The Gift of Hadrborg

TBSW

Today marks the launch of the Banner Saga: Warbands Kickstarter! Based on the hit game created by Stoic Studio, the board game continues combining tactical skirmishes with long term resource management to survive. And the even more incredible news is that, within about 30 minutes, the KickStarter has already been entirely funded.

Of interest to readers out there is that my first novel, The Gift of Hadrborg, is an add-on available to anyone who joins the funding. Inspired by The Banner Saga: Factions, the story takes place before the events of the first game and tells the tale of Eirik and the woes of a city suffering from crime and strife.

The Gift of Hadrborg

In the troubled city of Strand, the City Watch and Governor’s Guard struggle to fend off the criminal empires who rule their streets. Between the corruption, smuggling, underground slaving, mass larceny and a rebellious group attempting to usurp the throne, Guardsman Eirik’s life shows no signs of getting any easier.

Yet the arrival of group seeking a stolen artifact heralds a coming disaster for the already rotten city. Uncertain if he can trust his own people, Eirik has little choice but to throw in his lot with two enigmatic varl and a country boy. Toss in a conman seeking vengeance and a slave-turned-bodyguard with an elusive agenda, and Eirik has his work cut out for him.

But even if his questionable allies and the hordes of eager thugs don’t kill him, the plot they discover threatens to rip Strand apart. And may destroy the fragile varl-human alliance that maintains the peace with their giant neighbors in the north…

The Gift of Hadrborg is an action-packed prequel novel to Stoic Studio’s critically acclaimed The Banner Saga Part 1, which was funded through Kickstarter to wild success.

A viking-fantasy meets crime thriller, The Gift of Hadrborg will help satiate story-lovers whether or not they’re salivating for the next installment of The Banner Saga series! But no matter what, check out the KickStarter. Whether you love great games or stories (or both), Stoic Studio, VS Evil and Megacon Games have got you covered!

Battletech Memories and Favorites

AtlasThe Battletech Kickstarter is doing very well, so it seems a good time to discuss the nostalgia consuming my psyche. I admire how Harebrained Schemes has been stirring fan conversations, either to gather metrics for game design (preferred mechs, ideas for mission designs) or just to generate PR buzz or maybe just for fun. But it’s effective and has gotten fans stoked.

I guess the best way to kick off is by telling a secret. Battletech played a major role in inspiring me to become a writer.

I’m serious. My first introduction to the Battletech Universe was through Mechwarrior 2. I procured the game on a whim, after having scored a fine report card and earning a reward from my parents.

While browsing PC games, a tough decision was laid before me. I very nearly took home a copy of Crusader: No Remorse. In the end, the classic mech sim won out. That very night I installed and played through a training mission. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to walk. However, I discovered that by shifting left and right, I inched forward just a little bit.

You read that correctly. I penguin walked my mech to my very first objective.

Two minutes of studying the instruction manual later I discovered this nifty thing called “throttle.” Before I knew it, my Firemoth was rushing from Alpha to Bravo, actually completing the laundry list of goals to accomplish. Everything after that was smooth sailing.

Until I accidentally fired a potshot at my training commander.

One violent death later and I was hooked. The game had no play timer that I knew about, but hundreds of hours of my childhood were invested playing and replaying trial missions and beating both campaigns inside and out.

Decision at Thunder RiftAs I progressed, I spent some time trying to understand the greater conflict between Clans Wolf and Jade Falcon and the universe as a whole. Later, while at the local bookstore, I noticed a connection between Mechwarrior and Battletech. That’s when I received my first Battletech novel, Decision at Thunder Rift.

For the audience members who haven’t read it, the book revolves around young Grayson Death Carlyle, son of the leader of Carlyle’s Commandos. While stationed on the desert planet of Trellwan, a bandit ambush cost Grayson his father, his unit and his inheritance.

