Health Before Word Count

Recently I’ve managed to make a blog post weekly, but this week I’m a few days behind. I have done some RPG design work, but as I wrote about an idea I realised I needed to be explain something else first. The next part of my series Role-Playing Game Types is a summary of things that I wrote years ago for my role-playing guide, but those ideas were about 200 pages in, which is why writing a synopsis has proven so time consuming for me.

On Monday I had the urge to rush something out; the thought kept stressing me out. Even though I had written things, I wasn’t going to complete anything in time, and I was trying to stick to a deadline about posting at least once a week. Sadly the stress caused a severe pain spike to my normal pain levels, meaning more breaks were needed. As I mentioned in Healthy Pacing for Deadlines, personal goal setting can only work if the person is realistic about the pace they can set for their work, which also has to take into account health considerations. Estimating how much that is, is a daily struggle, as my health can still fluctuate a lot each day.

Whilst my improved workload is not a return to the vast amount of work I used to do, like a lot of 80 to 90 hour weeks I did whilst at KJC Games, at least things are a bit better than they were a few months ago. I think I am getting better at the daily appraisal in regards to determining how much work I can do before further aggravating my body. The Spoon Theory is a good way of explaining energy management, it mostly applies to my situation, but explaining what my thoughts on this is a blog post all to itself; yep another one for my TODO list.

BatIdeaLoop
A dangerous loop to avoid, finish things, iterate, iterate, iterate.

Thankfully one strategy that improves my odds of reducing problems is to lie down whilst dictating. Sadly this method only really works for my fiction writing, or when discussing a design idea out loud with myself, since I don’t need to keep looking at a screen. If I had the money, maybe I could setup a screen on a very adjustable stand. Or something outrageously expensive:

I am also doing a lot more around the home, as well as looking after my dad whose health recently has rapidly declined, all of which takes time and energy. Each activity is a chance for me to do a bit too much, and as per The Spoon Theory to run out of energy (spoons). I believe the fact I am doing what I’d previously consider to be pathetic levels of physical activity is the area that I have been badly estimating, but I am thankful that I am doing more in general.

I have blogged about The Bestseller Experiment before Writing Curious/Crazy Experiment; I am still thoroughly enjoying the show and will blog more about it soon. Word count is a subject that has been discussed a lot, and the many outstanding authors being interviewed have given great advice about this subject, which so many writers obsess over. So, even though I know about the arbitrary nature of tracking my word count, I still fall victim to it. I really appreciate Ben Aaronovitch’s advice, which is roughly that quality words are what matter.

Although it’s been a year since I wrote my mission statement for the blog, I haven’t changed my opinions for blogging, and what I am slowly building towards. Life still comes down to carefully allocating priorities. Although I’m not in a position to return to professional game design and writing yet, I am striving towards that goal even if my work rate is currently terrible. I was amused that the writer Max Landis, whose work I love, posted this video whilst I was contemplating this blog, and what to do about the days when I end up with a low word count.

Writing Curious/Crazy Experiment

As mentioned in my last blog about CampNaNoWriMo I’ve been listening to The Bestseller Experiment podcast. I first came across them via the author Gavin G Smith tweeting about them in October 2016, but I was busy, so I didn’t allocate any time to check them out. I was reminded of the podcasts existence in February by Gavin, who had once again tweeted about them; a shoutout to Gavin for his recommendation. I also owe Gavin an article in response to his recent interesting Cyberpunk article: The C Word.

For those that are not familiar, read this intriguing and crazy premise:

“Could you write, publish & market a Bestseller in one year?”

I wrote crazy because, well, it seems like it is. The thing is, it’s not entirely crazy, incredible things can happen with any work, and this premise has a clever marketing aspect to it. As I finished the first episode I was quite optimistic that this could work. Just take a look at the guests that they’ve had, it’s an extremely impressive line-up, and they give such brilliant advice.

