Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 25, 2016
Several more hours into No Man’s Sky, and I’m past the point where many players have rage-quit. I’m at about 35 hours in, and still occasionally find myself playing a LOT longer than I intend in a session. Compared to something like Daggerfall, another gigantic procedural world which I spent triple-digits hours playing back in the day, No Man’s Sky has much more content, somewhat less progression, similar amounts of lore, and an easier-to-follow quest / story line. But I’m not the same man who played Daggerfall twenty years ago.
I guess I’m still the target audience.
So far, the game has continued to offer these unscripted (or partly-scripted ) moments that have been a heck of a lot of fun. Like the time I decided to fly away from the Sentinel patrols, laughing all the way into space, and then getting really scared when Sentinel SHIPS were sent to attack me. YIKES! Or the time that I got the location of some ruins, but it stood atop this sheer-walled mesa that was too high to reach from below with my rocket pack, but there was no room to land on top of the plateau. I ended up shooting holes in the mountainous pillar and using those as toe-holds to launch additional rocket-pack jumps. Destroying my first elite Sentinel. Getting caught in a storm the first time with no available shelter, and having to create my own with grenades. Finding the final species of a creature on a planet (a couple of times). Discovering a wrecked space ship and trying to repair it. Realizing that another player has visited “your” star system and named a planet while you were offline. Being required by the questline to visit some ruins on a high-security planet, evading Sentinels just to get the necessary information required to move along with the storyline.
At one point, I turned 130k units into over a million units in a little over an hour of hustling inside one space station. Although I needed a space suit with LOTS of inventory space upgrades to pull it off so efficiently. The economy system is quite exploitable… but not in a way that I’d consider un-fun.
I had a very interesting “asynchronous multiplayer” experience the other night. I had gone to a new star system, did the exploration and uploading bit, and one of the planets was just wonderful. No protection from any harmful environments needed, no storms, just the basic life-support power for the suit needed. Plenty of wildlife, LOTs of plant life. Sentinel activity was minor, and there were no predators. Pretty much the perfect planet for just exploring the crap out of it. I hit location after location, wandering far from my ship. I managed to discover and name about 45% of the animals. Then it was time for bed.
The next evening, I logged in to find someone else had been to my planet, finished discovering the animals, and had discovered much of the remaining plant life throughout the day. At first, I was really annoyed. THIS WAS MY WORLD! I discovered it! I’d started the process!
Fortunately, the game still let me collect my bounty for my portion of the completed cataloging of the animals. And then – after following up on a few more locations, I realized there was nothing special left to do on MY planet anymore. Oh, I could keep exploring new locations for months – worlds are big, and focal point locations are never more than a couple minutes of walking away – but aside from it being the easiest planet yet to explore, there wasn’t anything really unique about it anymore. My world was cataloged and done. So I was done. I set back off into space, and after a few more errands, I hyperspaced out to the next star system… a completely undiscovered location. Probably never to return.
No Man’s Planet
And so I started pondering the meaning of the title of the game. A fundamental difference between No Man’s Sky and most other survival-oriented games of the type is that there is no concept of conquering the local terrain and making it your own. The closest you get is whatever spot of ground (or landing platform) you’ve parked you ship upon. Aside from that, you own nothing of the universe. Discovery is your sole means of making your mark.
The Sentinels reinforce this. They really define the game and its universe. They are the robot cops of the universe, enforcing some kind of law than prevents aliens (like yourself) from taking too much of anything at any one time from one location. I believe they evolved as a gameplay necessity. The survival aspect of the game is pretty low-key, but constant. Because the players start on an effectively random planet in the middle of nowhere, the designers had to make sure every planet was abundant enough in resources that a player would never be “stuck.” So… there’s an abundance of resources everywhere. Maybe not of the particular resource you need RIGHT NOW… but the common, critical resources can be eventually be found on any world.
Unchecked, that really limits the value of exploration; the player could find all the consumable resources he or she needs forever within a hundred kilometer radius on a single planet. So I imagine the Sentinels were added to limit this and encourage players to glean sparingly and move on rather than set down roots and harvest. Thus they became the ever-present babysitters (and, for some, foes) of the game. They are not difficult to defeat (temporarily, as the infinite abundance in the game applied doubly to these machines), relatively easy to foil, but impossible to ignore.
If the worlds and the sky belong to anyone, they belong to the robotic Sentinels. And among other things, they serve as a constant reminder that you cannot own any world… you can only borrow from them.
Twisting the Tropes
I think this, as much as anything else, causes frustration with players. There are features which Sean Murray referred to and showed that did not make the final cut of the game as it was released – which may be a minor infraction or a major offense depending on how much a player was anticipating that feature. But many of the complaints that they “lied” about the game’s features revolve not around what was actually said or promised, but on what players interpreted based on other games’ features. Hello Games was very coy about not correcting misconceptions as the hype caught fire (after all, who would want to throw a wet blanket on THAT?), but that led to the game being a little bit of everything to everyone. But the end result was something altogether different from most space-sandbox or survival-oriented games.
In the end, it is the kind of experience I wanted. I kinda like being forced into the role of a space-nomad rather than a space-capitalist or colonist. It’s a great idea for a game that has practically infinite content. Keep pushing forward, keep exploring, never stay long in any one place, and make sure that those who come after you enjoy the breadth of the game as much as you did.
BUT… and there’s always a but… there’s a limit. The algorithms are cool and all, but after 25-35 hours, things have fallen into familiar patterns, and there’s not a lot to keep you pushing forward. It’s still fun to poke around, to work on upgrading my next ship, to learn a little more of the lore, and to meander slightly closer to the end-game. But there’s also the feeling that while it’s absolutely impossible to see it all, you’ve also gotten to the point where you’ve seen enough like it for it not to matter.
