Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Impressions: RetroEngine Sigma. Emulation made easy?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 18, 2017

One of the problems with being a retro-gamer is hardware obsolescence. Not only do parts wear out and require difficult-or-expensive-to-source replacements, but it becomes incompatible with more modern systems that it is dependent on. For example, any game console released prior to the late 90s might have problems connecting to modern televisions. I have an original Playstation that I managed to get working with our main HD TV, but for some reason it only displays black & white images. I have maintained a 3.25″ floppy drive on all of my computers simply so I can still load up some of my old favorites. (I’m out of luck for the ones that used the larger old floppies).

Emulation is really key here, but it can be a pain in the butt sometimes to set up. One of the advantage of getting older titles from a place like GOG.COM – besides making sure your licenses are 100% legitimate and legal – is that they take a lot of the pain out of setting things up. I’ve purchased games from GOG.COM that I already own which is still in the box. It’s convenient. However, a lot of the classic old console games are best played in the living room, in front of a TV, with game controllers. And multiple players.  I’ve done that with a laptop, but it’d be nice to have a replacement console that handles all that.

RetroEngine Sigma represents one possible solution to these problems. I received my backer delivery this week.  This is a tiny console devoted to the playing of retro games via emulation, with an emphasis on ease-of-use. Now that the campaign is over, the pre-order of the “consumer” version is $80. Now, the makers really just bundled off-the-shelf hardware with pre-configured software and several licensed games, and added a case and controllers (which made it easier to pre-configure the system… everybody’s using the same controllers). Some people take moral offense to this for some reason. Me? I’ve been considering making something like this for a while for my own use, but I’m just as happy to buy one from someone else, so long as the price is right and it saves me some headaches.

The system itself has an OrangePi Lite single-board quad-core computer in a palm-sized case made to resemble a vintage gaming console, with two standard USB ports, a USB OTG port, HDMI output, 512 MB RAM (optionally 1 GB at additional cost), a 32 GB card (and reader) installed with pre-configured software, a couple of programmable buttons, and built-in WIFI. The package also includes one dual-stick USB controller that looks and feels a lot like a PS1 / PS2 dual-stick controller, a 5v power adapter, and a reasonable-length HDMI cable.

The short version of the story: I followed the simple-but-not-super-simple instructions to set it up, and within a few minutes I was playing BurgerTime – one of the many licensed classic games that comes pre-installed with the machine. A little while and a bit of research later, and I was able to play a bunch more games. I had the start button die on me on a brand new controller. Oh, and I also discovered that I still suck at BurgerTime. So … with caveats… the out-of-the-box experience for me was positive.

Longer version: The whole point of this product (aside from having a cool-looking housing for an inexpensive all-in-one computer on a board) is supposed to be ease-of-use. Anybody can do a bunch of research and build a Raspberry Pi-based system, install the OS and some emulators, configure the whole thing, locate a bunch of ROMs, and then have a little all-in-one retro gaming console in their house. It’s not a trivial project, but still within the capability of the average mortal in this era of step-by-step instructions on YouTube. This little device is supposed to minimize that effort, for beginners and lazy people like me.

So instead of putting the thing together over the course of a couple of 8-hour days, I was able to get it up and running in about 30 minutes. Nice improvement, and for a price that’s not much more than the cost of components. So far so good. Unfortunately, it’s not 100% seamless. You still have to use some kind of WiFi device to log into the console, and from there start things running. That’s not so wonderful.

The pre-installed licensed classic games include BurgerTime, Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Heavy Barrel,  Karate Champ, Bad Dudes, and several others. Of course, as this is emulation, if you want to go beyond the 40 pre-installed games (which is still pretty good!), you’ll have to be savvy enough to locate the images and bios packages for certain emulators, and should probably understand the legality (or lack) thereof. As I understand it, you should have a legally purchased license for the software in order to legally possess a ROM image here in the U.S.  For retro gamers, we often own licenses several times over, so that’s less of an issue. The RetroEngine Sigma eases the pain somewhat, using a web-based uploader as well as a file-sharing interface. You can even plug in a USB stick with ROMs on it, and it’ll pick those up. I just used the file-sharing. I moved the files over the network from my computer into the appropriate directories for the RetroEngine Sigma, and then reloaded the “EmulatorStation” on the console from the quit menu, and the new games appeared. Kudos here to the makers of RetroOrangePi, which powers the thing.

Unfortunately, the Super Nintendo and most Sega emulators require an optional install that involves a two gig download on a stressed server. To make matters worse, rumor has it that the automated install has failed for some people. Ack! Warning flag! (Note: There is a new image available online for a fresh install on the card. Maybe this addresses these problems…)

As to the rest of the emulators… the NES, Atari 2600, Atari Lynx, Gameboy, Nintendo 64, and arcade (MAME) emulators work out of the box with the provided controllers pretty well.  You’ll need to plug in a USB mouse and / or keyboard to control the vintage computer emulators, like the Commodore 64 or Amiga emulators. That makes sense. For many of the built-in emulators (like the Playstation 1, TRS-80 Color Computer, Intellivision, Colecovision) , you’ll need to manually install a software BIOS package for them to work correctly, since they can’t legally include that copyrighted software with the machine.

