Thursday, November 6, 2014

On the Ethics of Making Substantial Changes to Already-Published Books

So I'm still hoping to get a couple of my publications into hard copy (via Amazon's CreateSpace service) by early next year. This has caused me to go through another round of deep-comb editing, even above and beyond what I did for the initial publication. Typos in hard copy are forever.

Of course, this also has me thinking about the quality of the books themselves. I stand behind everything I've published - I think they're good stories that lots of people would be perfectly happy to spend money on (else I would not have published them). But reading through Twixt Heaven and Hell I've come face to face with a couple issues that I badly, badly want to fix. The problem is, they aren't just typos. They are story issues, structural issues, and occasionally self-awareness issues.

The odds are that many readers woudn't notice them. For obvious reasons I am hyper-aware of any extant criticism of my own books, and also of criticism I think could be fairly leveled. Currently, the representation of women and minorities in speculative fiction is a very hot topic. I have been aware of it for some time even before it reached the level it has now. The problem is, I wrote Twixt at a time when my awareness, appreciation, and understanding of said issues was fair less advanced. And now I'm feeling a bit ashamed of that, because it shows.

On one hand, there are plenty of instances of writers who've felt this way about past works. Quality or content-wise, we always improve and always look back on our past works with a hint of resignation that they don't measure up to our current abilities. It's natural and inevitable, and nothing to be ashamed of if you are capable of (and do) better work in the current day.

On the other hand... very few people have read this book yet, and it only exists in electronic form as yet. The thought has sneaked into my head that I could fix it. But somehow, it feels vaguely dishonest to do so. Furthermore, if the problems are truly fundamental, it may be a better use of my writing time simply to work on the NEXT book rather than constantly trying to fix an old one.

On the THIRD hand, maybe being able to sneak in "improvements" is just a little boon of being an as-yet unknown author with very few readers.

Chances are, I will try to address some of these issues before I put it in print. I have the feeling some of the "fixes" will be relatively easy and will increase the quality of the book enough to be worth the time. In reading through the book again, I still feel good enough about it that I'm not ready to abandon it as a relic of my early career. A bit of maintenance may well be in order.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

KDP Introduces Preorders

Only a couple days after I voice the expectation, Amazon shows once again they'll never let a competitor do anything alone for long. Just got an email about Preorders now being open to KDP users. I'll definitely be using it for my next release, at the very least to learn the system.

Not sure how much of a bump a low-seller like me will experience from preorders - Smashwords says all preorders will accrue to the sales on the first day, giving a boost to sales rank which in turn increases the likelihood of the book being marketed to other readers as a "maybe you'd like this too!" offer. I imagine the same will be true of the KDP system.

At first glance it seems that Preorders will be available to ALL KDP users, not just Select as I half-expected when I saw the email. Hopefully that's true, and will not change.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Echoes and Memories

My newest publication, Echoes and Memories, is now available on Smashwords and Amazon. As per the usual cycle, it will soon trickle out from Smashwords to the various other retailers such as Kobo and Barnes and Noble.

In the end, I cut a couple of the stories from the collection as they simply weren't strong enough. One of those I hope to whip into shape and put in front of the public at a later date. The other I'm not sure about... it has potential as an idea, but as-is it just doesn't have enough substance to stand on its own. The concept may need to get folded into another story.

Anyway, the end result is that this collection comes in at around 30k words, which is about the minimum it had to be for me to think it could be published, even when the stories themselves are strong. I have half an intention to eventually publish an updated version which inserts a new story. Cuz I'm a self-publisher damnit, and I can do that.

As I was going through the publication process on this one, I saw that Smashwords now has a "publish for preorder" option where you can schedule a publication date in the future and open the book up to preorders. Might try that for the next book. Maybe by that time Amazon will have something similar for indie publishers.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Square Grid vs. Hexagons

The more I play tile-based strategy games, the more enamored I am of hexagons. Both from the player perspective and the design side. Player-wise, they're awesome because they retain visual distance correctly. Some grid based games try to even up moving diagonally by making it more expensive, and some don't. Sometimes you forget which is true in a game you're playing.

From the design perspective, hexagons are awesome because there's very little work that needs to be done, data-wise, to implement hexes. In the simplest case, a simple conversion rule lets you use a normal 2d array and you just "ignore" the data points that don't fit into a hexagonal grid. Hexes make range calculations much more simple, from ranged attacks to movement to area-of-effect.

So, being that I prefer one so heavily, what's the problem? Other people, naturally. As I'm finishing up the prototype for Conquer the Castle, I'm toying with the idea of switching to hexagons when I move into the creation of the final product. But I have this anecdotally-supported idea in my head that the average player finds hexagons confusing, and prefers a square-tile grid. I'm wary of "aiming for the largest possible audience," but that doesn't mean I want to shoot myself in the foot by discounting a lot of players who might otherwise try the game.

Guess it's audience research time.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Strategy Games and Morale

For several years now, I've had the opinion in the back of my head that "serious" strategy games incorporate several mechanisms that more casual games do away with. Morale is one of the primary ones. When the various dudes who do your fighting in these games value their own e-lives, it vastly complicates things.

