Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Impressions: The Bard’s Tale Trilogy – Remastered

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 24, 2018

I first played The Bard’s Tale on the Commodore 64 many, many years ago (when it was new). I’d played Wizardry on friends’ computers, but it still hadn’t made its way to my beloved C-64. The Bard’s Tale was not only a great substitute, but it tried hard to be a superior title. Graphically, it was certainly more impressive, with full color graphics and limited animation in a first-person dungeon crawler. It had some really neat features that made gameplay and character development more interesting (at least for spellcasters). At the time, it was clearly a major entry in computer role-playing games.

I put many, many hours into it. And I died. A lot. I grew frustrated – in part from the game, in part from the limitations of its interface (quite common in similar games back then), and in part due to the notoriously slow disk access on the Commodore 64.  Sadly, just at the point where I was finally making decent progress, I… quit playing. It wasn’t a conscious act, I just never returned to my last saved game. But it inspired me, and one of my few assembly language programming projects on the C-64 was to create a similar graphics window painting a full-color first-person perspective scene in a city for a dungeon crawler like Bard’s Tale.

I got even less far in Bard’s Tale II. Years later, I revisited some of those early dungeons in Bard’s Tale Construction Set (which were included with the demo campaign), and then I used an emulator to replay the original games–but never to completion, despite my best intentions. The older graphics didn’t bug me, but some of the old interface conventions, limitations, and rough edges really slowed it down for me. And for some reason, I can’t get into creating my own maps on graph paper anymore.

Now, in conjunction with the release of Bard’s Tale IV (which looks pretty awesome, BTW, but I’ve only played a little of it so far), they’ve released a “remastered” edition of the original Bard’s Tale trilogy. Currently, only the first of the three games (“chapters”) has been released.  The second is due in fall, and the third in winter. In spite of my schedule the last couple of weeks, I’ve put several hours into the remaster.

And you know what? IT IS AWESOME! And I think I’m finally going to beat the entire trilogy this time around. 🙂

Besides graphics improvements and more modern interface enhancements, there have been a large number of “quality of life” improvements added to this version. This includes a built-in automap function, somewhat less grinding (there’s still plenty of it, don’t worry), revised balance and improved mechanics from later games retroactively applied to the earlier game(s), more information and mechanics available at your fingertips, the ability to use the seventh slot for a player character instead of only summoned / recruited creatures, the ability to load or save from anywhere in the game (except in combat), and so forth.

In short, it is now up to the standards of a modern indie game. After putting a few hours into it, I have to say that I think this is a really sweet “remaster.” The updates have really sanded down the rough edges that always got in the way of having fun in the past. We’re left with a really solid CRPG that had some really impressive, advanced concepts for its time. In my mind, it’s removed a lot of the barriers to “having fun.”

So far, I find the game is still punishingly difficult at low levels. However, this is offset by the quality of life improvements. Being able to save / load freely (and quickly) really helps, and I think there are lower XP requirements means you can escape those hellish lower levels pretty quickly. Hopefully, you’ve learned how to try and run away by that point. Even at higher levels, the game will sometimes throw groups of monsters at you that you just can’t beat. Random chance is still a significant factor, but at least now you can save frequently and have better control over other things to help mitigate the disasters.

Now, some will say that this isn’t the “real” game.  That this isn’t capturing the “true” essence of The Bard’s Tale circa 1985. And maybe they are right. But for me, the true “old school feel” isn’t in the inability to save or load anywhere, or the uselessness of rogues in the original release of the first chapter, or in taking twice the grinding to level up. If that is what it defines it for you, there is always the emulated version of the original, or the upcoming “Legacy” mode for this game, which promises to take away your automaps, your ability load anywhere, and many of the other ‘quality of life’ enhancements. It’ll keep the new graphics and UI though.

