Podcasting and Open Source Life

My latest project is a serialized fiction podcast, which means I need some tech. Fortunately for me, I live in the future.

Recording/editing software. I need to record my voice, clean it up, cut in intro and extro etc. Enter Audacity. For free. Plug in Ye Olde Headset and we’re go.

So, that’s all well and good. Basics covered. Now how about some music? Unless I find a baritone horn and remember my high school band days, I’ve got nothing. And I’ve never composed a thing.

And along comes Otomata, an Online Generative Musical Sequencer. Whatever that means. Either way, after a little playing around I’ve got some theme music.

Next up, cover art. Turns out you need something akin to an album cover. So, now what?

The story’s a space adventure, so a starscape would be good. Oh, don’t worry. Some dude’s developed software to generate them. For free. Pull it into the GiMP (opensource image editing) for tweaking.

Image is set, now I need to get some text on there. I could go with one of the default fonts. But what fun would that be? Might as well grab something from the professional fontsmiths at Blambot, who have a free fonts license.

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_Image (1)


 Hmmm… a serialized space adventure? Sounds like something from the era of pulp fiction and radio dramas. Man, making an old-timey magazine cover would be awesome for getting the word out. Too bad I can’t… oh wait. The pulp-o-mizer.

Seriously. Get yourself some free stuff and use it to make things.


Interactive Fiction

World of the Season Runner-up

My most recent game, The Annwn Simulation 1985, has been awarded runner-up in the Storynexus World of the Season Winter 2013 contest!

We’ve only got one winner this time, but the judges commended two runners-up in particular:

The Storynexus community is one cool group of cats, and I’m very pleased to have been considered. And now I can call myself “Failbetter Accredited Architect”, which is totally righteous.

brilliant ideas

My Nefarious Plan to Get Movie-loving Teenagers to Read Endymion

I am not a teacher. But if I were…

Twilight, right? Vampires. You ever read Dracula? You know, the book about the good girl and the dangerous new bad-boy in town? She’s all set to get married to this boring clerk dude who’s always away on business and then this guy shows up in town and starts bothering her rich best friend and then they like… well, no spoilers.

Another book like that? Frankenstein. Totally. Like, the monster. Remember Anakin at the end of Episode 3? Stolen from an old movie version of this. It’s about this lonely guy who nobody likes ’cause he looks weird, but actually he’s really strong and smart and just has some parent problems. You should read it. Or, you know what? Download the app. You can choose what happens!

Frankenstein was written by a girl, BTW. When she was like 18. She was on European vacation with her boyfriend (who her older sister was totally in love with), this handsome Italian dude (who also wrote a story about a vampire), and this way hot lord who was always getting into trouble for his sexy lifestyle when he wasn’t fighting in revolutions. But the weather sucked, so it was just her and the boys stuck in a big old house with nothing to do.

You know who else she and her boyfriend were friends with? That John Keats guy. Wait, you don’t know about Keats? Didn’t you see Bright Star? It’s, like, the saddest story ever. Q from Skyfall is in it, and Sweet Pea from Sucker Punch. He’s buried in Rome, right by that pyramid in Assassin’s Creed where you get into those catacombs.

You should check out Endymion. It’s about this country boy who dreams about this girl and then goes on this adventure to find her and then it turns out she’s… well, no spoilers.

Yes, I know teenagers aren’t idiots. Yes, I know there are many very clever, highly-literate, and remarkably well-read kids in school as we speak. But still. Sucker Punch.



Belief, Goal, and Instinct — Mouse Guard RPG and Writing Characters

When I read the first issue of Mouse Guard, I was struck immediately by how well the characters of Kenzie, Saxon, and Lieam were defined by their speech in the very first panel of their adventure.

Naturally, I can’t find a scan of it online anywhere, and no longer have the brill comic in my hot little hands. So, I’ll have to ask you to believe me: it was cool. I’ve posted about my struggles with this sort of thing before, and this example pulled me right in.

I had the opportunity to play a session of the Mouse Guard RPG this weekend. Firstly, let me tell you it was a blast. Secondly, I came away from the table with something which I hope will help me with the character development in my current work in progress. Considering how well Petersen handles characterization, it should come as no surprise that the game focuses heavily on narrative and character choices.

I was provided with a pre-gen character, a compassionate little fellow possessed of the following attributes:

Belief: I will make a good name for the Mouse Guard.

Goal: Convince the patrol leader I’m ready for a promotion in rank.

Instinct: Run to the aid of a friend in need.

