Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Quick Take: Beat Saber

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 18, 2018

Beat Saber is a VR game that mixes lightsabers, Fruit Ninja VR, and Dance Dance Revolution into a package where you are slicing blocks and bobbing around a small space to music. The music and the progression of targets is human-designed, as opposed to procedurally generated, so the courses are custom-designed with new music.

The game was released on Early Access on May 1, but is entirely playable and fun now. Rumors are that the game has been a fantastic success. It is one of the fastest-selling VR games on Steam, and also one of the highest-rated games (not just VR games) on Steam. I think this game’s success can be attributed to the mixed-reality videos they did. One video has received over 2 million views on YouTube, and has been turned into videos on other social media platforms. The videos are of this woman (SwanVR), in this outfit, moving with the grace and flow of a dancer. I think whenever someone watches the video, they imagine moving as gracefully as Shuang, rather than the Star Wars Kid (which is probably how we really look).

While there are modes for using only one saber, or turning off directions, and probably some more modes coming up, the fundamentals are: You have colored blocks (and sometimes bombs) coming at you with arrows on them, timed to the beat of the various songs. You need to slice the block with the appropriately color saber in the direction of the arrow. Points are scored (currently) based on how accurate your swing direction is (entering and leaving the block, so be careful on that follow-through), and how closely you slice it to the middle.  Blocks with a circle on them can be struck in any direction. A score multiplier builds based on continuous runs without a mistake. Don’t hit the bomb, and dodge or duck the barriers that also come at you.

Okay. Sounds simple, right? It really is. Which is critical, because at higher levels things fly at you FAST and you need simple to avoid going from perfect to fail in about six seconds. The blocks don’t come at you in the easiest-to-slice angles. They don’t all appear at the same height. They sometimes come diagonally. The blue blocks are not always to the left, nor the red ones to the right. They come in tricky combos, where you have to cross the sabers with some good extension to hit blocks on the wrong side of you far apart.

The cool thing, is that as you are really getting on a roll, it feels like you are both dancing and going through some kind of martial arts kata for Jedi. It’s cool. It’s fun. And it can be a workout. I’m considering buying wrist-weights for when I’m playing this or BoxVR. Hey, I might as well get some more exercise as long as I’m having fun, right?

So is this another “killer app” for VR? Probably. If I was going to show off my Vive to someone, this might be my new “go to” game.


Filed Under: Impressions, Virtual Reality - Comments: Comments are off for this article



Some Writings About Writing Available

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 9, 2018

Wow, writing. I’ve been so slammed with the Day Job and other obligations I haven’t done very much of it the last few days. I gotta fix that. I’m starting by once again posting to the blog. 🙂  (And yes, I have had a little time to play BattleTech, which I still enjoy.)

StoryBundle has a deal for the next week for eBooks all about writing. It’s curated by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who really is an expert on the subject both as a massively prolific and successful author, but also as an instructor. I have only read one of the books in the series – Writing a Novel in Five Days While Traveling by Dean Wesley Smith. I’m a fan of DWS, and have enjoyed his nonfiction, fiction, and video lectures (I’m looking forward to the one on Heinlein’s Rules included in this bundle), this particular book wasn’t quite so useful to me. It was interesting to learn what kind of work habits and approach this demanded, but it’s not something I could take advantage of considering my current stage of development.

I don’t know about Steven Barnes ‘ creative visualization MP3s, but it’s frickin’ Steven Barnes. If he thinks it works, I’ll give it a shot. I’m most interested in the “Creating Your Author Brand,” the “Heinlein’s Rules” lectures, and “Secrets to Effective Author Marketing.”

If writing is your thing, it’s worth checking out to see if enough of the included books / programs make it worth the price of the bundle.


Filed Under: Deals, Writing - Comments: Comments are off for this article



BattleTech – My Impressions

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 3, 2018

Over the weekend I posted a three sentence review of BattleTech:

“Oh, man, it crashed again!” (Checks clock.) “Oh, crap, I was supposed to go to bed an hour and a half ago!”

Three sessions terminated by a crash pretty much covered my first 5 or so hours playing the game. Since then, I haven’t experienced another crash, and they released an update this week specifically to deal with the problem. They also fixed another issue I ran into, with the saved games occasionally appearing unavailable. I freaked out when this happened to me, 15 hours into the game. I exited and restarted, and my saved games reappeared no problem, so that was not quite as horrifying of a bug as it first seemed.

So far, the patch hasn’t addressed the real problem: This game is dangerously addictive. I have to remember to set an alarm when I play this game, or I will blithely forget that I had  things to do (like going to bed) and completely lose track of how much time I have spent playing. If you ask me, I’ll say I’ve been playing for 45 minutes, when really more than 2 hours will have gone by.

That is the mark of a solid turn-based strategy game, in my mind. It’s dangerous to those of us with the peculiar quirk of loving strategy, whether it’s a turn-based RPG or a 4X Space Conquest game. Joking aside, it’s a good thing, we just need to learn to be careful about it.