So far, my forays into the dungeons below Skara Brae haven’t taken me as far as my original expeditions on my C-64, but I’m only about 9 hours in. This should be a reminder that old-school RPGs were typically pretty epic in length. In these old games, you don’t typically blitz through a dungeon level in a single trip, and then activate a two-way teleporter at the end. No, these dungeons were experienced in repeated forays, mapping a bit, and then pulling back before resources dropped too low so you could survive the trip back to the entrance.

There’s something very satisfying to me about this style of RPG gameplay. Now, I don’t know that The Bard’s Tale was ever a great example of the style–the series had its flaws and I don’t think those have entirely gone away with this remaster. But it’s still a classic game, and it’s still a really good CRPG well worth playing today–even in the modern era with lots of great competition. Now, with new graphics, a cleaner interface, and performing well on modern machines, I think The Bard’s Tale is better than ever.

Filed Under: Computer RPGs, Impressions - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

FanX 2018 Report

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 10, 2018

I’m not exactly sure how to begin.

I went to this FanX (formerly Salt Lake Comic Con) with the intention of doing little more than working the booth and selling books. This is my first FanX with my novel, Blood Creek Witch, rather than just anthologies that contained one of my stories. I didn’t really know what to expect, but based on previous conventions, I conservatively took the best total sales I’d ever had at this con with multiple titles combined (in some cases offering 2 different books at a discount), added about 50%, and figured that should be more than enough. I joked about selling out, thinking it was wildly optimistic.

I sold out halfway through the convention.

But while it sold extraordinarily well, it wasn’t just Blood Creek Witch. I sold out of everything else I’d brought except for a single copy of StoryHack that had gotten slightly warped from sitting in the box wrong.  Our shelves were starting to look pretty bare of everything by the end of the third day, and I heard from several other authors at other booths that had done extremely well. Whatever alchemy FanX came up with this time, I hope they keep it up! As for me, I wish I’d brought at least twice as many copies of Blood Creek Witch, but I’m happy with how things went.

Next time, I may bring tons of copies and only sell a half-dozen. Who knows?

Anyway, I still stayed with the booth most of the time, talking with people and costume-watching. That really is half the fun of a convention like this. I attended three panels, and didn’t end up going to see any of the big celebrities. I didn’t even go to see David Tenant, but my wife did. While I spent most of the time at the booth, I still ended up missing a few people who dropped by to see me. There’s probably some law of the universe that states that all the things you were waiting for will happen while you’ve finally left on a break.

As usual, though, the con was in part a fun family reunion with extended members of my geeky tribe. I love that. I got to hang out with old friends, including some that I haven’t seen in a few years, and those that I rarely see outside of conventions like this. It was also great spending time with the awesome people at the Utah Speculative Fiction / Immortal Works booth – Kelly, John, Beth, Ben, Scott, and several others. We swapped stories, had a bunch of laughs, and had late-night dinners after the show floor closed at local restaurants. We made new friends talking to people at the booth (ours and others). I wish I’d had more time to hang out with people, but the convention could have lasted six days and I still wouldn’t have been able to do that.

After three days, I had very sore feet and legs, but some good memories.

Some highlights I just want to jot down, some of which may be a little cryptic:

  • Free craft soda refills
  • Pac-Man dog leashes (yes, our dog is now wearing one. She has no clue)
  • Pep talk from Dave Butler
  • Hearing how Utah Jazz legend John Stockton helped push Brian Lee Durfee on his career
  • Some comments by Cheree Alsop and other panelists about why action & romance (“Swashbuckling and Swooning”) go together so well
  • Chatting with Dan and Maria over dinner about amusing celebrity green room moments
  • Hanging out with an old friend, Jonnalyhn, from college
  • “You’re a monkey!”
  • Talking with the Operation Underground Railroad people. These guys are superheroes in my book, winning a real-life battles against despicable evil.
  • Jason King of Immortal Works proving he is awesome in a clutch
  • “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” (x2)

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

FanX Weekend!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 6, 2018

Hello everyone! This weekend (starting in a couple of hours), I’ll be at the FanX Comic Convention in Salt Lake City, booth 2424. If you are going to be there, drop by and say hi! I’m planning on being at the booth most of the time, at least until my book sells out. Hear that optimism? “Until my book sells out,” not “If my book sells out.”


