Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category

Chose Your Planetary Color

Most science fiction works with casual interstellar space travel suffer from the Single Biome Planet Syndrome.

This is the case were in a planet is described as having a single class biome, such as Forest, Desert, Tundra or Ocean for the entire planet.

The reasons are obvious for this:

  1. It gives you a wide variety of exotic yet familiar locals with well known weather patterns and animal behavior. You don’t have to create a complex world if your only going to use a specific local such as a Forest, a City or a Desert.
  2. Cut down on cost. You don’t have to go globe trotting to get locations shots for each environment and the backgrounds can be easily recreated inside a studio or in your local backwoods area (rock quarries and pine forest are fairly common in North American and British sci-fi productions). Even with CGI, you still have to pay the animators to come up with something that is reasonable in a short amount of time (at least on TV).
  3. Writers can also save themselves a lot of world building headaches by going the single biome route.

Now, there are planets in our own solar systems which are dominated by a a singular geographic/weather pattern. The key word here is biome or as it better known, an ecosystem. Wikipedia defines it thus:

Biome are climatically and geographically defined as similar climatic conditions on the Earth, such as communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms,[1] and are often referred to as ecosystems. Biomes are defined by factors such as plant structures (such as trees, shrubs, and grasses), leaf types (such as broadleaf and needleleaf), plant spacing (forest, woodland, savanna), and climate. Unlike ecozones, biomes are not defined by genetic, taxonomic, or historical similarities. Biomes are often identified with particular patterns of ecological succession and climax vegetation (quasi-equilibrium state of the local ecosystem). An ecosystem has many biotopes and a biome is a major habitat type. A major habitat type, however, is a compromise, as it has an intrinsic inhomogeneity.

The problem comes from the fact that life, even the most simple form of life has an effect on the environment around it. Photosynthesis changes the gas ratios in the atmosphere, which can lead to the creation of water molecules, an ozone layer. Their root systems can slow down erosion and so on and so forth.

One way around this is too look at Earth own geological history. Earth has been at times a volcanic planet, a water planet (still is), a frozen planet, a swamp planet and even desert planet. But this is due to many factors such as continental drift, asteroid/comet impacts, volcanism and the like. More likely than not any planet encountered would be going through one of these phases (which can last millions of years) but even then you would still have temperature gradients due to ocean currents, altitude and a host of other factors, among them, of course, the presence of life itself.

Especially true if such life is sentient, which means at the very least a conscious ability to alter the landscape through tool use, labor and science/technology.

Of course, if the planet was terraformed by a sufficiently advanced race so that it has a single biome/ecosystem that could work.

At the end of the day it is the creator’s choice and it is up to the audience to decide it they accept it or not.

Back in the saddle again

Yep, I’m back inside the electronic womb of Azeroth, the land of electronic milk and megabyte honey. One of million slaying beasts, exploring dungeons and collecting bear asses (I kid you not!)  Still, the environments are enriching, the world is huge and colorful and the designers are always upgrading the experience which leads to a lot of complaints about nerfing, that is that which was once powerful (abilities) or hard to get (mount, special pets, etc) now it’s easy or underpowered. But I understand that you need to change things constantly, otherwise the game becomes stale. And even after five years you don’t need to invest in a AlienWare(tm) gaming rig to play the game.

Still, after awhile it becomes more of the same; the same quests, the same locations, the same objectives. I done the guild thing and the encounter thing. No high level dungeons, but then again, each expansion wipes out the thrill of legendary dungeons with more, over the top locations. Still pretty to look at, but as someone who enjoys solo play (and was once had a severe addiction to WoW), it has run its course. Now I’m back to visit, the way Scrooge visited his childhood home. Nice memories revisited, but I doubt I would pay to return.

Time to move on.

And talking about WoW based memories, here is an old one from days gone by:

What is it about Apple?

That makes it so popular?

Is it the stylish packaging that screams “buy me, I’m an Apple”?

Or the hip commercials that whisper “be unique, like everybody else”?

Could it be the slavish devotion of hundred of thousands of  Apple geeks which guarantee that the first run of each new shiny object of technology will be a success thus lowering subsequent prices due to the power of mass production?

Maybe it is Steve Jobs unique hippie genius that allows him to divine what people want the most but don’t really know until he hands it to them?

