The Stars My Destination

January 18th, 2020

I can’t believe that it has taken me over five decades to read this book. It’s really quite a gem and I’m obviously pretty late to the party in recognizing its many merits and a few faults but even those are debatable and maybe just a result of the imperfection of our own existences.

I’ve been doing some research on futurism to lay some ground work for a future writing project I am working on. Alfred Bester wrote this book in 1955. Well it was published then. Think about that when you read it. It dares to give some scientific details which is usually a surefire way to date your work after 50 or more years pass. It still manages to stay pretty relevant especially since we went to the moon in what now seems a freak and almost reckless manner compared to the current very restrained space exploration of today.

Still, Bester imagines a solar system with outer resource gathering colonies rebelling against moneyed and aristocratic production inner planets. The book is filled with tropes, (I love tropes, anybody who says that they can write something non-tropy in this day and age is either lying or fooling themselves) some of them almost unheard of at the time and some not. Here is a list but DO NOT LOOK AT THEM until after you have read the book if that is on your list of books to read. SPOILERS abound.

I’m not doing a review. But I will say that I zoomed through it and enjoyed every word. I’m the kind of guy who enjoys 50’s and 60’s story narration, dialogue and pacing. I suspect that I would not survive a stint as a creative writing major. I think the show don’t tell thing has been overplayed so much that the descriptive telling that these kind of writers did is a rare art today.

There is a lot to mine from this work on futurism: AI, cyberlife, psi, human nature and spirituality. Too many topics to list. I finished it at 1am this morning and I am still thinking about it. It doesn’t hurt that at its core is a good revenge story. That turns out to just be the accidental skeleton but I’m still trying to work things out.

As a side note, I’m making great progress on Book 2 of the Pilgrim’s Path. Just did a chapter that I’m very pleased with. Sometimes I wonder if I am writing this story or if I’m just a conduit for it from another storyteller somewhere in another universe. I never had such strong “muse” moments when I was coding and designing. It’s a new experience to get such good shots of dopamine. Sometimes it’s truly exhilirating.

What Am I Reading?

January 12th, 2020

So, if anyone is interested, I have been reading a lot of Jack Vance over the last year or so. I fell in love with his prose many years ago when I was coding Armageddon Empires. I started with The Demon Princes, Planet of Adventure and The Dying Earth. That took me a couple of years. I just re-read The Demon Princes and some of The Dying Earth (Cugel is a hoot) recently because I have been trying to study his dialogue in more detail. I also basically completed most of the short stories and books that had slipped under the radar over the years. Amazon seems to have added a lot of these recently and that made it easy. The Cadwal Chronicles, Miro Hetzel and Maske: Thaery were all wonderfully enjoyable.

I ordered a very old paperback of The Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph but discovered the print was so small my tired old eyes could simply not deal with the strain. I don’t think I will be ordering a print book ever again. What a strange world.

I already have a few chapters written of a space opera/detective noir trilogy that I am going to do once Pilgrim’s Path is finished. But that’s probably a year or more down the road. It’s a way to add some freshness to my world building by stepping out of the Etherflow bubble every once in a while.

I also read some more Wodehouse to see how that had inspired Vance. The PSmith series in particular. It’s not really my cup of tea to be honest although I do enjoy the tempo of the banter in the dialogue. I’m looking for more of these Comedy of Manners type stories. It’s not something that I would want to build an entire story around but it does provide some thought provoking laughs and chuckles.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ve made promises in the past to be a better custodian for this blog but I suspect the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.

Vic

Viral Promotion

January 8th, 2020

First of all a big thanks to all the people who have taken the risk and jumped through the portal on a first novel. You can click on the Look Inside to get a good idea but you never know if it’s going to pay off in the end. Hopefully, you all are having a good time.

If anybody finishes it up and feels like it was worth the time, please leave a review unless you are one of my family members of course. I’ve been told that looks a little fishy.

Also, please post about your experience on goodreads, reddit discusions or your favorite forums. I’ve done a lot of reading on how to go about promoting your book but in this self published category it always comes down to readers and how vocal they are about your work. I’ve emailed a bunch of reviewers and unsurprisingly have not heard anything back. It’s completely understandable though. They get hundreds of requests and I’ve got no pedigree.

I remember back to publishing my first game Armageddon Empires and it was guys like Tom Chick, Kieron Gillen, Bill Harris and the Penny Arcade duo that really helped me survive that first effort to find an audience. There were a bunch of others as well. Apologies if I can’t mention them all. But you get the idea.

If you are a legitimate reviewer and want a kindle copy of the book for review please contact me at info(*at*)crypticcomet(*DOT*)com

Through The Gate We Go

January 6th, 2020

The Amazon Kindle store is remarkably easy to use. I got my formatted book back on Sunday night and Amazon had it up by this morning. Here is the link if you wish to travel through the portal and learn about the war that will determine the future of the pocket universe of Etherflow.

