Friday, March 29, 2013

Build Your Own Adventure

The kind of game I love best is the one that lets me tell my own story - or one that helps me build a new one.

Most games tell a story, of course. However, it is pre-written, with the player simply going through the motions of the narrative. If the game designers have done their job, "going through the motions" is a lot of fun - take Half-Life, for instance.

Then there are those games which give the player some control over the minutia or even the outcome of the story. Deux Ex is a favorite, though the "multiple endings" part was pretty weak. However, through your actions you could definitely affect various game events.

I have yet to play a great game where the player can have truly dramatic impact on the story itself; Understandably, as this kind of feature would be a massive undertaking as the chaos effect takes over - each choice begets more choices (branches within branches within branches). Still, it would be fun to see it pulled off.

More and more, though, I find that my favorite games are all ones which have no built-in narrative at all, but they serve very well for letting me create my own. Recently (well, in the last few months) I've been playing the hell out of a game called Crusader Kings II. This is a grand strategy game partially in the vein of Europa Universalis (same studio, I think) - however, the "personal politics" portion of the game has been expanded dramatically, and it is beautiful. You can start as Holy Roman Emperor or as a lowly count, and from there you try to expand your lands, accrue titles, keep your vassals in line, and avoid conquest by rival powers. Arrange political marriages, grow the prestige of your family dynasty, install friendly claimants upon various thrones, etc etc.

My first game saw me take the reigns of Hungary in the year 1066. I conquered parts of Croatia, then was stomped into the dust by the Ottomans. However, my character was not relieved of my ducal titles, so I still ruled a duchy within the Ottoman Empire. I navigated the politics of this foreign conqueror successfully enough, and the senior branch of the Árpád dynasty adopted Egyptian culture. Later on I sabotaged the internal politics of the Empire (yes, you can do that) enough so that I and a number of other territories declared our independence. I went on to reconquer Hungary's old territory and reclaim the crown, and then some. By the time the game ended in 1450, Hungary was one of the preeminent kingdoms in the world, controlling both her traditional lands as well as most of Croatia, Serbia, and parts of the Balkans - including, in the closing years, claiming Constantinople in a Crusade and creating the Latin Empire.

Phew. Now that was a helluva story (no doubt more fun played than retold in brief, but you get the point).

And that's only one game. Plenty of others exist and give totally different experiences and types of stories to cook up. Mount and Blade and Dwarf Fortress are another couple of favorites. Dwarf Fortress, especially, is famous for delivering some of the most hilarious and twisted stories gaming has to offer.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Kind Words for the Wandering Tale

Pauline M. Ross of Fantasy Review Barn (and who had also reviewed Twixt Heaven and Hell last year) has posted a review of all four Wandering Tale novellas.

I especially like the part where she refers to the recently released The Crown Unconquered as "absolutely perfect." I don't know. Something about the way she phrased it... just rolls off the tongue. ;)

Pauline also mentions the lack of a map, and to both her and you I promise that a map will be coming soon. It will be included in the first Wandering Tale collection along with a few other extras - but the map, at least, will also be posted to this blog in a larger format than it can appear in an eBook.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Launch: The Crown Unconquered

The Crown Unconquered is officially published and available for sale on both Amazon and Smashwords. In a couple weeks it should be available in all major eBook retailers as the Smashwords gears turn. If you like stories of court politics and intrigue, you'll love The Crown Unconquered.

"Since its destruction, the survivors of the Kingdom of Valec have labored to restore their homeland. As the last member of the royal bloodline, Count Daven has been their leader. He has kept them safe and secret from the many enemies of the fallen kingdom, even as he seeks to pass the burden of rule on to other men.

Now the time for secrecy has passed. Trouble between their old foes calls Daven to a foreign court, where he must convince the King of Normarch – who played a prominent part in Valec's downfall – to recognize the rights of his people. If Daven can make new friends of old enemies, his people will have a future.

If not, then the fast-approaching war will reduce his people – and their fledgling kingdom – to ash."
 Buy it on Amazon here.

But it on Smashwords here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Slightly Bumpy Book Launch

Wheeew. That was more of a chore than usual.

Being a rather tech-savvy person (not to mention a pretty decent programmer), I haven't really had issues with eBook formatting before. Sure, it took a couple hours at the beginning of it all to learn the ropes, but after that I never had much trouble getting my books to look the way I wanted. Until yesterday.

So long as you upload a .doc file, Amazon's conversion process is a breeze. The only other version I tried was uploading .html, and that had some issues - mostly because the HTML output from both OpenOffice and LibreOffice is extremely flawed. I was about to dive in an fix it manually when I remembered I could just go with a .doc. I wish they'd just start supporting .odt, but oh well. Can't have it all.

