Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

GOG.com’s Winter Sale Starts

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 14, 2018

I haven’t even installed everything I got from … whatever the last Steam & GOG sales were. And here’s another one. Hold onto your wallets! On the plus side, they are offering free games as incentives for participating.

The sale lasts from now until the third of January.  Amusingly, I have a lot of the classics they are offering as bonus / free games. Some, but probably not all. You probably don’t either.

https://www.gog.com/news/the_winter_sale_2018_starts_now

 


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Doom turns 25. I celebrate in virtual reality.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 12, 2018

Doom turned 25 this week. I feel kinda… old. Just saying.

I tried desperately to download it via FTP (I think) over a modem the first day it was available (or was it the following day?), without much success. Fortunately, a friend of mine the next day had been more successful, so I copied his downloads. Unfortunately, I had very little time to play it, because we had to leave the next day to visit my wife’s parents for Christmas. But I did manage to get it running on my father-in-law’s computer. I could only play it in a little tiny window, but it worked.

Doom took the gaming world by storm, and not just on the PC. It was a significant technological leap over its predecessor, Wolfenstein 3D, and pretty much left everyone else in the dust for a good couple of years.

A big dream for me was to play Doom in Virtual Reality. The two always coincided in my mind, because about the same time as Doom‘s release, I was studying the latest developments in virtual reality technology and coming to grips with “VRML” and a couple of VR-ready libraries intended for use as soon as the technology was ready, which would be… any day now.

Any. Day.

Okay, yes, honestly, there were some VR systems released around the same time or not long after, but they weren’t really there yet.  Sega had just announced a VR headset. There were virtual reality arcades. A couple of years later I played with something called the “iGlasses” or something (before Apple took over the ‘i’ prefix?) which I think were shutter-based glasses that displayed 320 x 200 per eye. And of course, there was the “Virtual Boy” about to be released, which was certain to be as big of a hit as the GameBoy, right? So I imagined that soon, I’d be able to play Doom in full-on Virtual Reality, rushing down hallways and chainsawing demons in a full 3D world.

Well… decent, consumer-ready VR took a little longer to get here. But my big dream is finally reality. I didn’t realize it was the eve of the game’s birthday when I felt the sudden urge to play it in VR. Not the new Doom, but the original classic, the one that blew everyone away in December of 1993. Fortunately, there are many ways to play Doom in VR today.

First… and simplest… is to simply play Doom while you are “in” VR, via one of several packages that will project your screen into a 3D virtual environment, like BigScreen or Virtual Desktop. You are still playing the flat-screen version of the game, but you get to be in virtual reality while you are doing it. Silly, but fun.

Perhaps the coolest way, but one which I haven’t tried, is inside Doom VFR. This is the optimized-for-VR version of the reboot, and it features a couple of bonus levels from the original game. The monsters and gameplay are from the new game, but the visuals and some of the sound effects seem to come right out of 1993. Of course, Doom VFR works pretty well on its own.

The one I tried Sunday night was through the use of a beta, fan-made mod to GZDoom informally called “ViveDoom“. There are a couple of them out there, actually. The one I tried was a gzdoom vive mod. It was driven with mouse + keyboard, and I couldn’t aim worth crap, but it was really cool going through E1M1. That’s about as far as I got before I started feeling a little queasy and had to stop, but it was cool.

There’s an even better one from Fishbiter called “GZDoomOpenVR” which works with the motion controllers in OpenVR. This one uses the controllers to create a boxy version of the weapons that you can aim independently from your movement. It’s pretty dang cool and requires less effort to get running than the older gzdoom vive experiment. It automatically recognized and worked with the Doom versions I own via Steam. I haven’t had much time to play with it, but … it works. I didn’t have time to really figure how well it plays, but from what little I tried (enough to get some screenshots), it’s pretty cool.

Sadly, the screenshots do not do the game justice. But that’s true of all VR games. Even videos do not convey what it really feels like.

Maybe it’s just me, and I’m getting old (how the freak is Doom 25 years old anyway?!?!?). While it’s clearly dated, and a couple of the mechanics are super-clunky today (mainly the 2D shooting scheme, with elevation determined by potential target), the game otherwise holds up reasonably well today. Yeah, graphically, it shows its age, but the gameplay isn’t too far removed from the latest first-person shooters. The experience in VR is…. something else. Maybe it is not the most comfortable experience available in VR for those of us prone to VR sickness, but it’s a cool and different way to enjoy the classic all over again.


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New Release: All Made of Hinges – A Mormon Steampunk Anthology

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 27, 2018

I’ve got another short story out, today! All Made of Hinges – An Anthology of Mormon Steampunk has launched, the first of three volumes. The ebook is out now, with a paperback edition to follow shortly. I haven’t focused on short stories very much this last year, but I still love them and was very pleased to be included in this anthology.

