OP-ED: Not Every Popular Thing Goes with Every Other Thing – Or Why We Should Stop Shoving Dark Souls into Everything

This piece is going to aggravate a few people. I’ll state that up front because I know it’s going to aggravate them because I’ve already expressed this opinion elsewhere and had some people express very much that they disagreed with it.

But it’s a pretty straightforward opinion, and I’ll back it up as best I can. It basically boils down to a recent gaming experience (a rare reminder of one of my hobbies) that could be best summed up as “Stop shoving Dark Souls into everything, especially where it doesn’t fit!”

If you’re not familiar with the title offered there, I’m going to note that I don’t have a problem with the game itself. Dark Souls is a series (as well as a style) of game developed by FromSoftware that’s built around a very punishing, precise, methodical style of play. Your character is not agile and limber, but stiff and committed, unable to break free from an action they’ve committed to. Enemies are tough and on equal or better footing to the player. The result is a gameplay style where you must make very concise, clear, methodical choices—usually about when to roll, block, or strike—with a very limited window for error and even less leeway for actually making an error.

Effectively, every enemy is a sort of “trial and error” experience of learning when to strike and when to roll out of the way, with the message “you died” being a frequent companion to the player. You learn to watch every enemy’s tells, and you learn precisely when to counter, dodge roll for i-frames, or attack … or you’ll die. Again and again.

Here’s the thing: FromSoftware has devoted a lot of time to making this punishing, methodical style of gameplay work. It’s a game style that lends itself to a lot of rough edges, from cheap shots to badly designed combat encounters. And I make this bit clear: FromSoftware has worked very hard to make these rough edges as smooth as possible, taking out cheap shots, making sure enemies fall victim to the same physics that the player does, etc. The result has been a very successful series, to the point that a lot of players who are fans of it consider it the “original” hard game (to which those of us who played something like Ninja Gaiden Black just chuckle and roll our eyes). If you’ve heard anyone talking lately about Elden Ring, well that’s because it’s FromSoftware’s newest release in the market, and it’s tearing up the charts as it is a very well-realized evolution on the formula that’s made them such a success. Millions and millions of copies sold, the latest in a line of popular stylized combat games.

Now, I’ll state something up front before diving into the meat of this discussion: I don’t mind that these games exist. Dark Souls and the like are certainly not my cup of tea, with their slow, plodding combat, i-frame design (a practice I’ve never liked in almost any game I’ve played) and the design of being locked in whatever action you most recently set out to do. But I don’t mind that others enjoy the polished experience that FromSoftware provides. That’s fine. You play Dark Souls. I’ll play the liquid smooth, tough-as-nails Ninja Gaiden Black instead.

What I do have a problem with is every other developer out there going “Hey, this game is really popular. Why don’t we shove that gameplay into a game that has no reason to have it? It’s popular, right?”

It stinks of executive meddling or developers not understanding their own game, and I hate it.

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Milestones and Other News

Well, this week has been full of interesting. Interesting in a way that brings to mind that common curse (thought as I understand it, it is neither ancient, nor Chinese) “may you live in interesting times.”

I’m not just speaking of my own experiences here. The war in Ukraine continues to be a constant source of “interesting” as the world rightfully dogpiles on Russia for invading its neighbor in a naked power grab. The longer things go on, the more insane Russia looks, from their claims to their actions. Last night they shelled a nuclear power plant, briefly setting it on fire.

These are not the actions of sane people. You don’t shell a nuclear power plant in an area you’re trying to conquer. That’s supervillain 101. Russia is proving more inept than comic book villains right now, but with very real consequences to their nation’s actions.

Here’s hoping Kyiv is the stone their entire military trips over and can’t recover from.

Yeah, sorry to start off with such a dour topic, but that’s sort of the state of things these days on the international stage.


Thankfully, not everything making the news is terrible these days. Have you heard about Sanderson’s Kickstarter success?

Well, I have. Repeatedly. Constantly. So yes, I have heard about it, you can stop messaging me everywhere about it. It is cool, but I heard about it the first day.

