Hero Games Introductions: Nick

I’d like to introduce you to the Beta Testing team for Modson Technologies’s newest game in development: Hero Games! Modson is using their proprietary, experimental Neural Interceptor technology in a full immersion virtual setting for this new game. If the Beta trials are successful, they expect this technology to radically change the gaming industry, along with many other applications. Modson has been kind enough to allow us access to this technology to interview their Beta testers. Each one we interview will actually be comfortably at home, hooked into their Modson gaming system. Since this system interacts directly with their minds, we’ll be able to get much more complete answers than subjects may otherwise give. It’ll be almost like they are having a dream.

We’ll start with Nick. Nick is one of the younger Beta testers of the group. A skinny teenager with long, stringy black hair enters the room and takes a seat beside the desk. He’s wearing a trademark Hero Games tee shirt (provided by the company) and ripped jeans.

JACE: Hello, Nick. Thank you for agreeing to talk with us today.

NICK: Sure. I got a free tee shirt for it! (He leans back and pokes out his chest to show off the tee shirt.)

JACE: Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, Nick?

NICK: Well, I’m 14. I go to Bridgeton High School. I like to swim; I like to game. That’s pretty much it.

JACE: You like to swim? Are you on a swim team? I mean, do you compete?

NICK: I used to be. I’m not any more. We can’t afford it now. I still do laps in the school pool when I can, though.

JACE: Alright, we’ll talk more about that later. Have you had a chance to try the game out, yet?

NICK: (He gets a little more excited and slides forward to the edge of his chair.) Oh, yeah. It’s completely wicked. You’re totally inside the game. It’s so real-feeling. When you make your character, it’s like you’re standing in this room, and there’s a pool of goo that turns into the person as you’re making him, and then he kind of comes to life, but he isn’t really alive cause you aren’t in him, yet. He’s just showing off a little personality, you know?

JACE: No, I don’t quite know yet, but it sounds very interesting. What kind of character did you make?

NICK: Ha! I made this wicked eight foot blue giant with red eyes. He’s got a leather jacket and these crazy techno gloves that shoot lightning. (Nick starts gesturing and acting out his description.) He’s wicked strong and he can jump out of a high window or something and land on the sidewalk, making all these little cracks in the cement… it’s completely wicked. (He brushes his hair out of his eyes with one hand as he finishes the description.)  I called him Virgil Ante. Like, vigilante, you know, a hero kind-of guy?

JACE: He sounds quite intimidating. So, Virgil Ante is a hero?

NICK: Oh yeah, they’re all heroes. The game has it setup like that. If you do non-hero stuff, you lose experience and can’t level up.I think if you do too much of it, they kick you out or something. It’s still a pretty cool game, though. It needs a soundtrack, but I think that might be an unlock you can get later.

JACE: Excellent. Well, I’d hate to spoil the game while it is still in Beta, let’s talk more about you.

NICK: If you want, I guess, I don’t have much interesting to talk about.

JACE: Well, how about your family? What do they think of you being selected for the Beta test?

NICK: Uhm, well, my mom I don’t think really knows. She’s working a lot these days, so I don’t see her very much. My little brother knows, but he’s just kind of a pest, and I don’t allow him in my room. Bad things happen when he goes in my room. (Nick pauses thoughtfully, as though surprised at his own words.) Yeah, uhm, so anyways, he knows, and that’s kind of the house, cause our dad died a few years ago.

JACE: I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?

NICK: Well, when I was nine, I found this gun on the way home from school. It was just laying beside the fence in a paper bag, right? And I saw it, and I thought “Wicked. It’s a real gun.” I figured it’d be fun for me and Joker, that’s my best friend, his real name’s James, anyways, fun for me and Joker to shoot tin cans or something sometime. Plus, it’s not safe to leave something like that just sitting out where anybody can get it, you know? (He paused with the same look of self-confusion.) Anyways, I took it home and I was checking it out in my room when I heard my dad come home. I knew he’d probably flip and want to turn the gun in, which was fine and all, but I hadn’t even had a chance to shoot it yet. I mean, a couple of days difference won’t matter.

