced  less of the game than would be expected in 90 minutes, also because of VR. I guess I’m still not completely jaded. I still like to sight-see a lot. There’s so much detail to the models and setting, it’s easy to just hang out in some spot and get a closer look at things. If you are an explorer-sort like me, VR is definitely the way to go.

Bottom line… I think I’m really going to like this game. It’s too early to say for sure, but I’m guessing it will probably be my second “must have” recommendation for the Vive (the other being Star Trek: Bridge Crew).  So far, it seems they’ve done a good job of porting the game to VR, and it was probably a very good candidate to begin with. A giant open-world RPG in VR? A relatively clean interface? No VR sickness? I may be off in the post-apocalyptic world  for a while…

 

 


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I finally play Doom in VR… twenty years later than I expected.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 7, 2017

Early attempts at consumer VR came out in the mid 1990s. We tried a couple of them at the game studio where I worked. I expected the Virtual Reality revolution to happen “any year now.” My dream was to be able to play Doom in VR. Of course, at the time, I had no idea how susceptible to motion sickness I was, or how it was going to be such a problem with VR. I just imagined playing a fully immersive Doom.  Especially on a laptop, on the bus, where I could freak people out. But it’s the bus. The drunks and ladies having loud arguments with both Satan and Jesus  did plenty of freaking people out, so I imagined I’d be pretty low-key on the bizarre scale.

Yep. Any year now…

“Any year now” turned into about 20 years. But now there is finally a Doom VR, called “Doom VFR“. I finally got a chance to play it a little… and they’ve taken pains to make it playable by poor guys like me who aren’t so great with VR sickness. It’s not something I’m playing on the bus, but it’s been years since I took the Provo-Salt Lake “express” late at night, and I’m willing to give up on that part of the dream.

I haven’t been able to play it very long. I keep accidentally dashing when I mean to teleport, and that can make me a little queasy after a while.  Having played the 2016 Doom, what I played was pretty familiar. 2016’s Doom is not classic Doom. It’s fun, it’s gruesome, and it’s action packed, so while it doesn’t scratch quite the same itch for me, it’s a good game. The VR version seems to be about as removed from the new Doom as far as gameplay is concerned as the new Doom is from the classic, even though the assets seem to have been cut & pasted in.

But yeah. It’s Doom, but not really.

EXCEPT…. apparently, once you beat the game, you unlock a couple of bonus levels. The bonus levels are reproductions of two levels from the original shareware version of Doom. HELLO! I have a goal now.

My biggest concern is motion sickness. Doom VFR doesn’t allow (as far as I can tell) manual save games… it’s all checkpoint based. If the checkpoints are more than 10 or 15 minutes apart, I may never beat it. I try to quit VR when I start getting “the sweats,” and they started hitting around 15 minutes in. Maybe once I master the locomotion that will be less of an issue, but I doubt it. Side-stepping / circle-straffing is still a big deal in Doom VFR, and given my smallish play area, the sideways dash capability is going to get some use. That means flirting with VR sickness for me.

But hey…. regardless, I’m checking this one off my “to do” list for life.

 


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



Starfinder RPG — a pulp space opera / planetary romance RPG?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 5, 2017

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I finally got the chance to play the Starfinder RPG with my family. As a major fan of the Pathfinder system by Paizo, I was was pretty excited to try out their science fiction RPG.

It took me a while to wrap my brain around the game. It was not quite what I expected. But once I finally figured it out, I realized it was something better. It is in no way at all a traditional science fiction RPG. There are many options for that, one of the most venerable being Traveller… in all its many rules system variations. Traveller is awesome. The new Star Wars RPG series by Fantasy Flight Games is also pretty cool. I recommend both. And that’s not even skimming the surface of what’s out there… those are just a couple of systems that I have played which have come to mind.

Starfinder isn’t a “me, too” space opera RPG. It charts a course in a completely different direction. I’ll start with the thing that took me aback at first: SPACE GOBLINS. And not just generic goblins, but full-on Paizo-style goblins, the clinically insane and often hysterically amusing little pests. Seriously? But the more I considered it, and the deeper I dug into the campaign world (universe?), the more I warmed up to the idea. I guess that was the thing I needed to shatter my preconceptions and really embrace the game on its own terms.