Okay, so what is “Mormon Steampunk?” We’ll start with the “Steampunk” side. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know. My first published stories were steampunk. In the broadest sense, it’s Victorian-era speculative fiction, or spec fic taking place in a setting much like that of the mid-late 1800s. BUT… in general Steampunk has a bit more of a feel / flair to it that separates it from something like Weird West or Victorian-Era supernatural horror. It is generally a fictionalized era–alternate history–where the wild failed inventions of the time actually worked, and the wild imagination of authors like Jules Verne, Edgar Allen Poe, and H. G. Wells are reality. In many cases, the world is a bit more idealized. And if it’s over-the-top and gonzo in its wild liberties taken with history, all the better.

Okay, so what is “Mormon Steampunk?” This series was spearheaded by Dave Butler, best known lately as the author of the excellent Witchy Eye series. He also wrote City of the Saints, a wild ride around the “Kingdom of Deseret” (Utah) which included over-the-top fictionalized versions of several historical characters and some wild technology like flesh-eating clockwork scarab beetles. Since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the “Mormon” church) was founded in the 1800s and had set up their own provisional in the Utah Territory to escape persecution and conflict. The church sent missionaries all over the world, and of course there were the controversies surrounding polygamy, doctrine, and leader Joseph Smith’s run for President, and … lots more. The history is interesting, but the folklore and rumors of the era even more so. (And if you read Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days… yes, there are Mormons & Missionaries in that, too).

So the idea here was to have Steampunk involving Mormons – the church and its members. The trick was, as very explicitly noted in the submission guidelines, that this is a work of fiction and that the stories were not intended to be either “anti-Mormon” or to strongly suggest that the theology is true. These were to be fictional works about fictional Mormons (even if they had real-life counterparts) and is intended for a wide audience. They had no interest in the religion of the authors. If you’d be offended about a story of cultists trying to reanimate the corpse of Brigham Young, however, this might not be the book for you.

Otherwise, hey… game on! Get ready for some wild tales. My story, “The Pipes of Columbia,” takes place during the Columbia Exposition in Chicago–the 1893 World’s Fair.  This was the Epcot of the late 19th century, and where the world’s first Ferris Wheel was built (which could carry 60 people per car and over 2000 people at a time…). It was also where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir made their big touring debut. Interestingly enough, this story is coming out just a few weeks after the choir changed its name after 125 years. The story involves a stolen shipment of bizarre organ-pipes and a dangerous mesmerist.

Anyway – if this piques your interest, check it out! The ebook is only $2.99.  Other authors include D J Butler (the man himself!), John M. Olsen, Elizabeth Mueller, Scott E. Tarbet, Stephen L. Peck, and six others.  Get ready for some wild steampunk rides!


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Steam Autumn Sale

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 21, 2018

Hold onto your wallets! The Steam Autumn Sale is here. Now, I’d really appreciate it if people took advantage of Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon being 60% off… less than $5… to help offset the amount of money I’m likely to spend this weekend on Steam games that I might eventually get around to playing.

For those unfamiliar (!!!), Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon is an old-school style RPG with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. Yes, it’s comedy. No, it’s not easy. But I have it on good authority that it’s a lot of fun. 🙂

Anyway, I hope you all have a fabulous weekend. Here in the U.S., we’re celebrating Thanksgiving, and I have a TON to be thankful for. And you folks are part of that. So, thank you!

 


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Author Spotlight: Jodi L. Milner, Author of Stonebearer’s Betrayal

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 2, 2018

Unsurprisingly, I have a lot of writer friends these days, to go along with all my game developer friends. (Side note: It’s also interesting how often those two groups intersect). I met Jodi when we were both writing stories for anthologies from Xchyler Publishing. Xchyler’s authors were scattered all over the globe, but somehow we had a concentration of authors from Utah. That’s also unsurprising, considering the concentration of speculative fiction writers in the state. It’s something of a running joke here.

Anyhow, Jodi and I share the same publisher once again – Immortal Works. (Yeah, we writers talk about publishers and give recommendations / warnings about publishers all the time, too.) Her new book, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, is coming out in less than two weeks, and I wanted to talk to her about it and what she’s doing. She’s a big fan of the Witcher novels, which I haven’t read, so as a fan of the game series I wanted to ask her about those, too. So… here. I hope you find it interesting / entertaining:

RC- Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself.

Jodi: I’m a bit of a patchwork quilt. There’s a chaotic piecework of motherhood, writing, volunteering, and music stitched together with sheer determination. Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor of all things. I made it all the way to college thinking it was my path. After taking a few premed classes I realized the parts I loved about medicine were only 2% of the job, and the rest was stuff I couldn’t stand. So, I took up veterinary nursing instead. No regrets there, and puppies! My other hobbies include martial arts, travel, and violin, although I don’t get much time these days to do any of them.

I didn’t start writing seriously until my second child was born and I desperately needed an outlet. I’d always dabbled, but never allowed myself to pursue the dream of publishing a book of my own until then. It’s been quite the journey ever since!

RC – What else have you written and had published?

Jodi: My first short story “Breath” was published in 2015 in Xchyler Publishing’s fantasy anthology The Toll of Another Bell. “The Skull Collector” was shortlisted in SQ Magazine’s 2016 international short story contest and published in edition 31. My one and only published poem “The Clicker Clack Man” can be found in The Hunger, a Collection of Utah Horror. Two of my random flash fiction pieces are in writing conference anthologies. I’ve also had two stories featured in Immortal Works Flash Fiction Friday.

