On the cutting room floor

May 14th, 2020

I came across this video today of Kurt Russell and John Carpenter commentating on the legendary 10 or so minute deleted prologue scene to Escape From New York. It’s well worth your time and their banter is really fun to listen to.

Carpenter makes a good point that this entire scene was dropped because it not only confused the audience but more importantly, it takes some of the mystery off of Snake Pliskin’s dark anti-hero aura. It humanizes him too much as well. Watch the clip and you will see why.

I have dropped design elements from my games in the past but mostly because they were too complex or too expensive to get right. So far I haven’t really dropped that many story elements from the Pilgrim’s Path series. The one big one wasn’t really dropped as much as it morphed from one thing into another. Originally I was going to have a major subplot ending with a Yueh-like betrayel (Dune) but I decided to remove that because I wanted some characters go in different directions.

I also realized that the conflict I had set up between The Council and The Hegemon was not really conducive to such types of espionage and backstabbing. The nodes of the Council are difficult to penetrate since all commerce, traffic and interaction gets cut off. The Council raids through some unprotected slip points and resonance points but mostly in treacherous places like The Shards. Maintaining an intelligence network and doing their infiltration and subversion works with targets that are unprepared or naive (Timathur and Privil’s Landing) but not against those who recognize the danger.

Anyway, the video is really interesting as is the commentary. 1981 Carpenter looking at 1997 New York is fascinating in its own right. The Atlanta subway station would still make a pretty good location for filming any police state totalitarian nightmare future.

QT3

May 8th, 2020

The best little semi secret place to enjoy games discussion.

I found this game talk gin joint dive way back before 2000 and stopped lurking in 2003. It’s like a combination of the Cheer’s bar and the Star Wars cantina in Mos Eisley. Tom Chick pretty much runs the place but he doesn’t really tend the bar. He’s off in a dark corner holding a shadow court of reviews, podcasts and streams with a witty and sarcastic style backed up by some serious intellectual heft. He’s the thinking gamer’s reviewer. At least that’s how I have always seen it.

Anyway, I note this because a patron (It wasn’t me but thanks to whoever it was) of QT3 requested a re-review type look at my second game Solium Infernum which dates back to 2010 I think. Lots of water under the bridge so it’s hard to remember. You can read it here:

Tom gives it two stars which if you are familiar with the Chick Scale, not to be confused with the Chick Parabola, you know that is a solid grade.

Hidden Histories, Secret Wars, Shadow Class Conflicts

April 19th, 2020

I’ve been doing some deep research on a sci fi series of books that I want to write after I finish The Pilgrims Path trilogy. I am almost done with Book II and just reached the 105k word mark. The plot threads just need to be stitched together and then the hard work starts of going over and over it.

But back to deep research. I am setting this new series 1,500 or so years in the future and the fate of AI and humanity plays a big part in the back story. I have been watching a bunch of videos on this and related subjects and I have a deep and abiding interest in systems theory and related topics. I stumbled on this recent video and it’s an eye opener. There are a lot of references that you will need to look up. Some you won’t. My focus has been on “Institutions” and the role that they will play in our future.

Always ask who they are, what they want to say, what they want you to believe, do they believe what they are saying, what to they want to gain, what do they have to lose?

It’s a very interesting interview on so many levels.

A little boiler plate disclaimer here: The views are not necessarily my own nor do they represent my institution, and I don’t have an institution.

Everyday Can’t Be Christmas

March 24th, 2020

I don’t think I really understood the lesson of this Elmo movie until now.

Greatest Mind on the Planet

March 16th, 2020

If they had a vote right now, I would give it to Roger Penrose. In my mind, it’s not even a close contest. This video came out recently that reminded me why I enjoy anything Roger Penrose has to say.

If you are not familiar with his idea of CCC – Conformal Cyclic Cosmology then do yourself a favor and read up about it. For me it was a mind blowing concept that satisfied my conviction that everything just repeats itself over and over again in a near infinite number of patterns. Here is a link to a paper on CCC.

https://accelconf.web.cern.ch/AccelConf/e06/PAPERS/THESPA01.PDF

There is also a youtube channel that has a wonderful series of well done videos on the idea including interviews with a lot of famous cosmologists and physicists. The series is called “Before The Big Bang.” Here is a play list. Go to the first episode to start from the very beginning. It’s well worth the time.

Thinking Cosmologically

March 14th, 2020

Like a lot of us, I’ve always been fascinated by the some of the big questions like why something rather than nothing? Or Where does space end? Or When did time begin?

