(1) Sun Jul 01 2012 10:41 Month of Kickstarter! #1: Flower Comics:
I've resolved the problem I mentioned last time, and Month of Kickstarter 2012 is on! It's on like Donkey Kong Country. But first, let me run down a couple changes from last year's event:
- Last year I pledged at least $25 to every MoK project. This year I have less money budgeted, so I'm going to give whatever amount it takes to get a cool reward (see the last post for what I consider "cool"), even if that's less than $25. I'm also going to focus more on projects where I can get that cool reward by spending only, say, $15.
- I'm not gonna spend a whole lot of time writing up the projects. Last year MoK was my creative outlet for July; this year I have a ton of other creative projects going on. And one of my lessons from last year is that my Ciceronian eloquence does not make the difference between you deciding to back these projects or not. It depends on the inherent interest of the project to you. So I'll just get out of the way and let the projects speak for themselves.
With that in mind, let's get started! First off we have FlowerFall: Cards From The Sky, a game published by Asmadi Games, publishers of last year's MoK hit Fealty. A game about dropping cards that have flowers printed on them. Like a dexterity-based Carcassonne.
And the nerdery continues with Edgar's Comics (Film) - Act I, the first part of a (non-documentary) film about the origin of modern comic book collecting.
That's day one! Last year I didn't actually ask y'all if MoK was interesting for you, so feel free to let me know in comments how you feel about this concept in general.
Mon Jul 02 2012 06:13 Month of Kickstarter 2012 #2: Soap Jazz:
Welcome to Monday! I have to revise a story for writing group, but first, some Kickstarter projects:
Time to inaugurate a new feature I didn't have last year, "cool project I'm not going to back because I really don't need the reward, but several people who read this might want to back" (better name forthcoming). Today's cool project...people who read this might want to back (say, that's a better name) is Print on Fabric Using Sunlight.
In addition, I'm on the fence about Pixel Lincoln: The Deckbuilding Game. I think my game group would enjoy it but it's just too much nerd pandering for me.
(2) Tue Jul 03 2012 08:41 Month of Kickstarter 2012 #3: Universe's Fair:
Welcome back to the all-month cavalcade of crowdfunding. As the month progresses I'm getting a better picture of the flow of new project launches: on Sunday only about 50 projects were launched, but yesterday saw about 175 launches. You can expect some interesting statistics at the end of the month, let me tell you. But for now you can expect some interesting Kickstarter projects:
- I pledged $12 towards Bringing History to the Public, a project by the World's Fair Historical Society which is probably the worst-designed Kickstarter project I've ever contributed to. But I find the story incredibly compelling--Randy Richter has a ton of World's Fair memorabilia and wants to get exhibit space for it. Exactly the kind of project I want to discover in the firehose and highlight. I'm hoping that someone who's actually done a crowdfunding project before is also really into World's Fair stuff, and can help Richter fix up his copy and rewards (Although I don't think you can change reward tiers after the project starts? See, I don't know this stuff.)
- Better designed is Bicycle Astronomy, a get-the-public-to-look-through-a-telescope project. $15 gets me a patch, and I know at the start of this project I said I didn't want patches, but this is a patch I can use on my eventual Freeman Lowell/Joel Hodgson cosplay jumpsuit.
Speaking of bicycles, today's "Month of Kickstarter Platinum" showcases @cme FlatFree Bicycle Wheelsets, bicycle tires that will never go flat but which require custom-sized rims. $280 gets you rolling!
(3) Tue Jul 03 2012 09:25 Constellation Games Author Commentary #32: "The Evidence of Absence":
This chapter has the most artsy title in the book. It's a reference to
the idea of negative space, of emptiness as a thing in
itself. Every section of the chapter has something to do with negative
space: the fossil imprint, the absence of Jenny from Ariel's life, the
player character's amnesia in The Amulet of Manufactured
Memory, and the holes in the ground where the garbage has been
Part Three was originally called "Negative Space," and you'll see why in the last chapter.
It's not just Part Three though. Negative space shows up through the whole book: as the foundation hole where Ariel's house used to be, the fractal pits Tetsuo and Somn dug out of the moon to build Ring City, the expectation that contact missions always find dead civilizations, and, uh, Ariel's negative reaction to being in space. Part One of the novel is about Ariel and the Brain Embryo, whereas "Found Objects" is about Jenny and the reentry foam with a Brain Embryo-shaped hole in it. It's what we in the trade call symbolism.
Symbolic of what? The Fermi Paradox, basically. The fact that the more we narrow down which numbers should go into the Drake equation, the better it looks for life in the universe, yet here we are, alone, facing down an emptiness that has become a thing in itself. The idea behind the Constellation universe, going back to "Vanilla" before I came up with any of the backstory you see in the novel, is that we find out we're not alone and it doesn't help. We're all lonely together and some of us (here, Somn and Ariel) are lonelier than we were before.
