Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Easing Back into the Game

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 11, 2017

The last year has been a little bit … nuts. Some of it was nuts in a good way.  The day job, however, took its toll.

I’m no stranger to crunch, or (sadly) extended crunch. It came with the territory as a full-time game developer, and pretty much every programming job I’ve ever worked has had times where you have to pull out the stops to fix an emergency or meet a deadline. I’ve now worked at GlobalSim longer than I’ve worked for any other employer, and the hours have been more regular and responsible than most.

The last year was something of an exception that skewed the average a bit. I definitely have a stake in things, so it was about more than making my boss happy. We’ve been spun off as an employee-owned company, free of the shackles and oversight of a big parent company… but also free of their deep pockets to cover us when we fall short. So its been a little like working at a startup with a 15-year history, reputation, and clientele. But on top of that, we’ve been reinventing ourselves, catching up on some pretty significant technical debt, and pursuing new technology (including Virtual Reality). That’s been a lot to tackle, and we’ve all been pulling out the stops to make it all happen.

I’m very pleased to say that it looks like the hard work is paying off. It also means that AFAICT the worst is over. Of course, the former means the latter may not be the case, because success spawns more business, and we can go a little crazy keeping up. But for today, I feel like we’re at least moving in the right directions.

But this also means I am struggling to get my life back, and that is subject to some redefinition.

Game development–and even game-playing–slowed considerably over this last year. It’s really hard to jump back in front of a computer after a 12+ hour day of programming. Now I’m looking at all new versions of Unity, a game that has some programming but a lot of content left to do, and a lot of “cool ideas” for it and other games I want to tackle, but I need to get back into the game dev habit. At the very least, I’m actually able to get excited looking at stuff again. Now I have a ton of more experience with the engine, and a list of things that I need to consider doing or re-doing that I tell myself “wouldn’t be too hard” or take much time. Uh-huh.

And then I have the equipment and experience now to do VR-based games, even though I know there’s still not enough of a market out there to make any money at it. I don’t care. The Idea Fairy is strong with this one. I really want to take some time to do some game-jam type stuff to get back into the swing of things.

The blog posts, as I announced would happen many moons ago, have shifted from “every weekday” to “usually two or more times a week.” I think that change is going to be permanent. I love posting and the real-time communication, but I do have to jealously guard the time it takes.

After over two years of playing almost every day, my practice time on the guitar had  since November faded to something like once a week. I even allowed my Rocksmith habit to lapse. I’m getting back into that again, but it’s literally painful. I’m earning my calluses back. Fortunately, the once-a-week-ish practice kept my skills from deteriorating as bad as my calluses, so I’m just about back up to speed on that.

Gaming… gah. Over the last nine months, real-time strategy games (primarily old, familiar games) have been my equivalent of vegging out in front of the TV for an hour. I haven’t sunk my teeth into a really deep RPG since Pillars of Eternity was first released. Last year, I put a lot of time into the original release of No Man’s Sky. I’ve started getting back into this one, as the game has totally changed (for the better, from what I can tell), and all my old knowledge and practices have become obsolete.

One major change that impacts everything is writing. Originally, I jumped back into it after finishing Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon because I thought I really needed to work on my writing chops. While the game was praised for its writing, I still felt I could and should do better, and wondered if practicing in the old-school linear medium would help my skills (answer: Yes, I believe so, but I guess you’ll have to find out for yourself with the next game). I thought I could write some stories and compete in the marketplace. My validation would come from publication, and then I’d have scratched that itch and be able to go back on my way.

Hah-hah!

Over the last two years, that has become a growing part of my life. It’s been hit as hard as everything else with the more intense periods of crunch, but it’s also been enough of a change of pace from software development that I’ve been able to maintain it reasonably well over the last year. In 2014, one of my short stories was published in an anthology for the first time in. In 2015, I had two stories published. Last year, it was three stories (not including the one I posted here on the blog). This year, I had a goal of four, with a stretch goal of five. My fourth short story this year came out in Mirages & Speculations, and the fifth one will be coming out in StoryHack #1 hopefully by the end of the month. I have another story scheduled for release in an anthology before the end of the year.

I also had a goal to finish and query my novel before the end of the year. This is the one that was based on the RPG concept I was pursuing before switching gears to Frayed Knights. Well, I finished my internal edit, queried it, and now it’s under contract to be released early next year. I am SUPER EXCITED about this project. But it does come with an inherent “what’s next?” question, which means I am now busily working on the sequel. Fortunately, I can write a novel a lot faster than writing a CRPG (and–up to a point–it’s a solo endeavor, which makes things infinitely easier). The bottom line is… I’m a writer now. That’s become a passion as big as game development for me.

Which means I have to get a LOT more efficient with my time.

