Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Pulp RPG Bundle … Like chocolate and peanut butter…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 17, 2017

Maybe the I’m the only one around these parts that might be interested in this. I’m posting it anyway, just ‘cuz… Pulp! RPGs! In a bundle! Sadly this isn’t a PC RPG Bundle*. But if you are a dice and paper gamer, this is something pretty cool nonetheless! Four dice & paper RPGs (PDF versions) based on pulp-era fiction! Two-fisted heroes, femme fatales, gumshoe detectives, rocket ships, robots, and stuff like that.

It sounds fun. I have these, but I haven’t played them. I’m too busy playing Pathfinder every weekend! But I’ll have to carve out an opportunity some three-day weekend or something.

This bundle includes:

Two-Fisted Tales RPG (Revised) – inspired by pulp adventure stories.

Exiled in Eris – Inspired by pulp science fiction and fantasy: Planetary romance, sword & sorcery, and the wild west.

Bloodshadows: Fantasy-Noir RPG (Third Edition) – Pulp Adventures meets dark fantasy and noir.  Spellslinging detectives!

Mean Streets RPG (Expanded Edition) – inspired by 1940s-era film noir.

If you are interested, the bundle is available at  DriveThruRPG:

The Amazing Pulp / Noir RPG Bundle

 

If you are only interested in one or two, the bundle listing has links to the individual games. It’s not a huge bundle discount, but it’s something.

 

(* The closest CRPGs inspired by pulps that I can think might be anything Conan or Cthulhu – although those may borrow the names and creatures, but might not have the feel of the pulps that they are based on. Also, there are the two spin-off Ultima adventures available on GOG.COM – for free! – Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire, and Ultima Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams).


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Mythica 5: The Godslayer Impressions

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 16, 2017

I may have to watch Mythica: The Godslayer, the 5th and final film of the indie fantasy Mythica series, another time to figure out how I feel about the film. Since the idea of watching it again is appealing to me, I guess that’s a pretty good indicator. Actually, I want to re-watch the whole series again, but finding the time for 8 hours+ of film might be a challenge.

So… Mythica. A low-budget indie film studio made an epic fantasy film series that feels like a pretty cool D&D campaign. Modern technology has made it so a film that would have cost tens of millions to make back when I was a kid can now be done for under a million. The crowdfunding they did for each project went primarily into the post-production work, and this final movie in the series made more in crowdfunding than the previous ones … on the order of $130k. I expect this is because the crowdfunding campaign came after the release of the third film (Mythica: The Necromancer), and that one pretty much kicked all kinds of butt, setting a high water mark for what Arrowstorm could do.

The film series follows a bunch of misfits (of course) in a fantasy world who band together originally for profit, escape, and to do some good. This leads them into conflict with necromancers who are seeking pieces of the fossilized heart of an ancient lich-king (a Sauron type). They also torque off a few other powerful folks, including the guildmaster of thieves. Marek, the wizard of the group, has a particular problem in that she is a natural-born necromancer. Her powers are significant, and sometimes necessary, but they often exceed her control and can lead her to evil. Her potential is so great that she becomes a personal interest for the evil Szorlok, the one gathering the heart pieces (called the Darkspore), beyond the fact that she and her group have won victories against him.

The fourth movie was a somewhat comedic action-adventure romp that ended with the heroes negotiating a minor victory in light of the villain’s triumph. This final chapter starts out a few weeks later, and it’s pretty much full-on angst mode with the party split between two pretty desperate quests… protecting humanity in the face of Szorlok’s now-godlike power, and trying to find the one item that might defeat him before it is too late.

Gamers will certainly appreciate the fact that our little adventuring party that was running away from orcs and barely tackling ogres in the first movie are to the point where they are directly dealing with gods at this point. They’ve leveled up. The vague visions from on high and minor cleric powers from A Quest For Heroes have given way to up-close and personal conflicts and negotiations with divine or semi-divine beings at this point. Our heroes are full-on badasses now, for all the good it is with the world getting destroyed all around them.

One thing that I liked was that these heroes are the only ones left who have any chance of standing up to the Necromancer, yet even with direct intervention by a goddess and one of the most powerful artifacts in the world (and hot on the trail of another), they still don’t know what they are doing. Marek constantly second-guesses herself, and in spite of her supportive companion, the truth is… she’s at least partly right. As they point out in one argument, even with the one artifact that can now defeat their foe, it’s not like the necromancer is going to let them walk through his army, come up to him, and give him a love-tap. Even as powerful as they are, they are way out of their league and have only half of a plan.

That’s pretty much as it should be.

For the most part, I thought the special effects in this film were some of the best so far. The extra money was well spent. Scenes in a particularly fantastic location at the end of the film didn’t turn out as well… this was a new effect for the filmmakers, and I didn’t think they turned out as well. All-in-all, a mixed bag, but I appreciate that they were shooting at a further target this time around.

I think the performances of the principle cast (the four adventurers) were the best of the series so far, or close to it. They had some meaty material this time. This film hit a bunch of backstory elements that I really wish had been better sprinkled throughout the series. You learn more about Marek’s and Dagen’s history, and the relationships between the characters grows a lot more complicated. Great stuff, but it’s almost too much to get packed into this final film. However, in some cases, it’s unavoidable. Thane’s love interest took on a MAJOR change in the last couple of films, and what seemed almost straightforward at the end of the last film is proving far more complicated, and this was the only film to show that… but there wasn’t enough time. It feels like we needed another film between 4 and 5 to cover some of this territory.