Or the “oh so easy to use that even your 98 year grandmother will be surfing the web before she is out the store door” interfaces with pretty graphics and intuitive performance?

The answer is: all of the above.

The wrong answer is: the price.

So is this one: cutting edge technology.

Once Apple was the domain of cheap home computers (Apple II series) but once the Mac hit the market, the prices, while not outrageous, they are certainly steep compared to the competition. And the tech you see in the iPhone, iPad or iPod is not cutting edge. Phones had touch screens, Windows™  based operating systems, text readers, or cameras or any one particular thing. The genius of Steve Jobs/Apple reside in the unique way the package/market their products. Macs look sleek and easy to use, iPod are fun for everyone, iPads are the new must have accessory. Add clever tie ins such as iTunes (buying music at .99$ did more for the iPod than the click wheel) and you have yourself not only a sales winner but a market conqueror (named the second to fourth most popular music players after the iPod, I bet you can’t even spell Zune and Sony Discman/Walkman don’t count).

Not that everything has gone according to plan. The Mac did not conquer the desktop market and it is even loosing some territory on the graphic artist area to PCs and tablets. While MacBooks may be the preferred portable computer of the trendy college student, yet for years Apple refused to even enter the market and a few Mac clones clawed out a miserable existence in a landscape dominated my their PC cousins.  But you can’t deny that Apple bounced back with a vengeance in the late 1990’s and has dominated key sectors of the pop culture driven consumer electronic markets (although the Apple TV ties, while interesting, did not take off). Their biggest rival is still Micro$oft who while having a barb-wire enclosed monopoly on the PC software market still can’t break out of the IBM PC office shell of it’s birth (except for the Xbox and even then when was the last time you heard someone say Microsoft’s Xbox in a complete sentence?).

In part it is because Apple knows marketing and knows that people will pay for products that do not overwhelm them with obscure operating systems that require you to take classes at CalTech just to turn on the damn thing. Apple products invite the user to explore them and customize them; it’s your games, your music, your graphics, not someone else. They also know the fine balance between standing on the ledge of pop culture trends while blending in into the ubiquitous fabric of everyday life.

And as long as Apple can maintain that balance, the kids will be alright!

My Game Review: Munchkin The Card Game

The online Urban Dictionary defines Munchkin as:

3) The most annoying roleplayers you’ll ever have to deal with, who characteristically max out their stats, mostly without reprecations (sp?), play to mindlessly kill anything in their paths and boss the rest of your players around, and get as many dots or levels as possible. Most don’t really develop their characters’ personalities.

It also defines the theme of the game of the same name. The goal of the game is to reach level 10 by any means (both foul and fair), as befits its namesake. The game comes with two stacks of cards: Doors and Treasures. The players start with four cards (two of each) and play in a clockwise sequence from whomever rolled the highest number. Then game starts:

1. Pick a Door Card: If it’s a monster you must fight it or run away. You win if your total score (Level + Item bonuses) exceeds the creatures level. If you loose or choose not to fight the monster then you must run away. You successfully run away on a roll of 5-6 on a d6.  Failure means that Bad Stuff happens to you (each monster has a short description on the bottom telling you what that is). Success means you gain a level (or more if the monster says so) and you take it’s treasure.

2. Look for Trouble: If there was no monster, but you have a monster you can play it then, so you can fight it and try to gain levels and treasure.

3. Loot the room: If you successfully defeated a monster then you get to draw a number of treasure card from the Treasure card pile. You can play then right there or save them.

Fighting monsters is not the only way to gain levels. For every 1,000gp worth of equipment you sell (discard) you gain a level, and other cards give you level raises. The thing is that you can only win (reach level 10) by killing a monster or (if they are clerics) by a card called Divine Intervention.

Races and Classes come from the Door pack, and players can choose to be any class or race (and even have more than one with the right card). It may seem like winning this game is easy, but other players can ruin your game by boosting enemies, throwing down curses, stealing treasures or backstabing (last two abilities belong to the thief). Also you can draw curses from the stack which can wipe out your items or even take you down back to the lowest average level among the players. Cooperation is also encourage by the promise of sharing loot (only the player that drew a monster can gain a level) and in the case of Elves, by assisting other players in combat (only one player can assist another, but everyone else can dump on them if they want).

