Archive for April, 2013

Let’s Play Galactic Civilizations 2: Facing the Vacuum

29 Apr

I both love and hate the opening bit of any strategy game. On the one hand, it’s joyless rote iteration of the same moves you make at the beginning of every game until one of your plodding scouts bumps into something interesting. It’s anywhere from five minutes to a couple hours of dull choreography before a situation develops that really requires your attention.

On the other hand, this is generally the only five minutes to several hours of gameplay where it looks like I’ve got a chance. Provided you don’t understand what my starting moves actually are, because I’m pretty sure those are all objectively stupid.

As a format experiment, I'm uploading screenshots that convey as much meaningful data to the reader as I get out of the game itself. In this picture, we clearly see some spaceships. They are red.

Observe my starting conditions. I’ve got a flagship for scouting, a colony ship, a mining ship, and a home planet. I am approximately an hour of research, exploration, and construction away from looking at just about anything else. This is an hour I could be spending, for example, attacking hair metal headbanging trolls with a mystic battleaxe and melting their faces with guitar solos. I will instead be right-clicking on asteroids and wandering around aimlessly.

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Unrest: What I’ve Been Doing

29 Apr

(By the way, Galactic Civ. post tomorrow.)

Alright, time to slide out the big fat announcement. The thing I’ve been working on lately–in a professional, diligent, part-of-a-team capacity–is writing an RPG for indie development studio Pyrodactyl Games. The game is called Unrest, and I encourage you to find out more about it by following that link from the last sentence.

I wear a few hats in the dev cycle, but my primary duties are twofold:

1.) Script writing (script as in lines of dialogue, not programming): Following an overarching outline, I write individual encounters and scenarios.

2.) Publicity: I write drafts of publicity stuff, such as the material I’m about to present.

I’m a little too how-long-has-it-been-since-I’ve-slept to write a post full of details at this precise moment, so I’ll let this rest of this update speak for itself. It’s the first in a series we’ll be posting, first weekly and later bi-weekly, about the world the game takes place in and the mechanics we’re exploring. Each update will also contain an entry in a sort of epistolary novella that fleshes out the setting and characters. And I started nodding off while writing that sentence, so it’s probably time to go to bed and let me-from-twelve-hours-ago take over.

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Posted in Unrest


Tomorrow’s Stream Isn’t

21 Apr

Yeah, that’s a couple weeks in a row with no stream. I’m sorry about this, but I am absolutely getting my can kicked by deadlines over here. I’m going to tentatively say to look to this space around Friday, when I’ll have some of this stuff cleared off my desk and might be able to pull off some M&B.

I should also have more Galactic Civilizations II and Great Freak Detective soon, but probably not for a couple days.

If this announcement sounds kind of boring, it’s because I posted it after killing every brain cell I had banging my head against a keyboard all day on multiple projects, to the point where I sort of have to fake understanding how grammar and sentences work. So I’m going to stop this part before that do some have headaches.



Vatsy and Bruno in: The Great Freak Detective (Part 2)

20 Apr

My question had a profound effect on their ranks; namely, each of them shot glances at the others to figure out how they were responding. I guess it was too much to hope that just one of these knuckleheads had the agency and self-assertiveness of a kid selling lemonade. I took another crack at it:

“I repeat: where are Vatsy and Bruno?”

“We can’t talk about that,” volunteered one. “The bosses told us not to!”

I’m going to go ahead and get a few apologies out of the way. Firstly, I would like to apologize for being perpetually two steps ahead of every slack-jawed dead-eyed spit-spraying stubbleclown in every gang on every street of this entire goddamn city. Secondly, I’d like to apologize for maybe getting a little worked up about that sometimes.

“Really,” I said. “Gosh. They told you not to. Wish I’d thought of that. If I’d known you were going to stonewall me, I would have broken the door down and threatened you with an axe.”