In the first draft Somn actually referred to the fossil imprint as
"the evidence of absence". I cut it because I
couldn't imagine something that poetic making it through the
Purchtrin-English translator. But that's what she was thinking. That's canon.
More stuff that's canon:
- I wrote about the
likelihood of complex fossils on Mars back when I was working on
the second draft. Conclusion: it's not very likely. However, the odds
were boosted recently by the discovery of multicellular fossils on
Earth much older than any previously found.
I think the real stretch here is the idea that life
evolved on Mars and then died out completely. Once bacteria
show up, I don't think anything short of a supernova can make them go
extinct. A supernova, or perhaps some... Creative License.
- Fossil molds happen all the time in real life (see picture), but most are due to causes other than mysterious extradimensional unlife.
- You'll see in "The Time Somn Died" that Somn has considerable
experience with Ragtime's fossil imprints. But the real importance of this chapter to that story is her line "I nearly stayed behind."
- In the second draft the Somn scene was the last time Ragtime came up, which really pissed everyone off. The lack of any kind of resolution for this plotline was widely considered the number one problem with the book. That's why I added the Tetsuo scene to the next chapter: so Ariel could have a finalizing talk about Ragtime with someone who won't just dismiss his concerns. Just don't expect an explanation.
- Ariel's review of The Amulet of Manufactured Memory is
probably the book's clearest example of the old literary trick where
someone's seemingly innocuous writings reveal volumes about their
mental state if you know what to look for. But I mostly think it's
interesting from an exposition perspective.
Considered as a human game, The Amulet of Manufactured
Memory would be pretty unremarkable—single-player RPG featuring amnesiac
protagonist of a different gender from the player. But for a Gaijin
game that's really unusual. This is a great technique for conveying
alien-ness—show something that the reader can facially identify with and show how it's unusual from an alien perspective. But I knew it
was a trick I could only use once. (Gatekeeper is the same as
Pong, but the point of that is it's a really simple game that
gets independently invented all the time.)
- Amulet and Dana Light Is: Unauthorized were both
heavily inspired by the
specification for my ideal video game back in 2008. In my original
notes for Constellation Games my ideal game actually showed up,
as Unauthorized: Welcome to Earth. Sort of a Grand Theft
Auto where instead of a human psychopath you play an alien
invader. That game still exists in the Constellation universe, it's just not mentioned in the
novel because Temple Sphere was more useful dramatically.
(I suspect that weblog entry was also one of the main inspirations
for Constellation Games itself, so thanks, Ben.)
- All the Gaijin game companies in the CDBOEGOACC have names that include some multiple of 3. This is kind of my tribute to Star Control II,
in which all the captains of Ur-Quan Kohr-Ah ships were named "Death
701" or "Death 43" or "Death [some other prime number]". The tribute
is most obvious for Amulet which was published by "9 Death To Various Obsolete Procedures".
As long as I've got these cards out, there's a
direct reference to Star Control II way back in chapter 2
(specifically, to Frungy), which I didn't mention before.
- I didn't notice this until I was writing this commentary, but both Amulet and What-the-Fuck Creek are games that tell the same basic story every playthrough, but tell it drastically differently every time. It's sort of the opposite of the Dhihe Coastal Coalition's fear of fiction. And given what I said a couple weeks ago about the lack of diversity within Gaijin castes, it might give insight into what it's like to be Gaijin.
- I like to imagine "Ke's Got No Name!" as the Gaijin equivalent of Odysseus's "Outis". In his review, Ariel calls his post-amnesia character "No-Name". That's a mistake on my part: "No-Name" was the character's name in the second draft, but that's not a Gaijin name, so I changed it. But let's say that's Ariel's nickname for the character. Apparently the rule of Gaijin names is that when I change one, I forget to go through and change it everywhere it shows up.
- Dana's line "I got dumped for an earlier version of myself who's dumber and greedier!" really resonates with some readers. Not my intention, but I'll take it.
- The Dana scene is Ariel's fourth sex scene in the novel. For the first two I ruined Ariel's life right after the sex scene. In chapter 30 it happened during the sex, and here the sex just indicates how low he's sunk already.
I'm kind of annoyed at having written one of those books where the male lead has sex with every available female character, but I don't think anyone would confuse Ariel with James Bond. (In the event that you did confuse Ariel with James Bond, the management regrets that no refunds can be provided.)
- When I first wrote those limericks in chapter 18, I remember
thinking "I bet Dana will really appreciate this, once she becomes
capable of knowing that it happened". I did not anticipate how
her appreciation would come out.
- It's nice that Ariel refuses a fake Jenny, though he might have
any number of non-noble reasons for doing that.
Dana knows a lot she shouldn't, but she doesn't know the
Ariel/Jenny history. She's engaging in the same speculation you may
have done prior to chapter 30.
- I seem to have a thing for purple dresses. The Captain in "Four
Kinds of Cargo", which I wrote right after Constellation Games,
wears a purple dress at one point. I guess what I'm saying
is, keep rocking those purple dresses, ladies.