BattleTech has been compared to XCom, which at first seems silly, but upon reflection makes sense to me. It’s not XCom–there’s a totally different feel and style. However, in the sense that the bulk of the game is made up of turn-based tactical engagements, but above that there is a whole meta-game where you run a space mercenary company, and the results of these individual battles all feed into the meta-game. You can fail (or face difficult times) at either level. Make poor decisions at the meta-level, and can go bankrupt, or at least end up fielding inferior troops and equipment on the battlefield, making your battles all that much harder. Fail on the battlefield, and you can lose Mechwarriors completely, or end up having so many of your team on medical leave and your BattleMechs getting repaired that you literally cannot accept any contracts. Either way, you end up in a positive feedback loop of suck.

The main meta-game campaign includes randomly generated missions across a galaxy of planets, with several different factions involved, as well as a storyline which appears to be something you could totally ignore if you feel like it. Of course, those storyline-based missions are extremely lucrative and provide you with equipment and options you would not receive otherwise, so it’s  worth pursuing them.  Besides being rewarding to the meta-game, these missions include some interesting storyline development, and the missions themselves contain some challenging twists and variations that you won’t find in a standard mission, as well as story-developments that occur mid-battle. There are also factions and reputation to consider, tweaking your merc company finances, buying and selling equipment (and Mechs), hiring and training your team, customizing your mechs, upgrading your ship (your headquarters), and dealing with certain story events that may have temporary impacts on … just about anything.

Then there’s the tactical game, and I could go on and on about this one. This is the deepest, yet most clearly-presented, variant of the BattleTech rules I have ever played. You don’t need to understand everything to be able to play (or even to play effectively)–you just move your Mechs around to get within range to shoot the enemy targets (including stationary turrets, buildings, ground vehicles, and of course other Mechs), and try not to get shot up too badly yourself or overheat your Mech. But as you get comfortable with the basics (and manage not to get your whole team slaughtered or run your company into the ground in the first few missions), the deeper game presents itself. You start worrying about turning your stronger armor toward the enemy, managing firing arcs, handling “status damage”, minimizing your chances of being hit, managing things like recoil and morale effects. And then you start figuring out how to get the enemy right where you want them, without you obliging the enemy the same way.

And more.

The variety of enemy war machines and Mechs (including your own), the inclusion of special equipment (including more-powerful versions of standard weaponry with bonuses), your evolving team’s special abilities, and the different landscapes keeps even the randomized scenarios entertaining. The challenges are never the same twice.  The AI seems to play a pretty good game. It will exploit weaknesses, take down the most dangerous mech first, sensor lock you and pummel you with long-range missiles mercilessly, outflank you to take advantage of weaker rear armor, and kick you when you are down. It also LOVES the Firestarter Mech design, and is pretty good about using them. You learn quickly to get away from those guys before they close to flamethrower range. It also likes to employ them in pairs…

The game also feels a bit like an RPG at times. While the dialog and most of what goes on involves the “fixed” NPCs of your leadership team and allies, the randomized events sometimes pull in some of your Mechwarriors into the situation. As you can train them in categories and certain special abilities, and they do come with a pregenerated bio and a nice variety of voiceovers, it does feel a bit like an RPG. On my squad, I have a character named “Glitch” who has a pretty dark background as an assassin, but she makes hysterical comments in battle. In snowy terrain, she quips, “When we’re done, we can build a snowman!” In forests, she says, “Do you think we’ll see any bears?” Another character comments when he is responsible for a particularly messy destruction of a Mech, “We can still salvage that.” Little things like that make them feel like characters and not just bonuses on a battlefield.

So – bottom line: I love the game. Harebrained seems to be aggressively patching the issues that I ran into the first week, so I feel okay passing along my recommendation. Maybe turn-based games with giant robot-tanks bristling with weaponry isn’t your cup of tea. But if it is, I think this is a more than worthy addition to genre… and to the legacy of BattleTech / MechWarrior games.


Filed Under: Impressions, Strategy Games - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



Punching and Working Out in VR

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 30, 2018

I picked up BoxVR specifically to test how well you could work out in Virtual Reality. I’ve had enough times where I’ve felt some soreness after an extended session in VR from holding a (bad?) posture for too long, so I wanted to try something that was specifically designed to work my muscles in a positive manner.

BoxVR combines real-world boxing moves with gameplay similar to Dance Dance Revolution. Rather than fighting a person (there are other boxing VR games for that), you are punching iconized targets that move towards you in VR that you have to deal with appropriately. Left and right jabs, crosses, and uppercuts, as well as blocking some targets with both of your gloves. There are also obstacles that come toward you that require you to dodge or duck to avoid. You get points for hitting the targets based on “intensity” – how hard you hit them. It forces you to really swing at ’em. There are other obstacles you need to block (both gloves up), dodge (to either the left or right), or duck. A score multiplied goes up on consecutive successful moves, and drops on misses.

Custom “house” music is timed to give you a beat and rhythm to match the timing of the targets, or you can bring in your own music and create a playlist. The game will create a workout based on the music’s rhythm. So if you really want a “workout mix” that includes Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” you are set! There are four different venues you can have your boxing workout take place within… a traditional New York gym, a haunted graveyard, a “winter wonderland”, and kind of an abstract neon electronic tunnel. Yeah, weird places to do a boxing workout, but whatever. Forget it, Jake, this is Virtual Reality. It’s fun and variety.