RC – Okay, tell us all about your new book!

Jodi: Stonebearer’s Betrayal is an emotional coming-of-age story filled with magic and danger. In it, Katira is dragged into a reality that she once believed to be only legend – the existence of immortal Stonebearers and the power they hold. Their ancient society is being threatened by a demon bent on revenge and Katira must be brave enough do what’s necessary to protect her family.

Appropriate for kids 13 and up, interesting enough for adults to enjoy.

RC – Bonus Question! You are a fan of the Witcher book series. What got you into those?

Jodi: It all started while I was researching a scene. I found a picture of Geralt carrying a grown-up Ciri on his back. The combination of the scars, the armor, the twin swords, and those viper eyes captured my imagination. I hunted down more information and started to watch the gorgeously rendered cut scene videos on YouTube of Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. It seems like attracts like, the story of Geralt of Rivia is a close mirror to the story of one of my main characters. All the emotional notes that I’d been working to reach were played out in Geralt’s story so I was riveted. After obsessing over the videos, I wanted to read the books and see if they lived up to my expectations, because if they did, they’d easily become new favorites. So far, I’m not disappointed (although I could do with a touch less politics, and a little more Geralt fighting monsters).

Growing up, Jodi L. Milner wanted to be a superhero and a doctor. When she discovered she couldn’t fly, she did what any reasonable introvert would do and escaped into the wonderful hero-filled world of fiction and the occasional medical journal. She’s lived there ever since.

These days, when she’s not folding the children or feeding the laundry, she creates her own noble heroes on the page. Her speculative short stories explore the fabric of dreams and have appeared in anthologies and magazines, while her novels weave magic into what it means to be human.

She still dreams of flying.

Jodi can be found online at http://jodilmilnerauthor.wordpress.com, on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JodiLMilner, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JodilMilnerAuthor/

Stonebearer’s Betrayal will be released on November 13th at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

 


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Happy Halloween! And NaNoWriMo Begins at Midnight Tonight.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 31, 2018

Happy Halloween. Definitely a favorite here at the Barnson household. This year we are celebrating by attending a Lore podcast event at Brigham Young University. It’s gonna be fun. 🙂

And… even scarier… NaNoWriMo begins at midnight. And since I’m a bit of a night owl, I’m gonna try to get a bit of progress done before I go to bed. Then it’s off to the races. Last year, I managed to write nearly 60,000 words in the month of November. They needed some revision, of course… a draft is just a draft… but that was Blood Creek Beast, which is due out in March.

It is funny how my attitude has changed a bit. I mean, I’ve never taken the idea of NaNoWriMo seriously (I still don’t, really). And November is far from an optimal month. Ever. However, now I think every month should be NaNoWriMo (even with a full-time job, at least when it’s not requiring the 12-hour days), or at least close to it, even when I’m also editing. I aspire to be that productive.  I proved to myself that 2,000 words per evening isn’t that big of a deal. On a good night, I can blow past 3,000. I’ve done a bunch of writing this year, but NaNoWriMo is a great excuse to commit and give me a shot in the arm.

So yeah. That’s what it really is for me. An excuse to go Turbo mode, and commit time to something I really want to be doing, anyway. I’m not going to complain. 🙂 As far as I’m concerned, you make your own goal (50k words is a great suggestion!), and the only way to lose is to not write at all if that’s what you wanted to do. Anything else is progress.

Have a great Halloween, and for those participating, happy NaNoWriMo.


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Scary Shows Season – Late Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 30, 2018

Okay, so normally I do a thing around Halloween about the scary shows we’ve been watching, and what I’ve thought. This month has been a little crazy (the overworked kind, not the psycho-killer-with-a-knife kind). But hey, just in case you wanted to catch some good scary shows, here are my impressions on what we’ve managed to catch.

Personally, we’re not big fans of gore, shock-horror, “torture porn,” Satanic horror, or anything like that. Our favorite films are usually supernatural thriller / horror. We want to be spooked, scared, chilled, but not grossed out. So far this season, we’ve managed to avoid all but one serious stinker, so it’s already an improvement over the last year or two (where, with a few shiny exceptions, everything we saw was crap).

A Quiet Place: A family lives in silence on their farm on an Earth invaded by impossibly fast, powerful, but blind predators with incredibly accurate hearing. This one is probably the winner for the season. I heard a lot of hype about how good this one was, and so I was prepared to be disappointed. It couldn’t POSSIBLY live up to all that praise, right? Well, it did, at least in my mind. Solidly put together, few missteps, and it ended at what I thought was the perfect point, refusing to overstay its welcome. It stars and is directed by John Krasinski, one of the stars of The Office. (He’s also in Amazon’s Jack Ryan series, which is also excellent and defied my expectations.)

Train to Busan: A fantastic zombie apocalypse film from South Korea. I’m not a big zombie movie film. I don’t hate them, and I have some favorites in the subgenre (usually comedies), but they nailed this one pretty well. And yeah, it’s all fast zombies. ON A TRAIN. But no Samuel L. Jackson. But good, tense, and not too gory.

