Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Reminder: League of Utah Writers Fall Conference and VR Presentation

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 5, 2017

At the League of Utah Writers Fall Conference tomorrow, I’ll be co-presenting an “ask the expert” class on Virtual Reality. This class will be in rooms 023/025 at 1:00 in the afternoon. There is still time to register, and it’s FREE on Friday. So… yay!

The full conference (including Saturday and the awards banquet Saturday night) costs a bit more, but it’s worth it. The presenters are often working-class authors with expertise in their fields and current with the modern trends and issues. There’ll be other expert classes on portraying horses, courtroom scenes, explosives, and archery authentically without embarrassing yourself. There’ll be craft classes teaching different aspects of writing. There’ll be plenty of classes on the business of writing, including things like finding the right agent, marketing, professionalism, and so forth. There are classes that will teach you how to better use certain tools (like Scrivener) or how to take advantage of other resources available to you as a writer. Want to know how to get your book into the public library system? A veteran of the public library system (and author) will offer a presentation on that.

Other cool resources include publishers taking in-person pitches for books, and free manuscript evaluations by editors. The latter is more of a “sampler” experience so you can try out editing services and see if they’d be a good match for you.

I had a tiny bit of a dry run this week with a presentation on game development to youth. That was a lot of fun, and there were several questions about Virtual Reality. Almost all of them had enjoyed some kind of VR experience, so these weren’t all beginner questions. But what I do expect to be a common theme is how close we are to Ready Player One, Sword Art Online, etc. (I keep feeling disappointed that nobody else seems to have read the Dream Park series.) Those really are good questions, and the answers (plural) are not simple.

Anyway – for those who are coming – I’ll see you there!

Filed Under: Events, Virtual Reality, Writing - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Rocksmith: Don’t Fear the… 1100 Songs!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 3, 2017

When I was a teenager and first started learning guitar (back in the ancient Days of Shred), we didn’t normally have access to the Internet. The geekiest of us had modems and access to Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) that *might* carry certain USENet discussions. I bought songbooks the old-fashioned way, in paper form, with 30 to 100 often poorly-transcribed songs. (And by poorly transcribed, I mean that your average text-based TAB you find on the Internet is more accurate.)

It didn’t matter that the songbooks were poor… I never got very good anyway. I still have a lot of those books gathering dust on my bookshelf. I can’t bring myself to toss them, but … yeesh… am I really ever going to learn to play Black Star by Yngwie Malmsteen? It’s been 30 years, for crying out loud…

When Rocksmith 2014 (now Rocksmith Remastered) came out, I committed to playing at least a few minutes every single day. I figured it was my last chance to actually become competent with the instrument. Much to my delight, it worked. Not that I’m ever going to be a rock star or anything. I just wanted to be able to play something fun and recognizable, and I prefer rock. It’s been a lot of fun, and I finally broke waaaay past that plateau I’d been on for nearly three decades. Funny how regular practice can do that. Rocksmith made it a lot easier. Unfortunately, crunch mode on the day job (and a focus on writing in my very limited “free time”) broke that really good habit of mine.  Fortunately, that crunch has ended, and I’m set on reestablishing some good habits for a normal life.

I haven’t quite gotten back to playing Rocksmith on a daily basis yet. I’m back up to once every two or three days, which is an improvement, but I want to get back to making it a daily habit. For most of us, Rocksmith has been a digital equivalent of those old songbooks. Since I’m getting back into it now, I took a little bit of an inventory. Between Rocksmith 1 (if you own it for your platform and bought the import / license tool to move the old songs over) and Rocksmith Remastered, there are something like 117 base and bonus songs, and nearly 1000 DLC songs. This means more than 1100 songs, averaging three different tracks (rhythm, lead, and bass… plus some alternates, minus some parts that don’t exist for every song) for each. That is a LOT of music to pick from, and to learn.