So anyway…  I’m easing back into the swing of things. It’s kind of amazing getting home from work in the evenings when the sun is still up and not being exhausted. I think I could get used to this. I just have to make sure I put the time to good use.

It’s good to be back.


Filed Under: Game Development, Geek Life, Rampant Games, Writing - Comments: 3 Comments to Read



Pulp is No Excuse

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 6, 2017

Critics tend to use “pulp” as a qualitative descriptor. I think I’ve made my case enough times in the past that this simply isn’t true, unless you are one of those people who insists that newer is better, or that certain modern popular affectations are objectively superior to those of the past. For many decades, pulp was simply the genre market. Story quality ran the spectrum.

Editor P. Alexander of Cirsova implies the average story quality of the pulp SFF magazines of the era were superior to today’s average… and he may be right, depending on what you sample. There’s a lot of crap on Amazon. I’ve personally found a wider mix with my random sampling of the old pulps taken from original issues. But correcting for stylistic trends of the past and present, I don’t know that he’s too far off in his estimation. Pulp-era magazines competed for real money back then.

As far as taste is concerned… well, there are some pro-rate modern SFF magazines that I’m a lot more hesitant to dive into than an old pulp PDF. We’re not talking a “best of” collection, either. I won’t suggest that this is because of pure qualitative differences. Beyond a minimum quality level, my preference for style and storytelling outweighs other factors. Mastery of language is wonderful, but for me, it’s simply the medium. I’m in it for the stories.

Most modern pulp-style stories don’t usually advertise themselves as such. That’s changing a little bit with the pulp revolution / revival thing, but until the term loses its negative connotation with the common reader, it’s only useful for a niche audience. But while I cheer the return of the pulp style, the stories still have to be good. We need solid stories and skilled storytelling. Poorly written stories wouldn’t sell in the pulp era, and they usually won’t sell today.

I’m tempted to say something along the lines of, “Modern pulp stories need to be doing it better than everyone else,” but then the question is, “Why? Who are you trying to impress?” Critics who dismiss old pulp stories aren’t going to be impressed by the new stuff with that label no matter how good it is. The readers care. We want readers to think pulp is awesome because… it is. It’s not a marketing campaign. It’s not counter-culture. Although… yes, it is a little bit of both of these things. But to me, the point is that “pulp” should be a beacon, not a shield.

Naturally, there are few barriers to entry nowadays, and no Pulp Police to prevent anyone from slapping the label on their crap story. But pulp should never be an excuse. Digital distribution is no excuse. We (authors / editors / reviewers) need to do what we can to make sure we’re putting out quality stuff, because it does matter. Not in the struggling artiste sense where every single word and syllable must be agonized over until it’s perfect, because (A) nothing is perfect, (B) quantity matters too, and (C) story is paramount. I’m talking about the kind of quality where the words become invisible and the reader is simply transported on an adventure.

That’s IMHO what pulp is supposed to be.


Filed Under: Pulp, Writing - Comments: Read the First Comment



Big Cirsova Sale!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 29, 2017

Issue #6 of Cirsova is officially coming out at the end of the week. I’d say I’m looking forward to it, but I already have my copy as a mini-subscriber. I guess I’ll no longer be able to say, “My story is in the latest issue of Cirsova!” That was a fun several months, and great having stories in two issues in a row. But don’t let that stop you. Or maybe that’ll encourage you… Issue #6 has 100% less Jay! 🙂  It’s a good one, from what I’ve read so far! Next year will go back to 4 issues… which is going to be a lot of work for the editor, but a lot of fun for us.

You can pre-order the Kindle edition of Cirsova #6 here.  Paperback and hardcover editions will be available on Friday.

In addition, Issue #1 is free this week, and there’s a steep double-discount (sale + coupon) on hardcover editions. You can get more details at Cirsova’s blog.

Enjoy!

 

 


Filed Under: Short Fiction - Comments: Be the First to Comment



The Debugging Gumshoe

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 24, 2017

Every once in a while, it occurs to me just how insane software development is as a profession. Especially when it comes to debugging software – which I find is generally about half the job. It pretty much comes down to:

  • Here’s a complete mystery
  • Here’s the deadline to solve it!

Much of the time, it’s not too terrible. You can just about solve the mystery like Sherlock Holmes, in his parlor, when he looks at the prospective client and immediately deduces what happened. The observed behavior and a solid understanding of where that behavior comes from plus a bit of intuition borne of experience yields a guess with about 80% accuracy. You use a couple of tools to verify the problem and the fix, and you’re done.

Other times, it’s a bit more challenging, and sleuthing out the clues to try and figure out exactly what is happening is most of the battle. Being able to reproduce it is key. Eventually, the puzzle pieces fall into place. (Note: Here is the reason to have really good testers… they not only find the problems, but find most of the key information the software sleuth needs to fix it. Good testing departments are notoriously underrated in the software industry.)

