Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

PTFC Challenge #1: Black God’s Kiss

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 14, 2018

Fellow modern pulpy author Alexandru Constantin issued a challenge on Friday – the Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge. It’s partly a reminder to people that Tolkien didn’t invent the fantasy genre, and to shed some light on the breadth of the genre long before Tolkien got published. That’s not a slight against Tolkien. I love the Lord of the Rings. It’s just that after a point, for a decade or so, everything fantasy was a Tolkien pastiche. There are a lot more sources to steal from be inspired by.

The challenge is:

  • Identify 3 Fantasy stories written before Lord of the Rings was published. 3 stories written before 1954.
  • Review all three on your blog, focusing on pre-Tolkien differences of similarities, and making sure you let us know where we can find them for ourselves.
  • Share the challenge.

I’m going to do this in 3 separate blog posts. I’m gonna start out with a doozy and recently discovered favorite, “Black God’s Kiss,” by C. L. Moore. Now, Catherine Moore had a good bank job during the Great Depression, and writing for the pulps wasn’t exactly a well-respected trade. She didn’t want to jeopardize her job at Fletcher Trust, so to make sure her employers didn’t learn of her side career as a pulp writer, she disguised her name. And the first story she published in Weird Tales? Yeah, that was… also somewhat scandalous in its own right.

Now, the cover art for that issue (by the extremely talented Margaret Brundage) is… like most pulp covers… pretty inaccurate as far as illustrating the story. One major issue is that the protagonist of the story – a fierce female warlord in medieval France named Jirel – wears a suit of Roman armor the whole time she’s in the world of the Black God.  Not… whatever she doesn’t have on here. But hey, that’s how the pulps rolled. When they say don’t judge a book by its cover, I think they were referring to these kinds of covers.

Okay, so the story: Jirel, ruler of Joiry, has been deposed by the villain Guillame and kept prisoner in her own castle. However, she is a master swordswoman and does not suffer in humiliation hoping for rescue. She feels a responsibility to her kingdom, and a serious desire for vengeance. Among other things, she knows of a long-sealed portal in the depths of the castle that… as far as she and the priest understands, leads to Hell… or some other place pretty dang close to it.  She goes in search of a weapon to destroy her foe through a landscape that is one of the most surreal and often disturbing as anything I’ve ever read in pulp fantasy, sometimes mixed with sexual undertones. Through horrific landscapes and threats, she obtains the titular weapon – and it’s dark and twisted.

Jirel is not a female Conan, although Robert E. Howard’s influence is obvious here –  as is H.P. Lovecraft’s.  (In 1934, Moore was a contemporary of both authors.) In fact, except for the beginning where Guillame assumes the commander of Joiry’s forces was a man from how fiercely she fought in her sexless armor, she doesn’t really get to reveal her badass swordsmanship much in this story. Aside from a battle against small blind squishy things, it’s all sheer drive and wits. And where Conan would be content to behead his opponent and then never give it another thought, Jirel… well, I’ll let you read it. And there are five other Jirel of Joiry stories to enjoy after this one (including a direct sequel, “Black God’s Shadow“).

As far as contrasting it with Tolkien… it’s pretty hard to imagine how you could get much more non-Tolkienesque, except for the lurid descriptions of the locations characters travel through. Of course, in Jirel’s case, it’s a nightmare hellscape instead of pastoral Middle Earth, although I guess Mordor might have some similarities…

Where can you find this story (and others?) I picked up the book Black God’s Kiss from Paizo Publishing, which includes all six of the Jirel stories.

You can also find five of the stories in this collection.

Pulp Covers has a link to the .cbr (comic book reader format) of the original Weird Tales magazine where this story can be found.

Filed Under: Pulp, Short Fiction - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Biplanes and Virtual Reality

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 1, 2018

I’ve been getting back into flight sims again… just dipping my toe in, I tell myself. VR support is a big deal for me, even though it is about as likely to make you motion sick as… well, as actual high-speed aerial maneuvers. Flight sims, once a staple of PC gaming, are now pretty niche, and tend to be strictly divided along the lines of extremely realistic & hardcore, or extremely video-gamey and unrealistic. There isn’t much middle ground anymore. By contrast, the most detailed and realistic of the flight sims in the 1990s would probably be in that middle ground today.