- Auslanders are the traditional science-fictional puffball aliens
from the upper layers of a gas giant. (Recall that the proposed
carbon-eating kites from chapter 15 are Auslander animals.) There was
an Auslander bartender in "Vanilla" but I think the archaeologist in this chapter has a lot more character even though it's only got a couple lines.
- When I was writing the second draft I was worried that there'd be
no gaming content in part three, because Ariel has set those interests
aside for now. But there's plenty, it's just not similar to what came
before. I'm thinking specifically of Ariel collecting from the archaeological dig, an idea I think is really nice, and not something I've seen elsewhere. (And I did add one more set of game reviews after selling the book.)
Next week is the last "normal" chapter of the book. After that it's all climax and denouement. Tune in next Tuesday to hear Curic give her heartwarming monologue, "I was trapped alone in a decaying world of the dead."
Image credits: The Ohio State University Radio Observatory and the North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO), Mark A. Wilson, Toys for Bob, Deror avi, 20th Century Fox (check out the deletion debate!)
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Tue Jul 03 2012 10:30 Beautiful Soup 4.1.1:
This release fixes some bugs, especially having to do with tags that use namespaces, and including a very serious performance bug that made BS4 slower than BS3, even when using the lxml parser. The previous, much-better-than-BS3 performance has been restored.
Wed Jul 04 2012 08:45 Month of Kickstarter 2012 #4: Devoted:
Picking projects is a little trickier than last year because I'm trying to a) spend less money and b) only get rewards I really want. But on our nation's birthday I'm blessed with a no-brainer: Authorized DEVO Documentary Film! $25 is a good deal for a digital download of the film.
I also dropped $10 on Cosmic Voyage – An Exciting New Translation, a reissue of a 1936 Soviet silent science fiction film. Just because it's such a cool project. But I think $75 is too steep a price to pay for the movie itself. (Wikipedia: 'removed from circulation by Soviet censors, who felt that an animated sequence of cosmonauts hopping across the gravity-free lunar surface was antithetical to the spirit of "socialist realism."')
Well, if you have $75 to burn, go ahead and back the Cosmic Voyage project. But if you have $229 to spend, no more, no less, your best bet is today's Month of Kickstarter Platinum: YRG-Pro: Professional Grade MIDI Guitar!
(1) Thu Jul 05 2012 08:18 Month of Kickstarter #5: Sierra Seasons:
Since yesterday was a holiday the crop of new projects was very small, and for whatever reason not that inspiring. It's proving difficult to meet my super-picky requirements for this year. I may go back to backing just one project a day. But for now, I went back to my starred projects and paged a few pages down in the "ending soon" list, and came up with these two cool projects:
No Month of Kickstarter Platinum today, but I did want to give a shout-out to PastPages, a site which I discovered through its founder's already-funded Kickstarter project (ending in 24 hours). PastPages archives images of the home pages of many news sites once an hour. News sites archive their stories, but don't archive the way they presented those stories when they were new. Archiving that presentation is something I've wanted since 2007 and never got around to it. Many thanks to Ben Welsh for stepping up.
Fri Jul 06 2012 08:20 Month of Kickstarter #6: Moon:
Damn, everyone clearly decided to hold off launching their Kickstarter project until after the Fourth, because yesterday saw about 230 launches, compared to 50 the day before. So today I had no problem finding two thematically consistent projects I wanted to back. How often does that happen?
- First off, Moon Intern, a very ambitious pixel-art game for "PC/Mac and Linux computers." Why are PC and Mac grouped together but Linux is separate? Anyway, if there's a Linux version, I'm in.
- If a pixel moon isn't enough for you, there's Student Built Lunar Rover Prototype for Google Lunar X PRIZE. "We need to purchase a CNC milling machine in order to complete construction of our flight-like lunar rover prototype." Lunar rovers and CNC milling machines! It's like they started that project just for me!
Today's Month of Kickstarter Platinum is also the lunar rover one, only at the $10,000 level. At those lofty heights of backing, instead of a T-shirt or a 5-gallon tub of duck sauce, you get to send your DNA to the moon. Yield to the panspermia urge!
Sat Jul 07 2012 08:15 Month of Kickstarter #7: The Theatah:
Today's Month of Kickstarter is kind of conceptual, I don't know if you'll get it. First, Where in the World? The Untold Story of Camilla Sanfrancisco, a musical Carmen Sandiego spoof playing in July at the DC Fringe Festival. $25 gets me (and, significantly, Sumana) the soundtrack album.
Some backstory for the second one. My standing search for "Beautiful Soup" recently started turning up a stream of chatter about a fundraising campaign for the New York-based Beautiful Soup Theater Collective. And I'm sure the people behind the Beautiful Soup Theater Collective have been confused by my screen-scraping software showing up in their searches. So in an Oulipian move I've contributed $25 to the IndieGoGo project Save Beautiful Soup!, based solely on the coincidence of names.
