09 December 2011

Rejection Letter #1 from Bewildering Stories

Hello, Duncan,

Thank you for "Mosquito-Things." We're receptive to comic horror here at Bewildering Stories.

This particular flash fiction seems to fit the genre, especially since the narrator seems to realize the truth of Oscar Wilde's epigram: "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." The Ulblings control the universe but ultimately decide that the narrator is not worth bothering with.

I'm not sure I understand this sentence:

They run the mosquito-things from their future into our past-- and vice-versa-- and pull time forward with the resonant tension of their flight.

I'm reminded of what is probably the most famous line from the old "Amos 'n Andy" show: "Whut? Diamonds [the present] is wuthless?!" The mosquito-things are taken from a time that does not yet exist and are sent to a time that is now immutable. I feel a little sorry for the mosquito-things; it's hard to get more irrelevant than they are.

Part of my job is to represent the readers to our contributors. Thinking of a reader locked in place in front of a computer screen or holding an iPad in hand, I have to wonder whether readers will get past:

They started coming-- or maybe I let them into my dreams, or maybe I came into their dream, I don't know, but I started seeing them

Granted, we have an unreliable narrator, but readers will wonder what the point is in his questioning himself with two "maybes." Nothing would be lost if he simply described the mosquito-things' effects on his dreams. In any event, I would recommend omitting the exposition and starting the story with "I only suspected their presence at first."

As for the middle, readers will wonder how the narrator learns that the masters of the universe are "Ulblings." The narrator does some research and leaves it at that. The upshot is that the readers have to take the Ulblings as axiomatic. Readers won't do that; they'll want to know what the Ulblings' motives and objectives are.

As for the ending, the mosquito-things look at the narrator but, unaccountably, fail to see him. They ignore him and go away. And then he starts screaming? I'd think he'd be relieved.

Yet nobody else can even hear a mosquito.

More accurately, I think, "mosquito-thing." People normally can hear mosquitoes.

I'm afraid I have to invoke a couple of our editorial principles:

• It's perfectly okay to depict insanity, but one must not induce the same condition in the readers. That is, sharing a narrator's mental state ought not to be a prerequisite for understanding a story.

• We can't accept stories that end "But it was all a dream" or the equivalent.

Can you send us something else? We'd be glad to consider it.

Don Webb
Managing Editor
Bewildering Stories
"Ars longa, vita brevis" -- rough translation: "Proofreading never ends."

19 November 2011

Update on Stories

My quest to be a published author of static fiction continues. Of 7 updates since October, 6 rejections and 1 problematic publication. So, another slew of stories to send out, I suppose...

A Ruined House - rejected for reprinting 14 Oct
Teiselwalk's Bridge - rejected 17 Oct
Brochure Found Near Storm Drain - rejected 20 Oct
Jabeld's Casket - rejected 23 Oct
Mosquito-Things - rejected 12 Nov
Pennies of Doom - published 14 Nov
The Pendant of Zeklin Kha- rejected 19 Nov

Of all of these, I was particularly impacted by the rejection of "Mosquito-Things" from the Innsmouth Free Press. I thought for sure it'd find a good home there, especially given the focus of its impact is on what I think is real cosmic horror, rather than this catch-penny, be-tentacled "Lovecraftian" sentiment that misconstrues the Gentleman from Providence as some sort of cephalopodphobe or something. I did discover it's possible to almost get thrown out of a bar for ranting about misconceptions of H.P. Lovecraft. C'est la vie. I'm sure the folks at the IFP are a cultured bunch with higher standards than my literary sheddings can yet achieve. Well... some day, perhaps.

I've been quite surprised at the rejection of "Mosquito-Things" from every place I've sent it to, actually. I think the story itself is well-written every time I re-read it, and I've gotten nothing but positive feedback from other readers-- even in rejection letters, it would seem. Why can't this story find a home?

I did get one story published-- "Pennies of Doom." It's another crypt thief story, the second to be published at Flashes in the Dark. Unfortunately, there have once again been problems with the formatting of the story which have yet to be fixed, despite my complaints. There are 7 instances of words run together which should not be (e.g., "deprived every" is posted as "deprivedevery"). This is bothersome and, I think, makes me look sloppy when the errors did not originate in my version of the text to begin with. Then there's a sentence whose meaning has been entirely altered from its original intention. As published, it currently reads:

"Whispers spoke of ways for dealing with the nightmare magic of the Sorim. Ways that twisted these hallways and distorted the senses, but none worked so well, the teacher said, as meticulously maintaining a trail."

But the original says:

"Whispers spoke of ways for dealing with the nightmare magic of the Sorim that twisted these hallways and distorted the senses, but none worked so well, the teacher said, as maintaining one's trail."

So you can see, it's originally intended to show that the nightmare magic of the Sorim twists hallways and distorts the senses, not-- as the revision seems to suggest-- the thieves' ways of maintaining a trail. Maybe it could've been worded better, yes, but while the revision might fix the awkwardness of the sentence, it perverts its meaning. This is something I've also asked the editor to fix.

On a similar note, the formatting errors in "The Pendant of Zeklin Kha" (my other story published there) still have not been entirely fixed, either. The first paragraph still has two words run together, "Sorimlegends" which should read: "Sorim legends."

I suppose I should send the editor another nudge about this tonight to make sure it gets fixed.

In other news, I recently went back over some of my old stories. I've been fond for the past year or two of talking about how I tried to write a novel and failed miserably (regarding a work I "finished" in 2005 that is basically a stupidly modernized retelling of Hamlet) and have never needed to try again. But I re-discovered last night my second novel attempt, which I'd basically forgotten about.

This was a thing I'd started in 2004 while I was working menial, minimum wage jobs. I was writing stories purely out of enjoyment then, just coming home from a dull day with a head full of imagined escapes and needing to get them down in some form. Working title: The Supermarket Prophets. The result is a series of stories generally linked together by locations and characters, but each exploring different fantasies of escape as the characters go through their days working at a supermarket. Because I didn't really think about the thing as something I would ever try to publish, the stories take all kinds of forms (personal narratives, discarded applications for employment, history lessons, an IF walkthrough...) and go in all different directions. I don't think it would be possible to string them together in a strictly chronological order, as there are lots of alternate realities and each narrator has their own uniquely varying level of reliability. I remember intending that I would be able to read through all the stories and decide which I thought was its actual ending whenever I wanted at that particular moment of reading (and which were fantasies told out of boredom by inventive store clerks).

One problem is that some of the stories' voices sound a little too similar. This can be fixed. Others, though, sound quite vastly and distinctly different from each other. That's a good sign, I think.

One thing I was a little comforted to find in this case was how what I think of as my "casual tone" can work to make compelling narrative, even if it is a little overused amongst these stories in particular. Since these works, I hadn't used my casual tone again until The Ascot, and I haven't really used it since then in a serious effort. It's nice to see that it can do something special. Maybe I should write something in it some other time.

In the meantime, I'm a little excited at rediscovering this thing and think I might try to get some more work done on it if I find the time.

How Suzy Got Her Powers

As promised, I'm posting my thoughts on this year's ADRIFT games from the IFComp in the form of letters to the authors. I'm beginning tonight with a letter to David Whyld, author of "How Suzy Got Her Powers."

* * * *

David,

I was glad to see you entered IFComp this year, as I've been glad for your renewed activity with IF in general. Unfortunately, I have to say I was disappointed with your IFComp entry this year. Perhaps I'm just used to expecting off-the-wall comedy from your work, but I can't say I haven't also enjoyed your more serious writings like "The Final Question." I think part of what nagged at me about this one was that it seemed more like an IntroComp entry than one meant as an IFComp entry, so it felt out of place. As a superhero origin story, it left me unfulfilled.

A superhero origin story needs to go beyond the plain fact of how one gets their powers. To take an example, Peter Parker doesn't just get bitten by a spider, "The End." He gets bitten by a spider and chooses to use that power become a crime fighter. An origin story should tell us what a hero fights and why. Suzy, aka Scarlet, is fighting... what exactly? We don't ever really see it. She's not fighting from intrinsic motivation either, which makes her harder to work into the mold of a heroic figure. A lot more is left vague than I would've liked in that regard.