Life is an adventure.

Filed Under: Books - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

The Golden Wall of Science Fiction

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 4, 2018

I grew up reading stories from the “pulp era.” I also grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons (well, once I turned 12… so reading predated the playing by a little bit). Until I read Appendix N by Jeffro Johnson, I didn’t realize there was a connection between the two. When I first started playing D&D, it was pretty much “anything goes.” Science fiction, fantasy, horror, whatever…  it all worked. Old-school D&D was like that… as was old-school pulp. I didn’t consciously realize this, it was just the attitude reflected in the rules and game modules, in the articles and letters in Dragon magazine, Polyhedron, and similar periodicals (ah, the days before the Internet). It was on the covers of Heavy Metal and White Dwarf magazine. And it was part of my favorite films, the original Star Wars trilogy, featuring space wizards with magic swords battling it out with space ships and giant walking robots blasting it out in the background. Awesome stuff.

At some point, I became a purist. Fantasy was fantasy and science fiction. I sneered at an aquantance’s D&D campaign that featured knights wearing powered space-armor and lasers. Nevermind the fact that I’d had plenty of fun years earlier playing the science-fiction-themed official D&D module, “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks,” or that I still used the totally broken SF-themed psionics rules for 1st edition Advanced D&D. At this point, young Jay Barnson thought he knew everything about everything, and damn it, science fiction was different from fantasy! I resented how the later entries in the Wizardry computer game series (and the early Might & Magic titles) mixed space ships & magic. How silly! Okay, maybe they weren’t handled well, but I was against the principle!

And then I got older. More experienced. Played more games, watched more films, read more fiction both modern and classic. And the voice inside my head finally said, “Screw it.” Probably the same voice that heard Clarke’s Third Law too many times: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I realized the wall between science fiction and fantasy was a lot thinner than I’d thought. Where had it come from?

The answer is, in part, John W. Campbell. A science fiction author to who took the helm of Astounding Stories (formerly Astounding Stories of Super Science) in 1938, changed its name to Astounding Science Fiction, and emphasized science-driven stories as opposed to pulp adventure stories with vaguely scientific rationale to make the plot work. This wasn’t entirely a new approach. That wasn’t too dissimilar to Hugo Gernsback’s approach with launching Amazing Stories more than a decade before. Interestingly enough, by this point, this marketing decision set Astounding Science Fiction apart from Amazing Stories, which was in my perspective the point. Campbell made the focus on harder science stick, in part because he paid top dollar for stories, compared to the rest of the pulp market.

Campbell ran the magazine for a long time afterward, eventually dropping the “Astounding” and rebranding it “Analog,” the name by which it is known today. But the beginning of his tenure marked what is frequently called the “Golden Age of Science Fiction.” This all came at the right time, as the severe belt-tightening of the Great Depression came to a close, and the specter of World War II arose. People were desperate for an inexpensive escape, and pulp adventures filled the bill nicely. The relative optimism of science fiction of the era didn’t hurt. The idea that men with screwdrivers could engineer solutions to seemingly insurmountable evils as well as any hard-hitting action hero was refreshing and welcome. Campbell’s marketing focus came at a good time. Science fiction grew in popularity, and other magazines sprang up emphasizing science fiction with various levels of Campbellian “hardness.”

It is my belief that this exerted a pretty strong influence over the writing community. As a writer, you need to maximize your chances of both making a sale and selling to the highest-paying markets. It’s how you put food on the table. Since the “slicks” rarely purchased stories with unrealistic elements, your best bet would be to target Astounding and to try and meet Campbell’s standards. Even if you were rejected, you could then submit elsewhere. Amazing Stories might still publish something that felt like an Astounding story, but the converse was not true. So the “Golden Age” erected a wall between “Science Fiction” and everything else. If you didn’t meet Campbell’s standards, not only was your story not Astounding material, but it might not even *gasp* be science fiction at all! Oh, noes!