These three points helped me define every action the character, Baron, took. He went the extra mile to show himself to be capable — and to make sure the boss saw him doing it. An NPC friend confessed to a shady side-business, and Baron helped him keep it quiet.

These actions were not natural for me, but fit the character perfectly. Which is something a writer is supposed to be able to do, right?

What values and beliefs guides your character? How does she initially react to conflicts? What does he want out of this scene? All very writerly stuff. So, I’m going to gin up answers to these three elements for my main characters to use as guideposts. It’s the sort of thing you do in the back of your mind anyway, but it certainly can’t hurt to keep a few cards to look at.


Comments on ‘Objects in Space’

Daily Science Fiction’s Facebook page is the hot-spot for comments on their stories, so naturally I wandered over to see what folks were saying about mine. 

  • As a person with way too much clutter, i can appreciate this story. Nice.
  • Don’t you just love it, when someone can cut a clear message through the subjects of their stories? This is why I love spec fic!
  • Really enjoyed this novel idea – just wish it had been a little longer, explored a bit deeper. Loved the “inability to crumple a sheet of paper”. Very original!
  • Loved this idea, and loved the story. Very well done!
  • a five, edging to six… the ending took me by surprise and made me think a bit about personal view of the world as i know it (a humbling thing always since i end up concluding that i known damn little)… another observation… the opening paragraph is an example of why i enjoy sf because well-written works combine both the mundane and the wonderous in a well-woven tapestry.
  • Lots to think about!
  • I spend a bit of time in virtual worlds & this was an absolute gem. So unpretentious, dependent on its core of speculative technology but not driven by it. Dread to think what she’ll have to throw out for 7 dragons, though!
  • Really enjoyed it right up to the end. “He needed space” – Lot of stories ending with these trite/cliche twist things lately on DSF. Great story though with that tiny exception IMO.
  • Liked the concept and progression. Though, as a geek with never enough ‘space’, I saw that coming. Liked the video rendering references, too – polygons, textures.
  • “Objects in Cyberspace” would have been a more appropriate title. And, “Objects in Space” was the title of the last episode of Firefly…where it was appropriate. Solid 5, I agree with Gregg & Dennis.
  • A great telling; is it shades of things to come? When different needs infuence decisions; who knows. A great story.

The same title as a Firefly episode? Dang it! Perhaps, as has been suggested to me, my subconscious wanted to drop a little Whedon love.

assassin's creed sartor book

Ubisoft Dares Fans to Decrypt The Sartor Classics

The Thing Uncategorized

The Thing and Lovecraft — Guest Post

Oh yes. I am not alone in my recent obsession.  Adam Nowak has allowed me to guest post on Caffeine Dreams as a part of his month of Lovecraft.  Check out the full post here.

A quick sample:

 What better place than Antarctica for a story about mankind’s isolation? As our understanding of the universe grows, the perceived importance of our presence in it diminishes. We’re a blip. An oddity. Closer in intellectual advancement to a crow breaking a shell with a rock than to the horrible powers which exist beyond the borders of our knowledge. Indeed, the aliens themselves are so foreign-looking that we can barely understand what they are, be they Lovecraft’s anemone cucumbers or Carpenter’s tentacle-flailing blood beings. And they’re here, hidden in the dark places of the world we thought was ours.

I say again, check it in its entirety here.




A Plot Structure Analysis of Final Fantasy XII




I’ve been studying plot structure for a while. Recently, I found myself wanting to play Final Fantasy XII again. Your chocolate is in my peanut butter.

FFXII features highly-memorable characters and settings, and one of the most difficult and complex plots of any game I’ve played. After reading the plot structure defined by Larry Brooks in his book Story Engineering, I decided to see how well this epic matched with it. A game doesn’t need story structure, right? The only thing that matters is the interactivity, the bad-assed battles, the crazy magic explosions?

After a few hours of replaying this masterpiece, I found myself picking out plot points. A structure does indeed exist in this byzantine plot, and it is worth examining for people interested in how sweeping, history-altering stories are constructed.


Prologue: The game starts with the fall of a small country to an expanding empire. We see the prince die in battle and witness the murder the king by one of his trusted captains. We hear of the death of the princess, leaving the ruling family extinct.

At this point, the stage is set and we’re already hooked. We’re invested in this small country’s plight, and want to see the king’s murderer brought to justice.


