Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Looking Forward: Optimistic Speculation Wanted

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 30, 2016

34_astounding_1940_06_rogersI think I’ve noted my somewhat recent delves into reading pulp fiction from the early-to-mid 20th century. I can’t say I’m reading it extremely broadly… it’s a huge area, and I have my favorite authors. Like every field, Sturgeon’s Law applies: 90% of everything is crap. Theodore Sturgeon oughta know. He was a pulp writer, too.

One thing I have learned is that the preconceptions of the “style” of the science fiction of the pulp era are way off-base. Most of the time, they are based not on the stories themselves, but on just the covers of the magazines. And… okay, the magazine covers were pretty wild. Or early SF movies. Or the movie posters from early SF movies. There’s this view that Science Fiction was this vapid genre of rocket ships, lantern-jawed heroes, bug-eyed monsters, and damsels in distress. Yes, you get that. And yes, they are often lurid and action-oriented. Pulp’s heyday was in the era before Television  became common… and certainly before video games. It filled that niche.

planetstorieslastBut stylistically, the stories ran the gamut. At least the better stuff did. Even in Fish Men of Venus, it wasn’t the Fish Men who were the true bad guys, but a close human friend and ally who proved to be a betrayer. The future isn’t always optimistic. The heroes may have issues. The villains have issues. A gun of some kind or at least a balled-up fist might be required before the end of the story, but they usually aren’t the solution to anything but a temporary problem. The heroes weren’t always heroic… sometimes they were just trying to redeem themselves. The better SF of the era might feel a little quaint on the technology side, but still packs a punch, still asks interesting questions, and still holds up a mirror to our society today.

Most stories could be considered optimistic. The worlds aren’t overly oppressive or dark. The hero wins in the end… depending upon what he was struggling for. Maybe (usually) not the goal he was struggling for, but in the end, he (or, admittedly less frequently, she) pulls off a victory. We get a reasonably happy ending.  Exceptions abounded. But people weren’t buying this stuff to get depressed about the future. They were buying it and reading it for escape, adventure, and inspiration, with a bit of nuance and a chance to think about some really unusual questions.

Years later, the stereotype stuck.

There’s been a trend over the last 25 years to go darker, grittier, and to push back against a stereotype of older science fiction. I first became aware of it with Cyberpunk, but it didn’t start there.  In an article in Time, Graeme McMillan believes the trend may be closer to 40 years:

Such pessimism and fascination with future dystopias really took hold of mainstream sci-fi in the 1970s and ’80s, as pop culture found itself struggling with general disillusionment as a whole. Certainly, at the time, there was much to be disillusioned about; the optimism and hope of the late ’60s fell apart as the hippie dream of a new Age of Aquarius came face to face with a reality filled with an unpopular war, civil rights riots and all-new reasons to feel suspicious of and disappointed in those in authority, so it’s hardly any surprise that the future became a darker, less inviting place.

Now, I do enjoy dystopian, post-apocalyptic, darker, grittier stuff.  I love Cyberpunk. I like some stories that serve as much of a warning as to what we might become as those with a more optimistic view of the future.  Variety is the spice of life. But, like McMillan says, it can get to the point where it feels stuck in a rut.

FalloutCoverSince I have much more experience in video games, I have to agree that it’s pretty prevalent in gaming, too. Maybe artists prefer building nasty, gritty, dirty environments more than the clean and brightly-lit ones? Or is that just the designers? Whatever the case, the future is certainly grim, dark, and gritty in many video games, and it seems like that’s true in the biggest games. But is there a causal relationship there, and which way does it go?

It’s not that the darker worlds are more exciting or dangerous. They are not. Optimistic worlds are rarely a paradise, and can be as full of peril and conflict as any other. Fans of Star Wars or The Martian know better. For that matter, after The Martian (book and movie), audiences now know that “hard” science fiction can be every bit as fun and exciting as the more fanciful stuff. Not to mention popular.

themartianIf I had to pick a preference (and why would someone force me to do that? Why? Why?), I would probably choose the stuff that inspires. We need that. It’s important to look up, to catch a vision of potential, and to work towards something, and not just away from something. Something hopeful, not just something that’s disturbingly believable. It can be harder to write… to imagine solutions and not just problems. Because then, as with all art, that can fire the imagination and encourage others to imagine solutions as well.

In fact, there’s an argument that without the arts doing exactly that in the 20th century, we never would have made the progress we did in the space program, landing men on the moon and sending probes to the other planets in the Solar system. AtlasObscura has an article about how the arts influenced space exploration – particularly artists impressions of other worlds and potential space missions – may have made a huge difference not just in the public, but also inspired scientists and helped unlock new ideas. (Again, I wonder how much of a boost The Martian has been for promoting Mars projects).

Andrew Liptak on Flipboard also talks about the push to get back to optimistic science fiction in television. I didn’t think TV was struggling too hard with a lack of optimistic science fiction shows… but I’m not quite up to speed on TV these days, and while speculative fiction has really grown in TV in the last decade, admittedly a lot of it is paranormal, fantasy, superhero, etc.