Keeping it Fresh
While it would have been impossible for any game to keep up with the hype that surrounded No Man’s Sky, there are many things that could be done at this point to realize more of the potential of the game. For me, it’s off to a great start, but it also seems like… to quote the excellent SF movie Contact… “it seems like an awful waste of space.” While complete enough (IMO) in its original release, it also feels like the universe of No Man’s Sky could be a platform on which a great deal more can be build. The universe is big enough that it doesn’t need to be expanded in geography, but a lot more gameplay and exploration depth could be added.
But as this post is already WAY too long, I’ll save that for another day.
Filed Under: Impressions, Mainstream Games - Comments: 2 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 24, 2016
I’m a fan of the Mythica films. I’m a fan of VR. I’m a fan of role-playing games, especially something like Neverwinter Nights where a game-master can build and exert control over the game as it progresses.
The folks at Arrowstorm feel the same. So they’ve launched this project:
Build VR dungeons. Let your friends quest through them in VR. Play the Game Master, or be one of the players.
I’m 100% certain that the technology and goals (if taken literally and implemented in a down-to-earth fashion) are completely achievable. In Unity, half of it can be done with off-the-shelf components right now. The big question concerns the quality of the finished product.
Kynan and Jason are no strangers to making games (I worked with / for them to create a massively multiplayer strategy game in the same universe about ten years ago). And of course, since it’s the same company that did Mythica, licensing the IP isn’t a problem.
So… I’m cautiously optimistic about this one, although their crowdfunding campaign is off to a bit of a rocky start. Assuming it funds, this isn’t something I’d expect a super-polished AAA experience from. But it could likely be a cool tool for you and your VR-owning friends to get together and play a game together, and a decent indie-level project.
Anyway, if you are interested, check the link above.
Filed Under: Crowdfunding, Virtual Reality - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 23, 2016
Okay, lots of literary delight for you today!
First up… Xchyler Publishing is having an eBook sale for all their anthologies. TONS of short stories / novelettes, for cheap. This sale is running through the duration of Salt Lake Comic Con, but now’s your big chance if you don’t want the paperback edition.
My first published short story is in Terra Mechanica, entitled “Dots, Dashes, and Deceit.” It’s a steampunk tale of a mute autistic savant and a former telegraph operator who uncover a kidnapping plot. My second is in Mechanized Masterpieces 2: An American Anthology, and it is a steampunk sequel to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow entitled, “The Van Tassel Legacy,” taking place almost fifty years later. A young scientist turned pharmacist / chemist befriends the elderly Van Brunt family, and is drawn in to an old family secret in the hamlet of Sleepy Hollow. My third Xchyler-published short story is “Cold Spot” found in the paranormal anthology Beyond the Wail. Two young entrepreneurs take advantage of modern technology to hunt down the mysterious disappearance of a laptop computer, but in so doing become the next mysterious disappearances.
NEXT UP: Another anthology!
From my friend David West comes a collection of “Weird West” tales, COLD SLITHER. These supernatural horror stories revolve around a fictionalized Weird West version of Porter Rockwell (whose real life was honestly pretty story-worthy to begin with). I haven’t read this book yet (it was JUST RELEASED today), but I’ve read some of David’s other stories, and they are excellent. The dude has a passion for Weird West tales, and like me he grew up reading Robert E. Howard and watching the original Twilight Zone episodes. So… at least you know he’s got the credentials. 🙂
Okay, last but not least… Cirsova Magazine is in the middle of its mini-subscription / pre-order drive via Kickstarter. To help potential readers know what kind of stories are available in the magazine, they’ve put the content of the premier issue up FREE online at the Cirsova website. Plus, to further sweeten the pot, they’ve announced that issues #1 and #2 (PDF editions) will be available as FREE add-ons for backers. So that’s $3 for four issues, including the giant December issue (which has MY story, the Priests of Shalaz! Huzzah!) The campaign seems to be well on track for hitting their target.
So there you go. Lots and lots of deals for short fiction! Enjoy!
Filed Under: Books, Deals - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 22, 2016
We moved my youngest (of 2) off to college this weekend. She’s not far… her university is across the street from where Wahoo / NinjaBee offices used to be, back when I was working for them (for looooong-time followers of this blog). So definitely within come-home-for-Sunday-Dinner distance. But… she’s moved out. Well, partly.
My married daughter and her husband moved earlier in the week, to their new apartment in southern Utah.
So now, it’s just my wife and me. And Clara Oswald, the dog.
This was our cunning plan 22 years ago. I vaguely remember the discussion. Have kids while we were still young, get them out of the house while we were still (relatively) young, so life can get “back to normal.” Yeah. That was the discussion. One of many. Brilliant plan.
That was half a lifetime ago. What the hell did we think “normal” was back then? I have no idea! I was playing a bunch of Doom back then, and making games in my spare time. I was just about to graduate from college, my wife was teaching elementary school, and I hoped I’d have a nice programming job within a few months.
Now… well, I still hope I’ll have a nice programming job in a few months (preferably the same one I currently hold…), my wife is once again teaching elementary school. I even have a recent release of Doom (the remake) to finish. And… yeah. Making games in my spare time.
I guess the more that things change, the more they stay the same. But seriously, it’s kind of weird to be on this side of the “cunning plan.”
Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 5 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 19, 2016
Salt Lake Comic Con is in two weeks, September 1-3. I’ll be there, at the Xchyler Author booth. If you’ll be there too, come by and see me! I’ll have books. I’ll have a friends there with more books. Steampunk, paranormal, science fiction, fantasy… We’ve got some entertaining stuff. We’ll probably have candy too. We’re not strangers, are we? You can accept candy from us… 🙂
Filed Under: Books, Events - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 18, 2016
There is is, right up there at the top of the right column. Not sure if it will stay there in the final version of the issue, but at least that’s how it’s laid out now. This is the version that is going to be edited like crazy and turned into an awesome double-sized issue for the end of the year.