Unlike similar games, BoxVR was at least partly designed by professional boxing / fitness trainers. I’m not sure how much difference that makes, but hey, that’s a thing. It provides tools for tracking calories burned, goals, and so forth based on your age, gender, and body weight. Workouts can start out easy (which were challenging the first couple of times for me, but after that were pretty easy), and you can scale them up in difficulty and intensity. As far as how well it works… I can’t completely say, but the first couple of times I tried it, I worked up a sweat, and I was sore the next morning. That’s a good sign. It’s fun, which means I look forward to playing it. Does it actually teach you to box? Only in the sense that painting the house, sanding the floor, and waxing the cars taught Daniel-san Karate.

One issue that I ran into was that you can build up a sweat playing this game, and the lenses of my headset fogged up while playing. Not a huge issue, but something to consider. Also, if you are sharing your VR headset with other members of the family, you may want to spring for one of the alternative liners that are easier to clean, so nobody has to deal with the foam insert damp with someone else’s sweat (yuck!).


Filed Under: Impressions, Virtual Reality - Comments: Comments are off for this article



Signing at Fortis College SLC Today

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 25, 2018

As a reminder – I’ll be signing books at Fortis College today, in Salt Lake City, with copies of Blood Creek Witch and other books. Melissa McShane will also be there today. I was going to say we expect incredibly long lines, so come early… but I couldn’t keep a straight face. Fun times!  Details in the pic.

 


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



BattleTech Arrives for PCs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 24, 2018

When I was a kid back in the 1980s, on any given Saturday I could hit my friendly local gaming store — the kind with an area where players could run miniatures battles or run D&D games — and I would inevitably see half the tables dominated by BattleTech games. I was fascinated, but I was scared off by the budgets these guys had sunk into their collection of BattleMech miniatures and landscapes. (Then Warhammer 40k came on the scene and made the BattleTech players seem like pikers…)

I rarely played, and was never very good at it, but I was familiar with the rules and owned several of the game books. I loved the history and worldbuilding of the game. I read several of the novels. I really, really wanted to play games in that universe.

I played nearly every official computerized version of the game, from arcade games to the Infocom / Activision strategy/ adventure / RPG series (the Crescent Hawks games), and I was addicted to Mechwarrior. I eagerly awaited the Mechwarrior II release. I played the public demo dozens of times, which didn’t resemble the final game at all because the full game was re-built very nearly from scratch after the demo’s release. I joined an online clan and played Mechwarrior II competitively via Kali in the days before you could really play anything other than board games and MUDS online. (For you youngsters… Mechwarrior II was LAN only. Kali made the entire Internet seem like your LAN. And you don’t know lag until you are playing on a 14k baud modem…)  I even went to the Battletech Centers (Virtual World Entertainment) back when they were a thing in the 1990s, and played a few fan-made computer games (and even a MUD) back before there really were any official computer games.

I played the later games, and I also got into Mech Commander a bit… which was closer to the wargame in style. Mechwarrior Online… I’ve played. I have an account. I have mechs. I suck. I don’t really have much time to play, but I’m still enthralled by the concept, if not the execution.

So yeah, while there are many more hardcore fans out there than me, I consider myself a fan with a long history with the games, particularly the computer versions.

I have been a backer for the BattleTech game from Hairbrained Studios. As such, I had the chance to play the Backer Beta of the game a bit, and I was extremely pleased. It had the feel of the old miniatures game (or, since I played so rarely, how I envisioned the miniatures game ought to feel), but it did an even better job of handling the pilots and making them interesting, and having their skills play a tangible roll in combat. There is also a much bigger role for hand-to-hand combat than in any other computer BattleTech game I have played. I’m excited to play the full released game.

Which released TODAY.  I’ve heard it described as “XCom with giant robots.” I’m not sure how accurate that really is, but they did do a very good job in the beta of making the turn-based combat solid and fun. It’s available from GOG.COM and STEAM. If you are a fan of the BattleTech world and games, and you like turn-based combat (when done well), I think this game will be a winner.

 


Filed Under: Game Announcements, Geek Life - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



Book Signing at Fortis College

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 23, 2018

I’ll be signing (and selling) books at Fortis College on Wednesday.  I’ll have copies of my new novel, Blood Creek Witch.

I’m teaming up with Melissa McShane, who is also an amazing writer and I only half-jokingly say she writes books just for me. But dang, I do feel like I’m one of the handful of people in the bullseye of her “target audience” for some of her series. (If you haven’t read Burning Bright yet, I highly recommend it…)

As you can see from the banner, it will be at Fortis College at 3949 S. 700 E. Suite 200 (2nd floor) from 11am to 2 pm. I think we’ll be set up somewhere in the hall, so we’ll be easy to find.

 


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



Why Write Short Stories?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 11, 2018

It’s been an incredible three years for me as a writer. I’ve gone from finally having my first short story published, thinking I would “get it out of my system,” to having six stories published last year, winning the Dragoncomet short story award, my story getting included in the Hugo Award voters’ packet, and my first novel, Blood Creek Witch, releasing last month. And things continue to accelerate.

(ICYMI: You can get  Blood Creek Witch on Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble)

My focus has turned more to novels now (I’m prepping the sequel to Blood Creek Witch for submission right now), but the urge to write short stories hasn’t subsided. I’ve improved a lot since my first short story, “Dots, Dashes, and Deceit” was published a few years back. I’m still not as fast as I’d like, and I still have a lot to learn and improve upon, but writing short stories is definitely a pleasure that I can do in-between larger efforts. So… that hopefully means I’ll be able to keep up at least a moderate output of short stories in spite of trying to write two new novels this year (on top of the Day Job being as busy as we’ve ever been).