The machine guns hiccupped upwards again, and I noticed that my axe had tensed back that crucial few degrees. Slowly, visibly, with some small difficulty, I relaxed the necessary muscles. This really was not the time to let my muscles do the talking—because the moment they did, I would instantly stop liking where the conversation was going.

“You said you were just here to talk!” stammered a thug.

“I did say that, yes,” I said. “But to be fair, that was before I was close enough to kill any of you. Just tell me what I want to know so I can pull my business out of your business, alright?”

The guns rattled, their eyes darted, and I played the light up and down the edge of my axe-blade to make it clear which way was the right way to play this. And though none of them could see it, I was sweating like a pig in a slaughterhouse.

“Come on,” I said. “It’s not like I’m giving you a choice.”

The only reason I was still alive was because they very currently thought that in the time it took for their fingers to crook back and launch fistfuls of lead at my brain, I could kill a statistically significant percentage of them—and speaking as the city’s foremost expert in axe murder, that was howling nonsense. The only reason they hadn’t already figured that out was that every single one of them was very currently too scared to.

“I’m waiting,” I added. “But my patience does have a limit.”

If one of them grew a spine I would die pretty much instantly.

“We can’t tell you anything!” said the one in the middle of their little half-circle. “Doc will kill us!”

“Maybe he will,” I said. “But if you don’t talk, I’ll kill you for sure.”

Frankly, that line is awesome. It’s clear and logical and hits right to the point, and it has never steered me wrong before. So I don’t think it was at all reasonable for the gang to glance at each other and agree, in chorus, “No, he’ll definitely kill us,” and “He’ll kill us real bad, for sure…”

“Right,” I said. “I agreed to that. I said maybe he’ll kill you.”

“He will! He will absolutely kill us all.”

“Okay, so even if he will kill all of you…I mean, if you don’t give me what I want I’ll kill a few of you as well. Right? So really, you’re just putting off…”

“Oh!” burst the middle one. “You just said ‘a few of us’!”


“Yeah,” I said. “Well, a few of you, or maybe all of you.”

“And now you just said maybe.”

“Okay, you’re dying for sure,” I said, and that’s more or less when things went bad for me.

I’d like to think that if I’d had time, I would have apologized the moment I saw his eyes widen. But it’s pretty difficult to draw that conclusion from the available data, i.e., my entire lifespan. Apologize to the monkey with the gun and quietly back out empty-handed? Maybe if he had another ten IQ points I could muster the grace. Anyway, all I can really say is what I did do, which was realize that in about one second he was going to snap out of it and squeeze the trigger. That was not enough time to reset this conversation. That was not enough time to apologize. That was about enough time to piss myself.

So instead, I pointed at him, which I figured would delay him for about half a second as his monkey brain screamed at him to fire and what he had going for him for his higher brain tried to figure out, why the hell is she pointing at me? Yeah. Half a second’s delay.

Maybe he should have thought about it a little harder and realized I was pointing to make everyone else look at him and away from me. And to buy that extra half second to swing my axe straight down into his gunbarrel.

Everyone crapped themselves simultaneously as his machine gun went off into the floorboards. I was already flying through the air into the middle of their half-circle before his first casing hit the ground.

By now all of gunmen were panicking, several of them were shooting, and none of them were pointing there guns at me—just at the empty space where I was last time they’d checked. That was a neat trick, but not the kind of advantage you store in a larder and pass on to your grandkids—it’s the kind of thing that saves your life for about one second if you’re lucky.

Good thing I’m not lucky. I’m good.

One roundhouse swing put to the grave any doubts about my killing stroke and knocked the two middle gunmen into the same grave. They spun off, gurgling and spraying; the blood was still flying one way when I spun the axe around and sent it back the other. Four dead, two swings, and now I had some room to breathe.

And now the two bloodsoaked, panicking survivors had readjusted their aim. The two farthest away from me, exactly opposite on either side. This was, in bowling, what you call a “split.”

What, exactly, did I have planned for this part? Simple. I didn’t plan this at all. And now I was probably going to die.