That didn’t stop Planet Stories or Amazing Stories from publishing all kinds of character-driven tales of space princesses and heroic derring-do throughout the solar system and galaxy at large, or calling it science fiction. So it wasn’t a universal change. Snobbish readers referred to these “other” stories as “Space Opera,” hoping to smear it with association to “Soap Operas” and “Horse Operas,” but today the description has lost most of its negative connotation. So there. The assumption persists that the harder SF of Campbell’s tenure was superior and more “mature” than that of the earlier or competing pulps.

At once point, the assumption was almost uncontested, but there’s vocal disagreement today. But that’s only by the people who actually read those older stories…

But that’s primarily where the modern division between science fiction and fantasy came from. The “Golden Age” was a golden wall. Was it a good thing? I’m not sure. For me, I think it was a good thing insofar as it gave a boost to “hard” science fiction, yet remained porous and easily crossed. Where it caused the snobbishness and this idea that fantasy chocolate and science-fiction peanut butter should never be mixed, maybe it wasn’t so great. For my part, most of the science fiction I’ve read came after Campbell began his reign, and there’s a lot I love. Some of that might never have been written had Campbell not encouraged it through his high bounty on hard SF.

But then, what is “hard” SF? What qualifies? Honestly, a lot of the stuff that seemed pretty hard back in the day and tied into then-modern theories of how the universe worked come off as being pretty bizarre and fantastic today. A lot of the stuff written in the mid-20th century is alternate history today, dealing with timelines that never came to pass, theories long disproven, and mixing antiquated technology with things that still don’t exist. Even Andy Weir’s “The Martian,” a recent classic of hard science fiction that has enjoyed well-deserved mass-market popularity, is starting to feel a little quaint with the latest science and technology. When I was a kid, planets were thought to be rare, and dinosaurs didn’t have feathers. Science is a journey and methodology, not a destination. This makes it ripe for imaginative stories, but not so great for hard divisions between it and fantasy.

But I’m all for fuzzy, blurred lines, inviting all kinds of variety across the spectrum by virtue of their existence. I don’t want to argue about whether Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s godlike Q or premise of “we’ve evolved past needing money” is more or less fantastical than the Jedi and the really strange size / distance scales of Star Wars. I don’t think The Martian or Interstellar are inherently superior to Guardians of the Galaxy or Wonder Woman by virtue their scientific plausibility. I want stories in the middle and at the extremes.

And yeah, I’m okay with D&D games with powered battle-armor, and with the Dark Savant orbiting a fantasy world in a space ship. It’s all good fun.

Filed Under: Books, Dice & Paper, Retro - Comments: Comments are off for this article

PTFC Challenge #3 – Red Nails

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 30, 2018

For the final entry in the Continuing the Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge, I wanted to finish with one of my favorite pre-Tolkien fantasy stories… one that I haven’t read in years. I re-read it for this challenge, and while my take on it was different from my teenaged memories, I found I was no less delighted by it. The novella is one of the quintessential Conan stories by Robert E. Howard, Red Nails. It was also, sadly, the last complete Conan story written by Howard, published posthumously after his death.

But man, what a story.

This story as much about Valeria of the Red Brotherhood as it is about Conan. The story uses the third-person omniscient view which is out-of-fashion these days, freely moving into the heads of the two main characters. At least Howard does it well. I’m going to assume you already know who Conan is, but if you haven’t read at least a couple of original Conan stories, rather than his popular modern representation, than I’d argue you really don’t know who Conan is. This novella would be a great start! Howard himself called it, “the grimmest, bloodiest, and most merciless story of the series so far,” and “the bloodiest and most sexy weird story I ever wrote.”