Now that I’m easing back into it, I’m reviewing my grand total of 544 owned songs that I’ve accumulated over five years. Even given that much of the DLC was purchased at a 40% discount on a pack for something like a buck-and-a-half per song, I could have easily bought a couple of decent guitars with the amount I spent on this game. I did buy a bass, which I rarely play. Sadly, they still don’t have some of my favorite groups represented, like Van Halen, ZZ Top, Dire Straits, Journey, Led Zeppelin, DragonForce, Metallica, Black Sabbath / Ozzy Osbourne, or Yngwie Malmsteen. Some of these (especially Led Zeppelin) will probably never, ever be available. Maybe the license-holder isn’t at all interested, or not interested for a reasonable price, or are tied into a music game exclusive with another game, or… whatever. That’s just how it goes.

But… still… over 500 songs (and 1500 arrangements!) is a lot. These run the spectrum between extremely easy (My Girl, Blitzkrieg Bop, All the Small Things, Next Girl) to a bunch of songs that I doubt I’ll master in my lifetime (  Cult of Personality, Cliffs of Dover, Play With Me, Hangar 18, Death Mental, Satch Boogie, Surfing With the Alien, Metropolis, and For the Love of God ). I could, of course, if I devoted myself. I mean, little Audrey Shida went from worse than me to being able to wail on a couple of those songs in a live band in the course of five years, just through playing Rocksmith and a few helpful tips. But I’m increasingly aware that between the day job, indie game development, and writing, my time for other hobbies and pursuits is woefully limited.

Which means… time to focus. Having nearly 550 songs to choose from is awesome, but I’ve found that my best results come from focusing on a particular song or two and really mastering them. Often I’ll find myself hitting a plateau in one song, leaving it alone for a few weeks while I master something else, and when I come back to it I’ll be able to shoot past my previous best on my first try. This stuff works! So… I guess I’m gonna publicly challenge myself here. For me, I feel like I’ve got a song down when I exceed 98% mastery. That allows for a few mistakes and I’ve not committed it to memory yet, but I feel like I can play it.

I actually wrote part of this post over a week ago, and I’ve finished up this week. I was going to go for a week-sauce challenge with the song “Hip to Be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News, which was just released a couple of weeks ago. Yes, I’m a child of the 80s. However, while it’s not one of the easiest songs in the library, it is on the easy end of the spectrum (at least for me). So between starting this post and ending it, I have already hit almost 99% mastery on it in about a dozen plays. OOPS. I’m pleased to have another song move from my “learn” list to my “review” list, but in retrospect, it wasn’t something to really challenge myself with.

As it’s now October, I want to challenge myself and learn to play something appropriate for the season. By the end of the month, I will be able to play Don’t Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult, alternate lead (this one has some of the really fun riffs in it… although I would like to learn the lead solo from the main lead arrangement as well).  Here’s the main lead arrangements (good videos of the alternate lead are hard to find… ):

This is a song I tinkered with a little several years ago, but it was a little beyond me. I haven’t touched it since. So… this month, I remedy that. I think it’s within my capabilities now.  Wish me luck!


Filed Under: Guitar Games - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

For my next trick: League of Utah Writers Fall Conference… Virtual Reality Class

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 28, 2017

Now that Salt Lake Comic Con 2017 is in the rear-view mirror, we’ve got the League of Utah Writers Fall Conference coming up. If you are interested, you can sign up here:

League of Utah Writers Fall Conference 2017

This is a two-day conference, but for the first time ever, the first day (Friday) can be attended FOR FREE! You will need to get a ticket, but the ticket price for the first day is $0. Saturday will cost more, and of course there’s a really cool banquet on Saturday Night that’s very worthwhile to attend, complete with awards and a keynote address and some amazing stuff. Also, this year we have two special guests – Kevin J. Anderson and J. H. Moncrieff!

This is a conference for professional development as a writer, from the basics of learning the craft, to specific topics of interest, to business and marketing, you name it. It’s a fantastic place to network and get to know other writers across multiple disciplines – from journalists and non-fiction writers, to the hardcore literary fiction folks, to us weirdos who write pulpy speculative fiction. I have a bias towards the latter, but respect for all of them.