Was it an accident that as I went to dodge, I stepped in some blood and started to slip? Oh yeah, absolutely. But it wasn’t an accident that I kept slipping, until I’d dropped back-first into the dogpile of blood and corpses and body parts and scattered guns—under their line of fire that lit up the room for exactly one second.

My slide backwards was not graceful or controlled. It was practically headfirst onto a pile of bodies, brass casings, and gunframes all scattered over hardwood. When I hit, my first thought was, “I’m not getting up anytime soon,” and it came about three fuzzy seconds after impact.

So when the time came that I was able to groan and pull myself up, I knew I’d won.

Dear god of melee bounties, they’d actually shot each other—and the sad thing was this was not even the third time I’d seen that happen. The kind of dumb SOBs you get in moonshine gangs have never heard the word “trigger discipline.” Of course, if they’d cared about what was behind their target enough to hold their fire, I could have taken them both apart, so evidently this just hadn’t been their day.

So whose day was it? I was sweaty, bloody, bruised, my ears were ringing, and I didn’t know a damn thing about where Vatsy and Bruno were. The fact that I survived this very stupid adventure was just consolation prize.

The only six gangsters I could find were all dead…which meant I was going to have to do this the hard way.

“I deduce,” said the Great Freak Detective, feet up on his desk, “that you have recently been in some sort of combat.”

“Shut the fuck up,” I said.


Galactic Civilizations 2: God Save the Space Queen (Introduction)

15 Apr

In Galactic Civilizations 2 , you sit the helm of an entire species’ post-terrestrial development. The game begins at a magical turning point between the landlocked past and the galactic future. Tomorrow lies the visible outlines of distant galaxies, strange and unique alien life, flora and fauna conjured by magic technology from the unliving rock, and weapons beyond description fired broadside into uncooperative planets. With will, patience, skill, and luck, your civilization can realize its very wildest dreams of knowledge and conquest.

The concept is appealing, the design is balanced, and the mechanics appeal equally to experienced and casual players. Personally, I put it in my top ten.

Of games that I suck out loud at.

I take to turn-based strategy like a Neanderthal takes to driving a Formula 1 car. If you’re here for the crashes, you’ve come to the right place.*

The only reason I bought the game at all, back in my high school days, was that I’d always had a fondness for customization systems. The actual progress of my ongoing campaign took second place to noodling about with ship building, planet naming, and similar bits of frivolity that had grim-faced war councils the universe over shaking their heads and fingering their nuke buttons. I’ll say this much : the game is good enough that it sometimes distracted me from crafting scout ships shaped like butts.

I did get to the point where I was, with some attention, able to glean the proper information from the very dense UI and put it to productive use. This allowed me to hedge from casual victory on the very lowest difficulty to demoralizing defeat on the very next—which would save this series from being another litany of humiliation, except that

a.)    I have forgotten absolutely everything I knew in the intervening five years, and

b.)    I’m going to play on the Normal difficulty setting.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to my civilization.

In this game, I’ll be playing the most bizarre and interesting alien invaders in the history of fiction; the British Empire. After deciding that the concept of a “Terran” alliance was a bit weak, a group of secessionists threw a dart at a rustling history book and decided to model a splinter culture after whatever it landed on. Five thousand crates of tea and a good old civil war later, the Separatist British were trundling a stolen colony ship towards neutral territory, with a freshly-minted monarchy at the helm and designs for a queen-shaped capital ship tucked quietly in the head scientist’s blueprints. Since then, their “home planet,” Londonworld, has been the scarlet pin at the center of a map entitled “Things That Will Be Ours.”

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the only historical records of actual British history that could be dredged up were a handful of penny dreadfuls, a book of American History that had been in a terrible fire, and a full season of Blackadder. Consequently, much of the civilization’s hopes and dreams have also been determined via the dart system. This explains their benign, but by no means thematic, embrace of science and technology as their main focus.

For a full outline of my civilization’s strengths and weaknesses, look to the screenshot posted below. Click, and then click again, for larger.

Next: If you seek war, prepare for lots and lots of war.