Growing up you read about the big bang. Maybe you heard something about inflation. You probably heard something about quantum mechanics and exotic subatomic particles and maybe something crazy called string theory.

This mini passion started out way back when I was getting my B.S. in Electrical Engineering. I had really not liked the two physics courses that I had to take. They were both calculus based. The first one was basically Newtonian; so blocks and friction and velocity vectors and all that jazz. The second was circuits and basic electro-magnetism. I took a more indepth course later on that and I wish I had appreciated it more. I actually worked with Maxwell’s field equations but never really understood their beauty. It was only much later with the help of a Youtube channel that I stood in awe.

There was a requirement for a modern physics class that I put off until my senior year. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable of my 5 years. I took an extra year to get a double degree with the other being in German and Russian, but that is another story.

The Lorentz transformations are amazing things. I wish I could tell you that I fully comprehended the math at the time but so much of the pedagogy was and is today what you call “Pump and Dump.” But the topics included what was known at the time in the mid 80s and it was mind blowing. Since then we have basically discovered what Ygritte kept telling Jon Snow. “We know nothing.” Dark Energy and Dark Matter were still on the horizon. We have different values for expansion depending on how you measure it that are very troubling. There are hints that reality is not what we think it is although “spooky interaction at a distance” should have been a good warning.

It used to be that I would read a book to investigate all these strange and exciting things. Now I just use Youtube. All this is to say that the bits and pieces that I have acquired over the last five and a half or so decades has made me an expert enough to be dangerous. I hope that doesn’t show too much in the Trilogy that I am writing because the backstory is a fantasy trope that tries to cloak itself in some of the current ideas in modern cosmology. One of the most unsettling ones is Eternal Inflation or the multiverse/bubble universes concept. I’d like to think that the Etherflow (Aern) might be some rare instance of this where all the variables and constants are fined tuned to create its nodescape.

This blog post was prompted because I just watched an episode of Closer To the Truth that I have been enjoying for a long time. If you are into cosmology and deep thoughts about the hows and whys of existence then you should check it out. You don’t need any math but a good background in the big ideas is helpful.

Meet The New Boss,

March 8th, 2020

Same as the old boss. The self publishing industry is really not that much different than the indie games world. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. No, I use the Who-ism to refer to the changing landscape in media streaming/consumption. It used to be that the “networks” were the gatekeepers. Then the media companies built their empires: cable tv, satalite tv, etc. I cut the cord a few years ago tired of having to pay for thousands (a small exaggeration) of channels that I didn’t care about while some of the ones I did had Blazing Saddles level of gun to head negotiations about what they were worth and where they would go.

At first everything seemed like a bargain. Sling TV and Sony Station were both great values for what they offered and very configurable. We had Amazon Prime and Netflix. Things seemed pretty good.

Stuff started getting added on. Hulu or HBO to watch that show that went into a death spiral. Man those commercials are annoying watching the same one over and over for 5 minutes to see this or that anime or tv show but it’s only a wafer thin mint. Want to watch that obscure Brit murder mystery? That will be another $6.99.

The last straw came when the “cheap” packages bumped their rates up this winter. It was in order to provide me the BEST possible programming and entertainment improvements. I’m not even watching that much and the media scape is saturated with 1 star fare that I peruse late at night looking for a mindless laugh. My kids tease me because my entertainment seems to be “searching” for “1 star” stuff and not actually watching it.

So I just cut the thing that let me cut the cable. And I’m going to make some hard choices about all these micro subscriptions to watch that one series that’s any good on channels full of badness. The games industry is plagued with this too. I don’t mind paying for more content mind you, especially for games I love and spend countless hours on. Just don’t engineer it to be a repulsive loot box thing.

I laughed every time Kurt Vonnegut wrote “and so it goes.” and that’s the type of feeling I’m getting right now.

Anyway, just a rant I wanted to get out. Book Two of the Pilgrims Path trilogy to be titled “A Desert of Vast Eternities” is at the 82k word point. Should end up the same size as Book 1 at about 115k. It will need a few story passes once its done but I generally like where it is at right now.

Not An Auspicious Omen

February 26th, 2020

So I entered a contest to win a free copy of the digital version of Gloomhaven on Steam. It seemed like a cinch. There were only 89 contestants in total and the top 10 vote getters would get a free game.

I got 1 vote.

To be honest things didn’t go well from the start. The task was to create a Road Event card for the game in a word document or some other similar format and upload it to their website. I came up with what I thought was a good one. Even did some research to make sure the options for the player adhered to the rules because some of my ideas were a little experimental.