That gets me a ticket to a show, and I intend to use it to see Beautiful Soup's production of Moose Murders, a 1983 flop which "closed on opening night to some of the most scathing reviews in history." ("A visit to Moose Murders is what will separate the connoisseurs of Broadway disaster from mere dilettantes for many moons to come." —Frank Rich) And you can bet that'll make for an interesting NYCB post next January.
For today's Month of Kickstarter Platinum we turn our eyes back to space, where you're going to need some kind of special clothing to protect you from vacuum. Final Frontier Design's 3G Space Suit has you covered, or will, if you shell out $10,000:
At the Suborbital Level and above, we are offering real space suit hardware (though it is not flight certified) and therefor[e] are required by the Department of Defense to ensure compliance with the rules and regulations of ITAR, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. Get your very own, personalized, ITAR paperwork from FFD and participate in the unfortunate militarization of space!
Wish I'd known about that twist while I was writing chapter 15 of Constellation Games.
(1) Sun Jul 08 2012 12:14 Month of Kickstarter #8: Ice:
Making it quick and backing just one project today: Columbia Icefield Gigapixel. But we also have a cool Month of Kickstarter Platinum: $175 gets you a Cardboard Robot: robotic arm and smart phone camera crane.
See ya tomorrow!
Mon Jul 09 2012 11:35 Month of Crowdfunding #9: Plastic Games:
Today I took a look at IndieGoGo's games section and found two projects that look great: Resurrect ADOM development (ADOM being one of my favorite roguelikes from way back), and Help The Little Metal Dog Show get to Essen 2012! (The Little Metal Dog Show is an excellent podcast of board game-themed interviews.)
And to top it all off, I went back to Kickstarter on Rachel's suggestion to back Join the Midway Film Project! "The MIDWAY film will take the viewer on a stunning visual journey into the heart of an astonishingly symbolic environmental tragedy."
I found a Month of Kickstarter Platinum candidate, but the campaign had ended by the time I got around to posting this, so don't cash in those platinum bars until tomorrow.
(3) Tue Jul 10 2012 09:24 Constellation Games Author Commentary #33: "Infinite Lives":
This is another one of those "last chance" chapters, so a lot of stuff
got crammed into it. Curic's version of the Austin visit back in
chapter 8, Tetsuo's villain monologue, and Ariel's Reflex Games moment
of truth. "A Few Ip Shkoy Games About Asteroids" is the last blog post in the book.
When I first wrote all these commentaries out this one was pretty light, so I saved the final deleted scene for this chapter's commentary, even though it was cut from chapter 30. But then I thought of a lot more commentary for this chapter. So this week you get a big commentary and a deleted scene! Live the excitement.
It's been a while since the microblog was an accurate real-time representation of what Ariel and Tetsuo were doing, but now it's just getting ridiculous. Chapter 33 takes place over an entire month (November 11 to December 12). The rest of the stuff in the Twitter feeds—mostly EVERYTHING IN AUSTIN stuff—covers the timeframe of chapter 33. There's nothing in the feeds about what happens in chapters 34, 35, or 36.
Of course, since chapter 33 takes place over an entire month, spreading its microblog over three weeks actually gets us closer to the microblog being an accurate real-time representation of what Ariel and Tetsuo are doing.
This might make more sense next week.
- Before we get started, a couple commentary bits I forgot to include in earlier chapters where they would have been more appropriate. First, I can't believe I never mentioned where the code name "Ragtime" comes from. It's from "Hello! Ma Baby", the song Michigan J. Frog sings. "Hello, my ragtime gal." No particular reason, I just like that song and it seems like the kind of random thing used to generate code names.
Second, chapter 21 ("Her") includes the sentence "I ducked back into my house for my keys and walked through the port." That sentence was originally something like "I walked through the port," but then I had this conversation with my beta reader Sumana (reconstruction):
"Wait, does he leave his door open?"
"He shuts the door."
"How's he going to get back in? He just has his keys in hand when he answers the door?"
"Uh, he goes back for his keys before he leaves."
"It doesn't say that."
"I think it's okay to omit that kind of detail from the narrative."
"Okay, I'll say he goes back for his keys."
- Original title of this chapter: "Infinite Lives, Infinite Ammo." Bleh.
- The design of Somn's bikini and her general nest posture was inspired by a line in the pre-Vanilla song I mentioned in the chapter 29 commentary: "bejewelled now and nervous is/the lizard queen he services".
- The "peed in the sink" thing in 8 was originally just a joke, and
I backfilled its significance later. Adding significance to stuff you
wrote earlier: the writer's secret weapon!
- The '"Yes." Yes.' at the end of the Curic scene, that is, the sentence "Yes." as a quote and then in narration, was supposed to be a callback to '"Don't care." Don't care.' at the end of chapter 11. But I looked back and chapter 11 just ends with 'Don't care.' in narration. I never had Ariel say it out loud. Oh well.