Some authors have pushed to restore a bit more optimism to science fiction, as well. From Neil Stephenson (best known for his wild, fun Cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash) to lesser-known authors, many have made calls to put the optimism, hope, and inspiration back into science fiction. Not that it ever entirely left. Not by a long shot. But I think these calls were as much to call attention to what’s already being done as to help generate more, in an effort to balance the scales somewhat.

And so I guess I’m adding to the call. Not that I dislike the other stuff. I simply want more variety. I just want to see more games, books, and movies that tackle the optimistic side of science fiction. I want stuff that inspires me.


Filed Under: Books, Mainstream Games, Movies, Short Fiction - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



Giant Fighting Robot Battles Might Be Dangerous

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 28, 2016

You guys remember the challenge between the U.S. and Japanese giant pilotable robot companies?

Yeah. Stuff just got real. They are doing safety tests now, because they’d like to not die during a clash between  5-6 ton robots shooting and punching each other. The results were… less than ideal. It turns out it might be pretty easy to seriously injure or kill the pilot in these things. Not a huge surprise, but definitely something that needs to be addressed.

But this video is totally making me think back to my days of playing Mechwarrior / Battletech games on the PC.  Although if I were to make one myself, now, I’d totally want deformable geometry on them and visible damage that was more than just scruffed-up paint textures.


Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



Where are the dancing monkeys?!?!?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 27, 2016

monkeyisland2Perhaps the only real disappointment of the Special Edition release of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge was that they nuked the opening credits. Which was, in my wife’s opinion, the best part of the game. While I thought the game was awesome regardless, and is definitely one of the greatest adventure games of all time, I have to agree that the loss of the cinematic opening credits was a pretty major loss. Of course, since the game’s release, both games and movies have moved away a bit from the “opening credits” idea. So I can kind of recognize why they thought it was less important. They were wrong, of course. But I can recognize the source of their confusion.

My wife, who played and loved the series, could only say, “Where are the dancing monkeys?!?!? There has to be the dancing monkeys!”

I loved the sepia-toned art just as much. Totally the perfect feel. But yeah. The monkeys are awesome.

In case you missed it… as I frequently do… here is the original opening to Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. With the dancing monkeys.

 

 

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge Special Edition is on sale this week at GOG.COM for Windows.


Filed Under: Adventure Games, Retro - Comments: Be the First to Comment



A Nobody’s Guide to Getting the Most out of a Conference

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 26, 2016

Over the weekend, I attended the League of Utah Writer’s 2016 Fall Conference. I’ve been to a handful of these conferences / symposiums in the past, and similar ones in the gaming field (mainly the Game Dev Conference). I love these events. Some are better than others. This time around, I think I filled up a quarter of a notebook with notes this weekend. And that’s a big, fat notebook. I think I averaged 2.5 pages of notes per hour, times about 18 hours of classes and panels that I attended. Not all notes (or classes) were created equal, but I hopefully learned a lot.

One of the interesting things about conferences like this is that what you learn might not necessarily be what the individual taught, or thought they were teaching. Especially when it’s about a creative process, like making games or writing fiction. Writing is a mature enough field so that most writers understand that there are no secret techniques or processes out there that are guaranteed to work for everybody. There are some rules of thumb that are nearly universal, but when you get down to brass tacks, everyone is different and what works for one person would be the kiss of death for another.

Here’s another thing: Even if a presentation isn’t jam-packed with useful information (many times, they weren’t), and even if the presenter isn’t an award-winning, best-selling veteran of the industry, there may often be little bits of useful information you can pick out of any talk that may be worthwhile. Most of the people serious enough to be attending and presenting at these conferences has encountered similar challenges, regardless of how far along they are, and has had to deal with them their own way. They may have some personal experiences or specialized information that be really useful. They may have picked up some tricks to make it work, or tried to follow some advice that absolutely did not work. All of this may be useful. In fact, someone who may only be a little bit further down the path than you may have much more current information than a long-term veteran who dealt with those problems thirty years ago.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I feel like I’m the crown prince of stupid questions. They sound a lot better in my head before I ask them out loud – that’s my only excuse. But I still ask. One key is to direct your question towards the other person’s experiences, instead of asking them to adapt their answer to your own situation. They don’t know your situation. It’s your job to take their answer and adapt it to yourself later, if possible. Hopefully the stupid-question thing won’t come back and haunt me later. But there have been times when I’ve been very, very glad I asked the question.

A lot of it is just sifting through the ideas and suggestions, sometimes experimenting with it, and finding out what works best for you. Again, everyone is different, and works best in different ways. Sometimes it’s just one thing that’s said in passing which helps you break out of your thinking-box, and leads to solving a problem you might have had. The speaker may have no idea that they said anything in any way related to what you’ve been going through, but that can help you break out or have a breakthrough.

One of the best things – assuming they have time – is networking. Even though I use the word, I kinda hate the word. It’s so goal-oriented. It sounds like it’s a vending machine you are supposed to invest time into and you get those mythical opportunities and secrets out of. Like grinding for faction in an MMORPG. It’s totally not, unless I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time.