Split: I don’t trust M. Night Shyamalan anymore. Not since Lady in the Water. This is the first one I’ve really liked since The Village, I think. A man with multiple personalities (the film lampshades the discredited nature of this condition nicely) has had several nasty, dangerous personalities reappear…. preparing the way for a previously unseen “beast” to emerge within him. He / they kidnap three girls, and they struggle to escape before the monstrous transformation.

American Poltergeist: This one was by far the biggest stinker of the bunch, but it was so unintentionally funny that I couldn’t hate it. Everything about the movie is bad, but at least it keeps moving … in a lurching, old-school zombie kind of movement… so it’s not as boring as some horror movies on Netflix that look like 18 minutes of story mixed into 90 minutes of of footage that is supposed to cause tension or something. But I won’t go so far as to say this one is in the “so bad it’s good” category. It ain’t.

The Haunting of Hill House: This has disrupted all other scary-show watching this year. We’re about two-thirds of the way done with it, so it might still suck. But so far, in spite of being “Netflix Slow” in points, it’s kicking butt. Especially with the extra game of “spot the ghost,” because they are often there in a scene, if only for one camera shot. They are just part of the setting… until they become part of the plot. Anyway, the show seems to be true to the spirit of Shirley Jackson’s novel, albeit not so much on the details. But so far, it’s excellent Halloween season viewing.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: The trailer looked great. We watched one episode so far. I’m somewhat intrigued and everything seems to be done pretty well (and I love Michelle Gomez!), but the Satanic references and some confusing, muddled motivations in the first episode are just a little much. I liked some of the ideas (probably based on the source material) and the horror-comic style, but I finished the first episode without feeling a lot of interest in seeing the second. I’ll probably give it at least one more episode to win me over, but right now the feeling is “meh.”

Happy Death Day: This one was a pleasant surprise. It’s a smart, sharp movie about a stalking killer wearing the baby mask of the worst college sports mascot ever… mixed with Groundhog Day. Every time our girl Tree gets offed by the bad guy, she wakes up and has to live the same day over… only this time, she hopes to solve her own murder from previous incarnations and actually survive. It doesn’t go well, and what’s worse, she doesn’t have “infinite lives” – her body is showing signs of the previous mortal injuries and she is growing weaker with each iteration. And her killer is really good at chasing her down. She also goes through her own personal Phil Conners-esque transformation / character arc after dying… a lot. Anyway, this is a relatively clean (PG-13) flick and a lot of fun.

Tucker & Dale Versus Evil: Yes, I talked about this one a few years ago. We re-watched it, mostly to get the taste of American Poltergeist out of our mouths. Tucker & Dale Versus Evil is straight-up black comedy that inverts the “killer hillbilly” genre. It stars Alan Tudyk, and if you can handle most horror-comedies with moderate gore, it’s definitely worth a watch.

 

Have a happy Halloween, folks!


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The Virtual Reality Cockpit

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 24, 2018

One of the things I discovered flying a World War II warbird in Virtual Reality is just how small those cockpits really were. This is true of many modern fighters as well. After years of seeing the front panel stretched out from screen edge to screen edge. Sure, I used to live near Washington DC and I’d visit the National Air & Space museum as often as I could. But I was smaller (and skinnier) then, and you couldn’t usually go into the cockpits. Dropping down into the VR versions and re-discovering just how cramped the pilot’s “office” was is an eye-opener. I understand what the fighter pilots mean when they say they are “strapping on the plane.”

This feels especially true when you are searching for the bandit you just lost sight of (hint: if you don’t know where he went, check your six). While there’s a great deal of freedom to move your head around that you don’t get in the normal computer flight sim experience, if you don’t want to “cheat” and stick your head through the glass, there’s not a lot of room. The top of the canopy, where I am often looking in the middle of turning or scissoring with my opponent, doesn’t seem that far from the tip of my nose. It makes sense, and it’s cool… it’s just kind of fascinating.

Modern general aviation aircraft feel rather spacious by comparison. It probably doesn’t hurt that most of them have a copilot seat to the side.

VR definitely presents scale better than traditional rendering. Everything feels like it has to be rendered larger to scale right in a traditional first-person perspective game (and, of course, your running speed is scaled accordingly, and then quadrupled). But in VR, scale is exactly right.

Another thing I’ve noted: I can play a civilian flight sim like X-Plane for an hour with no significant ill effects in VR, even though it can’t hit 90 FPS on my system. Cruising around in an aircraft in VR is not an issue. Serious sustained dogfights in a flight sim in VR will hit the limit of my endurance within 10 minutes or so. In all likelihood, I’d be blowing chunks in a real aircraft with that kind of maneuvering, so we’ll call it “realism.” When I’m in a faster plane against a more maneuverable opponent, the engagements can last a while, and there are times in VR when I give up and head for home (or just quit the game and take off the headset). I remember pushing it too far looong ago playing Descent when it first came out, how terrible I felt the rest of the day, and how I was still feeling slightly queasy the next morning. So yeah, I don’t feel inclined to try and push my tolerance too far anymore.