So I stuffed the gun under my bed and went out to talk with dad and throw the suspicion off. He started talking about this big swim meet that was coming up, and maybe how we could celebrate if I placed well enough. (His shoulders slump slightly, and his voice grows softer.) Then I see my kid brother coming out of the hallway holding the gun. He loved playing in my room, and it always made me so mad, cause he’d break stuff. This time was the worst, though. He’d found the gun, and he was only three, so he didn’t even really know what it was. He totally didn’t know it was real. He pointed it at us, and said “bang, bang!” We used to play that game. He’d point his finger at me and say “bang bang” and I’d all die goofy like. He thought it was funny. Only this time the gun was real, and it was loaded. I don’t think dad even really ever knew what happened. His eyes got all wide, and he tried to talk, but he couldn’t, and he fell on the ground.

(Nick pushes the tissue box away and wipes his nose and eyes on his sleeve instead.) I know I shouldn’t have had the gun in the first place, but if he hadn’t gone in my room; if he’d just leave my stuff alone…

JACE: That must have been terrible for both of you. Is your brother okay?

NICK: (shrugs.)  I don’t think he even really remembers it. He was pretty young. He probably didn’t even understand that I’d cost us both our father. I mostly take care of him, cause mom’s working all the time to make ends meet, and dad’s gone, so it’s just us at home.

JACE: Sounds like you’re trying to be his hero.

Images thanks to HeroMachine.com

NICK: Nah, I just make sure he doesn’t starve or anything, you know? I mean, it’s the least I can do, after… everything.

JACE: Well, we’re almost out of time, so let’s try to end on a high note. What’s the coolest thing about the game that you’ve found so far?

NICK: Hero Games? Aw, man, there’s so much wicked stuff in there. (He thinks about it a moment.)  Probably the feeling of being somebody completely different. In there, I’m not just looking at the back of Virgil’s head; I am Virgil Ante. I’m eight feet tall, with blue skin and muscles, and I can shoot electricity. It’s all so wicked-real.

JACE: Again, Nick, thank you for joining us, and we look forward to reading all about your adventures in Hero Games.

Tune in next time, and we’ll talk to another of our Beta testers for Hero Games, from Modson Technologies.

Hero Games Introductions:
 Paul “The Peace Keeper” Granados
Erin “Vanessa Pyre” Moore

Children Make Great Villians

I often wonder at the mindset and expectations of criminals. How they can possibly dream up some of the things they do? How can they feel good about doing it? I never feel like I understand the “darker psyche”. However, tonight I have come to realize that the greatest source of inspiration for villainy is children. My wife had a blog for a time called “Step-Eclecticity” and used little code names for the kids, so I’m going to borrow those monikers for this.

Tonight, I awoke from bed to yelling (possibly, I was still asleep there) and then the definite sounds of loud crying. I got out of bed and made my way to the children’s side of the house. When I hit the hallway, I paused to determine which direction the crying was coming from. Both directions?? (We currently have two kids in the house, as their older brother, ‘Scooby’, is out of state for the balance of the summer.) After a moment of listening, I decide the louder crying seems to be coming from the left, so I start in that direction. There I find ‘Bliss,’ our 11 yr old rock-climbing daughter, lying on the bed, holding one side of her head and in terrible tears.

“My face is broken,” she sobs out. I’m slightly in shock, and resisting the instant urge to go destroy the vile miscreant who has chosen to bring my daughter to such painful tears and heart-wrenching beliefs. “He pressed my face down with all his weight, and I heard it crack!” She fully believes that her twin brother has literally broken her face, cracked her skull. After a few more minutes of gentle holding and reassurances that her face appears to be just as pretty as always, other than tear-tracks and puffy eyes, I get a grip on my temper and head for the other end of the hallway.

On that end of the world, I discover Digi, our 11-yr old baseball fanatic and potential genius, curled into the fetal position on the giant beanbag under his Texas Rangers comforter. He, too, is sobbing his heart into the night. I ask, calmly, what happened. “She turned off the light, and pushed me off the ladder, and made me feel like I wasn’t even a person!”

I tennis-matched back and forth for an hour, comforting, interrogating, chastising, and reassuring the pair of them, and in the end, after much begging to see each other on both their parts, I let Digi in to see Bliss, and he tearfully said he was sorry and begged her forgiveness, as she apologized to him and told him it was alright. There were hugs and ‘I love you’s as I watched from the door. There will certainly be more talking in the morning, but as it was after midnight, I put them both to bed with kisses and instructions to get some sleep. Oh, what was the fight over? The top bunk. When there are four kid beds to choose from in that end of the house.