For me, all that really means is hanging out, talking to people, making friends, shooting the breeze, and having a good time. There’s this really stupid idea that goes around that introverts are not social. If you’ve ever been to a fan convention or an indie game night or a conference like this where the majority of the people are probably on the introverted side of the scale, you know just how much this is horse crap.  We geeky, nerdy, writerly, video-gamey folks get together with others that share our interests, and it’s like, “YOU ARE MY PEOPLE!!!!”  You’ve returned to the mothership!

You get together, and ideas and opportunities get shared. Nobody is as well-informed and knowledgeable as all of you. You introduce each other to other friends. When an opportunity comes up or maybe someone needs help, who do they think of? Their friends. It’s like that.

Just don’t be that annoying guy (or girl). The hanger-on. The creepy stalker-type. I try not to be that. Be generous with your time when you can, but don’t require others be generous with theirs. They are busy, they’ve got other people they want to see and talk to as well. If they are at a table, they want to talk to other people and sell, so don’t make it so otherwise interested folks pass them by.

Another aspect I don’t do nearly enough of is volunteering. If you want to become part of that community, serving the community is probably the best way to do it. Rolling up the sleeves is a great equalizer, a great way to mix things up and meet new people, and there’s something about contributing to build something cool that is tough to beat. And hey, discounted tickets!

I’m no expert, and I’m nobody special at these conferences. But that’s the attitude I take with me, and I feel I still get a lot out of them.


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



Off to a Writers’ Conference

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 23, 2016

Today and tomorrow I’m off to the League of Utah Writers Fall Conference, down in Provo, Utah. I’m going purely as an attendee this time. There’ll be classes on the craft of writing (definitely stuff I’ll always be working on!), publishing, marketing, and business. And of course, hanging out with a lot of friends and meeting new ones. Utah has a really strong, supportive writing community, and this is a statewide event, so … it’ll be fun!

Saturday night is a banquet where I guess they announce the winners of this year’s writing contests. I participated, with my story The Thief and the Chalice. It’s up against stories by some very talented authors, many of whom I know and respect, so I don’t have any real expectations for winning. But like anything else in life, you gotta put yourself out there and take the shots. If nothing else, you learn.

That’s what I hope to do plenty of this weekend. 🙂


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



No Man’s Sky – Suggestions

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 22, 2016

nms-2016-08-23-23-54-42-75It’s been a month since the overhyped procedural universe game No Man’s Sky was released, to the disappointment of many. I’m not going to comment on what was done right or wrong here in managing expectations. I’m still playing. It’s an easy, go-to game to jump in and play for a few minutes (which usually stretches into significantly longer). It actually matches what I expected the game to be pretty well, so I’m led to believe that either I have a lot more realistic expectations than your average gamer, or I was reading and watching different previews from everyone else.

I’ve put about 70 hours in over the last month. Man, that’s kind of a lot. While I’ve not gotten to the center of the universe yet (I’m deliberately avoiding the Way of the Atlas), and haven’t even died yet (though I’ve come close), I figure I’ve put enough time to be decently informed on it. Even given that what was delivered was closer to what I expected, I’m able to see deficiencies… including faults I would have included myself if I’d been making the game. So from the comfortable vantage point of 20/20 hindsight, here are the things I would have done differently:

A MUCH Deeper Tech and Crafting Tree

Seriously, the tech tree is something that gets exhausted within about a dozen hours or so. There should be much more to the tech that unlocks after you max out the “basics” – maybe stuff that’s unique to each of the three races. Maybe stuff that’s not all compatible, so you have to choose which tech path to install (although you could uninstall those upgrades later and try a different type of tech). Ideally, these would be technologies that granted special abilities, not just enhancements to standard abilities.

Seriously – it doesn’t need to be Minecraft level, but it should be something to keep players occupied for more than the first two or three star systems.

Oh, and better yet… with all the ancient history going about in the lore, why not some ancient technology that’s far superior to anything that can be created today. Maybe some of those abandoned buildings that tell of performing research on the Sentinels could reward you with ancient Sentinel technology that cannot be crafted or replicated.

nms-2016-09-19-21-28-01-26Gated Content

The goal of the game – so much as there is one – is to get to the center of the universe. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to see much difference between the early worlds and… at least the ones at mid-game. Everything is laid out on the table from the get-go. Some would call that a feature… but for me, that’s a design flaw. Being able to see new things is part of the reward for pushing further towards the end-game.

Space Combat that Doesn’t Suck

No Man’s Sky is not a space combat game. That’s fine. Bare-bones is… well, acceptable. But right now, it’s a buggy afterthought. Especially when enemy ships just pass through the giant freighters…. what the hell? It’s probably because the AI isn’t handling collision avoidance (which is admittedly not a simple problem). But… when you have super-simple, bare-bones space combat and even that is kind of a joke… yeah. No.

nms-2016-08-25-22-28-45-29More Asynchronous Multiplayer Features

First off – I know the websites and hardcore gamers have cried out about the lack of cooperative (or competitive) multiplayer. If I may wax old-school-gamer, I remember wishing the same thing and joining legions of fans on the early web and Usenet groups wishing for the same thing in Daggerfall. It was only years later, playing a lot of MMOs, that I realized what a terrible idea that was. A world that big (a fraction of No Man’s Sky’s size) would mean you’d almost never see anybody. What a waste of multiplayer.