It’s not just the guests that matter though. The show is hosted by the two Marks: Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux; check out their information at http://bestsellerexperiment.com/about/. At the start they discuss ideas from quite different perspectives, and they don’t always go easy with each other’s opinion. Since they are collaborating, they have a lot to figure out, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I think it is okay to say that a listener can imagine that writing with someone else could result in a big impasse. It quickly became evident to me that these interactions would also be a big draw for me, and likely other listeners. For most of us writers it’s a solo affair, so hearing two people discuss their approaches is quite useful.

At this point I think the Vault of Gold needs to be mentioned. This is a currently free ebook containing lots of information from their episodes. It might not be free for long, so this is another reason to at least give the show a listen.

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As I listened to more episodes, I was pleased to find that the two Marks have discussed so many writers concerns. I think they have done a brilliant job of building up their project, carefully not revealing too much early on, just snippets, adding to the mystery of the show.

By the middle of March I had listened to all the episodes currently available, and I eagerly awaited their next release. I don’t have a particular favourite, I think each is noteworthy; I noted in my previous blog that the Ben Aaronovitch episode is a popular one. Personally I think all the interviews were interesting, useful and enjoyable, and I don’t want to post spoilers. Since people like favourite lists so much, here is mine:

  1. Sarah Pinborough‘s wonderful energy, humour, some different takes on classic advice, and strong language. I plan on listening to this again soon, something I rarely do, so that’s very high praise from me.
  2. The Ben Aaronovitch bollocking, plus how they’ve responded since. Besides the outline issue, Ben gives heaps of good advice, it’s also an overall outstanding chat, don’t let the bollocking overwhelm the rest of the gems. This also deserves a second listen, there was just much in this episode.
  3. Having recently read seven books by Joe Abercrombie, I was really intrigued to hear what he had to say. Joe’s professional approach in particular was inspiring to me, again Joe gives a lot of good advice. Overall it’s brilliant, for example:

Be persistent. The longer you dance naked in the rain, the sooner you’ll be struck by lightning. Joe Abercrombie

I have a special mention in regards to Joe Hill. He gave a great interview, good advice, and it felt like friends chatting. I do have a confession, despite owning and reading several of Joe’s books, and loving them, I had no idea who his dad was. Even for someone like me who rarely looks in to the life of any artists whose work they love, I probably should have known that piece of information; if you’ve no idea what I am on about, like I didn’t previously, check out Joe’s picture. I think Joe would be amused, but also glad that his approach of making a name for himself has certainly worked with regards to me. I also now follow him on Twitter.

My rule when i get to a second draft is, ‘What’s awesome about this scene?’ I’m absolutely ruthless. Joe Hill

You can check out more guest quotes here:

We are now at the halfway mark for The Bestseller Experiment, I’m sure we can look forward to more superb guests, giving excellent advice. As for the two Marks, I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I will say that things are happening, and who knows what drama awaits?

I should probably update my iTunes review of them, I gave a good review before, but I am sure I can write something grander now. I’m convinced they’re not crazy, that this could actually work, even if for one of their audience, which they have said they’d be okay with, but still they are going for it. If you don’t try, you definitely cannot succeed.

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Be sure to check them out. What do you think of this experiment?

I should get back to #CampNaNoWriMo

CampNaNoWriMo Preparation

CampNaNoWriMo starts on the 1st April, an appropriate date for all the self-deprecating writers who think their work is a joke. Thankfully over the last few months my chronic pain has reduced enough that I have started having some good sleep, generally not at night, it is more a case of being at random times; I have tried to establish a regular sleep cycle, but since I still have pain filled days this has proved unreliable. With the sleep improvements, energy levels are improving, and crucially the mental fog diminishes. I am confident that I will reach the CampNaNoWriMo 50,000 word count by the end of April, and I even optimistically envision smashing this target.

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I bought Dragon Naturally Speaking 15 this month. Although I found Dragon 13 was good, since I have so much writing to do in a short time span I want any extra dictation accuracy gains I can get. I have noticed some big differences. I also found that Apple’s Siri is based upon Dragon, one of these irrelevant but interesting facts. Even after all these years the temptation to manually edit is still there, as it is still quicker, the habit just hasn’t faded. Whilst my arms are always in pain, having my RSI pain levels skyrocket due to writing frustration would be silly, never mind my current chronic pain in left shoulder.