If you are in Utah and are an aspiring or developing writer, you absolutely should come to the conference. Do what you can to take Friday off and come for free, if you can swing it. I learn a bit each time, and I get inspired. Anything that lights a fire under my butt is worthwhile.

My specific contribution this time around will be a glorious melding of interests. The presentation is entitled, “The Matrix is Here: The Reality of Virtual Reality.” John Olsen and I will talk about virtual reality – past, present, and future – with an eye towards dealing with it in written literature (mainly fiction) in a believable fashion now that it’s a thing with which people are slowly gaining familiarity. It’s wild, it’s fun, and it’s got a TON of game-changing potential in the near future. Want examples? A sneak preview? Here you go:

Are you creating a mystery / courtroom drama? One of the uses for VR now is to improve visualization of a crime scene. VR is vastly improving the ability to understand scale and distance, something images and photos projected in a 2D surface don’t do well. Could we see juries visiting the crime scene in VR? Some companies are already working on it.

Can VR be used to treat emotional or even physical disorders? (Short answer, yes and yes, and it’s already being done.)

As someone who suffers from VR sickness pretty easily, I’ll of course be talking about the causes of VR sickness (as far as we know), and how the reality hasn’t matched our expectations because the human brain and body are a good deal more complicated and interesting than we sometimes give them credit for.

What kind of improvements in VR technology can we expect in the next 5 years? 10 years? 20?

We are teaching the class on Friday at 1:00 PM, so it’ll be possible to attend on the free ticket. 🙂  Hopefully I’ll see you there!


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

Salt Lake Comic Con 2017 – Thoughts

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 26, 2017

Another year’s Salt Lake Comic Con came to a close, and I still haven’t become rich and famous and become a special invited guest. Go figure! 🙂 But I did manage to have a pretty good time. My legs will forgive me eventually. Our booth was a little crowded with authors, and we still haven’t quite gotten the hang of the whole book-pushing thing. Someday. At least this time, we had a nice, thick rug beneath us. That helped. You don’t think it will, especially with soft rubbery soles, but OH MY GOODNESS does it make a difference after 8-10 hours of standing.

Aside from manning the booth, I attended a handful of panels, did some shopping for gifts, visited with a lot of friends and colleagues, and enjoyed watching all the awesome cosplayers. As far as celebrities, I saw Dick Van Dyke and Zachary Levi. Both of them were highly entertaining. Dick Van Dyke is 91 years old, hard of hearing, but still awesome.

I attended a panel on writing Urban Fantasy with Jodi Lynn Nye, Tad Williams, Julie Frost, Cheree Alsop, and a couple other authors I’m not as familiar with. I enjoyed the discussion a great deal, even if it didn’t necessarily go into depth. Williams in particular made a point at the beginning about how “Urban Fantasy” is a category created by marketers, not authors, and one should never worry too much about what is “allowed” within a subgenre. Another panel, on writing Star Wars books, included Michael Stackpole and others who had written official stories in the Star Wars universe. It provided some interesting insight into working with a licensed property, particularly one that fans are rabid about. Jim Butcher had a Q&A session which was really fun. At least half the questions were about the Dresden Files.

One event was a book launch for Johnny Worthen’s new thriller, “What Immortal Hand.” The publisher (Omnium Gatherum) graciously shared the last half of the hour with us to launch Lynn Worthen’s (no relation) new desert-based speculative fiction anthology, “Mirages and Speculations.” Johnny Worthen is one of the authors. As am I. I don’t think I can compare my stories to Johnny’s beautiful – almost lyrical – style. In fact I really don’t want to. He’s a great writer. But that’s what the book is about… a cross-section of different kinds of speculative fiction, by authors with many different styles. It’s great stuff, and worth checking out.