However, early on in the game, I found myself competing with another player over discovering and naming local planets. Maybe my experience was rare, but that’s how it turned out. We competed for local star-systems, and were at least in the same solar system at about the same time. I logged out one night with half the flora and fauna of one planet discovered and named, and the next evening logged in to find that other player had discovered and named the rest of it.

What this made me think was that it would be cool if there were more asynchronous multiplayer features. If there were more ways for players to have an impact on the universe and on each other – even if logging in at different times and on different sides of the galaxy – that would be cool. It would also require much bigger server requirements, which is a major drawback, but not nearly so bad as trying to add synchronous multiplayer. But just things like leaving notes for other explorers, or the maps of regions they explored. (Granted… the more you allow players the ability to leave their mark on a game online, the more you are going to have a universe flooded with penises.  It’s one of those sadly unavoidable laws of the Internet.)

nms-2016-09-12-22-03-33-68Cities and Civilization

There, I said it. If there will be a No Man’s Sky 2, I would like procedurally generated cities. And ruins of cities. This isn’t something I knew I wanted until later in the game. But as much as I’m a fan of classic pulp sci-fi, the lack of any semblance of civilization… where the entire universe is just tiny one-creature (at best) outposts and isolated one-building ruins… really feels wrong after a while.

Procedural generation could definitely handle it, but that’s a crapload of new procedural content styles, and probably some fundamentally different gameplay. That’s a tall order for a small studio, so I totally get why that’s not there. But still, it feels wrong.

Space Station Variations

Seriously. I know they are really not much more than a fancy trading menu, but… it’d be nice to have space stations worthy of exploration.

nms-2016-08-24-22-04-57-64Surprises / Rarities

Crashed space ships, black holes, and portals are really nice, rare events that spice up the game. So are the ultra-rare, high-value resources found on some planets (most of which result in immediate attack by Sentinels when you take them). There needs to be more of that. Not more of these particular events (that would make them… not rare), but more things like this. Rewards for exploration, or for moving on to the next planet instead of just making a beeline for the core because it’s all alike.

Story / Event Segments

The lore of the universe is interesting, but it would be nice to have some full-fledged events taking place that actually have rhyme or reason. They wouldn’t have to be of the caliber of Soldak Entertainment’s excellent action-RPGs, or to the level of the “anomaly” ship / station that you periodically encounter. Just little quests or events that involve the player and perhaps require some additional searching or hunting. Or – best of all – there are some causal relationship things going on that link events, give them a reason and ground the events in something less ephemeral.

It’d be nice if those ships you see flying over the planet seemed to have some kind of purpose… a purpose you could potentially become involved with. As it is, without even a veneer of purpose, they feel like the lifeless set-dressing they are. Looking at the screenshots, the mind creates a story. It would be cool if the game provided a few more hints here and there to encourage the mind to keep doing so.

nms-2016-09-15-22-45-54-76Something Cool in the Caves

Okay, this is my dungeon-delving self coming out… but something more than mine-able resources or vortex cubes inside the caves would be cool. Structures or events that cannot be found on the surface. I want caves of mystery, man!

More Simulation

So… I totally get that No Man’s Sky is designed to appeal to a more casual crowd. I love how speed scales naturally to allow you to jump between worlds and systems while still working when you are flying close to the surface or just walking around. And games like Elite: Dangerous are so not casual-friendly. But I’d love to see a hint of more simulation in the game. Really, I want Elite: Dangerous smooshed together with No Man’s Sky, if possible.

nms-2016-09-19-23-35-11-83Ship Cosmetic Customization

Man, if only some of the space station variations they don’t have had a shop where you could adjust some of the accessories or paint schemes for your ship…

Bank Accounts

Yeah, another great role for certain buildings in non-existent cities or the non-existent space station variants… a bank account to store rare items that you might need later. Yeah, that detracts from that fun quest to increase your inventory space, but seriously… with those expanded tech and crafting trees the game doesn’t have, that would be pretty essential. Stored items would magically be available in bank locations throughout the universe.

Anyway, some of these changes could be added to the existing game, if Hello Games felt so inclined. Or they could be part of a new and improved sequel. Or… more interestingly… a sequel that somehow used the same universe and naming database (“the universe, 200 years later, not exactly as you left it.”)

I still like the game… but it still kind of feels like the potential for a much bigger, better game is there.


Filed Under: Design, Impressions - Comments: 4 Comments to Read



Big Bang Theory Grumbles

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 20, 2016

Sometimes we really like Big Bang Theory. Sometimes we hate it. I think somewhere around season 4 we quit watching it altogether for a couple of seasons, then saw it got better, caught ourselves up, and resumed watching. About every third episode is a dud for me, and that doesn’t mean the rest are necessarily stellar. That isn’t a great ratio, although usually even the duds have two or three good jokes.

