Archive for the ‘Project Updates’ Category

Hidden Histories, Secret Wars, Shadow Class Conflicts

Sunday, 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.

Meet The New Boss,

Sunday, 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.

Narrative Geography

Friday, 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

Sunday, 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.

What Am I Reading?

Sunday, 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

Send Us Your Armies

Thursday, 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

Wednesday, 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.

Decision Space Analysis

Thursday, 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

New Year, New Direction

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

Happy New Year!

I’ve been selling computer games for over 7 years and it’s been a great ride.  Selling games directly from this website has been an increasingly difficult task. My programming skills are so tied to an aging and abandoned development platform that making even a niche title like my previous games is a dubious proposition at best.  So I’m leaving the digital space and moving over to the card board arena where I hope my design skills can shine.

It’s a natural transition since my games have all been very board game like.  I hope that has been part of their charm. I will naturally continue to support all my customers with tech support and downloads of lost purchases. And I will continue to sell my digital games and support them as well for as long as they keep running.  God Bless windows compatibility mode. 🙂

But my next game will be a board game and I will have come full circle.  About 10 years ago I spent large chunks of my day packing and shipping physical goods.  I hope to discover that a lot of progress has been made in the logistics of processing and shipping physical goods.  I know that my garage can’t store them.

I have a working prototype of a 2-4 player game that involves players trying to accumulate enough “influence” points to win the game.  The theme is a fantasy setting set in a fictitious city of splendor named Vance. I’ll reveal a lot more about the theme and mechanics as things progress. In general it is played in rounds with each player choosing 2 of 7 possible actions.  It involves a card and dice system, screw you cards played face down and an end of round secret bidding phase for important cards from a special deck.  The currency is gold coins as befits the fantasy setting.

I’m really proud of the design and I hope that my old customers from my computer games will give it a try when it’s available.  In a few months I should have enough materials to get an announcement out and an entry up on Board Game Geek and my Cryptic Comet website as well.

I’m also going to try and keep this blog updated with information on the design process for this game as well as an occasional general game design entry.  My new year’s resolution is to do 1 entry a week so hopefully that will work out better than my diet resolution.

Best,

Vic

The Black Company

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

I’ve started reading some again just for fun. I will go on binges and then suddenly not pick up any fiction for months. I have to say that I am really enjoying Glen Cook’s Chronicles of the Black Company. I’m up to book six (bypassing The Silver Spike) Bleak Seasons. It’s really great stuff and Lady (along with Croaker) is one of my all time favorite characters. I’ve got to figure a way to sneak the name Dorotea Senjak into one of my next games as a homage. If you find that you like Cook’s work then I would also recommend “The Dragon Never Sleeps” which I read last year and which gave me the idea to try out some of his other books. It’s sci-fi and a great read.

I’ll have some development news soon. It’s been a bit of a rough summer but I am making slow but steady progress on multiple projects. The free mini-expansion pack for SI has it’s own code base now and it will be version 1.07. I’m toying with calling it Solium Infernum: Rectification. I’m not sure when I will have it ready. Most likely it will be early next year. I’ve got to get some other work out to generate some more revenue and once that’s on track I’ll be able to advance at a better pace on that front.