Grayson survives, but is left stranded on a planet that has become hostile. However, after jumping into a battle between the bandits and the local militia, Grayson manages to turn his luck around and convince Trellwan’s government to set up their own Battlemech lance. Yet before he can finish off the bandits, Grayson is plunged into a greater political plot that threatens his home nation.

As a thirteen year old kid, this novel blew my mind. William H. Keith Jr did an amazing job of grabbing the reader’s attention regardless of their age and throwing them into the adventures, political intrigue and battles of the 31st century.

And as if it wasn’t awesome enough, the sequel Mercenary’s Star was even better. The kind of perfect guerrilla war story that was rife with conflict, challenges and betrayals. These tales helped set me down the path of trying to polish my writing craft on online message boards. Sometimes I produced fan fiction, and sometimes it was original pieces. Mechwarrior was a ton of fun, but it was Keith’s awesome novels that made me want to become a scribe in my own right. 

Back to the games themselves. Not long after Mechwarrior 2 came the Ghost Bear’s Legacy expansion, followed by my absolute favorite entry of the entire franchise, Mechwarrior Mercenaries. It was in this title that I developed a preference for medium battlemechs. They possess very good speed, can absorb some punishment and usually provide just enough firepower to legitimately threaten far-end heavies and assault mechs.

And as Mercenaries taught me, they’re a good price. Everything I thought I learned about being a Mechwarrior was turned upon its head once I learned to manage the flow of C-Bills. Before, the only punishment for using missiles and ballistic weapons was simply a little less ammunition with which to complete that mission. But the addition of financial considerations make me consider the price of every shot and every expenditure. And rewarded me with savings for preferring energy weapons.

For that reason, I have to give two mechs which I consider my favorites.

CenturionThe first is the Crab. I first piloted this mech during a campaign between rebel forces and House Kurita during Mechwarrior Mercenaries. The Crab’s exclusive focus on energy weapons, including two useful large lasers, helped me to outlast the competition and saved money in the long run. For the attrition-minded, you just can’t beat the value of a Crab piloted by a skilled mechwarrior.

The second must be the classic Centurion. Sure, I could easily list the Shadow Hawk, Wolverine or Griffin, all respected for their well-rounded designs. But while the trio were jack-of-all-trade types, the Centurion knew its role; peppering foes from afar and preferring to outgun over outrun the competition. When paired with other mechs, it did a great job at fire support. On its own, a strong raider.

The further along the Kickstarter gets, the more convinced I am that it’s the game I didn’t even know I wanted until now. All the elements of Mechwarrior Mercenaries with the tactical considerations of Mech Commander. A persistent lance, missions throughout the entire Inner Sphere and hopefully multiplayer arena battles, all set in the era of classic Battletech. 2017 never seemed so far away.

Spinal Troubles Again & Friday the 13th KickStarter

fridaythe13ththegameA new KickStarter is available for none other than Friday the 13th, an officially licensed multi-player game with 1 vs 7 asymmetrical slasher action!

The game is due out for the XBox One, Playstation 4 and PC. Funding is already nearing 50% after only two days. Horror fans unite!

As usual, once one starts getting ahead, life knocks them down again.

For two nights in a row, I stayed up late trying to get a handle around Spring programming, a framework used primarily with Java to develop web servers. I had to explain to the misses that the reason for burning the midnight oil was due to a condition called “nerd raging.” That is, persistent study and trial-and-error to achieve deserved results, sometimes beyond what’s healthy.

Well, between reduced sleep and generally avoiding the gym, I have managed to again pinch a nerve. My guess is T9, which differs from the previous incident near my neck.

dancing skeletonThe first night I spent primarily in bed, reading for a few hours before going to sleep around 10 p.m. But sleep was difficult due to pain. Remaining on my back or belly is fine, but I usually shift to my side at night, and the pain flares. I woke up and took a very hot bath to reduce the agony.