In March I started listening to the http://bestsellerexperiment.com/. I have really enjoyed these episodes, and I was partly using them to get me super-inspired for this April’s CampNaNoWriMo. There is too much to state about them here, so I’ll write a blog about them this weekend.

I’ve been working on my world setting for about two years. Due to health reasons I’ve done what I can, for the first year I was bedridden. Over time I have worked out the setting history and since it’s a fantasy setting the all-important metaphysics; this has been engrained in to me due to working in games design, I appreciate some authors don’t think this matters. Typically for me it is a complicated setting, which I think really matters due to the big focus on mental health, plus I do love my fantasy fate stories. I also have a lot of story outlines for important historical events, as well as a collection of scenes.

Basically, I’ve not just done a lot of outlining I’ve done a shocking amount. This is somewhat similar to Mark and Mark at The Bestseller Experiment; I’ll just hint that the Ben Aaronovitch episode alone makes the series for many listeners, plus how they’ve progressed since.

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I decided to write something new in my setting, not obsessing over old ideas and trying to connect scenes spread over centuries. By starting fresh I feel like I am going to be better focused. In theory I won’t get distracted by indulgent fantasy designs like working out how memory & magic in my setting will work; I’ve already worked that out. The world building is done, a lot of it, now is the time to write.

Besides having the CampNaNoWriMo deadline, I have the additional pressure of finishing a board game. I will be visiting some friends, so I need to get this game to a playable state; I’ve had a mini playtest and I feel this game is at least on the right track. The board game work was going well until I strained the muscles around my right ribs at physiotherapy on Tuesday, resulting in two days without sleep, which is accompanied by the usual increase in mental fog. Thankfully my passion for this project, plus the fact I’ve been playing around with ideas for this for years, has helped me dictate a lot of ideas, even if half of them are gibberish at least I can edit the half that are good.

Sadly I haven’t completed some of the blog posts I’ve been working on, mostly due to these new deadlines. Well, technically I wrote the third part of my Lessons from Watching Role-Playing Games two weeks ago, but I had a funny idea for some graphics for that post. I won’t ruin the surprise, but I will say that organising a Skaven photo shoot has proven to be a bit difficult.

I briefly pondered writing a blog every day, but I decided that I should focus on writing. With the board game deadline approaching I already have enough to do, and I do still have health issues to manage.

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#CampNaNoWriMo #AmWriting

Kickstarter The PlayStation Revolution

I have written an article for NoobGrind about the new kickstarter The PlayStation Revolution

http://www.noobgrind.com/the-playstation-revolution-kickstarter

I have backed the Kickstarter, and hopefully it will be of at least the same quality as their previous work http://frombedroomstobillions.com/

I wrote reviews of the previous work:

https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2016/06/13/8-bit-era-review-from-bedrooms-to-billions/

https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/review-the-amiga-years/

Check it out at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1195082866/from-bedrooms-to-billions-the-playstation-revoluti

Review The Amiga Years

I previously wrote a blog about my review on NoobGrind for From Bedroom to Billions, I would recommend checking that out before reading my new review. Although I suppose you can watch them in either order, but the first documentary does provide an overview of the Amiga, and its place in the overall history of computing.

The Amiga Years, what a great documentary, well I guess that spoils my opinion, but I have written a lot more than this. Before watching the film I decided that I would delay writing a review, this way I would have time to reflect on the documentary; I didn’t want to come across as fanatical. Whilst I expected to be rewarded with another great product, I know it is not uncommon to be disappointed when armed with such passionate expectations. Thankfully I was not disappointed.

My own experiences with the Amiga are mostly focussed around the Amiga 500, although I have had a lot of access to other models. It was also great that by the end of the 80s more people I knew had also started getting access to home computers. My high school days were filled with all sorts of chats and a chance to play games at other peoples’ houses.