Now, those of you that haven’t might be wondering what’s going on. Well, what’s going on is that today (literally), Brandon Sanderson has made publishing history. But you probably wanted a little more background than that.

So earlier this week, Brandon released a video saying that he’d “lied” to all his fans. A lie of omission as it turns out, but during 2020, when the world was in lockdown, Brandon found that all of his public appearances at cons and whatnot were now canceled and he had a lot more time to write. Based off his graph of time spent, I’d guess it was “like the old days” before he was a megastar. But the “lie” was that he kept quiet about this and pretended to be writing books at his “star level” pace.

At least, until this big unveiling that with that extra time no longer spent traveling (roughly a third of his workdays a year, IIRC) now spent writing, he’d written four books that no one knew about. And he was going to be publishing them through his own imprint (Dragonsteel Books) with a kickstarter campaign to finance the publication and gauge interest.

As I said above, we are now two days into this kickstarter, and it is the most successful kickstarter of all time.

Now on the one hand a lot of this isn’t surprising. Megastar author announces kickstarter, gets money. But there’s a bit more to it than that. Because this is Sanderson’s imprint. This isn’t like when when a major studio or publisher hops on Kickstarter just because they can.

This is Sanderson’s own imprint. In other words … this is indie.

That’s right. Four indie books, from one of the biggest authors in the world, who would have publishers promising their first and second-born children for a chance to publish his stuff, and they broke the all-time kickstarter record in less than two days.

Sometimes when discussing history, people talk about turning points. In the world of book publishing, this, I think, will be one of them. The Martian scoring a movie deal and becoming an international sensation despite not having major trad-pub backing was one. The meteoric success of Brandon’s kickstarter? I think this will count as another. Years from now, when moldy historians are discussing the moments when “indie” books finally became accepted the way indie games, music, and movies are, they’re going to point to this moment as one of those moments.

And there’s still a whole month to go.

If you want to check the kickstarter out (and maybe be a part of publishing history) you can check it out here.

But either way, this is a major success, both for Brandon as an author and for publishing as a whole.

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What If … Colony was a Game?

All right folks, I did promise you something goofy, fun, and light-hearted while I did my taxes (though I don’t think I used all those words exactly), so here we go.

What if … Colony was a game?

Any kind of game. Board, tabletop, video, whatever. And yes, I’ll admit to having thought about this before and formed some of my own ideas (shades of that old game design education shining through). But what about you guys? If Colony hit it big and picked up a Netflix or Amazon streaming deal with all the usual tie-ins, what sort of merch would you want to see, specifically when it came to the entertainment tie-ins. Could any of them be anything special, or would they just be shameless cash grabs? Who, if you’re this specific, would you like to see handle such a product (for example, I’d love to see Colony as an RTS title by Blackbird Interactive in the style of Homeworld; the sub combat would add some great wrinkles and bring terrain to full fruition in an already awesome RTS style).

That’s it! That’s the discussion! What sort of game would you want to see tackled, and what would it look like? A Colony board game? A 4X? A collectible card game? Go nuts!

NOTE: As of posting, I certainly know of no streaming deal or tie-in products with the book (and I would be the first to know). This is more a fun exercise for some of you to really exercise those creative muscles.

And who knows? Maybe someone from Leder Games or Wizards of the Coast will stumble across any discussion, get interested, and something really cool will come of it. We’ve got Godzilla and Street Fighter Magic the Gathering cards. At this point, anything is possible!

So hit those comments!

Being a Better Writer: Traditions and Games

Hello readers! Welcome back to another installment of Being a Better Writer, coming to you all on the first day of November, just ahead of the Mariah Carey storm.

You know the one I’m talking about. It nears, even now. Some have already fallen prey to it.

But let us speak of things other than earworms. This weekend I started getting pictures on social media sites and services from folks. Pictures of what you might ask? Why, massive two-pound tomes that had arrived for them in the mail! That’s right, paperback copies of Shadow of an Empire have started ending up in folks’ hands! And they look nice! Here, take a look at one picture I had in my inbox this morning:

That looks great, doesn’t it? Overall, the response to Shadow of an Empire finally being in paperback (you can get your copy here, hint hint) seems pretty positive!