While VR isn’t quite there yet for competitive multiplayer play, it’s a game-changer, especially for dogfights. “Padlock mode” and TrackIR are poor substitutes to actually following an enemy plane with your eyes and maintaining that full situational awareness. Even with the modern jets of DCS, it’s a different experience to look down into your cockpit at your instruments with the feeling of being there.

However, the air combat era best served by VR was also the one with no VR support:  World War 1. The open cockpit, the tiny planes, low speeds, and close-in combats would be perfect for Virtual Reality. So when I finally discovered that the latest IL-2 series (which has supported VR for several months) was getting a World War I stand-alone expansion to the series, I jumped on it. Flying Circus is in Early Access stage (and thus reduced in price by $10). It’s a full-priced, stand-alone game using the Battle of Stalingrad game engine, but it is fully compatible with the other games in the series. All the games you own in the series tie in with each other to form one super-game, just like DCS. Funny, that. Currently, Flying Circus only has two aircraft… the Fokker DR.1, and the SPAD XIII, over an existing stand-in map. The final version will include ten World War I aircraft over France.

I had to try this out in VR!

I jumped into a couple of quick 1-on-1 missions – one flying the SPAD, one in the Fokker. The enemy aircraft was already in sight, a dot of a few pixels just above the horizon, with both of us heading toward each other. We closed the distance very quickly, and the dogfight was on! And I’ll break the suspense here… it was every bit as delicious as I hoped.

First off, the aircraft in World War I are very instrument-light. The Fokker has a little spinning wind-gauge out on the left wing that you have to look at to find your airspeed. It’s all leather, wood, wire, and canvas. The flight model feels accurate. The sounds probably help. You are in what amounts to little more than a powered glider, twisting around in the sky at speeds not tremendously faster than you’ll get on a modern freeway. The Fokker, in particular, feels like it floats more than it flies.

In a dogfight, you are often close enough to the enemy aircraft that you can watch their control surfaces move. In VR, you can freely move your head around to look over, under, and around a wing which would otherwise obstruct your view. That makes a HUGE difference. I’m sure you can do something like that with TrackIR, but in VR it worked naturally. I rarely get confused about my aircraft attitude in VR if the visibility is clear, unlike playing on a single monitor. One thing about flying in VR is that you do need to get used to craning your neck around. At least in a World War I simulation, the lack of peripheral vision is probably not too different from the real pilots wearing goggles. The VR headset weighs quite a bit more than the real goggles, though.

When I shot down the SPAD, it was pretty amazing. The top-right wing broke off, tearing off the cables, part of it collapsing into the wing below it as the plane began to drop. The lower wing shook, and then ripped off the fuselage and fluttered away like a piece of paper. It was all physics-based and behaved exactly as I’d expect. I leaned forward in my seat and rolled my plane a bit so I could continue getting a good look at it as the pieces fell. That’s always a fun thing to watch in a good flight sim, but it’s nicely different in these canvas-and-wood planes than the later airframes. In VR, the close proximity really enhances things.

The problem was that these little planes dance around the sky in such tight little underpowered circles that when I took my headset off twenty minutes later, I was pretty dizzy, and I stayed that way for about a half-hour afterward. Flight sims still do that to me, and although I’m a lot better than I used to be, and this World War I experience was a bit dizzier than most.

For what it’s worth: I failed to shoot down the Fokker when I flew the SPAD. I hit him several times, and I’m pretty sure the light vapor coming out of his plane was leaking fuel, but he was still airborne when I ran out of ammo. The AI didn’t know that, though, and after a final pass where he tried his best to shake me off his tail (well, a very loose back-half-region), I dropped my nose and took off in the opposite direction. Since the SPAD is a lot faster than the Fokker and he was probably losing fuel, I called it a tie after about thirty seconds and quit.

