Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Crunch Mode, Torment, and Too Much of a Good Thing.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 27, 2017

Well, it was good while it lasted. The day job has me back in crunch. Of course I say “the day job,” but we’re small enough and I’m senior enough that I can’t pretend it’s someone high up the chain kicking my butt. It’s just the way projects come in. They gotta get done.

When the stress mounts, my method of adaptation is to start making to-do lists of things I need to get done. Because if I don’t, I’m going to find myself loading up  old, familiar strategy games or something and losing all of my few remaining “spare time” hours to them to escape the stress. Up to a point, that’s not a bad thing. Getting some brain exercise and completely turning everything else in the world is a wonderful thing. That’s why I do what I do. But if nothing else gets done, then the stress stuff doesn’t go away.

So I make lists. All the things I need to get done, so stuff doesn’t fall through the cracks. Getting the things done on the list is important. But just making the list helps me de-stress, and feel less guilty when I DO take time out to play.

Besides, this week I need to carefully allocate my game-playing time budget because Torment: Tides of Numenera drops tomorrow!!!! That one kinda crept up on me. I can’t say I’ve been looking forward to it as much as some other titles, as I wasn’t ever the rabid Planescape: Torment fan many others were. That always made me wonder if there was something wrong with me.  Fascinating characters,  good story, maybe the world was just a bit too weird for me. (But then I turn around and complain about how hackneyed the Forgotten Realms are… )  Regardless, this looks like it might be a really fantastic game, and while I won’t have much time to put into it, I’m looking forward to playing it.

Anyway – these are the days I must improve my juggling game.  Hopefully it’ll all pay off in the end.


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RPG Design: Letting the Bots Fill In the Details

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 24, 2017

Procedural content generation (PCG) is what will save computer role-playing games, if it doesn’t kill it first.

What I mean is this:

RPGs are really, really content-heavy. Exploration is a major element in classic RPGs (although, as Guido Henkel recently pointed out, the dice-and-paper tradition they are based on is more oriented on problem-solving). This means the rate of consumption of new (to the player) content is really high – they always have to be visiting new places, seeing new things, finding new discoveries, gaining new equipment, facing new foes.

This makes RPG development really expensive. Prohibitively so, in many cases. There are so many fronts where RPG design should explore, but every single game is playing catch-up with content expectations. Designers have to conceive it, programmers have to support it, and artists and level designers need to build it.

So you are left with two general approaches:

The first approach is to still lovingly hand-craft all the content in the game, which again, reaches into the realm of prohibitively expensive. It’s a lot of time and effort. Tons of resources spent for every hour of player involvement. There are ways of reducing that workload, of course. Using tiles and other highly modularized, reusable pieces that can be rearranged in different configurations can make a huge difference. But it’s still pretty labor intensive… just ask the people putting out the *quality* RPG Maker or similar games. That stuff takes a lot of time and testing.

Even with smart strategies, hand-crafted content takes so much time and effort that a developer can easily spend most of their time just playing catch-up with player expectations. While that’s doable, now and in the future, it leads developers abandoning the field when these expensive, big games fail to break even.

Another approach is to procedurally generate the content. This one sounds like magic… wave your magic algorithm around, and voilà! Infinite content! Except… the algorithms aren’t magic. They take tons of effort to produce anything that makes something remotely playable or interesting. And as much as I love a good roguelike, even the best procedural generation systems (the kind that take much more time to create than any two maps would have) produce stuff that eventually feels very canned, similar, and predictable. It robs from the feeling of discovery, because “discovering” computer generated content is about like discovering an interesting crack in the pavement. Curious, but pointless.

Again, I love a good roguelike, or a good Diablo-like, but too much procedural generation yields to boredom, and a game should not be boring! Too much of that, and the whole genre is choked on relatively boring, grindy, computer-generated content.

Which leads me to the point here… we need a blend. An intelligent blend. Across the board. The sort of things that every RPG needs. This is hardly new. Even back in the early tabletop RPG games, we had random tables to help generate content, either to prepare for a game, or to generate events or answers to questions in-game.

While lots of games do this already, I see a more extensive use of this as being the future of computer RPGs. It can happen a few different ways.

One – it can be used to supplement custom content. We commonly see it now in roguelikes and the like by having custom areas, encounters, and events “seeded” into the procedurally generated landscape. Remember The Butcher in Diablo 1? Yeah, like that.

Another option: Procedurally generate content at development time, and then customize it. I’ve done this several times for dice & paper games, using either the old tables from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, or online map-generators. These can spark creativity and do some of the “heavy lifting” building the basic content as a foundation for the designer to build on. This is happening in a lot of smaller areas, like procedurally-generated textures, but I don’t know how much it’s getting used in the industry as a tool.