At first I was really pleased with the controllers, but disappointment came a few hours later. I have two of the dual-stick controllers, and they look and feel awesome. But then the start button quit working for me on one. A shoulder buttons sticks on the other, but after a little while that seemed to smooth out. These are probably things I can fix on my own, and I really like the feel of the controllers. While the machine can handle literally any other USB controllers, that requires some configuration work. I also have one of the Saturn-style controller that I bought as part of my package. I haven’t tried it one yet. Once again, it looks and feels good. We’ll have to see about the durability.

The big win of the evening, however, came from my getting Jaleco’s Tetris Plus working on the machine. It’s sort of a bizarre 20-year tradition in my household for a tournament during Thanksgiving, and last year’s restriction to a black & white display from the old Playstation 1 was a bummer. So … Thanksgiving is saved!

So, my full take on it: “Easy” is relative. This isn’t like plugging in a nice old-school stand-alone game console. Your mileage may vary depending upon your level of willingness to roll up your sleeves and start tweaking things. This is still a hobbyist device, not a consumer device, but it saves you 90% of the trouble creating a stand-alone emulator… and at a price that’s not a whole lot more than it would cost you to do it all from scratch.  Are there more or better options out there? Probably. Right now, I’m annoyed at one controller, and doing the “optional install” is going to require either a re-flashing of the system to start over, or a manual process I’ll have to figure out. It is not a big deal either way (I don’t THINK), but it’s a bigger headache than I anticipated if I want to play any SNES or Genesis games on the thing.

Going forward, what they *should* do is have the full “optional” install be pre-installed on the card (since they are dropping the lower-end 16-gig card on the consumer version, I don’t think this should be a problem), and lose the weird login and control feature on first start-up. Provide the user with the ability to log into WIFI, but the system should work without any connectivity ever until the end of time. BUT… all that being said… it works now. It plays emulated games pretty well. It comes with a bunch of licensed vintage games. While slightly more of a pain to set up than I’d hoped for, in the end it does what I expected it to do (once I resolve the start button problem). So while I cannot give it a glowing review, beyond the controller malfunction, I can’t really complain either.


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Virtual Reality: Experiences and Nostalgia

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 16, 2017

Nostalgia is a powerful force. It’s been the inspiration for songs, stories, movies, video games, you name it. I was somewhat amused the other day by a couple of songs from my teenaged years that were nostalgia-driven, talking about eras as far in the past then as the songs themselves are to me. Or movies like the original Back to the Future, which was 30 years ago… and was about a time machine that went back 30 years into the past.

I guess that’s a thing that hits creative people at my age. Maybe it’s because after 20-30 years, things have changed so drastically that there’s not really anything left of the past.  Like Eddie Money sang in “I Wanna Go Back” – “I wanna go back and do it all over, but I can’t, I can’t, I know.” It’s passed into history, never to return but in imperfect form in media and reenactment enthusiasts.

That’s probably the appeal of the book (and soon to be movie) Ready Player One. At least for the audience of people my age. Aside from some really quality reenactments or LARPing experiences, Virtual Reality is potentially the next best thing to being there. I say potentially because the technology is still in its infancy… good enough, finally, to be enjoyed by consumers. The tech and the experience will keep getting better. I personally look forward to 4x today’s pixel density while maintaining the quality of visuals we’re used to seeing in AAA games today, plus better hand-tracking.

One of the ways VR seems to be going (and this may only be because its early and development is catching up) is an emphasis on experiences. Yes, there are games. There are 3D videos. My day job involves creating software that uses VR for training students to operate expensive and dangerous machinery. But one of the surprises for me, at least… feeling like the jaded gamer that I am… was simply the experience. Virtual Reality in 2017 is still a bit more like an amusement park than an arcade. But it works.

We experience the world in first-person, and–usually–in three dimensions. We depend heavily on sight and sound, especially for perception of the world outside outside our immediate vicinity, and when Virtual Reality (mostly) hijacks those senses, it’s powerful. (It’s also enlightening how many other senses we depend on to corroborate or add context to vision and audio for our perception of the world around us… senses we usually ignore until they start coming into conflict with what our eyes and ears are telling us).  There’s some deep sorcery at work inside of VR, no matter how many hours I spend “in” it. Just like the real world, it can get boring just “being there” inside a virtual environment, but there’s still a thrill there that’s quite a bit more powerful than you can experience on a widescreen TV.

Batman: Arkham VR, judged purely as a game, was weak sauce. The puzzles were easy, and the whole game can be played in one session of less than an hour, even without hints. I’m glad I got it at a steep discount. But at the price I paid, it is a pretty cool experience. Just looking in the mirror and seeing yourself as Batman is really cool. My response was to say in my best Christian Bale voice, “I’m Batman!” and pose with my fists up. It’s wild. My daughter, upon reaching the same stage in the game, immediately began giggling and started doing the chicken dance. I watched it in the monitor. Things that have been seen cannot be unseen. Batman dancing like a girl doing the chicken dance… yeah.

