Steaming up the Summer

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The Steam Summer Sale is on. Go. Buy things. I highly, highly recommend the cheaper Don’t Starve as it’s getting a multiplayer version this September. I intend to buy like 3 copies to give to friends.

It’s been a productive month. Not crazy, “I just finished five books and learned the guitar” productive, but a steady progression of words down, pitches readied, business, working out and so on. A really balanced approach to problems and progress towards what I want to finish.

The super hero novella quarterly pitch, which we’re calling the Outlier Universe for now, has been fired to our potential publisher. It’s amazing what happens when you get five guys to sit down and come up with a shared story. But we’ve got it all: Realistic government agencies built in reaction to these strange events, a philosophically charged organizations whose splinter cells engage in anything from small time crime to straight terrorism.

We’ve got fleshed out characters with plenty of personal inclinations and reasons to be involved, big time “Billionaire’s Clubs” who find ways to turn the changing circumstances to their advantage. And a designer drug that causes new characters and dangers to come out of the woodwork.

And all of this takes place in the same universe. The events influence each other. Envisioned stories flow back and forth from smaller, personal pieces to address changing view points and philosophies to larger, meaningful epics. And whenever possible, connecting how the former relates to the latter. It’s kind of the ultimate power trip to see a person’s opinion on matters have such a potentially powerful impact.

What I love the most is that we don’t do run-of-the-mill origin stories either. The moral compass isn’t clearly defined, and many of our so called heroes have some shady backgrounds. But we haven’t reached that point in our timelines of introducing the ultimate evils yet. And I don’t know what will happen to our gray characters when that shadow falls upon them.

Another thing the guys and I haven’t addressed yet is what happens when a character dies. Marvel and DC Comics have tendencies to resurrect the dead all the time, which seems to make all violent struggles nigh pointless in the long run. I’m more inclined to bury my characters when they die unless there is an extremely, compelling reason and a steep price tag to bring them back (and for us, that “price tag” will probably include nothing less than a complete story, which is expensive to the writer’s time.) What’s the point of death if it isn’t permanent?

But one way or the other, we’re ready for some damn fine story telling.

The novel writing however, is slow going. I got on a roll and finished two and a half chapters, but there are still 24.5 more to go. I’m fairly happy with the direction, but as I write I wonder, “What if I shifted this chapter here and this one there? Or cut up and reshuffled these chapters so they more evenly tell the story?”

Once the novel is through the beginning I’m happy with the way it flows. But the opening tends to be lump, preferring one group of characters over the others. But that’s an issue for editing and it’s more important to just get the words down for now.

By the way, have you seen “Expiration Date” from the Team Fortress 2 development team?

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Ouya and London (No Relation)

You are so small! Is funny to me!

You are so small! Is funny to me!

I’ve been quietly watching the Ouya with growing respect.

The Ouya is a new console due out in about six months. Best described, it’s an attempt at a console revolution: free-to-play games, open source, no licensing needed for developers, hardware modifiability. It uses the Android 4.0 operating system, has a USB 2.0 port, ethernet and can allow for up to four wireless controllers.

Ouya got its start thanks to a promising Kickstarter campaign that brought in over $8.5 million in seed money from over 63,000 backers. So far, the list of confirmed games is somewhat small, but they still have six months to gather partners. They also have a few mentionable names thrown around, such as Square Enix’s Final Fantasy III (confirmed) and Minecraft (in discussion).

Ouya’s biggest selling point is it’s potential: the development creativity of the PC meets the accessibility of the living room console. You know those addictive flash games you play on Newgrounds? Imagine if you could play them on your television with up to four friends.

Skeptics are not wrong when they point to the long list of failed consoles, such as the Turbo Grafix-16 and 3DO as cause for concern. Ouya is competing with three major giants in Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, and that’s not including the diverse and somewhat independent PC gamer types. But Ouya has time to get its act together before its release date in March of 2013.

No promises as to whether I’ll get it, but I’ll be watching.

Oh, and I’ll be heading to London in November.

P.S. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Valve Software will open up its free-game selection from Steam to Ouya. If nothing else, then just Team Fortress 2. Given Valve’s recent move to produce for Linux, it’s safe to assume that the eggheads at Valve are at least scratching their chin about it…

The State of Entertainment

Reading: The Vampire Genevieve by Jack Yeovil (real name Kim Newman)
Playing: Portal by Valve / Diablo III by Blizzard
Watching: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Sure, I could and have gotten more eclectic mixes of entertainment before. But as far as my current RPW, this is pretty strange. Let’s do it from top to bottom.

So far, I’m well over five hundred pages into The Vampire Genevieve. The anthology is a few short stories and at least three novels (Based on the anthology’s structure, this isn’t exactly clear to me yet). The first two novels were quite good but were started to create a predictable pattern: Stage manager Detlef throws a play. His lover, reasonably good natured vampire Genevieve, happens to be around and lend a hand when some evil rears its head. The third book is a murder mystery that I’ve not finished yet.