I look forward to the full release. More importantly, I know what I’ve been missing. Yeah, World War I dogfights in VR are as much fun as I imagined. They probably enjoy the biggest benefit from the technology. It ain’t perfect — but what is? Good times!

Filed Under: Flight Sims, Virtual Reality - Comments: 6 Comments to Read

Blood Creek Witch Audiobook Now Available

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 24, 2018

Deep in the Appalachian Mountains, a monstrous evil rises, and the only one who can stand against it is a teen-aged witch who doesn’t believe in magic.

Blood Creek Witch is now available as an Audiobook through Audible

This audiobook is narrated by Janel Valentine, who did a fantastic job of bringing my novel to life with her vocal talent. So if you are looking for something to keep you entertained while dealing with your morning commute or while doing housework, here you go!

Blood Creek Witch is a tale of monsters, magic, and mayhem in the backwoods of modern-day West Virginia.

Grieving and lost after the death of her parents, Jenny Morgan is sent to West Virginia to live with an aunt she’s never met. It’s there that Jenny is confronted with an unbelievable family heritage of witchcraft and magic – something she immediately dismisses as old-fashioned superstitions. However, once her new home is threatened by deadly horrors straight out of myth and folklore, her aunt’s stories become impossible to ignore.

Now Jenny and her three new friends – friends with dark secrets all their own – are the only ones who stand a chance of stopping the growing evil, but only if Jenny can embrace her arcane heritage. Little does Jenny know that wielding her power will attract the attention of an even greater evil – the same immortal entity her parents died to protect her from.

If you prefer reading than being read to by an incredibly lovely voice, the Blood Creek Witch is of course available as an eBook and in paperback from Amazon. Or you can get it from Barnes & Noble.

If you’ve read it and have an opinion on it, I can always use the reviews for it at Amazon and at Goodreads. Or, now, at Audible!

Have fun!

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

14 Virtual Reality RPGs for the PC

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 23, 2018

Virtual-Reality-based dungeon crawling is something of dream-fulfillment for me. It’s the purpose I envisioned for VR back in the days when Ultima IV was high-tech. Of course, it’s not exactly what I dreamed of when I was 12 or 13 years old, but it’s cool enough, and getting cooler. Even with cartoony graphics, the feeling of being “there” in a dungeon in VR is so much more thrilling than on the flat screen. There’s something to be said for actually moving your body to swing an axe or shoot an arrow, too. There are more games appearing all the time, but I thought I’d do a quick run down of some of the games currently out in Steam VR. I wish I could say I have played every one of these, but there are only so many hours in the day, and more keep coming. Plus, many of these are in Early Access (which sometimes still means, “never gets finished”), and they may have changed a bit since I last played them. Or changed a lot.

But if you are a CRPG fan curious about VR, wondering if there was any decent dungeon-delving to be found in the immersive virtual realm, fear not! On the PC, at least, you’ve got plenty to explore and enjoy. While fun games in their own right, I think as much as anything else they show the potential of VR as a platform.

I’ve included a Steam link to the games, but some may be available through other channels.

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR

Okay, dealing with the 800-pound gorilla first. It’s been a long time since I played Skyrim, and so I’ve forgotten a lot. One thing I haven’t forgotten was how surprisingly cool the dragon battles were. In VR, they are all that and bag of chips. I have a friend who has successfully modded the game with better textures (funny how what was drool-inspiring not too many years ago is “mediocre quality” today), but I still think it looks pretty impressive in VR. I don’t know how it compares to the PSVR version, but on the PC (mine has a GTX 1070 video card) on the Vive, I have definitely returned to the addiction. I never played through the original with all the add-ons, which this package seems to include, so I do have plenty of new experiences to enjoy.

One amusing element is that I’m playing a stealthy archer, and it’s possible to really spam the arrows in VR. Legolas can’t hold a candle to me. The result is that my defensive skills (like armor) are really lagging. This wasn’t an issue in non-VR, since the game could control how quickly you could move. The end result is… serviceable, but not optimal.