The worst part about herniated discs has to be trying to block out the pain during the day to day. Sometimes you’re fine and feel nothing. Other times, the slightest motion is all it takes to set off the scratching of unseen hooks throughout one’s entire back. The resulting grouchiness* and anti-social tendencies are just an attempt to preserve relationships lest others think the frustration of enduring is meant towards them.

According to the Mayo Clinic, 9 out of 10 herniated discs usually heal on their own with conservative treatment. However, a caveat is that while bed rest is ideal for the first day or so, those inflicted should actually try to increase their exercise and movements to return to normal.

I used this as an excuse to try something I believe would be ideal to my condition. Tai Chi.

I’d been wanting to get back into martial arts for a while. I took some forms of Karate in college and then some classes of Tae Kwon Do during the summers. Tai Chi is remarkably different. The interesting thing about the style is that the health and exercise components seem to have outpaced the self-defense traits. To most people, the application of Tai Chi as a martial art is secondary aspect. Furthermore, Tai Chi’s slow movements make it accessible even to the infirm.

There are actually a few videos available on Youtube with beginner lessons worth exploring. During the introduction of the lesson I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder if many of the movements the instructor used were designed more towards helping him combat his arthritis, which he explained he developed not long after medical school. Because of Tai Chi’s modern application towards health, I couldn’t help but ponder about instructors who researched techniques and movements to help combat spinal stress.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if there might not be some kind of Tai Chi service or database that could help people custom tailor their workouts to help alleviate particular health issues. To be effective however, I’d suppose that research would need to be performed to determine which forms, movements and motions are proven to have an impact against certain conditions. Getting my head around how to measure such metrics is a considerable task.

I keep wanting to add more about this but also constantly shove my foot in my mouth. Maybe I’ll check Netflix for a series on Tai Chi tomorrow…

*–This applies to regular folks. I however, am always grouchy.

The Face of the Future

Nothing is really going on, and that’s a good thing.

The last three weekends I had have been entirely absorbed by other events. The latest was a trip to Miami Beach. Although relaxing, my inner introvert badly needs time away from people. I desperately want to think, ponder and create.

I completely missed my last submission window. Again. The story is there and the development and pacing thus far are good. However, I decided to give up when I realized how cramped a 6,000 word limit was going to be. Normally, one can speak to editors and so on to go beyond this limit… provided the tale is spellbinding and there’s no expectation of pay beyond the word count maximum. But there was so little time to await an answer. And I had gone through 3,500 words just to ready the complexities of the main plot.

The next few months have a few projects:

  • Finish writing and editing all existing drafts to “stay hot” and keep a collection ready for future submission windows.
  • Continue to develop the business website and get it operational by the turn of the year.
  • Finish Outliers Volume 2.
  • Complete the synopsis and first chapters for the next novel, an original.
  • Begin preparing the KickStarter package.

Yeah, you read that last one correctly.

A friend and I have been discussing it. I’ve been studying successful KickStarters and have a good sense of what we’ll need to present in order to succeed. The secret I’ve noticed is that the amount of effort put into the KickStarter itself is frequently a good indication of the project runner’s commitment to the project.

A lot of thought has to go into devising a good KickStarter. The project itself has to show initiative and polish. The reward tiers have to be fair to both parties; not too little as to disappoint potential funders and not too much as to overburden the project runners and put the project at risk. We have to have a voice and a good idea, and our ship should be waterproof before hitting the ocean.

One point that a friend of mine has indicated is that many successful KickStarters are actually, effectively, finished. Manuel and I have been in discussion of what to do for this and decided to try producing at least one example of the end product before showcasing the project. Having a “prototype” can:

  1. Prove whether or not we can do it. And whichever tools could we use to speed up or make it possible.
  2. Show how long it took to make a single prototype under less-than-optimal conditions (we’ve never done this particular type of work before, we had no outside funding, etc.)
  3. Alleviate concerns raised about our experience for a KickStarter. When project runners explain, “This is all new to us,” it doesn’t instill confidence in backers. But a combination of relate-able and direct experience will ease backer concerns even if this is our first KickStarter.

