My Nervous Hang-Up

I’m generally an extroverted person, but I do have one unfortunate nervous hang-up. It’s one that I find is fairly common among writers: I don’t like talking about my work-in-progress (or even my completed books) with strangers. Or acquaintances. Or friends. I don’t like talking about them with anyone, really.

Why? Because every idea is a grand, wonderful idea until you start talking about it with someone else. Then it suddenly seems stupid. Continue reading “My Nervous Hang-Up”

Thinking Like a Programmer

I’ve started to dabble a bit in interactive fiction. My tool of choice so far has been Inform 7, which allows you to write Z-machine based games (they’ll operate like Infocom games of the 70s and 80s, like Zork).

The scuttlebutt is that you don’t have to be a programmer since Inform 7 uses “natural language” instead of some obscure programming language. As nice as a sentiment as that is, it’s not exactly true. You can learn Inform 7 easily with no programming experience, but you’ll advance quicker with it if you have programming experience.

For example, in a game I’m coding right now, the player has to pick up an object from a high rock shelf. I haven’t the faintest clue what item that’s going to be yet, so I refer to it as a “MacGuffin” for right now.

In the game world, the MacGuffin is atop a rock shelf that the player can’t reach from the ground. I have a rather clever puzzle where the player has to construct a makeshift lever from a board and rock picked up elsewhere, and then pry a large boulder free so it rolls down the hill and comes to rest against the rock shelf. Now the player can climb onto the boulder and snag the MacGuffin.

How’d I do that? Well, simple. Here is the code for the MacGuffin:

There is a MacGuffin in Bottom of Hill. "The MacGuffin sits on a very high rock shelf, just out of your reach." The description is "It's an undefined MacGuffin. We're just testing a theory here."

Before taking the MacGuffin:
if the player is on the big rock:
continue the action;
say "The MacGuffin isn't reachable from the ground. You'll need to find a way to get up to it.";
stop the action.

That will work just fine for the initial puzzle. But what happens if the player drops the MacGuffin in a different room, then later returns to pick it up?

Well, here’s where knowing some programming logic comes into play. Conceptually, you think that once you nab the MacGuffin from the rock shelf, if you drop it you drop it on the ground. So a non-programmer would be just find leaving the code as-is, and he probably wouldn’t understand why it doesn’t work.

The game engine has no concept of “high up” or “ground.” Before the player tries to pick the MacGuffin up, the player must be standing on a supporter called “big rock.” If that condition isn’t met, then the engine won’t allow the player to pick it up. I tested this by moving into a different room, dropping the MacGuffin, then trying to pick it up.

So how do you solve that problem? I could add a line of code to check the location. If the MacGuffin is in the room called Bottom of Hill, then make the player go through the rigamaroll of standing on the rock. Except that I much doubt when a player drops the MacGuffin he’s expecting it to float back up to the rock shelf. So that isn’t the most elegent solution.

The easiest way, I think, is to check the “handled” property of the MacGuffin object. Objects that players can take have a property called “handled.” If true, it means the player successfully added the object to his inventory at some point during the game. Handled remains true even if the player subsequently drops the object.

So, change the “before” line to read, Before taking the MacGuffin when the MacGuffin is not handled. Everything else remains the same, and then if the player decides to drop the object later he will still be able to pick it up without having to stand on a rock.

No Matter What…

No matter how carefully, it seems, that I double or triple check a book, there will always be some typos that creep into the final copy. Unicorn Hunt is no exception to that rule.

For those that follow me on Facebook, it won’t come as a surprise that I have published my first book. Unicorn Hunt is a retro-80s Choose Your Own Adventure book. This means that you’re supposed to start at page 1, read until you come to a choice, then pick another page depending on how you want to continue the story.

As you can imagine, the difficulty with writing one of these comes in making sure that the page numbers line up correctly. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, a few errors remained.

Since publication, I have discovered 4 such errors, listed below:

  • Page 27: The directions should send you to page 49.
  • Page 37: The directions should send you to page 19.
  • Page 67: The first choice should point to page 38, the second to page 49.

As of today (6/8/2017), I have sent a corrected copy to CreateSpace, however there is a review process and corrected copies won’t be available for at least a day and a half.

I’m very sorry for confusion these errors caused. I didn’t do this on purpose. I double checked the book to ensure that this did not happen, however I was obviously not thorough enough. As I plan to publish at least one more CYOA-style book, this has been a valuable learning experience for me and I will not repeat the same mistake in the future.

