Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Blood Creek Witch – Cover Reveal!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 30, 2018

This is exciting news for me, personally, and I’m thrilled to finally share more details.

My upcoming novel, Blood Creek Witch, is scheduled for release on March 13th by Immortal Works Press. It’s a modern-day fantasy set (mostly) deep in the ancient Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. We’ll release more details soon, but here’s the cover:


I can’t wait for you to get the chance to read it!

Filed Under: Books, Writing - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Cirsova 2018 Spring / Summer Mini-Subscription Pre-Order – Last Chance!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 29, 2018

Hey folks. I do not have a story in either of these issues, but Cirsova is a great magazine emphasizing “pulp style” heroic science fiction & fantasy short stories. Yeah, there are a few of these now… StoryHack, Astounding Frontiers, Broadswords & Blasters, and others… all with different takes on “pulp,” but each is collecting stories that emphasize entertainment, excitement, and adventure. I’m just thrilled to see these venues appear, and I want to see them succeed.

I’m familiar with several of these authors, and they write great stuff. Adrian Cole is an old-school SF veteran, and many of the others are fresh, up-and-coming authors with exciting new ideas. I look forward to reading these.

You only have a couple of days left to pre-order Cirsova #7 and 8. At $0.50 an issue if you go digital, it’s kind of a ridiculous offer, but they are doing that to expand their audience. Take advantage of it!


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

Writing: Dealing with Rejection

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 23, 2018

If you create anything, you are going to have to deal with people who don’t like what you create. At best, they are uninterested. In some cases, you’ll get some people who derive joy from trying to destroy what you created, and tear you down. Sadly, the only other option is never to share anything you’ve created with the public.  And that would be a shame.

While as indies, we may create directly for the public, which gives us more of an aggregate response. We may submit to competitions. We may submit to publishers. We may submit our work for reviews. And that comes with the possibility probability likelihood of rejection or negative feedback. And that HURTS. I read somewhere that one negative review has the same emotional weight as twenty positive reviews. That means you could receive thirty-five stellar reviews, but then read two negative reviews and decide that “everybody” hates your work, and not only start doubting your skill, but your own self-worth. Science fiction legend (and ultra-prolific writer) Isaac Asimov once said, “Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil-but there is no way around them.” It comes with the turf. It’s a tough gig out there, creating stuff.

I wish I remembered the source of the best pieces of advice I found about how to develop thick skin for rejection. It was probably some science fiction pulp writer (maybe even Asimov). It went something like this:

The best way to develop thick skin towards rejection of your manuscripts is to be so prolific that by the time you receive the rejection notice, you have trouble remembering exactly what they rejected.

I thought that was kind of crazy. At least in the world of short stories, I discovered by accident it was possible a little over a year ago. I had three or four stories out on submission at the time, so when I first got the email, I wasn’t sure which story it was talking about. That really did take the sting off. (Having an acceptance around the same time period probably helped, in spite of the 1:20 rule). Incidentally, I had to double-check to find out what story had been accepted, too. I was pretty busy that month.

It works. Keep going, keep pushing, keep submitting, and keep creating. It’s the only way.

I had a story that had been rejected around five times. It had been accepted for an anthology once, but the anthology had been canceled. I had received a personal message from the editor of another anthology who told me that my story was good and had made it all the way to the final round, but ultimately it didn’t fit in. I hadn’t resubmitted it in a while. I didn’t know what to do with it. I thought it was no good. That many rejections must means it’s not really that good, right? (Note – I thought this in spite of my knowing it had made a final round, and the acceptance that had later fallen through).

My good friend, award-winning author Julie Frost, helped me overcome this self doubt through her usual style of soft, gentle encouragement. Or not. Actually, I think she may have called me an idiot. She was right. She mocked me over the five rejections, and proceeded to tell me how many rejections some of her stories had received before being published. We’re talking over a couple dozen rejections. She was flabbergasted when I told her I had received the encouraging note from one editor, and that it had actually been accepted for an anthology that had fallen through.  She may have called me an idiot a second time at that point. And a piker. And something worse.

After she was done yelling at me, I dusted off the short-story, and did what I shouldn’t do and made some revisions to it–it was an older story, and I’ve improved since then. I “pulped it up” a bit. And I submitted it again. It was accepted, bought, and published. Yeah, it’s not quite Harry Potter (rejected twelve times… how would you like to have been an editor who passed on THAT?), but it’s a personal story and hopefully closer to home.

Rejection hurts, and it feels like a failure–even when the reasons for rejection may have nothing to do with the quality of your work. I think it gets easier over time, especially with that bit of advice about being prolific. However, I don’t think it ever gets easy. To quote Asimov again, “You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you are working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success–but only if you persist.”

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

Recovery: Continued

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 17, 2018

I’m somewhat amused by how I’ve gone from thinking “Hey, I’m feeling much better than I expected a day after surgery” to, “Hey, it’s been almost two weeks since the surgery! Why am I not fully recovered yet?” It’s annoying because while it was not that major of a surgery (these days…), it’s kind of dominated my lifestyle for the last two weeks. It doesn’t help that I have an paranoid imagination convinced that every time I sneeze or stretch my guts are going to burst out through ripped seams.