A third option could be done either at development time or in real-time… have procedural content generation supplement human-generated content. I suspect that’s the kind of thing we’re seeing in Bethesda’s RPGs (post-Daggerfall). Procedural generation can stock the cupboards and treasure chests, populate the countryside with monsters, and even generate some of the less important dungeons or generate grindy little filler quests. The core content is human-generated with that natural feel, but the computer adds the details… which can often be the most annoying and time consuming part to fill in.

Of course, there’s always the sort of thing we’ve had from the beginning… random loot tables and the occasional random encounter. Things to shake things up a bit and keep them from being too predictable. This can be taken a lot further, like the AI director in Left 4 Dead that generated equipment and encounters based on dramatic pacing. Or randomness. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

In the end… there’s a whole spectrum between completely hand-generated adventures and the fully procedurally-generated “roguelike.” I think the solution to having rich content that pushes some interesting new approaches to the genre may lay in-between. I think the future lay not in deciding whether or not procedural generation will be used, but more in deciding how much and where.

 


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Final Hours for Cirsova Pre-Orders, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Campaign

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 22, 2017

Now’s your chance.

Two volumes of pulp-style heroic fantasy, available cheap. Ridiculously cheap if you are going for the purely digital versions. And yeah, the editor has said that with the goal passed, he’s really interested more in expanding readership. So… while I’m going for paper copies myself, enjoy the digital!

Many of the stories in #5 involve a shared-world concept called “Eldritch Earth” – the world before recorded history based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. The Old Ones Lovecraft wrote about have all but disappeared, but they’ve left behind their servitor race – the humans – as well as remnants of their own bizarre technology, and the horrors that are rarely seen in the “modern” world of Lovecraft. In my mind, I think Conan (long before the Cataclysm that sank Lemuria and Atlantis) + Cthulhu + Dinosaurs. If you read Misha Burnett’s story, “A Hill of Stars,” that’s the setting.

My own story, “The Queen of Shadows,” is of a self-exiled soldier who returns to the city of Deodanth after receiving a message of distress from his sister.  Nobody dares speak of what really happened to her, and his investigations lead him into conflict with the inhuman secret masters of the city.

I know that Cirsova #5 is finishing up editing now, and the stories and cover art and everything for #6 are bought and paid for, so the risks involved that the books won’t ship are pretty minimal. Editor-in-chief P. Alexander really just uses this as pre-order method.

Cirsova #5 and #6 Pre-Orders can be made here, for just a few more hours!

 

And speaking of crowdfunding, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire is finishing up its campaign at about the same time. They had lofty goals of over a million dollars to fund the project for the next game in this series of spiritual descendants of Baldur’s Gate. They’ve blown that away by almost 3x at this time. They’ve got one more stretch goal listed, at $3.25 million.

I totally love the box art, BTW. Do we still call it “box art” when the games don’t really come in boxes anymore? Cover art? Whatever, it’s awesome.

Anyway, if you want to grab it and the bennies early, you’ve got just a couple more days to do it. As always, there’s a risk that this thing will never ship. But considering the team, and history, and the fact that this is a sequel… I personally consider it a very remote risk. YMMV.

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire Crowdfund Campaign

So much to play and to read…


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Life, the Universe, and Everything 2017 Report

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 21, 2017

One of these days, I’m going to take some vacation time where I actually, you know, REST and vacation. Instead, I spent 12+ hours per day at a conference. Still, it was totally worth it! The Life, the Universe, and Everything Symposium was a lot of fun this year, and I learned a lot.

I attended panels on such topics as planetary geology, outlining a novel in 30 minutes, urban fantasy vs. horror, improving the elevator pitch, writing action sequences, launching an indie book, creating a story idea that works, writing part-time vs. full-time, writing romance (something I really suck at, so I had a lot to learn), pulp fiction, and more. I missed the academic paper presentations, but my wife got to hit a couple of them presented by Jonathan Langford and Michaelbrent Collings, and they sounded like her favorite part of the entire weekend. Really great stuff.

Normally, I call a panel a success if I can pull out two or three useful tidbits that I can apply, and I think this was true of most panels I attended. I filled up many, many pages in my notebook that I need to remember to review soon. The 30-minute outline technique was actually pretty cool. The presenter, Rebecca Rhode, had created a variation of Susan Kaye Quinn’s brainstorming-to-outline technique, and had successfully used it for three published books and one work-in-progress. I tried it when I got home, and was impressed with the results. Now I just have to write the dang thing…

I also got to play in a demo game of the new(er) Star Wars game system by Fantasy Flight Games. Even better, I got to play it alongside my daughter (I think this was the first time we were both players, instead of me being the GM), I finally got to play in a game with Bob Defendi, and I got to learn what I did wrong when I ran a beginner game one-shot at Thanksgiving.

Friday night, I attended a meet & greet party for Immortal Works Press. I already knew about a third of the people there, and it was a fun chance to mingle and to partake of doughnuts at the end of the second day of the symposium. I didn’t have much of a voice by that time (largely due to a lingering cough from a cold I’d had THREE WEEKS earlier… dang why do those things take forever to go away?!?!?), but I had a good time.