The biggest issue is probably interface. It’s pretty overloaded. This kind of comes with the territory in a port of a non-VR game. One of the biggest dangers is that exiting a menu takes a right-hand squeeze, which outside of the menu also causes you to use your dragon shout. I’ve accidentally pissed off NPCs in town a couple of times when I’ve gotten confused or squeezed one too many times. It’s also possible to accidentally hit NPCs, so removing what you have in your hands (long-press on the right menu button, as opposed to a short press which brings up the Magic / Map / Skills / Items menu) is really a Best Practice in town.

2. Fallout 4 VR

This one would probably be my favorite but for Skyrim VR. They’ve even managed to get the V.A.T.S. system to work pretty well, and it feels good, especially after the first couple of updates. I haven’t played it with the last couple of updates, but it sounds like they’ve fixed quite a few little annoyances in Virtual Reality. While you can certainly melee in Fallout 4 VR, a lot of the combat happens at range, with guns. There’s a lot of crouching around cover, and if you don’t use V.A.T.S., you may find (or at least I’ve found) that it’s really easy to get excited with automatic weapons when facing fearsome creatures, and thereby blow through tons of ammo during a “mad minute.” I also found, after one marathon 2.5 hour session, that my back was really hurting after spending a lot of time crouching, ducking, and dodging. While in-game, with all the adrenaline and excitement I didn’t really notice my fatigue too much, but once I took off the headset the pain and fatigue hit. It was probably good for me, but I was feeling it.

The biggest missing component is all of the Fallout 4 DLC, which probably should have been included in this full-priced game. There’s no word on when / if this may be added. And again, this is only a port to VR, which means the gameplay isn’t optimized to the platform. At this still-early stage of VR, that’s acceptable (to me), especially if it means the difference of whether or not VR will get AAA content.

3. VR Dungeon Knight

This is an indie game I’ve spent a few hours playing, although not so much since I started playing Skyrim VR. There have been several patches since then, so it may be a whole ‘nother experience. The cool thing with VR Dungeon Knight is that it is designed with VR in mind from the get-go, and it was also designed for (two player) multiplayer cooperative play. Dungeons are dynamically generated, so in spite of similarities and patterns you quickly get used to, the dungeons are never exactly the same layout twice.

There are six classes to choose from, and a small but interesting array of weapons / equipment / spells that you can equip. At least the last time I played, one problem with the system is that equipment upgrades were too dependent on random treasure drops. You can take that as a challenge or a design flaw. Flintlock pistols are one of the weapons, so I’m a little biased in favor of this game for that reason alone. There are only a few different kinds of monsters, but they do have some interesting special abilities. Fighting them requires some skill, not just flailing around with your weapon, and things like blocking, precision strikes, and timing play as much a role (or more) as your stats in combat.

4. A Legend of Luca

This is more of an arcade-style dungeon combat game, owing as much to games like the Gauntlet series and The Binding of Isaac as old-school dungeon crawlers. It’s a roguelike (rogue-lite?) If your disposition is more for action and combat, this is a solid and very fun title.

5. Vanishing Realms

One of the first VR Role-playing games for the PC, this feels like part adventure game and part dungeon crawler. If you haven’t tried it, it still holds up well (although technically it is still in “early access” on Steam). It is not very long, but it captures the visceral feel of a great fantasy role-playing game. The puzzles and problem-solving definitely contribute to this feeling (while limiting its replayability… a good trade-off, in my opinion), and the combat takes full advantage of virtual reality, demanding careful attacks around shield blocks.

6. The Mages Tale

By InXile, the guys responsible for the new Wasteland games and the new Bard’s Tale, this game really had me excited at first. It looks cool, and has some decent voice-acting and cool environments and special effects. Unfortunately, I felt it played clunky and had a lot of technical issues and lack of clearly designated saves that make me resistant to give it another shot.

7. The Wizards

An award-winning indie RPG where you cast spells using hand gestures in VR. If you really want to go through wild fantasy landscapes slinging fireballs and fighting elemental monsters & dragons & crazy stuff like that, this is a good addition to your library.