*Might I kindly add that if you’re here to coach the Neanderthal, your intent is similarly misplaced. Posting suggestions in the comments will not help me. As you have no doubt grasped, I am more than comfortable not being good at single-player videogames. Unless I’m playing a competitive or cooperative game, I prefer to keep making my own (admittedly quite bad) decisions than play according to someone else’s flowchart. Videogames are one space in which I can indulge my desire to experiment, persevere, and learn a system on my own without setting my kitchen on fire or crashing my car into a mobile home. I guard that space jealously.


Stream Delayed/New Text Let’s Play

14 Apr

I’ve already handily spoiled both in the title, but let’s get the good news out of the way first: I’m starting a new LP series, analogous to my early Morrowind one, in the immediate future. No need to talk about that any more; you should be seeing it in a couple of days. It’s something of a return to my more classic form, and I think you’ll all like it.

Also, I’m not streaming today (Monday) because I’m currently playing videogames in anticipation of my new series. Maybe there’ll be another stream later this week, but I don’t yet have a date picked out, so stay alert.

Well, that’s every both of the news items I’ve got for this Monday. I’ll say that I’ve got another announcement in the wings, but it’s not something I’ve got a lot of business talking about just yet. Let’s just say that all of you out there who like my writing and like videogames will have something to look forward to.


Vatsy and Bruno in: The Great Freak Detective (Part 1)

12 Apr

Two blows to the lock would’ve been enough to warn everyone inside to drop their girlie magazines, take a knee, and point whatever they had at the widening crack in their safehouse door. I needed three to break it.

It’s a good thing I’m a pessimist, or when I put my boot to the splintering remains and pushed my way inside, I would’ve been surprised to see six machine guns pointed in my direction—and being of a sensitive disposition, I don’t know if I could have handled the shock.

“Hi,” I said, tightening my grip on my battle-axe. “Let’s talk.”


To understand me, you really need to understand where I come from. There’s a whole range of experiences and circumstances and family history you need to get before you can understand my decision to become an axe murderer.

We might as well start with the event I most regret, and the one I’ve made sure dozens regret even more: my own birth.

Let your mind’s eye fall on a small prairie bedroom about twenty years ago. A professional midwife, never letting the beatific smile fall from her aching face, hands me over to the rest of our brood. They take me into their arms to hug, sing to, and shield me from the rocks people are chucking through the windows. I am generally cooed at and admired for a while. When he sobers up, my father comes in and formally names me after my great-great-grandfather, to much applause and celebration. Someone checks under the blanket and announces proudly that I am a girl. If anyone draws any sort of connection between these data points, it remains unvoiced—possibly because all of them, including my father, my mother, my two brothers, my grandma, my aunt, and my litter of assorted cousins, were named the exact same thing.

At this point, I think it’s safe to brag that I am our family’s first axe murderer.

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The Indietronic Guessing Game

09 Apr

While preparing the future lineup, I punched out this game to go along with last week’s Diecast. For those who don’t follow the series (posted on Twenty Sided), I proposed a guessing game where players had to figure out which pitches corresponded to real indie games and which were fabricated.

The answers will be posted in the comments. For added fun, before you check your score, pick out whatever pitch you like best.

  1. The player is a lion tamer who has a problem: his blind date doesn’t like circus folk. He has to navigate a three-act date without the truth coming out.
  2. The player controls an ant who dreams of becoming a man. After a regime of exercise and extreme surgery, the ant completely fails.
  3. The player controls a very old woman taking a very slow walk. Sometimes she dies. Other times, she doesn’t die.
  4. A well-to-do barista has to go through an entire week of work without joining a jazz band.
  5. The player controls colored squares and circles. This is an analogy for the complications of marriage.
  6. A housewife confronts her businessman husband about his affairs over the phone. The player is the telephone.
  7. A man sits in his apartment waiting for his date to show up. She doesn’t. He spends twenty minutes moping while the player takes control of his finger-tapping and nervous bread eating.
  8. The player meets a woman. He can either make her his wife or get some treasure.
  9. A night shift nurse lives and loves in an alternate 1950s Las Vegas. Plot twist: she’s actually Marie Antoinette.
  10. A gripping simulation of diamond trust manipulation.
  11. A top-down shooter dealing with the historical colonization of Jamestown, with one alteration: it takes place on Mars.
  12. A bureaucrat files papers in a lonely office building. Slowly, he realizes that the company he works for doesn’t exist.
  13. You play a Kentucky antiquities dealer searching for a road. The road does not exist.