On the plus side, I’m at the stage where I’m supposed to be taking long walks. While the weather in Utah hasn’t been that bad so far this winter, I’m still turning it into Doctors Orders to hit the treadmill at the local gym. So hey, it’s forced me to start the year out with hitting the gym on a regular basis. I just have to keep that habit going once I’m allowed to lift weights again.

Then I came back to work and found us back in something of a crunch because of a new opportunity that’s opened up. The day job can be unrelenting sometimes. In addition, I’ve had some deadlines on the writing side I’ve been struggling to meet. Huzzah, I seem to have met them. My publisher is getting eARCs of my upcoming novel done right now to send out to advance readers, and I hope the cover reveal will be soon. I also finished a short story submission for StoryHack (deadline Saturday, so there’s still time!!!). As a reminder, issue #1 is still the most recent, and contains my story, “Retrieving Abe.”

So… yeah. My 2018 has pretty much bolted out of the gate with Stuff Happening. Not bad stuff… not always good stuff… just lots of stuff.

If nothing else, it won’t be a boring year.

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

VR Quick Take: Archangel

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 8, 2018

Due to surgery, any VR gaming I did over the last week was restricted to sitting-down experiences. Actually, I didn’t do much VR at all, but I did get the chance to play Archangel by Skydance Interactive, which is available for PC and Playstation VR. Because giant piloted mechas are one of those things VR was built for, IMO. In Archangel, you pilot a 60′ tall giant walking robot of destruction.

I didn’t have the stamina to play through the whole thing, but that was due more to surgery than VR sickness. It doesn’t seem to be a long game, though there are several difficulty levels and a number of missions to play through. The game is made with the Unreal Engine, so it naturally emphasizes greater photo-realism. And, of course, flashy effects.

The game is effectively a “rail shooter” from the arcade days. You have little control over where or when you move, but you must instead focus on fighting what you find as you and your support ships progress through the level. You control rechargeable weapons that can be fired independently from each hand – rockets from one, guns from the other. You can also create limited duration force-field shields from each arm, which you can hold up to protect yourself from attacks. And best of all, in some cases, you can punch enemies and structures.

This is the kind of game I would have happily shoved quarters into back in the day (probably at $0.50 or $0.75 per play), even without the VR aspect. The VR makes it oh-so-much-cooler. Of course, this isn’t back in the day.  We live in a world where you can buy a bundle of arcade-like games for a buck. And this is a fairly full-priced indie game at $30 (I got it on sale over Christmas for I think $10 off). But… we’re also in the early days of VR, and I’m still not yet jaded.

The graphics are really good for a VR game. Not up to Fallout 4 VR or Doom VFR levels (but then Fallout 4 VR has its own graphics anomalies), but definitely decent for a small/mid-sized studio production. They’ve spent a bit of effort adding a storyline and interesting characters. The voice-over work is decent. You have the ability to upgrade the Archangel’s systems between missions, based upon your own preferences. So yeah, in many ways it’s much better than the old arcade rail-shooters even without considering virtual reality.

And that’s plenty to do. Blocking and shooting keeps you busy. You feel like you are (mostly) controlling a giant mecha. They got the sense of scale right. In spite of having no control over the Archangel’s movement, things move smoothly enough and (relatively) slowly enough, and your virtual cockpit gives you enough of a presence that sickness wasn’t really an issue. While rails-shooter isn’t my go-to gaming experience most of the time, the quality is high and I do like having another VR game I can play from my chair.

However, for a “mecha-piloting” experience, until the new VR-enabled version of Mechwarrior 5 Mercenaries comes out (a year from now), the little demo game “War Robots VR: The Skirmish” comes much closer to scratching my itch. But it only lasts five minutes.

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


Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 5, 2018

My apologies for being a little more quiet than usual this week. I’m recovering from hernia surgery. Recovery seems to be going pretty well, but I’m not exactly in tip-top shape.

On the plus side… I’m catching up on some Netflix watching. And sleep, kinda, sometimes, belly willing.

And even some reading. 🙂

Filed Under: General - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Goodbye 2017, and Happy New Year!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 1, 2018

Last night we said goodbye to 2017 by watching the Rifftrax of Sharknado (which was hysterical), and playing the Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords boardgame. We won about 8 minutes before midnight on the second-to-last turn before we would have lost. So… yay!

Online, people are talking about how horrible 2017 was. For me… there was a lot I’d hoped to accomplish but didn’t get to, and I was in crunch way too much of the year, but aside from that, things went pretty well. I’ve had far, far worse years.

At the day job, things are kinda taking off right now. I’m getting paid to play in Virtual Reality, which is kind of a life-long ambition. Yeah, it’s not all I’d hoped and dreamed it would be, but it’s still pretty cool. It’s challenging, interesting, and sometimes even fun. Business is going pretty well at our company. We’re as busy as the proverbial one-legged-man at a butt-kicking contest (thus the crunch), as an artifact of success, but we’re pulling things off.

On the writing front, I had six stories published in 2017 (not including the one that squeaked in via digital in 2016 but didn’t see print until several weeks later). I had a novel, “Blood Creek Witch,” accepted by Immortal Works Press, and finished the last (?) revision. It will be released in March this year (YAY!). I also wrote the next book in the series, which is about to undergo serious revision as soon as I’m done with a couple of short stories. In spite of crunch, I’ve managed to pull off the writing thing. Yay.