After some discussion today, we have the general story outline down for the first portion. So sometime soon I’ll sit down and work on the actual manuscript.

Battletech KickStarter

BATTLETECH_04_HBS

During my teenage years I was a considerable fan of the Battletech universe. To this day, I still have several books including technical readouts and novels by Michael A. Stackpole, William H. Keith Jr and Robert Thurston, as well as a small collection of the tabletop miniatures. If I dig, I might even find several hard copies of the MechWarrior game series.

So when I heard the news about Harebrained Schemes putting together a new KickStarter for a fresh Battletech title, I wanted to take some time to dissect the news. Truth be, this seems to be a situation where KickStarter is the absolute safest approach to gauging consumer interest. More on this in a moment.

For newcomers, Battletech is a war game that puts players on the 31st century battlefield, filled with walking tanks known as Battlemechs. The background goes that a star-settled humanity was united by the Star League, and held together by five Great Houses in the territory around Terra known as the “Inner Sphere.” When the ruling Star Lord (not Peter Quill) and his family were assassinated, the Star League army slew his usurper and disappeared into the unexplored Periphery territories. Left with their private armies, the five Great Houses each declared themselves the new Star Lord and sought to claim the Inner Sphere as their own.

techreadoutThis began a series of conflicts known as the Succession Wars. Several centuries later, the first couple of wars have knocked humanity down a peg or two and have truly desensitized our species to the violence.

Liberal use of nuclear weapons and heavy targeting of science and production centers has sent our technology backwards. As a result, several technology preserved agreements even as the battles and raids continue.

Eventually the Star League army returns, reformed as the Clans. A more technologically advanced and warrior-derived society, they move to seize control of the Inner Sphere. This results in a massive, fragile alliance between the Houses, the effects of which change the political landscape forever.

In the games, players join a side and engage in a variety of machines such as assassinations, protecting or invading territory, scouting or escaping. Depending on the nature of the title, players can pilot the machines themselves simulator style, command lances or companies and/or order them about much like a real time strategy game with very limited resources. The titles with the “mercenaries” suffix also feature a great deal of economic management, giving incentive to avoid damage and minimize ammunition expenditures to keep the C-bill revenues in the black.

Originally created and owned by FASA Corporation, Battletech has faced hardships from its very conception. The earliest fourteen designs were heavily based off of several anime series, and the legal rights came under challenge from Harmony Gold. These now “unseen” designs are gone, but in their place are hundreds of new, original mech designs.

The problems didn’t end there though. FASA Corporation closed its doors in 2001, and the rights to various projects shuffled about for sometime. The franchise was acquired by WizKids, and then by Topps only three years later. The video games have gone through several publishers, including MicroProse and Microsoft. Recently two new games were released, the free-to-play MechWarrior Online from Piranha Games and MechWarrior Tactics whose publisher has filed for bankruptcy.

successionwarsFor better or worse, Battletech separates itself from many similar board top properties with its detailed history, that has been expanded upon for more than two decades. This on-going history can be an impressive barrier-to-entry for potential new fans. While Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 thrive in a universe of ignorance, doubt, deniability and massiveness, no historic event happens in Battletech that isn’t somehow recorded and important.

Clans and factions too have been and will be destroyed, such as the enigmatic Clan Wolverine who may have become the Minnesota Tribe, and Clan Smoke Jaguar who was the victim of the massive The Twilight of the Clans book series. Major political figures have been born, raised and die, though the reasons range from battles and assassinations to old fashioned age and cancer. 

My faith in the series has long died away since my favorite authors have moved on and the ever changing hands weakened the brand. But if there’s anyone out there who can get it right, it’s going to be series creator Jordon Weisman. After his company’s incredible work with the Shadowrun franchise, his name alone justifies tossing a few dollars into the hat.

Look for the Battletech Kickstarter this fall.