But then you get these real crazy ones, the ones that would make Sherlock announce, “The game is afoot!” The ones that are not easily repeatable or observable. The ones that are really bad, but inconsistent, and leave little trace of what caused them. The ones you can’t actually be 100% sure you fixed, EVER, but you hope that if nobody has encountered it again in two weeks of trying to reproduce it, maybe the customer won’t discover it in the first 15 minutes by accident.

And when you succeed, at last, your only real reward… besides keeping your job and getting more mysteries and more deadlines dumped in your lap… is to maybe describe to a peer what you accomplished, and have them maybe understand one little iota of what you did, and maybe… just maybe… get that look in their eye that says, “Holy crap, how did you figure that out?!?!?” Because we’ve all been there.

Then it’s on to the next mystery, the next bug in your list, and you’ve got to make up time on the schedule because of that “perfect murder” you spent all your time solving. And you hope it’s not another one like the last one, because you really aren’t entirely sure how the heck you stumbled upon the solution last time.

That’s the life of the debugging gumshoe… the software detective.


Filed Under: Programming - Comments: Comments are off for this article



Vive Fires the Next Shot in the VR Price Wars

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 22, 2017

With competition heating up in the VR space, and the price drop on the Oculus, HTC is finally responding with a price drop of their own.

The Vive is now “only” $599

Granted, $600 is a lot to drop on what is still more of a toy for most people. Plus the cost of the computer powerful enough to run it. The Oculus Rift is still looking like it is the cheaper product overall, currently on sale from its already discounted price, but in order to get room-scale VR you are still going to have to buy a new camera, which will mean the real price difference for room-scale will only be about $40.

I think the Vive is a bit cleaner of an installation overall, especially for Room Scale, but… really, the two are pretty comparable.

I guess in an era where people are buying a new $500+ phone every couple of years, the price may not be that extreme. Still seems that way to me. I wish I was rich enough where $600 was an impulse buy. It’s still early adopter technology, and the software available for VR are only beginning to have some pretty decent entries.

As usual, there’s a chicken-and-egg problem with hardware and software… the software drives the sales of the hardware, but software budgets will stay conservative until there’s a solid (expected) install base. SteamDB estimates 350k-375k users of SteamVR, which I expect includes most Vive and Oculus users. I’ve noticed that many VR games now have commercial licenses available, specifically geared towards VR arcades. Will the price drops increase sales? I’d assume so.

I suspect the next generation of hardware will be where it really gets mainstream, but the price drops on both current-gen products are a nice start.


Filed Under: Virtual Reality - Comments: Read the First Comment



Out Now: Mirages & Speculations

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 21, 2017

It’s Eclipse Day out here in the Utah desert, although we’re only going to be hitting around 90%. A lot of folks have headed north to Idaho to not-see the sun, and to experience all the weird stuff that takes place in the shadow of the moon. Me? I’ll be working my butt off at the day job, what else?

However, I would like to announce that Mirages and Speculations is officially on sale, an anthology that includes my story, “Voices of the Dead.” This story is a sword-and-sorcery fantasy about a man haunted by the pleas of his dead wife, who goes to a temple in the desert to obtain a relic to save her from the terrible beings who have stolen her soul before it passed into the afterlife. But …  there’s always a ‘but,’ right?

As I mentioned before, I know or am familiar with many of these authors, and they are skilled storytellers whom I admire. I’m honored and excited to share the table of contents with them. Hopefully you’ll find a number of desert-themed stories in this anthology that you’ll enjoy, and discover some authors you’ll like.

So far, only the digital version is available. The paperback version is being proofed this week, and should be available soon. But if you are interested in the price and convenience of digital, here’s where you can find the anthology:

Mirages & Speculations on Amazon / Kindle

Mirages & Speculations at Kobo

Mirages & Speculations at Barnes & Noble

Mirages & Speculations on iBooks

Incidentally, if you are looking for more of my other published stories, my author page on Amazon is starting to look kind of busy, and it doesn’t even list all of my published works. I’m still looking forward to the day it lists books entirely authored by me, but that will be a few more months. 🙂

Jay Barnson’s Author Page at Amazon


Filed Under: Books, Short Fiction - Comments: Comments are off for this article



Impressions: RetroEngine Sigma. Emulation made easy?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Virtual Reality: Experiences and Nostalgia

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Coming Soon: Mirages & Speculations

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 11, 2017

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

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

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

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


Filed Under: Books - Comments: Read the First Comment



Plottorific – A tool from the Pulp Age made modern!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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


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2017 Dragon Award Nominees Announced

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 7, 2017

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

You can register to vote here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 4, 2017

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

It’s out.

See for yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 


Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 5 Comments to Read



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

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 28, 2017

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

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

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

 


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



Too Many Deadlines

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 26, 2017

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

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

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

 


Filed Under: General - Comments: 2 Comments to Read



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