I can’t wait. I’d better get reading some more, though, because I’m not done reading issue #2, and #3 will be coming out shortly after the campaign is completed.
I’m sure the cover art by Jabari Weathers will be good. I’m pretty sure the stories will be good too. There will be LOTS. That was a lot of of prose to edit.
If you want a copy of the magazine when it comes out – or a copy of Issue #3 due out very soon (or both), you can get them at the kickstarter campaign page which is acting as an ordering page / mini-subscription page:
Filed Under: Books, Short Fiction, Writing - Comments: 3 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 17, 2016
No Man’s Sky. I kind of ignored it at first, because I have played a LOT of spacefaring games and survival games, and even spacefaring survival games, many of which had procedural content generation. But this one had some really great trailers and screenshots of supposedly procedurally generated landscapes and creatures, and so I soon fell prey to at least some of the hype. And … the pictures. Really, it was the screenshots. As a fan of the classic SF paintings by artists like Chris Foss, I really wanted a game that would generate those kinds of vistas. I wanted to be those SF paintings.
With all the hype and the inevitable backlash, admitting that you like No Man’s Sky is pretty much admitting weakness. It’s like admitting you liked the movie Titanic. But seriously, I read the reviews and I wonder if people are playing the same game I am. I’m not quite twenty hours in at the time of this writing, but my very limited free time this week has been consumed largely by this game. So far, I’m still enjoying it. It runs really, really well on my new GTX 1070. Maybe I’m cheating, but… hey, I’m happy.
So what is the game really about? The marketing guys say it’s about exploration, survival, combat, and trading. I’d say in order of significance, that’s about it. It’s not Minecraft in space. Minecraft is about building and altering the landscape. You have even more infinite landscapes in No Man’s Sky, but your ability to impact them is very limited, and building anything even less so. Things reset when you leave the system, so all the holes you may have punched in the terrain and swaths of resources you harvested will return.
Primarily, it’s about exploration. You are rewarded for discovering things, both with money (“units”) and with the satisfaction of forever tagging your discoveries with your own user name and whatever name you choose for the location, geological formation, plant, or animal. Discover all the animal species on a planet, and you get a significant bonus. So, like Pokémon, it’s good to grab ’em all. I have done this once so far, but finding that very last species was infuriating. It wasn’t until I was standing over what looked like a dry river bed, in the scorching heat of the noon day (nighttimes were cool, but daytime was extremely hot and drained the heat protection of the suit), watching the shadows of birds play across the ground, when I thought, “BIRDS!” I looked up, zoomed in on my optics, and sure enough, that was the species I’d been missing.
Creatures may have variants within a species that can be identified separately. You can eventually run out of plants and rocks to identify, but the landscape of every planet (that I’ve seen so far) is littered with other locations you can name and upload for a reward – from little outposts and shelters to survival drop-pods to secured manufacturing facilities to trading posts, and much more. Not nameable but perhaps more significant are the ruins and ancient alien monoliths scattered all over the planets. These locations don’t have a direct monetary reward, but grant you insight into the back-story of the universe and the alien races. They will frequently reward you with more words of an alien language, so you can better converse with the sentient beings you’ll come across, as well as a better relationship with one of the races. Some of the locations will provide you information on locations of anomalies on other worlds or in other star systems. I’m still not well-traveled across the universe, so that part’s still a bit vague for me. Many of the locations will have extra supplies, blueprints for crafting, upgrades to your equipment, trading interfaces, or aliens you can interact with for rewards.
My favorite locations so far have been drop pods which have suit slot upgrades (yay for more inventory slots!), and crashed spaceships. If you can repair the crashed space ship, you can make it your own. So far the ones I’ve found haven’t been significant upgrades over my own ship, so they weren’t worth it. But… I’ll keep searching.
There’s a storyline, which is really more of a quest line (or three) that encourages you to make your way through the universe doing more exploring. Of course, the issue with exploration is that it needs to be a challenge. And not the finding-a-needle-in-a-haystack kind of challenge, either… that’s just boring. And there’s some of that, too.
Survival is a significant element, but at least on most of the early worlds I’ve explored, it is not a significantly challenging one. It’s pretty casual. In addition to maintaining your suit’s life support, you may need special shielding from hazards on most planets. These hazards include things like toxic atmospheres, extreme temperatures, and radiation. And being underwater, which seems kind of strange if the suit is already providing you with breathable air, but… hey, whatever. Some planets – the ones I tend to stick around and explore the most – have fairly mild hazards (or none, except during storms, if any). You have to make sure you maintain a supply of power and either materials to repair your shielding, or stick close to shelter (your ship, alien buildings, or caves) so you can duck in and regenerate your protection automatically.
I’ve been on one planet that looked beautiful and seemed fine on paper, but it was bitter cold all the time, and frequently wracked with storms that would drain my suit’s protection within seconds. I ended up spending a lot of time inside my ship, hearing the precipitation rain on the hull. Which is actually kind of cool, but it doesn’t make for intense gameplay.
Fortunately, crucial resources needed for your suit, your multitool, and your ship are generally in plentiful supply. Seriously, plutonium seems like one of the most common elements in this universe.
One of the tricks to harvesting whatever you want whenever you want are the sentinels. These authoritarian robo-nannies constantly float around every planet in the universe (that I’ve seen) making sure you do very little to impact the natural environment. These guys are self-replicating murderous pets of space-Greenpeace and space-PETA or something. The amount of impact they’ll tolerate changes from planet to planet. Do too much at one time, and they’ll call for reinforcements and try to kill you. However, if you space out your harvesting, avoid getting attacked by predators (yes, you may survive a predator attack only to get killed by Sentinels), try to run and hide from the sentinels after you draw their attention, you can avoid confrontations with them on lightly-patrolled planets. But one planet I visited – one that was required for me to visit to follow my chosen storyline – was effectively declared off-limits by the sentinels, and they’d immediately attack on sight. I had to fight off a couple of waves of them to get my business done with an alien monolith. Actually, I thought that seemed like a decent plot point for me – the Sentinels were actively preventing anyone from even setting foot on the planet with this monolith providing key information about the Atlas. But I think that just happened to be the luck of the draw for me.