Sadly, my tablet started freezing every time I tried to take a picture, so… I have no pics this year. Bummer.

Besides panels and gaming and parties, I also spent a little bit of time socializing. Er, I mean, networking. Yeah. But really… that’s often how things get done. I’ve talked with indie game developers about the advantages of networking, and the same seems to hold true in the author world. Particularly in the indie author world. And being able to talk in small groups or one-on-one is a lot easier for the more introverted of that group. But a lot of it was just me getting to hang out with frie I don’t get to see all that often… mainly at conventions like this one. It was nice…

Bottom line – it was well worth it for me to attend.  No surprise there. Now I get to sit down and decide where I want to be in my writing and game development … umm… not quite “careers” but I guess so… come this time next year, and how to get there from here.


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Guido Henkel on a New / Old Way To Design RPGs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 20, 2017

Guido Henkel, designer of the original Realms of Arkania CRPG series and producer of the critically acclaimed cult favorite Planescape: Torment, has put together a list of things modern RPGs are getting wrong… and how they ought to be able to get things right.

The thing is… not a whole lot of what he’s saying is new. However, it deserves taking a hard look at it again, as he has done here. In some cases, he’s zeroing in on the problems that have left a lot of old-school RPG fans feeling dissatisfied. We enjoy the games, sure, but they still feel kinda… meh. Like something is missing. Henkel reiterates some of the things that we’ve been complaining about for years, and helps define and clarify issues that may have been a little vague in the past.

In my view, the core problem comes down to the cost of content. RPGs are content-rich, and they have been from the beginning. While other game types can get away with creating variations of the same content for multiple encounters, RPGs that attempt to do it right are faced with creating all those variations for a single encounter, of which a player will actually experience only one in a single play-through. So the modern RPG, particularly mainstream games, have tried to optimize the content to limit those variations… which strips an RPG of its own nature and uniqueness among the genres by degrees.

A New Recipe for the Roleplaying Game Formula

 


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Book Impressions: Scavengers, by David J West

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 16, 2017

If you are a fan of the history and mythology of the American West, you probably have heard of Porter Rockwell. Nicknamed “The Destroying Angel of Mormondom,” Rockwell was a deputy marshal, an enforcer, bodyguard, and gunfighter. Like other famous gunfighters of the “wild west,” an awful lot of his story is more based on legends than documentation.

David J West is a fan of the old pulp stories of Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, classic westerns, horror, and more. He has written several stories that have turned Rockwell into a pulp fiction hero. Most of these stories fall into the category of “Weird West.” My first encounter with David West’s fantastic version of Porter Rockwell was in the story “Garden of Legion” in Weird Tales of Horror, where Port must do battle against legion of evil spirits that have taken possession of tumbleweeds, forming together into a colossal, unstoppable monster.

THAT is my kind of story. A pulp fiction weird west story where Porter Rockwell is sort of Howard / Lieber-esque hero battling monsters.

Scavengers is West’s first novel-sized book chronicling his version of Porter Rockwell. As such, it’s a bit more toned down on the “Weird West” side of things, to the point where the supernatural and magic is more rumor and superstition than a plot element. If you want, you can chalk it up to coincidence and some unexplained strangeness, and read the book as a straight-up Western. It works fine, and it’s cool to have Porter deal with some more down-to-earth enemies in this story.

That said… this is a larger-than-life pulpy adventure story full of gunfights and battles, chases, daring stunts, Indiana Jones style traps around an ancient treasure, and a whole bunch of ruthless people all aiming to take possession of it. It occasionally descends into camp, but does so knowingly, as a tongue-in-cheek nod to classic western movies and novels of the past. It’s all about thrills and entertainment, and it delivers with every single chapter.

It has some problems, primarily in the editing. The problems appear in batches, as if some late rewrites were rushed through the editing process. Those problems aside, West is a talented storyteller who captures the flavor and spirit of the style of stories he seeks to emulate, keeps things moving and building until all hell breaks loose at the climax.

It’s a wild, enjoyable ride. I look forward to the next adventure!

You can check it out here:

SCAVENGERS: A Porter Rockwell Adventure (Dark Trails Saga Book 1)


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LTUE 2017 or Bust

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 15, 2017

It’s time for Life, the Universe, and Everything. I’m excited. Last year was the first time I’d been in years, and it was even better than I remembered it. It’s a symposium of all things science fiction and fantasy media related… principally games, literature, art, and film… with an emphasis on those who create or study it. There’ll be lots of lectures and papers, lots of panel discussions, and a “Who’s Who” of the local SFF creator community attending as well as special guests and others from further away.

I won’t be presenting on any panel (I wish I’d been selected at least for the Pulp panel, but ah, well. I’m going to love hearing what they have to say!), but I’ve got my schedule packed tight with panels to attend, and I certainly hope I’ll be able to find time to hang out with friends. I only see some of them at these events, sadly. LTUE isn’t exactly an intimate conference … I heard that last year broke a record in number of attendees… but it’s still small enough to hang out and chat in the hall between lectures.