There are many other titles out there which really are just “experiences” – like TheBLU, Apollo 11 VR,  and similar titles.  All varying quality.  They may have some game-like interactive elements, but it’s really just about walking / floating around in virtual worlds.

Some of these titles are capitalizing on nostalgia. Like Ready Player One, they emphasizing creating VR experiences reminiscent not of worlds that don’t exist or can’t be experienced, but worlds that used to exist and players might remember. That’s a little dangerous, because we can recognize what the developer got wrong. But if you feel like indulging your nostalgia, it’s a convenient way to do it. Because those fashions aren’t coming back. Neither are the arcades, at least not as we remember. But… if you really want… you can model your own vintage style arcade in VR, complete with emulators…

There are some other retro-fueled experiences out there, but… well, let’s just say some are better than others and leave it at that. Does nostalgia improve the experience? Can VR provide people with the impossible dream of reliving their childhood? Well, not exactly. And I’m actually not sure if nostalgia can help you fill in the blanks to make the experience more powerful, or if the failures and inconsistencies simply drive it home that you can’t relive the past. The jury is still out as far as I am concerned.

And will simply “experiencing” VR grow old? When mobile apps first started really taking off, the market was flooded with… stuff. Just stuff. Fart sound makers and the like. Here it is, a decade later, and… well, okay. Maybe it hasn’t changed all that much. It’s matured, but mobile gaming is still its own thing, not just a miniaturized and portable version of console gaming.

It’ll be interesting to see what VR will be like 5 or 10 years from now. And maybe then, we’ll be looking back with nostalgia at these early days of the medium, when things were still so new and cool and experimental.


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Coming Soon: Mirages & Speculations

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 11, 2017

I’ve got another short story coming out VERY soon… like in just over a week… in the Mirages & Speculations Anthology, edited by Lyn Worthen. This anthology is all Science Fiction and Fantasy stories set in the desert. Most of the authors, as I understand it, are desert-dwellers themselves. You know, for that bit of authenticity. 🙂

I am extremely pleased and humbled to be included in this list of authors. There are a lot of authors here that I know and admire. Several are Writers of the Future winners. And yet my pulpy little sword & sorcery (well, bow-and-sorcery) adventure was selected to be among these. Lyn had to assure me this wasn’t  a mistake! If I hadn’t been included, this book would still would have been an insta-buy for me as soon as I saw it was available.

This will be my second time sharing the Table of Contents with Julie Frost and David West. We had stories in StoryHack #0, and we will have stories in StoryHack #1 (coming out in the second half of September).  I know the story by David in this one, and it’s one of my favorites. The others I’m familiar with here–Johnny Worthen, M. Shayne Bell, D. J. Butler, Paul Genesse, Gama Ray Martinez, and Leigh Saunders–are all fantastic. If you haven’t read their books or stories yet, this is a great introduction.

Mirages & Speculations will be released on August 21st, and will be available in digital and print editions. It will be distributed by BundleRabbit.com. I’ll keep you posted!


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Plottorific – A tool from the Pulp Age made modern!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 8, 2017

When I first discovered Wallace Cook’s 1928 book, Plotto, my first thought was to turn this web of connected plot elements into a computer program.  Unfortunately, it was kind of a mess even to get my head around. I used it a few times on some short stories, however… if for no other reason than to generate ideas when I felt stuck. The more I fiddled with it, the less I used it “as designed,” but … really, any way it helps you come up with stories, isn’t that the true purpose?

But I gave up on trying to turn it into a computer program.

Someone else, however, is not the quitter that I am. They’ve done it. The result is Plottoriffic!

The source code is available and everything. Now, this may not provide you with the perfect plot… in fact, it probably won’t. It might also not be quite as productive as browsing through the possibilities in the book and selecting the ideas that sounds most interesting to you. But while many random plot generators out there just spout off nonsense associations that might or might not jiggle something in your mind, this one will at least suggest plots that have related points and come across pretty dramatically. It also looks like the pronouns have been changed to the non-gender-binary versions. since the pieces are pulled together randomly, you may need to do some translations based on all the available data.

You can also change around who the protagonist really is in your story. While the original Plotto suggested one main character, oftentimes they are the subjects are targets of interesting conspiracies or troubles, and the other characters in the list might be more interesting. Author Erle Stanley Gardner wrote a ton of novels about lawyer Perry Mason, the protagonist of stories with plots generated through Plotto. You can also swap genders around, play with the relationships, set the stories in the science fiction future or on fantasy worlds, turn them entirely into romance stories with the struggles suggested by Plotto running as the secondary plot, whatever.

The point is to generate something that your brain wants to play with. In the end, your story might have nothing to do with what came out of the generator, but at least you were able to start somewhere.


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2017 Dragon Award Nominees Announced

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 7, 2017

This year’s Dragon Award nominees have been announced for the year’s best SF/F novels, movies, comics TV shows, and games. Anyone can vote for the Dragon Awards, and you don’t have to pay $40+ or anything to the convention to be allowed to vote (or nominate). Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of time to read before the final votes are due Sunday, 28 August. So… make the most of your three weeks! Play games and read books and watch movies as a service to the community! 🙂

You can register to vote here.