KickStarter Updates and Citadels

I really prefer to post on Tuesday and Thursday. But some weeks, that’s just not possible. Too much going on can keep me from getting my thoughts down. This week it was coding assignments on my other blog, Mad Tech-Priest. I have this new thing where whenever someone challenges me to do a coding test, I put the answer up there just to prove I know my stuff and look really… cool, I guess.

You got me. I don’t know what cool is.

So first the news, and not the boring kind. The Conan board game finished it’s KickStarter round of funding two days ago, and it was a whooping $3.3 million. This makes the game the most successfully funded board game in KickStarter history. Yes, I went ahead and bought a copy of it after the great fun I’ve tried Citadels with friends. As of late, I feel inclined to try something bold and new. And maybe playing games as Conan is just the way to do it.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is closing in on the $1 million, at which point backers can enjoy the extended mini-campaign at the end. It has 4 days left and (as of this post) about $70,000 more to go. The game is fully funded either way, but one can always hope for a little more. This is going to be a close one.

Speaking of close. Project Scissors: NightCrywhich I covered in my previous blog entry, is starting to rally some. It’s too early to call it a comeback just yet, but the jump in funding for the project has put them just under the half way mark. With 9 days left to go, stranger things can happen.

CitadelsSo as of last weekend, I’ve been playing a new (to me) card game called Citadels. The primary goal of the game is just to build a medieval city using gold pieces. But more than a race, other players have the ability to thwart you as they rush to finish their own towns.

Game play revolves around picking one or two (during 2-3 player games) roles with different abilities, with each role ranked to determine play order. Strategy revolves around what role a player chooses (and thus denies to other players), forcing players to build a careful strategy. While there is a tiny element of chance in the game, as players cannot know what city cards they’ll draw, the randomness is mitigated by being able to choose one of two drawn cards. Thus strategy reigns supreme.

The roles vary in value per each round. The King, for example, allows you to have first pick of roles during the next round. The Assassin can wipe a player’s turn out, while the Merchant can net extra gold for each green market district you possess. Bluffing is valuable because if one player grows abusive with a particular role, such as using the Warlord to destroy rival districts, that player might find himself the target of the Assassin. Or the Architect might have his gold stolen by the Thief to keep him from suddenly building three districts.

A final detail is that while getting all 8 districts of your city built gives you extra points, it does not guarantee that you’ll win the game. There are plenty of cheap, low value districts that can speed a player to the finishing line. But it’s the total value and combination of all districts that determines the winner. If one player builds several high value districts while another gets eight lower value ones, that player still might not win. This can make for some interesting back peddling later, forcing the owner of the cheaper citadel to react and increase their value.

Three more things give Citadels great value. First, it can be played for up to 8 players, making it a fantastic party game. Second, I was able to purchase it for $20, which included its expansion set. And third, the game really isn’t difficult to learn, although the rules change slightly depending on the number of players who have joined. So if you’re looking for some fun for the remainder of this winter, check it out.

Project Scissors: Night Cry KickStarter

NightCryA crime is coming rather close to being committed. And the penalty for letting it occur is to be very, very bored next winter.

You may not be familiar with their names, but if you’re a gamer from the SNES to PlayStation era, you’ll certainly know their work. Hifumi Kono, creator of the Clock Tower series, has teamed up with Takashi Shimizu, director of The Grudge to form Project Scissors.

And while that’s a great start to the talent for a horror game, it’s further compounded by Art Director Kiyoshi Arai (several Final Fantasy games), Creature Designer Masahiro Ito (Silent Hill). And musically speaking, composers Nobuko Toda and Michiru Yamane (Metal Gear Solid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night respectively).

The resulting KickStarter game is called Night Cry.

A spiritual successor to Kono’s Clock Tower, the idea revolves around exploration, perhaps some puzzles, and ultimately running and hiding instead of fighting a foe that stalks you. Thus survival is yet another mind bending challenge.