I have had one story published this year (in the Planetary: Mars anthology), and two more that have been accepted for publication this year. Before I left for Disney World, I turned in three short story submissions. One was due mid-week, and the other two were due at the end of March.

I received a rejection for the mid-week submission while I was standing in line at Space Mountain. That didn’t bother me much, as it was a reprint of a story that had already been published and the exclusivity period had expired. I was just trying to see if I could get paid twice for the same story. Plus, I was with my family ABOUT TO RIDE SPACE MOUNTAIN, and couldn’t really be bothered.  That’s probably the easiest I’ve ever taken a rejection. That’s a tough situation to repeat, so as far as advice for handling rejection, I can’t really recommend it as a strategy.

I’m still awaiting word on the other two. Those are both new stories, and I am no longer at Disney World, so I expect rejection on those to be a little bit tougher to handle. One is for Writers & Illustrators of the Future, which is extremely competitive, so my chances are slim. My goal is to become disqualified for that one within the next two to three years, which can happen if I either win or qualify as a pro. Either way would be a tremendous victory for me.

When I’m selling books at conventions, I constantly run into people who don’t bother reading short fiction. They want novels. That’s where the money is, right? So why “waste time” writing short stories? Amusingly, Jon Del Arroz wrote a big essay on why it was a waste of time almost exactly a year ago, and he’s the editor of the Planetary: Mars anthology, and has since appeared in several pulp-style magazines. He had a tough time taking his own advice. Probably because he, too, loves a good short story. Even if it doesn’t make the most business sense.

Or does it? Why might writing short stories still a valuable use of your time as a writer? Especially as a beginner, but even as a veteran, it has advantages:

Writing Practice: While there are different skills required for writing short vs. long-form fiction (and, I’d argue, short versus “flash”), there are also a lot of skills they have in common. Writing short fiction is a great way to practice and get quick feedback from readers. There’s a lot that can be learned from finishing a project and telling a complete story, and performing a full revision pass or three on it. Rather than making the same mistake for a hundred thousand words before anyone else looks at it, you can tighten your loop.

Feedback / Readers: If you are an “unproven” author, it is easier to find people willing to read your 4000 word short story than to read your 140,000 word draft novel.

Learning to tell a tighter story: While a novel gives you far more room to explore your world and characters much more than a short story, every storyteller needs to learn to keep their writing tight and do a lot with an economy of words. Short stories can teach that.

Marketing: Short stories (and novellas) can be used to market yourself, and your books.

Earn While You Learn: Julie Frost (now a friend, but I didn’t know her at the time) once commented on a panel that while your “first million words” are generally considered practice as a writer as you gain competence, with short stories you “may as well practice submitting while you are practicing writing. And that may lead to getting practice signing contracts, and practice cashing checks.”

Contests & Awards: There are several awards out there for short stories. While this is really still more of a marketing thing, I think being an “award-winning” writer can help open a few doors and convince readers to take a chance on you. Awards can also help your confidence as you develop, add to your list of published works, and may even offer cash or cash-equivalent prizes worth equal or more than a standard sale at your level.

Experimentation: Short stories are a great low-commitment way to experiment with new things, practice unfamiliar skills, explore new genres, and basically try new things you might fail at.

Developing Professional Skills: Writing. Writing to a deadline. Writing to specifications. Revising. Proofing. Submitting. Dealing with rejection. Handling contracts. Professional communication. Writing queries. Working with editors. Writing brief synopses. Promotion. Writing author bios. Basically, getting all the crap done on time in a professional manner that is an integral part of the business. With short stories, you may be doing this not only several times a year, but maybe several times a month.

Tell Smaller Stories: Face it, there are a lot of interesting story ideas out there that can’t support 70,000 words… or even 20,000 words. Short stories give you a chance to write something smaller without shoehorning it into a novel as a subplot. Short stories can give you the chance to tell little backstories or side-stories about your characters that don’t belong in the novels, but your readers will enjoy.

Cred: Having some published works out there counts, with readers and people in he industry. Maybe it doesn’t count for a lot, but it counts. If nothing else, it raises you from being an “aspiring writer” to a “writer.” What does that mean? It means you were willing to put in the effort, submit your work to scrutiny by strangers, and probably face rejection multiple times. It means you have been developing those professional skills I mentioned above, and have been around the track a few times.

Networking: The cool thing about short stories is that they are generally collected into groups of stories by other authors. You work with different editors, publishers, get to share the table of contents with other authors, and sometimes cross-promote each other.  Short stories can be an accelerator on this process. Writing is frequently considered a solo endeavor, and it is–up until a point. And at THAT point, networking–having relationships with other people in your field–can be a huge accelerator. I won’t go into the hows and whys of it now, because that could be a whole ‘nother blog topic.

Opportunities: I subscribe to the belief that a successful business / career is made up more by “base hits” than the home runs. A lot of the writing opportunities out there are are small “base hit” short story deals that can pay a decent amount, give you greater visibility, let you work with cool people. But they may require you to exercise those professional skills, perhaps writing in someone else’s world on a tight deadline, or acting as a judge for one of those contests.