Which brings us to combat. It’s not great, but it can be fun. Sometimes. At least as a change in pace. Space combat provides the least options, and it’s a pain to have to manually repair the shields in the inventory screen while bad guys are actively shooting at you. There’s not much more you can do other than fly around and shoot semi-accurately. There’s really not many ways to evade / escape, although frequently combats will occur near space stations or big freighter fleets (especially if you are coming to the aid of a distress call from the fleet) and those may provide some “geography” to fly and fight around.
At least on the ground, there are often some options. If you aren’t out in the open, you can find (or even make) cover. Fighting with Sentinels comes with a time limit: If you don’t kill them fast, they’ll summon reinforcements. Also, if you can make it back to your ship, you can always fly away.
Then there’s trading. It’s… trading. It’s not that exciting, although if you are clever and patient, you can probably make money more quickly that way than any other method. And it is kinda fun talking to alien pilots and seeing what they’ve got to offer, and seeing if you want to buy their ships.
Trading is pretty much a maintenance-level thing for me, so far. It’s just… I do it. I pick up items and resources, keep what I need, and sell the rest. It’s nice when I can find a place to do it on a planet, so I don’t have to fly my ship up to the nearest space station to sell junk. But it’s part of the casualness of the game that this usually isn’t really a big deal. If there’s one (or more) in orbit around the planet, it’s like driving over to the 7-Eleven down the road.
REALLY PRETTY PICTURES?
One of my other hopes and expectations for the game was that it produce really cool screenshots. I wanted to feel like I was inside a 60’s / 70’s era SF book cover. And for the most part, I think it succeeds. Yeah, there are some drab, boring planets that aren’t all that photogenic. But that’s part of the variety. A lot of the flora ends up looking pretty familiar, and the buildings of a particular race are similar, but … it can still be pretty cool-looking.
We also get some pretty goofy-looking creatures, which I consider a bonus. Honestly, the really weird combinations are a lot more fun than the straight-up majestic earthlike beasts. Cow-like creatures with claws and giant fleshy hummingbird wings? Check. Snakes with crab shells and spider legs? Got it. Things that look like hopping potted plants? Oh, yeah. They are kinda cool. I want to see some that are predatory, though. That would be hella cool. They probably exist somewhere in the universe.
SO WHAT IS NO MAN’S SKY?
So if I were to summarize the game … at least as far as I understand it after several hours… I’d say it was a casual, 3D spacefaring roguelike-like? (minus a steep death penalty) with a heavy emphasis on peaceful exploration and a practically infinite procedural universe. Which is straight-up what I expected it to be. So for me, the game happily meets expectations.
I think part of the reason some folks don’t like it was that they expected it to be more… which might not be their own fault, as the developer did make a few comments suggesting more to it than I’ve currently seen. Although… maybe it’s out there, somewhere, and I just haven’t seen it all. I never will. Twenty hours in, and I’ve only visited about a dozen of the 18 quadrillion worlds.
I’ll have a bit more to say about the game later. I will venture that as much fun as I’m having, and as cool as the algorithms seem to be for generating cool-looking stuff, I’m starting to see some of the limits. Unless things radically change as I get closer to the center of the universe, things will get a little old. Still good enough for me to play on a casual level, just to chill out and explore a new planet for an hour and make some token progress, but maybe not enough to keep my attention as riveted as it has been this week.
Of course, I say that, and then I pop into the game for “just a few minutes,” and then two hours later I’m hunting down the last two species of animal, I’ve got two new monolith positions on tracking, and I’m worried about the next star system being dominated by a totally new alien race and I’ll once again not understand anything about their language…
Filed Under: Impressions, Mainstream Games - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 16, 2016
A few years ago, I got hooked on the Bolitho novels by Alexander Kent. I also read a couple of the Master & Commander series by Patrick O’Brien, the movie based on the books, and a couple of the Horatio Hornblower films. Basically, the whole age-of-sail, nautical warfare, wooden ships and iron men thing. These were thrilling books, full of fascinating historical detail, exciting naval engagements, rescues, and derring-do. Pirates! Political Intrigue! Broadsides! Rescues! Man, that stuff is awesome, and I still love those novels.
But you know what they were missing?
Actually, I didn’t know they were missing that. I’m kinda stunned to realize that superhero stories – another favorite of mind – didn’t belong in a regency-era naval warfare book. Oh, and that it could also use a smattering of Jane Austen with an awesome and kind of scary female protagonist.
Fortunately, author Melissa McShane recognized that this was a completely AWESOME combination waiting to happen, and she had the writing chops to do it justice. The result is Burning Bright, one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’ve read some old classics and newer books by some of my favorite and best-selling authors this year.
The book is set in an alternate-history 1812, where a small number of people throughout the world are born with special powers – Talents. They may have the power to move objects with their mind, mold flesh, to see or communicate great distances. Most powerful of all are those of Extraordinary Talent, whose abilities are as far beyond those of regular Talent as those of regular talent are beyond the average human.
Scorchers, those who can create flame with the minds, are a rarity in Britain, and terrifying weapons in naval warfare. However, when Elinor Pembroke discovers she possesses the powers of an Extraordinary Scorcher – possessing the ability to control and extinguish flame as well as create it – she finds her power to be less than useless. It makes her little more than a prize for some nobleman to produce Talented offspring. Facing either a loveless marriage or dependency on a domineering and abusive father, she opts for a bizarre choice: Naval service. Desperate for Scorchers – particularly Extraordinary Scorchers who can defend against enemy fire attacks – the Navy accepts her as a weapon in their arsenal.