Originally intended for mobile devices, enough fans pushed until the project was changed for release on the PC. But despite the promising amount of talent and the fair game price, they’re suffering from a lack of funds. More than a third of the allotted time has elapsed, and with roughly 20% of their $300,000 goal met. One possible reason for this is the fact the game is being released only in English at the moment and not Japan, which leaves it primarily to the English speaking countries to pick up the slack.

I went ahead and pitched $25 towards it, and I recommend that any horror fans out there do the same. For horror to live on, it has to be left to the artist and not made corporate. Lest we get another Dead Space 3 on our hands.

But that’s not the only item of Japanese influence on KickStarter.

SamuraiAfter some digging, I found something for war gamers, or just people who want some eastern flair to their table top games. Check out this nifty Samurai Lords KickStarter from Oliver James. These awesome pieces are based on the Battle of Sekigahara, and are more historic in detail than fantasy focused.

While I’m not sure there will be enough figures to fill out an entire table for war games, it does strike me as a great way to get a samurai character or two for specialty pen and paper RPGs or perhaps even some modding for Shadowrun or Warhammer/Warhammer 40k games.

So check these out, folks.

The Friday Happenings & Surviving the Political Open Season

conan

So Monolith Board Games LLC has an amazing looking Conan board game Kickstarter going on. I may or may not invest in it just to get my hands on one of the most awesome tributes to Robert E. Howard’s work. But I need to get off my butt and organize a game night or two with friends. Once we got that ball rolling, the game is easier to justify. Regardless, you should check it out.

On the subject of Kickstarters, Shadowrun: Hong Kong is closing in on its final funding tier of $700,000. A thing of note by the way, Racter and Duncan Wu will, as I suspected in my previous post, get their personal missions as part of the game’s regular story.

Outside the realm of games, I’m really looking forward to the new movie Chappie, coming this March 6th, directed by Neill Blomkamp of District 9 fame. The story is a familiar one, I admit. Robots are used to police third world countries, giving the people there the chance they need to work their way out of poverty. But the designer of said police robots has, of course, a vision for machine learning that results in an actual artificially intelligent robot hence named Chappie.

ChappieBased on the commercials, I suspect the film follows this pattern: Showcase of how these machines have changed the world. A distrusting head of some division (Hugh Jackman) is in charge of rival bigger-badder-better robot development. A developer (Dev Patel) finally creates a machine that thinks, names it Chappie, and it charms us. Hugh Jackman’s character finds out and tries to kill Chappie, who then escapes and allies himself with a street gang who is less than-thrilled with the tilted status quo. So Chappie fights back, accidentally causes chaos and has to correct it. Probably dies at the end or leads us to believe he has.

In my theory, the material is nothing new, so I suspect that Blomkamp is just aiming to do it well. Movies tend to be the short stories of film, at least compared to television. And there’s only so much time to tell your tale, making novelty a challenge.

Originally, I wanted to write a full blown blog post about surviving the dreaded political season that is approaching. As both partisan groups are currently courting their candidates, tempers have been high on news channel comment boards.

Instead, I’m just going to give a few safety tips for the upcoming season. Politics is a very fast and easy way to make lasting, unforgiving enemies. Having an expressed opinion at all is all it could take. If you have no interest in earning your “wing” from labelists and igniting the inevitable controversy, remember a few rules:

Political Survival Tips for the Neutral:

1) No matter how funny SNL’s skit about such-and-such candidate was last night, keep it to yourself. Don’t retweet or share it from any source. Likewise, stay away from dressing as any politicians for Halloween as you are courting the controversy.

2) If you’re moderating on comment boards, your Facebook account or just dinner, remember to shut down any talk involving politicians or the election. You have to be fair though and shut down the discussion and topic as a whole, not just the guys you disagree with. Shutting down one side over the other can paint you as unfairly partial. While this might be seen as overkill, the willingness to host said conversation at all can be seen as a “flare” for others to join in.