Game development was sadly not a great winner in 2017. When programming for the day job goes 12 or more hours, it’s hard to come home and do basically the same thing. On top of that, I’ve pretty much lost my content folks to other projects, so it’s back down to just me. This is making me reevaluate how I make games in the future. I have limited art skills, and tons of art needs in the current project. That’s a problem. I have worked on some smaller experimental projects, particularly with VR, but nothing that I’m ready to talk about or take to the next level *yet*. I intend to explore these further in 2018.

I’ve also been avoiding making some hard choices with Frayed Knights 2. At this point, there are some things that just need to be completely re-written and re-done, but I am terrified that taking that step can throw the game into an endless loop of rewrites. But it may need to be done. FK2 was a learning project for me, and I now know a whole lot of what I did wrong. Continuing in the same direction could actually take more time. But content-wise, we’re still stuck at the halfway point. It’s a rough place to be.

We got to vacation in France this year. We’ve been talking about it and saving up for it for years. CRPG developer Charles Clerc of OlderBytes.com is a friend of ours, and he opened up his home in southern France to us to explore the country beyond Paris. We had an incredible week-and-a-half out in the Toulouse area.

I definitely slacked on the guitar hobby, compared to previous years. So I didn’t make as much progress as I had. This is a carry-over from the end of 2016, and another victim of crunch mode. Mostly. However, compared to pretty much every year before 2013 since I was 17 years old, I still did pretty good. I learned to play a few more songs, and while it’s still rough, I can play Don’t Fear the Reaper, a long-time air guitar favorite. Learning to play it For Reals is a huge .

So… all told, 2017 wasn’t too bad for us. Ups and downs, but I’m calling it a win.

Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: Comments are off for this article

A bunch of very quick takes: Star Wars Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 29, 2017

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I have taken advantage of downtime to get work done, but also to recharge the ol’ batteries a bit. Nobody’s asking, but here are a bunch of take-aways from a bunch o’ stuff:

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – I liked it better than The Force Awakens, and better than the prequels. However, I originally thought The Force Awakens was better than Return of the Jedi, but after seeing it again, my opinion of it dropped. So we’ll see how this one holds up. The film takes a bunch of situations that echo those from both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but spins them off in new directions. The theme seems to be “out with the old, in with the new,” and at the end of the film it sure feels like they’ve hit the reset button on the whole franchise so they can start with a fairly clean slate with Episode 9.

I’m… strangely okay with that. There’ll always be A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back that I can go back and watch and feel the love all over again. Beyond that… Star Wars has just been another SF franchise for me for a while now, and this felt like a better-than-average entry.

Jumanji – They opened with a clip of Twisted Metal!!!!! It was going to be hard to dislike it after that. But it was funny, way over-the-top, owned its wild premise, and was just lots of fun. Definitely worth watching.

Wonder – a story of a fifth grader with major facial deformities who goes to a mainstream school for the first time, as perceived by several different characters. It was very good.

Bright – A Netflix original film starring Will Smith, it’s an urban fantasy cop movie. It was okay, but I’d hoped for better. I would have greatly preferred a PG-13 version, but they were clearly going for the “Game of Thrones” style mature audience for this one.

Vaporum – I haven’t played much of this one, but it’s a steampunk-based dungeon crawler for the PC. It’s available on GOG and Steam, and if you are into both Steampunk and Dungeon Crawlers, it seems like a pretty worthy entry!

Avorion – Again, I feel like I have only barely scratched the surface of this one, but while it feels impossible to actually build a decent-looking ship in this game, it seems like one of the best approaches to “Minecraft in Space” that I have played. Everything is built from the same building blocks, so you have the advantage of a highly destructable as well as constructable universe to play in. But even beyond that, it looks like they’ve layered on some decent procedural gameplay on top of that. This is Good.

Kart Chaser: The Boost VR – I got this one in a bundle and dreaded trying it out, because it looked like a quick way to lose my lunch. It’s not actually the case. Yeah, it’s an indie Mario Kart clone, with cute graphics but only half the charm. However, they put the eyepoint in a very predictable spot, and I was able to play for several races without getting sick. This isn’t a game play all day long, anyway. It’s fairly cool and polished for what it is, but unfortunately, there’s no multiplayer. It’s available on Steam.

X Rebirth VR Edition – This was launched at a discount for owners of the original game. To be honest, though, I didn’t play much of the original. I’ve liked EgoSoft’s games in the past, but never warmed up to X Rebirth. I’ll give them credit for sticking with the game after the initial release was kind of a mess. By all accounts from those players who stuck with the game, the company pulled out the stops to make things right again. And now there’s a VR version. I was having some trouble getting a handle on the controls. I’ll probably have to spend some time going through online tutorials and videos to really grok this one, but that’s almost to be expected with more complicated simulators (even space sims) like this one.

War Robots VR Skirmish Edition – I don’t understand this one at all. It’s like… a free VR game demo that’s an ad for a mobile game? Hello? Screw that. I want to play more of the VR game. I realize there’s more money in mobile, but wow. I recommend checking this one out if you have PC based VR. It’s free. It’s ridiculously short, but it’s a good starting point for what I’d like a VR Mecha game to feel like.

The Swamps of Venus – A collection of Leigh Brackett stories by Baen Publishing.  Turn off the part of you that says Venus really is a completely uninhabitable hell-world and imagine an inhabitable and inhabited hell-world, and enjoy these wonderful science fiction stories from the pulp era. They range from good to great. It includes one story, “Lorelei of the Red Mist,” co-written by Ray Bradbury.