McShane doesn’t shy away from the perils and problems of a woman in society in the early 1800s, even one (or especially one) who could kill a man with her mind. Women and warships of the era, in particular, do not mix, and to say that society would frown upon such a thing is an understatement. The bulk of Elinor’s problems cannot be reduced to cinders, and she is young and brash enough to fall prey to her own hubris about her abilities (in the same way that I probably would).
It’s also interesting that this is a book with a strong (and yet flawed) female protagonist set in the Regency period… pretty much something that screams “female audience” … in a full-on military action / adventure story… generally stuff oriented towards a male audience. For me, this mix worked well. I hope that others will feel the same and that the story will find a broad audience.
As far as audience is concerned … it felt like I had a laser-sight pointed at my head as the target audience. But aside from that, it’s a well-written fantasy adventure with intriguing world-building, solid characters, great and compelling action, and PIRATES! Lots of pirates. I found it a “page-turner” in the best sense of the term. Loved it.
McShane has several sequels planned, and I want everybody to buy this book so they can be guaranteed. 🙂 If it sounds appealing, please check it out.
Filed Under: Books, Impressions - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 15, 2016
Steamfest 2016 has come and gone. It seemed like a little bit of a smaller venue this time around (but with MUCH more vendor space…) , but everyone seemed to be having a good time.
As usual, the Xchyler authors came together for our booth. Kelly Olsen was sponsoring it this year … the real estate agent of the geeks… and she actually had a portfolio of older homes in three counties built during the Victorian era-years. We had a total of six authors represented, with an emphasis on our steampunk anthologies and novels, but we pretty much had a bit of everything.
When I wasn’t working the booth or pulling a calf-muscle at the vintage dancing (yes, that did happen, and yes, it’s both painful and embarrassing!), I managed to hit a few panels. The first was the Steampunk versus Weird West panel, which was more of a round-table, and it was fantastic. Jason King was moderating, and we had David West, Paul Genesse, Daniel (can’t remember his last name) of Dungeon Crawlers Radio, and several others. I don’t know if the “versus” thing was ever really resolved, but we did discuss the differences between the two subgenres. As they are both broadening and adopting other styles and ideas, it’s a pretty wide, fuzzy boundary between the two. If it’s got cowboys and zombies in it, it’s probably Weird West. If it has Londoners and airships in it, probably more Steampunk. If it’s got both… well…
Another panel I attended was “Steampunk for Authors” featuring Paul Genesse, Scott Tarbet, Callie Stoker, and Maureen Mills. While I expected it to be geared more for beginning authors, the discussion didn’t confine itself to introductory topics… the panelists were happy delving into some more advanced, detailed stuff. I think everybody got some very useful advice out of that one.
Callie and Maureen continued later with a discussion on how to write dialogue to match your (steampunk) world. This was more on the audience participation side, covered a lot of the basics, but… frankly, I can really use a review of the basics. And it was fun. The big point of the exercises we went through was to take many factors into account when writing each character’s dialogue, so that it is both appropriate for their background and unique to the individual, and that it reflects their purpose and emotion in the scene.
Finally, I attended a panel about creating a Steampunk Role-Playing game, by the father-and-son team who produced the Terah steampunk supplements for Pathfinder (with the 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons version coming soon!). It was mostly a discussion about what they did to pull a steampunk world into a classic D&D-style Swords & Sorcery fantasy rules system.
I also got to hear part of Maureen’s reading from her upcoming Steampunk novel, The Fires of Hell, which releases later this week.
A bunch of us (the Clockwork & Gears Vintage Dancers, and some guests… although due to my calf muscle, I didn’t dance much) hit a restaurant Saturday evening in full Steampunk Gear. Since the restaurant is right across from the theater, some of the staff thought we were actors from a play going on there. It’s always fun descending on the “real world” in full costume. But honestly, this time I was so involved in conversations & stuff I didn’t really think about it.
Since this was the last Salt City Steamfest (unless someone else buys it), it made me consider. So what’s next for Steampunk in general, and for steampunk-related events here in Salt Lake? The first two conventions (the second was by far my favorite) took place before Salt Lake Comic Con and FanX hit the scene, which probably had a pretty big impact overall. Steampunk is more of a niche. But it’s an incredibly fun niche. I personally suspect it’s going to keep broadening its impact… expanding to cover different styles of historical speculative fiction ranging from the 16th through the 20th centuries, through lots of different cultures, as audiences get more used to the idea. With all the little sub-sub genres that might be fun. It’s already there in the core of the Steampunk ethos – in the costumes and crafts. Steampunk’s weird (and yet, cool) in that it’s NOT founded in or driven by media that way. The books and shows just kinda follow along.
I hope something else will fill that particular void.
In the meantime, I’m just gonna keep having fun, making games, writing stories, and finding excuses to wear my Steampunk Han Solo costume.
Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 12, 2016
Today the last Salt City Steamfest begins… theoretically. The lady who runs it says it is the last year. Maybe she’ll sell it. Hopefully someone else will step in and create a new steampunk festival to take its place. Whatever happens, this weekend, it’s on and it’s an excuse for my family to dress up and have fun.
And in my case, sign and sell books.
Sadly, I don’t have too many more books than I had last year – and nothing new Steampunk. Yet. I have a couple of stories out on submission, and I have a sword & planet story coming out in a magazine in December (Cirsova #4 – you can preorder it now!), and a cyberpunk story that will hopefully come out around in an anthology at about the same time.
Regardless… work has been very crunchy of late, which means I am *SO* ready to kick back and chill in a fantasy-Victorian way for a couple of days. And… when I get home… hopefully I’ll be able to get in a little bit of No Man’s Sky, which releases in a matter of hours on the PC as I write this. So… it should be a pretty decent weekend.