Where’s Cahmel?

05 Apr

The reason this post is so behind schedule is because I’m frankly a little embarrassed to come out with it. The reasons for this will become clear, but the shame-nucleus around which the problem was formed is this: I wasn’t enjoying writing the Skyrim Let’s Play. So I didn’t write them. So I felt guilty about not writing them, and because of that guilt, didn’t post anything else–due to what I can only characterize as a severe glitch in the human personality. And in all of this clusterfuck of missed posting dates and empty site feeds, it never actually occurred to me that I could easily just change some of those things.

You know how posting has been spotty for a long time now? Here’s why that is. I’m either in the habit of posting regularly or I’m not. I get out of the habit if I procrastinate on doing my writing. I procrastinate on a series if I don’t like doing it. This is going to sound amazingly stupid to all of you, but I really haven’t liked doing either of my last two Elder Scrolls series. I’m only now beginning to understand why.

Some of you have noticed that, my disclaimer on the first post aside, I’ve written my entire Skyrim series in-character. This is a contrast to the previous series, which were half-in, half-out, as I mocked the gameplay and my own shortcomings at the same time–shortcomings that often led to moments the game developers never intended, little exploits and misadventures and humiliations that were unique to my playthrough. I liked the fact that my nude streaking, punching questgivers in the face and running away, and absurd abuse of bribery were emergent parts of the game that no-one else had seen. I was writing a story every time I took a wrong turn or failed to repair my equipment at a crucial juncture. My favorite posts are the ones where I’m telling you those stories.

I’ve finally realized that this is why writing Let’s Plays about Oblivion and Skyrim never gripped me. For better or for worse, they’re different games than Morrowind was. I wasn’t creating the same crazy moments I had back in the Morrowind days, and incidentally, I didn’t like the games as much either. I took steps to invest myself more in Skyrim by creating a character whose voice I enjoyed writing in, but frankly, I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather write a completely original story with femme-Cahmel, set in a completely original milieu, than harvest the details from a single-player storyline that promises to look like everyone else’s. I feel less like I’m writing about my D&D games and more like I’m writing the official licensed novelization of a mediocre fantasy film, suffering through watching and re-watching scenes to get the names right, keeping myself awake by taking liberties with character voices.

So at this point, I’m thinking I can call the Skyrim playthrough sunk. Not only is it a chore to write, but when I don’t deliver it, I don’t deliver anything else, either. This site has been a complete ghost town for weeks, and the impressively illogical reason for that is that I’ve felt too guilty about not delivering on one particular series that it has always been in my power to terminate outright.

I mean, I’ve been doing plenty of writing lately. I’ve accepted a job that I don’t want to talk about yet, but let’s just say it’s relevant to your collective interests. I’ve been working on a role-playing game called Mary Sue–yes, it’s very much alive. In fact, the reason it hasn’t launched yet is because every time I think it’s in the polishing stages I come up with something that makes it even better, at the cost of requiring more playtesting. And I’ve had several minor and major fiction projects that have been for some reason or another unsuitable to serial publication. So the glaringly obvious thing to do is take the time I would be using to work on Skyrim and using it to, for example, write a fiction series starring She-mel that deals with the same tropes that feature in Skyrim without actually requiring me to play the game.

Again–I don’t know why it took me so long to figure this out. And once I figured it out, I don’t know why it took me so long to write it down. But I have a feeling things are going to get interesting now that I have.

See you all soon…real soon.