Superheroes need to be strong characters, defined by what they do. What does Suzy do? The interpretation I got was that she's a sexually harrassed waitress who hates kids and lugs around useless items that she loathes. Especially given her items, I felt like I was getting mixed signals, expecting Suzy to be a farcical superheroine, but that didn't pan out.

The story claims that her usual response when a crying child says their mother is trapped a building she can see is currently burning is "to shrug [her] shoulders and say, 'Yes? And?'", which didn't do a lot to make her likable to me. Is she supposed to be an anti-hero? I get strong reluctant hero vibes from her, but that doesn't really work with the rest of the setup unless the Magic Eye compel completely changes her. If it does, though, we don't get to see any of that, so we're missing out on major character development.

I feel like I should've gotten some development from Suzy's debatably brave rush into danger, but it sort of happens and is done, and that's it. Quite a bit of the game, instead, is spent developing interactions between Suzy and the annoying child (giving it the mints and wiping its face with a tissue, oh-so-motherly-like), even when those motherly representations seem to run counter to the rest of her character. Is she motherly at heart or does she hate kids? If she balances this contradiction, might there be a better way to show it? As it is, the nurturing actions are all optional content. Was there other optional content I missed that maybe made her character stronger than I'm getting from what I played? I'd be curious how the scoring breakdown of the game characterizes Suzy.

Come to think of it, overall I'm just confused about who Suzy *is*. Messages are too mixed. If you could pick one action in the game defines her as a heroine, what would it be? Is it her expression of apathy? Her rush into danger? The way she gives mints to kids? Or throws fire extinguishers? Or is it just the virtue of her always being the only one around?

It's pretty hard to get an audience into a conflict the protagonist doesn't even care about. Like Suzy herself, the writing felt like it was just reluctantly going through the motions in an aimless, "Well, I guess I'm here, I might as well" sort of way. I much prefer your writing when it lets loose from conventions and blasts off full force into its subject matter, like in For Love of Digby or Back to Life... Unfortunately. There are a lot of stock phrases in this story that I think you could easily re-write into something thematically potent and exciting. I know you have the talent to do it.

I played through about four times and never did get full points. I appreciated that some work went into getting players to execute non-standard commands and into the presentation of the inventory. I imagine the inventory as it is would mean always having to keep the number of dynamic items down in order to avoid one's inventory from really bloating up the screen, but I think that could be a good design decision overall. I would've liked to be able to throw my brick of a cell phone at the sprinkler system I couldn't otherwise reach. At least then it might've been good for something. The tissue and mint... also didn't really do much for me in terms of character development or usefulness. What does the story lack without them that it needs?

I'd've liked to see how Suzy reacts to being Magic Eye compelled, too. The story just kind of ends at that point, but we don't know how she feels about it. Again, it sort of felt like if we just said, "Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider-- the end." Maybe giving us one bad guy to hunt down or one crime scene to investigate afterwards could've helped to better establish expectations of Scarlet as a heroine.

We didn't really get to use our New Alien Toy for very much. How do you envision it working in the future Scarlet release or releases? It would've been nice to use it in that intended way at least once in the set up so we'd be ready for it when it comes up again.

Overall, what direction do you see Scarlet going in? What non-spoilery info could you tell me about the villainy she'll face? Will she have a costume? If so, what do you envision and what does it tell us about her?

I hope your game's reception in the IFComp has not dampened your enthusiasm for writing this character or her story, but I'd like to see more development in both. To that end, I am eager to see more of this work. I think you might do well to follow an episodic model for releases in this case. I could really see it working, especially as that's been more-or-less the normative mode for superhero development.

Well, that's about all the input I have on that for now. Any thoughts? Please comment below, or perhaps we can take this over to a thread on the ADRIFT Forum or intfiction.org (in which case I'll update this post with a link).

Hope all is well,
Duncan

18 November 2011

A Post on "The Crooked Estate"

Bit of a longish post on my blog regarding The Crooked Estate. It is an excerpt from a sample thesis prospectus I wrote up last June. My thesis has changed direction slightly now, focusing on escape and entrapment rather than the nightmare of anonymity, but I thought this might be worth sharing (for the curious) despite its lack of timeliness.

The new post can be found here.

Anonymity & Nightmare in "The Crooked Estate"