8. Crypt Hunter

A VR Action-Roguelike using voxel-based enemies. Sort of MineCraft-y in appearance, complete with the Roguelike addition of permadeath. It has been updated many times since I first played it as part of a bundle many moons ago. At the time, I felt it had potential, especially with the variety of equipment and the potential of the style, but it was lacking in variety. I look forward to trying it again once it is in full release.

9. Heroes of the Seven Seas VR

I think this is a port from Gear VR, and it shows. The graphics are cartoony and simple, but serviceable. The action is … actiony. But it has PIRATES! And sea battles! And sea monsters! All that good stuff! And it’s cheap. So it’s a nice bit of variety into the VR RPG genre.

10. RuneSage

Though it has the RPG tag, it is dubious as to whether this one actually counts as an RPG, or more of an adventure game. In this game, you cast spells using gestures with your wand to interact with the world and solve puzzles. There’s no combat, but there are items to collect (it’s unclear if that’s part of a progression mechanic that would allow this to be called an RPG).

11. Karnage Chronicles

Like most of the games on this list, this was built from the ground up as a VR game. Multiplayer is “in process,” but it promises up to four player parties of cooperative action, and perhaps a little bit of PvP as well. The game is colorful, and the enemies can get tricky (even ducking arrow shots). The gameplay is simple but fun, taking good advantage of room-based VR. The game is still in early access, and so it may be a title to watch for its potential down the road. It’ll be really interesting to see how it ends up working with four players.

12. Orbus VR

Hey, there’s a Massively Multiplayer RPG on the list! On the one hand, it is bright and ambitious. On the other, it’s sparse and the graphics are really simple. But hey, if I were to make an MMORPG, I’d probably choose a similar path. Except maybe the bright part. It’s still in early access (and may be until the day they shut the servers down), and is advertising that they now support 10-person raid content. Plus quests, etc.  No, I haven’t played yet. MMORPGs scare me as potential time sinks these days. I know me. But color me intrigued. It’s a beginning.

13 Mervils: A VR Adventure

There are no other truly 3rd-person VR game on the list, so Mario 64 / Zelda – inspired little title includes platforming and RPG elements. It’s cute and certainly ambitious, but lacks professional polish. But hey, at least it’s not an Early Access title.

14. Left-Hand Path

A horror RPG inspired by titles like Dark Souls. Like a couple other games on this list, it uses a gesture-based magic system, which can be hard to pull off in combat. It’s intended to be hard, moody, and at least a little scary, and takes advantage of room-scale VR. Sadly, the principal developer passed away recently, so support for the game in the future may be iffy.




Filed Under: Computer RPGs, Virtual Reality - Comments: 11 Comments to Read

Eagle Dynamics Announces “Entry-Level” Combat Sim, “Modern Air Combat”

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 13, 2018

Eagle Dynamics, creators of DCS World (Digital Combat Simulator), just announced a new flight sim to be released this fall, “Modern Air Combat.” This simulator comes with a whole bunch of aircraft that are all extremely familiar to fans of the DCS series. The major difference is that this is a “survey sim” – an all-in-one offering of several aircraft with greatly simplified controls. The aircraft include the F-15C Eagle, the SU-27 Flanker B, the SU-33 Flanker D, the J-11A “Flanker B+” Chinese version of the Flanker B, the MiG-29 Fulcrum A, the MiG-29S Fulcrum C, the A-10A Warthog (does anyone actually call it by the official designation “Thunderbolt II?”), the Su-25A, Su-25T, F-86F Sabre, MiG-15bis, F-5E Tiger II, Mig-21bis Fishbed, and the L-39ZA (a Czech trainer & attack aircraft).

More after the really cool trailer:

Okay – my thoughts: It sounds like Modern Air Combat is really a new, improved version of Flaming Cliffs, but with twice as many aircraft and better branding. Perhaps it will be sold as more of a stand-alone game than as a DCS module, which might reduce customer confusion.