I hope yours is awesome! Have fun!
Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 11, 2016
My story, “The Priests of Shalaz,” will be in the Issue #4 – the double-sized Winter issue. My story is a full-on interplanetary science-fantasy set in the 1870s. Jesse Calhoun is a an adventurer who has been stranded on an alien world for many month. Potential help finally arrives in the form the the British Navy. Instead of rescue, he and the native villagers find themselves caught in the crossfire between the mighty British Empire, and ruthless priests guarding ancient technology.
As a side-note, the climax of the story was partly inspired by a nightmare I had when I was a kid.
You can order the PDF editions, the softcover print editions, or even a hardcover print editions. You can order one or both issues (although I hope you’d be interested in Issue #4!). You can get the PDF edition of both magazines combined for only $3, which is IMO ridiculously cheap. That’s 3 novellas, 2 essays, and 21 short stories… yeah. That is a ton of pulpy reading material for very cheap. I just order print copies because they are cool, and they come with the PDF so I can enjoy it either way. 🙂
This campaign will help ensure that they can keep the coffers full to buy and publish stories next year. As a short-story author, I heartily approve of this plan!
Filed Under: Books, Deals - Comments: Be the First to Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 10, 2016
I recently read Unhappenings, by Edward Aubrey. I wonder if this novel came about from a writing prompt that went something like, “It really sucks to be a time traveler.”
The main character, Nigel, suffers from what he refers to as “unhappenings.” Nothing in his life has permanence… things change, and nobody else remembers how things used to be. Friends that he’s known for years don’t remember him. After his first kiss, his girlfriend disappears and seems to have never existed. School is challenging when teachers and things he was supposed to have done change overnight.
The reason, he soon discovers, is that at some point in the future he will be a time traveler, and the unhappenings are the result of changes in the past. But while others change with history and it is all they’ve ever known, time travelers – even those who have yet to begin traveling in their own time-frame – are at least partially ignored by these changes to past events. This sidesteps the “Grandfather Paradox” – if a time traveler were to kill his own grandfather before he ever had children, the time traveler would still exist … but there’d be no history of his ever having existed in his own time.
But it does make it hell for a time traveler when reality keeps changing around him. But before long, he becomes the one causing some of those changes, accompanied by a mysterious girl of often-changing age who helps him adapt and “fix” some terrible things that are being done in time… often taking him into his own personal past. But the bulk of his “present” may actually lay more than fifty years into the future… where he is asked to travel at the request of his older self.
Sound twisted? It is. The premise is what attracted me. The story stays true to the premise, which leads to some strange storytelling. The potential impermanence of every relationship and event leads to a somewhat distanced narrative when presented in the first-person by the protagonist. He withdraws from most relationships, as experience has proven that close relationships often prove retroactively fatal to the other person.
This also leads to the time-traveling adventures being… not so adventuresome. Saving the world is just part of the job. But the bigger issues are the impact on Nigel’s few permanent(ish) relationships – the only things that really have meaning in a world where anything else can fundamentally change overnight. And then there’s the toll on the soul, which is explored in more detail. The whole “kill Hitler as a baby” thing is a moral issue that comes up several times, complicated by taking the longer view of history, after entire generations have passed.
The story maintained my interest mainly from the mysteries around several relationships across time. Nobody has the full picture at any one point, and even the aged, future version of Nigel is more mystified by what’s going on than anyone else. The ending was a bit unsatisfying and didn’t ring entirely true with me, but maybe that’s just me. From an intellectual standpoint, I really enjoyed the twisted puzzle of the time-travel, and that was what kept me reading.
Filed Under: Books, Impressions - Comments: Read the First Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 9, 2016
I guess my very first experience with “procedural content” – at least the one that stuck in my memory – was Appendix C of the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide. Starting with an entrance template, you randomly rolled up to see what lay beyond every open section of the dungeon, and drew the results on graph paper, until you ran out of space on the paper. You’d modify it as you’d see fit, but it gave you an interesting map to work with.
All these charts did (combined with random monster & treasure generation) was build a map. There was no strategy or rhyme or reason… that was up to the human game master to give it some sanity, or a plot, or whatever else.
I was so intrigued by this that I actually created a BASIC program at one point to randomly generate a dungeon using this algorithm. It was all text-based instructions, complete with encounters and treasure, with something of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style decision point for moving from room to room. I consumed reams of tractor-fed printer paper and lots of ink for my dot-matrix printer creating these dungeons that were kinda-sorta suitable for solo play. It didn’t prevent rooms from crossing over each other and violating the laws of three-dimensional space, but unless I was mapping it to the graph paper, I didn’t notice.
My first experience with “procedural content” in an actual computer game was the game Telengard. Written by Daniel Lawrence and published by Avalon Hill, it featured a truly ginormous dungeon with two million rooms equally divided between fifty levels. Two million! This was on computers that maybe had only 32,768 bytes of memory (which still had to do such things as store and run the program itself, hold the operating system in memory, etc.). There was no way you could store about 62 rooms per byte even if you had all 32k to work with, so the dungeon was produced procedurally.
Nifty enough, the source code was in BASIC, which meant young learning programmers like me could break into the game and find out how it was doing what it was doing. This was something of a revelation for me. The rooms were not randomly generated at all (it would still have to store all that data if they were) — there was an algorithm that defined each room based on its grid-based X,Y,Z coordinate. Now, what would happen when you were in the room or interacted with the permanent, algorithmically-generated features of the room (jewel-encrusted thrones, misty cubes, etc.) might be random, but the placement of exits and features were permanent.