Cold, Hard Cash: The pulp-era days of making a decent living as a short story author are quite a way behind us. HOWEVER… that’s not the same as saying there’s no money in it. Especially when you start selling at pro market levels, and consider reprints and self-publishing on top of that, or get in on a royalty-based anthology with popular authors.

Fun: Bottom line, writing short stories can be a lot of fun, and can recharge your creative batteries. So why not go for it?


Filed Under: Short Fiction, Writing - Comments: 4 Comments to Read



So Where Are the AAA VR Games?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 10, 2018

Dan Ackerman of C|Net has — at least for now — thrown in the towel on VR. This in spite of accelerating sales in VR system sales last year, which may not have pleased analysts who heralded VR as the Next Big Thing, but are certainly an exciting development. His biggest complaint is the lack of major, AAA-level games for VR. With the exception of a few ports (particularly from Bethesda) and some lower-budget support from major publishers, most of the games for VR are indie.

And yeah, indie, like everything else, follows Sturgeon’s Law. I have a tough time getting excited about Yet Another Wave Shooter, myself. But then, I’m currently having a ball playing Skyrim VR, so I don’t (personally) care.

I have a different perspective, probably due to my age. Sure, if you consider the Vive and Oculus and PSVR to be products equivalent to modern console launches, they haven’t set the world on fire. But if you consider them technology launches and a fundamentally different platform to what came before them… yeah, we’ve seen cycle many times before. Game consoles didn’t start with the Nintendo Entertainment System. They didn’t even start with the Atari 2600 (AKA Atari VCS). When I was a little kid, the game consoles of the 1970s being things like the Coleco Telstar, and the Magnavox Odyssey and Odyssey 2. They weren’t nearly as ubiquitous as the Atari and (later) the Nintendo came to be, and while the technology and potential were exciting, the games were… Pong. And variants. There were a few interesting ideas, but the whole idea of playing games on your television was pretty cool.

Likewise — mobile gaming. It didn’t start with the iPhone, it only caught fire with the iPhone. I know people who were creating games for phones for years, knowing that one day it would ‘catch on.’ It took a little while.

I believe we’re in the same place with VR. As a consumer technology, it’s still in early adopter stage. We’re still experimenting and learning what we can do with the technology. It’s not exactly what we imagined. We’re discovering some incredible possibilities, especially outside of gaming. In training (my day job), the potential is astronomical, and the reality *right now* is pretty awesome.  Studies in areas like architecture and design, medicine, and even law have demonstrated capabilities in Virtual Reality that are potential game-changers.

In the world of entertainment —  where VR was most expected to set the world on fire — things have been a little slow for obvious reasons. The install base isn’t to the level necessary to support AAA game development exclusively on the VR platform. 4 million installed systems are great, but a AAA game with a $30+ million budget is probably going to need about 5 million sales to break even. And you cannot expect a 100% penetration. So yeah, we’re going to be a while before the major game studios feel safe making VR-exclusive AAA titles. Even one of the original “killer app” VR titles IMO, Star Trek Bridge Crew, added a non-VR mode to expand the user base.

None of this concerns me much. The prices have to come down, and the tech has to mature a bit before I’d expect to see big VR-only investments from major game publishers. I certainly hope to see more (and better) VR versions of AAA games. I hope to see more (and better) high-end indie titles for VR. The tech is still growing. And I think mainstream adoption might not be too far away. A year or so ago, I was constantly explaining to people what VR was, and giving them their first taste of it. Today, it’s a lot harder to find someone who hasn’t tried it. To me, that says something.


Filed Under: Tech, Virtual Reality - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



Lessons I Learned from the Mouse This Week…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 6, 2018

I just got back from a family trip to Happy Mouse City in Florida. Here are some things I learned from the Mouse (although I don’t think he deliberately meant to teach me many of these):

There are two kinds of people who stand in line. There are the kinds that keep the gaps small and keep the line moving. Then there are the kinds that seem to think, “Screw it, I’ve got my spot, the rest of the line can wait for me! It’s not like any of us are getting to the ride any faster. I’ll move forward when I feel like it.” I am very much of the first category most of the time, especially when the sensors at traffic lights interpret a gap as a reason to turn red, even when there’s a mile of traffic waiting to turn left behind said “I don’t feel like it yet” driver. However, after three full days walking many miles in the hot sun, when you are in a shady spot where you can sit or lean for a few seconds, and you are reading a paperback to make the hour+ – long line go faster, I can definitely feel the temptation to exhibit the behavior of #2.

Raw, unadulterated capitalism in even a relatively free market is naturally inclusive, diverse, and inoffensive to the point of being obsequious. The only color that matters is the color of money.

EPCOT stands for “Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow” (or “City Of Tomorrow” – Walt Disney used both). It was supposed to be an actual planned, living city constantly updated with the latest technology for communities, especially with transportation & communication. It was already in early production and arrangements being made with the state when Walt Disney died, and the company quickly nixed the idea of having it be an actual city after his death. They kept the name EPCOT, in part, so that people wouldn’t keep asking them, “So when are you building EPCOT?”

NOBODY knows how to leverage Intellectual Property like The Mouse. This is sometimes to the detriment of the IP, as stuff may get thrown in to strengthen the brand while actually weakening the product.