The thing is… I suspect that the ones I consider duds might be the more popular episodes, or at least the ones intended to have the most mass appeal. They avoid most geeky humor in favor of making fun of the principle characters, focus on awkward sex humor, and Sheldon being annoyed and saying socially unacceptable things again. Basically, standard sitcom material, with Sheldon standing out as the most quirky character. It makes me wonder if a bunch of comedy writers for all these failed sitcoms found a job with BBT and are just regurgitating their fallback material.

The ones I enjoy the most emphasize either the really smart geeks having trouble navigating the everyday world, or where they get the opportunity to shine in their own world. Where it’s not just “geeks in a sitcom plot” but really focusing on what makes them stand out. For me, one of the absolute best episodes was the one where the gang got their car stolen while re-creating Star Trek scenes on their way to a Comic Con, while meanwhile the girls try to understand the appeal of comics, only to get into a classic geeky argument over what constituted the Hulk picking up Thor’s hammer. Another great one was when Sheldon befriended James Earl Jones. Some other somewhat recent bits that relied upon the nature of he series and characters included the bird flying into the clean room, and where Leonard, Amy, Raj and Emily visit an Escape Room and end up solving the entire puzzle in just a few minutes.

I understand it’s difficult making a bunch of geeks and their world of science and geeky passions appeal to the mass audience, but that was the premise of the show from the get-go, and it worked. They made it work even for people who didn’t know much about science and geeky passions. I mean, the geeky side is my world, but I don’t know the science, and I get a kick out of it, at least when they aren’t clearly phoning it in. Every time I see a episode that feels dumbed-down or generic, I question why I keep watching it.


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Book Impressions: The Longest Con

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 19, 2016

thelongestconI recently finished reading Michaelbrent Collings’ newest novel, The Longest Con. Collings is best-selling indie horror novelist, though he has written plenty outside of the genre he’s famous for. Several weeks ago I read Apparition, which was creepy as hell, especially if you are a parent. The Longest Con is not horror. Broadly, it would be Urban Fantasy / Comedy, with a serious dose of Murder Mystery on the side.

So here’s the thing: The story takes place in the middle of a big Science Fiction / Fantasy fan convention. If you’ve been to one, you know exactly the thing. Apparently, many monsters of the underworld are as geeky as we humans are, so they like to attend, too. They cosplay as humans. Or as humans cosplaying as something else. There are big peace accords in place at these cons to prevent the usual violence that can occur when monsters and humans meet. A powerful cabal of human wizards called the Dead Ones have appointed monster-hunting humans called Wardens to enforce the peace. But now the murder of a high-ranking werewolf threatens to bring all-out war between the monsters, with humans caught in the deadly crossfire. It’s up to one warden to discover the killer and bring them to justice without disrupting the very profitable convention.

If you are a fan certain authors who are regulars at several of these conventions, it gets better. Many of the characters in the book are real-life authors and friends who regularly attend several of these conventions… showing their “secret lives” as monsters, monster-hunters, innocent bystanders, and so forth. Michaelbrent Collings is the main character… author by day, Warden by whenever the Dead Ones decree. Larry Correia, Dave “DJ” Butler, Kevin J Anderson, Orson Scott Card, and Mercedes Yardley all play significant roles in the story, as do Michaelbrent’s parents and a few other friends and associates.

The characters are well-defined in the book, so you don’t need to know them to enjoy the story. But, if you do… they are great inside jokes. If you haven’t heard Larry Correia’s pro-gun rants, is it just as hysterical when his character in the book keeps an impossible number of high-powered weapons stored TARDIS-like inside his jacket? If you don’t know how friendly and nice Kevin J Anderson is in real life, will you laugh at much at the creepy and ruthless Dead One wizard he plays in the story? And what happens to poor Dave Butler… Fortunately, most of the humor and characterization work just fine if you have no idea that these characters have real-world counterparts. You’ll miss a few in-jokes (I’m pretty sure I missed a few myself), but it’s still fun and funny.

The setting and story is just nuts. In a good way. Imagine trying to figure out the real monsters from the humans in a setting like Comic Con. The action stays fast, the narrative stays humorous, and the monsters – at least the major ones – still manage to feel threatening in spite of the comedic tone.

Collings has built a really interesting world (and underworld!) with a lot going on in it, even if you only catch glimpses of it during the story. I want more. I hope this proves to be the first book of a series. I’d say that if you are a fan of the Harry Dresden or Monster Hunter International series and would like to read something in the same genre with a bit more of a humorous take, definitely pick this book up!

And if there is another book in the series, I would totally love it if Jim Butcher turned up to be some kind of super-powered Wuxia type. Michaelbrent, Jim, if you happen to read this, pretty please make this happen… 😉

 


Filed Under: Books, Impressions - Comments: Read the First Comment



How Roguelike Is Your Game?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 15, 2016

HEH! So you have a game that might be kinda like Rogue, or kinda like the games that are kinda like Rogue, or a game that’s kinda like those games that are kinda like Rogue? Aside from calling it a “Procedural Death Labyrinth” (which has only caught on with developers), how do you describe it?