So what is Starfinder? I kind of imagine it as a mixture of three ingredients:

  1. Pathfinder in space.
  2. Classic early-to-mid 20th century Pulp SF
  3. Comic Book / Anime / Manga Space Opera

Starfinder is not the game for playing in a Star Trek or Firefly type of universe. I mean, sure, you can probably force-fit a campaign with lots of restrictions and get it to be serviceable, but it is far from optimal for that. It’s the game for playing Guardians of the Galaxy, or for emulating John Carter, or something with a more Star Wars-ish flavor. It’s space where lasers go “pew pew” (complete with sound effects), where undead travel space inside ships resembling bizarre skeletal structures without life support systems, where gods and demons are real and terrifyingly powerful, where magic-wielding mystics fight side-by-side with blaster-wielding power-armored soldiers, and where there giant creatures might actually be found flying through space. It’s “science fantasy” unafraid to get a little weird for the sake of fun.

The second “ah-hah” moment I had was going through the default campaign materials. The campaign as presented is really focused on a single star system. Seriously? All of a galaxy to explore, and they are focusing on a single system and its planets? What gives?

Then I started studying the planets. There’s… the jungle-and-swamp filled world of Castrovel. And the dry, dying red planet of Akiton. The rings of Liavara. The many moons of the gas giant Bretheda…

Wait, what?

This is the solar system of the pulp SF writers, kinda. The planetary romances from the first half of the 20th century that imagined our solar system teeming with alien life and ancient mysteries. The designers borrowed these ideas, put them around a different star, added some new idea of their own (or borrowed from other sources), and went to town.  Once I grasped this, I was (naturally) ecstatic.

I think the plan going forward is that these worlds will not simply be the “planet of the week” from Star Trek, or the usual single-climate, single-themed planets of Star Wars, etc. The core rulebook talks about the variations in the planets, the different cities and what makes them unique, that kind of thing. In theory, it sounds like you could do the John Carter thing and have an entire campaign set on one planet.

But wait, there’s more. While the core worlds are certainly central to the default campaign (and there’s a game-rule and in-game rationale for that), they do still have a full galaxy out there to explore, not to mention other dimensions / planes of existence, etc.  There’s the whole Azlanti Star Empire, spanning numerous systems, with its gigantic star fleet and Aeon Guards encased in battle armor that deliberately makes them faceless … um… stormtroopers. A campaign set there might have a flavor much like a certain ridiculously popular science fiction franchise. There’s the civilization-devouring Swarm that harvests the DNA of the races it conquers and splices part of it into a new racial offshoot of its own. There are tons of possibilities for different kinds of campaign styles.

And yeah, as for character classes, you have a mix of magic and tech. Full-blown mystics, techno-mages, and the strange Solarions who wield tiny fragments of suns (or black holes) for weapons and armor. Like I said, it’s a bit “Pathfinder in Space.” You could exclude those parts to tailor the flavor to something more serious… but I think it’s more fun not to. That’s like excluding Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy because a gun-happy humanoid raccoon is too over-the-top. The game is still pretty heavily influenced by Pathfinder (which was, in turn, a Dungeons & Dragons derivative). This means it’s heavily class-based and level-based. They did a good job of making the classes interesting with lots of options, so having two operatives in the party doesn’t make one of them feel superfluous. In fact, between race and racial abilities, the “theme” and its level-based abilities, the different options for each class (think of the sorcerer bloodlines in Pathfinder), and the pathfinder idea of “archetypes” built directly into and balanced with the game (but really reserved for future expansions), the “class based system” is pretty dang flexible. And of course, you still have the D20-based feats, skills, etc.

However, it does seem like they’ve tried to streamline things a bit from the 3rd edition days so making a character is a little bit less of a chore. I can’t exactly say how well they’ve pulled that off, just that it seems they’ve tried. If nothing else, it seems like they have cleaned up the exceptions to the rules a bit so that everything can proceed more systematically. They are also deprecating the use of random dice rolls in character generation, so that you are less likely to be stuck with a low-hit-point soldier because of some bad luck.

