April 30, 2011

Z is for…

I remember going up to a computer store on Dundurn street in Hamilton, possibly the strip mall at the corner of Dundurn and Main, to buy a computer game for the family IBM-XT clone, and coming back with ZORK I on a 5 and a quarter inch floppy.

It wasn’t the first text adventure game that I’d ever played – there had been similar games for Commodore 64 computers at school, and even a few for the TRS-80 that we had before the new PC, but Zork really captured my imagination – the Troll waiting near the dungeon stairs with his grim axe, waiting to do you battle, the suave thief running circles around you and swiping your best loot, the annoying echo room that wouldn’t let you pick up a treasure that was sitting right in front of you, the maze with the body of a dead adventurer and his gear lying in the middle of it, the coal mine full of deadly hazards at every turn, the mystifying Frobozz dam and the magical rainbow bridge over the Aragain falls… (and figuring out what Aragain spelled when you turned it back to front.)

I didn’t have the self discipline to solve the game without spoilers, unfortunately. That version came with its own invisiclues system built into a HELP command, so I started peeking at the clues for anything that had me a little bit stumped, and even peeked ahead for ideas about a few things that I hadn’t gotten to yet, so that I wouldn’t kill myself by doing the wrong thing… again.

But I did get to the end, and played around with a few of the fun ‘did you ever’ ideas, and then gradually lost interest.

Much later, I ran into Zork games again, this time downloading them off an internet site, along with the plethora of Inform interpreters that you can now get to play them on all kinds of machines that the original designers never imagines – from Windows, Mac, and Unix to palm-pilots, alphasmarts, pocket PCs, and iPhones. I don’t know first-hand if anybody has ported the frotz interpreter (or any of the others) to blackberry and Droid, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

And that’s what led me to try writing text adventure games myself. I’m really proud of completing my ‘Star Hunter’ game, though it didn’t place too well in Ifcomp, because I didn’t really think of it from a player’s point of view. And I want to get back to text game design sometime this year, if I can squeeze it in.

Young Wizards

April 29, 2011

Y is for…
Well, I thought that today I’d talk more about ‘Young Wizards’, one of my favorite fantasy book series, and return to my chapter-by-chapter review of Diane Duane’s book ‘A Wizard of Mars.’ In the last week of March, I got up to chapter twelve, so now we have a new chapter, ‘Oceanidum Mons.’

It opens with Nita alone out on Mars with her invisible friend, Bobo the essence of Wizardry – and Bobo tells her that he’s found Kit, but his status is flagged as occupied. Nita sends him a text message via her Wizard’s manual, which gets held for delivery later, and Nita has Bobo transit her back home to Earth for lunch. While preparing a chicken sandwich, Nita obsesses a little over the image she saw of the Martian girl, Aurirelde, in her Victoria’s Secret-esque outfit, and also how Kit had been paying attention to Janie Lowell at school in ‘that alleged skirt.’ But she shies away from dwelling on jealous topics for too long, and moves on to all of the Martian encounters that had taken place the day before, especially how different the ones Kit and his team were involved in versus Nita and her friends.

Looking for a reason for those differences, she starts to do some simple analyses based on power levels, ages, origins, and specialties, before hitting on the most obvious difference – the gender gap. Nita isn’t sure what that means, but it doesn’t give her a good feeling. Wondering if somebody from Mars might be trying to take advantage of Kit, she considers asking Bobo to plant a spy routine in his manual, the same way he did with Dairine’s manual computer, but isn’t sure what to make of the morals of violating his privacy, even if she’s motivated by concern for him. It seems too much like something the Evil Lone power would want her to do, and she holds off for the time being. Then Nita has a precognitive flash of Mars turning blue, and people on Earth panicking, and talks to Carmela again, finding out more about the strange Martian poem that Carmela had recorded in the library cave, the Red Rede, which seems to have some similarities with her visions, and possibly be a prophecy in itself.

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April 28, 2011

X is for…

Well, this is the point at which I geek out, it seems.

I’ve been using Xubuntu of one sort or another on my eeePC netbook for a few years now, I guess. When I wanted to move on from the hokey Xandros OS that came with the eeePC, there were a bunch of eeePC specific linux OS installers around, and I picked eeeXubuntu because it seemed to have a reasonably good support community at eeeuser, where I was already familiar with the wiki and forums.

But I quickly came to appreciate Xubuntu’s mix of power and user-friendliness, with the Thunar file explorer (reassuringly like Windows XP’s in a lot of important ways,) the down and dirty mousepad text editor, and the global keyboard shortcuts that let me give all my favorite programs an easy to remember shift-key combination, so that I don’t need to worry about how to add anything to the start menu. (Good thing too, because the Xubuntu start menu, on the other hand, is ARCANE! I still don’t really know the details of where and how I’d need to construct a shortcut file to get Celtx on my eeePC start menu.)

And behind the Xfce desktop environment, of course, is all the power of the Ubuntu operating system core, with the Synaptic package manager to make it easy to find new software packages to install, like OpenOffice, Gambas programming tool, Unison to sync my work with a flash drive, and so on.