By far, the coolest thing about VR flight sims is that it captures the sense of flying better than anything short of a million-dollar commercial flight simulator. Or, obviously, a real aircraft. Over the weekend, I let a friend (who is also a private pilot) try out X-Plane in VR. He flew the Cessna 172, an aircraft he is quite familiar with in real life. Aside from being disoriented by trying to physically reach out and touch controls, he was blown away by how much it felt like the real thing. He said, “I feel I have a purchase coming up in the near future. How much is the game?”

I said, “The game is only about $60. But the VR gear can be $500 or more, and you need a decent computer to run it.”

He laughed and said, “Five hundred bucks? That’s almost as much as a couple of hours of plane rental and gas these days.”

Okay, yeah. Cheaper in the long run. 🙂 I’d still prefer a flight in the real thing when I can swing it. But it’s not like there’s any way I’d ever get to fly in an actual F-15 or battle over the skies of France in a Sopwith Camel in the real world. So I’ll take the virtual skies.

 


Filed Under: Flight Sims, Virtual Reality - Comments: 9 Comments to Read



Writerly Update and NaNoWriMo

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 23, 2018

The day job is ramping up the pressure, so it is a challenge to get much done during the off hours. But I’m going for it.

As I mentioned before, the latest StoryHack (#3) is out, featuring my urban fantasy story, “Shoot First.” This story was a fun one to write, as it features the protagonist from “Dead Last,” in StoryHack #0. Links and further information can be found at StoryHack.com.

I just signed a contract for a short story that will be appearing in an anthology of “Mormon Steampunk,” coming from Immortal Works Press. I’ll have more details soon. It’s my understanding that it’ll be out “soon.”  My story, “The Pipes of Columbia,” takes place in an alternate history version of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair – the Columbia Exposition. Like I said, more details to come!

The next book in the Blood Creek series, Blood Creek Beast, is now (mostly) out of my hands. The final revision is complete, and now it’s going through the formatting, getting a cover, and all the marketing-related activities needed to prep it for launch. I don’t have final release dates yet, but there should be enough time to finish reading Blood Creek Witch!

I will be at the Local Authors & You event at the Viridian Event Center in South Jordan on November 2nd.  I’ll have a short reading from Blood Creek Witch, and I’ll be at my table saying hi to people and signing books. If you are in the neighborhood that day, stop by and say hi! There are lots of great authors to meet and plenty of awesome books to discover.

As for NaNoWriMo… November is looking like hell for me with the day job, and getting anything done after 12 hours of work can be difficult. But dang it, I’m going for it anyway. I’ve been writing the third book in the Blood Creek series, which was put a little bit on pause while I worked on revisions for Blood Creek Beast. The clock is ticking to get it done, as well as the final book in the series, so I’m taking advantage of November to push. I’m not super-active with the “official” org page, but if you want to buddy up with me there, I should be easy to find. I have learned that having some active buddies all pushing the word counts together in friendly, very loose competition can help.

Speaking of NaNoWriMo, Storybundle.com is running its annual NaNo Writing Tools Bundle. The only one I have read from this bundle (so far) is Dean Wesley Smith’s How to Write a Novel in Ten Days, which is largely a reprint of his blog updates on his process of writing a ghost novel. There are no deep, dark secrets in there, but there are some interesting tidbits of knowledge to glean from how a pro writer might schedule their day. Anyway, if you are a writer or aspiring writer, check it out and see if the bundle is of interest to you.

And as always, have fun!


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The Simple Joy of Ferris Bueller

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 15, 2018

Okay. I’m showing my age here. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a film that came out when I was still in public school. In case you haven’t seen it, it is the story of a high school kid in the mid-1980s who plays hooky with two of his friends, and pretty much has the ultimate vacation week in Chicago packed into a single day. And he gets away with it, because he’s amazingly good at winning friends, influencing people, and pulling off audacious stunts. All the time, he is pursued by a nasty principal and his jealous sister, anxious to catch him in the act so that he can suffer the full consequences of his deception.

The plot is ridiculous. It’s pure wish fulfillment as a kid, nothing more. I’ve read an earlier script that was quite a bit darker than what ended up on the screen in the final cut (Charlie Sheen’s character being one of the last vestiges of the original plan), but IIRC it was still pretty ridiculous and over-the-top.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

I have seen some fan-theories that suggest that the whole adventure–and maybe Ferris Bueller himself–was entirely the product of Cameron’s fevered imagination. The rationale? Because it’s impossible. There’s too much stuff to pack into a three-day vacation, let alone a few hours. And of course, it’s crazy to imagine one kid pulling all this stuff off.

John Hughes is sadly no longer with us to ask, but this is the same guy who later brought us a bunch of Home Alone movies with the same level of insane, ridiculous plot. Sure, in contrast with some of his more serious teen films, it’s more over-the-top… Ferris Bueller’s Day Off marked the beginning of a change of style for the popular filmmaker. Again, the darker original script suggests that he had something a bit more in-line with his more angsty teen films like Pretty In Pink or The Breakfast Club.