One thing of interest is that the name, Genevieve Dieudonne, has been used multiple times by the author in other writing with many traits maintained. This unusual aspect makes Genevieve less of a written character and more a fictional actor.

I admired how Newman dived into the cultural aspects of Warhammer, creating a lot of background fluff amongst the fictional writers and plays in the fantasy universe. The names of plays and artists thrown out create some details that can be mentioned in future work, as to both create a greater sense of connectivity within Warhammer fiction and to “tip one’s hat” at a senior writer.

Diablo III has slowed down for me. I still play, but my Barbarian reached something of a dead end for now. I do not have the cash to purchase the goods he needs to really hack it in Hell difficulty, nor am I having much luck with my drops. My Demon Hunter however, is excelling considerably. So I’ve decided to stick with him for the time being.

Portal has received almost two hours of my time, and I suspect that I’m nearly finished playing. For me, it’s only a matter of catching up with the popular culture I’ve skipped out at. It was available for $5 thanks to Steam’s summer sale, so I grabbed it.

I think the most amusing aspect of Portal is how it challenges the player’s perception of narration. The last few years, many players have been sucked into being “told what to do” at all times by the games themselves. Come here. Do this. Do that. I would imagine dropping $50 to be told what to do is… rather lacking.

Being given an objective is fine. Being told with detailed instructions is not. I think a metric Steam should have captured was how many players failed to act when they saw the fire pit nearing them after the first part of the game. It would have greatly begged the question of just how many players are thinking for themselves. I’m all for breaking the fourth wall to make people think and act, and not just do what they’re told.

I’ll let you know if I finish watched Audrey Hepburn’s flippant mannerisms.

Achievements in Gaming

Beating the game is nifty and all, but dealing 1,000,000 points of fire damage is nothing to sneer at.

Beating the game on normal difficulty is nifty and all, but healing 1,000,000 points of life in a multiplayer blood bath is nothing to sneer at.

Sometime back, I suggested achievements for some MMORPG and at least one gentleman thought it was a terrible idea. He hated the thought of getting merit badges for our efforts and was quite vehement about it.

But depending upon the difficulty of the achievement, it can be a sign of considerable progress or a true badge of experience. I mean let’s face it, lots of people buy a game, play the single player once and then never pick it up again. And given the fact that games like Starcraft II and Team Fortress 2 are increasingly being played for money, knowing what a guy can do or has done can be a big deal.

In this manner, I feel that Team Fortress 2 has the right idea. While they do offer these one shot challenges of varying difficulty, the really respectable achievements can only come through significant amounts of time investment. You will not be earning 1,000 back stabs as a Spy in one go, or 1,000,000 points of explosive damage as the Demoman in a single sitting.

I suppose an average player could pull these things off either with a couple of weeks of intensive playing, or in a month or two provided they give up other leisurely activities. But I have to nod my head in respect to any player who has pulled these things off.

But in MMORPGs, achievements can be a great way to tell the newbies from the pros. How many times have newbies been killed in a dungeon for no other reason than not knowing what is around the corner? What to do? How to handle a boss? It happens. And if the other team mates can see the achievements of a player and note that they have or haven’t been through this dungeon or battlefield, they’ll know whether or not you have experience in this environment.

With that in mind, I think it would be great if there was a small routine that runs through the current chat window of an MMORPG to find key words, or takes note of the situation, and then compiles a list of related achievements for all related players that can be viewed through ALT+TAB. If everyone’s related achievements were made plain right then and there, leaders can quickly get a handle of who needs help and who will be alright with no guidance.

But lately, I don’t feel that achievements are really regarded as anything serious, and rightly so. Achievements for beating the single player game are nice, or killing 100 monsters or whatever. But when they’re not a real challenge, they’re not worthy of any respect. But winning 100 games in the highest ranking leagues of Starcraft II or dealing a million fire damage as a Pyro are signs of a veteran and worthy ally or opponent.

Achievements can be the best and most trustworthy way to find out how experienced a player is and make the experience far more enjoyable, if implemented correctly. And I think this can be a great evolution for gaming.

Stay a while and listen…

"Adriaaaaaaaaaaaan!"

"Adriaaaaaaaaaaaan!"

Just a minor update for those casual Blizzard fans like myself, as opposed to the hard core ones who already know. The Diablo III website has recently gotten a revamp and is now integrated with Battle.net services. Still no word about the release date, but beta testing is underway. Given Blizzard’s long QA times and the Starcraft expansion, it could still be a long while.

While Warcraft lost me a long while back and Starcraft is entertaining but not something I want to play more than occasionally, Diablo remains my favorite of the Blizzard line up. I have heard rumours of a Diablo MMORPG in the works, but they’re nothing but hearsay.

I have heard that Blizzard is implementing some sort of pay-for-items plan similar to Team Fortress 2 and has partnered with PayPal for that reason.