So, I’m reasonably certain that her face isn’t broken, and I’m pretty sure he is a person, but I was completely floored at the actions they were willing to take against someone they each profess to care deeply about, and for so little an incentive. Truly, childhood is the stuff of villainy. Earlier this week, one of them slipped around the table while I was chatting with their cousin, and then whispered behind my back (I can still hear pretty well in my doting old age) to that cousin, who promptly stepped back to my attention and asked about playing on the Wii with the child that was so conveniently positioned behind me. I asked why my child wasn’t the one asking, and promptly came the defense that the cousin had just been asking to play. Yeah, right. Manipulative little… villain.

Their older brother Scooby isn’t innocent on this, either, by no means. Every time he travels between houses, he smuggles a shipment of toys back east. There was even an entire post on my wife’s old blog a couple of years ago about a certain candy thief that was caught chocolate-handed.

I am probably far too tired to try to assess what this observation might mean from a psychological point of view, but I am quick to spot the writing advantage! What is a villain willing to do to get what he wants? Look to the children. Lie (“I didn’t put that there!”), Cheat (“Oops, I moved my piece too far. And that was a practice roll.”), Manipulate, Steal, and, apparently, break a little girl’s face, or turn their own brother into a “non-person.”  Frankly, I’d call that a pretty impressive list for a villain. 

I was about to say that the crazy thing is, if we base villains on children, they don’t even need all that convincing a reason for their evil deeds. I mean really: he wanted the top bunk. Then again, was all that really about who got the top bunk? Or maybe about how one made the other one feel? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care how someone makes you feel, reciprocal violence is not an acceptable response. Yet we must take something like that into account when writing villains: they have reasons for what they do. They also must have a certain viewpoint about it. Either they feel it is justified, or they have to be in some way conflicted about it. Or perhaps numbed to it, as they have lived that way so long.

My problem with villains, or writing any character that isn’t just stock criminal, is that I have trouble making them be truly evil. They don’t lie, they kind of sort of tell half-truths… When just watching my children should make me realize that, angels they may be, but they’ll lie to you. Straight up, stare you in the face, I-didn’t-do-it-and-you-can’t-prove-it lie. Not to mention the other things they are willing to do, especially in the heat of the moment, even if they feel bad about it later. Maybe my next villain will cry himself to sleep at night, trying to justify his actions, or push blame onto the victims of her crimes. Or maybe we’ll see their dad, lying in bed, trying to figure out where he went wrong to raise someone so… human.


We’ll talk about where I’ve been later. First, I want to celebrate! I now officially have a published work. Elven Fire for the Beginner GM  is finished and published, through the wonderful folks at CreateSpace.com. It took several re-uploads for small corrections, but it’s done and available on CreateSpace and Amazon.

Last summer, George F. Rice published the  Elven Fire manual, introducing his family’s 20-year project to the world.
Elven Fire is a new RPG tabletop game, like many others available on the market, but with some very unique aspects such as the Damage Class table that allows a player to use any kind of die in existence (or that can be conceived) to play the game. In addition, it is more “family friendly” than many in the genre, while still maintaining the classic, high fantasy style that has made these types of games famous.

Elven Fire for the Beginner GM is not an alternate manual. Instead, it is a guide for inexperienced GMs of Elven Fire (or if you’ve never even heard of RPG games before!). ‘The Beginner GM’ includes an introduction to the special challenges of being a GM (in addition to being a player) and then walks the reader through three ‘arcs’ (storylines) of labyrinths. Each labyrinth is five rooms, which is a several-hours night of gameplay. Each labyrinth includes step-by-step instructions for the GM, specific battle statistics for every creature or opponent, and occasional tips and tricks for the GM.

You’ll still need the manual to make your characters, and you’ll want the manual for all of the other great information there. This is by no means a replacement for the manual. However, playing a starting group through all three arcs of The Beginner GM will bring that starter, no-nothing group of rag-tag adventurers all the way to the threshold of the Intermediate level.