In this story, Conan meets up with the pirate Valeria of the Red Brotherhood as they fled pursuit. Well, she was fleeing pursuit, he killed the man who was pursuing her. They meet up on this tall bluff in the jungle, Conan explains what a great service he’s rendered for her by killing her pursuer, and is sort of expecting her to fall into his arms in gratitude. Valeria is having none of this, and draws her sword to drive the … ahem… point home. Conan recognizes her skill and backs off, but still proceeds with the trash talk, which she returns.

He stepped toward her, and she sprang back, whipping out her sword.

“Keep back, you barbarian dog! I’ll spit you like a roast pig!”

He halted, reluctantly, and demanded: “Do you want me to take that toy away from you and spank you with it?”

“Words! Nothing but words!” she mocked, lights like the gleam of the sun on blue water dancing in her reckless eyes.

He knew it was the truth. No living man could disarm Valeria of the Brotherhood with his bare hands. He scowled, his sensations a tangle of conflicting emotions. He was angry, yet he was amused and filled with admiration for her spirit. He burned with eagerness to seize that splendid figure and crush it in his iron arms, yet he greatly desired not to hurt the girl. He was torn between a desire to shake her soundly, and a desire to caress her. He knew if he came any nearer her sword would be sheathed in his heart. He had seen Valeria kill too many men in border forays and tavern brawls to have any illusions about her. He knew she was as quick and ferocious as a tigress.

Their little argument is interrupted by the appearance of a monstrous creature described as a dragon. It’s that, or some kind of oversized dinosaur. They immediately forget their differences and band together in mutual defense. Their fight & flight take them to the gates of an ancient, city-sized fortress. The few inhabitants are survivors of a long-running, bitter feud between two tribes, bent on nothing more than the annihilation of each other. The tribe that enlists the aid of Conan and Valeria intend to pit their superior skill at swords against the other tribes’ reliance upon dark sorcery unearthed from the catacombs of the city. For every enemy slain, they drive a red, copper nail into an ebony column to mark their victory.

Naturally, when two decadent, dying races are steeped in such hatred and focused on nothing but destruction, there’s not going to be much of a happy ending no matter which side the mercenary pair might team up with. The story is full of interesting characters, but the backdrop of two dying cultures in the halls of a fortress built by an even longer-dead race is compelling. It drips with detail, but never too much.

Valeria isn’t quite the super-powered creature that Conan is, nor can she match Olmec, prince of the Tecuhltli tribe, for brute force. She is described as being stronger than the average man, and in skill and speed there are few men alive who could equal her, let alone beat her. She and Conan fight side-by-side, and have to rescue each other in nearly equal measure, so it’s clear that this adventure requires both of them. She is reckless, but she isn’t quite the hyperactive psychopath that Bêlit is Shemite was. Valeria is a pirate and mercenary, aggressive without being foolhardy.

One major battle scene pits Conan, Valeria, and men and women of both tribes  in a single, bloody conflict:

These crashed into the fray with the devastating effect of a hurricane plowing through a grove of saplings. In sheer strength no three Tlazitlans were a match for Conan, and in spite of his weight he was quicker on his feet than any of them. He moved through the whirling, eddying mass with the surety and destructiveness of a gray wolf amidst a pack of alley curs, and he strode over a wake of crumpled figures.

Valeria fought beside him, her lips smiling and her eyes blazing. She was stronger than the average man, and far quicker and more ferocious. Her sword was like a living thing in her hand. Where Conan beat down opposition by the sheer weight and power of his blows, breaking spears, splitting skulls and cleaving bosoms to the breast-bone, Valeria brought into action a finesse of sword-play that dazzled and bewildered her antagonists before it slew them. Again and again a warrior, heaving high his heavy blade, found her point in his jugular before he could strike. Conan, towering above the field, strode through the welter smiting right and left, but Valeria moved like an illusive phantom, constantly shifting, and thrusting and slashing as she shifted. Swords missed her again and again as the wielders flailed the empty air and died with her point in their hearts or throats, and her mocking laughter in their ears.