In the Alien Archive and similar third-party books, the game takes pains to make any reasonably balanced race that has enough free will to be a playable character *can* be a player character, and they always have sidebars for using them as a player race choice. In this game universe, humans are just a racial option. It’s intended to be full of all kinds of weird creatures as both PCs and NPCs. I like that.

Combat has received a significant overhaul while still kinda-sorta keeping to the old Pathfinder / D20 rules. The extra attacks at every 5 points of base attack bonus rule is GONE. A character gets one attack per turn, unless they choose the full attack option, in which case they get two attacks at a -4 penalty (each). Of course, there are feats, racial abilities, item properties,  and (I think) class abilities galore that change all that, but this really fixes up a particularly challenging power-scaling problem from the D20 rules. They’ve also done away with the free 5-foot move (‘adjustment’) from D20, but that’s much less of an issue when being denied the full attack isn’t nearly such a problem.

The game economy is… weird. Equipment has a tier rating, which is really only something used by gamemasters in the same way that the CR or encounter level would be used… more as a rule-of-thumb for the GM. Don’t reward 3rd level PCs with Level 20 Nanotube Carbon Skin Armor if you don’t want your game to become entirely imbalanced and very difficult to plan challenges around. Like 3E / Pathfinder, pricing is scaled based on a formula and reward schedule that should work out reasonably well if GMs stick with the “system” and don’t deviate too much. But it does mean that a Firefly-style campaign where your characters are always going to be on the ragged edge of solvency is tougher to work out with this system, and you won’t get as much rules help (and character classes may become more imbalanced as they level, etc.)

Starships are a whole different beast. It’s a problem child in any space opera system. The prices of giant starfaring vessels being what they should be, one really good salvage (or act of piracy) risks completely derailing a campaign. Starfinder deals with the problem by sidestepping it completely. It assumes the PCs have access to a starship (but readily notes this isn’t necessary). Now, how they have access to the starship is left to the campaign. Maybe it’s assigned to them by whatever agency they are working for. Maybe they are in hock up to their eyeballs for it. Maybe it’s inherited. Whatever the case, the game doesn’t have prices listed for starships. Instead, the party’s ship is assumed to be something of a member of the party and levels up with the average character level of the party. Whether this is through upgrades or reassignment or the party taking over a new ship they have salvaged and using money from selling their previous ship to get it fixed up, or use the salvage to upgrade their existing ship, whatever. As the party levels up, they get additional Build Points and access to higher tier equipment. It takes some of the thrill out of the big salvage score, which basically turns it all into little more than a story bonus in the hands of the GM, with only the in-game bonuses he or she offers.

By the same token, it offers flexibility for the game. Whether the party is a military unit receiving new ship assignments based on their prestige, privateers going after prize money for captured ships, mercenaries fighting bad guys for cash, mercenaries, entrepreneurs, or whatever, the abstract system leaves those kinds of details to the GM. It’s adaptable, and you don’t have to worry about the party selling their ship for the best battle-armor and plasma rifles and magical rings that money can buy.

The game rules do have a strong combat-focus, which makes sense. The skill system and role-playing can pretty much handle everything else, without too many problems. One advantage of its roots in Pathfinder is that the game assumes the GM will borrow freely from Pathfinder source material, especially monsters from the Beastiaries. Why not? It does offer some cautions and advice for dealing with more persistent elements crossing over between the games, especially magic, and noting some ways in which the systems are balanced differently and how that might effect CR or the value of certain equipment.

All-in-all… I think I’m a fan. They’ve pushed themselves in a different direction on the Space Opera front, but not so far that you can’t reasonably simulate a good chunk of popular (and classic) space-opera-esque science fiction (or “science fantasy” for some). If you can’t stand the idea of mixing fantasy and science fiction, you might have a problem with it. If you don’t like class-and-level-based RPG gaming, this is also probably not your game. Personally, I like what they did with the rules, and I don’t mind that they limited the compatibility with Pathfinder with their changes. I really like the direction they seem to have gone with the default campaign setting. I look forward to seeing it more fleshed out in the future if they maintain what seems to be the current vision. I hope to have a chance to play a campaign in this system soon.