Fear not! There’s an app for that!

http://bp.io/howroguelike/

roguelikequestions

Yes, if all the boxed are checked, your game is Rogue.


Filed Under: General - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



All I Need to Know I Learned From Roleplaying Games

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 13, 2016

FK2_Vault1_ss6Roleplaying games can be a metaphor for life:

We all start as zero-level nobodies who can’t take care of ourselves. That 20th level wizard who seems so awesome today started out pooping in his diapers, the same as you.

Fortune favors the prepared… and the ones loaded for bear with healing potions and protection spells.

At some point, we often retire from the adventuring. Settle. We stay at our current level indefinitely and become an NPC. Like that guard who took an arrow to the knee in Skyrim. You don’t have to stay there.

We forget our goals and get lost in the grinding. We’re supposed to take on the next boss, but we weren’t ready yet. So we started grinding for XP and cash for items, and… kept doing it. (And then, if it’s a CRPG, we get bored, quit playing, and maybe load it back up a long time later and wonder “what the heck was I supposed to be doing with this thing?”)

Skyrim_DragonYou get the most XP from facing the hardest challenges.

We almost always finish the game with an inventory full of stuff that seemed important but we didn’t want to use because we were saving it for that one time we’d really need it… and that time never came.

The numbers on the page are just stats to help us keep track of things. The real game is in the adventures we have and the people we have them with.

The monsters you face probably don’t follow the same rules you do. It’s not perfectly fair. It doesn’t matter. You can still beat them. You’ve got your own advantages. Use ’em.

A strong adventuring party consists of a mix of wildly different character classes* that compliment each other. There’s strength in diversity. Make the most of your own strengths.

FF6_PCThere are no hard level limits on Life.

The most memorable and awesome adventures are the ones about triumphing in the face of adversity, not sailing over minor obstacles on a straight path to victory.

The nasty, impossible challenges that frustrate you so badly today are going to be yard-trash you can drop-kick with impunity in a few levels if you keep at it.

Nothing’s more important than being teamed with party members who have your back. Seek out the good ones, and lose the ones who will steal your valuables while you are unconscious or launch a fireball inside a tiny room. No matter how cool their abilities, they just aren’t worth it in the long run.

You never know exactly what’s waiting for you inside the dungeon. Sometimes you just gotta make sure you have the basics covered with preparation, you are fully rested and healed up as well as you are gonna get, and kick open the damn door.


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Movie Impressions: I Am Not a Serial Killer

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 12, 2016

i_am_not_a_serial_killerIt’s scary movie season at the Barnson household. It’s been tougher in recent years to pack in the scary movies in October, because we’re so busy that month. My wife is a professional storyteller who specializes in ghost stories, and was a tour guide for the Salt Lake City Ghost Tours for a couple of years, so that means she’s rarely around for weekends. And me… well, with both writing and game development these days, dedicating time to a movie is something of an event. To compensate, the whole Halloween movie season now begin in September for us. Which is TOTALLY FINE by me!

We prefer movies that are spooky and creepy over films that are gory and bloody. We’re not particularly fond of gross-out movies or “torture porn.” Supernatural thrillers beat out realistic psychos. More Twilight Zone, less Saw (a LOT less Saw). Still, a really good movie is a really good movie. Our favorite from last year was probably The Babadook, which was part horror movie, part metaphor.

This year, we have only barely started, but we may have already found our favorite of the year. Friday night, we attended a limited theatrical presentation of the indie horror movie I Am Not a Serial Killer, based on the best-selling novel (and series) by Dan Wells, starring Christoper Lloyd and Max Records.

I’ve never read the book, so I came into the movie pretty cold, deliberately avoiding spoilers. The last few minutes before the movie started, I had to be extra careful, because the theater was packed with fans, friends, and even family of Dan Wells… plus the man himself, who had a Q&A session at the end of the film. I don’t think we were the only ones in the theater who didn’t know what to expect, but we were definitely in the minority.

Honestly, I didn’t even know if “starring” Christopher Lloyd was more of a marketing thing for for a cameo appearance, or if he legitimately played a major role. (It’s the real-deal… while Records plays the protagonist, Lloyd is very much a co-star.)

The story is about a young sociopath named John Cleaver. His family runs the town mortuary. He is obsessed with serial killers, but he and his therapist have set up a strict set of rules he follows to prevent him from becoming one himself.  Then his small town is terrorized by a rash of brutal murders. John is fascinated by them, but also views them with clinical analysis stemming from his lack of empathy, and may be the only one capable of stopping them. But doing so may require him to break his all-important rules…

It’s pretty amazing how well the movie (and, I’m told, the book) turns a sociopath into a sympathetic character, without compromising the realities of his disorder. I never quite trusted him, and his reactions were always (believably) off, but he was still likeable. He’s an interesting character, and is capable of doing some pretty ruthless-but-possibly-necessary things.

A good horror movie is a good movie first and foremost, and I Am Not a Serial Character is that. It’s about family relationships, mental disorder, and … yes, horror. The performances were top-notch, but both Max Records and Christopher Lloyd were amazing. I mean, you expect that our of Lloyd, but wow!