Neither sex nor condition was considered by the maddened combatants. The five women of the Xotalancas were down with their throats cut before Conan and Valeria entered the fray, and when a man or woman went down under the stamping feet, there was always a knife ready for the helpless throat, or a sandaled foot eager to crush the prostrate skull.

Brutal. Dark. Awesome.


Red Nails has some of the flashiest sorcery in the Conan stories. You’ve got a frickin’ lightning-wand and a glowing skull that renders victims helpless, and pipes that induce madness. You have giant snakes summoned from the depths, and ancient dragons resurrected through dark magic. You have witches that can compel with a gaze. And you have lots of swords. Yeah, this story is quintessential Sword & Sorcery, not just Conan. Tolkien’s wizards are slow-burning forces of nature with subtle magic. The sorcerers and witches of Conan’s world run hot and crazy.

If you are a Dungeons & Dragons player, the fortress city of Xuchotil is as archetypal dungeon as the Mines of Moria. With three tiers and towers above ground and who knows how many dank and dark levels in the crypts below, it is full of hidden passages, ancient torture chambers, lost magical items, monsters, and SCADS of treasure–to the point where the jewels and precious metals are esteemed valueless by the current inhabitants. Green fire-stones and the occasional indestructible skylight provide light through some of the chambers, but not all. There sounds like there is a lot more to the city than can be described in this story, but rather left to the imagination of the reader. Or an imaginative Dungeon Master.

And yeah, of the three stories I read for this challenge, this is my favorite, and remains one of my favorite Conan stories. Maybe it will become one of yours, too. You can find it online at Project Gutenberg, or over at Wikisource (complete with the July 1936 Margaret Brundage Weird Tales cover that is totally inappropriate by today’s standards…)

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. There was plenty of excellent fantasy out there before Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series hit the bookshelves, and while I still love LotR, I would love to see more of the preceding works get remembered. There’s plenty to enjoy.

Filed Under: Pulp, Short Fiction - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

PTFC Challenge #2: The Women of the Wood

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 21, 2018

Continuing the Pre-Tolkien Fantasy Challenge, I have a story by Abraham Merritt, an outstanding pulp-era fantasy writer whom I only discovered last year.  He was an inspiration to and contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft among others. He certainly gets pretty lush in his descriptions, much like Tolkien (and Lovecraft, and … quite a few pulp authors, really).

The story was originally published as “The Woman of the Wood” in Weird Tales in 1926, though since then it has been known as “The Women of the Wood.” I discovered it over the weekend searching for story I hadn’t read for this challenge. It’s what would be considered “Contemporary Fantasy” today, taking place not in the distant past or in alternate worlds, but in “modern” France of Merritt’s time, shortly after World War I.

The protagonist, McKay, was an aviator during the war, and is now recovering from what would be known as PTSD today. A lover of forests and trees, McKay takes solace in a French inn deep in the forested country, and attributes his recovery to the trees themselves. However, attuned as he is to nature, as the weeks go by he perceives an unrest in the woods, and signs of what seems like a war between the trees, and the landowner’s family.

Eventually, his investigations lead him to an encounter with the dryad-like elfin people of the trees, who enlist him to aid them in their war against the landlord. At the behest and probable enchantment of a dying dryad, he joins the cause. His resolve fades as he emerges into the sunlight, and begins doubting his sanity, until he encounters the landlord. The landlord and his sons are just as convinced of the sentience of the spirits of the trees as McKay, and are planning their own violent end to the conflict. Both sides are committed to the destruction of the other.

And… I’ll let you read the rest.

Merritt waxes even more poetic and playful in his use of language in this story than a couple of his other works that I have read. As I noted earlier, he has a strong similarity to Tolkien in his detailed descriptions of the land surrounding the inn. If you are looking for the feeling of an “enchanted forest,” this is the story to read. The spirits of the trees are not slow-to-anger Ents, though. Neither is the conflict here black-and-white. The humans have deep-seated reasons for continuing a feud that has gone on for hundreds of years, and the dryads are ruthless and uncompromising.