If you enjoy the story, please think about writing a review on Amazon. Same goes for good reads. I need to start promoting this book and that’s really always the hard part. I found that out when making computer games.

What’s next? I have 25k words or so done for book II titled A Desert of Vast Eternities and a pretty good idea where the trilogy is going although I’m apparently what they call a pantser in the trade and I don’t outline the entire narrative. It’s been really fun building this world. A big thanks to all the people who have supported me over the years, my family and all the turn based strategy gamers who put up with clunky tech and UI’s. I hope you all find this story enjoyable.

The Geography of a Pocket Universe

December 31st, 2019

Well not going to make it before the new year but that’s not really a problem. It will be a nice way to kick off the next one. Should be out in the first week or so of January once I get the formatting done.

My upcoming novel titled “Send Us Your Armies” takes place in a reality quite different from our own. I don’t want to spoil the physics of this strange world, as it’s much more fun to discover the details while you read and are forced to piece together the new laws and their implications. But one of the most distinctive features is the fact that the fundamental spatial building block is a three dimensional hexagon. These hexagonal prisms form the nodes of the Etherflow or Aern as some of its inhabitants now call it. Here is a map that I made so that the reader can track the movement of the story’s characters and place the major points of interest. Note that the map is not complete. It only shows the major features that help you place everything in the story. You also don’t really need it. It’s not like reading Churchill’s The River War without a map and having no clue where everything is happening.

Getting Close

December 17th, 2019

I might get this up on the Amazon Kindle Store before the year is out. Copy edits are done. Final proof reading is in progress.

Send Us Your Armies

October 31st, 2019

So it was pointed out to me that the whole secret project thing is sort of lame and a bad way to go about marketing something. I’m still in a state of mild shock that anybody would care enough to read this forgotten blog. But a big Thank You to those who have expressed interest in what I have been up to creatively. And since I am terrible with this type of stuff I’m just going to come out and say that I wrote a book. It’s called How To Fail Until You Succeed. No. Just joking, although that title hits home.

But I did write a sci fi/fantasy book. Mostly fantasy but it starts with a sci fi premise. I remember one of the reviewers for Occult Chronicles saying that the writing wasn’t half bad and since I had done that myself, it encouraged me to approach the project seriously with the idea that I could actually write something interesting. Consecutive design failures in the card board prototype arena had been a bit discouraging.

The whole idea for the book came from a number sequence that kept repeating in my head from as far back as 2004 when I started work on Armageddon Empires. I used to blurt out this phrase “It’s all about 14’s and 44’s” To this day I still have no idea why. or what it means. Please don’t contact mental health services about me. I’m fine. I know that’s what you would expect me to say but really I’m fine.

So I had that disembodied phrase and I also had this odd idea about travel to other “Universes.” I had been watching a lot of youtube videos about eternal inflation, the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and a bunch of Sir Roger Penrose interviews on CCC (conformal cyclic cosmology) and when thinking about this whole other reality thing, it occurred to me that we just assume that if you could travel there, the physics would be just the same. That is to say you would appear there with your body and your brain and all the information stored in your neural connections. The famous Star Trek episode Mirror Mirror runs on this premise.

But what if travel to another universe ended up translating you there but you ended up in a very different form? What if the physics and laws there were completely different?

Thus was born my idea for my debut (and perhaps last) novel titled “Send Us Your Armies.” Here is the flavor text I’m thinking of using to give you an idea of what it’s all about:

(Cue Impressive Music)

Pursued relentlessly across the multiverse, across countless other realities, The Exiles had finally found a place to make their last stand. It was a pocket universe with laws and rules unlike anything they had ever discovered before during their long flight. Their tormentors, the Old Ones, eventually found them as they always did. They pierced the veil of The Exiles’ haven, and the battle was joined.

The Exiles had a plan to secure their new world once and for all, but they needed help to buy enough time to see it to completion; there were so few of them remaining. An artifact was built to look for and summon potential allies from other realities. Encoded within its operation was a desperate plea: Send Us Your Armies.

So it’s at the copy editor right now. I hope to have it up on Amazon in 6 weeks or so. It would make the perfect gift for the holidays for your favorite sci fi or fantasy geek. Not sure about the price. Something in the range of a latte in a high cost of living city.

I Live Again

October 30th, 2019

Beep.

So things didn’t quite work out as planned as you can deduce by my four year hiatus from this blog. Forgotten Lore indeed.

I did make some board game prototypes; five or six actually. I lose count. In the end I realized that things just were not working out as I had hoped. Part of this I think was due to the nature of designing and play testing a physical game vs. a digital. You would think that they would be similar but they are not. The digital games in my indie experience, which means me doing the design and coding and then relying on others to pitch in for art, music and play testing, were like sculpting. You made choices at chipping away at the marble but your process went forward whether or not you broke off the nose. In that case you added a prosthetic nose or carved a new one.