The most exciting part, however, is that my name’s on the cover!! My author’s copies will arrive this week, so I still have some exciting celebrating to do, but I wanted to go ahead and write up the blog post to announce it. I would also like to mention that I wrote this work during last November, while leading several middle schoolers through NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers’ Program and I would certainly like to thank the Office of Letters and Light for all the hard work they do to make that program happen. (Not to mention the Winner’s Codes they give out for those who make it!)

David Jace: Missing

There are only three logical reasons for me to have been absent the past six months: alien abduction, secret govt spy work, or lost in a land of fairy magic. Nothing else makes any sense whatsoever. Why else would I abandon my writing and the blog for so long? The question remains, however, which was it? I’ll let you decide.

It was a January full moon that shone between the trees of the Texas countryside. Being a light winter, it had only taken a little convincing to get my wife to agree to go camping. Away from the city lights of the metroplex, the stars abandoned their shyness and scattered themselves across the night sky, mingling with the  floating sparks of the campfire. We cuddled under a heavy blanket, our feet on the rocks, enjoying the quiet solitude together.

I pointed at the highest sparks, floating on the warm updraft from the fire, like stars playing tag. “See the little space ships flying around? They’re looking for people to abduct.”

Gods of Justice Review: Blunt Force Trauma

I won Gods of Justice from Lisa Gail Green. It’s an anthology of superhero short stories. Lisa asked if I would write a review of the anthology, but since I like to give more than asked, I decided to do a review of each story, one at a time. In case you didn’t know, I really like superheroes, so this was a great prize for me. I’ll be reviewing them one story at a time in this “Gods of Justice Review series.”

Blunt Force Trauma by Kevin Hosey truly does play some head games with you. There isn’t a lot of “superhero action” in this one, but the one hero/power that you do get to experience is pretty cool. It starts right at the beginning, giving the reader the advance warning of Psykore’s precognitive superpower. It’s done almost as a second voice inside his head, giving him a heads up on what’s about to happen with a couple of well chosen words. This gives him the advantage on his opponent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work on inanimate objects, like a bomb, which quickly ends his career and causes his power to go defunct at the beginning of the story.

We pick up the story many years later, with Psykore making ends meet, permanently wounded and defeated by the bomb, living alone. He gets a call from his mentor/partner from even before we met Psykore, to tell him about the death of his partner’s daughter. His partner quickly changes gears, however, and tells him not to come. Apparently, they had some sort of major falling out back in the day, which is hinted at and slowly unveiled as the story moves along.
This story specializes not on cool super heroics or flashy powers, but on relationships and plot twists. I saw the love interest coming, and I suspected the baby’s origin maybe halfway in, but I was taken completely by surprise with the identity of the mastermind behind it all. Caught by surprise, and left gasping for breath, with my mind spinning to grasp the ramifications of it all.
Many stories make the mistake of throwing in a random culprit or piece of information at the very end, in order to effect a plot twist of this magnitude. It’s called Deus ex Machina, which is Latin and means God of the Machine. However, stories like this, in today’s modern world of storytelling, feel contrived, unplanned, or the reader feels cheated. Not so with Blunt Force Trauma. The clues were all there, nothing was truly hidden, it just didn’t come together until the end.
It was a little on the slow-paced side, as so much of it was angst and relationship-building material, leaking out tips and hints of what had happened in their past, but in the end, my overwhelming feel is that this story hurt to read. Not that it was bad writing, but that the actual story hurt. I didn’t want it to be that way. I hurt for Psykore; I hurt for the kid. I just wanted to raise my hands into the air and scream “It’s not fair!” Life isn’t fair, and good literature reflects life.
You can get more of Kevin Hosey’s work on his site, www.kevinhosey.net, his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter.

The Rest of the Series:
The Mass Grave of John Johnsons by Micah Urban
Daughter of Nyx by Kelly Wisdom
Going My Own Way by Dayton Ward

Revising Violently

This Saturday I printed out the first arc of The Beginner GM and curled up on the couch to make my first editing pass. It was a massacre. I shed so much red ink that I’m not sure the ME would be able to identify the body. I slashed paragraphs and carved similes into imagery. I ripped the metaphorical throat out of some of those passages, and then I put it back in backwards. In my defense, those pages deserved it. I’m not sorry I did it, and first chance I get, I’m going to do it again!