I have to say… good grief, some of the choices are really, really hard. I can’t pretend to have read all of these, but in some categories I’ll have a real tough time choosing. In at least one category, I see a husband and a wife have competing novels. In another, I happen to know that one novel is competing against another written by his acquisitions editor. And – a REALLY cool surprise – one of the nominees is from my publisher, Immortal Works! How cool!

However, I’m scratching my head at how Mass Effect: Andromeda became a nominee….

Best Science Fiction Novel
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey
Death’s End by Cixin Liu
Escaping Infinity by Richard Paolinelli
Rise by Brian Guthrie
Space Tripping by Patrick Edwards
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
The Secret Kings by Brian Niemeier

Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)
A Sea of Skulls by Vox Day
Beast Master by Shayne Silvers
Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter
Dangerous Ways by R.R. Virdi
Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by Larry Correia and John Ringo
The Heartstone Thief by Pippa DaCosta
Wings of Justice by Michael-Scott Earle

Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel
A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray
Firebrand by A.J. Hartley
It’s All Fun and Games by Dave Barrett
Rachel and the Many Splendored Dreamland by L. Jagi Lamplighter
Swan Knight’s Son by John C Wright
The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel
Allies and Enemies: Exiles by Amy J. Murphy
Caine’s Mutiny by Charles E. Gannon
Cartwright’s Cavaliers by Mark Wandrey
Invasion: Resistance by J.F. Holmes
Iron Dragoons by Richard Fox
Star Realms: Rescue Run by Jon Del Arroz
Starship Liberator by B.V. Larson and David VanDyke
The Span of Empire by Eric Flint and David Carrico

Best Alternate History Novel
1636: The Ottoman Onslaught by Eric Flint
A Change in Crime by D.R. Perry
Another Girl, Another Planet by Lou Antonelli
Breath of Earth by Beth Cato
Fallout: The Hot War by Harry Turtledove
No Gods, Only Daimons by Kai Wai Cheah
The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville
Witchy Eye by D.J. Butler

Best Apocalyptic Novel
A Place Outside the Wild by Daniel Humphreys
American War by Omar El Akkad
Codename: Unsub by Declan Finn and Allan Yoskowitz
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
The Seventh Age: Dawn by Rick Heinz
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
ZK: Falling by J.F. Holmes

Best Horror Novel
A God in the Shed by J-F Dubeau
Blood of Invidia by Tom Tinney and Morgen Batten
Donn’s Hill by Caryn Larrinaga
Live and Let Bite by Declan Finn
Nothing Left to Lose by Dan Wells
The Bleak December by Kevin G. Summers
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

Best Comic Book
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eleven by Christos Gage, Rebekah Isaacs
Monstress by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda
Motor Girl by Terry Moore
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa
Saga by Brian K Vaughan, Fiona Staples
The Dresden Files: Dog Men by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers, Diego Galindo
Wynonna Earp Legends by Beau Smith, Tim Rozon, Melanie Scrofano, Chris Evenhuis

Best Graphic Novel
Clive Barker Nightbreed #3 by Marc Andreyko, Clive Barker, Emmanuel Xerx Javier
Girl Genius: the Second Journey of Agatha Heterodyne, Book 2: The City of Lightning by Phil and Kaja Foglio
Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Wild Card by Jim Butcher, Carlos Gomez
Love is Love by Marc Andreyko, Sarah Gaydos, James S. Rich
March Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris
Stuck in My Head by J.R. Mounts

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series
Doctor Who, BBC
Lucifer, Fox
Marvel’s Agents of Shield, ABC
Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, Sky1
Stranger Things, Netflix
The Expanse, Syfy
Westworld, HBO
Wynonna Earp, Syfy

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie
Arrival directed by Denis Villeneuve
Doctor Strange directed by Scott Derrickson
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 directed by James Gunn
Logan directed by James Mangold
Passengers directed by Morten Tyldum
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story directed by Gareth Edwards
Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC / Console Game
Dishonored 2 by Arkane Studios
Final Fantasy XV by Square Enix
Mass Effect: Andromeda by Bioware
NieR: Automata by PlatinumGames
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild by Nintendo
Titanfall 2 by Respawn Entertainment

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Mobile Game
Con Man: The Game by Monkey Strength Productions
Fire Emblem Heroes by Nintendo
Monument Valley 2 by Ustwogames
Pokemon GO by Niantic
Sky Dancer by Pine Entertainment
Super Mario Run by Nintendo

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game
Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk by Avalon Hill
Gloomhaven by Cephalofair Games
Hero Realms by White Wizard Games
Mansions of Madness (Second Edition) by Fantasy Flight Games
Scythe by Stonemaier Games
Terraforming Mars by Stronghold Games

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game
A Shadow Across the Galaxy X-Wing Wave X by Fantasy Flight Games
Bloodborne: The Card Game by CMON Limited
Dark Souls: The Board Game by Steamforged Games
Magic the Gathering: Eldritch Moon by Wizards of the Coast
Pulp Cthulhu by Chaosium
Star Wars: Destiny by Fantasy Flight Games

 


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Grimoire: No joke this time, it’s finally launched. For realsies.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 4, 2017

I can’t make fun of the eternal vaporware that was Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar anymore.