But this fan theory is… well, dumb, unimaginative, and downright nasty. You may as well assume that all of the Spider-Man movies are Peter Parker’s fever dream when he’s in a coma from radiation poisoning, because a human inheriting a spider’s powers is ridiculous. By that rationale, every single modern-era film with fantasy or science-fiction elements can have the same fan theory: “It was all just a dream.” BORING. Unimaginative. Lame. For that matter, any story in which the hero triumphs in spite of rather spectacular odds can be downgraded to just being someone’s dream or imagination run wild. I remember making that joke the first season of the TV show 24, because there was no way somebody could drive across Los Angeles during rush hour in the ten minutes or so the show indicated.

That is a nasty perspective to have. I hate the idea of relegating everything fantastic, impossible, or even improbable to the realm of lame. Sorry, fan theory people… you have to work a lot harder than that!


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StoryHack #3 is out!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 12, 2018

StoryHack #3 came out this week, featuring another Donovan Flint story by yours truly. This story, entitled “Shoot First,” takes Donovan Flint and his fellow agent on a hunt for a magical artifact which can kill in a heartbeat.  Of course, my story is one of many excellent stories in this issue, including an actual Jungle Adventure (taking place in Brazil instead of Africa, for a change…). How’s that for some good ol’ pulp flavor?

JD Cowan and Jon Mollison are a couple of familiar names if you have been following some of the pulp-style anthologies and magazines over the last couple of years, but this issue seems to have a pretty good mix of “regulars” and fresh faces. The stories run a range from the aforementioned jungle adventure and urban fantasy, to high fantasy, SF, and crime drama. I’m reading through the stories now and enjoying them greatly.

Anyway, if you pick it up, I hope you enjoy my little yarn, as well as the rest of the stories! Have fun!

StoryHack #3 is available as a physical paperback here.

Or, if you prefer an eBook, you can get it here.

 


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Bard’s Tale 1 – Completed!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 11, 2018

As much as the original Bard’s Tale fired up my imagination as a kid, I’ve always regretted never completing the game.  I’ve tried to remedy this on several occasions over the years, creating several new crews of characters, watching them die horrible deaths–often before they’d taken more than 20 steps from the relative safety of the Adventurer’s Guild. As fun as the game is, it is also pretty frustrating.

I don’t remember exactly how far I’ve ever gotten. Though I have vague memories of my party getting wiped out by the 396 Berserkers, I don’t remember much of anything beyond the sewers from playing it on my Commodore 64 back in the 1980s. And I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to the Catacombs on subsequent attempts.

Until now.

The new Bard’s Tale Trilogy (which currently just includes BT1, with the other two and a legacy mode coming soon)  removes most of the frustration from playing the classic 1985 RPG, as I mentioned last week. It provides a much cleaner, more modern interface with tool tips that doesn’t require you to look things up in the manual constantly (important, since the new manual wasn’t available when I started). The graphics have been updated, which is nice. Some gameplay elements have been smoothed out, retrofitting the original game with features from the later games, smoothing out the XP curves (I think), etc. The game now allows you to save and load anywhere, automaps for you, and provides cures in the temples for some conditions that were incurable in the original release.

It is the last sentence that could be considered the greatest hit to the authenticity of the remake. Much of the difficulty of the original release was based around navigational hazards in the maps (especially teleporters, spinners, and traps), and a really steep “death penalty.” It wasn’t permadeath, as in a roguelike, but it meant sacrificing characters or replaying large chunks of the game over and over. It was “Nintendo hard.”  I don’t have time for that these days (and considering the lack of completion, apparently I didn’t back in the day, either). So I welcome the elimination of these “challenges” which to me feels more like filler and padding.

The result? After thirty years, I’ve finally beat Bard’s Tale I. Mangar is defeated. Only half of my party survived the end of the battle, but we took him down! It might not have been exactly the same experience as those who played the older versions, but I’m still chalking this one up to the Victory column.

Now I’m looking forward to Bard’s Tale II!


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Fly the Unfriendly Skies for Free!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 27, 2018

Okay. Just in case you wanted to see what a modern, hardcore-realism jet combat simulator was like, Eagle Dynamics is offering a “free weekend” to play two (and a half) of their newest products: The F/A-18C Hornet and the Persian Gulf map (both of which are still in “early access” stage), as well as the carrier-launched Russian Su-33 (currently available in the Flaming Cliffs 3 expansion, and soon in the Modern Air Combat package). This will be available both on Steam and on the Digital Combat Simulator website (https://www.digitalcombatsimulator.com/).

DCS World itself is a free product, but ordinarily you only get to fly an Su-25 variant (an air-to-ground attack aircraft) or a trainer version of the World War II era P-51 Mustang (one with no weaponry). This free weekend goes on sale tomorrow (Friday), but you may want to start the download of the rest of the DCS World package nowish if you want to give it a go. This gives you a chance to play with some hotter, newer jets with powerful air-to-air capabilities for free, and see how it runs on your machine.

I guess they are trying to broaden their audience with offers like this, and the upcoming Modern Air Combat. Good. I remember when combat flight sims were one of the more popular computer game genres. Nowadays, they are more niche, but there’s no reason they can’t be a bigger niche.

