Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shadowrun Returns: Mage For Hire

Mage for Hire. That's what the augmented reality sign hovering over my front door says, at least on the days when it hasn't been hacked or knocked out by some citywide virus. But that's just the way things are in the Sprawl: nothing's permanent. Not your money, not your luck, not your friends, and definitely not your life.

Yeah, that's me up there. A little rough around the edges, but it could be worse. Guy I used to work with, lost one of his eyes in a dust-up with a demon. He couldn't afford a bio replacement or even a decent cyber job. He scraped together enough cash to have the doc install this ancient Russian military optic prosthetic. Big ugly thing, glows red all the time like a stuck streetlight. Even when he's sleeping. Doesn't do much for his love life.

Why did I have to come to Seattle? Looks like every other desolate urban graveyard I've ever tried to earn a nuyen from. Nice to know where the organ dealer's place is, since this is probably where I'll wind up. Or at least parts of me will.

Yup. Another day, another street gang. They've replaced so much of their blood with drugs that they're just walking addictions with guns. Have to respect the guns, though. I may have learned to pull raw energy out of the fabric of the universe and hurl big screaming bolts of it across the street, but a stray bullet will still put a quick end to my day.

Was there ever a time when people actually went to the cops to help them with this kind of problem? Or have people like this guy on the corner always been on their own? Am I going to help him? Sure. But tomorrow, someone else will be along to muscle in on this territory. Nothing ever really changes.

At least there are some people in this town who aren't afraid to stand up for themselves; to say "no" when they know they deserve better. This one certainly deserved better than the guy she just dumped. She deserves better than me, too, so I'll just move along.

I still don't know why I'm in Seattle. Even if I find what I'm looking for, it won't change anything. Nothing every really changes. But maybe I'll feel better about it when I'm done.

Or maybe I'll just be in the clearance bin at the organ dealer's.

[P.S.: I'm really loving Shadowrun Returns.]

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Game Design is Hard

I'm trying to build a little casual game in Unity, and it's not going to be just another match-3 or time-management or tower-defense game. As a result, it's proving difficult to find the magic something that transforms this from a programming exercise to a fun, addictive game.

I should probably try to read some books on the subject. In the established, often-used game paradigms, the action/reward cycle is pretty solid. For instance, for a first-person-shooter, there's clearly something inherently compelling about the combination of maze-exploring and bad-guy-shooting that is instantly appealing to a lot of folks.

Since I'm not making an FPS (or any other easily-classified game) it's not obvious what I need to do in order to make the game more entertaining. I can't just say "add more ninjas" (well ... I suppose you can always add more ninjas). I need to try to figure out what to add/remove/change so that clicking the mouse becomes fun, and I feel like I don't even have the language I need to discuss the issue.

So it's research time for me. At least Unity is giving me the chance to focus on the actual game, rather than forcing me to burn time trying to get libraries to link or some such silliness.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Stone of Names: July Status Report

I'm now shopping my manuscript to literary agents, which is the least fun part of the writing process. Basically this phase is several months of sending my work to total strangers so that they can tell me it's unsellable.

To be fair to the literary agents: they have a much clearer view of the market than I do. That's their job. If they don't think they can sell my manuscript to a publisher, that's a business decision, not necessarily a quality decision. To say that a book is enjoyable is not the same thing as saying it's sellable.

The question at this point is: will every agent (and every publisher) agree that they can't sell this book? Or is there someone out there who would be willing to try?

I've sent 20-ish query letters, and I've received 5 rejections. Some folks are likely to let their silence substitute for a rejection, and so I won't be hearing back from everyone. It's not an auspicious beginning, but it's possible that I haven't really tried hard enough yet. It's possible that I really need to send a hundred or so letters before I can really claim to have tried my best.

But I'm not sure I have the patience to send that many queries, given that I could have this book up on Amazon within a couple of days if I wanted to.

I expect I'll keeping querying for a while, but not indefinitely. If I can't interest an agent by the end of the year, I'll get my cover art together and self-publish. There's a very real possibility that I won't sell more than a few dozen copies if I self-publish, but it's better than letting the book sit on my hard drive doing nothing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: The Ball

Whenever I see folks posting about their favorite OUYA games, I see the same names come up again and again are Towerfall (a nice enough game, but I think you really need four players to make it shine), BombSquad (which is fun, but I suck at it), and Amazing Frog (which must be getting reviewed by people on much stronger medications than I am).