Choose Your Own Adventure

I have recently begun rereading some of the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that dominated my childhood. For the young people here, Choose Your Own Adventure (or CYOA) books were a young adult series from Bantam Books in the 70s and 80s that inserted the reader as a character in the story and allowed you to make choices that influenced how the novel turned out.

If it sounds fun, it absolutely was. I have fond memories of the CYOA books. Continue reading “Choose Your Own Adventure”

Fighter for the Future

I discovered Melissa Kane and this thought-provoking gem this evening in a Facebook group on writing. I’m very glad I did! The ending is a throwback to one of my original inspirations, “The Twilight Zone”‘s Rod Serling.

Melissa In Words

Flickering lights, soft humming computers, the quiet chattering of people spread throughout the room, the smell of ink and paper wafting through the air and two weeks to devour my next alternate universe with choices the plenty. The librarian gave me a gentle nod and smile as I passed the reception desk, familiar faces with little investment in each others lives with the exception of the new intake schedule. I browsed the new and popular by demand section, the same books have been sitting there for the last four visits, nothing new on my persona.

I need adventure, friendship, romance, contempt, security, heartache, energy; truly anything to distract me from the reality that I walk every day. With a sharp left, I headed straight for the fiction section. Authors aplenty, I have a choice to explore the African plains, dive into the Indian ocean, become a detective on a mystery…

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I never thought about writing comics.  One fateful day, I had an idea previously discussed here.  Originally, the audio drama Darth Goofus was to be a 12-issue limited series comic book.

However, I had no idea how to write a comic book. So I did what I always do: I read books written on the topic.  I read one by Dennis O’Neil, I read one by Stan Lee, I read one by Peter David.  I even more recently read one by Comfort & Adam on webcomics and Fred van Lente & Greg Pak on how to publish independently.

But the barrier for me was always art.  I can’t draw.  At least not to the level you’d want a comic book artist to reach.  I can draw maps.  And in fact I do when I run Dungeons & Dragons games.  But that isn’t going to help me very much.

The answer lay in old issues of Knights of the Dinner Table.  There was a “homebrew” strip called “Fuzzy Knights of the Dinner Table,” where someone took pictures of stuffed animals and photoshopped dialogue balloons onto them.

There’s my answer.

I can take pictures of LEGO sets, I can take pictures of posed action figures, and I can paset those pictures together to make my own comics!  There’s even a program to help with such an endeavor: Comic Life.  So I plunked down the $20 and bought a copy of Comic Life.

Now, what to do?  Well, I started a comic about LEGO Ultra Agents.  It didn’t go anywhere.  I get discouraged easily, and I frequently start projects that I never finish.  I plan to come back to this one, because the idea is way to awesome not to use.  Plus, I collected all of the Ultra Agents sets (including the Ocean HQ and the Mobile HQ, both of which are $100 sets!).

So, like most ideas, I abandoned it.

But, recently, I decided to copy off of Fuzzy Knights.  I set up five stuffed animals and took pictures from different angles.  Then, I imported the images into Comic Life and gave them dialogue.  Before I knew it, I had created 14 pages of a comic book.

My usual critique group (wife, mother-in-law, and oldest child) loved the comics.  So I decided that would be my webcomic, which is now visible over here at Comic Fury.

If this comic does well, then next year I will do a webcomic based on Ultra Agents.  I’m already plotting that one so that I can just write the scripts and get it photographed quickly.

This should prove to be fun!

5 Room Dungeon, Before We Begin…

Good writing follows specific formulas.  Screenplays follow the Three Act Structure, and RPG adventures follow the Five Room Dungeon Model.  I thought I’d spend the next several days examining the formula and create an original adventure using it.

Before that, I wanted to talk about what a dungeon actually is and what I mean by that term.  Since an RPG is basically a group storytelling session, and several sessions together are basically serial fiction, I’ll use the serial fiction that most of us are familiar with — television shows — to set the foundation. Continue reading “5 Room Dungeon, Before We Begin…”

The Story Behind “Darth Goofus”

Over at SoundCloud, I’ve uploaded a four-part serial that mixes the characters from Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Star Wars, and a couple of other fictional universes in a unique story.  Give it a listen!  Though I add the disclaimer that the audio on episode 1 is terrible and not indicative of the rest of the series.  If you can muscle through that, then the rest of the series should be a pleasure. Continue reading “The Story Behind “Darth Goofus””