Another criticism I’d level at it… and I apologize for being a little vague here, but I’m trying to avoid getting too spoilery…  is the whole climactic actions involved in the subtitle of the film… the slaying of said gods.  But the nature and threat to the gods is kinda… vague, yet its a key point to the movie. While it’s trite to have the big red pushbutton or a countdown timer of some kind, without something like that the villain’s ultimate plan is kinda wishy-washy. He says what he needs – for reasons, I guess, and once he obtains it he must wave his hands around in his tower for a little while summoning lightning for an indeterminate amount of time to achieve his goal. That’s not too satisfying.

These are more than quibbles. They don’t wreck the film for me, but they probably hold it back from its potential. That’s unfortunate, as there’s a lot I really loved about the film. It will likely be a solid second-place favorite for me.

Still, it’s a solid conclusion to the series. It’s definitely a conclusion… the story is over, and the characters and world have irrevocably changed. It’s done, and finishes with a bang in The Godslayer.  I’ve gotten used to getting to see a new Mythica film every six to nine months that I’m a little sad the series is over.

 


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Cyberpunk is dead, long live cyberpunk!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 13, 2017

In his introduction to the new cyberpunk anthology Altered States II, Isaac Wheeler of Neon Dystopia suggests that a lot of what cyberpunk envisioned back in the 1980s has come to fruition today. We’re living cyberpunk. Not just technologically (in some ways, our technology has exceeded the wildest dreams of the authors in the 1980s), but culturally. He notes the Occupy protests and the hacker group Anonymous as examples.

In a lot of ways, though, the modern world has made cyberpunk as a subgenre obsolete… at least from the classic fiction that defined it in its heyday in the 80s and early 90s. Like the planetary romances of the pulp era set in our own solar system, once science and culture catch up to it (or pass it by), it becomes less science fiction and more fantasy. Or at least, it feels dated. It’s been over 30 years since Neuromancer, so of course it’s not going to hold up perfectly, especially when it was so culturally rooted in the western world of 1984.

As a fan of those old planetary romances and of steampunk, I don’t mind this too much. Dated doesn’t bug me. I still love Neuromancer, Islands in the Net, Snow CrashHardwired, When Gravity Fails, and the other classics of the era. I don’t expect my SF to be a predictor of the future. Considering the worlds described in these stories, I really don’t want them to be. But the sorts of things that would work in those older stories might not work in a new fiction. That’s exactly why you might think that as a subgenre, cyberpunk is nearing extinction.

But… it’s not. Nope, it’s not been the hot trend for a long time, but it’s still out there. It’s morphed and adapted and subdivided and melded. The membrane walls surrounding the style have been permeated or broken down completely, intermingling with countless other types. Yay, diversity! So now we’ve got Post-Cyberpunk, Nanopunk, Biopunk… and just plain ol’ science fiction with borrowed elements from cyberpunk. And of course, straight-up cyberpunk itself, with modern updates: A gigabyte is no longer a large amount of storage space, and it certainly won’t be in 50 years. The Soviet Union is not going to be a going concern. Although… this is all spec fic, why not have a story in an alternate history / alternate future? Gibson did that himself in his story The Gernsback Continuum. Someone could write The Gibson Continuum today.

For me, I didn’t really ever view cyberpunk as an SF literary protest song, as some did. Maybe as a cautionary tale, sure. For me, I saw cyberpunk as the juxtaposition of two things. First, it’s  an exploration of the impact of technology on a personal level. Exactly the kinds of things we’ve seen now with smartphones and the Internet. Naturally, cybernetics are an excellent symbol for this… it’s hard to get more personal than replacing your body with machinery. How does that affect you as a human being? How does it change how we relate to each other? How does it impact society as a whole?

Secondly, cyberpunk is about the struggle of an individual against overwhelming collective forces… a common conflict in many stories across genres. The collective forces might not be united… in cyberpunk, they often aren’t… so it may not be a totalitarian regime. In classic stories, these forces often took the form of megacorporations, crime syndicates, the government, or … hey, they might be all one and the same these days. Technology is both the weapon of the oppressor and the revolutionary.

Perhaps a third element might be the more grim, depressing view of the future. While this was hardly a new invention of the genre (just go back and watch Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, released in 1927) or even an uncommon approach in science fiction at the time, the nature of the conflict (see element #2) all but requires an oppressive world. I don’t really require this in my personal definition, but in general, cyberpunk embraced the idea. Cool.

From that perspective, there’s absolutely nothing “dated” about the genre, beyond it feeling like we’re living it a bit.  But isn’t that the source of all great speculative fiction… abstracting the human experience and putting it in a form that allows us to explore it safely? And maybe cyberpunk isn’t quite so distinctive now as it was in the 1980s. Big deal. If anything, I figure it probably needs another shot in the arm (never mind what kind of drugs might be in that shot!), a little update for the modern era, and it’s good to go.

The authors in Altered States II: A Cyberpunk Sci-Fi Anthology have done this (except for the reprinted classic).  I’ve enjoyed several of the stories so far. These are probably not worlds you’d want to live in (or even that you could live in, in the case of the robot-story Expiration Date). But they are entertaining and hopefully thought-provoking tales taking cyberpunk into their own directions.

My story in the anthology, Doubleblind, represents my own exploration into the subgenre from a modern vantage point. After being steeped in the stuff back in the 1990s, it was a lot of fun to explore how much has changed,… and how much might stay the same. That’s definitely something I want to do again, because I think the modern world represents a TON of ripe fodder for turning into cyberpunk tales.

