Thursday, April 17, 2014

FOTS Grand Tactical

Reworking the grand tactical scale for my game Fire On The Suns. This one will use a grid system similar to the one used in the strategic system. I've had a hex-based system in place for years using a hex map image superimposed on an Excel spreadsheet, but it always seemed just a bit "off". Both system use vector-based movement (in 2D), but the hex map isn't really user-friendly in Excel. I've got the grid coordinates laid out, the light hour boundaries established (1, 2, and 3), and the grid coordinate and movement system established including a handy movement utility that appears to function. The hex-based system sometimes got clunky and confusing when plotting vectors and calculating when things would be detected at up to 6 light hour ranges (60 hexes or in the new version grid squares of 6 light minutes each). Also, the hex-based system just seemed to take some of the drama out of writing about the battles in the first FOTS novel. I'm hoping something like, "Enemy drive flares detected. Grid Six, bearing zero nine eight. Range three light hours" will be a little more exciting. Of course, just because the enemy might have appeared in grid 6 and 3 light hours away does not, in any case, mean they're still there. Depending on one's position in the system they could be anywhere up to 6 hours movement (about 72 light minutes for most starships - or 12 grid squares) away from that position in any direction when you detect them. Very, very few starships in FOTS can hide from anybody bothering to watch for them (and the ones that can usually use deception or trickery to do so). Those drive flares are very bright and the ships themselves are not exactly "quiet" (glowing hot in the infrared from their environmental systems at the very least). Given the scale it might _just_ be possible to watch every grid square along the 3 light hour boundary where most ships can warp into a system (there'd be 3600 of them (60x60), but that's an awful lot of watch stations to try to build and manage plus by the time you spot them there's a good chance they're already light seconds to light minutes away from where they were when detection occurred. What this will do, however, is establish a fairly easy and comfortably manageable and, I hope, intuitive system for managing combat between fleets at the grand tactical scale. The FOTS Battle Engine can handle all the tactical stuff when fleets actually come to blows.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Trials Of A GM

A friend of mine recently decided to bow out of a game he'd invested a lot of time and effort in because the GM rescinded a decision he'd made. I've been in that position more than once so I understand where he's coming from, and, to be frank, the GM in this case, is in the wrong. A GM runs a game. He plans it. He plots it. He wrangles the players, balances forces, creates the NPCs and sets them loose in the world. He creates the background. He writes the storyline. But once the game is underway the GM cannot, and should not, dictate all possible avenues of game play for every player - especially in a non-video 4X game of the free-form style I'm talking about here. The GM, just like a writer, has to be flexible enough to allow his players and his characters to "go with the flow" of the storyline he has set in place. He (or she so as not to be too sexist here) can set up cut-scenes, scenes which must happen within the game, and has an extraordinary amount of flexibility when it ccmes to creating new scenes that have to happen within a game. But a GM should never, ever, in my not so humble opinion, ever dictate that certain things cannot happen within the context of an open-ended or even closed-ended game. This is a path toward chaos and players quitting because they cannot do what they believe will advance their own agenda in the game. Now, the GM has a certain ability to influence the course of his game - indeed, he has perhaps ultimate power in that regard - but to simply erase a player's ability to do what they want, to backtrack or sidestep the GM's storyline, to deviate from that storyline, is to alienate players in that game and to leave egg on the face of the GM in that regard. Other players are going to reconsider whether or not they want to play in that GM's games again because of such heavy-handedness, plus potential players who are considering juping in may not be enticed in the future into doing so. And that affects all the GMs in a game - not just that one. I've stayed out of the argument thus far, but I can see a thousand ways this particular GM might have been able to wrangle the player's decision(s) in-game to better his storyline. The same, I believe, hold true for writing. When a character simply will not hold true to the plot, it's not generally a good idea to force them to toe the line. In fact, because characters have a habit of going off on their own and ding their own thing if a plot is decent enough, sometimes the story can come out better than the GM/writer ever thought it could. When players make their own decisions about their characters and their worlds and their empires - that's the player thinking for the GM/writer. Give them their head, let them have free rein. But be prepared to throw your own or a different monkey wrnech in their path along their way. Let them live and die on their own. Only that way will your characters become truly human and truly memorable. And maybe, just maybe along the way you'll have more story than you ever thought possible. Thanks, Greg

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Seizing Control

Just a short post this afternoon (maybe more later) to say I'm back and seizing control of this blog back from the Viagra and whatnot spammers. I'll be making more frequent posts from now on and I'm going to invite a few people from the FOTS (Fire On The Suns) community to post occasionally as well. Had to figure out how to break back in to my own blog if you can believe that one. Still in Tulsa, OK area, still working for APSCO, Inc. as their Tech Writer and Document Controller. Still writing (just finished the outline for Fire On The Suns: A Storm Upon The Deep and started writing the first part of the book last night - it should reach 80 thousand words, maybe a bit more or less, by the end). Thanks, Greg

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Random Check In

Wow, it's been almost 6 months since my last post. That's too long. Job's going well, but I'm buried in paper. Relationship attempt didn't pan out and, in fact, went horribly awry. Fire On The Suns, Volume 1 is finally finished and I'm working on a second draft and putting all the pieces together. I always knew this would be a series. I've started a new WIP, another "icky bug" with the working title Hivers. Third Pulse hit a milestone and I'm now working on the outline for the next third of the book. Gated is still on hold. Just a brief update today. I'll see about posting more frequently soon.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

New Job, New Stories, New Paths

It's been awhile (again) since I posted, but in the meantime there have been several new developments in my life and career.