Opening section: In the occupied country, we meet an orphan boy named Vaan who is making his way on the city streets with wit and bravery. We learn that Vaan’s older brother was present – and murdered – at the death of the king, and that Vaan detests the empire and those involved in the treason. Various adventures put Vaan in possession of an important artifact (the magicite stone) and involve him with the characters who will make up the party throughout the game, each of which have their own motivations and stakes. We learn that the princess is still alive, and working with a resistance force.

This is all set-up. There are plenty of fights and exciting scenes and all, but each of these sets up the first plot point, which comes in roughly one quarter of the way through the story.


First Plot Point: Captured by the empire, the princess allows the magicite stone, the only existing proof of her identity and royalty, to be given to the enemy in order to save the lives of the party. The baddies try to use the stone, and end up destroying themselves in a gigantic explosion, revealing that magicite is the ultimate weapon.

This event kicks off the rest of the story. The princess Ashe is on the run with little hope of reclaiming her throne without her magic stone, but armed with the knowledge that it can be used as a weapon.

There is an oddity in the structure here. Vaan, the scrappy teenage blond who serves as the archetypal lead in Final Fantasy stories, has been the story’s protagonist until this point, but from here on out it is Ashe who drives the plot. Vaan serves as comic relief, or at best a roguish friend to Ashe, who must battle with her personal desire for revenge and the responsibilities as a leader.


Second section, the Reaction: Here we see the characters reacting to the first plot point. With the proof of her royalty gone, Ashe decides to go and get another one. More hacking and slashing, but it’s still the same approach. “If I have the right rock, I’ll win.”

In this section we see the protagonist trying to solve problems the same old way. This never works.


Pinch point 1: Brooks highlights pinch points in a novel, places where we see the baddies closing in despite the protagonist’s efforts. We have one about two-thirds of the way through the second section in which we see the leaders of the empire quarreling and cooler heads failing to prevail. Things are gonna get worse before they get better.

FFXII handles exposition and important plot points in an unusual way for games – a paragraph read from an historical text. One of the non-playable characters keeps a journal of the events of the time-period, and quotes from his journal appear at certain points in the plot as milestones. One of these interludes takes place here, at the first pinch point.

Midpoint: Ashe is presented with a new option – ally with another great empire. They will acknowledge her rightful place on the throne, and the baddie empire will have to back off to avoid a very big war. She decides to go for it. Then she gets a sword which can destroy magicite. Because, you know. This is a Final Fantasy game after all.

Enough with the reacting; it’s time to take the reins and make some stuff happen on my (the protagonist’s) own. Ashe wants blood, and the magicite is a way to get it. But she puts her own emotions aside to sue for peace and quite literally takes up the sword to destroy the magicite (a.k.a. ‘the nuclear option’).


Third section: Action Jackson. From this point forward, it can officially be considered on. Ashe has the magic sword which can cleave the magic stone, removing the nuclear option from both sides of the conflict. The baddies, of course, are well on their way to getting their hands on the mother lode. The race, and the requisite thrilling heroics, is now in full swing.

Still, Ashe isn’t quite sure if she can resist using some of the stone to killify large numbers of imperials and take revenge for her father, her husband, and her country. The internal conflict continues.


Pinch point 2: Another journal entry, and then a cut-scene depicting the resistance forces training for battle. This war is coming, people, no matter what the princess and her magic sword have planned. Hide your kids.


Second Plot Point: Oh man. It turns out that the magicite was placed on ‘earth’ by gods. Our heroes meet these gods, who tell Ashe to use the sword not to destroy the mother lode, but rather to scrape off a few shards to use to install herself as Queen. Ashe now has divine authority telling her to choose revenge.

The second plot point is the last place in the narrative where information can be revealed. The secret of the magicite’s power is now known – all that’s left is to do something about it.


Fourth section: Resolution. Ashe decides to ignore the gods and end the age of stones. She and her stalwart band of misfits face the Big Bad and end the war before it starts. Ashe becomes Queen, and all is right with the world.

After the second plot point, there’s nothing left to do but get the thing done. The music rises, demons are faced, and the plot is over.


What this outline does not present is the multiple sub-plots, the intricacies of the political maneuvering behind the scenes, the other important characters, the set-piece fights, etc. This is the story of Ashe, her fight for the freedom of her country, and her personal struggle with grief and revenge. Antagonists, friends, tentative allies, traitors, and all manner of other people weave their ways into and out of the story, but at its core this is the tale of one person and her journey. The overarching structure allows for these interesting and enjoyable sub-plots while keeping the main story moving on its way toward resolution.