- When he was on Ring City, Tetsuo was like the smartest kid in a
small-town high school. He was an expert on cultures very similar to
modern human cultures, and everyone valued his opinion on humans. But
then he (literally) went to college. Now he's valued for his knowledge
of the Constellation, and he's just average at that. Tests are being
administered about random who-cares shit like Ragtime. So he gets
bored and annoyed, he becomes political, and he starts playing pranks.
- If you're following Tetsuo on Twitter (which I still recommend!) you've seen his other big prank: EVERYTHING IN AUSTIN, the tour company he started with Jenny to help ETs evade the Hierarchy Interface restrictions on unescorted travel. This is the big bonus storyline that will keep Twitter buzzing away while Ariel is off working on his metafractal.
- After all the awful things Ariel did in part two, for the past couple chapters I've been rehabilitating his character a little. The obvious trick is I've been showing him doing nice things for a pregnant woman. (Well, a nesting woman. What's that called? You tell me.) But there's another, more subtle change at work.
In the final chapter, Ariel will trace the shift in his character to October 16-17, chapter 31, when he "spent twenty-five hours sitting at the bottom of a crater on the moon, doing absolutely fucking nothing." But I think that's just the reset button Ariel had to hit before he could change. I think the change in Ariel's character comes from his work with the Raw Materials overlay, excavating the dumps, explaining what they find in the dumps, and generally just being a human presence in the lives of people who have never seen a human. Lois McMaster Bujold described science fiction as "fantasies of political agency", and that's what's going on here. For the first time in his life Ariel feels like a) it matters what he does, and b) he has control over what he does.
The scene with Canadian Adam is a deliberate echo of Ariel's visit to the Reflex Games office in chapter 5. Even though the chapter 33 scene was written first, I knew when I wrote it that I'd be going back and writing something like the chapter 5 scene. Canadian Adam offers Ariel more or less what he asked for in chapter 5, but Ariel's not interested anymore. His experience has changed him. He's done playing by the rules of scarcity-based capitalism. (Unlike Tetsuo, who—and I think this is representative of Tetsuo's character flaws—seems happy to play along with it as a kind of Creative Anachronism.)
This scene also shows that, despite my rehabilitory efforts, Ariel can still be a pretty huge jerk.
- The dumb plot of Constellation: Disputed Space bears a strong resemblance to The Lightspeed War, a Constellation novel I started after finishing "Vanilla", and abandoned almost immediately. In The Lightspeed War Earth and the contact mission are ambushed by a rival civilization that's been stalking the Constellation. I quickly discovered that that was a dumb story that didn't fit the themes of the Constellation universe at all, and cancelled the novel. But I am going to explore some similar territory in the novel I'm working on now, in a more mature fashion that's also funnier.
So you can see how I've progressed as a writer since The Lightspeed War, one of the code names for the current project is The Furniture War.
I've mentioned a couple times that the Tetsuo scene and the subsequent reviews were written
after I sold the book, to bring closure to the Ragtime subplot and to
give Tetsuo a proper sendoff. In the second and third drafts, Tetsuo
was working on Disputed Space solely as a practical joke,
making up fake Constellation weaponry for use in the imaginary
war. He'd named the fake weaponry after Ip Shkoy food items, such as
the uiur, a "beverage made from an animal whose skin and bones have
But given his reaction to Temple Sphere that doesn't seem
like a cruel enough practical joke for Tetsuo. He must have some other
motive for working on Disputed Space, and this scene provides
- The final set of game reviews was daunting. I wasn't sure if I still "had it". It had been months since I'd gotten into Ariel's head to do cranky game reviews, and even longer since I'd gotten into the heads of the Ip Shkoy to figure out what kind of games they developed. Without a common theme like "asteroids" for me to work with, I don't think the games would have come out nearly as well.
I am glad I could bring back the G'Go Corporation for G'Go Station: Beseiged in Space, the insane Policenauts-type game that makes Ariel ragequit his review. You might remember that they made G'Go Investigation: When You Gotta Die back in chapter 10. "G'Go" isn't a Pey Shkoy word, so I imagine they were a foreign company that was popular internationally.
- I know Canada isn't called a dominion anymore, but I couldn't
resist the joke. Think of this as the flip side of "the nation-state
Enough stalling, here's the final deleted scene of the
book. Perhaps the most forgettable detail in chapter 30's letter to
Jenny is the other letter Ariel says he wrote, the one to his
dad, apologizing for stealing the Scotch decanter. Here is that
letter. I cut it before finishing it, so I've filled in bits of
missing narration. There are also details that don't fit with the
final draft, like the idea that Ariel's parents might not have noticed
the theft yet.
Strange to write you a letter by hand and put it in a mailbox but I
need low QoS on this message and the post office knows how to be slow.
By this time you may have noticed that your cut-glass Scotch decanter
is missing. This letter is to confess that I stole it when I came up
with Tetsuo last month. I was at our old house with its quiet and its
familiarity and I thought: what would I take as my inheritance if I
could only take one thing?