I must be getting old. I’m to the point now where if it ain’t the original trilogy, Star Wars just doesn’t thrill me. Well, maybe original trilogy + Rogue One. I’m a little disappointed to find I’m surrounded by a wealth of Star Wars stuff, and I’m all, “meh.” It wasn’t like the original series wasn’t crassly commercial from the get-go. I had a bunch of those Kenner action figures as a kid. But now, I’m more like, “Huh… now I know why you have all these masked characters… so you can have anyone put on the costumes and pose for pictures, and probably save money on actor’s fees because you aren’t using their likeness.”

A change of context and a level or two of indirection can do wonders to make a person reset their impression of the value of money. Have it pre-paid and call it “entitlements” and give it a point value instead of a dollar value, surround it with things of similar anchor value, and it’s amazing how something that seemed way overpriced back at home becomes perfectly reasonable at the park. Sadly, I think governments have learned that lesson all too well.

Do not underestimate the vomit capacity of a skinny eight-year-old boy. He can fire off several rounds without a reload. My pity for the poor people in front of him in the line who got caught by the initial spray, and for his poor, panicked mother. And for the kid, to be honest. But HOLY COW…!

I also learned that I’m pretty lucky to be jaded working with simulation, VR, and motion platforms on a regular basis – plus having a pretty awesome gaming rig. So much of the newest, high-techy attractions are based on a motion platform, a pre-rendered video (sometimes in 3D, requiring 3D glasses), and cool theming… which I still thought was pretty neat, but the magic wasn’t really there. On the other hand, the live performances, the really cool sets (especially in the lines), the animals, and of course the good ol’ fashioned roller coasters were lots of fun.

While I may have gained a bit more of my “VR Legs” and I’m *slightly* less susceptible to VR sickness than I used to be, the improvement has not translated to roller coasters as I can tell. Especially going backwards.  Especially on an empty stomach (surprisingly). Fortunately, with the one exception, the coasters were exactly long enough that they were done before I got too uncomfortable, and I was fully recovered within ten or fifteen minutes.

Also, fresh pineapple seems to help with motion sickness.

Spring Break Season. Fear it.


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Last Chance to Get Some Xchyler Anthologies…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 28, 2018

My first published short story (as an adult, at least) was “Dots, Dashes, and Deceit,” found in the Terra Mechanica steampunk anthology. The way Xchyler handled things, I had a lot of editorial assistance on that story, and learned a lot. My fellow author Scott Tarbet and I frequently joked that getting published in a Xchyler anthology was kind of like attending a master class on short story writing, only they paid you.

Not that they paid a lot, mind you. Long tail notwithstanding, Xchyler really didn’t make money on most of their anthologies. That is why we’re now in an interesting predicament. Due to the nature of the contracts, Terra Mechanica and Beyond the Wail (the paranormal anthology I am in) are being taken off the market at the end of the month (yes, in three days) unless all involved authors can sign a new agreement at the eleventh hour… which is possible, but not very likely.

Mechanized Masterpieces 2, containing my story “The Van Tassel Legacy,” will remain available in eBook and paperback for the time being.

If this had happened two years ago (and it nearly did), it would have been a bigger issue for me. I’ve been kind of busy since then on the fiction front, and I’m sure I can find a new home for the story–and I have tentative plans of my own for it. I don’t have plans yet for “Cold Spot,” my story from Beyond the Wail, but I doubt it will disappear forever. My interest in the original anthology is mostly driven by nostalgia. Well, that, and my digital-age bias that believes nothing should go out-of-print! Ever!

On the assumption that the eleventh-hour saves won’t happen, I wanted to make sure you were aware that the books are going off the market at the end of the week. If you are interested in Terra Mechanica or Beyond the Wail, this is probably your last chance to grab them. If you buy the eBooks, they’ll remain available to you. The files will remain available to owners, it’s just that they won’t be sold anymore.

Terra Mechanica: A Steampunk Anthology at Amazon

Beyond the Wail: 12 Grave Stories of Love and Loss at Amazon

The books are also currently available from other locations too. Terra Mechanica is also at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc., although I am not sure of the availability of paperback versions from B&N. Other Xchyler anthologies will also probably go out-of-print over the weekend, too, in case you really wanted to make sure you have ’em.  The only ones that I know for sure that are sticking around for a little while longer are the two Mechanized Masterpieces volumes.


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Cool VR Things Happening

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 21, 2018

This is the gaming world I wanted back in college in the early 1990s. Better late than never.

SKYRIM VR FOR PC IS COMING in just a few days!!!

I know there were plenty of issues with the PSVR version of this game. I hope the team made some improvements for the PC version.  In good news for Oculus owners, it is launching with full Oculus Rift support. Kind of interesting considering that history.

I’m hoping it will be awesome. I’m still pretty happy with Fallout 4 VR, although I haven’t had the chance to play it nearly as much as I’d hoped. As you have no doubt seen if you are a regular to the blog, I’ve been a bit busy the last couple of months. It’s been long enough since I played Skyrim – it feels like ages – so hopefully it will all feel new to me again. But as much as I enjoy the Fallout series, my heart is still much more in the straight-up fantasy worlds.

Sadly, I’ll be out of town the day it releases (but on a badly-needed vacation, so it’s not really that sad), and then I’ll be out of town on business the week after. But hey, that’s a week of awesome in-between, right? VR was made for fighting dragons, right?