The film is currently unrated. I expect it would warrant an R rating based on the blood and internal organs (although they are usually in the clinical setting of the mortuary), and some pretty scary violence. Language and sexual content is really pretty tame.

My wife and I continued to talk about the movie all the way home. It was a good, character-driven, creepy film that left us thinking about it. I want to see it again. Actually, I want to read the book series, now. But if you haven’t… jump right in and watch the movie. While seeing it in the theaters might be a challenge with it being a small indie film, it’s now available for streaming on Amazon.com, YouTube, and iTunes (I think), and will probably be released on DVD / Blu-ray in the not-too-distant future.

So… if you are looking for a good show for the Halloween season… I recommend it.

 


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Cirsova Magazine Preorders – The Final Push

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 9, 2016

Hey folks. Just a reminder that the chance to order Cirsova #4, with my story “The Priests of Shalaz,” is closing down in 3 days. If you want to get a paper edition, this will probably be your best chance. Grab ’em while they are cheap!

Cirsova Science Fiction & Fantasy Pulp-Style Magazine “Mini-Sub” for Issues 3 and 4

They’ve already cleared the money barrier, so at this point it’s really all about *people*. $3 gets you the e-book versions of both issues, which is a steal. New pulp-flavored goodness!

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To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 8, 2016

Happy 50th anniversary, Star Trek.

I’ve always lived in a world where Star Trek was a thing. So at least that doesn’t make me feel quite so old. 🙂  I grew up on reruns, dreaming of the Final Frontier. Sometimes it was dumb and hokey. Sometimes it was thought-provoking. But it always fueled the imagination of a young boy.

And it did something else, too. As a kid, I never thought twice about there being a Russian on the bridge, when in the real world we were at the height of the Cold War. Or that there was an Asian helmsman in an era with lingering wounds after two wars in Asia and one current (at the time of the series) ongoing conflict. A black female officer on the bridge seemed like the way it should be. Now if only we could find more Vulcans!

That was the fundamental lesson to me… that people are people. Even when alien. Race, color, pointy ears… even culture, so long as they shared the same goals… you could have competent people working together to do awesome things and prevail in desperate circumstances. Their differences were an asset, not a liability.

I think a later lesson I took away from it was the failed Utopia of the universe. For all the lip service given to the Federation and the Prime Directive… maybe it was because the needs of the writers for interesting conflict… it was clear it wasn’t paradise. It seemed power-hungry Commodores were always taking command to further their own plans, or there was unrest on the frontiers of civilized space, and that the problems the Federation supposedly solved were still around, just papered over.

But all that was okay. They weren’t a perfect society (and as I got older, the flaws became more jarring and in some ways, silly). But that was okay. Maybe that was my own private take-away shared by no one else, but my thinking was always: “There’s no such thing as perfect, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to be better.” Crap happens, the system has flaws, sometimes people get falsely accused or even killed … but you keep trying to move forward, improving yourself and hopefully making the universe a little bit better place than how you found it.

So thanks for the dreams, Star Trek! Again, happy 50th!

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Being a Part-Time Indie: Finding the Rhythm

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 7, 2016

One of the reasons I really enjoy the Day Job is that … for the most part… it doesn’t depend much on employee heroics or people working 50-60 hour workweeks to survive. Given my senior status here, I work hard to make sure that’s NOT the case.

Usually.

However, sometimes the craziness happens. That’s pretty much a given anywhere. When you have to finally get off the plateau to make progress but don’t have the luxury of tons of money and tons of employees to make that leap… things get crunchy. I don’t enjoy it, but it’s necessary.

And that’s where I am right now. It’s still not as bad as the worst times of my full-time game dev career, so at least there’s that. And I was still able to take time off to work Comic Con (NOT a break) and to go visit my daughter and her husband down in Cedar City. But the contractual deadlines don’t move, the trade shows won’t reschedule, and so my time is still a bit at a premium. Working towards, I hope, a steady and sustainable future in my department in the not-too-distant future.

It does sap the hell out of my ability to work on other things in the evenings.  So progress on my wonderful side-jobs has slowed. Definitely not stopped… I’m still cranking out what I can, but my 15-20 hours a week has dropped down to something like 6-8. On top of that, working in smaller blocks of time is less efficient than larger blocks.

So… there’s that.

What I really need to do is to find the right rhythm. My work schedule is heavier for a few months, but there’s still time to do other things. I think a big part of the whole motivation / energy thing may simply be to find a good rhythm that works with my (temporary) schedule. I’ve found that my body (and brain) adapt pretty well once I get settled into a schedule and pattern of activity.

 


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The Dragon Awards Winners!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 6, 2016

The first annual Dragon Awards have come to a close, and along with some predictable winners, there were some great surprises.

Best SF or F game for console and PC went, unsurprisingly, to Fallout 4.

Best SF or F game for mobile went to a related title, Fallout Shelter. Nice little sweep by Bethesda.

Best SF or F miniature / CCG / role-playing game went to the new 7th edition Call of Cthulhu. I haven’t tried the new edition, but I have played various editions of CoC for years. Cool.