3) If someone is being a true zealot, and will not stop spamming news and op-eds from politically-slanted news sources, remember that Facebook has a handy “I don’t want to see this” option on the top right of every news feed post. This will reduce posts of said nature. You can also do the “Unfollow <name>” option to entirely remove this person from your news feed without unfriending them, a great way to placate family members without alienating them.

4) If you’re an artist-type who is tempted to take a side, remember that doing so will revoke your status as “neutral.” You might curry the favor of the side you join, but you’ll lose the opposition. Worse, those who were neutral before will have less reason to trust you as they probably enjoyed the relief you offered from having no obvious political stripes, and they may even suspect a bias in your work. Do as you will, but remember that declaring allegiances has a cost!

5) Finally, don’t attempt to engage the conversation from an open-minded neutral point of view either. Both sides are firmly capable of the with-us-or-against-us mentality where you can be branded just for being willing to hear out the opposition. While you might entertain the possibility of being the great peacemaker, the reality is that the only thing that effectively changes peoples’ minds is experience. And painstakingly few are willing to weigh the facts and points without trying to rabble rouse.

Hopefully that should keep your beige alert from going more than mellow. Stay out of trouble in 2015, folks! It’s Banh Mi here at work and I maybe talking about that this weekend.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong Kickstarter

Shadowrun Hong Kong

Shadowrun is going to Hong Kong.

It happened so fast that before I even knew it was up, the Kickstarter was pushing a quarter million in funding. The initial goal of $100,000 was met in under 2 hours, and several other goals has been added and even satisfied. And it still has 34 days to go, with plenty of bonus material to tap.

I have to admit that I’ve surprised myself over the last year. I was originally quite pessimistic about Kickstarters, but in the last few months I’ve lightened up enough that if I see something very promising, I’ll break open the wallet for a “what if” product. This runs contrary to the deluge of initially optimist supporters who have been burned by bad projects and underwhelming goods.

But Hare Brained Schemes has not only delivered what it promised in previous projects, but also goes above and beyond. When Dragonfall transitioned into a full product in with the Director’s Cut, HBS gave those who purchased the DLC the standalone game for free. Hare Brained Schemes is cultivating a reputation for not only treating their fans with honesty and fairness, but with genuine appreciation.

A New Crew

SRHK CrewAs of the time of this blog post, Shadowrun: Hong Kong has four confirmed crew mates for the player, with a fifth promised at the $400k mark. One thing that made me smile was the increase in metahuman crew mates. The Kreuzbasar gang was great, but only Eiger was anything other than human.

This time however, we’re definitely mixing it up. A dwarf sniper and decker. Two orcs, one being a Rat shaman and the other a security specialist. And fresh off the funding goals, a Russian Rigger with his own pet drone.

Two things about the crew’s roles catch my eye. First, once again there is no hermetic mage nor adepts. Magic in crew crafting always tends to take a back burner, often given over to a mixed-purpose support shaman. In this case, Gobbet.

While the possibilities of magic as a storytelling device were explored through Dietrich and… another character in the previous game, I quietly hope that we’ll someday discover the background of a street mage archetype. In terms of game play mechanics, the lack of a hermetic mage also tends to put pressure on the player to develop a magician, as most other roles are provided for.

Second, there is no designated street doctor or combat medic like Glory provided in Berlin. My guess is that decker Is0bel and rigger Racter might take advantage of their high intellect investment to make decent, patchwork healers in the interim. But no one is really designated to that role.

The Possibilities

SRHK FightI can’t express how glad I am that Shadowrun isn’t returning to the United States as a setting just yet. It’s not that I’m disinterested in hearing more about an Awakened North America, but the cultural differences of Berlin in Dragonfall touched a wanderlust in me that I forgot was there. Hong Kong is ripe for exploration, new magic and technology and a new adventure I can’t wait to sink my teeth into.