When it comes to games, I prefer things on the complicated side. Games like Starcraft or Supreme Commander (or just about any other popular strategy game) allow you to treat your units as disposable cannon fodder. The continued existence of any single unit counts for practically nothing in the grand scheme of things, greatly simplifying the playing experience (this also allows the games to play faster, which is a benefit).

I identify two general approaches to making an individual unit's "life" matter more: Unit-side and Player-side. The latter is about making the Player care about that unit's ability to live or die. This usually involves mechanisms like gaining experience (and thus combat effectiveness) over time, but can be as simple as giving units individual names. Even when they differ only cosmetically from the rest of their ilk, this allows the player to invest some sort of emotion  in them (but only works on players so inclined to do so).

On the other hand, you can make the unit care about it's OWN life: thus, morale. I think this has historically been one of the mechanisms designers are quickest to ditch. By necessity it implies developing some kind of AI for those instances in which morale "breaks" and the unit no longer obeys the players actions, but rather starts behaving according to some other directive (usually being, "run away!"). This can not only be frustrating for a player (it lessens their control over the game, always a risky thing especially with more casual players) but time-consuming for the developer to implement effectively. If a routing unit doesn't behave at least somewhat intelligently, it only aggravates the player further.

In my current project I'm developing the morale system right now. The actual numerical book-keeping is relatively easy, though there are quite a few factors to consider (should the unit gain morale by killing enemies?). The hard part is fleshing out the behavior a unit takes when it's morale is broken and it routes. Currently, I'm aiming to satisfy a simple three-step decision process:

1. If enemies are nearby, retreat along the path which will put maximum distance between you and them.
2. If no enemies are nearby, retreat towards the nearest board edge.
3. If multiple board edges are nearby, bias towards the one near your player's start zone.

So, first a unit runs away from the enemy. After that, it tries to get off the map, preferring to get off the map near where it started (retreating back the way it came). But how far away will it look for enemies? What if a unit breaks near to the enemy start zone and there is a clear path off that edge, but some enemies are somewhat nearby? Generally speaking, units fleeing in panic should behave "intelligently" for a given small set of information, but planning far ahead isn't a requirement.

This is one of those situations where you design with a few simple rules and hope that the emergent behavior seems to make sense...

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Expanding Subjects and Switching Gears

Well, the stories that are become Echoes And Memories have all passed the initial draft phase. Now I send them off to beta readers for outside opinions while simultaneously working on something else so I get some mental distance, all the better for whipping them into shape for final publication this summer. (*Note to self: work on the book blurbs BEFORE the day of publication!)

However, I'm switching to work primarily on something not writing or publishing related. As I mention every now and again I do a lot of hobbyist game design, and much as with my writing I'm hoping that will eventually turn into a professional pursuit. This next month will be occupied with finishing up a prototype of a game I've been creating for a few months.

In that light, I'm officially making this blog a Writing/Publishing blog as well as a Game Design/Creation blog. I imagine there is enough overlap in the fandom that I won't annoy my handful of readers too much, and it beats having to start up a whole other blog that no one reads. I can always split them up later if need be.

So, expect my rants, rambles, and raves for at least the next month to be on game topics!

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Myth of Talent

There was a thread over on Mythic Scribes recently (can't find it to link just at the moment, sadly) which once again got me thinking about talent. I used to be a believer in the concept - there just seemed to be things which came so naturally to me, and which others seemed unable to grasp well on a very basic level. Naturally, the opposite was true in certain fields. So I believed that each person has within them some few "talents" or natural dispositions that were inborn and unalterable. They'd always have advantages in certain tasks, and disadvantages in others.

I guess you could say I still believe in talent, though I no longer believe in talent as a single phenomenon. Rather, I see talent now as something of a derived composite of certain other characteristics. These may be truly basic, some the result of nature and others of nurture, and they are probably most likely to change early in life - our formative years, but they are by no means static after that.

Puncturing the myth of talent is important, I think, because of how often I see people say "well, I'm just good at X activity. It's not something I can teach." To which I think "Bullshit. Damn near everything can be taught." And learning what truly lies at the root of our talents can help us develop them even further.

That's not to say that teaching it will be easy. When I think of writing talent I always consider empathy as its predominant component. It seems to me (though I am ready to be argued with) that the ability to understand and share a wide range of emotions - even to be able to experience them at will - is the most important tool for an artist. Furthermore, I'm of the opinion that the primary purpose of the arts is in growing human empathy, the better for helping us all be a little less of an asshole to each other from time to time.

But I digress.

The point is, empathy can be taught. Likewise for any other of talent's components - for writing or for any activity (because the components  of talent change as the task does, of course). Dramatic and comedic timing, for instance. Hard to teach, but possible.

That part - hard to teach - is the real reason why people like to think of talent as some insurmountable static trait. It's just easier to think "they've got it, I don't." We like to do what we're already good at, after all. There aren't a whole lot of people in the world prepared to put in the work required to learn talent.