     Ostensibly, this writing should be about interactive fiction, which forms the core of my body of artistic moltings. My project of obsolescence has no long term goals that can be attainable by the exertion of effort; it operates only in a frustrated present. I am comfortable in admitting my ignorance here just as I am in admitting my insignificance anywhere else.
     What is not necessarily interesting in the IF interface is the keyboard itself, which is just a vehicle of the parser framework. One might as well use a gamepad, a human body, or two rocks. Any controller will do. What interests me in this construction balanced between knowledge and discovery is its allowance for a player to exercise lateral thinking, to synthesize information and solutions under their own power. Enacting these answers through the self holds a different quality than an answer processed through an other-- it is the difference between seeing and doing, amplified by the idea that one has come to such an action independently, that it is one's own (rather than, say, a solution looked up in a walkthrough).
     This is, of course, a false conclusion, and one I am only drawing up against myself to tangle fruitlessly with a goal which is still unclear to me as I write. Let us try an example: When one plays The Ascot, one can play without ever breaking the rules and come to any number of dull or unsatisfactory endings. When one breaks the rules, however, and discovers the best solution-- that is, [removed for spoilers]-- one does not actually believe this to be a choice invented just by oneself. Obviously, it is only another authored path, albeit an obscured one. Perhaps the true joy here has only to do with a feeling of completeness and necessity in the game's formal affordances that allows for such an ending. The game otherwise feels exceedingly crude in its craft and pointless. It was released in 2009 and will be forgotten, as with all of my work that speaks a language that few can or want to bother interpreting.
     Much has been made of the potential archival power of the internet, the ultimate database, yet I cannot help but regard so many parts of it as extensions of anonymity, of nothing- and nowhere-ness, of loss. I use the internet like a child hiding dead spiders in the back of a sock drawer: telling no-one, but failing to shut my failed work from my mind, knowing these things still exist and can be found by anyone with the easy means and mere will to do so.
     Even then, each shedding of myself will fade into the nameless architecture of time, essentially erased of any connections or identity-- even with its names and descriptions attached-- as the representamen of the original objects take on their own lives and mutations, struggling to form a perfect blankness. Several will be found with the wrong name on them, founded on lies, and desiring nothing but to eternally go on telling things that never happened and that never will be to nobody in particular. They will be only so much more digital flotsam in a great sea of information, negligible, empty meanings that perhaps once had meant to say something, but were made dumb by the idiocy and indolence of their creator and their nature, only ever part of a silence that might have desired to speak or had fooled itself into the illusion it had a voice of any kind. Even this document, too, is a falsehood. For when these pages are finally re-encountered, if they are not outright rejected like malignant growths of the information machines they came from and went to, when time strips away their context, should they ever be discovered they will only ever reveal an intent-- never a reason or substance, but only an undefined lack.
     Much has been made, too, of lack. To Lacan, our lack defines us. The boundaries of our selves serve to exclude us from objet petit a and the Other we find all around us, at the same time they trap us inside of a thing which may alternatively also not be us or our consciousness-as-it-identifies-itself, a many-fractured and senseless, kaleidoscopic thing given senses. This series of organic machine-things may operate even without our conscious intent or permission. If we choke, it will spit. If we stop our breathing, it will start it again until some exterior force stops it definitively. We are tied inextricably to the horrors that are our bodies. In this machine, within the inescapable magnitude of the currents of time in our corner of the universal void, it is as though we are stuck in the last lines of T.E. Hulme's “Trenches at St. Eloi”:
“My mind is a corridor. The minds about me are corridors.
Nothing suggests itself. There is nothing to do but keep on.”
It may be interesting to explore the thought that the corridor of one's mind may intersect with others, unlike those strict parallels that marched into No Man's Land and death. Yet these hallways-- infinite in their virtuality, regardless of their location-- exert subtle pulls upon their inhabitants, such that “There is nothing to do but keep on” in any particular one. Where intersections are clear, perhaps, one may in fact change direction, yet anyone at the intersection of infinite corridors cannot move in infinite directions. Where one has too many corridors, the space of the possible must be sacrificed until it can be managed. Where sacrifice cannot be performed, the result is a sort of paralysis within space, a visible, writhing menu of still-live possibilities that will never be chosen, committed, or realized.
     This paralyzing infinitude, one form of chaos, serves to remind us that “consciousness has overreached the point of being a sufferable problem for our species,” to which the response of Norweigan philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe is, to wit: “to minimize this problem[,] we must minimize our consciousness” (Ligotti 30). As summarized by Thomas Ligotti, Zapffe offers the following as possible methods of minimizing consciousness:
“(1) ISOLATION. So that we may live without going into a free-fall of trepidation, we isolate the dire facts of being alive by relegating them to a remote compartment of our minds...
(2) ANCHORING. To stabilize our lives in the tempestuous waters of chaos, we conspire to anchor them in metaphysical and institutional 'verities'... that inebriate us with a sense of being official, authentic, and safe in our beds.
(3) DISTRACTION. To keep our minds unreflective of a world of horrors, we distract them with a world of trifling or momentous trash... [this method] is in continuous employ and demands only that people keep their eyes on the ball...
(4) SUBLIMNATION. ...this is what thinkers and artistic types do when they recycle the most demoralizing and unnerving aspects of life as works in which the worst fortunes of humanity are presented in a stylized and removed manner as entertainment... these thinkers and artistic types confect products that provide an escape from our suffering by a bogus simulation of it... [artistic] composition cannot perturb its creator or anyone else with the severity of true-to-life horrors... just as King Lear's weeping for his dead daughter Cordelia cannot rend its audience with the throes of the real thing.” (Ligotti 31-32).
Confronted with the paralysis of chaotic infinitude, art seeks by a series of choices to frame chaos, to isolate and anchor it, to distract our consciousness from its incomprehensible magnitude and sublimate our irrational emotions in its wake. “The frame is what establishes territory out of the chaos that is the earth... the frame cuts into a mileu or a space” (Grosz 11-13). Here “the space that engrosses the deject, the excluded, is never one, nor homogenous, nor totalizable, but essentially divisible, foldable, and catastrophic” (Kristeva 235). Chaos is imminently frame-able.
     Each of my projects, then, has utilized text and interactivity in the form of interactive fiction to frame chaos in one way or another, be it ridiculous or horrific. I have made some works as comedies and some as horror, at times using the mantra of seeing the horror in humor and the humor in horror. Often, I would like to leave the determination of such value with the viewer themselves rather than assigning it outright. As Kristeva mentions, horror is “Situationist in a sense, and not without laughter-- since laughing is a way of placing or displacing abjection” (235). In this fashion, the project of any horrific work is itself laughable, whether this is the laughter of a jester in a hall of merry circus mirrors or the laughter of a hanged man echoing from the silhouette of a gallows at night.
     The Crooked Estate is one such a work, an interactive fiction with no clearly-defined narrative except for a set of pre-constructed possibilities that allow its players to explore the simulated space of an ancient, deliriously arranged and impossible series of galleries filled with abandoned puppets. It is not necessary that the reader come to an understanding of the estate as a metaphor for a world built on a foundation that is deranged at its heart, but that they might absorb through the descriptions of objects within the space and the repetition of particular events a sense of unusualness from the place whose staircase and doorway leading back unto themselves and into a space repeating ad infinitum indicate “a suspension of that natural laws against whose universal dominance our fancies rebel” (Lovecraft 434).
     At the level of the navigated storyworld, the player encounters a number of creations-- cobwebs that continually break and cover every crevice, rotting wallpaper whose peeling layers continue forever without revealing anything beneath but more of itself, the unnameable designs on the wallpaper, or the crevices of shadow underneath twisted, empty frames-- that intend to invoke, like Kristeva's abject, “violent, dark revolts of being, directed against a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable” (Kristeva 229). These all I could describe further, but they are not as interesting as the puppets.
     The figure of the puppet I borrow from Thomas Ligotti. In this case, the image applies not only to the heaps of clothy things lying like corpses in the centre of the estate's gallery, but also to the player themselves. For, according to Ligotti, the puppet is not just a puppet, but a thing which might
“negate all conceptions of a physical naturalism and affirm a metaphysics of chaos and nightmare. It [the player] would still be a puppet, but... a puppet with a mind and a will, a human puppet... [they] could not conceive of themselves as being puppets at all, not when they are fixed with a consciousness that excites in them the unshakeable [sic] sense of being singled out from all other objects in creation. Once you begin to feel you are making a go of it on your own-- that you are making moves and thinking thoughts that seem to have originated within you-- it is not possible to believe that you are anything but your own master” (Ligotti 17).
These intentions, as I have mentioned earlier, may be the only hint available to a player as to the real content of the piece. Even it may disappear over time, detached from its coupling with an author. Certain players will no doubt find the space subvertable, perhaps imposing their own delirium of whatever upon it, or merely shuffling about unaffected in a dull boredom.
     The code for the piece shall also be available for perusal of the player [ in its presentation at @party 2011] at the same time as the level of their enacted world-- this code, too, hints at intentions by the inclusion of another layer of virtuality over the database itself. Within the code, players may find things which they are either unlikely to find within the experience of the story itself or which do not explicitly exist within that level of the experience altogether.
     For example, one may find another room to the work, entitled Outside, whose description contains only the text of William Blake's “A Poison Tree,” isolated and with no statement of intent. Though it has one officially intended meaning-- it is just another hint that the estate represents my growing dissatisfaction with one particular community of writers-- this is never made explicit, as these meanings like the rest of my work intend to be erased by dust, leaving only themselves and their imbecilic mystery. The estate itself might also represent that writing platform, with its unsound foundation for attracting the attention of readers that cloisters its community to another forgotten corner of the internet and encourages their creations to only release within that shadow at the back of a sock drawer filled with dead spiders-- findable, but purposefully ejected into forgetfulness-- where no-one hopefully will paw.
     
     * * * *
Works Cited
Grosz, Elizabeth. Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth. Columbia University Press: New York 2008.

Hulme, T.E. “Trenches at St. Eloi.” The War Poets Association. Accessed 9 June 2011.

Kristeva, Julia. “Powers of Horror.” DANM 202 Syllabus. Accessed 9 June 2011.

Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. Hippocampus Press: New York, NY, 2010.

Lovecraft, Howard Phillips. Selected Letters, Volume III. Arkham House: Sauk City, Wisconsin, 1971.

17 September 2011

Submissions Update

* "The Pendant of Zeklin Kha"
^^+ "Jabeld's Casket" (third time's the charm?)
+ "Pennies of Doom"
!_# "A Heavy Pack"
* "One Estate, As Left by Owners"
*& "A Ruined House"
+ "The Damned Cat"
^+ "Underneath the Cemetery" (formerly known as "A Graveyard's Shadow")
^+ "Mosquito-Things" (submitted to Innsmouth Free Press, super excited about this one!)
^# "Teiselwalk's Bridge"
%# "Laserman Vs. Dash Dervish & the Tornado Machine"

* = published
& = reprinted
+ = pending response
^ = rejection
_ = unsubmitted
! = new
# = just sitting on my hard drive
% = self-published

11 September 2011

Laserman #1: Laserman Vs. Dash Dervish & the Tornado Machine

Silhouetted in front of a dizzying, steel-and-glass tower filled with hurricane force and spewing electricity, stood a man whose very outline was a whirlwind.

“You'll never escape my lair this time, Laserman!” cackled Dash Dervish. “You will be the first victim to my Tornado Machine-- then the whole city will bow to my quantum control of the winds! Nothing can withstand the power of Hurricane Dash! Ha ha ha ha!”

From the other side of a glass wall, trapped in an as-yet inactive wind tunnel, our hero struggled through paralyzing vertigo. The mere sight of the Dervish in his quantum suit disrupted the concentration chip required for his laser precision. He tried to lift the laser arm of his own robosuit and aim it at the villain, but couldn't. Motion-sick nausea overcame him. An all-over weakness gripped him and squeezed.