By the start of the 90s my dad was running a computer shop. This gave my more exposure to all aspects of computing, but particularly more games. The Amiga packs were a big part of the culture then, and it was a shame when the Amiga sales started getting increasing replaced by the IBM compatible PC machines. The capabilities of the PCs at the time still seemed terrible when compared to the range of Amigas, especially considering how cheap the Amiga 500 had become.

By the time I ran the shop in the mid-90s the Amiga was no longer selling, but thankfully the PC finally seemed to have caught up. It’s odd to recall what a difference there was in specifications and cost.

Given the tribal nature of our species it is no surprise that we form clans around a particular brand. I have been accused of being a PC fanatic, having had the luxury of access to them via our family’s computer business, but the reality is, as I mentioned in the last blog, I have had a lot of different computer brands. Although I’ve had a PC since 1995, if I had to pick a brand to be fanatic about it would be Commodore, and if I had to pick one machine in some sort of deathmatch, were era, cost and capability were weighted correctly, then I would pick the Amiga 500!

Please check out my new NoobGrind review The Amiga Years.

5 Positive Role-Play Lessons

Continuing on from the previous articles that started at https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2016/03/19/cyberpunk-rpg-and-crpg-style-and-substance/

Julian, the Dungeon Master from the high school lunch group I was in, introduced me to Pete I think in 1989. I’d been buying Skaven figures off Julian, painted by Pete; even whilst at high school Pete was a great model painter.  I don’t recall specifics about my initial conversations with Pete, but I do recall that they were relaxed and that it was easy to have a dialogue with him, as opposed to him dictating at me like the other older lads did.

Cyberpunk 2013

1 Explain what something is, not its competitors

Pete explained the Cyberpunk setting well, and I don’t recall him saying bad things about other gaming systems. I grew to appreciate how important that is, focus on what a product is, not on differentiating between its rivals.

Over the years, I’ve been regularly asked questions by experienced role-players about a new game, and they would often ask for comparisons to systems that they already knew. Since I was being explicitly asked to compare, I did so. Whilst comparisons can work well, speeding up the learning curve, but deviating in to negative critiques of other products, all too often results in a time sink that needs further clarifications. Not only because it requires people to know other systems, but also for them to understand what comparative point you are trying to make.

I have grown to understand that people are inclined towards defending how they’ve spent their time, it’s natural for people to feel they are being criticised for their choice of game system and setting. This is particularly magnified if they love said system. This topic can have the additional obstacle as it is common for gamers to discuss their idea of ‘the perfect system’. Perfection is something to aspire towards, whilst being an illusion, and even getting close to such an ideal would be at best just personal preferences. Thus, conversation points are all too easily mixed together. Additionally, I often found that as more points are raised, eventually the original question can get lost amidst overwhelming information.

The above reasons are why I have found focusing on comparisons to be a poor approach. Of course it can still prove to be an effective way of explaining things, but I’d suggest mentioning as few as points as possible. These days I try to focus on more positive aspects, and to stay on target: explaining what a setting and system’s focus is, and its pros and cons.

2 Give things a try

Until 1989 I had mostly played 2nd Ed AD&D, it had been overall great fun, but the games were focused on clearing a dungeon room by room, stat development, without much thought about the setting. One of the fascinating things about playing Cyberpunk 2013, was the emphasis on characters talking and stand-offs, trying to navigate prolific corruption, in a game world full of people in bad situations. With no clear indication of who was good or evil, the fact that so many people were armed and dangerous, added to the finality of combat, it was great to have a reason to talk first, but with the pressure of talking fast.

After the chaotic experience I’d had with my old AD&D lunch group, were choice and repercussions were often disconnected, this game was well run. This was down to the combination of being in a good group as well as having a good referee. This is a lesson I have appreciated ever since, play in games you really enjoy, I had the luxury of trying out so many different groups. Years later I played great D&D games that also focused on more mature plots, it helped not being kids at school, which once again highlights that the group is the big factor in what makes a game.