I wanted to update the Ubuntu version on the eeePC over the winter, and I tried the ‘Ubuntu netbook remix’ version first. But I wasn’t impressed with that interface – it seemed to have its own ideas about what people should be using netbook computers for, and customizing it to the purposes I wanted seemed like too much of a pain. So I went back to Xubuntu, Maverick Meerkat version, which has worked well ever since.

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April 27, 2011

W is for…

I’ve had writing workshops very much on my mind lately, and it occurs to me that there’s a remarkable variety in terms of different events and organizations that use that phrase to describe themselves. For instance:

Odyssey, the workshop that I’ve been waiting to see if I’ll get into. I got word two weeks ago that I was on the short waiting list, and that spots would most likely open up around the end of April, though there might be a last-minute drop-out as late as May 25th.

Odyssey is a six-week session with about sixteen participants, lectures, one-on-one consultations with the instructure, guest lecturers, and intense but constructive critique circle sessions between the participants. It’s held in Saint Anselm College, in Manchester, New Hampshire, with all participants living in residence.

I’m not really sure what to expect if I get into Odyssey, but the odd thought flashed through my head as I was listening to ‘Starship troopers’ on my audiobook player that it would likely be a writer’s version of ‘Boot Camp’ – intellectually and emotionally exhausting, but an experience that, if you got through it without cracking, would make you forever a stronger person inside and a much better writer.

Wish me luck on the waiting list thing, by the way!

While I was waiting to hear about Odyssey, I got good news in my email inbox about a completely different writing workshop. Lindsey Grant posted over at the Office of Letters and Light blog asking for suggestions about ‘revision tools’ to help National Novel Writing Month writers work on editing their stories through the year. I was really excited about the call for suggestions, since I felt I had a bit of experience with what worked and what didn’t over at places like Nanoedmo, Nanopubye, and Stringing Words, and so I put together four suggestions and posted them without even really paying attention to the prizes that Lindsey had waved to try and encourage feedback.

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April 26, 2011

V is for…

I tried my hand at ‘vidding’, or fanvidding, a long time ago – it looks like the fall of 2002 through January of 2003. If you don’t know, vidding is the process of editing different clips of a TV show or movie along with other sources of video or audio to come up with your own montage or sequence, like making a ‘music video’ featuring the characters of your favorite fandom.

I’d bought some Roswell episodes in video file format on burned CDs, desperate for a better rerun fix than my old home VHS tapes, which weren’t holding up so well. The quality of the video files wasn’t astounding, but having them there did mean that I could play around with them using Windows Movie Maker, and I came up with my first two fanvids using those source files – a Max/Liz tribute to Faith Hill’s song ‘One,’ and a really angsty Michael/Maria third season montage to go with Roch Voisine’s “With these eyes.” I guess I thought of that latter connection because of the lyric at the end of the chorus, “‘Cause a sad song doesn’t care whose heart it breaks,” and Michael was always talking about how he didn’t want to hurt Maria ifhe had to leave her, but in mid Season 3 she’s the one who walks away and he’s the one who ends up shattered.

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Unedited and Unsettled.

April 25, 2011

U stands for…

I wasn’t quite sure what to do for U – didn’t want to geek out about Ubuntu, or write another angry rant about Umbrellas, so I decided that I’d look for spotlights, and there are two great blogs who can share this spot on the calendar.

Unedited from Jen Daiker is one of the home blogs of the A-Z challenge, along with Tossing It Out, Alex Cavanaugh and Talli Roland. It looks like she’s been doing some great stuff for A-Z all month, so go over there and check it out if you’re not already avidly following her.

Regina Linton, with Unsettled, isn’t doing the A-Z challenge, but she’s a Crusader, in group 10 with the rest of the paranormal crowd. She’s also got some interesting posts up about how to improve your relationship with your muse.

So, that’s it until tomorrow. This week looks like it’s going to have some tough slogging at the end of the alphabet, but I’ll figure out something!


April 23, 2011

T is for…

Well, I’ve already dedicated H to my true hometown of Hamilton, but Toronto is sort of a half-adopted hometown, a place that’s also very dear to my heart. I didn’t really pay it that much attention for the first eighteen years plus of my life, except for a place to occasionally go to ride up the CN tower or see a baseball game or get government records, and really I suppose I was really ignorant of the benefits of living so close to such an amazing city. But then, I was young.

I moved to Toronto, to the suburban wilds of North York at least, for university, in the fall of 1995, and spent four years at York University, commuting back home to crash at my parent’s place every other weekend or so. (For some reason I still have dreams about finding my way across the big city on the TTC and looking for a new room to rent in Toronto.) I spent the first year, including the summer, in residence, and then spent the regular school term in rental places found on the housing board and summers back in Hamilton.

After seven months spent trying to find a job with only a bachelor’s degree and no work experience, during the consolidation days of the Y2K scare, I ended up going back to school in Toronto, taking the applied IT course at the Herzing institute in the Eaton center, and commuting into the city and back every day from Hamilton on GO transit – which would have been much more stressful, except that regular classes only lasted for four hours a day when I wasn’t doing teaching assistance or tutoring or grading for the school, so a lot of the time I could head back to Hamilton early. It was really a worthwhile experience, rounding out my university education with some more marketable skills, and also giving me a few useful connections, including the referral that led me to the job that I’m in now, (indirectly.)