“Take my laser cannon, if that's what you want,” pleaded Laserman. “I'll release it from inside my suit-- but spare the city! They don't deserve this!”

“Moot and moot-- that oversized laser pointer doesn't concern me anymore, Lazy Boy.” Dash shot over to one of the Tornado Machine's control panels and began operating it at breakneck speed, his fingers a constant blur. “You'll find I've taken every precaution to ensure your death. The glass before you is heat-absorbent. Not even a flamethrower could damage it. Any rays of yours that pass through will be as harmless as a flashlight, aha ha ha! But, come, let's not take the wind out of this party...!” The madman grabbed a hold of a sizable lever and threw it forward, turning the wind tunnel on at full force.

A sudden typhoon filled the room, tossing Laserman against the wall where he stuck, helpless as a fly on paper. He gritted his teeth against it. “... windbag...!”

The mad whirlwind of a man burst into another fit of manic laughter. Dreams of power materialized before his eyes. His insane plans worked. With the flick of one more switch, the Tornado Machine swept into its final phase, churning its inner gale into a massive, swirling cone of destruction with a subsonic roar that shook the whole underground lair.

“Sorry I can't stick around to watch,” Dash yelled over the din. “I'm sure the show will blow you away! Ahahahaha...!” With that he took off-- whish-whoosh-- up the stairs, no doubt surging out the door to Stormstriker, his secret helicopter.

Dervish's disappearance meant his quantum suit no longer interfered with Laserman's concentration chip. Despite regaining his focus, however, no heroic effort of muscle or mind could move him forward against the titanic push of the wind tunnel. His laser was useless past the heat-absorbing glass, and cut too slowly through the monumentally thick walls of the wind tunnel to get him out before the final tick of the Tornado Machine's countdown. Things finally appeared totally hopeless for our hero and the city... and they would have been, had Dash not left the door wide open in his hurry, allowing Laserman's feline companion-- Blackout-- to come sauntering down the steps into his lair.

It might still have been harmless beyond that heat-absorbing glass, but cats still cannot resist laser beams. Squinting against the wind in his eyes, Laserman grabbed the black cat's attention with a tight swirl of the laser, and led it onto the control panel. It leapt at the lever, turning the wind tunnel off and switching off the countdown. Laserman sprang forward, smashed the glass with his cannon arm, and barreled over to the control panel. His laser-precise vision spotted the self-destruct initiator under a steel panel. His laser arm burned it open and he pounded the button.

T minus one minute and counting to abort...”

Laserman wasted no time in escaping. He scooped Blackout into his arms and bounded four, five steps at a time up the stairs out the Dervish's fiendish lair, into the brilliant light of day. He was barely out of the way in time to slide to a kneel and shield his cat from debris, embers, and ash when a great pillar of fire erupted, shooting skyward in a cyclone blaze that destroyed the dastardly scheme of Dash Dervish and his Tornado Machine.

Looking back at the terrific plume of smoke rising from the still-smoldering ruins of the fiend's lair, Laserman knew that Dash Dervish would return again. Dash would not let this defeat go lightly. His manic fury would deepen and his plans would turn more insane, more wicked and grandiose, and nobody could ever stop him.

Nobody except for Laserman who, this time, would be ready for him.

09 September 2011

Back from Burning Man, Update on Stories

Still adjusting to being back in default world after my first time at Burning Man. So many new friends. What an amazing time. I hope to return the following year.

Did not end up writing a story while at Burning Man, meaning I've missed 1 story for the month of September already, but I intend to keep at it. I do not regret not writing at that event. I would have missed a lot of awesome shit if I did. Frankly, I found the environment too overstimulating to stop and capture things in text for any length of time. The experience was the quintessential "You had to be there." Maybe I'll try harder at describing it later.

Otherwise, my most recent story is "Laserman Vs. Dash Dervish and the Tornado Machine." I have no idea where I can get superhero flash fiction of this sort published, and even suspect that to anyone familiar with comics (in a way I am not), this story is probably fairly trite. Not to mention that after Burning Man, I'm tending to question its founding premise, "lasers > flamethrowers." I've seen so many lasers now. So many flamethrowers. But I suppose it still works for this particular story's cat-based solution. Perhaps I might just bypass other means of publication and post this story on my blog.

Before leaving for the Nevadan desert, I sent a slew of stories out to presses. I have heard back from almost all of them, resulting in 2 rejections (one for use of 2nd person, one for a publication no longer being active) and one publication. "The Pendant of Zeklin Kha" was published at Flashes in the Dark. Please check it out here and comment. I am still awaiting a response to "The Damned Cat" from Bosley Gravel's Cavalcade of Terror, and recently sent a copy of "Jabeld's Casket" to Bete Noir Magazine (which I assume will be rejected, but nice practice anyway).

So, stories are currently looking like this:

* "The Pendant of Zeklin Kha"
* "One Estate, As Left By Owners"
*& "A Ruined House"
+ "The Damned Cat"
^+ "Jabeld's Casket"
^ "A Graveyard's Shadow"
^ "Mosquito-Things"
^ "Teiselwalk's Bridge"
_ "Laserman Vs. Dash Dervish and the Tornado Machine"
_ "Pennies of Doom"

* = published
& = reprinted
+ = pending response
^ = rejection
_ = unsubmitted

19 August 2011

Story a Week Update

I fell behind on my story a week commitment last week, unfortunately, which means it's the first I've missed since I started in July. I suppose I was quite busy writing reviews and things, instead, but I don't want to count that for writing because critical writing is a different sort of thing to get into the groove of than creative writing, and it's the latter groove I wish to maintain. I'm happy to announce that I have finished this week's story today, however, so I'm back on track. It is yet another horror story.

I've actually gotten a few requests for stories now, which is interesting. I don't know when or if I'll actually get around to them, but I'm intrigued by the concept. I've had a request for a sci-fi story, a superhero story, and a piece for a creative collection a friend wants to put together called "(You Can't Escape from) T. Rex Island." I've gotten some notes and possible outlines together for these things, but no drafts have yet materialized. I've been saying for some time it might be a nice change of pace to step away from horror for a bit, but it seems I'm always drawn back to it (like today). We'll see how that goes.

The major work I need to do now, I think, is in submitting these stories for publication wherever I can. Sigh. That can feel like such an unwieldy process sometimes. I assume it's because I haven't had enough practice in it yet.

For the curious, here's a list of the titles of stories I have written as weeklies thus far, more-or-less in chronological order:

^"The Pendant of Zeklin Kha"
_"Jabeld's Casket"
*"One Estate, As Left By Owners"
_"Pennies of Doom"
_"The Damned Cat"
_"A Graveyard's Shadow"

* - published
^ - received rejection
_ - unsubmitted

17 August 2011

Commercial/Content

I wanted to share a nightmare I've been having recently. This nightmare involves using some form of internet access-- be it phone, computer, or whatever-- and coming to an ad that has to play before I can actually get to the content. This seems to be the norm now for accessing some forms of web content, especially videos. In this nightmare, there is no "skip this ad now" button. Or there is, but it plays another ad. And when the ad finishes... it repeats or brings up another ad. When I finally get to the video, I need to pause or rewind... and so I have to sit through another ad. I can't even play through an album without being interrupted every few minutes by this mindless, pandering drivel.

But in the nightmare, it doesn't stop there. If it stopped there, that would be reality. In the nightmare, I try to stop accessing the video. But closing the tab brings up an ad. The browser's back button needs me to hear 30 seconds from Budweiser before it will function. I try to call someone for help, but the makers of Wheat Thins need to talk to me first. The ads take over, and they never stop. There is nothing else to watch, nothing else to see, nothing else to hear anywhere. I try to remember how we dealt with it before, but I can't access my own memories without first having to hear from its corporate sponsor. In this nightmare, commercials are our only content.

13 August 2011

More IFDB

Won't say much here, as what I've done is plainly visible at IFDB at the moment. In case this is the future and it is not, however: Reviews ported over from ADRIFT website (Give Me Your Lunch Money, Target, The Wheels Must Turn, Paint!!!). Also amended the page for the virtual human. Have not yet gotten to ADRIFT IntroComp 2009 or Lumin's work. Will.