The other big recent news is the pricing and earlier-than-expected (for me) release of the VIVE Pro. 75% more pixels. Two cameras. And the headset alone costs as much as the entire VIVE kit (with controllers & lighthouse boxes) on initial release. So it’s not cheap. NVidia still hasn’t officially announced its newest video cards yet, and thanks to cryptocurrency mining and inflating RAM prices, even the older stuff is hard to find and selling at highly inflated prices.

So… while in theory the VIVE Pro is shipping almost in time for me to play Skyrim VR on it, I’ll probably be another year before I upgrade. While my 1070 is proving more than adequate for the task of even games like Fallout 4 VR on my VIVE, I suspect the VIVE Pro might test it. That, and my budget right now for more powerful gaming hardware is not up to the task. At least we should have a couple of ’em in the office at the day job so I can try it out.

In more bits of good news, the original HTC Vive is enjoying another price drop. It’s still not cheap, at $500 for the entire kit-and-caboodle, but that’s more than a third less than its launch price. Nowadays, I have a tough time recommending it without the Deluxe Audio Strap, which is another $100 and totally worth it for the comfort it adds.

Anyway – I suppose that’s the cost of being an early adopter. Still, it’s been worth it. 🙂

In other news… HTC announced that the formerly China-only VIVE Focus will be going international later this year. It’s a stand-alone headset that still enjoys 6 degrees of freedom with its tracking… without need for Lighthouse base stations or anything. This is the wave of the future, I think. However, the stand-alone device is nowhere near as powerful as the console and PC-based solutions. There’s no word on pricing, yet, but if you don’t have a PC or PS4 that is VR-capable right now, it might prove a decent solution for lower-end experiences.

Of course, it has to compete with the upcoming Oculus Go, which has a price point of only $200!

On the tools front, Unity and Unreal will be packaging built-in support for Magic Leap AR, whenever that hardware actually ships to consumers (supposedly later this year). Also, Microsoft and NVidia have announced support for real-time ray-tracing, which is one of those incredible things we’ve talked about for decades. I expect the capabilities will be pretty limited for the next few years, but it looks like that technology, like VR, may finally be arriving in the near future.


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A Week in Blood Creek

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 20, 2018

Last week was pretty focused on the Blood Creek Witch release. This has been quite the milestone for me, and the initial feedback I have received has been really positive.  So… yay! Hopefully those of you who were interested are enjoying the book. If you haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet… HEY, that’s easy to solve!

Blood Creek Witch on Amazon

Blood Creek Witch at Barnes & Noble

The ship times from Amazon on the paperback seem a little… weird. I’m getting reports that its actually shipping out within a couple of days (here in the U.S.), but I’m not privy to what’s really going on there. Even my publisher is a little mystified, and has contacted the printer to find out if anything was amiss (answer: no, everything’s normal on their end). So… it’s just a little weird. But books are shipping.

If you have read it and feel the urge to review it, please do. Amazon’s algorithms run on two things: Purchases, and reviews. Crossing magic thresholds in their algorithms means a LOT. Just sayin’. 🙂

Anyway, it has been a wild, wonderful week. Thanks to everyone for bearing with me. I assume it will get easier in the future. I will say that compared to an indie game release, it’s a lot less stressful. Some of that may be because I’ve had the support of my publisher.

And the fun is far from over. I understand the contracts are signed and the work on the audio book has now begun. I imagine I will start getting chapters back to listen to and review pretty soon. This feels more than a little surreal to me. I mean, I’ve read it to myself aloud (parts of it several times), but it’ll be something else hearing the very talented Janel Valentine reading it.

I’ve got two local signings scheduled. I’ll have more information on these dates and locations shortly. I’ve also been hard at work on revising the next Blood Creek book. So… while it’s amazing to have Blood Creek Witch finally out and in the wild, I’m still living there right now, and will be for a while. I’m not complaining.

Oh, yeah, and I’m going to keep putting up reminders… if you are interested in the new, relaunching mailing list, you can sign up here:

Jay Barnson’s Tales Mailing List


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Another New Release! Planetary Anthology: Mars is out!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 16, 2018

This was kind of unexpected. This is still the week I’m pushing my brand-new novel, Blood Creek Witch. Seriously. It’s awesome, in my totally biased opinion. I’m hearing comments from people (including those I don’t know) about how much they are enjoying it, and I’m deliriously happy. At least it’s finding some of its audience, and it is resonating with them. If you haven’t seen it yet, and you are in the mood for a fantasy story about magic and monsters set in modern-era Appalachia, check it out at Amazon.

So… really, that’s still my focus. Novel! Blood Creek Witch! Check it out! The first few chapters are available as a free preview on Amazon, so you can “try before you buy.”

But wait… there’s more! (Oh, man, I can’t even write that without hearing Ron Popeil’s voice saying it…) An anthology I wrote for months ago just came out as well. And it’s also really, really cool. I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Planetary: Mars is a collection of speculative fiction thematically related to Mars… the planet, the god, or elements related to the god’s domain in mythology. So pretty much war, battle, etc. Science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, you name it.