But the real problem was that the voting wasn’t based on my actual card but on a text blurb that you submitted at the same time. In true Homer Simpson fashion I didn’t realize that. I did put up an extremely lazy description figuring surely my true genius would be recognized by those who then perused the card text itself. Nope.

Here was my admittedly haphazard entry:

The Loathly Lady

From the Sir Gawain era stories. Travelers come upon an ugly hag who is not really what she seems

And here was the top entry with 24 votes:

A DOWNED TRAVELER

Upon approaching a clearing you see someone sitting hunched beneath a tree. He beckons you over for help.

Without actually reading the text on the proposed card how could anybody tell if one was better than the other? Surely their staff could recognize my ability better than a bunch of game playing peasants and a cabal of their friends. I ALMOST published a board game. That has to count for something. Right? In the immortal words of Karl Wofschtagg: “This is an outrage.”

But seriously, I wish the winners well. Here is my entire entry. If I had know for certain it would be for just the physical game and not the digital I was going to work in more swap with the player to your left mechanics to be a real fun time. You would need to play test that though.

Just for the record, I’m not a very good Gloomhaven player. I don’t even own the physical game and I’m not well versed in the rules. It’s the same story for all my board game excursion nowadays. I watch a lot of youtube videos of other people playing and like to read over the rules. For a hermit like me, that’s a lot more convenient.

The Loathly Lady

You are traveling down a lonely stretch of road when you run into a patch of dense fog. Suddenly, you hear singing off to the side of the road. Entranced by the strange melody lilting on the wind you leave the road to investigate.

The mist becomes even more dense as you move toward the source of the siren-like song. You see something glowing just a short distance ahead and then the fog lifts; you find yourself in a clearing.

There is a grotesquely ugly “loathly lady” sitting on a log stirring a small pot over a fire with a large wooden spoon. You shudder in revulsion but can only think, Dear God what is that thing.

Then you get a whiff of whatever is in the pot. It makes your stomach turn. Laying on the ground at her feet is a small wooden alms bowl. You see the flash of gold coins laying within.

 “I’ve been waiting for you. Won’t you join me for some stew? You can pay with a kiss or a piece of gold.”

Option A: Each player gives a kiss to the loathly lady.

Option B: Pay a single gold piece each and consume a bowl of stew.

Option C: Steal the gold that is lying in the bowl and run.

Option D: Bow politely, then run for your life.

A. How bad could it be. You each close your eyes and give the loathly lady a peck on the lips. You taste peppermint. Brute: Gain 3 XP, Scoundrel: Gain Invisible for next 3 rounds, Cragheart: Gain Strength for next 3 rounds. Tinkerer: Gain a random item design. All Others: Heal 2.

B. You all gobble down the stew. Then you feel weird. Each player swaps a random ability card with the player on their left for the next scenario.

C. You take the money and run. You hear a voice singing softly behind you. Run, run as fast as you can. You won’t escape me, that’s not in my plans. Each player is cursed and gains 1 gold piece.

D. You careen wildly through the enshrouding mist bumping off trees and rocks. Eventually you all reach the road and begin laughing hysterically. No Effect

Narrative Geography

February 21st, 2020

First things first. I’m having an amazon countdown sale on Send Us Your Armies until 26 Feb 20. You can grab it for 0.99. Please leave a review if you like it. It would be really appreciated.

Second things second. I’m making good progress on Book 2 titled A Desert of Vast Eternities. I’m aiming for a May-ish release but there is a lot still to do. No promises but things are going well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how intricately geography and stage/scene settings are tied into a story. It seems pretty obvious when you think about it, but I also find it surprising just how simple the trip tik can be.

Take for example Star Wars. Not all the junk ones but the real one, the first one. No, not Jar Jar’s great adventure. The one that I went and saw 13 times as a twelve year old. It always astounds me that the geography goes something like this:

Tatooine>Falcon in space>Death Star>Yavin

Sure there are some sub locations and you get the Death Star strategy session meetings with lack of faith demonstrations but it’s all one straight line from point A to point B. There is a very minor split up in the death star escape but that’s about it. And they are all on the Death Star together.

Take a look at something like the Lord of the Rings. (Note: I’m not an aficionado and this is from mostly memory so I might not get this completely right. Please do not harm me for this attempt if you belong to some secret Tolkien society.) It goes Shire>Old Forest>Bree>Open Country Flight From Nazgul>Rivendell>Moria>Galadriel>Ambush> split up> etc.