You can pick up the book at Amazon, currently in eBook format but soon to be out in paperback as well:

Altered States II: A Cyberpunk Sci-Fi Anthology

 

 


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All Hail the New Computer Go Master

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 12, 2017

Man, I remember spending weeks obsessing over how to write the ultimate Go playing program that would do this. It looks like Google’s Go-playing program, an updated version of the tournament winner from a few months ago, has used a stealth approach to become the unofficial champion… masquerading as a human player in online play. It has even defeated the reigning world champion, winning 60 out of 60 games during its run.

Humans Mourn Loss After Google Is Unmasked as China’s Go Master

These were unofficial games during the testing process, so crowning a computer as the grandmaster of Go isn’t official yet, but… it’s basically over.

The interesting thing here is how wildly creative (within the limited field of Go) the software could be. As stated in the WSJ article:

“Master puzzled its human rivals by placing pieces in unconventional positions early in the game and changing tactics from game to game. Sometimes Master skirmished with its opponent across the whole board, while other times it relinquished territory with hardly a fight. Master’s record—60 wins, 0 losses over seven days ending Wednesday—led virtuoso Go player Gu Li to wonder what other conventional beliefs might be smashed by computers in the future.”

I remember how science fiction shows and stories in the 1970s and 1980s often portrayed humans as superior to computers because of our creativity and willingness to think outside the box. We’d confuse the computer controls in these stories with erratic actions that seemed illogical on the surface but were truly cunning underneath. With the limited computing power of that era, that seemed reasonable.

I guess now we’re the ones getting schooled by the computer in outside-the-box thinking. Sort of like a digital Ender Wiggins from Ender’s Game, the new software comes to the table with a lack of preconceived notions of how things are supposed to be done, and tackles the problem by observation, pattern recognition, prediction, and logic. It’s a little scary to consider, but also pretty cool.

It would be easy to both over-generalize or underestimate this achievement. The software that fueled the Jeopardy-winning Watson has saved lives diagnosing patients in medical systems. At least one person has died because they were over-reliant on their car’s automated driving abilities. The incredibly complex software behind the “brains” of these systems are only as good as their ability to understand and model their problem domain… which, in the real world, is a lot more complex than even we humans understand it.

While games like Chess were bound to a very limited problem space and was thus subject to a lot of “brute-force” techniques, this limited its applicability in the real-world. Go is a far less bounded problem, which is why it took another twenty years for it to reach this point. This victory doesn’t mean an open-ended world of computer intelligence or anything like that. But it does open the way for a lot of very powerful tools that might  on this technology that can help us come up with better real-world solutions in all kinds of fields.

That is pretty exciting to me.


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Mein Desktop Ist Kaput!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 11, 2017

My desktop computer is dead. Again. 🙁

I can resurrect it for brief periods, but not long enough for transferring a large backup, apparently. I haven’t seen unusual heat values causing it to automatically shut down, just the ol’ Blue Screen of Death. Well, okay, it’s Windows 10, so it’s the new Blue Screen of Death. However, sometimes it won’t even boot, so it’s not (just) a Windows installation problem.

After many weeks of trying to solve increasing problems, this is about to be a day of unplanned upgrades. I’d hoped to put that money into getting a Vive, but noooooo…………

I’m just frustrated with having sunk so much time and money (primarily time) into dealing with problems. It’s not like I have that much ‘free time.’  However, I am grateful that I managed to get it up and limping along well enough over the holidays to finish writing a novel, get some work done on Frayed Knights 2, and get some honest-to-goodness gaming in. So there’s a pretty significant silver lining.

I guess that’s the way it goes. Cars and computers and home appliances.  The modern world. I’m just glad I have a functional (and honestly, pretty decent) laptop. So I’m moderately functional for the time being.


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The Emotional Journey of Creating Something Great

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 10, 2017

This probably doesn’t need much commentary…

… But I’m going to add some anyway.

A depressing truth: That journey looks the same regardless of whether you’re making crap, something okay, something good, or something great. It just ends at different points along that line. But anything worth trying is going to go through that process and journey.

Another depressing truth:  Sometimes you emerge from the swamp of despair, start having hope, and then find out you aren’t actually out of it yet. Sometimes this happens over and over again on a big project.

More inspiring truth: While sometimes Something Great happens early from a combination of factors (including luck), much of the time… if all other variables stay somewhat consistent… the peak on the other side often ends a little higher each time. So it’s worth taking that journey several times.


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Final Hours of the RetroEngine Sigma Crowdfunding Campaign

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 9, 2017

The RetroEngine Sigma seems like it’s a stylish and easy way to obtain emulator console gaming. Since the best value I got out of the failed “microconsole” revolution was its value as an emulator platform, and putting together your own emulator out of a Raspberry PI is a non-trivial task, I get the appeal.

If you want to play more than the 15 licensed classic games that ship with it (including Heavy Barrel, Burger Time, Karate Champ, Lock ‘n Chase, and a bunch of ones I’m far less familiar with), though, I imagine that will take a bit of effort anyway, although they promise an easy-to-use method of setting it up via a smartphone or tablet. Considering the price isn’t a whole lot more than the cost of putting the whole thing together from scratch (assuming you don’t have parts just lying around), and it looks pretty sharp, it seems like a pretty decent deal. And 16 Gb can hold an awful lot of classic games.