Anyway, there’s a grab-bag o’ stuff

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Xchyler Publishing Books *FREE* on Smashwords

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 26, 2017

There’s a year-end book sale going on over at Smashwords, and Xchyler has several of our eBook anthologies available for free there. Check ’em out!

Terra Mechanica: A Steampunk Anthology

Mechanized Masterpieces II: An American Anthology

While Beyond the Wail is pictured, I do not think it is available at Smashwords.

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

Jay’s Tales – The Complete Listing

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 21, 2017

This has been a good year for me as a writer. In 2017, I’ve had six stories published. There was supposed to be a seventh, but … we’ll see. These things get interesting sometimes. Maybe 2018, maybe never. I had a novel accepted this year by Immortal Works that we have been busy getting ready for publication. It should be released in March. I also have one short story slated for publication in an anthology next year.

In 2017, I doubled my published story count from six to twelve. Compared to some, I’m still very much a piker in this respect, but I considered it a milestone.  I set kind of a dumb goal to get four stories published this year to continue my trend. I’d had one published in 2014, two in 2015, and three in 2016, so why not? Now, I have no control over what gets published, what gets rejected, or how quickly either of those happen. That’s why it was a dumb goal. What I did have control over was how much I wrote and submitted.

Anyway, now that *I* am having trouble keeping track of what’s out there, I’ve created a page listing my published fiction. You can find it at the top menu here on the ol’ blog, the item marked “Jay’s Tale’s.” I will keep that updated as things get released or get a release date.

While I’d published several non-fiction articles previously, my first fiction acceptance by a paying market happened almost exactly four years ago today (at least that was the date of the public announcement). It’s been quite a ride. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot of how much more I have to learn. But I’m having fun. It’s been challenging doing this with a very demanding day job over the last eighteen months, but evidently it is possible. That may be the most important thing I’ve learned. Just like making indie games, this sort of thing is never “convenient.” You have to fight and sacrifice to make the time for it. But I’ve found it pretty rewarding.

I hope you find it entertaining. Enjoy the stories!

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

Zombasite: Orc Schism Released (and Zombasite Quick Take)

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 19, 2017

I’m a fan of Soldak Entertainment’s RPGs. I’ve been a fan since Depths of Peril. They drive me nuts with task-overload, yet somehow I keep coming back for more. These are dynamic RPGs with tons of procedural content, but the real key is that the worlds are not static. They don’t wait until you are ready.  The bad guys will level up just like you, create a plan, and execute on that plan while you are busy doing something else. Townspeople aren’t static, either. They may turn on each other, die, get replaced, or even (in this new game) get married.

In spite of being a fan of previous games, it took me a while to try the latest game, Zombasite. I’m not into zombie apocalypse games that much, and having the world of the previous games collapse didn’t sound like a fun time for me.

I was still telling myself that when I found myself unable to quit playing two hours after I started playing. Just like the other games in the series, this one is addictive. At least for me. In a lot of ways, it’s a return full-circle to Depths of Peril. With civilization pretty much wiped out, humanity is reduced to clans. Much of the game is dealing with other clans, as allies, trade partners, or enemies, as in the previous game. You can also adventure with them and solve each other’s quests. Unlike Depths, even more of the game will involve dealing with your own clan–protecting them and trying to manage them and stop infighting, keeping them happy (and sane).  Also, you will find it necessary to arrange hunting, foraging, or scavenging parties to help keep necessary supplies stocks.

Also, like Depths, you have big outdoor areas to explore, many of which contain one or more dungeons. A lot of this adventuring is a lot like Din’s Curse and Depths of Peril, but with the addition of some zombie versions of monsters, and the risk of infection. Infection is curable, fortunately, but not trivially so. It adds yet another layer of depth to the game, I’ll grudgingly admit. As if these games needed any more layers of depth.

As usual, replayability is extreme. There are eight classes to choose from, to begin with, each with their own unique set of three skill “trees “. *OR* you can create your own “hybrid” class by combining two of the skill trees from any of the other classes. Each new world may present new enemies and plots. As I mention, the bad guys *will* plot against you and your clan. There are a number of victory conditions you can achieve to “win” a world / scenario and start over in a new area (taking your character progress, inventory, and clan recruits with you).  There are also all kinds of difficulty level controls, pacing choices, and unlockable modifiers to make the game mode interesting in subsequent playthroughs if you so desire.

It’s a good game. While I automatically groan at the words “zombie apocalypse” these days, I have to admit that Soldak kinda kicked butt on this one. I still feel totally overwhelmed as I’m playing, even when I’m winning.

Shortly after I get hooked, Soldak has released the expansion. I’ll just quote the press release for this one:

Soldak Entertainment today announced the availability of Zombasite: Orc Schism.

Zombasite: Orc Schism is the first expansion for the unique action RPG, Zombasite. This zombie apocalypse action RPG is set in a dynamic, evolving, fantasy world for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Zombasite: Orc Schism can be purchased (10% off the first week) at:

Also, if you don’t have the base game yet, Zombasite is currently 50% off!