What am I most excited about? Well, the aforementioned pulp panel will be cool. Bob Defendi will be running a Star Wars RPG demo. I’m looking forward to the “Urban Fantasy vs. Horror” panel which will include Michaelbrent Collings (it seems like EVERY panel has Michaelbrent Collings) and Larry Correia. Dan Wells’ keynote will be awesome, I’m sure. There’s a meet-and-greet with Immortal Works Press that I want to attend, mainly because I’m friends with several of them. But if it’s like last year, the most memorable and valuable panels may be the ones I didn’t anticipate.

Anyway, it’ll be a good time. Exhausting, but awesome.


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Back in Business with the New Computer

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 13, 2017

I talked about computer woes a few weeks ago. Since October I have been dealing with a computer that has grown slower and less stable almost by the day. I spent tons of time and not a trivial amount of money over three unproductive months fighting the inexorable crawl of failure.

Any sort of development (or gaming) on the computer at this point was out of the question, except for maybe turn-based strategy games (which is why I played Master of Orion over the holidays). It didn’t matter much through most of that time, because I was in serious crunch mode at the day job and didn’t have much time to devote to development anyway. I futzed with the computer, trying and testing things, and then I’d spend some time writing… enough of a change of pace from programming that I could devote some attention to it.

It eventually got to the point where the only things left to replace to see if MAYBE they’d fix the problem were expensive… and not exactly cutting edge. By the time I was done, I’d have a whole new computer made of obsolete parts. Or I could order a new one, with exactly the parts I wanted, all hot and new and hopefully capable of lasting a good long while. I waited too long to make that decision, and the old system died in an ugly mess of Blue Screens of Death.

It was okay, I told myself. The hard drives were probably not the point of failure, and while the old machine couldn’t stay on long enough to transfer my HUGE development environment, the data was still safe and sound. I also kicked myself for not keeping backups as current as I should. Probably not hard enough to improve, though. I could always open up my wife’s computer, plug the drives into it, and use it to transfer the dev environment to my laptop. But … would it be worth it, as I’d only have to transfer it again to the new system in a few weeks?

While the delivery date of the new computer was a lot further out than I’d hoped, I held out hope that maybe it would ship early. Would it really take them four weeks to put together a custom order and ship it to me? So I held out hope that maybe it would ship a week early.

It shipped a week late.

So I finally got the new machine last week, and spent every single night getting it back together. I cannibalized the video card and one of the hard drives from the old machine. I had tons of licenses to transfer, installs to make, data to transfer (literally more than a decade’s worth… transferred from about 3 previous generations of systems), and generally had to make it my home again.

Fortunately, with only a few setbacks, I finished setting things up this weekend.  The new computer is sweet. I even got a fairly inexpensive mechanical keyboard, which is kind of awesome. While it’s completely over-the-top, it has a programmable LED backlight color cycling. Between it and the color-cycling LED lighting I put inside my case (Why? Because I was pissed off when I ordered the computer, and I needed only a few dollars more added to the cost to be eligible for a discount, that’s why), I can work in the dark with zero problems… and my office is lit up like a rave. At least, my imagination of how a rave would look.

Part of me thinks the new machine sounds excessive… GTX 1070, 16 gB of RAM, 6.25 tB of storage (with one of my old hard drives), an SSD boot drive (the .25 tB in that number), anti-vibration fan mounts, Intel I7-7700K running at 4.2 gHz…   Then another part of me thinks the whole thing is going to be pretty lame a year from now. But for now, mostly, it games really nicely, and I’m happy.

I even upgraded Frayed Knights 2 to the newest version of Unity without a hitch. I got to play in the [redacted] [redacted] and fought a [redacted] and everything worked perfectly, even the cheat commands [redacted] and [redacted]. So we’re golden!

There will still be things to install and configure as time goes on, but it’s a relief to be back in business.

Just in time for me to be gone half the week at LTUE.

No regrets. 🙂


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Cirsova reaches funding goal, says: “I Want You to Read Me.”

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 10, 2017

Yes, I’m old, and I think using modified versions of ancient Cheap Trick lyrics is cool. Ah, well.

Anyway – Cirsova Magazine! I’m a fan. I’m a writer. Besides promoting the story I wrote for issue #6 in a cool prehistoric Lovecraft shared world (“Queen of Shadows”), I do want to encourage folks who are at least marginally interested in it to check it out. The magazine has reached its funding goal for the two issues in 2017, so… HUZZAH! More = quicker turn around (and hopefully more issues) for 2018.

Now that the funding goal is met, the key right now is *readers*. I’ve already been paid for my story, so as far as my wallet is concerned, it doesn’t really matter if my mom is the only one who reads it. But of course, I would love for my story to be seen and read by many. And so would my editor. So would the advertisers. So would you, if you want to advertise! (That’s an option too).