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A NaNoWriMo Winner is Me. But…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 28, 2017

Last year, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time, in spite of all kinds of misgivings. I did not “win,” but I came close. I’d started early, wrote 42,000 words in November, and finished at the end of the year. After some extensive revisions (because yes, it was a mess), I submitted it to a publisher, and it was accepted. I’m in the second round of editing on it right now, which means I have a love / hate relationship with the book. Yes, this is the second round of edits with a professional editor after I’d spent five months (on and off) revising the book and getting it as close to publication-ready as I could.

I guess there are a couple of morals to this story:

  1. “Winning” NaNoWriMo isn’t nearly as important as simply producing.
  2. It may be different for some pros, but for folks like me, the first draft of anything made during NaNoWriMo or any other time is probably unpublishable crap, and that’s okay. It’s simply the critical first stage of a process.

Capitalizing on my enthusiasm from my success “losing” NaNo, I started the sequel this year. I have used NaNoWriMo to help push myself to complete it. The first draft is still about 12,000 words shy of completion (a little more than I anticipated), but I hit the 50,000 words written in November over the extended weekend, and could probably end up hitting 60,000 before Friday. It depends on how crazy the next three days are.

I’ll probably have a few more thoughts on the subject later (when I have time to write a post!), but what worked for me the first week has continued to work for me. Having an online writing partner and pushing each other has really helped the both of us. It’s a combination of commitment, accountability, and having someone to pace with.

Again, what’s the point? Seriously, the whole “the world needs your novel!” crap at the nano website rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s motivational for some people, and that’s okay. But that kind of self-important ego-stroking makes it sound like cranking out 50k words is the be-all, end-all. It isn’t.

But a kick in the butt to push your limits, to work harder and more efficiently, and to achieve a concrete and reasonably challenging goal? I’m all for that. Getting a bunch of words down on virtual paper is a critical first stage, and it’s the easiest to track and measure. And the practice is absolutely a key part of improving your craft! Word count matters. So I consider it a worthwhile endeavor. While I hope to increase my productivity across the board for 2018, this will probably be something I will continue to do in 2018.

Now… on to REALLY finish the novel! And the next one!

(And if you are curious about what the newspaper clipping picture has to do with anything… well, it’s kind of a significant element of the first book…)


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It’s “Cyber Monday” and hey, I’m on sale!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 27, 2017

It’s “Cyber Monday” – the Monday after Thanksgiving, where those of us who avoid stores like the plague on “Black Friday” try to pick up online deals. There are a few I’m actually involved in!

First off, on Amazon, three anthologies containing my stories are on sale from Xchyler Publishing – two steampunk tales, and a paranormal story.  The ebook price is steeply discounted. BUT – the real deal is the paperback price. It’s at the steepest discount the paperbacks have ever received, *AND* if you buy them, you will get the ebook version for free. It’s a great way to sample some new authors.

Terra Mechanica: A Steampunk Anthology

  • This book contains my first published short story, “Dots, Dashes, and Deceit.” An autistic savant, coded messages inside telegrams, sound-controlled robots, and an airship figure into this little steampunk yarn.

Mechanized Masterpieces 2

  • Fifty years after the Headless Horseman ran Ichabod Crane out of Sleepy Hollow (or ran off with Ichabod’s head, depending on whom you believe…), a young man comes to Sleepy Hollow and befriends the aging Van Brunt family, and discovers the bizarre secrets of their past.

Beyond the Wail

  • Ever put something down for a few minutes, and when you come back for it, it has disappeared? When this happens to a laptop inside a locked office, two young technically savvy entrepreneurs decide to track it down… and to their horror learn firsthand where such things go.

As a bonus, Immortal Works Press, which is publishing my first novel next year, is also having a big sale on their books. You can check out the collection here at Amazon.

If you are more interested in gaming, I have Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon steeply discounted for the Steam Autumn Sale. You still have about 24 hours to snag this one at the lowest I have discounted it on Steam, like, ever.

Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon is a tongue-in-cheek computer role-playing game for Windows about a team of unlikely heroes: An adrenaline-junky rogue, a diminutive warrior with a chip on her soldier, a tree-hugging nature priest, and a ditsy  sorceress with a quick trigger finger. When strange ‘accidents’ are befalling the greatest adventuring teams in the kingdom, the Frayed Knights may be the ones to solve the mystery.

 

Fun stuff, cheap! Go get ’em!

 


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Impressions – Death By Cliché 2: The Wrath of Con

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 22, 2017

I loved Bob Defendi’s book, Death By Cliché. In it, game designer Damico is shot in the head and finds himself in a rather unique afterlife: trapped inside the “imaginary” role-playing game world of a really poor Game Master, surrounded by fantasy clichés and nonsensical elements based on clunky game rules and random tables. But his very presence changed things, and the world started gaining a life of its own. While this might have started as some kind of purgatory for him, this fantasy world has become his own, and now it’s filled with people he cares about.

I anxiously awaited the release of the sequel, Death By Cliché 2: The Wrath of Con. I wanted more. I got more. I loved it.

Unfortunately, Damico’s new home is still on the receiving end of cataclysmic events, because it’s still a game world under (partial) control by a Game Master of Ed Wood proportions back on Earth. To make things worse, it’s Con Weekend, which means guest players, tired players, and maybe even drunk players at the table are going to be slinging dice and pulling stupid crap against an apocalyptic foe because for them, it’s just a game. But for Damico, this is his life now. He’s going to have to manage this game from the “inside” to limit the destruction caused by one wild Gaming Con weekend.

After reading the first book, I really wanted to know more about what was happening in the “real” world. Was Damico dead? In a coma? This book doesn’t fully answer any of this… the readers only window on what’s happening back on Earth comes through out-of-character comments by the player characters. But as the first book turns into a series (I know Bob Defendi has at least three more books drafted), that becomes less important… as it is for the main character. This is his world now. He’s found love. He’s found purpose. He’s found responsibility. And he’s the only one who can protect it from the disasters that can befall it at the whim of the Game Master and the player characters at the table.

Of course, this is a comedy. I laughed out loud many times reading it, but it’s the kind of comedy that really serves the story and characters, making them all more appealing to me. Defendi’s approach to humor is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett’s in the Discworld series. He takes goofy, trope-laden situations, and just runs with them, and makes them real. It works for me. I still want more.

Obviously, you should start with the first book. Read Death By Cliché. I mean it. If you are a fan of dice-and-paper RPGs, you will want to check out this series. This little take on the sequel is just a taste of things to come.

Enjoy!


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Virtual Unreality

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 16, 2017

It’s 1:15 in the morning. We’ve been at this for over 16 hours straight. Less than five hours before all this equipment has to get packed up to get loaded on the 9 AM truck bound for the conference center for the trade show. Each of us is praying that this time we won’t find any significant bugs. We’ve been saying that prayer for the last twelve hours already, and it hasn’t done us much good yet.

I pull off my Virtual Reality headset and look around. We’re all in the chilly warehouse wearing VR equipment and testing virtual worlds. And for a moment, I hear the young man I once was, half my age, who is just getting ready to start his career. I realize that this is the job he could only wish for, because this sort of thing was only science fiction back then. Then the moment is gone, but it was enough to remind me that as much as this sucks sometimes, it could be a lot worse.

I make the modifications to the scenario, tweaking the virtual world just a little bit to put the truck through a different routine, praying once again that everything will work correctly this time. I put the headset back on, venturing back to a world that convinces my brain that it is absolutely real. I’m back to work.


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Keeping my head above water, Fall 2017 edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 14, 2017

A trade show *AND* a customer deadline on the immediate horizon, and we’re behind schedule on both.

NaNoWriMo

Technology needing immediate repairs

Doctor’s Appointments

It’s been a week. It’s going to continue to be a week. My apologies. Wish I could talk more. I will, at some point. Maybe Thursday or Friday. Y’all be good and have fun! (And no, those aren’t mutually exclusive…)

 


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