There are only a few hours left to jump on the campaign. You can find the RetroEngine Sigma campaign here. As usual, I’m not endorsing it or anything, just pointing it out.

Although – the NES Classic Edition comes at a similar price point with 30 fully legal games. Some folks have even hacked it and gotten it to run more than twice as many games from ROM images. Just sayin’. Although they are pretty hard to find right now.  Still… if easy is what you are looking for and you are from the NES generation, it could be a better bet.

 

 


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Elite: Dangerous adds long-awaited content in coolest way possible

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 6, 2017

There was one alien race in the Elite series waaay back when – the Thargoids. They were present in the first game as enemies. Insofar as it had a storyline, the Thargoids were involved in the story of the third Elite game, Frontier: First Encounters. As I understand, they weren’t enemies in the that one. I never played much of Frontier: First Encounters, because it was buggy and hated my joystick. Huge disappointment for me, because I was addicted to the point of obsession to Frontier: Elite 2 for months.

The Thargoids have been largely absent except for hints in the new Elite: Dangerous.

Until now, that is. They are starting to appear, now, and pretty much in the best possible way EVER. It’s a treat for those players who have encountered it, and it also does a great job of providing a powerful atmospheric effect to remind you that you are supposed to be in space… and space is scary and dangerous and empty. I’m gonna have to get back to playing. Hats off to Frontier Developments… this is how you add new content to a game!


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Bring a Friend to Hyboria, Faerûn, the Northern Realms, or Post-Apocalyptic Earth

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 5, 2017

After yesterday’s post, several people asked me “Who actually asks if RPGs are dead?” If you are computer RPG fan today, and you are even casually plugged into what’s appearing on the major digital distributors, you get a pretty good idea of there being more games coming out in this genre than you have time to play. Especially if, like me, you are also a retro-gamer who enjoys playing the older stuff we may have missed the first time around.

I can’t answer the question in general, but I know of at least one case where it was an acquaintance who hasn’t gamed much in years, but fondly remembers the classic turn-based CRPGs of his youth. A quick check revealed a bunch of big-name games like Fallout 4, Skyrim, Diablo III, and Borderlands… all of which looked action-intense and not his cup of tea. He wondered in a public forum if nobody made those kinds of games anymore – the ones he used to enjoy. I had to practice great restraint to avoid going into massive exposition mode like I did yesterday on the blog on the poor guy.

So yeah. A little over ten years ago, it was a legitimate question. I used to try and keep track of as many indie RPGs that were in development as I could back then. I had a tough time keeping track then. Now things have exploded to about 10x that – well beyond my capabilities of keeping up, but you do need to be a little bit plugged in to see it.
Here’s an educated guess on my part: As much as we’re in a golden age of really cool new CRPGs, I’d guess that the majority of the games out there in this category don’t make money. Or at least not enough to keep going on. Sure, there are situations like Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, where it seems like the company itself was badly managed and needed a home run in order to finance development of another title (see what I did there?). But there are also situations like Might & Magic X: Legacy, where we don’t know exactly what happened, but clearly sales didn’t justify continued development and sequels on what was already sort of a budget offering for the publisher. For all its flaws, I liked the game, and had hope for future installments. Finally, there are countless indie titles of varying quality, and often even the best of these don’t make money. Like, not even breaking even with their hard costs, based on anecdotal evidence.

Now, there’s nothing that’s really going to change that. That’s just life in the big city, and the competition is fierce. I don’t care so much about who gets what share of the pie, so long as everyone gets their shot. I do want to see that the pie keeps growing, though. That means the demand has to stay there to justify developers taking risks, maybe sucking up a failure or two while they improve their chops. That means we need more fans, more gamers, more converts to the RPG fold. The audience needs to keep growing.

Over the holidays, my youngest daughter was introduced to the Borderlands by her sister and brother-in-law. I mean, she’d seen me play it on the PC before, so she was vaguely familiar with it. But they played multiplayer cooperative with her through Borderlands 2, and she was hooked. After they left, she bought a used XBox and picked up a copy of the game for herself – both to play on her own, and to play with them when she could.

That’s how it’s done. At least, that’s one way really good way to do it.

That means inviting these folks who are only “kind of ” interested to play these games. We existing fans are the best people to help bring folks into the fold. Now, the best game for the beginner might not be the same games that we go nuts over – the quirky, complex indie titles that cater to advanced players. It depends on the person. If its someone who cut their teeth on the old SSI Gold Box games, a turn-based game with tactical combat might be a good match. Others might prefer something along the lines of Torchlight II. Or, like my daughter, they need some time in multiplayer cooperative mode to really catch the vision. Maybe they need some tips on how to play, and some evangelizing of certain games so they know it will be worth it taking the time to play. Whatever.

The point is… it’s easy to find ourselves in a bubble with this hobby. RPGs are still niche, and we need to get outside of that and invite others to come join us. A lot of the potential RPG players out there aren’t the kind that will respond well to smack-talk and the challenge of proving themselves. They are just looking for fun games to play, as we all are.

Let’s invite them into our worlds, and let them feel welcome.


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Are CRPGs dead or dying?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 4, 2017

TLDR Version: Are you kidding me? We’re in the new golden age of computer role-playing games, my friends! There’s never been a better time to strap on a digital sword (or laser gun) and enjoy some dungeon-delving fun on your PC. You just have to know where to look.