But if you wanted to just be able to read a bunch of stories (including mine) for CHEAP – the digital pre-order price is $1 for *BOTH* issues. $0.50 a copy. Adjusted for inflation, that’s much, much cheaper than the original pulps that Cirsova is styled after used to cost. They really just want more readers. They want you to want them! 😀

You can get a $1 subscription to both issues (or pre-order paper copies) here:

Cirsova 2017 (#s 5 & 6): Lovecraft, Swords and Space Ships!

Additionally – if you just want to check it out what kind of stories you are in for, the articles from Issue #1 and Issue #2 are available for free on the website. Issue #4 is available for sale… with my story, The Priests of Shalaz, in digital or paperback form at Amazon, at Smashwords, and a hardcover book is available at Lulu.

Pulp was all about cheap, new stories for the common reader. Cirsova seems to be doing its best in that respect. If you are at all interested in these kind of pulp-style fantasy and science fiction they publish, it’s worth checking out.

Just act fast – there’s only two weeks left on the “crowdfunding” campaign.


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We Need To Go Deeper now on Early Access

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 9, 2017

I don’t normally promote Early Access games, but in this case it’s a game by a personal friend and a significant contributor to Frayed Knights 2.

We Need To Go Deeper is a wild steampunk cooperative roguelike-esque game for 2-4 players. You and your friends explore the depths of a mysterious and dangerous undersea trench, and you’ll need to work together to survive. Except you often won’t. It’s a little silly and a lot cool, and I’m really excited for Nick Lives and Deli Interactive now that the game is going live.

Check out the video below! And if that appeals, check out the store page linked to the title above!

 


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The Now-Future

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 8, 2017

Sometimes, I feel pretty close to my inner-13-year-old. I hope I never lose the opportunity to see through his eyes. And in spite of all the problems and turmoil in the world (which was still around in different forms when I was 13, but I was oblivious to most of it), it’s cool to see how much of my wish-fulfillment has taken place.

I was a science-fiction, fantasy, and video game nerd. I loved D&D. I loved going to the arcades. I dreamed of what the future might bring, though I had trouble seeing past the year 2000, because I would be thirty then, and that was OLD, and who can imagine being OLD? (Stupid 13-year-old kid….)

But in a lot of ways, today’s world is a wish-fulfillment for my 13-year old self. Maybe I didn’t see all the unforeseen consequences and side-effects, but who does?

I remembered studying lasers in the 3rd grade. While my vision was still of Star Wars style blasters, the more down-to-earth realities were cool, too. I actually knew what LASER stood for (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, if you didn’t know). But lasers were something far, far beyond the capabilities of a boy to obtain Now you can buy ’em for the price of a meal at McDonald’s, or less, depending on color and wattage.

I have a pocket communicator like the ones in Star Trek, only about a million times more useful. I can even watch television on the thing.  I have a pretty substantial science fiction & fantasy library stashed on my tablet that I can take anywhere, and I can buy almost any book I am interested in from my own couch and have it delivered in seconds.

At one point, when I was about sixteen, I sold encyclopedias. For all of one day. I quit after my first day, because door-to-door sales sucked, and I couldn’t even see myself making minimum wage at that rate. However, they did have one really, really cool feature: On the subscription, you could send the company a research question, and they would respond with an encyclopedia-entry-style answer.  As I was a kid with a head full of questions, who would check out books from the library just because I realized I didn’t really know much about the American Civil War,  this seemed like the coolest service EVER. Not so much for most people we did presentations for. Nowadays, that’s just called a web search, and the biggest challenge is learning to evaluate quality.

There’s a new Star Wars movie planned every single year. And they are (in my modern opinion, and probably in my 13-year-old opinion) at least Return of the Jedi quality. Another childhood wish, granted!

And superhero movies… superhero movies that don’t suck! We’ve got tons! Some might argue too many, but my inner 13-year old insists there is no such thing. My favorite comic book characters are big-budget blockbusters now!

The Lord of the Rings got an actual live-action, high-quality set of films. And they were great! The Hobbit… well, not so great, but the depiction of Smaug was everything I hoped for as a kid, and so much more. Mark that one off.

On Thanksgiving, one channel would hold a Twilight Zone marathon. I lived for that. I could only handle about five episodes in a row, but … wow! How awesome. Now? Binge-watch all but one season on Netflix any time you want, any episodes you want. (There’s weird licensing issues with one of the seasons). Now the only problem is having time to watch through all of them… something that never seemed to be in short supply when I was younger, and is always lacking now.

Video games… hoo boy! “Arcade quality” was the magic high-water-mark back in those days. They are unimaginably better now. We’ve got HD quality 3D visuals, consumer virtual reality. And I can plug a $15 home-built system that is far, far more than the equal of the hottest arcade machine of the day. I remember spending hours with wireframe planes in flight simulators. Now…  there are times where you have to check to see if its an actual picture or film footage.