Long ago, when a necromancer attempted to raise Elves he thought to be dead, it went very wrong. Instead of raising an army of zombie slaves, a new race was born. The irate Orcs ripped the necromancer to shreds. Dormant necromancer magic has protected Orcs from zombie infection ever since, but the Zombasite, a zombie parasite, is intelligent. It has finally learned to break the defensive magic. The new infection swept through the entire Orc population like wildfire. Again it went very wrong. A war raged within each Orc between the Orc blood, the Zombasite, and the original Elven blood.

When the Orc blood won, a Dark Orc arose. With less Elven influence in their physiology, Dark Orcs’s aggressiveness and strength intensified, and they expanded their terrible savagery.

When the Elven blood won, the new being became one of the Mutated. The Mutated are a new, unstable Elven/Orc race. The Elven heritage has become the dominate part, but they are still corrupted with Orc blood and necromancer magic. This corruption slowly mutates them over time, sometimes in good ways and sometimes bad. No one quite understands the Mutated and everyone fears them.

And finally when the Zombasite won, a Zombie Lord was unleashed. Zombie Lords have full access to the strength of the Orcs and intelligence of the Elves. They are the most powerful and feared Zombies in existence.

With three new powerful factions rising up from the ashes of the old Orc race, how will you continue to survive the Zombasite?


Play the Bard class (Minstrel, Illusionist, and Sage specialties) (now 333 total class combinations)
Control the defense of your town
Fight new monsters (Dark Orcs, Mutated, & Zombie Lords)
Solve many more quests
Defend and explore random towns
Explore new area types
Fight with and against new clans

You can go to http://www.soldak.com for more information about Zombasite and Soldak Entertainment.

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

Well, we’re doomed… VR-based advertising proves tremendously effective

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 13, 2017

Unsurprisingly, emotional response to VR-based advertising was tremendously more powerful than other media. And of course, Unity sees this as a positive because they are an easy tool for creating Virtual Reality-based advertising. As Agatha Bochenek, the writer of this article at the Unity Blog, puts it, “I think of VR ads kind of like going skydiving on a first date. There’s no guarantee of happily ever after, but at least you won’t be forgotten.”

Of course, right now the trade-off is that VR is still a niche technology. It has a powerful impact, but a limited audience. Now, okay… as I am a guy who is also in the business of selling my stuff,  I understand the need for advertising and selling. And as anyone who has watched the Superbowl ads without watching the Superbowl can tell you, ads can be quite entertaining in their own right. Used responsibly, these might not be terrible.

However, VR can be intensely personal, and I’m a little reluctant to surrender that space to some of these marketers and what they might consider a “good idea.” This ad for Jigsaw? I don’t think I would want want to go through that.

But you can get the scoop, some numbers and graphs here:

Interactive VR ad achieves higher emotional response than traditional formats

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

Quick Take: Fallout 4 VR

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 12, 2017

Fallout 4 VR is out now. I’ve got somewhat faster Internet now, so I was able to play it the day it released, instead of the next day after an overnight download. It’s “only” about 25 gigs, which comes out sort of lightweight by today’s AAA game standards. I never played the non-VR version of Fallout 4. I was swamped by real life and in the middle of other games when it came out, so I didn’t grab it until it was deeply discounted. Shortly thereafter, before I got around to installing it (with an overnight install with said slower Internet), I heard that Fallout 4 VR was coming. So… I made the decision to wait. I would experience the whole thing for the first time in Virtual Reality.

Now, as a gamer (even a no-longer-hardcore-gamer like me), it was pretty much impossible to avoid all spoilers about the game. I was fine with that. It is a familiar enough world and system for me at this point, after four previous games–not including Fallout Tactics, which is still on my “to play” list. I knew it was more streamlined of a game system than some of my friends preferred, which disappointed me, but might be really good for VR where you really want things more streamlined. Story-wise… well, I knew it started out just prior to the apocalypse hitting. I was kinda looking forward to that look into the retro-future before the bombs fell.

My first few minutes involved watching the intro video in a black nothingness with a big movie screen where I had to step back to see it all. I have a very small play-space for my Vive, so I don’t get to do a lot of moving around. The video was good, but the black nothingness felt a bit unpolished. Then there’s the bit where you are supposed to be looking at yourself from the vantage point of a mirror. That doesn’t work well in VR, either. I imagine it’s a holdover from the original game, but it’s weird bobbing your head around inside a medicine cabinet.

After that, though, things get better. First off, there’s locomotion in VR. By default, Fallout 4 VR uses a teleport system that’s mapped conveniently into the game system. You’ll hear your own footsteps following you a bit, but you burn action points with your movement and have maximum walk / run distances. It seems to work pretty well for me. Players who do not experience Virtual Reality Sickness as easily as I do may use other locomotion systems built into game. But here’s the big win for me: I played the game for over an hour and a half with only a couple of quick breaks (‘cuz nature does call, even in VR). I never experienced any noteworthy VR sickness. Many times, I quit a VR game because I start getting “the sweats” – the first symptoms of VR sickness, and I have learned not to push it. That never happened in Fallout 4 VR. I quit because I was getting tired of standing and had other things I had to get done.

I’m still getting used to the rest of the interface, but things seemed to have been simplified enough that they work really well in VR.  Aiming weapons is pretty natural in VR (I just have to be careful not to accidentally hit a bookshelf or something in my play space). It’s a bit more challenging than aiming with the convenient mouse with target crosshairs and everything, but it feels very real. The Pip Boy works amazingly well in VR. You just raise your off-hand (you can choose your dominant hand preference in the VR options menu) and look at the Pip Boy to activate it. It enlarges as you bring it up, so you can read it clearly. From there, you just use the pad on that controller to navigate around. When done, lower your arm. Easy-peasy.