Kind of a morbid question, but urgent because I am leaving the planet
and I may not be back. I have a variety of reasons, some of which I
hope will make sense to you later.
[Ariel then talks about his dad's usage of the decanter when Ariel
was a kid:]
I would sit on the couch in your study, reading or drawing or playing
with the Game Boy while you worked. When you heard about a paper being
accepted, or you met some other accomplishment, there would be the
ritual of getting the bottle down from the closet shelf and pouring
yourself a toast.
Please understand what follows. I know you hate when I use these
video game analogies, but what I'm trying to explain is not the thing
being analogized but why I did and I do think in these analogies.
Sitting on the couch while you typed, I would play an RPG with the
utterly generic title of Magic Quest, which you bought me for my ninth
birthday. One of the character classes in the Magic Quest series is
the essence mage (or FORCMAG in the Game Boy version), whose magic
power comes from his "life force". Where most RPG magic users can
recharge magic points just by resting, an essence mage must sacrifice
some of their life force, incurring a small but permanent penalty.
There are three strategies for playing an essence mage. 1) You can use
their incredibly powerful magic relentlessly at the start of the game,
rapidly boosting the party to the point where fancy equipment can make
up for the character penalties. 2) You can play them as a melee
specialist and only pull out their magic when absolutely necessary to
save the party. 3) You can play them as evil and vampiric, draining
the life force from NPCs and other party members.
This became my model of manhood, a bank account that you gradually
drew down, a magic meter that depleted as you fought and won the
conflicts of the working world.
[There was going to be something else here, but I think it
works as is. Not sure why I even put in this note.]
I'm sure you refilled the decanter occasionally, but I never saw
it. It always seemed to be three-quarters full, and I felt that once
it was empty, that would be it for you, and for me as well.
Anyway, I took it with me and now your decanter is orbiting the
moon. Please get in touch with Jenny and she will pay to replace the
decanter and its contents. I know it's not about the money but about
the betrayal of trust etc. I also know what my act of theft implies in
terms of the essence mage analogy. I'm the son of two English
professors, I don't need the subtext spelled out.
I'm sorry that I won't make it for Thanksgiving. Tell mom not to worry
about me. Tell yourself as well.
It's in a rough state but it's a pretty good scene. It's not
necessary to the plot but it does some good character development. The
problem is it's completely overshadowed by Ariel's letter to Jenny. I
couldn't even put this scene in the commentary for chapter 30 because of all the commentary about Ariel's other letter. But it's a nice little scene. Good night, sweet scene; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
With this chapter the normal part of Constellation Games is OVER. Tune in next week for the first part of the shocking two-chapter climax, when Ariel will say, "They don't conserve anything except
mass and angular momentum."
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons user Jacawa, Flickr user opacity, Alan Light, NewNation.sg, Flickr user Ata B.
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(1) Tue Jul 10 2012 10:41 Month of Crowdfunding #10: Huzzah! of Code:
Maybe I should change my birthday so Month of Kickstarter isn't full of Burning Man projects. Not that the Burning Man projects crowd out other projects, I just find it annoying. Anyway, here's today's crop:
- New Album! 80s Flavored Folk Pop! Huzzah!, which I backed more or less entirely on the strength of the "Huzzah!". It's an adventure!
- Going back to IndieGoGo for BlackGirlsCODE's 2012 Summer of Code: "BlackGirlsCODE will hold programming workshops in seven cities across the country for girls of color during our 2012 SUMMER of CODE." Not, I'm pretty sure, affiliated with Google's Summer of Code.
I don't think I mentioned this explicitly, but if there's some crowdfunding project you think I should back, let me know about it. That's a general rule, but I'm more likely to actually back a suggested project during Month of Kickstarter.
(1) Wed Jul 11 2012 09:33 Month of Kickstarter #11: Penguins & Bees:
First, check out Pitfalls and Penguins: First Printing, the physical manifestation of a pen-and-paper RPG written by Joe Hills. A while back I started watching Joe's hilarious Minecraft videos while exercising, and then was not terribly surprised to find out that he knows Brendan.
Pitfalls and Penguins is a collaborative improv game. Players should try things because they are awesome and hilarious, even at great risk to themselves.
My kind of game.
Second, North Fork Bee Co, not a company run by bees but a company that gives bees a place to live and then takes their honey. Hmm, when I say it like that it doesn't sound so good. But I do like honey.
Today's Month of Kickstarter Platinum project is Ninja Standing Desk, a portable standing desk ($147) that hangs from a hotel room doorframe. Neat!
And in news of nerd pandering, I was really excited about Meta Awesome Cards right up to the point where I saw the example cards. I've been thinking about a similar project for a while and was excited to see someone implement it, but this is not what I had in mind. Obviously I haven't tried these cards out, I've just seen pictures of a few on a Kickstarter project, but it looks like they add a lot of randomness to any game and make it take longer. It feels like a metagame based around putting money on Free Parking.