When designing a board game you have so much more flexibility that it’s almost paralyzing. You can cut the nose off and then decide its not a human but an alien with a smelling orifice, add tentacles and then quickly chip those away just for the heck of it. If you don’t like the sculpt then just throw the whole block away and start again. After all it’s just a bunch of cheap card holders, die and a pdf rule book not a code base.

There was also a dirty little secret of mine that came in to play (pun intended). I love collecting games, ogling the pieces, inhaling the rule books, setting them up and fiddling around with them but I don’t actually play them with people all that much. Playing with real people for me has been limited to those lame party games at the beach house every summer. Oh, and Ticket To Ride because my mom loves that game. The Train Game she calls it.

So yeah, there are solitaire games; good ones even. And I kept finding myself compelled to try and make game designs that had strong solitaire possibilities. But in the end I kept coming back to computer games as my preferred way of entertaining myself. You can do things in digital that you simply can’t with card board; set up, ai, visuals. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying one is better than the other. There are strong arguments for playing both in different circumstances. But for me and my misanthropic, hermit ways it became obvious that computer games were the best fit. And once I had decompressed from making games for ten years, I started to actually enjoy them again.

But I did make some board games and I’d like to thing they were fun. The problem was that I kept thinking that they really weren’t all that original. If you’ve looked at the board game world lately you can see that it has exploded. Are there new mechanics left to be invented or cleverly juxtaposed inside a spiffy rule system? Perhaps marginally so but it’s to the point where it almost has to be a gimmick to be novel. Theme is king nowadays.

In the end I realized that while my designs were fun, mostly, they weren’t anything special. And seriously how special can you be moving one piece of card board here or flipping one card there or making you go oh, I want to do that but I have to do this or that other thing might happen. In the meantime you surrender yourself to the enchantment of the game’s thematic appeal and wonder of wonders it still isn’t enough. And even if you like elves with pointy ears and shotguns, it’s still not enough despite the cool new mini sculpts. You end up collecting boxes of cool sculpts that you never paint. And then your wife starts yelling at you to clean out your office but I digress.

So what unpublished treasures did I create? One was a multi player assassin game set in a mythical fantasy city. You can see the prototype in previous post. You had to use cards and attribute stats to roll dice to come up with enough “successes” to beat other numbers that represented mission objectives. Your opponents could mess with you or bluff you. You tried to get enough VP to win when the end game condition triggered.

I let that sit for a while but later came back to it and turned it into a game focused on just two players but really tuned well for one player. It had you try and become guild leader by getting prestige points which you spent in the last mission encounter with the evil guild master. You could buy powerups etc to help beat the last mission. You didn’t always know what you were facing unless you had put some effort into discovering the final boss’s secret abilities so it wasn’t always easy to know what to buy.

I made a space exploration game. You had cards that represented your ship and you put little wooden cubes on them to track fuel, supplies and tactics. You rolled dice to get successes to beat encounter cards and survey planets. You could spend the cubes to add dice or play cards to do so or change the rules (rerolls etc.) It was fun but very fiddly.

I made an Armageddon Empires card game. I tried to capture the whole recon, supply, turtle vs aggressive offense strategy choices that the game has. You could build special project with your labs and then nuke your opponents HQ if you could find it. I created a great recon system for that which I was really proud of. You could see your opponents cards of course but you had to tag them with a recon token to actually attack them. It had something like 350 cards so I realized that it just wasn’t going to work. I spent countless hours in photoshop making the mock ups with the AE art. Even got them printed up. They did look sharp.

I started trying to really come up with a good solitaire game in the mold of Dawn of the Zeds. I had wanted to do an asymmetrical computer game like that but in a fantasy setting but I realized though that my coding days were long gone. But I came up with several designs centered around cards where you built up your kingdom and then an AI opponent with special rules attacked you from all points of the compass; The Demon Horde etc.

There was a design based on Chakra colors and symbol matching that I worked on for ages but never really got into a state that was fun. There were a couple of others too that were just printed paper slips in card holders. The cats chewed them up since they were plastic.

So TLDR: Designing board games didn’t turn out like I thought it would. It ground me down in the end. But it led to something else. Part of the fun of playing and making games is the story generation aspect. And that’s what I found that I really enjoyed. So hopefully in a month or so, I will have something to show anybody who is interested. I won’t say anything more until it’s ready. But it’s NOT a game; card board, digital or otherwise.

I’ve added an email list sign up to this blog if you would like to get notifications of new posts or updates about my new secret project. The address will never be sold or shared with anybody.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Prototype

February 21st, 2015

So if you follow the weather in the US you know that we seem to be having another mini ice age.  Cabin fever has set in big time.  But this isn’t a complaint about productivity or cannibalism.  I decided to spend a little money and move my game prototype from sleeves and paper with text to actual cards and non scrounged up tokens from my own board game tokens.