I’ve never liked to revise, or even proofread, for most of my life. I’m not sure why. When I clean and think I am done, I take a last look to catch anything I missed. If I’m eating a good meal, you’d better be sure I check the pot before giving up my plate. Revising, however, I hated. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was admitting I had been wrong, or that I could have done it better, though you’d think I was used to that. Maybe it just felt like too much work. It could be that I was scared to see how bad it was. Whatever the reason, When I threw down my pen and pages, I was done, for better or worse. I promise you, it was worse.

Revision, as detestable as it might be to some, is critical to good writing. I don’t know why it’s impossible to do it right the first time, but it is. I’ve never ever heard of a successful writer that didn’t revise. Moreover, every time I recall an author talking about revision, they talked about how MUCH they revise! Many authors are still mentally revising their work after it’s been published.

So, I can’t tell you why we need to do it, but I can tell you how it helps. The most obvious is basic proofreading. People make mistakes, all the time. Proofing lets you spot and fix those mistakes before someone else does. Revision allows you to see the places in your story that need tightening, or loosening, or more explanation, or less exposition. It lets you follow the voice of your characters, and better recognize when they shift, than when you were writing mad about the wet newspaper and it soaked into your characters.
I think Writing and Reading are two different parts of the brain, perhaps editing is as well. When you take a second look at what you’ve written, after letting it cool for a time, you see it as a reader instead of the person writing it, and that makes all the difference. Writers have no clue when they have screwed up. Readers can always smell it. Fortunately, the best writers are both.

Switching Gears

Despite what I said in my last blog post, I’m switching gears. I had planned to finish editing and revising The Beginner GM and then return to work on Hero Games, which I had practically abandoned last summer. However, Fantasy Faction has thrown a metaphorical wrench into my plans.
The wrench they threw into my machine is their new Anthology and the contest for the valued slots for unpublished authors.

Their submission requirements are pretty strict: anything fantasy. I can do that. Targeting about 8,000 words.

So, over the holidays, I had an idea for a story based on the Mayan calendar’s end of time. I theorized that maybe the 2012 deadline wasn’t predicting the end of the world, but a major change in the world as we know it. (A little quick research lent substantial credibility to such a theory.) So I figure, if the world is going to completely change, why not play with physics? The story I have planned will take the world from science to magic, much like it did ages ago when the pendulum swung the other way. One will slowly fade, and the other will grow in power and awareness.

So, for those who care, that’s my new agenda and why. Sometimes, a wrench in the gears just means your machine does something new.

Pretend This is a Creative Blog Post Title

It is a new year, and with new years come… calories, if we’re going to be honest about it.

Over the holidays (and just after), I finished Elven Fire for the Beginner GM, which was my NaNoWriMo project this year. (I did hit my goal, but had some finishing pieces I wanted to add.) Now it’s time for that to go into revisions so it can be published this spring. The actual game manual went out last summer. That has been a fun experience, and a new type of project for me.
Once that’s done, I’ll be going back to work on Hero Games, which I abandoned in the middle. I’ve decided to try an unusual (for me) approach, though, and writing each character’s storyline independently, then weaving them all together. With the plot well mapped, it should be doable, and may help to maintain the continuity of their voice.
One night over the holidays, I had to get up in the middle of the night to write down a couple of story concepts so that I could sleep, and hopefully not lose the ideas. When I shared the ideas with my wife later, she praised the concepts, but commented that she thinks I have enough projects on my plate.
Even ignoring the “real life” commitments of teaching and family, she’s right. I have just finished writing one project that requires editing before a deadline for publications; I am still in the midst of a challenging novel with a dozen main characters, each with their own subplot. I have at least three other novels-in-progress awaiting their turn in line. I have a Santa’s List of story ideas waiting to become works-in-progress. I have blogging that I try to do weekly, Tweeting that I do whenever I can, which isn’t often enough. On Common Ground is gathering dust waiting to be edited. On top of all that, I really should be trying to build my portfolio by entering contests, submitting short stories to magazines, networking within the blogosphere. Oh, I’d completely forgotten that Derek Daniels, my poor Nanite Chaser, is desperately in need of another episode or five.
How does a writer do it? Do we throw some of these wonderful ideas away? Should I start a Writer’s Idea Bank and store them there in the hopes that some other author may be able to use one? It makes me wonder, of those amazing authors that are out there, the prolific, and the departed, how many of their stories went unwritten? How many amazing tales have passed unpenned? I hope there’s a library in heaven, and I hope Satan’s not in charge of the publishing house.