On Friday night, we got together with friends and had a great dinner. I met a few new people there, including professional mermaids. After the conference Saturday, we got together with yet more friends for another dinner at a local pizzeria that I’d never tried (Rusty Sun Pizzeria). The calzone was excellent… I definitely want to go there again. 🙂

One particularly cool opportunity came when I received a visit from Adamantyr, who has been here at this blog almost as long as I have. Darius Ouderkirk, another regular around here and a fellow game developer, also dropped by. I loved having so many friends drop by. Sadly, I know at least one person came by when I wasn’t there. Hopefully I didn’t miss too many people.

And then, just like that, the party was over. Le Sigh. At least until FanX, usually in the spring. I guess in theory, I could be going to Snake River Comic Con this weekend. I was more than a little tempted. But alas, the real world waits for nobody, and I am loaded down with Stuff to Get Done.

Filed Under: Events, Geek Life - Comments: Read the First Comment

StoryHack #1 is out – and it’s awesome!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 25, 2017

I’ll have a report on Salt Lake Comic Con 2017 later. But for today… I have bigger news:

StoryHack #1 is out. You can get the Kindle Version here.

You can also get the ePub version from Kobo, if you prefer that, and the Nook version at Barnes & Noble.  I imagine there will be versions on Smashwords and other locations soon, but that’s what’s out now. The print version is due later this week. I already pre-ordered a print copy, but I would want to own the print version for the cover alone. Actually, I think I want a print of this cover. The artist gets it. He understands pulp.

This one also features illustrations for each story. This is ridiculously awesome, and a common element in the classic pulp magazines. StoryHack Issue #0 was a good prelude, a proof-of-concept and test run. They’ve upped the ante with Issue #1. I haven’t read all of the stories yet (it’s been a busy week), but there’s once again a variety of action and adventure stories. Most have a speculative element, but not all. That’s one thing that differentiates it from, say, Cirsova (which is also excellent).

My story is entitled, “Retrieving Abe,” and is set in the “weird west” circa the mid 1880s. When a dragon abducts her husband from the tiny village of Shiblon in the Utah Territory, Lydia–the daughter of a dragon hunter–is the only one who can rescue him. But retrieving her husband may involve trading her life for his, and dragons are notoriously tricky creatures.



John Olsen has a story called “The Protector of Newington” about a steampunk superhero in London, and the one-legged Moroccan inventor who  builds the steam-powered armored suits. Julie Frost’s “Brave Day Sunk in Hideous Night” involves a werewolf PI with severe PTSD and a time-traveling vehicle that isn’t exactly a DeLorean. A young man with a possessed gun that can’t miss comes into conflict with an aging gunslinger who cannot be hit in David West’s “Under the Gun.” Mike Adamson’s “Circus to Boulogne” tells of a pilot shot down and evading capture behind enemy lines in World War II. In Jon Del Arroz’s story, “Taking Control,” an aging criminal in the old west may find herself with one last chance at a big heist courtesy of a salve from a Cheyenne medicine man. Something is causing wealthy men to suddenly give up their fortunes and commit suicide in “Dream Master” by Gene Moyers. Martians kidnap Becker’s blind date in “Some Things Missing in her Profile” by David Skinner. In “The Price of Hunger” by Kevyn Winkless, a man desperately flees through the winter woods, pursued by the Wendigo. And in the cover story “New Rules for Rocket Nauts” by Michael DeCarolis, a washed-out Rocket Naut cadet finds himself holding the line against an alien invasion.

If you’d prefer the paperback version, I can’t blame you. Watch this space and I’ll let you know when its available… probably later this week. Otherwise, the links above will get you the digital version of your choice for very inexpensive quality entertainment. There’s a lot of good storytelling to be found here, so I hope you’ll enjoy it!