Full Version: I was one of the mournful folks back in the early 2000s complaining about the lack of good Computer Role-Playing Games (CRPGs). They didn’t make ’em like they used to, most western RPGs were Diablo clones or otherwise an action-video game with some RPG elements. The giants of the last two decades who had made all those wonderful CRPGs of yore had disappeared in all but name… SSI, Origin, New World Computing, Sir-Tech, etc. And the JRPGs that made it to North America were often … Pablum. Uninspired, unexciting. It seemed that most of the CRPG creativity was going into Massively Multiplayer Online games… which were fun in their own way, but in many ways removed from the kind of experience I craved. The biggest problem came down to the simple fact that CRPGs are among the more difficult and expensive games to produce, and with the ever-rising budgets of the mainstream game companies, they had to be overly conservative in their designs or risk catastrophic failure. It felt like we’d reached… well, not an evolutionary dead-end, but certainly one that wasn’t bearing much exciting fruit.

I looked back wistfully on the “golden age” of PC role-playing games, from the late 80s until the early 90s. Oh, man, back then it seemed there were so many amazing computer RPGs coming out each year that I couldn’t afford either the time or the money to play them – and back then, I had a lot more time! But that era was done, the modern pickings were slim, and they just didn’t make ’em like they used to.

It was such a problem that I wanted to do something about it, since the whole “indie” thing looked like it had potential. I was far from alone, and far more talented folks than me jumped in to address the same problem. Times got really amazing. A lot of the games borrowed heavily from the “retro” designs of old… maybe too much, in some cases, especially with the plethora of RPG Maker titles that were hard to distinguish from each other. Quality ran all over the board, but on the indie front, the CRPG genre exploded. Like crazy.

And it kept going. Still. And the really, really cool thing is that they were successful enough for some of the bigger studios – mid-level and even larger – to take notice. Which brings us to today, where we have some really high-end, AAA RPGs that are often pretty good, if few in number. Then you have sort of a mid-tier games, with budgets generally in the high six to seven figures. Then you have the tons of indie titles, which range from slick, polished, and commercial, all the way to some high school kid’s first efforts with GameMaker Studio or RPG Maker.

Yet I often hear some people wondering if the genre is dead or dying. Maybe it’s mostly hard-core Call of Duty players who honestly haven’t had role-playing games on their radar. Or maybe they are casual or lapsed gamers who are genuinely interested in playing some classic computer-role-playing games like they played when they were younger, and have no idea if people even make ’em like they used to. Ten or fifteen years ago, the answer to that question would have been, “Not so much,” and I might wonder if the genre is dead or dying myself. But today, things have drastically changed.

What’s Out There?

I mean… let’s look at just the last three or four years. On the big-name, big-budget side of things, I have to say things are looking up.  The reinvention of Fallout has been a major success, Dragon Age and Mass Effect have been worthy entries, Deus Ex has continued, and we have some new(ish) titles like the Risen and Dark Souls. And we’re seeing games like the Final Fantasy series and Valkyria Chronicles brought over to PCs in North America. We even got an RPG set in the South Park universe! And yeah, the games like Borderlands which are pretty hybrid.

If I was only looking at the mainstream side of things, I’d say things are improving. Not great, but improving. (I left out one major title here… well, probably a lot… that I’ll get to in a second). Compared to something like 2003, that’s an improvement, albeit a limited one. I’d still be mourning the loss of great gameplay and the styles of RPGs of the old days that I loved. The new stuff is cool and lots of fun, but doesn’t quite scratch the itch.

Well, then we’ve got a “mid-tier” which has taken cues from the success of lower-end indies and have made some really spectacular stuff that exactly scratches the itch. This is a fuzzy definition, but in my mind it includes games being made for budgets in the upper-hundreds of thousands to the low millions. These range from publisher-funded studios making games on a lower budget (like the sadly not-successful-enough return to the Might & Magic RPGs, Might & Magic X: Legacy), to the crowdfunded darlings like Wasteland, Torment: Tides of Numenera, Pillars of Eternity, Shadowrun, Bard’s Tale, Underworld Ascendant, Grim Dawn, and Divinity: Original Sin, to games that are more on the self-funded or funded via investment capital like the Torchlight and Legend of Grimrock series, to moderate-budget Japanese imports that are getting localized for North America.

And then there’s The Witcher, which started as kind of a mid-tier indie game by some guys with a couple of licenses and a low overhead, and launched a series (soon to be two series, I hope, if Cyberpunk 2077 is hugely successful) that was all-the-way AAA, with the latest already being considered a classic.

These games are increasingly visible to mainstream gamers, and from this perspective… just the “middle tier” on up…  my 2003 self would be dancing on air. Life is good, and CRPGs are BACK, baby. Back from the brink, back to being awesome (and often profitable), and back to covering a wide style of gameplay that RPGs have always been known for. (And yes, we were playing action-RPGs on our Apple IIs back in the day, right alongside the text-heavy turn-based titles).

The Indies Dwarf Them All

But even taking that wide variety and tremendous quantity of titles out now, that hardly scratches the surface anymore. No, we’ve got tons and tons of indie titles that are well under the half-million-budget mark. Probably – I don’t know the actual budget, and the accounting for donated time and everything probably gets so weird the creators themselves aren’t really sure what the budget really was. While there’s tons of absolute crap in that category, there are some really fantastic titles there that I hesitate calling out even a few here, because trying to be anywhere close to fair about it would turn this into a list of a hundred titles. Anything by Iron Tower, Basilisk, Soldak, and Spiderweb is solid, and games like Darkest Dungeon, Underrail, UndertaleTales of Maj’Eyal, and Stardew Valley have garnered some real success and critical acclaim. But those aren’t even the indie RPGs I’m enjoying right now.