The VATS system also works really well. You press the menu button on the main controller, and everything slows down to bullet-time. You pick your target by literally aiming at it, and the numbers pop up to the side of it.  This is a little more challenging at long distances, so we’ll see how it goes with something like a sniper rifle. But if you want to use VATS, it’s pretty straightforward.

Finally, there’s the story and visuals. This is the part I wanted to experience first in VR. I’m not sorry. There’s still a world of difference between watching stuff play out on a screen–even when you are in control of it–and having it happen around you when you are in that world. Even though there are limits to the brightness, having a nuke go off in the distance when you are standing on the hilltop is at least twice as visceral as having it play out on a monitor. There are other events which I also think pack a bit more wallop when you are there in the middle of it.

It is somewhat noteworthy that people seem to all be about six feet tall in this world. I’m not used to thinking of myself as short–I’m pretty much average height. On a monitor, things look small unless scaled up a bit. In VR, however, this subtle scaling factor makes everything look a little bigger. I imagine I’ll just get used to it. My first super-mutant encounter is probably going to be pretty intimidating. More intimidating than usual, that is.

I probably experienced  less of the game than would be expected in 90 minutes, also because of VR. I guess I’m still not completely jaded. I still like to sight-see a lot. There’s so much detail to the models and setting, it’s easy to just hang out in some spot and get a closer look at things. If you are an explorer-sort like me, VR is definitely the way to go.

Bottom line… I think I’m really going to like this game. It’s too early to say for sure, but I’m guessing it will probably be my second “must have” recommendation for the Vive (the other being Star Trek: Bridge Crew).  So far, it seems they’ve done a good job of porting the game to VR, and it was probably a very good candidate to begin with. A giant open-world RPG in VR? A relatively clean interface? No VR sickness? I may be off in the post-apocalyptic world  for a while…



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

I finally play Doom in VR… twenty years later than I expected.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 7, 2017

Early attempts at consumer VR came out in the mid 1990s. We tried a couple of them at the game studio where I worked. I expected the Virtual Reality revolution to happen “any year now.” My dream was to be able to play Doom in VR. Of course, at the time, I had no idea how susceptible to motion sickness I was, or how it was going to be such a problem with VR. I just imagined playing a fully immersive Doom.  Especially on a laptop, on the bus, where I could freak people out. But it’s the bus. The drunks and ladies having loud arguments with both Satan and Jesus  did plenty of freaking people out, so I imagined I’d be pretty low-key on the bizarre scale.

Yep. Any year now…

“Any year now” turned into about 20 years. But now there is finally a Doom VR, called “Doom VFR“. I finally got a chance to play it a little… and they’ve taken pains to make it playable by poor guys like me who aren’t so great with VR sickness. It’s not something I’m playing on the bus, but it’s been years since I took the Provo-Salt Lake “express” late at night, and I’m willing to give up on that part of the dream.

I haven’t been able to play it very long. I keep accidentally dashing when I mean to teleport, and that can make me a little queasy after a while.  Having played the 2016 Doom, what I played was pretty familiar. 2016’s Doom is not classic Doom. It’s fun, it’s gruesome, and it’s action packed, so while it doesn’t scratch quite the same itch for me, it’s a good game. The VR version seems to be about as removed from the new Doom as far as gameplay is concerned as the new Doom is from the classic, even though the assets seem to have been cut & pasted in.

But yeah. It’s Doom, but not really.

EXCEPT…. apparently, once you beat the game, you unlock a couple of bonus levels. The bonus levels are reproductions of two levels from the original shareware version of Doom. HELLO! I have a goal now.

My biggest concern is motion sickness. Doom VFR doesn’t allow (as far as I can tell) manual save games… it’s all checkpoint based. If the checkpoints are more than 10 or 15 minutes apart, I may never beat it. I try to quit VR when I start getting “the sweats,” and they started hitting around 15 minutes in. Maybe once I master the locomotion that will be less of an issue, but I doubt it. Side-stepping / circle-straffing is still a big deal in Doom VFR, and given my smallish play area, the sideways dash capability is going to get some use. That means flirting with VR sickness for me.

But hey…. regardless, I’m checking this one off my “to do” list for life.


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

Starfinder RPG — a pulp space opera / planetary romance RPG?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 5, 2017

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I finally got the chance to play the Starfinder RPG with my family. As a major fan of the Pathfinder system by Paizo, I was was pretty excited to try out their science fiction RPG.

It took me a while to wrap my brain around the game. It was not quite what I expected. But once I finally figured it out, I realized it was something better. It is in no way at all a traditional science fiction RPG. There are many options for that, one of the most venerable being Traveller… in all its many rules system variations. Traveller is awesome. The new Star Wars RPG series by Fantasy Flight Games is also pretty cool. I recommend both. And that’s not even skimming the surface of what’s out there… those are just a couple of systems that I have played which have come to mind.

Starfinder isn’t a “me, too” space opera RPG. It charts a course in a completely different direction. I’ll start with the thing that took me aback at first: SPACE GOBLINS. And not just generic goblins, but full-on Paizo-style goblins, the clinically insane and often hysterically amusing little pests. Seriously? But the more I considered it, and the deeper I dug into the campaign world (universe?), the more I warmed up to the idea. I guess that was the thing I needed to shatter my preconceptions and really embrace the game on its own terms.