Neil Gaiman, David Weber, and Terry Pratchett were predictable winners in their categories. What can be said, here? They are outstanding, and Sir Terry Pratchett will be sorely missed.

Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia was a surprise winner for Best Fantasy Novel. Maybe because Jim Butcher publicly announced that he was voting for Son of the Black Sword instead of his own novel (also nominated). Gotta hand it to Jim Butcher for being a stand-up guy, and congrats to Correia. (I like ’em both!)

Several of the other winners were a little surprising, but only because the competition was so strong. Nick Cole’s Ctrl Alt Revolt! won best apocalyptic novel,  which is awesome. I haven’t read John C. Wright’s Somewhither yet, but I’ve enjoyed some of his past works.

Anyway, you can read the full list of award-winners here.

Congrats to all the winners and the nominees, and I’m looking forward to next year’s awards. Hopefully we’ll see some categories for shorter-form fiction next time around, but regardless, it sounds like a pretty solid start to new annual awards.


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Salt Lake Comic Con 2016 Days 2 and 3 – I Survived!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 5, 2016

Sharknado_640Well, the 2016 Salt Lake Comic Con is over. Funny how, especially when manning a booth, it goes from “I’m so excited!” on Day 1, to “Wow, this is great, but I’m so exhausted!” on Day 2, and ends with, “This is great, but can it over yet? Please?” by the end of Day 3. It’s a little sad that there won’t be a FanX next year, so we’re gonna have to go a full year this time before enjoying something quite on this scale.

It’s exhausting, but it was lots of fun and plenty epic. And I was having fun even at the end, although my legs felt like they were about to fall off from all the walking and standing (I tried to avoid sitting while at our booth). I didn’t really get to walk around the vendor floor much until the third day, so I hardly knew where anything was outside of the rows between the main entrance and my own booth. I still managed to get some of my Christmas and birthday shopping done for the year, so, BOOYAH!

The Xchyler Booth was pretty wild. Traffic seemed to come in waves. We’d be swamped for twenty minutes, and then hardly any visitors for the next twenty. I don’t know if that’s normal for other booths, but that’s how things were in our world. The authors at the Xchyler Publishing booth were Candace Thomas, Sarah Seeley, John Olsen, Ben Ireland, Scott Taylor, Scott Tarbet, and my wife Julie Barnson. Oh, and Melissa McShane who doesn’t publish through Xchyler, but is good friends with several of us anyway, and offered to help run the booth. And she has hella good books.

Nearby, there were the awesome Space Balrogs and guests, including David West, Craig Nybo, Jason King, Bob Defendi, James Wymore, and Holli Anderson. We’re all friends, so it was nice to be able to wander over by their table at times. Well, it was nice for me. Hopefully I didn’t bug the crap out of them. I also briefly met with Michaelbrent Collings and Johnny Worthen, both of whom had the enviable problem of selling out of their latest books.

Over at the Wordfire Press booth – holy moly. You couldn’t tell they were depleted by the number of people attending DragonCon, which was being held the same weekend. I got to chat with Dave Butler (AKA “D J Butler”), Julie Frost, Eric James Stone, Jason Anderson, Dan Willis (Jason, Dan, and I got into a very fun conversation about Philip K. Dick and the history of the movie Blade Runner), Christie Golden, David Farland, and Brad Torgersen. Brad Torgersen and David Farland were kind enough to sign my copy of the 2113 Anthology.

TheXatBlueIguanaALL great authors. Check ’em out!

No doubt I’m leaving someone out, and I apologize.

The second night, some of the Xchyler authors went out for dinner together. The Wordfire folks were having a similar dinner together that night at the same restaurant. Some other friends happened to be there at the same time as well. I guess when the restaurant is A) Excellent and B) Right across the street from the convention center, you don’t need an Improbability Drive. There was a tiny bit of visiting between tables before the food came out. 🙂

As for panels… I got to see Millie Bobby Brown, the young actress who played Eleven in the hit Netflix series, Stranger Things. She surprised me. She was very comfortable speaking to Comic Con audiences, quick with the answers and jokes, and seriously handling it like an old pro. I couldn’t say the same about the panel with Nicholas Brendon and Emma Caulfield (who played Xander and Anya on Buffy the Vampire Slayer).  They didn’t seem nearly as comfortable on the stage, which I thought was strange. I think part of it was that most of the questions still centered around Buffy, and it’s been a long time since that series ended. (SHOCK! I feel so old!)

I attended some very good panels on writing science fiction and magic systems, and another centered around Steven King’s excellent non-fiction book, On Writing. The final panel I attended was all about the movie Aliens (including the others in the series), since it is enjoying its 30th anniversary. (SHOCK! I feel so old!) Still an excellent movie!

At the end of the third day… yeah, I was exhausted. And had to go to Cedar City the following morning. And THEN my family comes down with the Con Crud. Ugh. Not so cool. But in the end, was it worth it? Heck yeah!  We had a blast. We were busy. We sold and signed a lot of books. It was a great convention, and I’m looking forward to next year!

I just hope to get some rest between then and now… 🙂


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