The F/A-18C is a powerful naval multi-role fighter, an upgrade in the late 1980s from the original F/A-18A, and was in production until 2000. It can carry a variety of air-to-ground weaponry, as well as advanced U.S. air-to-air missiles like the AIM-120C and AIM-9X. The Su-33 is an upgrade of the powerful Russian Su-27, modified to fly from an aircraft carrier in the mid-1980s. While it originated as an air superiority fighter, it can also carry air-to-ground weaponry.  (I guess I should say “air-to-surface”, because these two naval fighters don’t always have the ground under them). This makes them a pretty reasonable match-up, and the Persian Gulf map is a great fit for carrier-based conflicts.

After the weekend is over, this whole package will be available at a discounted rate for three weeks.  This time they promise that if you already own part of the package, you can get the other part as a discount. We’ll see. Anyway, as far as the package is concerned, I’m going to embed the promotional video here because it’s dang cool.

The Su-33 still has the same kind of “professional flight model” as all of the DCS aircraft (except, for now, the MiG-29, which should be updated soon).  However, that’s not the complicated part. If anything, a more realistic flight model makes the aircraft easier to fly. They behave predictably even when you put them in weird situations. However, the Hornet has an advanced control model, which means nearly every control in the cockpit is modeled, interactive, and should work just like the real aircraft. Since the F/A-18C is a complex beast, you can assume you won’t be mastering it over the course of a single weekend. The Su-33, on the other hand, has the old “standard” control system common to all of the Flaming Cliffs aircraft (which goes all the way back to the “Lock On: Modern Air Combat” days circa early 2000s). This means you don’t get a fully interactive cockpit (you must instead use keyboard / mouse / controller commands), and certain systems are either somewhat simplified or not modeled. It’s still a long, long way from Ace Combat, just not up to the level of fidelity as F/A-18C or similar premium modules.

Fortunately, for any aircraft, you can also choose simplified avionics and other options / cheats, which vastly simplifies the experience. Especially since using the radar, navigation, and targeting is something like 75% of the difficulty of flying these planes in combat. I recommend turning a bunch of these options on as you are learning the basics (including unlimited ammo, unlimited fuel, and labels). You can work your way up to greater difficulty later. Learning how to cold-start a jet aircraft isn’t something all players want to learn to do. 🙂 Especially not during a free weekend trial.

So… if you are interested, here’s a chance to check it out. Have fun!

 


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Impressions: The Bard’s Tale Trilogy – Remastered

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 24, 2018

I first played The Bard’s Tale on the Commodore 64 many, many years ago (when it was new). I’d played Wizardry on friends’ computers, but it still hadn’t made its way to my beloved C-64. The Bard’s Tale was not only a great substitute, but it tried hard to be a superior title. Graphically, it was certainly more impressive, with full color graphics and limited animation in a first-person dungeon crawler. It had some really neat features that made gameplay and character development more interesting (at least for spellcasters). At the time, it was clearly a major entry in computer role-playing games.

I put many, many hours into it. And I died. A lot. I grew frustrated – in part from the game, in part from the limitations of its interface (quite common in similar games back then), and in part due to the notoriously slow disk access on the Commodore 64.  Sadly, just at the point where I was finally making decent progress, I… quit playing. It wasn’t a conscious act, I just never returned to my last saved game. But it inspired me, and one of my few assembly language programming projects on the C-64 was to create a similar graphics window painting a full-color first-person perspective scene in a city for a dungeon crawler like Bard’s Tale.

I got even less far in Bard’s Tale II. Years later, I revisited some of those early dungeons in Bard’s Tale Construction Set (which were included with the demo campaign), and then I used an emulator to replay the original games–but never to completion, despite my best intentions. The older graphics didn’t bug me, but some of the old interface conventions, limitations, and rough edges really slowed it down for me. And for some reason, I can’t get into creating my own maps on graph paper anymore.

Now, in conjunction with the release of Bard’s Tale IV (which looks pretty awesome, BTW, but I’ve only played a little of it so far), they’ve released a “remastered” edition of the original Bard’s Tale trilogy. Currently, only the first of the three games (“chapters”) has been released.  The second is due in fall, and the third in winter. In spite of my schedule the last couple of weeks, I’ve put several hours into the remaster.

And you know what? IT IS AWESOME! And I think I’m finally going to beat the entire trilogy this time around. 🙂

Besides graphics improvements and more modern interface enhancements, there have been a large number of “quality of life” improvements added to this version. This includes a built-in automap function, somewhat less grinding (there’s still plenty of it, don’t worry), revised balance and improved mechanics from later games retroactively applied to the earlier game(s), more information and mechanics available at your fingertips, the ability to use the seventh slot for a player character instead of only summoned / recruited creatures, the ability to load or save from anywhere in the game (except in combat), and so forth.

In short, it is now up to the standards of a modern indie game. After putting a few hours into it, I have to say that I think this is a really sweet “remaster.” The updates have really sanded down the rough edges that always got in the way of having fun in the past. We’re left with a really solid CRPG that had some really impressive, advanced concepts for its time. In my mind, it’s removed a lot of the barriers to “having fun.”