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April 22, 2011

S is for…

Yeah, I know that Rach has extended a special Crusader challenge for Showing, but I couldn’t avoid doing a second Script Frenzy check-in for S.

Overall, writing my Alien Mafia Script has been going really well since I last mentioned it, with “F is for Frenzy”. I went up to Toronto twice last weekend to meet with other Frenziers and work on my red netbook, and on Tuesday evening, in the Central branch of the Hamilton Public Library, before the Hamilton Writers’ meeting at Chesters Beers of the world, I actually got to THE END.

The trouble was, I was only up to page 89 by that point!

Hamilton Writers’ was an interesting experience this week, by the way, because there was a Rush concert in town, so Chester’s was full of Rush fans grabbing dinner and a drink before the show. But that’s off-topic.

So, for the past few days, I’ve been working on inserting or expanding scenes in the middle of my script, in an effort to get to the target page number. I’ve borrowed a trick that was mentioned on the Script Frenzy website, and calling them ‘deleted scenes’ just because that gives me permission to have them be really bad and not keep them in the second draft, though some of them might be better than that. If I need to draw on them, I’ve got a few other tricks up my sleeve, like writing fake ‘out-takes’ and a making of documentary or other featurettes.

But that brings me to another point.

The Script Frenzy website has been down yesterday morning, a victim of the Amazon EC2 Cloud crisis. Hopefully it should be up later tonight, but I’m really missing the forums and the Script Frenzy staff video diaries and pep-talks and all of that stuff. I’ve made plans to meet somebody who’s not doing Script Frenzy at a coffeeshop, and wanted to extend the invite to Frenziers as well, but can’t contact them without the website.

So – come on, Amazon! Get your frakkin’ cloud pulled back together, toot sweet!


April 21, 2011

R is for…

Long-time readers of this blog will have probably heard me mention the television show ‘Roswell’, especially in connection with the fanfic and fanart I’ve created based on the show. It’s a bit of an interesting story how I got so involved in Roswell fandom. It’s not really one of the best shows that have been on television, but I think that possibly its flaws are just big enough to give fans room to slip through and play on their own.

I tuned into the show in the fall of 1999, after it had been on the air for a few months – mostly because I wanted to see what Julie Benz was up to since leaving Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Ironically, the first episode I saw was the end of Julie’s recurring arc on the show – she returned for one more episode later in the season, and I caught most of her other episodes in reruns, but that was all for Julie.

But I started following the show – the teenage leads had some charisma working for them, the writing was witty and engaging, (Jason Katims knows his stuff, and so does most of the writing team he put together,) and most of the plot holes that crept up were easy to gloss over.

Around this same time I was participating in a crazy crossover RPG on egroups, and later yahoo groups – Roswell wasn’t part of the canon for the RPG, just Buffy, Angel, Charmed, and the movie ‘Sleepy Hollow.’ It was a lot of fun, and the moderator of the game was also a big fan of Roswell. She ended up pointing me to a few fan sites, and gave me my first taste of Roswell shipper controversy.

To explain this part fairly briefly, over most of the first season of the show, there were roughly parallel romantic arcs between three couples in the show’s teenage cast – Max Evans with Liz Parker, Michael Guerin with Maria DeLuca, Isabel Evans with Alex Whitman. Each of these pairs was one alien character, (Max, Michael, Isabel) and one human, (Liz, Maria, Alex.) There was also another teenage regular human, Kyle Valenti, Liz’s ex-boyfriend, but he was more of a foil for Max than anything else at this point.

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April 20, 2011

Q is for…

One of my favorite ways to prepare for a new writing project isn’t an outline, but giving my main characters questionnaires. I feel like having well rounded characters with strong voices and motivations is a very important thing, so conducting a kind of pre-interview like this helps me figure out what a character’s background was like, what matters to them, and even gives me practice with their patterns of speaking and sometimes gives me a notion of their hangups in terms of which questions they avoid answering and how.

It’s possible that when I see ‘pass’ or ‘I don’t know you well enough’ on a questionnaire sheet, that just means that I need to do some more serious character brainstorming, too.

Some of my favorite questions from my favorite questionnaire are:
What words and/or phrases do you use very frequently? (A good prompt for verbal tics I can use in a story.)
Are you a virgin?  If not, when and with whom did you lose your virginity? (Sex angst is ususally good for fleshing out a character’s backstory.)
What is your greatest regret?
In your opinion, what is the most evil thing any human being could do?
Have you ever been in love?  If so, describe what happened. (Love angst is sometimes even better than sex angst.)
What would you do if you had insomnia and had to find something to do to amuse yourself?
If you knew you were going to die in 24 hours, name three things you would do in the time you had left.

You can find a copy of it here. It’s designed for RPG gamers, but I first found it referenced on the Nanowrimo website.

Have you ever used a questionnaire in your writing? What’s your favorite questionnaire, and why?

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