If you draw it out it’s a line on the map and it branches off into some separate tracks after the orc ambush where the fellowship is scattered but they all keep pressing on in various ways to Mt. Doom or the gates of Mordor. It’s all very linear in direction. No loop backs or hubs or nodes.

Contrast that with something that stays mostly in one location and makes minor excursions out and back. I call it the hub. Dresden Files comes to mind (Peace Talks out soon Yes!) Chicago is the hub and Harry ventures out to different POI’s within Chicago (or its suburbs) and maybe occasionally goes on a road trip to the Nevernever or Arctis Tor or a Red Court pyramid or a God’s treasure vault. Usually this happens at the end when all the plot lines come together. But geographically Chicago is the hub.

I’ve started trying to break my favorite books down just by geographical setting and the patterns that are formed. It’s fun sometimes to just graph them out and see the lines, loops and branches. It gives you a different perspective on the narrative. None of this is ground breaking stuff of course but I just thought I would point it out because it’s fun to think about.

Book 2 has a symmetric branch map that follows Xodd on one path and Pilgrim on the other. I won’t spoil anything more though.

The Scourge of God

January 26th, 2020

The phrase is most closely associated with Attila the Hun but Ghengis Khan and his Mongol hordes were called something similar to that. Many in Khwarezmia thought he was a form of divine punishment on a corrupt Shah. I am reading this book Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy by Frank McLynn. I have to say that I have learned a lot. My knowledge of Mongol history was fragmented. This book put a lot of the pieces into place and did it with a very enjoyable narrative style. There is some attempt to analyze, theorize and compare and make some judgments that even the author acknowledges are up for debate or unverifiable short of time travel.

It was very interesting though to see once again just how illusionary what we think “The Truth” is about anything in the past or for that matter the present. The primary sources for much of the “facts” that we “know” about Mongol history come from The Secret Histories compiled by multiple unidentifiable Mongols with axes to grind and narratives to nurture and contemporary (broadly interpreted) accounts by such writers as Rashid Al Din, a Persian, and somebody who might have a very different perspective given the events. But even Rashid Al Din has some interesting preferences and grudges on display that don’t always correlate with expectations. This is what I have read and not the actually primary sources from Al Din.

But I only mention this because when I read non-fiction I try and look for interesting ideas, thoughts and scenes that I can use to fire my imagination or somehow reflect into my fiction. There was a scene that McLynn described during the final stages of the Mongol invasion of the Jin Empire in what is now Northern China that left me in a strange stupor. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The situation is in so many ways alien to my existence on this earth. I’ve led a semi sheltered and fortunate life so that’s not saying much I guess. But intellectually I thought the incident was striking.

I wish I could qoute it but its on my kindle. I goes something like this. The Mongols had a very solid reputation for killing every living man, women and child in a beseiged city if there was any resistance offered. Sometimes even if the gates were opened and tribute offered immediately, they still sacked the place and murdered all its inhabitants if their blood was up because they had taken losses or a favorite of the Khan had been killed in battle. Often a Peace Faction inside a city would come to power and surrender to the Mongols after “negotiations.” The citizens would be marched out into the fields and then slaughtered. This happened on so many occasions that one has to wonder whether it was hopeless self deception or a lack of good communication between cities. You would think the word would get around. It probably did but humans will deceive themselves I guess. We are all the heroes in our own stories.

The final campaign in Jin was just as brutal as anywhere else, and the population density made it perhaps even more so. There was a city that like many other held out. Many chose to fight to the bitter end. The Mongols had become very good at siege warfare by this time by ironically using Jin engineers. Finally starving and unable to hold out any longer the garrison negotiated their own deaths. What is fascinating is that one rather well known Jin General (I wish I could find his name but I can’t locate the exact passage) went to surrender to the Khan personally. He knew he would be executed but his wish was to behold the famous general Subutai before he died. He wanted to look upon the Mongol legend in person.

This has the makings of a great story of two heroes showing each other mutual respect in a bleak and brutal world. The reality of the encounter was anything but if the “sources” are to be believed. The Jin general was brought before Subutai and the Mongol high command including the Khan and he praised his enemies and Subutai in particular. Subutai was disinterested and yawned throughout the homage and the Jin general was then unceremoniously led out of the tent and beheaded. That pretty much sums up the Mongols though. They weren’t necessarily any more morally deficient than their contemporaries (some even argue less so, but personally I think such debate is pointless) but they were clinically efficient on a level that was exponentially greater than that of their opponents.