So what is Starfinder? I kind of imagine it as a mixture of three ingredients:

  1. Pathfinder in space.
  2. Classic early-to-mid 20th century Pulp SF
  3. Comic Book / Anime / Manga Space Opera

Starfinder is not the game for playing in a Star Trek or Firefly type of universe. I mean, sure, you can probably force-fit a campaign with lots of restrictions and get it to be serviceable, but it is far from optimal for that. It’s the game for playing Guardians of the Galaxy, or for emulating John Carter, or something with a more Star Wars-ish flavor. It’s space where lasers go “pew pew” (complete with sound effects), where undead travel space inside ships resembling bizarre skeletal structures without life support systems, where gods and demons are real and terrifyingly powerful, where magic-wielding mystics fight side-by-side with blaster-wielding power-armored soldiers, and where there giant creatures might actually be found flying through space. It’s “science fantasy” unafraid to get a little weird for the sake of fun.

The second “ah-hah” moment I had was going through the default campaign materials. The campaign as presented is really focused on a single star system. Seriously? All of a galaxy to explore, and they are focusing on a single system and its planets? What gives?

Then I started studying the planets. There’s… the jungle-and-swamp filled world of Castrovel. And the dry, dying red planet of Akiton. The rings of Liavara. The many moons of the gas giant Bretheda…

Wait, what?

This is the solar system of the pulp SF writers, kinda. The planetary romances from the first half of the 20th century that imagined our solar system teeming with alien life and ancient mysteries. The designers borrowed these ideas, put them around a different star, added some new idea of their own (or borrowed from other sources), and went to town.  Once I grasped this, I was (naturally) ecstatic.

I think the plan going forward is that these worlds will not simply be the “planet of the week” from Star Trek, or the usual single-climate, single-themed planets of Star Wars, etc. The core rulebook talks about the variations in the planets, the different cities and what makes them unique, that kind of thing. In theory, it sounds like you could do the John Carter thing and have an entire campaign set on one planet.

But wait, there’s more. While the core worlds are certainly central to the default campaign (and there’s a game-rule and in-game rationale for that), they do still have a full galaxy out there to explore, not to mention other dimensions / planes of existence, etc.  There’s the whole Azlanti Star Empire, spanning numerous systems, with its gigantic star fleet and Aeon Guards encased in battle armor that deliberately makes them faceless … um… stormtroopers. A campaign set there might have a flavor much like a certain ridiculously popular science fiction franchise. There’s the civilization-devouring Swarm that harvests the DNA of the races it conquers and splices part of it into a new racial offshoot of its own. There are tons of possibilities for different kinds of campaign styles.

And yeah, as for character classes, you have a mix of magic and tech. Full-blown mystics, techno-mages, and the strange Solarions who wield tiny fragments of suns (or black holes) for weapons and armor. Like I said, it’s a bit “Pathfinder in Space.” You could exclude those parts to tailor the flavor to something more serious… but I think it’s more fun not to. That’s like excluding Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy because a gun-happy humanoid raccoon is too over-the-top. The game is still pretty heavily influenced by Pathfinder (which was, in turn, a Dungeons & Dragons derivative). This means it’s heavily class-based and level-based. They did a good job of making the classes interesting with lots of options, so having two operatives in the party doesn’t make one of them feel superfluous. In fact, between race and racial abilities, the “theme” and its level-based abilities, the different options for each class (think of the sorcerer bloodlines in Pathfinder), and the pathfinder idea of “archetypes” built directly into and balanced with the game (but really reserved for future expansions), the “class based system” is pretty dang flexible. And of course, you still have the D20-based feats, skills, etc.

However, it does seem like they’ve tried to streamline things a bit from the 3rd edition days so making a character is a little bit less of a chore. I can’t exactly say how well they’ve pulled that off, just that it seems they’ve tried. If nothing else, it seems like they have cleaned up the exceptions to the rules a bit so that everything can proceed more systematically. They are also deprecating the use of random dice rolls in character generation, so that you are less likely to be stuck with a low-hit-point soldier because of some bad luck.

In the Alien Archive and similar third-party books, the game takes pains to make any reasonably balanced race that has enough free will to be a playable character *can* be a player character, and they always have sidebars for using them as a player race choice. In this game universe, humans are just a racial option. It’s intended to be full of all kinds of weird creatures as both PCs and NPCs. I like that.

Combat has received a significant overhaul while still kinda-sorta keeping to the old Pathfinder / D20 rules. The extra attacks at every 5 points of base attack bonus rule is GONE. A character gets one attack per turn, unless they choose the full attack option, in which case they get two attacks at a -4 penalty (each). Of course, there are feats, racial abilities, item properties,  and (I think) class abilities galore that change all that, but this really fixes up a particularly challenging power-scaling problem from the D20 rules. They’ve also done away with the free 5-foot move (‘adjustment’) from D20, but that’s much less of an issue when being denied the full attack isn’t nearly such a problem.