I'm no foe of chaos in games—I backed We Didn't Playtest This: Legacies—but if I was in the situation Meta Awesome Cards is designed for, I'd play the metagame of mashing up my existing games a la Crazy the Scorpion. But give it a look; maybe I'm wrong.
Thu Jul 12 2012 08:35 Month of Crowdfunding #12: Gaming Jetpacks:
We run a family-friendly show here at Month of Kickstarter 2012. Or at least we did until today, when I backed Gaming Grindr, a book that analyzes the gay cruising app as a geolocation-based game. I had an idea to add a subplot about this sort of thing to Constellation Games, as part of the abandoned "evil psychology" arc, and one reason I abandoned that arc was I don't know very much about this stuff. This will change!
And then it's right back into games designed to be games, with Jetpack 2, a cross-platform 2D game where you fly around in a jetpack and collect floating gems. You know... life's simple pleasures.
Today's Month of Kickstarter Platinum project is Immortalize Your Pet. Live out the ultimate idle-rich fantasy by commissioning an oil painting of your pet. Well, "cat or dog." No guinea pigs or tuatara. Prices start at $375.
Thu Jul 12 2012 15:28 Small Talk:
Last weekend Sumana and I went to the Museum of the Moving Image and saw 2001, a movie I probably hadn't seen for ten years. Apart from the big-screen visual spectacle, I was struck by how phatic 2001's dialogue is. Some of the dialogue does exposition, but almost all of it is small talk that would be instantly cut from a work of prose.
From memory: Heywood Floyd makes small talk with an elevator operator.
He's met on the space station by a guy who makes small talk with him.
He places a phone call so he can make small talk with his daughter. He makes small talk with some Russian scientists (inc. one played by Leonard Rossiter!). They try to draw him out but he doesn't take the bait.
Floyd holds a meeting where nothing is decided: he just asserts his place atop the pecking order and says to maintain the status quo. He makes small talk with the pilot of the moon shuttle. (We don't even hear this, it's just shown under classical music. It is clearly small talk.) On the moon buggy he talks to some guys about sandwiches (there is also some non-phatic stuff here, about the excavation of the monolith).
Cut to Jupiter mission! Dave Bowman and Frank Poole and HAL watch themselves on TV, giving an interview full of small talk. Frank gets a birthday message from his parents full of small talk. Dave makes small talk with HAL, and then finally, just before intermission, we see what in terms of traditional plot is an important conversation. HAL shares his concerns about the mission and then reports the impending failure of the AE-35 unit. Beyond this point, although the dialogue still has a flat affect, it's not phatic. It's all about important stuff.
I'm not complaining. The preponderance of small talk was clearly a deliberate decision and it works. The banality of the dialogue contrasts with the wonders onscreen during the dialogue-less majority of the film. But I'd never noticed this about the dialogue, because the last time I saw 2001 I wasn't a fiction writer.
Fri Jul 13 2012 08:49 Month of Kickstarter #13: Summer Reruns:
Not really happy with today's crop of projects! I covet today's Month of Kickstarter Platinum object, the Nomiku sous vide cooker, but I'm not going to drop $299 on it. I need new pots, not a new gadget.
As you can tell, my observations on last year's MoK have changed the way I approach this year's. There are some projects that are interesting but whose owners clearly aren't hustling (or whose hustling has failed). Last year I thought those projects just needed a little publicity and that my writing about them could make a difference, but it never helped. So now I don't think it's worth the time it would take to write them up. I can't hustle for you.
Of course, that calls into question the whole point of Month of Kickstarter. Last year I excluded projects that are obviously going to succeed, and now I've started to exclude long-shots. Is there really that much in the middle? How did I think this year's MoK would be easier than last year's?
Anyway, instead of backing a new project today, I've bumped up my Pitfalls and Penguins pledge to get the signed copy. Live the anticlimax!
If this keeps going on I'll go back to backing projects much more impulsively, and see how I feel about that.
Sat Jul 14 2012 08:45 Month of Kickstarter #14: Misunderstanding Space:
I need to get ready for writing group, but let's back some cool projects. First, Misunderstanding Comics, a ranty parody of Understanding Comics that covers the mainstream comics industry, as opposed to the art-comics world Scott McCloud inhabits.
Second, SkyCube: The First Satellite Launched by You!. SkyCube doesn't do a whole lot, but neither did Sputnik, and unlike with Sputnik there are some very cheap reward tiers.
No Month of Kickstarter Platinum today, but I want to let you know that there are two active Kickstarter projects for films based on the Slender Man meme. Two! And they've both got very low targets, so a Month of Kickstarter Platinum-minded person could fund them both and make them fight. Yesterday also saw the launch of a project to make a Polybius film. It's a creepypasta invasion! How long until a unauthorized Candle Cove adapation takes to Kickstarter?