What I never see mentioned is The Ball, which is a shame, because I think it's the best game I've seen on the platform so far. This is a port of a PC game, and it's likely that the PC version has better graphics and tighter controls, but I thought it worked quite well on the OUYA. It's a first-person puzzle game, where you are running around a subterranean complex, overcoming obstacles and smashing mummies with the help of a giant rolling metal ball.

Aside from this massive sphere, your only tool for solving puzzles is a magic artifact that you can use either to pull the ball toward you from any distance, or to push just about anything away from you. The "push" feature only works at point-blank range, so if you're hoping to use it to knock mummies around, prepare to get up close and personal.

I was constantly surprised and pleased at how much variety they got out of just these simple tools. The game is a long series of challenging puzzles, with a few action sequences thrown in to keep you from getting too complacent. (Thankfully, there were very few jumping-platform puzzles, which I detest with a passion.)

I think this is a must-play for anyone who liked Portal. The Ball doesn't have Portal's humor, and the storytelling isn't as strong, but the puzzles are solid and there's plenty of them.

My only problems with the game were the unresponsive jump button (there was a noticeable lag between hitting the jump button and actually jumping, though this could have been an OUYA controller issue) and the final puzzle, which was a fairly tedious trial-and-error thing (and I will gladly send the solution to anyone who wants it; I solved it on my own mostly due to a few lucky guesses).

There are plenty of fun little arcade games on the OUYA, but The Ball provides a more long-term, immersive, and thoughtful experience, and was well worth my $10.

Monday, July 8, 2013

You Kids Get Out of My Playground

Let's say that, by some miracle, my novel becomes a bestseller. Let's say, in fact, that it becomes an instant sensation, and that readers all over the world are so fascinated with the characters and the world that they start producing their own art based on my book: drawings, and short stories, and games, and so forth. (Disregard for a moment that there's no Tolkien-level world-building in my current novel; this is all just a thought experiment.) At this point, my book has become something of a modern myth, a story that everyone is familiar with at some level, to the point where my characters and situations are used in everyday conversation.

At that point, is the fictional world in the book still mine?

I'm sure that it's mine legally. But is it really mine, all mine? Hasn't it become part of our common culture? I created it, yes, but should I be allowed to dictate how, precisely, it can and cannot be used? Should I be allowed to impose a blockade around it, so that no other creative works can be derived from it? What if someone else is able to produce something based on my book that has its own value, its own merit? If so many people are fascinated by the world that I've created, do I have the right to stop someone else from telling a different story in the same world that's just as enjoyable as mine?

I've only recently come across this story from 2008, where a Harry Potter fan decided to produce a lexicon of words and terms from the Harry Potter universe, and J. K. Rowling shut him down. The linked article quotes her as saying that "this book constitutes the wholesale theft of 17 years of my hard work."

Well. I would suggest that a collection of words and definitions is hardly wholesale theft; if the would-be author had simply photocopied all seven books cover to cover, I might agree with this statement; otherwise it smells a bit of hyperbole.

Ms. Rowling is also quoted as saying "I went to court to uphold the right of authors everywhere to protect their own original work. The proposed book took an enormous amount of my work and added virtually no original commentary of its own." If that's the case, would she be okay if I produced a totally original Harry Potter book, with a new story? That would be quite a bit of original commentary, wouldn't it? Surely she would be okay with that?

But of course she wouldn't. I would get hit with a cease and desist letter so hard that you'd hear the impact on Mars. Ms. Rowling didn't take action here because she was concerned that someone was copying her work. Her motivation is clear from the words she used: specifically, "protect" and "theft".

This is about money. Someone else was going to make money off of the Potterverse. Was Ms. Rowling planning to write her own Potteresque dictionary? Certainly not; she's fled from the realm of fantasy and whimsy into the more respectable neighborhood of literary fiction. Was this proposed dictionary going to render Ms. Rowling penniless? No, I expect that her accountants would never even feel the bump. But if she lets this one labor of love onto the market, it opens the door for further "theft". If she doesn't maintain her fence around Hogwarts, then everyone will be inside.

And that would be bad because...?

The world is full of creative people with great ideas. If they're inspired and excited by a certain idea, should we prevent them from sharing their creations with the world, just because someone else got there first?

(P.S.: For a much more eloquent presentation of this discussion, check out Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow.)