Even cooler – game music. I loved game music, the little beeping sounds played by a chip turned into something resembling a soundtrack. As long as it was loud, man. But now… fully orchestrated soundtracks sometimes as impressive as a blockbuster movie. I’ve attended two orchestra concerts devoted to video game music. I don’t know that this was ever something I could have imagined in my wildest dreams when the Commodore 64’s SID chip represented the high point of audio capabilities for video games, but it was certainly something I wished other people appreciated as much as I did.

Indie games have brought back the wealth of weird and wild games that were common back then. Seriously, the idea that I have more RPGs in my library now than I would have time to play in five years of 40-hour weeks devoted to playing… is just crazy. Good crazy, but crazy.  Of course, it’s not just RPGs. Lots of older genres have enjoyed a tremendous resurgence, and there are games that cover… just about every idea out there. Sit back and enjoy.

Playing games online. Chatting with people across the world in realtime.  3D printing! And print-on-demand for books! Anybody can publish a physical book at a reasonable cost these days.  That used to be such a big deal.

Oh, and visits to the dentist! Way, way better now than it was back then. Procedures are far less painful, take half the time, and don’t often require multiple visits. This was something I wished for about every time I had to get a cavity filled or a filling put in. Other medical care – not that it really impacted me much as a kid – has also improved substantially in just a few years. Things that used to require three days of hospitalization are now outpatient procedures.

Music – not having to dig through the stack of LPs (and cassettes! Don’t forget them!) searching for the music you want to listen to. Having it all portable is amazing.

And we’ve got giant fighting robots. Kinda. How cool is that? And self-driving cars are starting to happen, too.

Of course, you younger folks may be reading all this, and think “geesh, when were you born, the stone age?” It feels like it sometimes. Just a bit. But man, sometimes it does feel like the world is following a checklist of things I hoped to see in our future. There are still a few things on my list that I’m still waiting for… colonies on the Moon and Mars, flying cars, a universal cure for cancer. At least there are still plenty of cool childhood dreams to strive for, right?

Anyway, hope you all enjoy living in my dream-future as a kid. Nope, it’s not exactly as I’d hoped it would turn out either, but I’d still like to thank whatever genie was taking down my list back then.


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Impressions: Windows Into Hell

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 6, 2017

Windows Into Hell is an anthology of “religious horror” by several best-selling and award-winning authors.  D J Butler, Michaelbrent Collings, Mette Ivie Harrison, Michael R. Collings, and many more offer glimpses into personal, customized, and unusual slices of the afterlife for the characters.

Warning – it’s hell (even if it resembles the heaven the characters envisioned during their lifetime), and it’s not pretty. These are not feel-good stories, although they are usually not without hope. These hells are not eternal… but that fact may be academic for a character who has been confined there for a thousand lifetimes. That’s not to say the stories aren’t enjoyable… just don’t expect happy endings.

However, the stories are well-written and thought provoking. I found myself thinking, “but…” and “what if…?” about some of the stories days after I’d read them. That’s a good sign. I tend to rate an anthology based on the quality of its two best stories, but this one has really good stories throughout.

I was (and am) a fan of the original Twilight Zone series. That’s kind of the flavor of many of these stories, although they may be a hair or two darker. After all, they are stories of the damned, so even death isn’t a possible release. If you are a fan of that type of story… with often open-ended endings and a certainly uncomfortable premise… then this may be an anthology you will really enjoy.

If you are interested, it is available in paperback and on Kindle:

Windows into Hell

 

 

 

 


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Chargen Ahead

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 3, 2017

There’s something about character generation in an unfamiliar computer RPG. Even if you technically know how the rules work and you know how the options will affect things, you have no idea how they will play out in the adventure that lies before you. A powerful situational ability may never have its situation occur, or it may be constantly useful.

To many, that’s a problem, and something to be avoided. Many modern CRPGs have eliminated this up-front character creation stage in favor of organic character development as the game progresses. That’s definitely a reasonable option (Frayed Knights does this too, but for a different reason), and for many players (especially those new to RPGs), a far less stressful version.

I mean, who wants to spend the first hour of a game in some character creation screens?!?!?!

Sheepishly, I raise my hand. Yeah, I do. Oh, not always. But yeah. I do geek out on this. In a lot of ways, it’s my glimpse into the game world and game system… the safe first foray. After all, except for a Traveller-based game, you can’t die in character creation! I’m a geek who likes playing with numbers, checking out options. Checking out the races and classes available.

And, in a way, it’s kind of a teaser to set my expectations for what I might see in the game. Yes, we know, in most RPGs our initial encounters are with common pests (sometimes giant-sized) that won’t really demand our full abilities (our characters or our own), but character generation may give us a peek into what we can expect 8, 10, 12 hours from now as the game finally picks up. It gives us some anticipation. Energy Weapons? Daemons? Defense against psionic attacks?