Which is good, as book sales last month were, short of a brief spike in Japan, in a bit of a slump. Not just for me either: It says something when sales slip by over 80% but the sales ranking stays the same. October was flat-out a rough month across the board for booksellers in general, it would seem. Fall, pre-holidays, does seem to get hit like this, so perhaps it’s just tracking as normal but with a bit of a boost from the supply chain issues as well as general economic issues plaguing us from decades of bad decisions (and you can read more about that here).

Either way, Shadow of an Empire‘s paperback release was the second bright spot in a month that was otherwise very dull sales-wise, and not just for me. With luck, now that we’re out of October and into November and the upcoming holiday season is nearing (that Shadow of an Empire paperback makes a great Christmas gift, by the way) book sales will trend back upwards.

As far as other news before we dip into today’s topic, last week saw another short story preview go up on Patreon for supporters, so if you’re a Patreon Supporter (Thank you!) go check out The Last Light! It’s … interesting. I don’t want to say much more on that.

Also, what’s happening now that Shadow of an Empire is available in dead-tree? What’s the plan now? Well, I’ve got a little bit more writing to do on that Stranded project, and maybe one or two more short stories, but nothing that’s probably going to take more than the first week or two of November. After that? It’s time to start the pre-Alpha for Starforge.

So yes, Starforge work is coming soon. Who’s ready to see how the UNSEC Space trilogy ends?

With that rhetorical question dangling overhead and filling your minds, let us turn our attention at last to today’s BaBW topic. Which is, I realize, possibly a bit of a curious one, and some of you certainly might have glanced at the title and wondered “Now what does that have to do with writing?”

Quite a bit as it turns out. Hit the jump, and let’s talk traditions and games.

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OP-ED: Why Starcraft II’s Campaign Design Isn’t That Great

So yeah, this post isn’t going to be about writing. This post is one that has been on my backlog for around six months and I just never got around to it because there were other things to write about. Calling this is a “non-issue” is pretty accurate, really. Almost, but we’ll get into that. Starcraft II has been out for almost eleven years at this point, and there aren’t many people picking it up new.

However, because it’s been out for that long, I’ve had enough time to play through the title in question more than once and note the subject of today’s post.


But before I get into that, some quick news updates. First, Starforge. Starforge work continues to be the number one thing I’m working on right now, and I’ve almost finished up another major section. Likely will have by the end of this week/start of next week. Stranded remains a weekend project, as does another project, but once again I’ve been having burnout struggles, mostly because Starforge is a titan of a project that’s a bit all-consuming of my every thought and focus.

Speaking of which, I’ve now had multiple people in the real world notice that I’ve been “off” for a few weeks and tell me I need a vacation. Which … yeah I can’t deny. So I might be taking a week off sometime soon, just for mental health reasons. Though even that’s dicey because I’ve got so much to do …

Yeah … I think they’re all correct that I need a break of some kind. But Starforge! Both the cause and the solution, I think. After this, I’m going to write a few small books to relax.

In other news, speaking of small books, Axtara continues to review well, as do the rest of my books. Sales have hit a bit of a slump lately (someone suggested “summer” and people hoping quarantine was on its way out as possible reasons) but across my work the reviews are staying high. And outside of that? There really isn’t any news. So back to the rest of this post.


Okay, so this is one of those rare posts where I talk about one of my other hobbies, in this case gaming, and I want to talk about Starcraft II today. Now, as I said, this is an old game, but it still gets brought up a lot because it’s one of only a few RTS titles that still manages to have a decent following (the genre being somewhat dead these days).

Now personally, I’m not a huge fan of Starcraft II‘s approach to the genre. It’s a game that takes rock-paper-scissors balance to an extreme conclusion, an edge where a unit will do 250% damage (or more) to a specific unit it’s meant to counter, making army composition a case of “one-upping” the other guy with hyper-specialization (for the record, I prefer Relic’s Dawn of War approach where unit type bonus never exceeds 25% and other factors like accuracy and cover come into play).