Don’t be afraid to chat to the group about their play-styles. Try things out, and negotiate about balancing your goals with the other players. If you don’t reach a satisfactory compromise then consider moving on. Since fun is the heart of gaming, don’t torture yourself, or others.

3 Walking through the rules

Pete ran the games well, we enjoyed ourselves, and I can recall some great moments even now. We were not required to become experts of the rules, and certainly not within a single gaming session. Yet despite not being rule experts, the initial several sessions still went well. The lesson I took from this links back to mentoring, which I’ve written about previously. Even if you are playing a simple gaming system, try to introduce the rules in parts, reveal the complexity at a rate the players can cope with. Determining how much is too much is a subtle skill; I’ll explain my opinion another time.

Generally I think it is better to introduce things a bit slower, than to overwhelm players. Context is a key part of understanding, and it is hard to provide any depth during an introductory rules overview. Look at how come board or card games introduce rules over time, for example Dominion ignores curses at the start.

 

Night City 2013

4 Letting Go

My first character was a Solo called Thermo, a cool streetwise mercenary with a minimalistic appearance, cliché but fun. Since I knew practically nothing about the setting, never mind the fact that I was just 14 years old, I went with the idea of the character being the strong silent type. Thankfully it worked well enough, and also helped me learn the game system, whilst helping me to role-play what I had designed.

Similarly, my friends played interesting characters, a few I can still recall even to this day: Black Rain, Jack Deth, along with an NPC Netrunner whose handle was The Idol. Unfortunately I forget the name of the Fixer played by Michael. This is odd since after playing for a while, Pete proposed Michael and I swap characters, since Michael had been playing his character more like a psychopath; not sure the reason Pete didn’t have Michael make a new character, I think it was simply it was quicker to swap.

Within a single gaming session Thermo, my old character had undergone a massive change. The character now had a red Mohawk, painted the back of his leather jacket to show a nuclear explosion surround by lot of flames, with ‘Thermo’ painted across the jacket top. The character was also now quick to resort to gun diplomacy. It was odd seeing my character played this way, but Michael was enjoying himself, so I didn’t tease or correct him. After all I had agreed to the swap, Pete was okay with Michael making the character his own, and I found playing something different to be fun. Crucially Thermo was his character now, I learned to let go.

5 PC Allies can help, just don’t let NPCs take over

Early on the party went to a gun shop, but things quickly got out of hand. Black Rain and Thermo decided to chat with the person behind the security door. I’ve forgotten the specifics, but somehow the confrontational chat quickly escalated. Finally a demand was made for bullets, so a gun was pointed through the security slit at Black Rain, who quickly used his poison dart in his cybernetic eye. Then attempts were made to shoot through the door; this went on for a several seconds, as gun fire was exchanged between someone in the shop and the party, but then this stopped.

Thermo then decided to try breach the door with a fragmentation grenade. The thing was that Black Rain was still near to the door, and not wearing armour; besides a frag would likely do nothing to an armoured door. Luckily Black Rain was warned of the grenade, and passed his dodge roll. The party members took a moment to look at each other and contemplate killing Thermo, but we didn’t. Time passed, nothing was happening, the shock at the escalation oddly hit everyone, and the party become unsure of how to proceed, some still wanted to break through the security door, others wanted to leave before in the CyberPsycho squad had been called.

Finally Pete suggested we could call The Idol, since he was one of the party’s allies, and was close by. Once he arrived he operated as a cleaner, and so momentum was returned to the game. This was handled as calling in a favour. Crucially The Idol didn’t take over the situation, instead aided, and then as we all high-tailed it, he returned to his own plans. We owed a favour, but the party got a bit of mentoring in game without being made to feel like they were the sidekicks to an awesome NPC.

There is another lesson that I took from this game, but I will save that for a longer piece.

Over many sessions the group somehow managed to get things done without drawing the ire of the Megacorporations. But I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve forgotten a lot of what else occurred in the game, it was just too long ago.