In re-posting reviews from the ADRIFT website, I have changed my star rating for Target. This does not change the content of my review, which I stand by, but reflects 2 primary influences:
1) the smaller audience and scope of comparison of the ADRIFT website compared to IFDB.
2) I have a personal star rating system on IFDB whose qualitative meanings differ from those of star ratings on the ADRIFT website.

Still wondering about IFDB uploading etiquette. My additions have pushed two reviews and a new game listing off the immediate main page. The sort of "here today, gone tomorrow forever bwa ha ha ha!" nature of upload visibility on IFDB has always been a source of anxiety for me. Does anybody have any particularly strong feelings about this? Or maybe just some thoughts?

12 August 2011

New IFDB Uploads

Just a short notice: Ectocomp 2009 games have been uploaded to IFDB. Still to upload: ADRIFT Introcomp 2009. I've also noticed that Lumin has a profile page on IFDB with (now) just one game attributed to her. For as much IF as she's written, as many awards as she's won in the ADRIFT community, and seeing as how she's the only 'DRIFTer with a fan page on the Forum, that seems off-kilter somehow. I'll try to fix that soonish, as well.

Right-o. Uh, carry on then...

07 August 2011

Continuing the ADRIFTness

Continuing a discussion on the playing of interactive fiction at the ADRIFT Forum here. Mostly this is to poke the ADRIFT audience with a stick and see if they can be roused to playing games. ADRIFT tends to consider itself a community of "mostly authors," which should sound readily problematic to anyone who otherwise writes & plays IF.

I have also started a thread of Recommended ADRIFT Games, which has been supplemented by Richard Otter. Notably, his recommendations are all 2007 & earlier, while mine are all 2008 or later. I hope they form a complementary and reliable source, although I know there will likely be some gaps. For example, Marika the Offering is on neither list, even though it is highly recommendable. Hopefully the ADRIFT community can build on this so that we can have a more comprehensive and better curated list. I also hope it will spur reviews at adrift.co.

I have also added the ADRIFT 2010 SummerComp games to the main site. These games are already on IFDB-- several reviewed, though those reviews now need to be transplanted to the ADRIFT site in some way. Same goes for many games, like Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort, which have reviews on major IF sites like IFDB, but have received zero response from the ADRIFT community in particular. Campbell claims to be working on this, so.

As for the continuing IFDB flood: I have only added reviews for The Challenge for now. I see that Wade Clarke has posted a review for I Was a Teenage Headless Experiment, for which I am grateful. Mr. Clarke (horror aficionado & author of Leadlight) was one of the several official judges for ECTOCOMP 2010 who is not a regular member of the ADRIFT community, for which he is to be commended. We hope to have more like him drop by and give some ADRIFT games a look. I will attempt to upload the rest of the ECTOCOMP 2010 games tomorrow. Also, secret rumor time: an unverified voice whispers, "ECTOCOMP 2011 may be open to all platforms!"

Here's a run-down of what I have uploaded so far and still need to upload (as far as I know):

DONE & REVIEWED
-Whitterscap's Key
-Mangiasaur
-Suburban Prodigy

DONE, BUT NOT REVIEWED
-Newton
-JINXTRON
-I Was a Teenage Headless Experiment
-The Crooked Estate

COMPETITION PAGES ADDED
-The Challenge
-ECTOCOMP 2010
-@party competition 2011

NOT YET DONE
-Mango (uploaded, but the download link for this is broken, needs fixing...)
-Delusions Again
-Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort (2nd post-comp version)
-ECTOCOMP 2010 games, including:

  1. Pete's Punkin Junkinator (DCBSupafly).
  2. Renegade Brainwave (J.J. Guest).
  3. Steve Van Helsing: Process Server (Mel S).
  4. The Vault (BlueMaxima).
  5. The Fly Human (Eric Anderson).
  6. All Hallows Eve (Alvin Echeverria).
  7. Tenebrae Semper (Seciden Mencarde)
-2009 ADRIFT IntroComp (competition page, including the following 11 games...)
  1. Apokalupsis (James Webb as "revgiblet").
  2. Dung Beetles Are Aliens! (Duncan Bowsman).
  3. The Magician’s Niece (Hensman Int'l).
  4. Through time (Finn Rosenløv).
  5. Existence (Abbi Park).
  6. To End All Wars (Duncan Bowsman).
  7. Donuts (The Dominant Species as "Mr. TDS").
  8. Dish Duty (Duncan Bowsman).
  9. Dead Race (Justahack).
  10. The Merlin Bird of Prey (Mark Sarul).
------

I admit to some surprise at seeing so little documentation of the PAX Speed-IF games on IFDB. I may also wish to create pages for those, but that's not in the immediate pipeline. I've found uploading lots of stuff and keeping the conversation going to be pretty time-consuming, but rewarding thus far. Let's hope the former reduces and the latter remains.

So, looking at about 21 more pages to create, then reviews. Might as well look at starting a thread on intfiction.org, too, but do feel free to join at the ADRIFT Forum or by posting a review on the ADRIFT Adventures page.

Zazzat.

05 August 2011

IFDB Flood

Just a post to apologize for turning IFDB into The Duncan Show/ADRIFT Mania, but I've got a lot of stuff I need to upload to it. Hopefully this will all be cleared up relatively soon, and you can be returned to your regularly scheduled IF programming.

29 July 2011

Story a Week!

I've been off the blog for a bit, so it has missed an important announcement I made IRL. For the summer, at least, I am attempting to write a story a week. Yes, Jonathan Coulton is a bit of an inspiration here. For the purposes of this goal, I'm defining "story" as a flash-sized piece of fiction (>1000 words). Thus far I've kept it up for three weeks, though last week was a bit of a crunch, and it looks as though I am on track to keep it up a fourth week.

So far I've written mostly all horror, though two pieces have been a distinctly dark fantasy sort of horror about thieves going into the crypts of these necromancers. Those pieces are entitled "The Pendant of Zeklin Kha" and "Jabeld's Casket." Zeklin Kha has already received one rejection, but with a positive note, saying the story was "fun, but not quite for us." This was from MicroHorror.

The piece I squeezed out last week is less a story and more a fictional real estate ad, but its contents tell a story in their own way. It attempts to sell the reader on a tomb "in a quiet neighborhood underground" with a table "ALWAYS expecting visitors" and other such slightly off things you'd probably never want to read in a actual ad (I suppose it is not often on Craigslist that one sees listings that assert particular rooms have "no bloodstains").

I was actually inspired to write the previous three pieces by the Dracoid ruins in Lands of Lore II! It's so atmospheric, definitely my favourite part of the game. I s'pose I'll have to update on LoL:GoD again soon. I've stopped playing it on the hardest difficulty, though. One of the things I started doing as practice was to park Luther in front of some strange thing and then write down a re-contextualized description of the object for use in later stories.

This week, I'm shifting gears slightly in that my story is to be about a cat. Aaron has been staying at our mutual friend Helen's place while she is away... apparently he is not a fan of her feline companion. He recently referred to it as "that damned cat," and my mind went instantly to Ambrose Bierce ("The Damned Thing") and H.P. Lovecraft ("The Rats in the Walls"). Although I don't think my story will end up anything like either of those great works, their authors do provide inspiration...

I've also been doing some work getting these stories into different formats for publication. It's not so hard, but I have to think of a better way to organize my stories so that all the versions floating around don't get mixed up. Mostly I've got copies in either standard internet format or standard manuscript format. All of the publications I've been looking at submitting work to have different rules for presenting work, but most seem to want either of these two formats, with stories either sent in the body of an e-mail or attached as a .rtf.

Also, I recently discovered Darkmarkets.com and Duotrope's Digest, which should prove useful additions to Ralan's Webstravaganza in connecting me to more and more people looking to publish the sort of junk I write.

I'll end this post with a small note of thanks to the kind folks who saw my little comment about "A Ruined House" on Facebook and commented on the story. It's much appreciated.