First off, in the last 3 months I've published the short stories Survival, Infection, Showdown, and A Day In The Life to Smashwords, Amazon and PubIt! These are some of the best stories I've ever done, I think.

I've pushed the novel Fire On The Suns to almost 54 thousand words and the Kon'tai-Py'ron war is erupting, the Py'ron I'an is in the hands of a mad emperor, the Swarm is in the process of being completely destroyed by a mysterious and unknown enemy, and the Terran Federal Republic is finding itself caught up in an inextricable web of interstellar diplomacy and deception as it is drawn deeper into the Kon'tai-Py'ron conflict. Meanwhile, the Py'ron plot to smash the Kon'tai and drive back the Kon'tai's Terran allies by bringing in the Hee'Dra on their side of the war, and the Saurian Confederation (working name) has embarked on an expedition against the Arachnids (working name) far on the other side of the TFR. War has come to the local region of the galaxy, a war that will gradually draw in all of the known powers and many unknowns and which will leave the region forever changed.

Third Pulse has been pushed to just under 28 thousand words. Our hero Max is beginning to raise his own army to combat the sinister designs of the villain Blood Wyrm. But Blood Wyrm has plans of his own and, in a move to capture Max, has confronted and trapped him, alone, in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Against overwhelming odds, Max is fighting a desperate battle against a multitude if villains and minions, hoping his friends and allies can reach him in time.

Gated is currently sitting at 12 thousand words or so while I focus on other projects such as the short stories The Bar (zombies), another story of the 416th Space Marines Pathfinders Regiment, and a follow-up to my old story Knock On Wood.

In more, um, personal news, I've just been hired by a new employer after almost 7 months out of work. This is one of those dream jobs, a technical writing position paying $15/hour which is better pay than I've made since 2007 and excellent pay for the area I'm living in now. Plus, it's a regular M-F schedule the likes of which I haven't worked since 2002.

You might also say I'm pursuing something of a relationship with someone I'm deeply interested in. Whether or not she's as deeply interested in this, um, pursuit, remains to be seen, but I have my fingers crossed.

So, needy to say, I've been a bit busy over the last couple of months and look forward to being just as busy over the next several.

I'll try to post more often, but that will depend fully on how things go down the road (I always try, I rarely, it seems, actually succeed).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tracking Amazon Rankings

Okay, I admit it, I'm addicted to tracking my story's rankings on Amazon (and checking sales). I don't know why precisely, but I like to see when one of my stories drops below the 100k mark. That's an indicator of sales, but not an indicator of major sales (you have to drop down into the 10-20k range for decent sales and the 1-5k range for good sales, and the below 1k rank for sellng like hot cakes).

Honestly, however, the sales rankings on Amazon mean nothing to a writer. Not really. Those rankings, according to noted authority James D. MacDonald over on the Absolute Write forum, are for the readers to allow them to judge the popularity of a book they might be thinking about purchasing.

Personally, I'm beginning to think it's a mistake to put rankings up at all. It's definitely a mistake for a writer to obsess over them and fret about them.

I mean, if you walk into a brick and morter bookstore, you're not going to see books arrayed in some kind of artificial ranking system. You'll see bestsellers, new releases, and books laid out for special sales or holiday seasons, but you will never see a ranking number attached to those books or see them placed on the shelves in any specific order.

What the Amazon rankings do is tell a reader "Hey, this book is popular". The idea begins with the assumption that a reader cannot judge for themselves what book they're actually looking for. In essence, Amazon's ranking system assumes the reader is stupid in my opinion. The rankings, made by some arbitrarily mysterious algorithm, can even be "gamed" (and have been) by savvy or clever marketers. The rankings are not, as is commonly believed, based solely on sales alone (though they probably should be), but Amazon won't tell us what the rest is based on. A guess can be made that it's partially sales, partially searches, partially value, etc., etc., all of which factor into the algorthm that spits out an arbitrary number that the writers can obsess over the numbers and the readers can make entirely arbitrary decisions about the work without even sampling it.

The fact is, the only numbers that should matter to the writer are sales - and they shouldn't matter all that much. Stories either work or they don't. It is impossible to predict whether a story will sell or appeal to readers or not (believe me, some of the stuff I thought was my best work has so far flopped worse than a freshly-caught trout on a rock).

Amazon's rankings might be intended to attract readers, but I think readers should think for themselves. Only you know what you like. Amazon can make suggestions based on what you've purchased or searched for previously, but they can't tell the reader what they like any more than the writer can predict what the reader is going to like and buy.

Be your own person. Read what you want. Do not let Amazon or anyone else try to steer you in any particular direction as a reader.

As a writer, forget those rankings. They're not for you. Look at your sales instead, but don't obsess over them either. You've got better things to do.

Like writing your next piece.

Get busy.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing

I stumbled over this great post by Chuck Wendig posted by John Helfers today on FaceBook so I'm linking to it. Lots of great advice in this one and I'm guilty of doing a lot of them myself.