The key feature here is the shallow learning curve with a common keyboard interface between all of the aircraft (or as common as you can get between some pretty different planes). They still use the professional flight models from DCS modules, although that can be simplified to be made more forgiving for new pilots. This product is clearly oriented towards new players, not existing DCS World players (except for those who have no modules beyond Flaming Cliffs). It’s a high-end flight sim geared towards entry-level play with combat aircraft from the latter half of the 20th century.

I’m actually pretty happy with this, because it is an area that has been sorely lacking over the last 15 years. Flight sims used to be a staple of gaming, but nowadays it feels like the only options for combat sims are completely unrealistic arcade-style games (the “Ace Combat” series, etc.) or the steep learning curve of the highly realistic sims (of which the DCS modules, other than Flaming Cliffs, are the hardest of the hardcore). I think there are a lot of gamers with a casual interest in more “realistic” flight sims but who are unwilling to spend weeks and weeks of self-imposed training getting to “the fun stuff.” (Yes, the hardcore are a weird bunch, and we actually find the training part to be fun, but that’s another story, and it really is time consuming).

The “flight sim community” needs new blood, and interested players need a modern (ish) air combat game where they don’t need to spend an entire week learning how to work the radar. DCS intimidates potential players. It intimidates me, because I don’t have the time to devote to flight sims like I once did. And even back in the day, as much as I was a Falcon 4.0 devotee (which was pretty dang hardcore for its time), I had a ball playing Jane’s ATF Gold. This could be a gateway to the more hardcore simulators of DCS (I am sure that’s Eagle Dynamics’ hope). But even if it fails in that… we need a modern, entry-level combat flight sim for jets.

Now, I do have some concerns. For one thing, this package seems to be modeled after Flaming Cliffs (some fans have been informally referring to it as Flaming Cliffs 4), and in my opinion even Flaming Cliffs is a tad on the complicated side for new players. Again, if they make the simplified avionics the default (and can reduce the stigma against people using it), maybe this is less of an issue. I’m not talking “dumbed down,” but I am talking streamlined. Naturally, streamlining the pilot workload too much yields pretty unrealistic results, but some of it may be necessary.

The other issue as I see it is the aircraft. Granted, they had to work with what they had. The aircraft are all painstakingly modeled to be ridiculously detailed, and they can’t just throw in a quick-and-dirty TurboSquid model into the mix. The aircraft currently in DCS represent a broad swath of eras and roles to say the least. These are not planes that are going to mix very well in head-to-head fighting. A Korean War era F-86F is going to fare very poorly against a player in a modern Su-33. It’s an odd mix.

The other issue with the aircraft is the target audience. A military aviation buff might get excited about the chance to fly a virtual MiG-21, but probably not the more casual player. Those people are probably already part of the hardcore DCS crowd. We are the ones who were deliriously enthusiastic when they released the F-5E Tiger II. It’s not such a draw for your average Joe (or Jane) with a passing interest in jet fighters. They’d be far more interested in flying the sexy new aircraft that are too classified and require too much guesswork for the DCS people to feel comfortable making a “simulator” out of it. Hopefully Modern Air Combat can lure these potential fans in with the F-15 and Su-33, and they’ll discover the joys of flying the more primitive aircraft. And then, maybe, start giving the full-fidelity DCS modules a try.

I hope this works out for Eagle Dynamics. The flight sim community definitely needs some growth, and I think the potential audience is there. And, for my own selfish reasons, I want Eagle Dynamics to prosper so they can keep coming out with the full-fidelity simulations.

Filed Under: Flight Sims - Comments: Comments are off for this article

Magic the Gathering: You Are What You Eat

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 10, 2018

My eldest daughter, Rowan, is competing in Magic: The Gathering tournaments with her husband. Just local, low-key tournaments, mind you, but still…

I feel like the geek gene has been passed down. My wife and I were playing MTG when it was the brand-new geek obsession. We had black-border alpha cards. We have cards from the limited edition alpha release. (Until I traded it, I had Birds of Paradise with the original misprint).  We didn’t realize how limited edition the Arabian Nights expansion would be, so we only got a few of those old cards, but we have lots of cards from the Antiquities and Legends expansions. Old stuff. We have only grabbed the newer blocks sporadically, and then usually just a couple of starter packs and some boosters. We haven’t been into it like we were back when it was new.