Still, the high level of randomness in the game (as with its mainframe-based predecessors) meant that it was primarily an exercise in risk management. A good player would have a tiny subset of the map memorized to get to the levels they wanted to go, knew to avoid doing anything with potentially disastrous results. But beyond that, it was still pretty dang random. It grew old quickly.
Another influential “procedurally generated” game was my very first session of the Warhammer 40,000 wargame. With miniatures. Our host pulled out a 6×6 foot plywood board where wooden blocks were glued down to form something of a city. Then he took another bag of wooden blocks, and tipped it upside down over the board. Blocks fell out in a jumble all over the game space, and he said, “This is a ruined city, and your battlefield.” He assigned my brother and I to opposite ends of the board and had us fight. I guess with repeated fights on the same board, that dumped bag of blocks helped randomize the battlefield each time and keep things interesting. I thought it was very clever. The systems and the gameplay were already complete… the changes to the battlefield just added some variation.
After that came some roguelikes, with serious improvements over my early Telengard experience, demanding greater skill and experience of the player to navigate randomly generated dungeons. And then there was Frontier, aka Elite 2. Like Telengard, Frontier had a fixed, unchanging galaxy, mixed with random events. It ran on much more powerful computers, a decade later than Telengard‘s platforms, but it was still so tiny the entire game fit on a single 1.44 megabyte floppy diskette. My neighbor in the apartment below us was also hooked on the game at the same time, and we’d swap trade route information and stuff between us. For something like three months solid I played the crap out of that game. But eventually, I’d tried out all the ships I was interested in, tried different game styles, experimented with all kinds of different ways of making money, earned an Elite rating (best way: Buy the biggest starship and outfit it with really powerful shields, and let the bad guys crash into you. Yeah, the combat and AI weren’t the best). I’d “played through” a failed hyperjump, which landed me far out into a totally unpopulated part of the galaxy, and I tried my best to make my way back to civilization, scooping fuel from gas giants and watching my ship gradually fall apart from lack of maintenance.
But eventually, it, too, got old. There was a certain point where I’d explored all of the game system and the procedurally-generated variations that were worth exploring, and I was done. That happens with every game with procedurally-generated content. It happens with games with custom, hand-generated content too, though.
Daggerfall was a biggie for me. I don’t know how much time I spent on that one, but it was another game with fixed, procedurally-generated content mixed with randomized quests and enemies, plus some hand-made content. As impressive as Skyrim is (and it really is pretty dang impressive), there’s something to be said for a game of such epic scope built on procedural generation. The game covered something like 89,000 square miles, with around 15,000 unique locations (cities, villages, dungeons, etc.). I put as many hours into this one as I did its sequels (and then some), and even completed the main quest line. But again, I eventually came up against the limits of the procedural generation, encountered most of the quest variants, and got bored.
Since then… wow. From Dwarf Fortress to FTL to Din’s Curse to Grand Theft Auto to Elite Dangerous, procedural content has definitely grown and grown more interesting. But, as always, there are limitations. I’m comfortable with those limitations.
The important thing is that it’s not a panacea for content. Miles upon miles of endless hallways does not make a fun game. If anything, it makes the opposite. From my perspective, there are several things that need to be done to make procedural content interesting:
#1 – It needs to interact with interesting, deep systems. Like my Warhammer 40k experience, just navigating a ruined city with a random scattering of blocks would have been uninteresting. But in a battle with cover, lines of sight, indirect fire, range and movement limitations, and all that fun stuff against a determined opposing force, it became fascinating.
#2 – It needs to provide meaningful novelty. Once the player gets to the point where she thinks she’s seen all or most of all there is to see, the party is essentially over. The procedural content needs to keep providing interesting new concepts which are more than just cosmetic. There are several ways of doing this, from just having giant procedural generation systems, to progressively unlocking new sections of the content tree, to doling out hand-created content that couldn’t be created with the procedural tables.
#3 – Add continuous goals and progression. This may just be part of the systems (#1), but it deserves being called out. For goal-directed players out there, having a nice, continuous stream of missions or quests that seem to be taking them forward in the game rather than just being endless make-work will really give the procedural content an extra layer of context.
#4 – Mix with Story. Whether the story is procedurally generated (rare) or hand-built, as the story context changes, so does the related content. You may battle the same ninja, but in one case he might be your mentor who has cared for you since you were a child, in the next it’s a random super-thug, and in the third it may be the evil boss who slew your mentor. Basically the same fight, same content, but with wildly different feels.
#5 – Make it highly interactive. Good procedural content needs to be more than just a better sword or a different twist to a hall. It needs to potentially make a difference (again, meaningful). Minecraft will perhaps forever be the textbook example for this, where every block of a gigantic world may be useful in some way or another. A potentially even more interesting twist is where these might not only be interesting and useful to the player, but recognized and used by the AI as well.
Filed Under: Design - Comments: Read the First Comment
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 8, 2016
There was something of a crapstorm recently about the much-hyped (dangerously hyped!) No Man’s Sky, between a fan who paid over a thousand dollars to play the game early, and some stores which broke the street date on the PS4. Early reports suggested that (*GASP*) the game might be overhyped and might not actually be the be-all, end-all of video gaming. Okay, I’m exaggerating the complaints a bit, but to hear the rumblings… hoo boy.
Sony responded that without the Day 0 patch, the game as it appears on the disk is not representative of the final game. Developers Hello Games explained that the PC version (delayed a few days past the PS4 release) will not have those problems exhibited in the unpatched PS4 disk. A lot of people dismissed that as damage control, but then the details of the patch were released… and it’s a monster.
If you care, and have caught wind of these complaints, you may be interested in reading about it: The huge list of changes on release of No Man’s Sky.
So what gives? What’s up with these giant Day 0 patches anyway? That totally sucks that the game is no fun on the disk until it is patched, right?