Let’s not forget the ability to customize the game to how you want to play it. Sure, you can do that with organic character development over time, too, but being able to pick out some special attributes right from the get go gives you an investment in your character(s) from the get-go.

Anyway, I recognize that there are many players (most?) who really don’t care for this part of the game, and for them, a “quick-start” party or organic character creation may be just the thing. And there are some games (even my own…) for which that really is the better approach. But I’m glad to see some games – particularly indies – are keeping the tradition alive.

 


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Old Pulp, New Pulp, and Judging a Book by its Cover

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 1, 2017

I unwittingly became hooked on pulp stories goes when I was a kid, even before I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. I read stories in anthologies and magazines that I had no idea were reprints of stories from the old pulp magazines. After getting hooked on D&D, I read tons of fantasy. While others really got into Lord of the Rings (and I loved it, too), I delved more into things like stories of Conan of Cimmeria… a product of the old pulps.

Since I wasn’t reading the original versions, I wasn’t acquainted with the covers. The covers … well… as much as I love them now, they aren’t great representations of the stories themselves. The Weird Tales cover here, for example… if you’ve actually read “Queen of the Black Coast,” the only thing about this image that resembles the story is the monster. Kind of, but it’s supposed to be more ape-like. The dude is not Conan, and the girl isn’t acting (or dressed like) like Bêlit. In the story… well, Conan pretty much meets his match in Bêlit. She is a bloodthirsty, avaricious, fearless pirate. She commands some men and slaughters others, and her name strikes fear in the heart of captain . As I recall, she’s the one who does the rescuing (if posthumously… it’s complicated. They borrowed that idea for the 1982 movie. Read the story, it’s awesome!)

(Incidentally, I just checked EBay, and copies of this $0.25 issue of Weird Tales in very fine condition can be had for only $900 – $1700! *Cough choke wheeze*)

Like they say, don’t judge a book by the cover. For a lot of folks, though, the idea of “pulp fiction” is probably based more on magazine covers (conflated with 1950s B-movie posters) than the actual stories themselves. It’s more like the idea of pulp. Granted… there was a lot of stuff printed in the old pulps that was never reprinted, and as amusing as they might be to read now, they weren’t great stories then, and they haven’t improved with age. Pulp is not a stamp of quality (or the lack thereof).

There has been talk about a “pulp revival” of some kind since at least the early 90s. I’ve seen efforts to “bring it back” in some form or another with the indie / digital age, but few last very long. The big questions are, “What are you reviving? What are you bringing back?”

I didn’t really realize this until just a few weeks ago, but one of the problems is that there isn’t any one true definition. For some, it’s about the idea and feel based on those magazine covers… a belief of what pulp was that doesn’t jive well with what the stories really were on the inside. This is especially true in some recent efforts I’ve seen to deconstruct / subvert older stories in order to make them more politically correct. I have no problem with that idea on the surface. I enjoyed Jane Carver of Waar, which is both tribute and parody of the John Carter / “Barsoom” stories. But really… folks should know what they are trying to build on. If you are writing a “pulp-style” story and you think you are being bold and original because it’s about a female warrior / pirate who totally has to rescue a Conan-analog character… it’s been done. Magazine covers notwithstanding, Howard has already been there. Lots of the pulps have. They may not be what you think they are.

P. Alexander, editor of Cirsova Magazine, talks about this a recent interview:

‘Here is the biggest difference in my mind: a lot of what is “Pulp Revival” and “New Pulp” seems to focus largely on the campy aesthetic aspects of pulps, almost as though playing off the assumptions one would have from merely seeing a catalog of magazine covers rather than from actually reading the stories within. It’s cheesy and fun, I suppose, but the best way I can describe it is that it’s like the little kid who puts on dad’s shoes and suit from the closet to play businessman…

…What we’re doing with Cirsova is not about being part of “Pulp Revival” or being part of a “retro” movement. We don’t want to confine ourselves to that niche. What we really want to do is bring the kind of story that was being told in the pulps, not the aesthetic, into the mainstream conversation about SFF fiction.’

He goes further and suggests (my interpretation, anyway) that he’s looking for the kinds of stories the pulp greats would be writing today if they were still around: modern stories in the subgenres popular in the pulp era. That’s kind of where I’m at. I love these stories written in the early-to-mid 20th century, but I don’t see the point of new story trying to sound like it was written in the 1940s.

For me, a lot of what was “pulp” just evolved into modern genre fiction. Now, I do feel we’ve maybe lost a few things, perhaps in a quest for validation as art (a warning to video games!!!), and that has actually hurt some genres’ popularity over the years. We have to consider escapism a virtue. Embrace some of the aesthetics that have been lost over the years not because we’re retro or hoping to start a trend, but because it’s just plan fun.

You may note that I have a similar attitude towards computer RPGs… the idea of taking a couple of steps backward to move forward again. That’s probably a theme for me. We have a tendency to over-optimize our entertainment to the point where we’re hidebound.