Another hope I have is that every character gets their own side mission. At the moment, the Kickstarter tiers mention personal missions for Gobbet, Is0bel and Gaichu, but nothing yet for Racter or Duncan Wu. Maybe they were already getting their back stories with the completion of the funding goals and core game.

Speak of, perhaps the character who intrigues me the most is Wu. Not because of anything about his past (we know nothing about him), but because of his game play mechanics. Wu can go down a skill set called the Lethal Force Track (pretty self-explanatory), or the Crowd Control Track. That latter set focuses on stunning abilities, such as a shock baton, tear gas or even zip ties to halt foes.

This sets up a intriguing precedent, akin to what the tranquilizer gun did for Metal Gear Solid 2. Since Shadowrun Returns, there have been ways of talking oneself out of a brewing fight or two. And there was already one side mission in Dragonfall where you had to capture an opponent. But will there now be a way to fight without killing? Do I have to kill my foes anymore? Or could I perhaps incapacitate all my enemies throughout my missions?

If so… decisions, decisions.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is due out mid 2015, with a current estimate for August. And I’ve already slapped down 35 shut-up-and-take-my-money dollars. See you in Hong Kong, chummers.

Unseen Horde

“I often wondered why some established authors sounded so bitter and cynical…”

5,000 words is the perfect length for making my job very hard.

I do not pretend to understand it. I’ve sharpened my skills on flash fiction submissions anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 words in length. I feel I’ve actually gotten quite good at it too, having just enough room to tell some kind of story. So I strip out excess description, go bare bones and just make it.

And 6,000 to 10,000? That’s where I feel I really shine. Plenty of room to pack in character development and that extra prose that really makes it. Yet plenty of breathing space to carve out a nice plot. I can spin a yarn and craft a world doing these lengths.

But 5,000 words. For some reason, this magical number always screws me up royal.

I always end up creating a plot that is just a little too big. Characters who are slightly too developed. It’s so easy to say, “Tell a story in less! Just pretend it’s 4,000 words!” But it doesn’t work that way. It’s probably quite similar to television, where you try to cut off a second here, edit out a scene there, just to keep it below 30 minutes.

That’s what I’m doing right now.

I finished my latest piece just in time for Halloween. But in doing so, I crossed nearly 500 words over the border, and have gone back for editing. I’ve been picking out words or condensing statements like I’m nickle and diming it. I’m sweating a little, trying to decide whether I can cut a whole scene just to spruce up the ending.

Yeah, I wish editors could be more open about lengths. But it’s not their fault they have to craft and enforce these policies and rules. The larger the company’s name, the more submissions they invite. “Corporations are/aren’t people!” is a point of political contention these days. I won’t voice an opinion on it, but I will say that after dozens, if not hundreds of submissions, a company and/or the people who run it can get extremely tired.

You see, even the small press has its fair share of beggars, ego cases and story spammers. And good authors too. They are the competition. The unseen horde. Behold…

By the way, their KickStarter had only been opened for 8 days...

By the way, their KickStarter had only been opened for 8 days when they posted this… and this tweet is 6 days old.

With a 7,500 word upper limit and rounding up, that’s a minimum of 39 stories. Probably more than that. Though to be fair, those statistics might include the already invited authors. But between now and the close of their fund raiser, that number is only going to go up.

Some submissions will be blatant plagiarism of existing franchises. A portion of it will just be bad; meaningless action with no character development or plot to speak of, basically Call of Duty fan fiction with the name scratched out. More will have a decent story, but not quite fit the theme.

Those that are good actually just get added to a particular pile marked, “Good enough for now”, where they’ll sit and wait until a better tale comes along to knock it into the rejections pile. Or, if they’re good enough and the author does nothing to tick off the editors, their story will be among the last standing.

I often wondered why some established authors sounded so bitter and cynical when some budding writer asked for advice or admitted that they wanted to be an author too. But I take heart in the fact that at least in writing, you can supplement your luck by improving your skill.

Well, back to cutting words.