The cards are illustrated by John Kovalic (of Dork Tower fame, well fame among the RPG playing set that is) and are rife with gamer humor such as: Duck of Doom (curse), Lawyer (monster, won’t attack thieves out of professional courtesy), Gazebo (monster), Sex Change (curse), Pantyhose Of Power (+3 item not usable by Fighters) and many others. It is a fast paced game for 2-6 players and with a galaxy of expansions and sets (Munkchin in Space, Superheroes, Horror and Pirates) it won’t get boring anytime soon.

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And no for some more gamer induced humor I present The Gamers:

Axioms of Video Game Design

Today’s games come in shiny disc packing gigabytes of fancy graphics, great music and complex graphic engines made to be played in the latest high end consoles and PCs.  And guess what? Most of them suck! They do. You spend upwards of $60 (U.S.) and in a day or so you are selling them back to the retailer for half the price.

Why? How come? What’s going on here?

Well, the problem is that many game designers forget or ignore the basic axioms of video game design. They are so wrapped up on their wide palette of shades or how well the new physics engine simulates a body reacting to an explosion that they ignore basic game play. Which brings me to my Axioms of Video Game Design:

  • Game play is the thing: Yes, good, solid, basic game play. In fact, everything below this bullet point is about game play and the game experience.  I don’t care how many compressed terrabytes of data you devoted to leaves in the fairy forest of fire, if the game play sucks, your game sucks, and I’ll be asking for my money back.
  • Easy to learn, hard to master: From the time of the one lever+red button joystick susccesful video games have followed this formula. I should not have to spend fiver hours reading a manual just to know how to start the game. All tittles now have in game tutorials, so make the most it. I know that my controller has about ten different buttons, I shouldn’t have to use them all just to walk from Point A to Point B. I do expect that as I master the controls and the environment, the game challenge adjust accordingly. And please no cheap tricks like needing to reload a sequence 200 times in order to get lucky just once so I can finish the game, or stripping me of my hyper-space arsenal (and cash) mid way through the game when I’m facing a horde of enemies that are far tougher than the ones at the begging when I only had a crowbar.  In other words, I turn on the machine, grab the controller and start playing, just that simple. Oh, for god’s sake, do playtest the controller’s map, I’m playing a first person shooter, not Twist, ya twit!
  • Save anywhere, at any time: Save Points? Really? At this stage of the game? Come on! I’m playing a game on a machine with a 300Gb+ hard drive and game etched on a Blue-Ray DVD. Remind me again why are we still doing the save point thing? I wouldn’t mind it so much if there was a mission save feature or quick save button, that way I don’t walk/run/ride back from the last save point to the beginning of the mission or have to do the whole thing over again because I failed to pick up that small note under the table that no one would know about unless they had a game guide on their lap.
  • Getting my money’s worth: I paid good money for this game, I expect to get said money’s worth. That means that I expect somewhere between 3o-120 hours of game time. Yeah, you heard me! At around $60+ (U.S. +tax) I should have at least one a full hour of game time for every $2 spent on your product. Either reduce the price to match overall game time or give me my money back! And again, no cheap tricks, like excessive travel times between locations, or unwanted detours or scenarios that have to be rebooted again and again, just to eat up time. I want ACTUAL game play, not long frustrating hours of bullshit! Which leads me to my next bullet point.
  • Solid single player experience: “But it has great multiplayer!” Yeah, so what! Unless the game is specifically made as a multplayer game (MMORPGs for example) I don’t want to hear about. I want my solo campaign to stand on it’s own. Multiplayer is just something people tack on the game. And believe me, there are so only many times I can play capture the flag or deathmacth, been doing that since DOOM. A great multiplayer certainly gives depth to a game, I don’t deny that. But if that is all there is, then market it as a multiplayer/online game. Besides I find that if the single player experience is weak, then overall the game is weak, regardless of how many people you cram in a map on Xbox live.
  • Stick to a core game mechanic: Sure, sandbox games are all the rage, but that doesn’t mean your game has to be one, especially when you pretend it’s a sandbox game but is so heavily scripted that if the player goes outside the lines, it’s instant death/game over. Layering game elements from different genres is fine, as long as they don’t disrupt game flow. I shouldn’t have to go from shooting zombies on the head to a coin collecting mini-game and then have to pilot a fighter plane. I’m sure it sounded great on the conference room, but in real life, not so much.
  • Easy on the cinematics:  Yes, I do have an N-envy-dia 54000 game card that can display a bazillion colors per dot on a 50ft. flat screen. Hooray for me! Explain to me (again) why I spent five hours of my life looking at cut-scenes or quicktime events? This is not a James Cameron movie, this is a game, and I want to play it! Sure, I can understand that you spent six months of your live (and a broken marriage with alimony to go with it) on getting the perfect shine of the darker than black hair on the hero’s love interest just right for that one cut scene. I understand, but I don’t give damn! There is a difference between pretty cut scenes and actual game play. Learn it, love it and good luck with wife #2.
  • Sequelitis: Oh, so your last game was a run away success? Good for you! But you know what, that was back in 1992, this is 2010, would you mind changing things up a little? Please? I know that you want to go with what works. Makes perfect sense, and in the case of say, GTA, it worked. For awhile anyway. But the guys from Rockstar knew when they could not longer stretch a game any further and rebooted the whole thing. Also if I, as the player, I’m supposed to be playing the same character from the last game, why do I have to start at level 1 again, unknown, unloved, and broke? SSI did the whole character porting thing back in the 80’s with their gold box D&D games. I would think that with massive hard drives, online servers and game cards (those are still around?) it shouldn’t be much of a problem to just keep my character, right?
  • Nail the ending: Don’t get nailed by the ending. You have plenty of space, and a huge budget, why don’t you hire competent writer’s to write a full, comprehensive storyline from beginning to end? You gave my 30+ hours, why is it that you sucked the life out of the game in the last five seconds? I play games, in part, because I want to know what happens next (just for the same reason read books), a stupid, bland or nonsensical ending just ruins it. So dial back on the graphics budget and hire a half decent writer, please?
  • Don’t over promise: I know you spent hours of your life developing this one game. Is that Wife #3 on the line? But enough with the endless sneak peaks, developer trailers and the like. More likely than not, either you’re going scare away potential costumers who don’t like or understand how complex the development process is or you’re going to over promise and disappoint when you fail to deliver.
  • KISS: Above all else, Keep It Simple, Stupid! Start small and build from there. All gimmicks and hardware are useless if your basic game play sucks.