I mentioned that Pete was great at model painting even at high school, so it was no surprise that he went on to become a professional artist and teacher. He runs Egg Head Miniatures, check out his work at https://www.facebook.com/eggheadminiatures/ and his shop is at http://stores.ebay.co.uk/eggheadminiatures.

8-bit era & review From Bedrooms to Billions

I recently watched the documentary From Bedrooms to Billions by Anthony and Nicola Caulfield. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I am looking forward to watching their new film The Amiga Years.

I have posted an article on NoobGrind about it, but whilst writing it I wrote several paragraphs explaining why this documentary meant to so much to me. However, given the size of that article, typical for me, I decided to cut the non-pertinent information from there, but decided to put it here.

My early childhood of growing up in England was dominated by the home computing revolution that took place at the start of the 80s. I was fortunate to have a father who had an interest in electronics, which lead him in to this new home computing hobby.

We started out with a Commodore Vic 20, then upgraded to a Commodore 64; I got my own Commodore 16. A few of our neighbours also got computers, one friend’s house had a Spectrum 48k, whilst another had various Amstrads, and another friend had an Atari 2600. At school we had a BBC Micro. Also living in Blackpool meant I could visit the arcade and compare those machines. So I was exposed to a multitude of systems, and I guess this is why I’ve tried to avoid being dedicated to just one system.

Commodore 64
One of my old Commodore 64 machines. Sadly I don’t have my original one, nor the vast game library I had.

I am not so obsessed with nostalgia that I want to return to those technologically inferior days. I have no issue with retro gaming, my main criteria is that the game has to be good. I acknowledge that some of the games that I have really enjoyed decades ago are of certainly of their era. It certainly wouldn’t make sense to insist that a player in the here and now has to play the ancient games; the term ‘has to’ is nasty. I think even old classics should generally be talked about only in context of their era.

A classic game that can still work well today is Street Fighter 2. It was amazing when it was released, and even with all the developments in the years since, it is still a great game. Whilst Way of the Exploding Fist came out years earlier, and was amazing when it was released, I can appreciate that the game is of its era. I did play it last year and I quite enjoyed it, but I don’t think most gamers would. I’ve previously written about how these two games helped form my role-playing passion, links below.

I ran a computer shop in the mid-90s, and I can recall chats about whether in the future there would be big interest in documentaries about the spread of computer gaming. It was agreed that computing would continue to develop, that interest would increase, but a few regular customers said they thought gaming would always be niche. The majority of my regulars thought the idea that gaming wouldn’t keep expanding was ludicrous, but those who thought gaming would stay relatively small pointed out how biased we were. A fair point to raise, but even back then the game sales figures showed a big trend towards ongoing expansion. This was during the period I referred to at the time as era of the Doom-virus; every PC sold, or even brought in to the shop for repairs, normally went out with the freeware 7 levels of Doom.

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Given that I was dabbling with coding from 6 years of age, and trying to learn 6502 assembler at 8, I did ponder whether I should feel regret at not managing to make a game in that time period. I think it is fair to say I was a bit too young for the 8bit bubble. At the time I certainly never heard of young kids making games, whilst there were a few teenagers, even they were rare. By the time I was about 9 years old the Amiga was coming out, at the time I felt like what little progress I’d made had become pointless. When I went to high school at aged 11 I discovered AD&D and other role-playing games, and for many years I had little interest in computing. I actually felt weary of the subject, in part due to the terrible ‘I.T.’ lessons.

A few years ago I read Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, which highlights the importance of being in the right place at the right time, and what a small window it usually is. Crucially, since I did eventually go on to study programming and work at a games company, I did achieve major goals.

You can read my NoobGrind article here.

From Bedrooms to Billions

Follow-on review The Amiga Years

Way of the Exploding Fist 3 part series

Part 1 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/noobgrind-article-way-of-the-exploding-fist-is-the-mario-of-8-bit-fighting-games/

Part 2 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2015/11/16/fist-2-on-noobgrind-and-current-life/

Part 3 = https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/street-fighter-rpg-look-back/