So maybe we passed down the geek gene.

Or maybe… it started when she was tiny (was she even a toddler then?), and we put her down for a nap at a friend’s house. This friend also played Magic: The Gathering, and collected the cards. She sold one or two of those early collections, complete black-border alpha / beta editions.

Unfortunately, she had one of those collections-in-progress in the same room as the supposedly-sleeping baby Rowan.  She managed to grab the heavy collector binder, turn right to the page with some of the most rare and prized (read: expensive) cards: multi-lands. I think they were called “dual lands” back then. By the time we’d checked on her, she’d managed to eat three cards.  I think she ate a Mox Gem card too. Yep, Rowan had expensive tastes even then. Literally.

We replaced the cards with equivalent ones from our own collection, or at least ones close enough that our friend could trade straight across for the replacements. Those cards were expensive back then, and probably 4x as expensive today, even in “lightly played” condition.

So maybe something stuck. More likely, Rowan’s husband’s love of the game turned into her own interest in participating with him. But I’ll just pretend that it was her early attraction to the cards that helped form her current hobby. I just hope she no longer tries to eat the cards.


Filed Under: Geek Life, Retro - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

How PC flight simulators have changed…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 28, 2018

My first simulator for the F/A-18 was Jet, by SubLogic. I think the F/A-18 in that game was just the F-16 with a different plane model and the ability to land on a blocky aircraft carrier. The real F/A-18 was newly deployed at the time, so it was probably added as an afterthought. To be honest, I think the F-16 was still the hot new aircraft when the software was being developed. Dang, I’m old… but I still think both aircraft remain some of the finest military aircraft ever produced, decades later.



There have been many other flight sims portraying the Hornet, or its massively updated (and bigger) successor, the F/A-18E Super Hornet. Some of the notable ones include F/A-18 Interceptor from EA (which also included the F-16 as a flyable aircraft) for the Amiga, the Hornet Naval Strike Fighter add-on in the Falcon 3.0 series by Spectrum Holobyte, Digital Integration’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, and Jane’s Combat Simulations: F/A-18 Hornet from EA.

The latest is from Eagle Dynamics, as part of its phenomenal DCS World series. It’s still technically in “Early Access.” If you get it on Steam, it might not be listed as such because it is considered DLC for DCS World which has been “complete” for a long time, although it’s currently on version 2.5. It’s still a pretty complete and painstakingly detailed flight sim, there are just some modes and weapon systems that aren’t yet implemented. But compare the video!


If you weren’t told otherwise, at first (and maybe second) glance this would be easy to assume to be real-world footage.

These are the days I was looking forward to as a gamer back in the day. If only I had more time to enjoy it! 🙂

Filed Under: Flight Sims - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Rocksmith – Still Pushing Out the Songs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 26, 2018

This week, Rocksmith releases three songs by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: Bad Reputation, I Hate Myself for Loving You, and their cover of Crimson and Clover. Surprisingly NOT I Love Rock & Roll, but … yeah. That one is pretty easy for anyone to pick up without the game.

After the years, that’s probably a true thing I can say about a lot of songs now. I don’t devote as much time to practice to it as I’d need to to truly get good at the guitar. I have too many hobbies for that. However, it’s pushed me (or I pushed it to push myself) well beyond the boundaries that had limited me for years (decades, really). It’s still the most entertaining way to learn new songs and get the practice in. It’s still not a complete solution to learning the guitar, but it’s a very powerful tool.

So I guess I still suck, but I suck MUCH LESS than I used to. Picking up a new song is no big deal. Chord transitions that used to be impossible for me are now only moderately challenging. It takes me a while to learn them, but I can at least play some recognizable solos. I have resigned myself to the likelihood that I will never be able to play Through the Fire and Flames or Satch Boogie at 100% with anything resembling accuracy. Halsb can own that one. But I can still have fun trying.