In fact, the popularity of retro gaming, online flash games and such platforms as Nintendo’s Wii and DS show that good game play, married with a solid story line and simple to use control scheme does will sell games. It’s just that simple. And it wouldn’t kill you to run your game through a video game cliche checklist before ship it out, just in case.

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Check out my writing blog for the details of the 1k Words BlogFest, starting on February 22nd.

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The End and the Beginning of Time

We have ourselves a new doctor, the 11th in the series. I have to say that I a “new” Doctor Who fan, having only watched (although I was aware off) the 2oth century Doctors. But to be honest, it is a good thing that I didn’t watch any of them before Eccleston took the role. I was not prejudiced by the dodgy FX and 80’s cheesy lines, not that the new series don’t have that mind you I simply wasn’t prejudiced by what came before. So I took the appearance of the Cybermen with glee, was impressed by the Daleks and hooked on Rose hotness (yes, she is hot, live with it!).

Eccleston was good, Tenant was better.

So much better. I like the grit and determination that both showed, but a dark shadow loomed over the 10th Doctor and Tenant pulled it off without a hitch. Plus the romantic involvements felt more organic, especially with Rose. He also played well with Donna whom I grew to love (and miss).

But that time has passed. A new decade demands a new Doctor and a new companion (a hot one too by the looks of it and yes she is ginger which makes her even hotter!).

So good luck to the 11th Doctor and a chance to catch up to a year’s worth of “specials” I haven’t seen yet.

It’s dead Jim

I’m a writer, not a necromancer. My NaNo was DOA and got more putrid with every word I injected into it.

So I said, screw this!

I started over.

Will I make it to November 30th?

I doubt, but at least I shed a lot of bad ideas and now I can proceed with a clear mind.

Because NaNo is not (just) about winning, it is also about the writing.

And that makes this a win for me.

Good luck to all of you this month. Keep on writing!