06 July 2011

7 Ways to Improve Secret of Mana

I recall Secret of Mana fondly, as do many, when I consider playing it as a child. On a more recent play of it (a couple years ago), I was a little more critical. Don't get me wrong, Secret of Mana is an excellent game that no RPG lover should go without playing. Its free-roaming combat system reproduced spatially accurate AoE attacks (one of the things that also made Chrono Trigger's combat unique two years later, only Secret of Mana did it in real time), and its multiplayer mode encouraged cooperation, so every player could feel important. Plus, the game's level progression is mostly seamless, except toward the end (more on that later).

Please bear with my recent blog post... some ways the game could've been improved.

Also, spoilers.

1) A quest log. We take these for granted nowadays, but they are a somewhat modern convenience in gaming. Like other RPGs of its time, Secret of Mana just expected players to remember what they had to do. If you saved your game and reloaded later and had to jog your memory, you had to remember who to talk to about the quest to get a recap. Most of the time the characters dealing out quests are pretty significant (e.g., the king of Matango), but it would at least save you the trouble of flying around going, "Which of these forests is Matango?" if you could just look up your current quest at any time.

This time wasted between playing the game to advance the plot and playing to discover how to advance the plot is problematic. If there is no chance for characters to gain experience in-between, it could end up being pretty much another loading screen.

2) Map labels. If you forget which forest is Matango and your only way to rediscover it is by trial-and-error, something is wrong. Flying around on Flammie is fun, cool, and even has good music that changes to serve the plot's mood, but the interface introduces a lot of dead space even when the player knows where they're going if they don't know where it is. It's interesting to think that heroes might be the first mapping out these routes or something, in a way that expands the scale of the game's exploration phase, but locations should at least be marked after being visited.

Better still might be a customizable map that automatically marks plot-significant locations, but also lets users to identify and create their own comments on locations.

3) Properly identify spell effects. You need to cast a lot of good buffing spells in Secret of Mana, which is part of what makes the Girl such an important character in combat. Unfortunately, when you cast a bunch of spells on people, they wear off. This is okay, nobody expects the effects to be permanent.

Still, when the effects do wear off, the game reports, "X's magic wore off." They don't tell you which spell it was that wore off, so you have to guess. You can infer that the X refers to the recipient of a spell and not its caster when you see the hero's name there, because he can't cast magic. If you don't have many buffer spells on, that's fine, but when you've got at least three on everyone at any time... why not just say the name of the spell that wore off? Why should I have to waste mana re-buffing spells that haven't actually worn off yet?

4) Don't offer the trip to Kakkara. After leaving Flammie with King Truffles in Matango, the Cannon Express offers the player a trip to either the Kakkara Desert or to Magical Walrus Winterland. Kakkara is first on the list. Here the choice is deceptive, though, because it offers an emergent divergence not mirrored by the embedded narrative— but when players enter Kakkara, they trigger an encounter with a sandship and then a boss fight which would seem to suggest they were on the right track. Only after the end of that can the players explore the desert and the fire temple to discover that they need the power of the fire elemental Salamando to get past the lava under the temple. Unfortunately, Salamando is in Winter Country-- but there's nothing in Kakkara that signifies or suggests that, so the player can end up lost searching for clues to the puzzle. The player should just be sent to save Santa in Winterland first.

5) Don't start Light and Dark Magic at Level 1. Casting magic is an important part of the game. It solves puzzles and makes combat easier. But magic is only effective at higher levels in Secret of Mana, which means that by the time you get these two last elementals, you have other spells that appear to be way better. Tell me, do you cast level 1 Lucent Beam (puny damage) or level 8 Exploder (big, triple-digit numbers' worth of damage) when you want to get rid of a tough enemy in combat?

Unfortunately, you're going to want Light and Dark Magic to be effective in order to get through the Mana Fortress. These are the mid-bosses' weaknesses. This means derailing the player from the main plot line to make them grind their new magic up.

Why not make the new spells come in at either the average of a caster's spell levels or just at the caster's lowest elemental level?

6) Armour should make sense. Even though the Girl's graphic stays the same, she's still subjected to some sexual male fantasy bullshit in her armour. Did you know a Tiger Suit (AC 52) protects its wearer less than a Tiger Bikini (AC 64)? Me neither until I played Secret of Mana. If the bikinis give more protection, why isn't every character running around in them? Where's the Bikini Army? Seriously, in D&D terms: the Hero and Girl are both M sized adventurers, they should both be able to buy the same plate mail. I can understand requiring two character roles to adapt to different armour settings, but the Tiger Suit/Tiger Bikini representations feel mismatched in terms of what their respective ACs indicate.

Fictional gameworlds are incoherent because they rely on meta-knowledge of the rules in order to make sense, but we do have some control over what these incoherencies represent. Petty chauvinism should not default.

7) Give every player an equal role in the final combat. Here I'm sure some others may disagree-- and maybe I'm even misremembering-- but I thought the ending combat was one of the game's biggest let-downs. Not because it was too easy (which it was not for me), but because the gimmick for beating the boss was obscure and didn't give players an equal role in defeating the Mana Beast. At its core, the final combat reminded me that Secret of Mana was, after all, designed as a single player game, even though it had a multiplayer feature.

Yes, the Hero is who the player starts with. Other characters only come after time and their being played is even optional. Still, all the Girl and Sprite do is cast buffer spells on the Hero-- they can't do any damage to the Mana Beast. Why this big FU to the other players? Couldn't there have been a way to bring together all of their powers more equally?

Even though the Hero is... well, the Hero... Sprite, up until this point, has actually been much more handy at dispatching bosses. Suddenly Sprite does nothing. Aside from telling whoever is playing Sprite to take a hike, this also means that the team's functioning-- which has been honed in particular patterns throughout the whole game-- is suddenly disrupted by this new gimmick. Should I have to stress that when players spend time building something throughout the whole game, it might be a good idea to let them use it in the finale?

-----

This took longer to type than I thought. I should get something to eat. Anyone wishing to share their thoughts, please do.

30 June 2011

Shao-Lin's Road High Score

New high score for Shao-Lin's Road: 1,113,100.

More than triple my previous record, totally shattered it. After playing (I lost track of time, but I suspect about an hour on one token!), I was a little exhausted and opted not to try for any more GORF or Zaxxon. I only wish I'd had someone to witness it and some documentation.

Maybe I'll be able to make it again, and we'll get a Youtube video out of it?


* * * *
Note: At Twin Galaxies, this score seems to place me about 6th (this is for the cabinet version known as Kicker, though they are the same game). The highest high score is above 10,000,000!

29 June 2011

Moving, arcade, Lands of Lore

Tonight: Cleaning before I packing for a move to another apartment. May be busy for some time with that, but I don't want my blog to fall too far behind in the meantime. So...

Went to the Santa Cruz Boardwalk a few times. My favourite ride so far is The Giant Dipper, although I also enjoyed Ghost Blasters, the Sea Swings, the Hurricane... also the arcade. The Time Crisis 3 cabinet was out of order, but seems to be working now. Didn't play it last time I was there, though, because I wanted to play with a partner. Last time I was there with some DANMites we wanted to play it, too, but we played Panic Museum instead. It was weird because it doesn't have a reload feature, felt less rhythmic and more like I just had to click on everything as fast and as constantly as possible. Anyway, I plan on spending a lot of time at the Boardwalk with my DANM cohort. Sabrina and I want to take scuba diving classes together in the fall.

I've been haunting the Classic Corner in the arcade, taking on Shaolin's Road, Gorf, and Zaxxon. The machines reset high scores, but I decided to write mine down. Here they are:

Shaolin's Road: 335,300
Gorf:
(6 ships) 12190, Ranking: Space Captain
Zaxxon: 6500 (4th place)... default high score is 8900.

The default high score for Shaolin's Road is 25,800-- which means anyone who plays to the middle of the 2nd Step in the game has the high score.

In Gorf, the two levels that tend to get me are Laser Attack and Space Warp. I'd like to be able to play through to the boss a second time in a single game. I might practice it with 6 ships again soon... last time I played with 3 ships, it kicked my butt.