It’s out.

See for yourself.

I only played it for about fifteen minutes before work, so I can’t really comment much on it. Hopefully there’s a big ol’ manual to go with it, because just from the get-go there’s a lot that probably needs to be explained. That won’t be out until next week, though. But I kinda followed my nose and created a few characters, without knowing what some of the stats meant.

I did run into a couple of bugs / polish issues already. The windowed view isn’t well-behaved (outside of the window… I’m talking O.S. behavior like moving the screen around, not anything internal), and the NEXT button didn’t gray out when you come to the last page of text. Minor issues, of course, but running into them in the first few minutes of play isn’t the most encouraging thing.

But in the grand scheme of things… whatever. I’m looking forward to seeing what this monstrous title (yet which has a tiny footprint on one’s hard drive) has in store. So far, it looks like Wizardry 7.5, which is kinda where its roots are, and I respect that.

Like I said before, it’s going to be impossible for any game to live up to being worthy of a nearly 25-year development cycle. Especially one heralded by such a boisterous and boastful voice as Cleveland Mark Blakemore. You know what? Screw it. It won’t. He’s probably going to be dogpiled by people wanting to tear it down for no other reason than he’s been a pretty obnoxious character for a couple of decades.

But… whatever. He released the game. That’s a major achievement, even in today’s era of cheap-and-easy game engines (which I don’t believe he used). That’s usually a pretty humbling experience on its own. So… credit where it is due. Congratulations to Cleve on releasing the game! Hopefully it will provide some fodder for discussion here on the Tales of the Rampant Coyote.

I’ll just leave with… huh. A race of humanoids with a giant eyeball for a head?  Okay, at least the races aren’t just straight from Middle Earth. Different and fresh is good! But… man, an eyeball? 😉  This is going to be interesting!

 

 


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Amazingly, Grimoire FINALLY… Oh, wait, no, no it doesn’t. Nevermind. Nothing to see here.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 2, 2017

Back in the 1980s, in the pages of Dragon Magazine, there was a great comic strip by Phil Foglio called “What’s New with Phil and Dixie.” The running gag was that they were FINALLY do their long-awaited strip on “Sex and D&D”, but it would be NEXT month. Every month.

The old-school, super-hardcore RPG “Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar” has been a similar running gag. For years, the release of  this game has been imminent. Just a few more bugs to squash, just a handful of features to implement, and it would be ready. I think in the long-defunct magazine Computer Gaming World, they claimed the game was scheduled to release in 1998. Or 1999.

The latest of any number of missed release dates was yesterday. Like last month, it was a “quick last-minute bug-fix” and then the continued delay was blamed on Valve. And yes, I know. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw bricks, etc. etc.  And I’m not really one who gets Schadenfreude. But really, this is so hysterical. So much posturing, so much fail. Why did Sir-Tech pull the plug on this guy again?

When you complain about a game needing patches shortly after release, remember… this is the alternative. And it will still need patches shortly after release. Actually, I don’t know that there really are last-minute bugs that need to be fixed, or this is just epic-level trolling. My personal feeling is that Cleve has invested so much of himself and his … strange… reputation into this thing, self-described as his “Magnum Opus,” and he knows it will be a reflection on him, that he’s terrified of finally releasing the dang thing. Because when all is said and done and he can’t hide behind the hyperbole, and players will pass judgment. And after all this, it will only be a game. An overly complicated game with a buttload of dungeons that can’t stay entertaining for the full 600 hours of expected gameplay.

As always, I’ll be more than happy to be proven wrong.

Anyway, we’re still waiting. Unsurprisingly. The posts on the news items on Steam are providing me with as much amusement as the game itself probably would. Will. Maybe. Someday.

 


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Coming Soon: “Retrieving Abe” in StoryHack #1 (Yes, the Second One!)

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 1, 2017

I’m somewhat hesitant to announce stories that have been accepted for publication until the contracts are finalized, simply because crap happens. I had one story scheduled for publication in an anthology for several months, and then finally the anthology was canceled. The story was called “Retrieving Abe,” a story about a Utah woman in the 1880s rescuing her husband from a dragon.

I really like the character and the concept, and I would like to write more about her in the future. I re-read and re-edited the story, and made some minor tweaks to it.  and sent it in to StoryHack for its first regular issue. As opposed to the proof-of-concept issue #0, which is available now, including in print, and includes my modern fantasy/espionage short story, “Dead Last.” Which is also available free in digital form if you are willing to sign up for the newsletter.

I’m happy to report that the story was accepted, along with a whole bunch of additional “pulp-style” adventures from many familiar and new authors. David West and Julie Frost also return in this issue with new stories. Best-selling space opera and steampunk author Jon del Arroz has his own western-style story in this issue. Also my good friend and coworker John Olsen has a steampunk story entitled “Protector of Newington.”  I read a draft version of it some time ago, and I really enjoyed it. It’s kind of a superhero / steampunk adventure, but with a really satisfying twist.