Merry Christmas

I’m sure Santa’s moving my name from one list to the other this month, for I’ve not posted at all in December. Actually, I think I posted one that I had drafted and saved a while back, but screwed up and dated it sometime in October. A shame, it was a good post, and probably went unnoticed because of that. Ah, well, it’s the thought that counts. Or maybe only the thoughts you write down.

So, here’s my Christmas gift to all of you: a piece of fiction. First, you must ask yourself are you naughty or are you nice?
For the Naughty Girls and Boys…
“Shame on you! What are you doing reading this filth?” The voice echoed in her ears…
For the Nice Girls and Boys…

NaNoWriMo’s Last Breath

Today is the last day of 2011′s NaNoWriMo. Let’s see how it all has turned out, with the understanding that there are still about 16 hours left for things to change.

My 2nd period, who had a word count goal of 60,000 (30 kids x 2k words each) topped out yesterday at 62,058 words with threats from some of bringing more today. (Their class doesn’t meet today.) Way to go, kids!

My 4th period came in just short of their 38,000 goal (19 kids x 2k words each) with 35,932 words. Remember, there’s still 16 hours left for them to come bursting into my classroom waving sheets of scribbled words and numbers, yelling out their total word count. They aren’t too very short. One kid could make it happen for them.

Each student that succeeded in hitting their goal is invited to the Thursday Dec 1 afternoon pizza party NaNoWriMo Celebration! (Wow that’s a long name for a party.)

I would like to brag and celebrate my own personal success of winning MY first NaNoWriMo YWP, passing my 25k goal with 26,733 and counting! Woot for me!

My afterschool WriMos trudged in with sad faces yesterday. They were falling far short of their goals, but, I am proud to say, they were still writing. There was one that usually comes later, however. (She’s in spelling bee practice the first half after school.) Word in the halls was that this sweet girl with a modest 12k goal, had over 20,000 words in hand. She arrived, and it was true. She had over 170%! Oh, how we celebrated.

Then, I went to validate her words, and she stopped me.

“No, Mister! Don’t do it.”

I was startled, and tried to explain that I was validating her win, so she would have her little purple Winner bar.

“No, I don’t want to do that. I didn’t finish the story. I’m only half way done, and there’s no way I’ll finish it in time. I’m not a winner yet, and I hold to that decision.”

How can I not respect such integrity? I searched the FAQs but could find nothing on what to do if you hit (or explode) your word count, but aren’t done with the story at the end of the month. For now, she remains unvalidated… but she’s a winner in my book.


Update: My wife went and found some information and emailed me to have something to help sway the girl, since she couldn’t comment from work. The email is below.

From the FAQs, The Basics, “How do you win?”:

“You win NaNoWriMo by writing to your word-count goal by midnight on November 30.”

Writing to your word-count goal. Not finishing your novel.

Also, in the CreateSpace talks:

“… you will receive a redemption password when you reach your word-count goal and become an official NaNoWriMo 2011 winner.”

When you reach your goal. Not when you finish your book.

I’d say it’s pretty clear!

So during my off period, I pulled her out of class and presented this information to her. After assuring her that she could (and should) finish the work and pursue publishing in the spring, she confirmed that she did want to validate now. So we quickly grabbed a computer and got her validated. I am so very proud of her, and excited about the future of her story.

Then, when I got home, I had the following email from the Office of Letters and Light. I think Tim said it quite well.

Hi there,

Wow, she has real grit to go with her drive, it sounds like; that’s fantastic. Our official position is basically that, if she hits her word count goal, we consider her a winner. We also encourage young writers to continue writing their novels, and to edit them in later months. I’m going to link a FAQ about it here: http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/node/512033

This is also our official position on how to win: http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/node/512006

I hope this helps! Thank you for writing in, and please let your student know that we are incredibly proud of her accomplishment, and that she deserves to celebrate!

Tim Kim
Office Captain
The Office of Letters and Light