Zaxxon is interesting for pioneering isometric perspective. Navigating the three-dimensional space from third person in the dead of space without references for height felt tricky, but during the base assault sections it's a little easier. Still, I think I die more by just not knowing if an enemy's shot was level with my fighter or not. I wonder if it'll become more natural after a couple plays.

Another game I've been revisiting during my time off has been Lands of Lore: Guardians of Destiny (LoL:GoD-- a curious acronym, to be sure). I've beaten it with both endings before, but this time I've decided to go through on the hardest difficulty to test a hypothesis that the gameplay experience would differ. I especially thought that the harder difficulty would discourage combat (some foes can kill in just a couple hits on hardest) and emphasise sneaky tactics and spell use.

**** WARNING: SPOILERS! ****

So far, I think that my hypothesis has generally held true. I just recently gave a set of the runes to Dawn and Father Julian and I'm in the "haunted house" sidequest, so there's still plenty of the game left to disprove it. In following blog posts, I'd like to dissect some of the significant differences in my own experience of playing at the highest difficulty. I'll start with one early example:

In the opening scene at the Draracle's Caves, a Gladstone guard is heading back toward the cave entrance. On normal difficulty, it is nothing for Luther to pounce on him bare-fisted, easily defeat him, and take his sword. On hardest, the easiest way to defeat him is to stalk him from behind until he reaches a wet area of the cave, then cast Spark.

Deeper still in the caves, the guard addressed by Kenneth can still easily overpower the player. I defeated him by doing hit-and-run spellcasting, hiding and recovering when my health or magic reserves ran low. I just recently got a Ring of H.P. Regeneration in the Hive Caves (the Bezoar Ring-- I wonder why they changed it from Bezel to Bezoar bewteen the first and second games?), but waiting for magic reserves to replenish on their own still takes too long sometimes. My fighter levels have eclipsed my mage levels, which was counter to what I had expected, but I did just get the Prism spell, so maybe I can cast that a lot to grind up my magic during exploration.

Okay, enough geeking out on Lands of Lore for now. Next time maybe I'll ramble on about the Draracle's Museum, the effects of difficulty on the game's moral choices, or the First Spawn of Belial. For now, gotta eat and get to cleaning.

16 June 2011

Short update

"The Eater of Time" was rejected by MircoHorror as a pointless vignette, for reasons I'll attempt to dissect later. All I'll say for now is that their editor is right. Probably its sights need to be lowered from the aimless cosmos to hit a human head.

At the moment, I'm on vacation with Aaron. We went to Disneyland and now we're in Utah visiting with the Reedmeister's family. Tomorrow we head out for camping. Will see if I can get another story written on this trip. May also try sending something out to Bosley Gravel's Cavalcade of Terror, which looks like another good flash horror blog. Also, sent "A Ruined House" for reprinting at Death Head Grin, we'll see how that goes. Still waiting to hear back about Teiselwalk.

Will probably brush up "Mosquito-Things" a bit more-- as stories can always use brushing up-- before I roll a d6 and randomly assign it to one of these blogs.

This post also reminds me I need to organize my tags better. I'll get to it.

12 June 2011

The Eater of Time

(The following has been submitted to MicroHorror. It uses 150 words exactly.)

It eats us as waves might besiege the walls of a seaside cliff, dying in explosive towers of foam.

Those pale cliffs block all sky from view, as if titans, resolute, but they are neither undivided nor eternal. Close inspection belies the wounds of watery premonition: droplets slide down cliff chalk, occulted in recesses where lichen oracles grow that know the sea’s power. Grain-by-grain will waves bite stone until the whole bereft cliffside one day sinks into the starving, abyssal floor.

Given aeons, the oceans might boil away to our glutting Sun. After billions of years, a red giant ejects its final signatures into space, leaving only another corpse in the galaxy. Too cold to be visible, it will be consumed by the Void of our galaxy, itself a thing that must feed.

Devouring our unstable cosmos from inside-out, let us wonder: will the Eater of Time ever consume itself?

10 June 2011

A Ruined House, update

"A Ruined House" has been published with MircoHorror. Find it here.

09 June 2011

A Ruined House

(the following story has been submitted to MicroHorror)

The rubberized suits creaked and chafed. They'd assured us our viewports would not fog over. The shoulders felt too heavy. I adjusted my helmet continuously, fearing subtle slippages.

"Commander, I need to spit."

"Hold it in, Lisa."

The house had its own pulse by the time we arrived. It glowed weirdly. A deadly haze permeated the place, a rank cloud with bits of crumb-like debris floating in it. If it touched our skin, if we managed to breathe it... we didn't exactly know. They said we wouldn't want to. We focused on our breathing instead, which now sounded too loud.

Its insides hoarded weird wreckage without any order, strewn like kelp across the floors, but all still identifiably domestic in nature. A half-liquidized assortment of cooking pots littered one room. A shattered toilet at the end of a hall, spewing shit. Rotted foodstuff, old sheets, and torn cardboard boxes.

There was one thing yet alive in there, or that looked alive, which I pointed out. A discarded bundle of grapes lay just inside a broken china cabinet. They still looked ripe and edible, except where the skin on one grape had ruptured and filled in with purplish, pulsating sores. The bunch felt unreal, plasticized like a toy, through the grip of my gloves. I pondered over it for some time, fascinated at its sadness, until the commander urged me on.

I never fully saw the origin of the plague-- only a reddish glow and a greasy, meat-like presence-- though I did identify the infected room. I only knew it for certain by the man sprawled backwards across the bed, writing wordlessly in agony. He had no protective suit, and his feet had disappeared into the head of the bed. He was that crumb-like debris in the air, ejected from somewhere else by the plague-bearer. His face had grown puffy, his eyes and veins bulged. I found a pair of glasses on the other end of the room that I tossed to him, but I never knew if he could even put them on anymore.

Our commander entered with another, hauling the long tubes of the cleansing pump. The iridescent antidote sloshed inside the tank hauled by a fourth member of the crew. Struggling on their knees, they fitted the nozzles into some orifice under the headboard, plugged the thing with it, and switched on the machine.

It didn't like that. A horrible roar pervaded the house. Everything shook in delirium. I vaguely recall hearing the commander shout, "Lisa, get us more energy!" or something else in a panic.

But the thing had gotten to me. My legs did their blind best to carry me from that room. I remembered retreating from horrors under my bed as a child, but all the beds sat too low to permit our bodies in these suits. When I finally collapsed at the doorstep, I spied with terror from the corner of my eye a single crack threading its way down my visor.

03 June 2011

Teiselwalk's Bridge submitted.

Submitted a story for publication today. "Teiselwalk's Bridge" went out to Brain Harvest Magazine. See it there soon, maybe.

01 June 2011

A re-release & a curiosity

Just a short post. This small broadcast is to mention that I have re-released the virtual human as a .exe file using ADRIFT 5. It is available from the ADRIFT website, or you can click here. I will update the IFDB page in due time, including a likely re-write of the game's description and my own review (as the current review is based off the previous version's description coupled with a low sense of self-worth). The ADRIFT 5 version apparently only works if your computer has a .net framework, but I would be pleased to know if it runs on non-PC systems with equivalent whatnots. Pardon my technical jargon.

I have also been encouraged to mention a part of Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort which had originally only been intended to serve as a sort of testing shortcut while Tiberius wrote it: Chuck Norris Mode. It probably has been noticed by no-one but myself up until recently; it was never fully implemented beyond its ability to remove characters from the game by kicking them. Though messages are displayed for anything kicked, actually using this mode to destroy every static objects in the game would have required making a variable description for every object (a somewhat tedious process in ADRIFT, especially with such a large pool of objects), or else creating an event specifically for each static object that would move it to Hidden (static objects can only be moved using events in ADRIFT). At any rate, yes. When playing Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort, one need only type TOTAL KARATE ACTION to activate Chuck Norris Mode. Maybe it'll be worth a chuckle to you.

A third release of Yon Astounding Castle! of some sort should be forthcoming some time this summer. It features minor changes to the Post-Comp edition.