But one thing I did enjoy was Starcraft II‘s (SC2) much-lauded campaign. At least … the first few times. But I still see it brought up as a stellar example of RTS single-player achievement whenever people bring up RTS campaigns. On the one hand, that’s good … but then on the other, I worry developers will take the wrong lessons.

Enough beating around the bush. Let’s dive into the meat-and-potatoes of SC2’s campaign and why it’s not as good as everyone remembers.

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Microsoft Just Shot the Series X in the Back EDIT: Someone got to a medic in time

UPDATE: As of a short time ago, and due to massive public outcry, Xbox has announce that the Xbox Live Gold price hike is no more. In addition, they’re going to be opening the platform’s online play up more to those who don’t want Gold, including announcing that all F2P games will no longer require Gold. It’s a start! Thank you to everyone who made their unhappiness known!

As for me, I actually passed on buying a Series X during this whole deal (in my cart and everything). So yeah, up front, it cost them a Series X sale. Now that it’s been resolved, well … I’ll start looking again.

Thank you, Xbox folks, for realizing how bad an idea this was, for listening, and for responding,

Original post below:


Well, I didn’t expect to be posting this today. But in fairness, Microsoft has blindsided everyone with this move, from fans to prospective buyers. And in the process, during the launch period of their own console they’ve basically shot it in the back.

Let me explain. Microsoft is one of the juggernauts in the game console space right now, alongside Sony and Nintendo. In December/November of 2020, both Microsoft and Sony launched their newest hardware iterations. Both are vast improvements over the underpowered hardware that the prior generation delivered, and both were high on people’s shopping lists. In fact, until this morning, the Series X was high on mine. Now? I’m not so sure.

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Why You Should Play … Subnautica

So, before I get started on today’s post, I have something to say regarding WordPress, the company that I pay to provide hosting and my site’s toolset for writing.


The new block editor is not good. No, it’s worse than that. No intelligent company should have forced this on their users. Block editor follows the “recent” trend of “take functional tools for a user and destroy them in favor of the one user who thinks they’re too complicated or not pretty enough.” Then they hand you something colored in pretty colors and designed for someone who wants to take pictures for instagram rather than use it.

It’s not a good alternative. It’s slower to load, lacks basic functionality, and is all around terrible. Oh, and as a cherry on top, when I accidentally contacted customer support to complain about being unable to go back to the old version as a default, they shoved some “trademarked” level canned responses at me and then closed the channel.

And to top it all off, you can set the old editor as a default with a plugin that has—already—over 5 million downloads. However, you can’t use this plugin unless you pay WordPress for the exclusive ability to use plugins. Which is $300 a year. EDIT: And just clicking the button to see what that premium thing was added it to my cart and put me one click away from accidentally billing myself. That’d be alike any Amazon product adding itself to your cart because you looked at it. Not cool.

Which seems like a case of deliberately hobbling the product people are already paying you for in order to try and “coerce” them into giving up more money.

I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising to me that several of these new “blocks” in the block editor are dedicated to money.

Anyway, sorry to interrupt what would have started off as simply a post on Subnautica, but upon loading my site today, I discovered that I no longer had a choice between the functional “classic” editor and this new garbage the company is determined to shove down everyone’s throats because why would any of their customers know what they wanted or needed to do? They’re just semi-ambulatory money sources, right? It’s not like they use the tools or anything? Right?

Look, I get that there may have been improvements on the backend or new tools that someone wanted to introduce, but right now, in order to do something that used to be a single click of the mouse, I have to click a “block ediotr” (or whatever it’s called) open, then do a seach, an actual text-based search, for the same thing, find it in the search results, and then click it. That’s four steps instead of the old one step.

Or as people with intelligence call it: steps back.


Now, my rant on this new editor will now be put on hold until the next post, at which point I shall mock and ridicule WordPress once more (because this is seriously bad). Because I want to talk about Subnautica, and why you should play it.