Well, yes… but it’s not really a result of sloppy coding or rushed production or anything like that. It’s simply the realities of a system that is at least a decade out of date. Rami Ismail offers a fantastic explanation full of truth that those who have never made games for console might never realize:
I don’t even want to provide an excerpt, because you really need to read the whole thing. But … a poor synopsis is this: It behooves a studio to submit a game for certification as early as it can be considered a release candidate, but they aren’t going to just twiddle their thumbs for the eight weeks between cert submission and the release street date.
Of course, I could just say this is another reason that PC gaming is the best, without any certification and now that it has migrated away from disks as the principle means of distribution, but… well, PC gaming can also be the dumping ground of incomplete, crappy titles. It was happening long before the digital distribution era. And then there’s the whole submission for ratings thing. And the marketing thing. Basically, no matter what you do, there’s a whole lot of stuff that needs to happen between “it’s ready” and “it’s out,” especially for a major title, and games are never truly “completed” by the developer. They just eventually don’t get updated anymore.
Since stores have been breaking street dates for as long as I can remember, the only surprise here is the guy who paid serious bucks for early access, and the level of hype surrounding this title which magnifies potential disappointments. That’s not to say that No Man’s Sky won’t disappoint… for the level of hype that’s grown around this title, I think it’s almost impossible for it not to disappoint anyone who has bought into the hype. And there’s a very real chance it will be lame even for those of us who believe we have more realistic expectations. It just means not to put too much stock in early, pre-launch, pre-patched software, or to get too upset about substantial day 0 patches.
Of course, tomorrow is launch day (for PS4 players… not me), so a lot of this conjecture and speculation will finally be put to rest. I’m going to be at a convention when it released for the PC, so… as usual… I’m gonna be late to the party.
Filed Under: General - Comments: 2 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 5, 2016
Rocksmith 2014 Edition Remastered is coming out this fall. Besides adding six new songs to the original lineup, it addresses nearly everything I’ve had on my wishlist over the years (yes, I’m still playing… though not as often as I should. But I’m still improving!). It will be released on all six platforms (Windows, Mac, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One). It will be a new retail release, as well as a free update for all existing owners.
For one thing…. my song library has gotten pretty large over the years. The Rocksmith team referred to it in a recent streaming chat as it being “crushed under the weight of its own success.” They are offering new tools to manage the song library with improved search, sort, and filter tools. Even better, you can build multiple song lists (playlists!) for Nonstop Play. This has been a request of mine for a while. The song lists can also be used as filters for the Learn a Song mode. For me, I have a short list of songs that I’m actively trying to learn / master, a bunch of songs I have already gotten pretty good at that I want to make sure I review from time to time so I don’t forget how to play them, and then a whole lot of favorites I just like to try out every once in a while just for fun, and to see if I can increase my score.
Another enhancement to Nonstop Play is that you can filter by tuning – which is half the reason I wanted custom playlists in the first place. In both the song hub and in Nonstop Play, all arrangements will now be directly available. This means you don’t need to change your “path” anymore. This will be really nice (and is another reason I wanted custom playlists in Nonstop Play – I wanted songs I prefer to practice for lead work, and those I preferred to practice the rhythm parts).
The Riff Repeater gets some needed interface improvements. Even though it was a vast improvement over the original Rocksmith, it’s still a little clumsy to use. Part of that is no doubt because of the limitations of game controller support, something those of us belonging to the Glorious PC Gaming Master Race don’t really understand. But I welcome the improvements. Ubisoft is also promising the ability to better control the dynamic difficulty adjustments, and better in-game player statistics to track your progress.
Anyway – small improvements, but RS2014 is pretty amazing as it is, and didn’t need much. Existing RS2014 owners get the upgrade for free. We won’t get the new songs (which includes Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds, and Train’s Drops of Jupiter) – those will be available as separate DLC for existing owners, but free for new owners of the remastered edition.
As a side note, they’ve gone back to manufacturing cables again, so those will be more available – and more reasonably priced – again soon.
It’s not a major overhaul of the game. I’m actually pretty glad about that – with a handful of exceptions, it’s been a fantastic tool, and there’s not much I’d want to see done differently. If you have an electric guitar gathering dust in the closet that you’d like to really learn to play someday and haven’t picked up this game yet, the new edition might be a great way to start.
The other thing they are doing to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the franchise is a live concert featuring Rocksmith players who have honed their skills in the game. They jokingly refer to this as the “Ultimate Master Mode” – playing at Slim’s in San Francisco on stage in front of a live audience. They’ll be picking two Rocksmith players to act as “ambassadors of the game” to show the world how Rocksmith taught them to play guitar or helped them improve. The headliner will be the ultimate Rocksmith-taught guitarist, 12-year-old Audrey from Japan.
Anyway, pretty cool stuff. No, I won’t be submitting anything… but I’ll be cheering on the winners. It’s a really cool opportunity.
As a fan of the game, I’m pleased to see that it’s still going strong. It’s my digital songbook and a really fun way to practice. I think it’s the only way I *would* practice, especially when I’m working the extended-hours at the day job and have so much to get done at night. Practicing the guitar would totally have fallen to the wayside by now. It’s as much entertainment as it is practice. That’s a great motivator.
Filed Under: Guitar Games - Comments: 2 Comments to Read
Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 4, 2016
Today is the day we’re trying to raise awareness (and spike sales) of a great book by Bob Defendi, Death by Cliché. I wrote about it a couple of weeks ago.
Anyway, it’s awesome, my wife and I are both anxious for the sequel. Bob – who has written RPGs (the dice-and-paper kind) and supplements himself – really knows his subject matter… both writing and RPGs. The book pokes fun at tropes on both sides, but also turns it into a compelling story.
Anyway, if you are interested in a weird, comedy fantasy romp taking place in the world of a less-than-adequate game master, today would be the day to pick up a copy.
Filed Under: Books - Comments: Be the First to Comment