31 May 2011

Nyarlathotep, Nyarlathotep

I made this thing. I think the names of Lovecraftian horrors could be especially fruitful for this sort of writing, given the strange combinations of letters they contain. So here's this one, constructed using only anagrams of Nyarlathotep.

a talent oh pry a hate-torn ply
a phony rattle later a python
a haply rotten holy pattern a
panther lay to threat play no
a pal then troy a rant the ploy
earth play not that royal pen
throne at play no play the rat
nary at help to pry that alone
atrophy lent a plea at thorny
tale an' trophy nay the portal
reap thy talon oh pale tyrant

25 May 2011

Haiku Game

I played a game today that resulted in the creation of several haiku. It's a prototype, yet, by my friend Alexei. Six of us played altogether. We all created 7 haiku, except for James who left before the end of the game to catch one of the talks on campus. Everyone created some really neat work. I'm generally not much of a poet, but I thought I'd share mine here on my blog.

Each haiku is framed around a month, with particular tropes associated.

My first were two for January. January poems are about longing and desire. Pine trees and snow represent January.

Snow fallen on pines
Far away is my desire
Cross frozen rivers

... and...

Pine needles tremble
Snow lies heavy upon them
Children, sweep it off!

I wrote one for May. May poems are about indolence. The iris represents May.

Luxuriousness
My reflection in water
My gazing iris

I wrote one for June. June poems are about butterflies, which represent metamorphosis.

Petals in river
like butterflies flowing on
continue to change

And two for September. September poems are about debauchery.

Rounding the corner
Drunk, find the next Happy Hour
There's always Woodstock's!

(in reference to Woodstock's pizza in Santa Cruz)

Our hands together
Drink sake, more, another
L'Chaim, bitches!

And then there was this one wrote that I don't have a month written down for.

Campfire in your eyes
Promises linger, hidden
Our secret whispers

The whole game had a really interesting, contemplative aspect to it. The rules said it would end when "the meal is done" (we weren't eating), "when the moon rises in a particularly pleasing way" or "when someone gets 15 points." We ended up hitting the point limit first, but I liked the idea of the game having some sort of poetic ending to it.

21 May 2011

Seek and Enjoy by Backmasker

I just recently downloaded and played Seek and Enjoy by Backmasker (which is written by someone named Backmasker, if you didn't catch that). From the coding, it's obvious this author is still learning ADRIFT. Half of me feels like it should be confused by this game, but the other half knows that sometimes games are just bad. It's always a bad sign when the first prominently described objects in a room description are unimplemented. Many of the objects are "nothing special." Room descriptions disappear after you've been to a room for the first time, even in verbose mode.

The game's spelling is unfocused, but could potentially be laugh-worthy if you tried to >SWAT THE BEE (remember to leave that "the" in there or it won't work... also, never you mind that the bee is unimplemented). Right, then you get a message that you take a nearby newspaper and "twat the bee as hard as you can." That's some image.

There's this special message at the end of the game telling me about all the hidden messages in the audio and pictures throughout the game. From this I think there might have been something going on with the game, but I have no clue what.

Ugh, why am I even posting this? 0 stars.


Update: 22 May. This game has been removed from the ADRIFT Adventures page. Well, that was fast.
Unfortunately, I assume we'll never see its author again.

27 April 2011

New ADRIFT Forum, SPAG #60

ADRIFT has moved its forum to forum.adrift.co. I have not yet been able to log back onto the forum, but have requested a new password. I hope I shall soon be on and will offer my vote for The Challenge. My own entry has received no votes thus far, however it has always been my tradition to not vote for my own games when I am allowed to vote in competitions I've entered.

The 60th edition of The Society for the Promotion of Adventure Games came out! Find it here. The back of my head is prominently featured on the cover. Pirate's Plunder!++ also received a favourable review, which made me feel good. I have yet to dive into the rest of the issue, as there's work to be done, but I look forward to digging into it. It looks to be an incredible issue. The second editorial mentions, "Thinking ahead to our Summer 2011 coverage, we'd love reviews, interviews, analysis, and author's commentary for the Spring Thing 2011, German Grand Prix, The [ADRIFT] Challenge, and any other new or notable older releases."

Anyone think they might write something up for SPAG on The Challenge? Depending on the due date, I may find time to submit an author's commentary for Whitterscap's Key. Fellow authors and 'DRIFTers, what do you think? Will you contribute?

23 April 2011

A Story from the 2011 IF Summit...

I've found a break and the ADRIFT Forum is down. I thought of the ol' blog and thought maybe I'd post something. I'm glad to see I still have two followers, so here's a story for them.

The IF Summit went awesomely this year. I met a lot of cool people, and got to spend time with some old friends I don't get to see nearly as often as I'd like. It was with one such old friend, Sam Kabo Ashwell, and another new friend, Victor Gijsbers, that I decided to play a card game instead of attending the group playthrough of Everybody Dies (an excellent game, but as I'd already played through it, I didn't want to risk spoiling it for anyone who hadn't already).

The three of us hung out in the suite, which was a little cramped this year until someone put the mattresses up against the walls. We attended a small, square table, where Sam had begun to lay out his cards. These were not your Hoyle playing cards or a Magic deck, but a deck for a narrative game called Gloom. Neither Victor nor I had played it, so Sam explained that the basic point was to choose a family, then make them as miserable as possible and kill them all.

I genuinely enjoyed our play of it. At its most dramatic, the little cousin in my family was driven out of a picnic by a terrible storm. Inside a storm shelter, he starved, got attacked by diseased rats, and went mad. In his madness, he was invited to a magical land where he danced with rat princesses... only to recover and find himself once more in the shelter. Believing he'd heard the storm stop, he opened the shelter door, but the water from the storm flooded into the shelter, drowning him. For what it's worth, mine were some of the dullest stories made up there. I felt very nervous telling them and tended to understate and rely heavily on the information in the cards without straying or inventing too much, but it was my first time. I wanted to play the game fairly straight for a first playthrough... but we never got to a second.

Victor and Sam, though, are natural storytellers. Victor's style is dramatic and bold, full of emotion and invention. He had a family of mad geniuses who went through their fair share of dismemberments and ghastly horrors, including a brain in a vat that ended up being shipped to Siberia. Sam's style is dry and sharp, a practiced and measured means (he had played before, after all). His family's life quickly filled with scandal, dark deeds, and occult horror. Their decline would have been utterly unforgiving, had I not kept making the matron of his household the toast of the town and a darling of the press (such positive things are bad for winning the game where the goal is misery and death). Ultimately, I ended the game by killing off my final family member (Cousin Mort was his name, maybe?). Victor had the most points, and won, but we'd really all won. The stories and company were fantastic fun.

One curious thing did happen while we were playing, though. We weren't far into our game when a man entered the room. My first thought upon seeing him was, "Hey, that looks like Brian Moriarity." I was pretty sure Victor and Sam had similar thoughts-- I would have been shocked if they'd told me they didn't know who Brian Moriarity was. Anyway, this guy came up to us, made to shake our hands, and I swear I heard him say:

"My name is Ryan."

I was a little befuddled and even disappointed, but shook his hand. I managed to convince myself that my expectations of him being Brian Moriarity had been misleading and overturned them. There were no other Infocom people there. That was last year, when they were all around to watch Get Lamp. This was, in my mind, a guy named Ryan who happened to look like Brian Moriarity.

What's even funnier, I think, is that we invited him to join in our game of Gloom-- which is one letter away from his masterpiece Loom, in the same way Brian is a letter away from Ryan (as far as sound is concerned). He declined and sat down. So there we were, 3 interactive fiction authors just playing cards, while Brian Moriarity just sort of sat there. I feel pretty bad about that part of the misunderstanding, but it's just how things happened. I figured if it really *was* Brian and not Ryan as I'd convinced myself, one of the other IF authors would have said something. None of us did.

A few minutes later, Brian asked if the event was going on soon. He was referring to the group playthrough of Everybody Dies, of course. We told him it was down on the Mezzanine level. The Alcott room. He left, and we all shared a collective, "Okay... was that who I think it was?" moment.

I think I saw Brian at the Demo Fair later playing Pirate's Plunder!++. He sat down with it for 5 seconds at most and then walked away. There were better things there for him to check out.