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 Best of All Worlds

demand this in wallpaper form. It’s like Mass Effect meets Team Fortress 2‘s Pyroland meets Portal. Snowballed into goddamn AWESOME EFFECT.

There was a picture posted here early, but I decided to remove it out of respect for the artist. I wasn’t asked, I just changed my mind.

Goodbye July

What is this I don't even...

What is this I don’t even…

I’ve already covered issues about my car yesterday. But the truth is far more sinister. The whole month of July… sucks. 

Besides the vehicle, my cable and internet provider has been unable to assign a decent time to come over and repair my internet. I can get it done on Saturday, but they won’t do it after 5 on the week days, when I’ll be at work. Although they’ve refunded us for the month, Diablo III and Team Fortress 2 are out until it is fixed. 

Thus, with reluctance, I cracked open Mass Effect 3, one of the view recent games in my collection with optional online elements. 

It’s not that I wasn’t looking forward to it. But I wanted to savor the time I had to myself, not playing the game.

Once Mass Effect starts, you can’t really divert time away from it. After playing through the original game twice, once as a “Good” Soldier Shepard and again as an “Evil” Engineer Shepard, I decided to try a femshep (female Shepard). But I stopped, recognizing a very addictive new experience.

Y’see, I barely started and it was already a different experience, as Kaidan Alenko was hitting on me.  “Man,” I tell myself. “I’ve barely started and this is only ME1. Everyone’ll be humping down my door once I hit ME2.” 

It’s true. Play ME as a man and the women will be coy and make you chase them. Play it as a woman and they’ll be after you. In gaming, the choice to play as a woman is often more like choosing your favorite Barbie doll to play an MMORPG or Diablo. But being a woman in an intricate storytelling experience like this? That’s something else. 

But if I’m going to play a woman, I’m going to do it from the ground up. Which means going back to Mass Effect and slugging my way back up. 

My impressions after 20 hours of ME3 are pretty basic. I like how they dropped the obnoxious resource-searching for a game of Reaper tag. The combat is tight as ever. The “explory-telling” is nice, but I keep wishing I could take the story off of the rails: Options to use charm or threaten are rare, the tale doesn’t let you go about things in any order you choose (the first game was great at this) and I get the feeling that, at this point, everything that happens is barely my decision and more the consequences of my actions from the previous 2 games. 

Choice is an illusion once you’re facing the consequences.

My hunt for a new roommate continues, but I’m closing in on a few likely prospects. I also meant to bug the writers of my anthology yesterday night about their progress, but decided to wait until tonight when I had access to Gmail and a regular computer (not my phone).

I’m half through Brunner. I was hoping that the stories would become more simple for movie making purposes, but that is not the case. His arsenal also expanded, with a new Skaven repeating crossbow, a hatchet and Drakesmalice, some kind of magic longsword. Therefore, I’ve picked two prospective stories which would be ideal for a short movie: “What Price Vengence” and “The Money-Lender’s Price”.

Two new horror stories coming out for a different anthology soon. Hope to be done this weekend.

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.

TF2 Intervention

Smiling crotch is not just the name of a drink anymore.

Smiling crotch is not just the name of a drink anymore.

Before I start, my review of the short stories is complete and waiting in the draft bin. As soon as Narrativium sends me his scores, we’re ready to announce the winner on Sunday.

Team Fortress 2? I made a deal with myself not to play the Pyro and Heavy for a long, long while.

It’s hard. I’m a straight forward kind of guy and those two are just that. But I want the stats and my understanding of other classes to catch up some. So I spent a sliver of my time playing as the Medic, Spy, Scout, Soldier and Sniper. I spent a healthy chunk as the Demoman and the most time yesterday as the Engineer.

The Demoman I used with what I learned from TF2Tactics, specifically the part about using the Demoman to counter the Engineer’s sentries. I used said tactics to launch stickybombs around the corner of a barn and take out the engineer, his sentry and some other BLU goon who was unfortunate enough to be in the blast radius. It was a proud, bloody moment, and an indication that I’m finally starting to show improvement with the Demoman.

The Engineer was what I invested the most time with and slowly began to improve. I focused on fast base building tactics, like using the resupply cabinet to quickly build a teleporter and sentry near the base, then move the sentry forward near an ammo crate so I can set up the dispenser and teleporter exit. Moving around the sentry was a nasty, nasty surprise for a lot of people. Little is as worse as coming around a corner and getting gunned down. It’s embarrassing and humiliating.

I was also very careful not to be a bland base builder. I’d get what I need up and then get my shotgun out to go hunting. I harassed players, tried to lead them into my sentry and be on the prowl for people trying to take our my base from strange angles. I grabbed up and moved my base away from fights I was losing just to save the devices. Losing a level 3 building is a huge loss of time and resources.

Playing as an Engineer also made me keenly aware of other anti-sentry strategies. I was shocked with a spy took over my sentry using his pistol at a distance outside its range. I watched out for Demoman bouncing pipe-charges and sometimes grabbed my gear and run to save it. And I kept tabs on when the enemy was using more or less Pyros, and then hid my sentries around corners less or more often respectfully.

You see, a Pyro is actually pretty decent at destroying your base, if he can get close. By using the splash damage of his flame thrower around a corner or edge, it’s sometimes  possible for him to destroy a sentry without personal risk to himself. I’ve done this before. So when the enemy has a lot of Pyros, I take care to put my sentry more out in the open so as to not give them an edge.

I NEED MORE HATS!

Idea for Meet the Pyro

Mm mmm'mph mrph mm mmrrr!

Mm mmm'mph mrph mm mmrrr!

Dear Valve,

If you are reading this, then I must first claim that I am not responsible for any loss of hair or sanity as a side effect of your literary tastes. But more importantly, I wanted to suggest an idea for consideration for the upcoming (someday) “Meet the Pyro” video.

I recognize the difficulty in creating a video usually narrated by a guy who doesn’t even speak beyond the muffling sounds of his mask. So! Rather than do the usual thing, involving either narration or some long, many drafted idea like the “Meet the Medic” piece, I thought…

Why not make “Meet the Pyro” a music video? This would skip over the difficulties in narration for Pyro and give a great backdrop to show off the Pyro’s skills and abilities. And it preserves the Pyro’s mystic.

As a matter of fact, I could think of one particular song that not only fits the Pyro, but also kind of touches upon the whole concept of where Team Fortress 2 has been and where it’s going. That song being Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire“.

I understand if this cannot be done because of difficulties obtaining the rights to the song. But TF2 has been around for some time and if this is the last video coming out for the classes, I figure why not go out with a fiery bang?

What has two thumbs and writes sincerely?

-This guuuuuuuuuuuuuuy