I’m super-excited for this issue.  As Bryce describes it, it will be “…about 65,000 words of pure action adventure fun.” The crowdfunding campaign ended in June, and the magazine is anticipated to release in September.

(I used the cover for Issue 0 here, because we haven’t had a cover reveal for Issue #1 yet.)

 


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Wanted: Professional Gamers. $50k Minimum Salary, Plus Bonuses, Health & Retirement Benefits…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 28, 2017

The Far Side cartoon from the 1980s was intended as a joke. It started coming true only a decade later, as professional “E-Sports” and competitive network gaming started taking hold. While “professional gamer” isn’t necessarily a growing career field (neither is “game developer” these days, it seems…), it has definitely taken an interesting turn right now, as the professional Overwatch League is offering salaries of $50,000 a year for players, with an $3.5 million in bonuses, including a minimum of $1 million to the winning team.

Details here, if you are curious. Or if you think you have the chops to join the league!

GameInformer: Overwatch League players to receive minimum $50k annual salary

 


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



Too Many Deadlines

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 26, 2017

Apparently EVERYTHING has a deadline of the end of the month.

Just like everything had a deadline of the end of last month.

If you need me, I’ll be in the TARDIS.

 


Filed Under: General - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



Grimoire: Now releasing on August 1st. He really, really means it this time.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 24, 2017

Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar will be available at a 10% discount the first week, and Cleve promises it will never, ever, ever be available for sale at a discount ever again on Steam.

Yes, I know. I’m contributing to his mad market gamble here, adding to his signal. I really do hope that the game:

#1 – Releases someday. Soon would be awesome. Before some of the people who have paid crowdfunding money for it (or the creator) die of old age would be, you know, good.

#2 – Is worth the 20 years of development time and endless overhauls that went into it.

I think #1 is in the realm of possibility. #2… well, that’s impossible, but barring that, I at least hope it’s a lot of fun and well worth playing. That’s achievable. From reports of the “superdemo,” it’s… pretty complicated. That’s not a virtue, but hopefully the full release (whenever that happens) eases players into it, and it’s an indicator of depth. This is a game for hardcore fans, after all. Not that I’ll probably see the complete depth of the game. I expect that this will be one of those games I play for 30 hours or so and never finish, but of course I’ll hope for better. I can’t wait to hear reports from the people who actually beat this giant mega-RPG.

Assuming, again, it actually releases. Someday. I guess it’s time to set up the thermometers in Hell once more, and start taking bets.

Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar on Steam

 


Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 6 Comments to Read



Happily Super-Heroic. And… Pulpy.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 21, 2017

For everyone complaining about how tired they are of the superhero movies… I’m happily part of the problem. I’m not tired of them, mainly because Hollywood has finally been hit enough times with the clue-bat over the decades that they are finally learning how to make them. We’re finally seeing good, interesting superhero movies that are nevertheless distinct from each other.

Disney’s Marvel movies are leading the pack with the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” stuff. Duh.  These films are fun spectacles, and the creators have learned to play with the formula so that they stay fresh. They’ve figured things out. They may forget again, as often happens, but for now they have demonstrated competence in what made the superhero comics tick (something many comics creators today seem to have forgotten).

I haven’t been quite so impressed with some other offerings. The Netflix licensed shows have been a mixed bag for me, even though they take place in the same universe. They want to tell darker, grittier, streetwise stories that are more about drama and less about the superheroics. I’m down with that, and  and they seem to be circling around the right idea sometimes. The other superhero shoes on network TV have been hit-or-miss for me… and too often I’m okay with giving them a miss.  Sony’s superhero films (licensed from Marvel) have been another mixed bag. I didn’t bother watching any of the recent Fantastic Four films, but I’ve mostly enjoyed the Spider-Man and X-Men films (we’ll just pretend X-Men 3 never happened. Days of Future Past sort of retconned it anyway, which would have made it my favorite X-Men film for that alone…)

The DC comics movies — except for a few of the older non-DCU films (Nolan’s Dark Knight series, and RED) — have disappointed me. Until now. Wonder Woman really kicked butt. I want more like that, please. I have heard that WB/DC is abandoning the grimdark / gritty concept of their cinematic universe for something a lot more… well, like Wonder Woman. I’m happy about that. AFAICT, that whole concept seems to have been based on Zack Snyder’s relatively faithful adaptation of Watchmen. But Watchmen was basically the anti-super-hero book… fresh and interesting at its time, but only because of what it stood in balance with. It was a good one-shot, not the basis for an entire pantheon of films (or comics).

I thought Wonder Woman would be my favorite superhero film of the year, but Spider-Man: Homecoming surprised me. A lot. I wasn’t too interested in yet another reboot of the franchise, but this one blew away all of its predecessors. It had outstanding attention to detail, interesting characters, and the villain (The Vulture) ended up being one of the best of the superhero big-screen films. I guess Marvel / Disney was intent on schooling Sony how it is supposed to be done.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 disappointed me only in comparison to the original, which I’ve seen maybe four times and loved it every single time. The sequel was really, really good… but a little shy of awesome. In another year, it could have been the best, but it didn’t thrill me as much as Wonder Woman or Spider-Man. Then there’s Logan. My wife didn’t like it. I did. But for me, it was kinda like Watchmen… a fascinating change of pace in comparison to what else is out there, and a dark, hard-edged yet touching end for Hugh Jackman’s tenure as Wolverine… and probably Patrick Stewart’s final turn as Professor Xavier. It was a different kind of way to send them off, and I don’t know if it would have been my first choice. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I hoped I would.