Smashwords, on the other hand, is a different beast. A lot of people decry the Meatgrinder, but I've never had too bad of an experience. The only real beef I've got with the output is that their "Online Reading" view (accessible from the Smashwords store itself) butchers text stylings. It can't seem to take text alignment from the text styles, so all the centered text displays improperly. It makes the book look horrible right from the title page. Fortunately, not many people buy directly from Smashword's site, and the epub, mobi, and other formats all look fine. People who find my books on Apple, B&N, and the other stores will have a properly arranged product.

Still, it annoys me. I'll probably see what I can do about it later this year (maybe just start a conversation with the Smashwords people themselves and see if they can fix the way their Online View is put together).

The most... erm... amusing lesson of yesterday and today's formatting issues is that the epub validation process (required for distribution to Apple) can get a bit wonky. I don't know a vast amount about the process, but apparently it can mistake your style names for html tags and think that the file is malformed. I had a style called "blockquote" because it was for freaking block quotes and other text formatted like them; for instance, a missive from one king to another, printed verbatim on the page.

I ended up changing the style name to the more fanciful "LetterScribe." That fixed the problem. Still, it took unzipping the epub and going into the text with Notepad++ to find the source, and that was rather annoying.

Still and all, it's done. The book is published on Smashwords and being vetted on Amazon as we speak. Once Amazon comes through and tells me the thing is published for true, I'll be making the official announcement.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Forgot My Own Advice

I did it again.

I waited until the day of publication to write the cover copy for a book. I've given the advice to many many people to start writing it as soon as you start thinking about publication. It needs to be written and rewritten, polished and perfected by the time pub day comes. (Speaking of pub day, a happy St. Paddy's to everyone!).

This is one of those "Do as I say, not as I do" situations, kids.

Well, hopefully I'll be able to get something that I like down in time. Even if I do, there's a good chance I'll rewrite it a few times. Another of the wonderful parts of E-publishing - I can change it as often as I need to.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

More like SimShitty, eh? Eh?

An interesting thread here on reddit supporting my suspicion that at least some of the worst changes to SimCity (always-on DRM and tiny maps) were either late changes to the game forced on the dev team or taken out in order to provide for DLC later on.

Not the way to make a game, folks. Not the way at all. And implementing the changes in Javascript, client-side? That's just bizarre.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

SimCity: A Lament

It's been very sad to see the kerfuffle surrounding the recent SimCity launch. Although at least it gave me the excuse to use the word "kerfuffle."

SimCity is a venerable brand. I've played many of them, including an old SNES version which, as I recall, was actually my introduction. The engineer in me loves learning the systems and making things run along, and solving problems when they come up (in fact, my biggest complaint is that SimCity never gave you enough realistic problems to deal with). SimCity 4 was fantastic, introducing the regions that you could tie together with various transport methods. I spent stupid amounts of time just sculpting landscapes.

Of course, EA wasn't content to let a good game be made. They wanted to engineer a revenue stream, making sure their players' gametime was filled with "oppurtunities" to buy extra stuff RIGHT AWAY. Hence the always-on connection requirement. More control, larger audience, more ways to suck the cash out of the customer. EA has grown so large they've lost the institutional focus on actually providing great games. I feel sorry for the folks at Maxis. I'm certain a lot of these "features" were demanded from on high.

This reminds me of what happened with SPORE, the Will Wright masterpiece that ended up being a pretty hum-drum little disappointment. Reading Will Wright's vision for the game and seeing some of their early demos, the game looked amazing. Plenty of buzz was building. In steps EA with DRM demands and modification designed to make the game "accessible."

In case you haven't cracked the code, accessible generally means boring. I've heard from several people that SimCity - in the brief moments they can play it - is also pretty shallow compared to earlier versions.

EA, please stop ruining good games. Stop "suggesting" changes. Stop demanding fussy DRM. People, stop pre-ordering games from EA. How many times do they need to abuse your trust before they lose it?

I never did buy SimCity, even though I was hopeful that it would turn out well. SPORE (along with others) taught me a valuable lesson, and I never pre-order games anymore. I've begun to back some on Kickstarter - we'll see how that turns out in the long run.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Story Reconstruction Blues

I've been editing The Crown Unconquered for a couple weeks now. It's been hard going. My beta readers were pretty much in agreement with me on the main problem spots, which means those things need to get solved, hard. Sadly, I've been in a funk this last couple of weeks as well, which never makes writing easy.

The process goes as follows:
-Get charged up to fix the story, sit down to edit
-Make some progress
-Grow daunted by the task in front of me and unsure of my own skills
-Despair sets in, walk away from story confident I'll never get anywhere with my writing
-Do other things, dwell on story
-Remember how awesome the story will be once I fix it
-Get charged up, sit down to edit...

Rinse. Repeat. Low moods never help, of course. I feel myself emerging from that, so I'm still confident I can get this story fixed and published by the end of the month.