~*~

BTW, the “mini-subscription” for Cirsova #5 and #6 is going really well, and looks like it should clear its goal with no problem. However, the editor-in-chief really wants to expand readership. He would like to see a lot more people getting the magazine, even if it’s at the $1 level for the PDFs. That’s a steal.

Now, this isn’t of direct benefit to me at all… he paid me for my story in #5 a long time ago. But I really do like the magazine, and the effort to bring about this new identity for pulp. Even if they never buy another of my stories, I’d like to see it continue. So there’s my secret agenda out in the open for all to see. 🙂

Cirsova Issues 5 and 6 Kickstarter


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Head Colds and Junk Food Games

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 31, 2017

Well, ugh.

I’m sick, and I’m still waiting on a new computer. That’s fun. NOT.

The laptop is still proving adequate for gaming and general computing.  My saves (unless “in the cloud”) are all on the dead machine’s hard drives. So I have been taking the opportunity to play some old but unfamiliar games here and there. I’ve given the Spellforce series another shot, and a couple of 4x space games.

Then there was another weekend where I said “screw it” and played another long game of the new Master of Orion. I’m still not sure where I stand on that one. It’s entertaining, but I still keep feeling disappointed by it. It feels almost too structured, and I think to really enjoy a game you must go into the advanced options and turn off the Score Victory. That is one disappointing victory. It’s kind of a surprise when it pops up, and it feels like an afterthought.

I’ve also been trying to get into the classic Ravenloft games by SSI… but man, the interface has been tough to figure out. You just can’t do what you think you ought to be able to do. I’m gonna have to spend some more time with the manual on this ones.  One forgets how critical the manuals were back then, and how non-standard the interfaces were. Of course, there’s a downside to today’s standardization… everything of a particular “style” kinda has to play alike. With the older games like this one, it takes a bit of getting used to it. But at some point, you figure it out, the interface seems to disappear, and you are just having fun.

Unfortunately, with a head cold right now, I have low patience, energy, and attention span. I want junk-food games… munch on ’em and forget about ’em.

I recently picked up Atari Vault, with a hundred different arcade and Atari 2600 games emulated for PC. When I’m really not feeling great, those are kinda my speed. I’ve already had many of them in other forms, but it’s nice to have fully legal versions nicely integrated with online leaderboards and supposedly online multiplayer for these classic games (I haven’t tried)… which is a cool addition. And there are still some of those games I haven’t played.

That fills the bill okay. Many of those games were designed to be played in 3 minutes or less (especially in the arcades, where they needed players to keep pumping in the quarters). Although it IS embarrassing to jump into a game of Asteroids feeling full of confidence, and then achieving one of the lowest scores I can remember. I guess I am a little rusty.

I really don’t know if I’ll ever really feel the need to play “Basic Math” or “Realsports Football” except  out of curiosity. But there are still some mildly entertaining games there that are good for a five-minute distraction. But then, that’s how I roll.


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Cirsova #5 (and 6) Preorder Open, and Altered States II in Paperback!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 25, 2017

I am currently on track to have at least as many stories published this year as last year. Which is AWESOME. My goal is to exceed that.  I’m still working on that.

Anyway – my first completely new story for 2017 is coming out in March, in Cirsova #5. They are now taking pre-orders… sort of the mini-subscription thing again. You can pre-order #5, #6, or both, in digital, paperback, or even hardback format. Pulp-style goodness in the modern era!

I think the cover of issue #5, by Benjamin A. Rodriguez, is my favorite so far, too. This issue focuses on a shared world concept by Misha Burnett… the “Eldritch Earth.” These stories are set in a prehistoric Lovecraftian Earth, after the reign of the Old Ones. If you’ve read Misha’s story in the first issue, A Hill of Stars, then you are familiar with the idea.

This was a very fun collaboration exercise, with a chance to blend styles from Burroughs, Howard, and obviously Lovecraft with new ideas and modern styles. Very fun stuff. My story is called “The Queen of Shadows,” dealing with some of the secrets underneath the city of Deodanth.

For 2017, Cirsova has scaled back to just two issues. You can pre-order them here:

Cirsova #5 and #6 Pre-Orders via Kickstarter… Lovecraft, Swords and Space Ships!

Enjoy! Also, if you want to advertise, you can buy ad space in these issues at the same link.

As a reminder, Cirsova #4 just recently shipped, and is available with my pulpy sword-and-planet adventure story, The Priests of Shalaz. You can get it here.

Finally – Altered States II: A Cyberpunk Anthology is now out in paperback! Huzzah! It’s so new they haven’t joined the digital and print versions yet, but for now, here’s the link to the print version! You can also still get the digital version here.

I’m a big fan of digital (duh!), and my Android tablet spends about half of it time in the Kindle Reader for me. But there’s still a lot to be said for having an honest-to-goodness, low-tech, no-battery-charge-required physical copy that you can pull off the shelf.

Have fun!


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