So what is it about these superhero stories (the good ones, at least)? If you guessed that my answer had something to do with “pulp,” give yourself a gold star. 🙂  Here’s a fantastic quote from Patty Jenkins, the director of Wonder Woman:

Cheesy is one of the words banned in my world. I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity, real sincerity, because they feel they have to wink at the audience because that’s what the kids like. We have to do the real stories now. The world is in crisis.

I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it. It’s terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional, and relegates them to the too-cool-for-school department. Art is supposed to bring beauty to the world.

If you want to know why Wonder Woman is so awesome, this is it. And if you want to know why I’m suddenly interested in Patty Jenkins as a director, that’s why. This is what I want in my world now. This is why I’ve been so excited about the Pulp Revolution and Superversive stuff. These things are OKAY!

It’s okay to just have good, clean fun.

It’s okay to have heroes. They don’t need to be torn down.

It’s okay to aspire to lofty goals. It is not hypocrisy to fall short.

There’s nothing inherently superior about being “realistic.”

This is sort of the underlying current I take away from the better shows, and from the pulp movement. There’s this wonderful moment in Homecoming that really symbolizes the core of the superhero story for me. I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler… it’s just a moment when Peter has been invited to enjoy a night of fun with friends and his romantic interest who is sitting by the pool in a bathing suit. You can see his expression on longing on his face… this is his big chance at fun and happiness for a night. But instead, he chooses to suit up, piss off his mentor, and subject himself to a night of getting his butt kicked by bad guys… because he believes it’s the right thing to do.

This is probably what bugged me so much about about Zack Snyder’s superhero films. They were all the Watchmen. They ran counter to all of these points (even, to some degree, the “realistic” one). It was all about second-guessing heroism. In fact, that seemed to be the theme of Man of Steel: “Having super powers sucks. Don’t be a hero, you’ll always do more harm than good. Don’t even try because you’ll fail.” Gah! Forget that. I want stories full of action, adventure, excitement, and FUN. I want over-the-top awesomeness with gun-happy mutant raccoons and legions of ninjas. I want heroes who are still human on the inside, who fail all the time, but keep trying because they are heroes and that’s what heroes do, at the end of the day.

Considering how these movies keep dominating the box office year after year (man, who would have thought that would happen? So glad I’ve lived to see this day…) and show no sign that I can tell of slowing down, I’d say I’m not alone. There is power in these kinds of stories.


Filed Under: Movies, Pulp - Comments: Be the First to Comment



High-End Video Card Shortage: Caused by Cryptocurrency Mining?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 19, 2017

This is news to me. Apparently over the last couple of months, high-end video cards (like the NVidia 1070 and 1080) became scarce and their price inflated. Why? Mainly because the extremely powerful GPUs can be used to mine cryptocurrencies like Ethereum, which has skyrocketed in price.

PC World: AMD, Nvidia coin mining graphics cards appear as gaming GPU shortage intensifies

This both intrigues and frustrates me. Frustrates, because it impacts me as a gamer and with my day job. As a gamer and game developer, this will slow the adoption of the high-end VR-capable cards.  And with my day job, it’s going to make sourcing these a bit slower and more expensive. *Grumble grumble*. It’s going to be a frustrating year or two until this bubble pops.

However, this fascinates me because this is full-on cyberpunk fantasy that we could only barely imagine back in its heyday. Cryptocurrency… a cryptographically-protected, decentralized, extra-governmental, hard-to-track method of exchange? Using super-high-end graphics processors to perform the intense calculations necessary to perform the validations on transactions in a massive distributed-economic system? As the line from William Gibson’s short story, “Burning Chrome” goes, “The street finds its own uses for things.” Especially when there’s money in it.

Okay. Cyberpunk was never really a happy place, anyway. And the equivalents of my 1070 card are selling for what the 1080s sold for when I bought it. Ah, well. If you were waiting to jump in on the more powerful cards, you may want to wait a while longer, at least until Etherium starts topping out in price.


Filed Under: Tech - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



Quick Take: Heroes of the Monkey Tavern

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 17, 2017

I’m back from vacation, and up to my eyeballs in tasks. But I still spend a little bit of time staying sane playing games when I can. I put in a few hours into Heroes of the Monkey Tavern, a PC game I can only categorize as a “Casual Dungeon Crawler” in the Dungeon Master / Eye of the Beholder / Legend of Grimrock style. You move a group of characters along approximately ten foot squares in the four cardinal directions. It’s true 3D, so the movement is smooth and you stand in place and look up and down and at an angle (if you are into that kind of thing), but otherwise… it’s a flat grid-based dungeon with real-time gameplay.