The game economy is… weird. Equipment has a tier rating, which is really only something used by gamemasters in the same way that the CR or encounter level would be used… more as a rule-of-thumb for the GM. Don’t reward 3rd level PCs with Level 20 Nanotube Carbon Skin Armor if you don’t want your game to become entirely imbalanced and very difficult to plan challenges around. Like 3E / Pathfinder, pricing is scaled based on a formula and reward schedule that should work out reasonably well if GMs stick with the “system” and don’t deviate too much. But it does mean that a Firefly-style campaign where your characters are always going to be on the ragged edge of solvency is tougher to work out with this system, and you won’t get as much rules help (and character classes may become more imbalanced as they level, etc.)

Starships are a whole different beast. It’s a problem child in any space opera system. The prices of giant starfaring vessels being what they should be, one really good salvage (or act of piracy) risks completely derailing a campaign. Starfinder deals with the problem by sidestepping it completely. It assumes the PCs have access to a starship (but readily notes this isn’t necessary). Now, how they have access to the starship is left to the campaign. Maybe it’s assigned to them by whatever agency they are working for. Maybe they are in hock up to their eyeballs for it. Maybe it’s inherited. Whatever the case, the game doesn’t have prices listed for starships. Instead, the party’s ship is assumed to be something of a member of the party and levels up with the average character level of the party. Whether this is through upgrades or reassignment or the party taking over a new ship they have salvaged and using money from selling their previous ship to get it fixed up, or use the salvage to upgrade their existing ship, whatever. As the party levels up, they get additional Build Points and access to higher tier equipment. It takes some of the thrill out of the big salvage score, which basically turns it all into little more than a story bonus in the hands of the GM, with only the in-game bonuses he or she offers.

By the same token, it offers flexibility for the game. Whether the party is a military unit receiving new ship assignments based on their prestige, privateers going after prize money for captured ships, mercenaries fighting bad guys for cash, mercenaries, entrepreneurs, or whatever, the abstract system leaves those kinds of details to the GM. It’s adaptable, and you don’t have to worry about the party selling their ship for the best battle-armor and plasma rifles and magical rings that money can buy.

The game rules do have a strong combat-focus, which makes sense. The skill system and role-playing can pretty much handle everything else, without too many problems. One advantage of its roots in Pathfinder is that the game assumes the GM will borrow freely from Pathfinder source material, especially monsters from the Beastiaries. Why not? It does offer some cautions and advice for dealing with more persistent elements crossing over between the games, especially magic, and noting some ways in which the systems are balanced differently and how that might effect CR or the value of certain equipment.

All-in-all… I think I’m a fan. They’ve pushed themselves in a different direction on the Space Opera front, but not so far that you can’t reasonably simulate a good chunk of popular (and classic) space-opera-esque science fiction (or “science fantasy” for some). If you can’t stand the idea of mixing fantasy and science fiction, you might have a problem with it. If you don’t like class-and-level-based RPG gaming, this is also probably not your game. Personally, I like what they did with the rules, and I don’t mind that they limited the compatibility with Pathfinder with their changes. I really like the direction they seem to have gone with the default campaign setting. I look forward to seeing it more fleshed out in the future if they maintain what seems to be the current vision. I hope to have a chance to play a campaign in this system soon.

Filed Under: Dice & Paper - Comments: Read the First Comment

A NaNoWriMo Winner is Me. But…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on November 28, 2017

Last year, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time, in spite of all kinds of misgivings. I did not “win,” but I came close. I’d started early, wrote 42,000 words in November, and finished at the end of the year. After some extensive revisions (because yes, it was a mess), I submitted it to a publisher, and it was accepted. I’m in the second round of editing on it right now, which means I have a love / hate relationship with the book. Yes, this is the second round of edits with a professional editor after I’d spent five months (on and off) revising the book and getting it as close to publication-ready as I could.

I guess there are a couple of morals to this story:

  1. “Winning” NaNoWriMo isn’t nearly as important as simply producing.
  2. It may be different for some pros, but for folks like me, the first draft of anything made during NaNoWriMo or any other time is probably unpublishable crap, and that’s okay. It’s simply the critical first stage of a process.

Capitalizing on my enthusiasm from my success “losing” NaNo, I started the sequel this year. I have used NaNoWriMo to help push myself to complete it. The first draft is still about 12,000 words shy of completion (a little more than I anticipated), but I hit the 50,000 words written in November over the extended weekend, and could probably end up hitting 60,000 before Friday. It depends on how crazy the next three days are.

I’ll probably have a few more thoughts on the subject later (when I have time to write a post!), but what worked for me the first week has continued to work for me. Having an online writing partner and pushing each other has really helped the both of us. It’s a combination of commitment, accountability, and having someone to pace with.

Again, what’s the point? Seriously, the whole “the world needs your novel!” crap at the nano website rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s motivational for some people, and that’s okay. But that kind of self-important ego-stroking makes it sound like cranking out 50k words is the be-all, end-all. It isn’t.

But a kick in the butt to push your limits, to work harder and more efficiently, and to achieve a concrete and reasonably challenging goal? I’m all for that. Getting a bunch of words down on virtual paper is a critical first stage, and it’s the easiest to track and measure. And the practice is absolutely a key part of improving your craft! Word count matters. So I consider it a worthwhile endeavor. While I hope to increase my productivity across the board for 2018, this will probably be something I will continue to do in 2018.

Now… on to REALLY finish the novel! And the next one!

(And if you are curious about what the newspaper clipping picture has to do with anything… well, it’s kind of a significant element of the first book…)

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

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