So far, I find the game is still punishingly difficult at low levels. However, this is offset by the quality of life improvements. Being able to save / load freely (and quickly) really helps, and I think there are lower XP requirements means you can escape those hellish lower levels pretty quickly. Hopefully, you’ve learned how to try and run away by that point. Even at higher levels, the game will sometimes throw groups of monsters at you that you just can’t beat. Random chance is still a significant factor, but at least now you can save frequently and have better control over other things to help mitigate the disasters.

Now, some will say that this isn’t the “real” game.  That this isn’t capturing the “true” essence of The Bard’s Tale circa 1985. And maybe they are right. But for me, the true “old school feel” isn’t in the inability to save or load anywhere, or the uselessness of rogues in the original release of the first chapter, or in taking twice the grinding to level up. If that is what it defines it for you, there is always the emulated version of the original, or the upcoming “Legacy” mode for this game, which promises to take away your automaps, your ability load anywhere, and many of the other ‘quality of life’ enhancements. It’ll keep the new graphics and UI though.

So far, my forays into the dungeons below Skara Brae haven’t taken me as far as my original expeditions on my C-64, but I’m only about 9 hours in. This should be a reminder that old-school RPGs were typically pretty epic in length. In these old games, you don’t typically blitz through a dungeon level in a single trip, and then activate a two-way teleporter at the end. No, these dungeons were experienced in repeated forays, mapping a bit, and then pulling back before resources dropped too low so you could survive the trip back to the entrance.

There’s something very satisfying to me about this style of RPG gameplay. Now, I don’t know that The Bard’s Tale was ever a great example of the style–the series had its flaws and I don’t think those have entirely gone away with this remaster. But it’s still a classic game, and it’s still a really good CRPG well worth playing today–even in the modern era with lots of great competition. Now, with new graphics, a cleaner interface, and performing well on modern machines, I think The Bard’s Tale is better than ever.


Filed Under: Computer RPGs, Impressions - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



FanX 2018 Report

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 10, 2018

I’m not exactly sure how to begin.

I went to this FanX (formerly Salt Lake Comic Con) with the intention of doing little more than working the booth and selling books. This is my first FanX with my novel, Blood Creek Witch, rather than just anthologies that contained one of my stories. I didn’t really know what to expect, but based on previous conventions, I conservatively took the best total sales I’d ever had at this con with multiple titles combined (in some cases offering 2 different books at a discount), added about 50%, and figured that should be more than enough. I joked about selling out, thinking it was wildly optimistic.

I sold out halfway through the convention.

But while it sold extraordinarily well, it wasn’t just Blood Creek Witch. I sold out of everything else I’d brought except for a single copy of StoryHack that had gotten slightly warped from sitting in the box wrong.  Our shelves were starting to look pretty bare of everything by the end of the third day, and I heard from several other authors at other booths that had done extremely well. Whatever alchemy FanX came up with this time, I hope they keep it up! As for me, I wish I’d brought at least twice as many copies of Blood Creek Witch, but I’m happy with how things went.

Next time, I may bring tons of copies and only sell a half-dozen. Who knows?

Anyway, I still stayed with the booth most of the time, talking with people and costume-watching. That really is half the fun of a convention like this. I attended three panels, and didn’t end up going to see any of the big celebrities. I didn’t even go to see David Tenant, but my wife did. While I spent most of the time at the booth, I still ended up missing a few people who dropped by to see me. There’s probably some law of the universe that states that all the things you were waiting for will happen while you’ve finally left on a break.

As usual, though, the con was in part a fun family reunion with extended members of my geeky tribe. I love that. I got to hang out with old friends, including some that I haven’t seen in a few years, and those that I rarely see outside of conventions like this. It was also great spending time with the awesome people at the Utah Speculative Fiction / Immortal Works booth – Kelly, John, Beth, Ben, Scott, and several others. We swapped stories, had a bunch of laughs, and had late-night dinners after the show floor closed at local restaurants. We made new friends talking to people at the booth (ours and others). I wish I’d had more time to hang out with people, but the convention could have lasted six days and I still wouldn’t have been able to do that.

After three days, I had very sore feet and legs, but some good memories.

Some highlights I just want to jot down, some of which may be a little cryptic:

  • Free craft soda refills
  • Pac-Man dog leashes (yes, our dog is now wearing one. She has no clue)
  • Pep talk from Dave Butler
  • Hearing how Utah Jazz legend John Stockton helped push Brian Lee Durfee on his career
  • Some comments by Cheree Alsop and other panelists about why action & romance (“Swashbuckling and Swooning”) go together so well
  • Chatting with Dan and Maria over dinner about amusing celebrity green room moments
  • Hanging out with an old friend, Jonnalyhn, from college
  • “You’re a monkey!”
  • Talking with the Operation Underground Railroad people. These guys are superheroes in my book, winning a real-life battles against despicable evil.
  • Jason King of Immortal Works proving he is awesome in a clutch
  • “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” (x2)

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



FanX Weekend!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 6, 2018

Hello everyone! This weekend (starting in a couple of hours), I’ll be at the FanX Comic Convention in Salt Lake City, booth 2424. If you are going to be there, drop by and say hi! I’m planning on being at the booth most of the time, at least until my book sells out. Hear that optimism? “Until my book sells out,” not “If my book sells out.”

🙂

Life is an adventure.


Filed Under: Books - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



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