It’s pretty. It’s simple. It’s pretty simple. Also pretty short, or so I’ve heard. I haven’t beat it yet, but from the rumblings I’ve heard, it represents maybe 6-10 hours of gameplay, depending on how extensively one hunts down the secrets. In about three hours of play I’ve cleared three levels and am on level four of eight. I once talked about the equivalent of “short story” RPGs. This would be an example.

Character creation is quick and dirty. For each of your four characters, you choose a portrait and a class, and assign around three extra points to your character attributes. You don’t even get to name your characters… they are referred to by their class name in-game. Leveling up is automatic, with characters gaining new abilities based on their class. Your own interaction with character upgrades is limited to equipment and occasionally choosing who will read a book that will beef up their attributes a point. Characters do level up at different rates, so a warrior will often be a level above the priest or “elementalist.”

Unlike similar games, the old “Eye of the Beholder Two-Step” (AKA “Square Dancing”) is not really an option in combat. Once a monster is active, saving is impossible, and once you are in melee, you will automatically take damage if you move. Once combat is joined, its really about efficient attack orders and resource usage.

The combat encounters (so far) are limited, and there are new monsters on every level that have their own special abilities you have to adapt to. Once I finally found a bow, I was able to engage in limited ranged attacks, doing a small amount of damage before melee was joined. That helps get an “edge” in the fight, but the damage is small enough that I haven’t been able to avoid melee altogether.

There is no non-combat interaction with creatures, and no economy that I’ve seen. So there’s not much point in carting around obsolete equipment.

Those may sound like serious limitations… and they are… but the point is to streamline the experience and reduce the learning curve. The developer was going for a quick and easy fix for your dungeon-crawling cravings, rather than a deep RPG experience. In that respect, they succeeded. The emphasis is on a few limited, interesting combat encounters, traps, and puzzles. That’s the game.

It’s not bad. I’ve enjoyed it so far. I mean, I’ve got a drive full of massive RPGs spanning decades that I need to play, so I really don’t NEED a little game like this in my life. It’s RPG junk food. But sometimes, that’s just what I am in the mood for: something I can snack on, and play in tiny 15-minute increments without having to spend much time figuring out what quest I’m on, re-learning how to use more advanced abilities, or anything like that.

Anyway, if you want to check it out:  Heroes of the Monkey Tavern on Steam.


Filed Under: Impressions - Comments: Read the First Comment



Hell stays hot. Lions not lying down with lambs. Grimoire fails to launch again.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 11, 2017

Somehow I believed that with the countdown and the big announcement “7-7-2017” visual in the game description and everything, maybe Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar would actually launch this time. For reals. After 23 years. I have friends who have played the “superdemo,” so I know something exists.

But seriously, release has been imminent on this thing since at least 1998, so… yeah. Back to the vaporware pile. I’d like to believe that this was simply a bump or and misfire and we’ll see the full game appear in a couple of days… But seriously, folks.  This wouldn’t be the first missed date, and it’s been years. Decades, even.

So… we’ll see.

Oh, and to really help bring the history home here… Filip Pepe posted this gem from 1997 as a reminder. Let’s see… in 1997, I was barely 3 years out of college and in into my first job as a video game developer.

Now … clearly the developer is putting all his eggs in one basket, has a perfectionist streak, and is banking on this one title to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Maybe that will work out for him. Maybe it’s an ingenious marketing plan. But I sure don’t think I could do that. The winning strategy I keep seeing is simply to remain prolific (a big problem with me) and create regular, frequent products of sufficient quality. Yeah, it’s a slower-burn way to go, and on the vanishingly small chance that a single product hits a home-run, it might limit the chance that it’s a runaway hit. Or not… (thinking of Minecraft… that had nothing to help it become the runaway hit it became. )

But do you really want to spend decades trying to become a one-hit wonder?

But if you look at history… the “masterpieces” most remembered of the great artists of history were almost always samples of a much, much larger body of work. We tend to forget that these masters were ultra-prolific, pretend those masterpieces were all they ever created, and selectively ignore everything else they produced over their career.

 

 

 


Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 4 Comments to Read



My Novel Has a Publisher

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 10, 2017

So… maybe you remember back in October when I decided that in spite of an insane work schedule, I finally committed to the NaNoWriMo thing. After a bunch of short stories, it was time for me to start working on novels.

I failed. Duh. But only in the strictest sense. I finished the draft at the end of December, took some time off to write more short stories, and then went back and worked on the second draft. I’m actually working on the third draft now. And I’ve committed to writing at least one more novel this year, in addition to lots of short stories.

The novel was based on on RPG concept I’ve been working on for… way too frickin’ long. One that predates Frayed Knights.

But I am pleased to announce that the novel (title to be announced shortly) is being published by Immortal Works Press. It’s still early, so I don’t have a release date yet, but if we can stay on track through the pipeline, we’re looking at sometime in early 2018 or so. The pipeline is the fun part. There is a ton of work to do, and I’m happy to have Immortal Works as a partner on this.

Anyway, more details coming soon. I can’t wait to share.


Filed Under: Books - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



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