Again, the list can go waaay on. If I was playing these games full-time, I wouldn’t be able to play all of the RPGs coming out for the PC in one year in that year (or, if I tried to play to some semblance of completion, in the next three years). Many of the ones that might not be break-out hits are still fun and enjoyable. And again, they run the full spectrum from text-based Roguelikes, to action-RPGs, to games reminiscent of the 16-bit jRPG style, to party-based turn-based dungeon crawlers, to survival RPGs, to some stuff that I really don’t know how the heck to classify them because they are weird and innovative as all get-out. All tastes, all levels of quality… it’s a wild time on the indie side.

The Indie-Era Advantage

One cool thing is that these indie budgets are often not too far off from the budgets of the “mainstream” RPG titles of yesteryear. With the newer technology, access to cheap game engines and off-the-shelf components, and quality modern tools, indies can make games for the same price that are superior in technical ways. Superior in game design…? Well, that’s another story. But sometimes, the answer is yes. Or at least that they are comparable. Sometimes those old classics aren’t really as great as we give them credit for (but we love them anyway).

And better yet: Games are cheaper than they’ve ever been (adjusting for inflation). With price pressure from indies on sites like itch.io, the great sales and discount pricing on places like Steam and GOG.COM (not to mention their huge library of classic games tweaked to run on modern systems), and astonishing bundle deals from places like Humble Bundle, Bundle Stars, it’s pretty easy to build a huge library of games for relatively cheap, including discounted mainstream titles.

If you are a fan of these games, then you probably already knew much of this. But if you are one of those folks who are just curious as to the state of the genre, I hope I’ve been able to answer things. In my view, the “golden age” of RPGs is NOW.  Enjoy it while it lasts… and I hope it lasts for a good, long time!


Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 9 Comments to Read



For 2017, I …

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 2, 2017

It’s a new year! Time for resolutions, right? For 2017, I want to:

1) Write all the stories!

2) Make all the games!

3) Be the best husband and father in the world!

4) Rock the day job so we’ve got money coming out of our ears!

5) Read all the books on my backlog, including all the new ones I’ll get this year!

6) Get my weight back down to what it was in college!

7) Finally master Carry On Wayward Son on the guitar!

8) Play through all the games in my Steam and GOG accounts!

9) Become a Time Lord!

I figure I should probably start with #9, as that would make the other eight a bit more achievable.

Barring that, I do have three problems: Lacking infinite time, infinite energy, and infinite willpower. So I guess I’m going to have to pick my battles a little more carefully. I’m coming off of a nice, relaxing vacation right now, where I actually found time to play games, finish my novel (the one I was working on for NaNoWriMo!), spend time with my family, get some reading done, see a couple of movies, work on Frayed Knights 2, and even go to the gym. So I’m feeling like I can do it all. That will last until… oh, later this week, when I hit crunch again on the day job (hopefully not as intense as October / November).

But in all seriousness, there are some steps I can take to improve myself on all of these. Even with #9, I’ve found some ways to be more efficient with my time in some areas, and I need to reinforce those habits. (Getting the hell off of social media except in very specific, limited time slots is one very powerful trick!)  So I’m breaking all these down into smaller goals that I can revisit regularly, and a plan to get there. That’s how it’s supposed to be done, right?

I spent some time working on that, and while those aren’t things I’ll share publicly, they are some nice, concrete, achievable objectives that won’t always take the full year to achieve. In fact, I was able to check one off the list already. That’s a nice way to start the year!

Anyway, I’m hoping 2017 will prove a really awesome year, and there are some things already in the works that are giving it a good shove in the right direction.


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HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 31, 2016

I know it’s popular on the Internet to look at a bunch of big celebrity deaths in 2016 and a certain election and look at it as if it were a terrible year. While we suffered some losses and disappointments, overall it was a pretty good year for me. But… it’s (almost) over now, and the little arbitrary mark on the calendar offers a good chance to wipe the slate clean of negatives and focus on goals and changes and better things. The ball is already rolling for some cool events and things going on for me, and I feel I’m going into the new year with more experience, better ideas, and maybe even as a better person than I entered 2016. So… here’s hoping!

I hope that you and yours enjoy a wonderful new year. Take charge of what you can and make 2017 your best year ever.

And remember, HAVE FUN!


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Josh Sawyer Interview at RPG Codex

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 30, 2016

If you are interested in understanding the mind of a professional, veteran computer RPG developer, you should head over to RPG Codex and check out this fantastic interview with Josh Sawyer. It’s lengthy, and well worth it if you are at all interested in the nuts and bolts that go into making a commercial-quality computer RPG. Most of the interview is in the context of Pillars of Eternity, but that often just provides context and concrete examples for discussing more general principles of game design.

An excerpt:

Do you think it’s realistic you can do more, like have a fight be skippable by a certain class?

Yeah, I think that’s possible. Again, I think it’s really about trying to encourage the designers to look for opportunities to use that stuff. And it’s actually something we’ve talked about, like when you’ve built a quest, “What character builds are you trying to reward and make feel cool in this quest?” You’re not going to feel the coolest in every single quest, and if you did, that doesn’t even make any sense. You can say this is a quest, for example, where if you use stealth there’s a very well-defined path to get through it, so if you have a stealth oriented character you can feel cool doing it. If you play a Wizard, you’re going to get a chance to do arcane stuff and the quest is going to respond to you in a certain way and you’ll feel cool doing it. So I think for us really, it’s less about the will to do it and more about encouraging the designers to really sort of emphasize. Like, we don’t want to have something where it feels like if you’re not this class you can’t do it at all. But if you’re this class, it can be a lot easier or it’s done in a different way and feels really nice.

