Monday, June 25, 2012

On Badger

So as I'm finishing up the rewrite of Badger this week, I thought I would give you guys a preview of the cover for it. It was once again drawn by Paul Hamblin, the artist who drew the cover for Wolfhound. He tells me it is just about done, just a few small tweaks and we are ready to go. That puts us on a pretty good schedule, since the plan is now to release both Badger and Iron Angels on August 14th. Now if we could just get the book done as well... See you around!

Monday, June 18, 2012

On Arcanum

So here's a blog post on what has been consuming my free time recently. And by consuming, I mean devouring without mercy or end of appetite.

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura is an RPG. Worse, as you can tell, it is a steampunk RPG. There was absolutely no hope that I would be able to avoid buying it when I saw it, but at the very least I hoped that I would be able to finish it quickly and move on.

As all good RPGs do, this one crushed those fragile hopes. Arcanum can be described in one word: deep. I've read epic fantasy novels with less developed frameworks for their society and backstory. It is set in a world of magic and industrial revolution, where the various races of elves, dwarves, orcs and humans all coexist and thrive. Magic in this world is anathema to technology; a magical artifact can cause havoc with even the simplest technological device, while technology can make spells fizzle and fail. You can sense the tension between those two forces everywhere in Arcanum, from the political debates to the backstory for each nation you enter, and Arcanum does a very good job of immersing you in the conflict. As for backgroun, well, the manual comes with its own treatise on how the various races of Arcanum evolved or were magically morphed, along with detailed explanations of everything else in the game. That should give you an idea on how well thought-out this world is.

The balance between those two forces has shaped not only the culture and politics of Arcanum, but effects the gameplay and plot. People will react to you differently if you are a half-elf mage, an experienced dwarf blacksmith or a gun-toting human bandit. Combined with the different backgrounds you can give your character, you can play this game in a hundred different ways and have a new experience each time. The game gives you a freedom that allows you to choose your own story and shape your experience as you play. Plus, you get to make your own Molotov cocktails, repeating rifles, and forge dwarven armor, or just blast the enemy with arcane magical force. What could go wrong with that?

The character development in this game is very well done; it doesn't seem like any particular path is inherently superior to the others. I've had fun playing any of the various roles, and half of the fun has been designing new characters and seeing how the game changes. I think the technical term for what I've got is 'alt disease', which means I still haven't finished the game yet, but I have like five different characters about a quarter of the way through the story. The funny part is that the options available and the balance of the various elements mesh a lot better than most modern games. Aside from a few issues with combat (unless you play it in the turn based mode, real-time combat gets you stomped on by monsters pretty quick.) and the annoying fact that when you die without having saved you lose everything, Arcanum is one of the funnest games I've played in a long time. In fact, playing through this one has given me some very interesting ideas for my own, paper based RPG design... but that will have to wait for another post. Mwaha.

So there you have it! I got this game over on Good Old Games, where it does not cost nearly as much as it is worth. If you are a fan of steampunk, RPGs, and extremely good videogame storytelling, give it a try! See you around.

Monday, June 11, 2012

On Restructuring

So I've made a few changes to the blog! I'm probably going to keep making the occasional modification to the layout here over the next couple of weeks. The way things were arranged before just grew a bit stale, and I don't feel like it was working out very well. Let me know if you like it/hate it/gave a great big "meh" when you saw it.

Along with that, I've been trying to reorganize how I will be doing my work over the next eight weeks or so. Over the next week or so, I am anticipating a lot of the penultimate revision of Badger to get done. In fact, if I can just manage to buckle down and get to work, I may actually get the revision done this week and send it out to the copy editor early. That way we can have a secure deadline to publish it by August 14th.

While the copy editor has Badger, I will be turning my attention to other projects. Namely, I'm going to be pushing through Eagle as quickly as I can. I wrote Badger's rough draft in a crazy rush last year about this time, and I turned out to have a pretty good book at the end. I hope to do the same this time, so that we can have that book ready sometime in early 2013.

At the same time, I am going to try and get chunks of the Iron Angels final draft done. That way, by the time Badger comes back and is ready to rewrite, I can have Iron Angels done and ready to put up at exactly the same time. No muss, no fuss, just two more books done, and one left to go to meet my goal of four books in 2012.

Well, that's all the news for now. Hope everyone's doing well, and I will see you later!

Monday, June 4, 2012

On Alpha Centauri

So based on the recommendation of my friend, Joe Vasicek, I had downloaded a copy of Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri from a handy little place called I was a rabid fan of the Civilization series by the same publisher, and my childhood is marked by periods of extreme obsession with Settlers, Railroads, and Wonders of the World. I'm still convinced that I learned more about the process of technological advancement and historical monuments from that game than I did from most of my history classes, but that may just say more about me than it does about my teachers. :)

Anyway, for those of you who have never played a 4x strategy game like Civilization or Alpha Centauri, let me give you a picture of how the thing works. You're basically given a civilization where you have to build cities, develop technology and create military units as your people expand over the course of a few millenium/centuries. You get involved in the diplomacy side of things once you run into the borders of another civilization. Given the nature of the game, things typically either degenerate to a point where all those military units come in quite handy, or the other civilization, cowed by your awesomeness, petition to become your allies. The level of difficulty chosen at the start of the game can often determine how decidedly unfriendly these other competitors are, as well as how quickly they develop, grow, and fight.

There are a variety of ways to win, whether by convincing your various competitors to choose you as their leader through diplomacy, completing a particular construction project, or even by simply wiping out all the other civilizations on the globe. The term '4x' is kind of derived from that fact--you're supposed to compete with the other players on several levels, the four main ones being how much you've explored, how much your civilization has expanded, how well your economy can exploit the available resources in your territory, and, of course, how effectively your military can eliminate your competition. This type of game is typically a very long term, involved process which can take days just to finish one simple game. You think that RPGs are bad for being near-abusive time sinks? You've never tried one of these babies.

Basically, I should have known what I was getting into when I bought this game, but I'm stupid enough to get a game like this when it is cheap and cool. (See Dwarf Fortress and Spelunky for a comparison.) Alpha Centauri does not disappoint. You basically are a portion of a colonisation crew sent to Alpha Centauri. The crew gets broken up into factions due to a disaster in orbit, so you're competing against six other groups right off the bat. You can chose the different factions, which each have their own benefits, from the militant Spartans to the enviromentally sound Gaians to the diplomatic Peacekeepers. Each one has their own playing style and feel to it, and it was fun trying them all out.

I had to say that the game was definitely a great experience. There were some low points; the global warming mechanic seemed to kick in at precisely the wrong times no matter what I tried, the scientific progression seemed a bit hard to understand, and some of the military progression just seemed to be a bit uninventive. At the same time, the improvement in the barbarian/alien mind worm challenge was awesome, the chance to customize your own units only made things better, and I loved the flexibility that floating cities gave me to expand. Definitely a worthwhile buy, though I'm sure I would have been a bit more productive if I hadn't been playing it... See you around!