Planetary: Mars (eBook)

Planetary: Mars (Paperback)

(The two versions aren’t linked as of right now, but they will be)

It includes stories by legendary writer Kevin J. Anderson (Holy crap, I’m in an anthology with Kevin J. Anderson), Chuck Dixon (who wrote for Marvel and DC, best known for his work on The Punisher, Batman, Nightwing, and Robin), veteran award-winning authors Louis Antonelli, Julie Frost, and Declan Finn,  #PulpRev powerhouses Kai Wai (Ben) Cheah and Jon Mollison, and many more. It’s a fantastic mix of authors!

My story is called “The Martian Princess,” about the ghost ship of a luxury spaceliner by that name. It also involves pirates and a space monster. I had a lot of fun writing this one. I hope you find it as fun to read as I did to write.

Cool stuff all around.

BTW, I’m relaunching my mailing list. This one is primarily for books, not the game-related stuff. There’ll be some perks to being on the list in the not-too-distant future. If you are interested in signing up, you can do that here:

Jay Barnson’s Tales Mailing List


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Blood Creek Witches, Queens of Shadows, and Dieselpunk Strategy for PI Day

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 14, 2018

Okay, so today is “PI day” (3/14), which coincides with some neat things I’ll be doing today. BUT… here are some neat things for you.

First of all, I guess I’m not supposed to dilute my message. In case you missed the last couple of blog posts – my novel, Blood Creek Witch, is out now!  Just barely out, and while it sounds like it’s doing doing well, it can of course use all the help it can get. If you are interested, the eBook is only $3.99. The printed version costs a bit more, but definitely worth it in my completely biased opinion totally worth it.  🙂 It’s a story of magic, monsters, and mayhem in a tiny community in the backwoods of West Virginia, inspired by old folk tales and ghost stories. However, it’s adventure story, not a horror, even though there are horror elements.

Get Blood Creek Witch at Amazon

Also, if you have had a chance to read it and feel so inclined to leave a review, that really helps things substantially.

Okay… something else literary for your enjoyment…

Cirsova is a pulp-style magazine of “heroic science fiction and fantasy.” It’s pretty awesome. There are some great up-and-coming as well as a few old pros writing for the magazine. For what it’s worth, it was also a Hugo nominee. I had a story in the Hugo reader packet, which is about as close as I’ll probably ever get to being a Hugo winner.

Cirsova #5 is the “pre-historic human civilization meets Lovecraft” dedicated issue. I have a story in that one called “The Queen of Shadows”. It’s a good ol’ sword-and-sorcery Conan-esque tale involving Lovecraft-inspired ghouls and the buried ruins of a city of the Great Ones before they disappeared. I hope you find it fun, heroic, pulpy, and most importantly, entertaining.

The cool thing is that as two of these stories (not mine) are up for awards right now, and the editor has temporarily made the digital issue free. It’s for this week only, and the week is half over, so jump on it now and get the book added to your account right now, so you can read it at your leisure! As with all short story collections, not all of them may be to your taste, but at the price of $FREE, its definitely worth it.

Cirsova #5 Temporarily Free on Amazon

And finally – something I have absolutely nothing to do with but I thought was really cool…

I discovered Jakub Rozalski’s incredible dieselpunk-ish art online a couple of years ago. He called it the “World of 1920+,” and it’s like Eastern Europe if World War I had gone another several years and included giant mechas and flying steel airships and stuff. It’s amazing, awe-inspiring art. (His fantasy / werewolf paintings are pretty cool too…)

Apparently I wasn’t the only one inspired by this artwork. KING Art games, a veteran German game development studio, has adopted it as their basis for a real-time strategy game, called Iron Harvest. Of course, they have a lot of cool ideas of their own for how an RTS ought to be, and they are no strangers to crowdfunding video games. I like what they said, so I took the gamble and backed the project. It’s very nearly funded after barely only 24 hours. Their start goal is just shy of a half-million dollars, but I think they are really seeking funding for over a million (so that they can remain independent of a publisher).

The game will be available on PC, XBox One, and Playstation 4. They promise that each version will have its own completely custom interface, so don’t worry about ports from console to PC or vice-versa. If you are interested, you can back Iron Harvest on Kickstarter, or you can do so directly from their website. The former makes sure they get full funding with their all-or-nothing format (but there’s little fear of that being a problem right now), and the latter probably means a larger chunk of the money goes directly to them. Either way, it’s always a gamble… Crowdfunding is never guaranteed (ask those of us who backed Star Citizen so many years ago…), but keep an eye on it anyway for when it is (hopefully) released if you are interested in Dieselpunk / RTS games.

Okay, well, that’s a lot for one day. I’ll let you get back to your regularly-scheduled web-surfing. As always, have fun!

 

 


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Blood Creek Witch: It’s Out!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 13, 2018

Who is that guy, and why is he smiling? Oh, well, you can probably trust the guy in the Commodore 64 t-shirt.

Oh, yeah. It’s release day!

Blood Creek Witch is now available in print and e-book format for your entertainment. Contemporary fantasy set in the mountains of West Virginia, there’s magic, monsters, and mayhem. I’m super-pleased with the work my publisher, Immortal Works, has put into this to make a quality book. It was fun to write, occasionally fun to edit, and extremely fun to hold in my hands.

I hope it’s even more fun for you to read.

You can order it right now, for immediate delivery on the kindle, or in the good ol’ fashioned paper version (still my preference, as much as I love eBooks):

Blood Creek Witch at Amazon

 


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