In spite of taking place in the (then) modern era, this story is probably a little closer in style to Tolkien’s books than Moore’s first Jirel story, although they all share florid descriptions of their landscapes. The stories of the pulp era were largely about transporting readers to new and unusual places, I think. In spite of being a war veteran, McKay’s disposition is far closer to that of Tolkien’s hobbits than Moore’s fiery protagonist. The supernatural in this story is not fundamentally evil as in Black God’s Kiss, but it is equally dangerous and helpful to mere mortals, as it is in Middle Earth.

But those are pretty surface comparisons. The Women of the Wood is really its own thing, and a reminder that the fantasy of the pulp era was pretty varied even before they had a name for the category. I’ve yet to be disappointed reading anything by Merritt.

You can read The Women of the Wood here

Filed Under: Books, Pulp, Short Fiction - Comments: Read the First Comment

What I had to learn about writing novels (after lots of short stories)

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 17, 2018

We’re wrapping up edits on the second Blood Creek novel (Blood Creek Beast!) and I’m currently writing the third. I’m very excited about how Blood Creek Witch is doing, especially now that it’s an audiobook. Of course, I could always use 100x the visibility it currently has, but I’m pretty pleased with how this has all turned out. And I’m still writing and submitting short stories.

I learned a lot by focusing on short stories. I think I made and corrected a lot of mistakes much faster that way. The skills required for writing novels (especially a novel series) and short stories are not identical. But after focusing on shorts for a while, I was able to come back to longer-form writing without throwing my hands up in frustration five chapters in. However, I had some new lessons to learn. Or old lessons to re-learn.

After writing lots of little stories mostly between 4K and 8K words in length, having more than 10x as much word count to work with seemed like an incredible luxury. It’s not. A novel has to accomplish a lot more than a short story, and that word count can fill up fast trying to keep all the plates spinning until the big crescendo at the end. Especially with multiple points-of-view, there’s not much room to spare. At least not in the pulp style I embrace.

Fortunately, one of the skills I picked up from writing shorter fiction does carry over to novel-writing, and that’s keeping the prose tight. It may take me years to master this skill, but it’s just as handy writing a novel as writing a short story. My scene sizes tend to be about the same in either form, too. Considering how action-packed larger novels by the likes of people like Larry Correia are, I assume that I’d fight just as hard to stuff a larger story into two or three times larger space, too. Ultimately, the medium has to be right (and the right fit) for the story, and no matter what, it’s a fight to make every word count.


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

PTFC Challenge #1: Black God’s Kiss

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 14, 2018

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

The challenge is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biplanes and Virtual Reality

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 1, 2018

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

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

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

I had to try this out in VR!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood Creek Witch Audiobook Now Available

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 24, 2018

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

Blood Creek Witch is now available as an Audiobook through Audible

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have fun!

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

14 Virtual Reality RPGs for the PC

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 23, 2018

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

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

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

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR

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

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

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

2. Fallout 4 VR

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

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

3. VR Dungeon Knight

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

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

4. A Legend of Luca

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

5. Vanishing Realms

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

6. The Mages Tale

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

7. The Wizards

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

8. Crypt Hunter

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

9. Heroes of the Seven Seas VR

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

10. RuneSage

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

11. Karnage Chronicles

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

12. Orbus VR

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

13 Mervils: A VR Adventure

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

14. Left-Hand Path

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




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

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

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 13, 2018

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

More after the really cool trailer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic the Gathering: You Are What You Eat

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 10, 2018

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

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

So maybe we passed down the geek gene.

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

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

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

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


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

How PC flight simulators have changed…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 28, 2018

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



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

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


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

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

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

Rocksmith – Still Pushing Out the Songs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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Fyrecon this week

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 19, 2018

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

I will be participating in seven events:

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

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

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


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