I think a younger, less experienced me with more purist tendencies might find some of this information offensive to my belief of How Things Should Be. But… with the benefit of hindsight (or is it just fatigue?), I find myself nodding in agreement for most of it. 🙂  Anyway, check it out here:

RPG Codex Interview with Josh Sawyer


Filed Under: Design - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



Time off for FUN!!!!!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 29, 2016

The holiday weekend and the days leading up to it weren’t really stressful, but they were busy. Preparations, family obligations, and of course the activities of the holiday itself. Good stuff, and I found time in the margins to get other things done, but still… somewhat busy. It didn’t help I was sick one of the days. But I got to spend time with my daughters and my son-in-law as we navigated my married daughter’s new Christmas obligations with two families. I got to spend time with my dad, who moved to Utah earlier this year. Great stuff.

After things were cleaned up and people had to go back to daily lives, I found myself with a day with little going on. We had a couple of errands, but that was it. I was able to *gasp* spend the better part of the day gaming. I tried to feel as non-guilty about it as possible. This is a challenge of having home businesses… if you aren’t careful, you end up feeling like you can’t take time off to do anything. Maybe for 2017 I should be more clear about designating work hours and non-work hours. They can be flexible, but without clearly designating the time, it’s easy to to mix work and slack activities together and not get the most out of either.

I can’t remember the last time I spent so many hours in one block of time just gaming. I think the last time I did, I was playing Skyrim. It’s been a while. This week, I spent most of it playing the new Master of Orion. Probably because I couldn’t help it. Strategy games are my bane. Turn-based strategy games are the worst. See, in an RPG, I can always get to the end of a storyline or side-quest and say, “Okay, I’m done for now!” Or, you know, when I die and I have to go back to a saved game anyway. May as well do that tomorrow.

But turn-based strategy games… there’s never a good stopping point. There’s always so much that’s going to be happening in the next couple of turns! If I can just get through those… but then there’s so much more happening in the turns after that. It’s vicious.

I played Master of Orion in Early Access and posted my thoughts about it then. The core gameplay is the same, although it seems like there are more events. And the Antarans. Ew, the Antarans. Man those guys are jerks. Although it was great to be able to repulse a raid for the first time. Anyway, the game feels like much of it was inspired by Civilization V… which kinda makes sense. I got the feeling the original game from the 1990s was inspired by Civilization, too. It’s not Civ V in space by any stretch, but it feels like some of the interface and stylistic choices were inspired by Civ V.

I don’t know if it’s just because I’m more familiar and comfortable, but I’m having a tough time not just going back to Galactic Civilizations II. And yes, that’s even after playing Galactic Civilizations III. Maybe it’s because I already have a feel for the optimum path in the older game and don’t make as many stupid mistakes. I dunno. I’ve got a hard drive full and Steam account full of space conquest (aka “4x”) strategy games, and many of them show promise. But Gal Civ II still seems to be the one to beat. Fortunately, all these newer and indie titles all throw something unique into the mix, so even if they can’t dethrone the champ in my head, they’ve got a fun flavor all their own to make them worth playing.

Off-and-on I’ve been playing Titan Quest Anniversary Edition. I skipped the game on its initial release because *TOO MANY GAMES*, and so I thought I’d play this one through at least once before freeing up the hard drive space. It’s a solid Diablo-like, borrowing heavily from Greek mythology. It’s easy to play, which makes it a good choice for a game to play just a few minutes of, but I can’t say I’ve seen much to really recommend it. Ancient Greece is nice, and every Diablo-like has their own twist on the skill tree and powers and enemies, but otherwise, it’s a pretty straight-up, generic-feeling action-RPG. But it’s good enough that I am excited to give Grim Dawn a try, based on the same engine and by many of the same developers.

Not the same day, but I also found time to play the newly-released F-5E Tiger II simulator for DCS World. I’ve always loved the F-5E. Just the shape of the aircraft, if nothing else – it’s a beautiful jet. I always thought it was cute how they painted it black and called it a MiG in Top Gun. I have a step-brother who flew the trainer aircraft in the same family, the T-38. But for me, DCS is about the closest thing I’ll ever come to flying one.

And… whew, yeah, it’s a chore, like every other plane in DCS.  The system caters to hardcore enthusiasts. Definitely not the plane I’d want to fly into a modern air battle – it was designed to compete against things like the MiG-21 (also available on DCS, and a very cool, if hard-to-fly, aircraft). But that being said – it’s a fun aircraft. It’s very agile and reasonably forgiving. It’s not exactly overpowered in the engine department, and of course it’s largely late 1960s / early 1970s era avionics and radar. Interestingly, the guns “pop up” from their recessed positions, so there’s kind of a two-step process to firing the guns. It only takes a half-second to have then pop up, but that may be all you have time to shoot. I guess on the real trigger there are two detents – one to pop them out, and the second to fire. On my joystick, I have to simulate that with two buttons if I want to make sure I’m ready to fire in an instant.

Definitely check out the video. I think they were deliberately trying to channel Top Gun with this, with the treetop-level flying and combat stunts, but it’s fun if you are in any way a flight sim fan.