So I made mock ups of the cards in photoshop and sent them out to Printerstudio.  The cards came back and they were excellent and pretty reasonable as far as price goes.  I bought some wound tokens and other items from MeepleSource and those arrived and work great.

But while I was waiting for the cards and tokens a funny thing happened.  I just sat down and started writing out the rules for the space strategy game that I have had in the back of my mind for a long time.  And like Athena, it just sprung from my head fully formed onto the pages.  So within a day I had the rules.  Within two days I had a prototype of a scavenged pieces up and running.

So now I don’t know what to do.  I’m going to have to choose one to move forward with and it needs to be a winner.

Both games are 2-4 players and have a nice mix of conflict and solo goal based play elements.  What I mean by that is you can choose to interact with other players or try and just play the system and go after victory points.  Figuring out when to do either is part of the strategy puzzle.

One is fantasy themed with swords, magic and a really clever push your luck mechanism.  It’s got some light rpg level up mechanics in which your “character” gets stronger as you acquire weapons, skills, spells, allies etc..  So you have to balance that with actually going after the objectives that will win the game.

The other is a mini space opera game with a tile based sector map, capital ships, attack dice, pd/ew dice and space carrier dice.  It’s got lots of resource cubes and operation card piles that you have to set up and advance to have fleet battles and invade planets.  You can expand and exterminate or just trade and mine exotic resources from planets you explore and claim.  You have 2 secret objective cards that you get from your high command and if achieved give you bonus Victory Points when the end game trigger goes.

That’s just scratching the surface for both games actually.  I’m going to have to pick one to push forward on.  Having researched the production process a bit, the component list for both these games is pretty similar and will be a decent capital investment.  I’m going to keep playing and testing both before I make a decision.

Won’t be anytime soon at least.

Here is a look at what my Fantasy Strategy Card Game looks like.  It’s titled “Assassins of Vance”

Decision Space Analysis

January 22nd, 2015

The phrase “present interesting and meaningful decisions” has become such a mantra in designer speak that I almost get a little annoyed when I hear myself tossing it around or run across it while reading about other designers. In sports you have a worn out phrase “Deliberate practice and meaningful games.”  I’m always trying to be wary of groupthink.  I have run across it so often in the course of my life that I’m always on the look out for it.  The herd can find water together as well as walk off a cliff together.  In the case of “interesting decisions” or “deliberate practice” I think the group has found a solid nugget of wisdom.  The debates on the meaning of “meaningful” (or that other bogeyman called “balance”) sometimes make me wonder about the cliff.

Back on track though. When I studied electrical engineering back in the early 80’s one of my light bulb moments was learning about the Laplace transform. You get a whole new picture of a signal by doing a Laplace transform and going from the time domain to the frequency domain. This idea that you could do a mathematical transformation on something and see hidden data and meaning was astounding to me at the time. I’ve tried to apply the concept wherever I can. So with a game design I like to transform it into the decision domain or space and see what it looks like.  I don’t use integral calculus of course but I try to draw out a map of all the decisions in the game and how they interact.  Often it starts out like a simple flow chart or even just a list.  But if you get creative you can work the elements around visually to help figure out how the decisions interconnect.  This can also help you figure out whether decisions are interesting or meaningful.

Key Decisions for my board game

Play positive Guild Card to Mission that I want to win OR play negative Guild Card to Mission that I want to deny opponent

Decide Strategy for round based on my resources/Influence Points (IP) versus opponents’ resources/IP

Decide on use of Interrupt Text on any Guild Cards I have versus other useful text on cards i.e Guild Cards have split text options

Choose 2 of 8 options for my turn during round of turns (8 rounds total for 2 or 4 player game)

If need to rebuild resource base then decide on

1) visit  guild healer

2) take guild stipend

3) buy item card

4) buy spell card

5) charge a spell card

6) take secret objective cards

7) play guild card for “Guild Event”

8.  Attempt Mission Contract card to earn Influence Points then decide which mission

Decide on use of Guild cards, Item cards, Skill cards, Spell cards and Fate Tokens to accomplish challenges on sequential stages of mission challenge track

Decide which of the three face up challenge cards to attempt for each stage of the mission contract card.

Decide on how many wounds you can afford to take while attempting mission contract card challenges.

Decide on how far to push luck in mission/Abort Mission. i.e. multiple reward levels

Opponents’ Turn Decisions

Decide on use of Guild Cards with Interrupt Actions

Post Turn Decisions/Influence Bidding Phase

Based on gold stockpile (mostly from stipend and mission rewards) decide on bidding strategy for number of influence card auctions and opponents wealth/need for IP

Bid on Influence Cards based on need of IP, mission type matches to accomplished mission contracts and opponents’ positions