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Updates and News!

Hey folks! How’ve you been?

I know, I know, I’ve been quiet this week. There’s a good reason for that, actually. and it has to do with out first bit of news here. Basically, I’ve been away from my keyboard and desktop a lot this week. At least, during my working hours.

Sounds odd, right? After all, shouldn’t I be at the keyboard? Normally, yes (and don’t worry, the lack of writing bugs me too). But there’s a good reason: Starforge is coming. And so I’ve been reading through Colony and Jungle all week, getting myself  caught up on every little detail and nuance before I start work on the big finale. I’ve finished Colony already, and I’m blistering my way through Jungle at the moment.

By the way, I’ve been doing this with a new ereader (the absolutely awfully named, but otherwise fine, “Boox Poke2) which means I’ve been using the Kindle App rather than my old Kindle (both are still e-ink, however). Anyway, this newer reader has a feature for Kindle that’s quite nice: Estimated reading time. When you start a book, it shows you the average reader time to completion, and then adjusts it to match whatever pace you set.

Jungle? The average was something like 29-35 hours. The thing is a titan of words.

Actually, that’s only one of the amusing things I learned reading through Colony and Jungle this week. The other was … Well, for those of you who don’t read ebooks often, Kindle has a neat feature where readers can highlight passages from books, and if enough people highlight the same passage, a small dotted, light-grey line will show up in everyone else’s copy (if the feature is turned on) to show that people have marked the passage. Originally this was created with the intent of helping folks perusing non-fiction texts find relevant sections (like students searching for a date) but has since become a staple for a lot of fiction readers for favorite quotes, insightful lines, etc.

Anyway, I was both surprised and elated to find Colony now bearing such markers! A milestone I didn’t even realize was there until it arrived, but it did make me feel a nice inner glow to see a number of people marking moments in my work as insightful and worth referencing. Time to see how many I find (if any yet) in Jungle!

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How Marvel’s Movies (and Others’ Products) Have Changed Storytelling

Pop quiz for you. Don’t worry, it’ll be easy to answer. Have you ever read any licensed literature? Like Star Wars books, or Star Trek, or Warhammer, or … Sands, really any licensed property? Or maybe seen a tie-in TV show to a movie? Played a game of a movie or a book?

Basically, anything that could be considered “secondary canon?”

Right. I can already tell I’ve lost some of you. So let’s back up. Let’s say you are a movie producer. Better yet, you’re one of those producers like James Cameron who often writes, produces, and directs your own movies. And you’ve just made a hit.

Now, with this hit on your hands, someone has come to you and asked for a chance to expand on the universe! They want to write a trilogy of books that tie into the movie and extrapolate a bit after it! Awesome!

But … you don’t want to write a trilogy of books. You want to keep making movies.

“No problem!” says the publisher with the contract. “We’ve got an author lined up! They’ll write all three. We just need some notes on the movie, for you to answer some questions, and that’ll be all we need!”

So you sign the paper, and the trilogy comes out. You collect a small licensing fee, and a bunch of fans of your movie go on to read the book and form excited theories and ideas.

Except … a year or two later, when you sit down to write the sequel, you’ve got a bunch of ideas that don’t quite mesh with the world and liberties the author of the book trilogy took to flesh out their story. Not that you know this: You probably haven’t read them. Or, if you did read them, you’d know the score as being thus—

The movie came first, therefore the movie is the final word.

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Advent Faces a New Foe: The Forces of Indrim Join X-Com!

And here I thought bandits were bad. Oh well.

 

It’s that time again. With Shadow of an Empire on the horizon (eight days out, actually; have you pre-ordered your copy yet?), it would only make sense that the stars would get their own chance to shine in X-Com 2 at last!

That’s right, if you own X-Com 2 (or its expansion, War of the Chosen), you can now experience the thrill of having Adjudicator Salitore Amazd and Imperial Inquisitor Meelo Karn clean alien house alongside the rest of your crack squad! What could be better?

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