Anyway, it’s been fun finding some serious time to game again. I’ve missed that in the last few months.


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



Leia exits, and I’m sad

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 28, 2016

I had to limit my time to the Internet when I heard the news. Carrie Fisher, the woman who played the princess that my generation fell in love with, had died. Way too young… her mother had tweeted about her status only a day or two before. I saw her at Salt Lake Comic Con last year, and of course we all got to enjoy her reprising her role as Leia Organa (“call me General”) in The Force Awakens last year. She’d recently finished filming for her role in Episode VIII.

And then she drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra. In a year where the entire Internet took notice of celebrity mortalities, this seemed like a particularly grim capstone. It hit me pretty hard. Yes, I’m a geek. My course through life was tugged in its direction by the gravitational force of those three movies in my formative years. And as much as I loved Fisher in When Harry Met Sally and The Blues Brothers, the big deal for me was the iconic role she played in Star Wars.

While the credit may be due more to George Lucas than Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia left a significant impression on me. Between having a hard-working single mom for several years, and watching Princess Leia in action, young Jay learned a few things about a woman’s role in the universe. See, Princess Leia needed to be rescued. Popular trope, right? Heroes need to save people, and she needed saving. Of course, when they got to her, her first words were, “Aren’t you a little short to be a stormtrooper?” Seconds into the rescue operation, she’s taking charge in her own way. Not all the time, but it’s obvious that this was a competent, confident young woman who was believably a thorn in the side of the Empire. Even she needed rescuing. We all do, from time to time.  She was in a jam and needed help, but it wasn’t because she was a helpless damsel in distress. It’s because crap frickin’ happens when you are out there kicking butt and taking names. Don’t forget that fought against a team of stormtroopers and took one of them down when they captured her.

Later movies cemented her character. She got to reciprocate and rescued Han Solo, but then got herself captured and enslaved by evil Jabba the Hutt. Once again, she was apparently in need of rescuing… but that was really just an unfortunate variation of a plan B. Jabba the Hutt may have degraded her, but when things went down, she was the one who killed him, strangling him with the very chains he’d placed on her.  Yeah, Lucas had a knack for visual poetry. I thought she was still great in The Force Awakens, now a grizzled veteran of the Rebellion who has abandoned the title of Princess for the one she earned for herself… General. (And at the risk of being spoilery… Mother.)

So yeah, I loved Princess Leia. I married a girl who was like Princess Leia in the right ways… confident, competent, capable, and while not nearly as hot-tempered, she’d strangle Jabba the Hutt to protect herself and her family, too.

Now, Carrie Fisher played the role, and infused it with a lot of herself, but she wasn’t Princess Leia. The actress lived an often hard life plagued by her own addictions and mental illness, but she still managed to be funny and inspiring. Proof that you don’t need to be perfect in this life, you just have to keep showing up. A trifle more ordinary than a spacefaring princess who shoots stormtroopers and strangles monster gangsters, but worthy of admiration for her simple victories. While it may have just been a job (that turned into something of a part-time career for her), the stories she helped tell influenced me. For that, I’m grateful to her.

As a fictional character, Leia Organa can live forever. But the actress who helped bring her to life is gone, and that hit me harder than I thought it would. It’s weird how media can make you feel a link to someone you don’t really know. But the thing I’m learning is that there is a connection, even if it’s tiny and indirect. It’s a human thing, and a good thing.

I’m sad she’s gone. Farewell, Princess. You’ll be missed.


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



Reminder: Altered States II and Cirsova #4

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 26, 2016

I thought that for today, I’d share the opening paragraphs of the two stories I have in collections that have JUST BARELY been released! I’m proud of both of these stories. Just minutes ago, I received my contributor’s copy of Altered States II, so I’m looking forward to sitting back and enjoying some cyberpunky goodness.

PHIL DRAXTON THOUGHT HE glimpsed the figure in the blue windbreaker behind him again. Was it just paranoia? Could it be paranoia if he really knew they were coming after him? Tarvino Technologies had made it clear that they had limited patience for him to turn himself in, and that when their patience expired, so would he.

Doubleblind, by Jay Barnson

Altered States II – A Cyberpunk Anthology

Now available in electronic format – available in paperback in a week or two.

Doubleblind is a story about a man attempting eluding a seemingly unshakeable pursuer after violating his user contract for an experimental brain implant. The implant gives him access to skills he needs to escape… but is it working for him, or is it working for its manufacturer?

The book includes 18 other stories, and an introduction by Isaac Wheeler, editor-in-chief of Neon Dystopia.

Next…

Jesse stared down the barrels of ten bayonet-affixed rifles of the Royal Marines, and raised his hands. In the six months since Marwood abandoned him, he’d imagined many different rescue scenarios. This hadn’t been one of them. He cleared his throat. “I don’t know how the British are doing it these days, but in Georgia we usually greet people by saying hello.”

The Priests of Shalaz, by Jay Barnson

Cirsova Heroic Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine  #4

Now available in digital and paperback formats.

The Priests of Shalaz takes place in the late 19th century. Stranded by a remote portal from Earth on an alien planet, Jesse finds rescue in the form of the British Royal Navy. But rescue turns into a bloodbath when the Commodore takes action to further the growth of the empire and runs up against the ancient and power priests that watch over the portals.

Cirsova is a magazine that has embraced the old “pulp” style. Fun stuff! I’ve enjoyed every issue so far.


Filed Under: Books - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



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