Although I was initially skeptical of the cartoony graphics, I’m looking forward to it.

Oh What a Night

The Soldier doing CPR wrong.

The Soldier doing CPR wrong.

What a night.

Yesterday, I cracked open my Playstation 2 to try and realign the laser as well as do a spot of cleaning. I found a handy guide for it as well as a few Youtube videos. What sucks about that guide is that they were having picture problems yesterday, but I remembered enough when I first read the guide to repair it.

Sadly, my efforts didn’t bare much fruit. The PS2 games are working, as Metal Gear Solid 3 ran swimmingly. Vagrant Story didn’t boot when I finished although it did run earlier, and Escape from New York ran just once. Still, I don’t need the DVD player (I have another). I’d be content if the PS and PS2 games ran. I’m going to try some rubbing alcohol to touch up the laser next time.

Maybe I should consider a Playstation 3. They recently dropped the price to a tidy $250. I guess I worry about when it’s coming and how much the Playstation 4 will cost. I also want to play Metal Gear Solid 4 and a few other games, but Hideo Kojima is still being a tease about Zone of the Enders 3.

Earlier in the night I played more Team Fortress 2. My performance hasn’t been great lately, with a kill-to-death ratio of 1:1. When you factor assists into it (which I personally score as .5 kills), I’m not doing terrible. Still, I want to get better. Although the Pyro is still my favorite, the Soldier has really been growing on me as I start using the Equalizer and rocket jumps. What gets me about the Soldier is that it’s the perfect class for both beginners and experts, since the rockets are easy to understand but rocket jumps and the rest of the Soldier’s arsenal require some experience. That and making people’s heads a ‘splode.

Ahahah, Strong Bad. Maybe I should check out Poker Night at the Inventory. Oh, and Back to the Future. Damn you Steam!

Irene and How-Your-Social-Life-Can-Survives-a-New-Game Guide

This is why I love Halolz.com.

This is why I love Halolz.com.

So D.C. took another round of natural disasters with Irene. Granted, Irene was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm after making landfall, but she still inflicted some damage on homes and infrastructure. It was worse than the quake, but we’ll make do.

While the storm hit, I spent the weekend at a friend’s place for a hurricane party. We brewed pumpkin pie ale and enjoyed pizza, guacamole and good beer while chatting and playing a card game of Would You Rather…

Games like that are always interesting, because on one hand you want to say what you would do and on the other hand you have to think in the shoes of the person who asked the question. There’s no real win or lose either, and such games like Apples to Apples are meant to curb any competition for a social aspect. You don’t have to speak to one another for chess. But Would You Rather… is all about conversation.

Cool thing though was that at the party, I got to know a gent I had met before. As it turns out, he and I had a lot in common, including both being Team Fortress 2 advocates as well as Warhammer enthusiasts. If you haven’t got Team Fortress 2, get it. It’s free on Steam and upgrading your account is a one time cost of $1 if you find yourself liking it. Anyway, this guy collected a Warhammer Fantasy army of Dwarves. I’ve considered a Fantasy army, but would want something I can use in the 40k universe as well. You can use feral Orcs or crazed Marauders in 40k in some capacity, but not Astartes in the fantasy setting.

Moving along, Space Marine is due out in 7 days. On one hand, I might want to make a crew of the Bolthole gang. On the other, my buddy will probably want to do an Angry Marines clan. I’ll figure out which soon enough. Now, if you want your social life to survive a new game that you will probably have to make for some preparations.

  1. Clean your house. Because you’re not going to be doing this for a while.
  2. Pay your bills. Too easy to forget to do this, so do not procrastinate.
  3. Stock up on quick meals. If you’re like me, you may want to consider some healthy food options if you’re watching your waist. But quick meals save time, and save money that would otherwise be blown on expensive pizza deliveries.
  4. Hang out with the friends who don’t play. You’re going to disappear for one, possibly two weeks. So hit the happy hours, buy them a round, laugh, smile. Be a good wing man. Make the most of it.
  5. Treat the girlfriend nice. Make or take her to dinner, be romantic. Do something wonderful. Or she won’t be around when you get back.
  6. Work out like a champ. Alright, your body is going to suffer from a wee bit of atrophy from sitting there for a few days. To prevent this, you may want to work out hard core so your body actually needs you to rest. What’s that, body of mine? You want me to take it easy? I can do that…
  7. Get a list of who is playing. Find your friends, get them together. At least they know where you’ve been, because they’ve been playing themselves.
  8. Figure out your time off. You would have had to prepare for this ahead of time, but a day or two can really make a weekend rock. If you have flexible hours, consider taking a few hours off a day for a week, so 6 hours work days for a week while using 10 hours of time off. Play it right and you can beat traffic home, giving you even more free time to play. However, I do not advocate working from home because you wouldn’t actually be working.

This is probably the most eclectic batch of tags I have ever posted.