So while I don’t need the game game to learn songs anymore (not that I technically ever did, but… you know what I mean), it remains the most entertaining way to learn them. Whenever they add an artist to the official DLC that I think should have been released a long time ago, I think about my own list of bands I’m kinda-waiting for. At this point, I assume that if they aren’t there, it’s a licensing issue, and so I’m not holding my breath. Of my short-list of bands I’ve been waiting for, the boys and girls at UbiSoft have since delivered on Jethro Tull, Golden Earring, DragonForce, George Thorogood, and 38 Special. Maybe only a single song in some cases, but we’ve got ’em.

While July looks to be… more insane than I expected, I think I’m going to have to set a goal or two for the month. That worked out pretty well for me back in October… better than just dinking around with a few songs. I’m not sure which, yet. I think I’ll make Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone one of the goals, but I may have to pick one more, because I’m already fairly close on that one. Just need to master the solo and a couple more spots, and commit it to memory. Maybe one of the new Joan Jett songs, just ‘cuz.

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Fyrecon this week

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 19, 2018

From Thursday through Saturday, I will be at Fyrecon! Come one, come all! Remember, this is at the Davis Campus of Weber State University, in Layton, not the one up in Ogden.  Last year’s conference was excellent, and this year is shaping up to be even better.

I will be participating in seven events:

  • Thursday 11:00 (Panel) – What a Punk! – The Different Kinds of Punk Fiction and What Makes Each Unique (steampunk, dieselpunk, cyberpunk, etc.)
  • Thursday Noon (Class) – The Air Adventure and Other Forgotten genres of the Pulp Era
  • Thursday 4:00 (Panel) – Formula vs Innovation: Which is the Better Path?
  • Friday 10:00 AM (Class) – How to Build a Virtual Reality Application in Unity
  • Friday 11:30 until 2 – VR Demo from GlobalSim, Inc. (my day job)
  • Saturday Noon (Class) – The Monsters of Appalachia
  • Saturday 4:00 (Panel) – Augmented and Virtual Reality: Gimmick or Game-Changer?

If you are going to be there, say hi! Come to classes! At some point I’ll also be at the Utah Speculative Fiction Writer’s Booth signing books, too! (Although if you already have a paper copy of any book I’m in, come see me any time and I’ll sign it!)  And yes, “The Monsters of Appalachia” is based on research I did for Blood Creek Witch.

And there’ll be a ton of other people worth meeting / listening to. David Farland will be back. Multiple award-winner Brad Torgersen will be teaching a class right after my air-adventure one on writing science fiction. Bryce Beattie will be sharing advice on writing from the pulp masters.


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Cyberpunk 2077 Lives!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 12, 2018

Okay, I gushed over the original teaser like… five years ago? CD Projekt Red *NAILED* the feel of the Cyberpunk / Cyberpunk 2020 RPG in that two-minute and twenty-second video. At the time, I feared that the game probably wouldn’t make it out until 2017 or so.

We’re deep in “or so” territory by now. Still no game, or even much word from the developers, but The Witcher III has been done and out for a while now. I assumed they were working on it, but the joke that the game wouldn’t be out until 2077 has been circulating for a while now. Finally, after a long period of radio silence, CD Projekt Red has released an actual trailer for the game, using real-time game-engine footage. And… I have to say, at least the people cutting these videos know what they are doing. Once again, it nails the feeling of the RPG for me. This will be an insta-buy for me… whenever it ships.


And… in case you don’t remember / haven’t seen the original teaser from early 2013…

Here’s hoping!

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Quick Take: Beat Saber

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 18, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Writings About Writing Available

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 9, 2018

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

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

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

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

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BattleTech – My Impressions

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And more.

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

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

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

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

Punching and Working Out in VR

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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Signing at Fortis College SLC Today

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 25, 2018

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


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BattleTech Arrives for PCs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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