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

Salt Lake Comic Con 2017, Here I Come

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 19, 2017

From Thursday through Saturday, I’ll be at Salt Lake Comic Con. My home base will be Booth 639. This is the Xchyler / Utah Authors table, and it’s going to be overflowing with books. I will have a small but not insubstantial contribution to the library, including paper copies of Mirages & Speculations, StoryHack 0, and Cirsova 4 and 5. Unfortunately, the latest edition of StoryHack isn’t out yet, and I was unable to get copies of Altered States 2, so I won’t have those. I may have a limited copies of my Xchyler anthologies available as well. I’ll be there to sign just about anything non-legally binding, as if I were a famous person.

As usual, it’ll be a blast. I’ll probably be at the booth about half the time, along with several other authors. Many but not all will have published stuff through Xchyler. Scott Tarbet will be there with his newest techno-thriller, Dragon Moon.  John Olsen will have preview copies of his brand new book, Crystal King.

Guests this time around include Val Kilmer, Zachary Levi (twice in one year!), Dick Van Dyke (!!!!!! Classic Awesomeness!), Elijah Wood, Christopher Lloyd, John & Joan Cusack, John Barrowman, Catherine Tate, Wil Wheaton, Michael Rooker, Jewel Statie, Tom Wilson, Eliza Dushku, Gates McFadden, Michael Biehn, and tons more. I don’t usually hit the celebrity panels all that often, but there are quite a few there that I’d love to see. I think Dick Van Dyke’s event will be maxed out to capacity. I saw Zachary Levi in the spring, but he’s enormously entertaining. On the author side, we’ll see Patrick Rothfuss,  Timothy Zahn, Jim Butcher, Michael A. Stackpole, and many others… including the outstanding usual Utah crowd like Larry Correia, David Farland, Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, Dan Wells, Richard Paul Evans, Michaelbrent Collings, and Mary Robinette Kowal.

And of course, there will be tons of panels to attend on all kinds of geeky topics, and the gigantic exhibitor hall that I will *never* see all of during any particular Comic Con. But dang it, I’ll try… 🙂  And while the convention is WAY too huge, I have a lot of friends I hope to see there that I don’t get to see all that often *except* during events like this.

Anyway, come by and say hi! Hopefully I’ll catch you there and we’ll talk geeky stuff. 🙂

Filed Under: Books - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

Divinity: Original Sin 2 Releases!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 14, 2017

The thing I discovered as an indie game developer is that Murphy’s Law adores release days. Today is the release day for Divinity: Original Sin 2, the next crowdfunded game where Larian shows us just what kind of games they will make without compromises made to publishers. Their campaign earned them a couple million, although I imagine the sales of the first Divinity: Original Sin provided the bulk of their funding, considering the size of their team. But… a major power-outage struck their city, and so things were a bit delayed. Hopefully that’s all been sorted out by now.

As a backer, I had early access. I decided not to take advantage of it, for two reasons: #1 – I have been slammed for time to do anything this last year, and #2 – I really wanted to wait for the final, polished release. However, I thought the first game was really well-done. They mixed some innovative ideas with some classic concepts, and while far from perfect, I really enjoyed it. I hope the sequel exceeds the original.

In particular, 4-player coop campaign and a custom “Game Master Mode” (as in Neverwinter Nights) seem really, really cool, if I could actually afford the time commitment to play. And… if my friends could, too. Wait, I do have friends, I think. I’ve been neglecting them lately, so I am not certain…


Filed Under: Game Announcements - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

Easing Back into the Game

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

It’s good to be back.

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

Pulp is No Excuse

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s IMHO what pulp is supposed to be.

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

Big Cirsova Sale!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 29, 2017

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

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

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




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

The Debugging Gumshoe

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vive Fires the Next Shot in the VR Price Wars

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 22, 2017

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

The Vive is now “only” $599

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

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

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

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

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

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Out Now: Mirages & Speculations

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

Mirages & Speculations on Amazon / Kindle

Mirages & Speculations at Kobo

Mirages & Speculations at Barnes & Noble

Mirages & Speculations on iBooks

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

Jay Barnson’s Author Page at Amazon

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Impressions: RetroEngine Sigma. Emulation made easy?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtual Reality: Experiences and Nostalgia

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Soon: Mirages & Speculations

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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