Sun Jul 15 2012 07:54 Month of Kickstarter #15: Stop Motion:
Another tough weekend. I dipped into my starred projects and backed Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa, bending my rule against backing big-name projects for MoK because I'm a Charlie Kaufman fan and would probably have backed the project anyway. Off to do other stuff now; hope you have a great Sunday.
Mon Jul 16 2012 09:11 Month of Kickstarter #16: Chocolate Aquarium:
Last year I backed the Firebird Chocolate project, although apparently not as part of Month of Kickstarter, and my reward was chocolate. This year, Firebird is back, and having learned nothing, I've backed their second project as well.
Second, it's The ToyQuarium Project, which "will make the world's first miniature tilt-shift timelapse of an aquarium". I imagine you're gonna tell me that tilt-shift photography is played out, or that fish are nowheresville, daddy-o. Well, I don't want to hear it. Instead, I want to see a tilt-shift timelapse of an aquarium.
(7) Tue Jul 17 2012 09:07 Constellation Games Author Commentary #34: "The Unilateral Extradition Expedition":
This was the original ending of the book—not the extradition,
but the art museum. Constellation Games is a story about
creativity, and I always wanted the book to end with a big action
scene based on creating things rather than blowing them up. You can
imagine the creation of the museum going where the excavation of the
dumps is now, and you'll have my original picture of the ending.
While initally planning the book I talked with my friend Kris
Straub about how you plot a long-form serial arc. Kris created a comedy SF
comic called Starslip which
I mentioned briefly back in the Chapter 30 commentary and probably elsewhere. Starslip
takes place on a spacefaring art museum. Kris
drew it for seven years and did an amazing job
blockbuster-movie action with a near-total lack of problems that can
be solved with explosions. (The two best
I don't know how much of Kris' advice on plotting went into the
arc of Constellation Games (Brendan has a guess), but this ending sequence, with its monumental redemptive act
of copyright infringement, comes directly from that conversation and
from the creative debt I owe to Kris over the years.
The microblog keeps chugging along. The stuff you'll see for the rest of the month is still stuff that happened in November, and will be archived under chapter 33. (Last week's stuff starts at November 11.) For reasons that should be obvious now and will be made explicit next week, Ariel will not be live-tweeting the extradition attempt.
- The title of this chapter is my homage to The Middleman, a
little bit of levity in an otherwise serious chapter.
- In this chapter Ariel destroys the sterile Human Ring originally
seen in "Vanilla", symbolically freeing me of any need to rewrite
that story. This is the clearest example of how I now regard "Vanilla"
as a test run for Constellation Games: the protagonist of
"Vanilla" complained about how awful Human Ring was, but he didn't do
anything about it.
The Pioneer statues seen here and in chapter 11 were present in
"Vanilla", and were the very first inspirations for the art museum
- Another major inspiration for the gallery of replicas was the Cast Courts in the Victoria and Albert museum, which contain 19th-century casts of famous sculptures, including Trajan's Column in two pieces.
- I once began work on a story about someone breaking into an art museum and smashing one of the copies of Fountain, but after destroying a Fountain in this chapter I think I've got it out of my system.
- The surrealists Ariel mentions are all real (and amazing) artists, but I made up the paintings. I tried to copy each artist's naming technique. Harpo Agonistes is the painting of Harpo Marx that Salvador Dali never painted but clearly wanted to. And of course the best way to convey the spirit of Duchamp is with a puerile pun ("Culmination").
In the docking bay, the fictional artworks are Eastern Central Mountain Pacific, As Many Moments in an Afternoon, and Damaged Goods. Everything else is a real accomplishment by humanity, as opposed to a minor accomplishment of naming on my part.
The scene on Spiral Jetty is a special treat for Utahn Adam Parrish, soon to be of "Pey Shkoy Benefits Humans" fame. If you're familiar with the piece you may be gnashing your teeth at the way Ariel recreated it out of context. I'm not gonna defend what he did, but I'll talk more about this kind of thing in the chapter 36 commentary.
- I had a real hard time conveying what happened to the other end of
Krakowski's port. Hopefully you can see why it's tumbling around in a
turbulent open space and spraying dirt all over the place, but even
the final draft has gotten complaints that people can't visualize
it. Sorry. If it helps, the exact details aren't terribly important.
- I was going to say that it's also unclear where Krakowski got the
port, but I fixed that in the final draft. The BEA stole it, just like
they stole the device they used to bug Tetsuo's office last week.
- The "standing gravity wave" bit was deemed by physicist Nick to be "awesome". Caveat: Nick's field of study is the sun, not gravity waves. As demonstrated by the fact that, while looking for an illustrative image, I discovered that the proper term is "gravitational wave". A gravity wave is totally different.
- The "backup purposes only" bit is (in Ariel's mind as well as
mine) a reference to the ass-covering messages on the transient
webpages in the low-rent sections of the Internet that distribute game
- While writing these commentaries I've become more and more convinced that Krakowski and Ariel are the same character in different situations.
You're not seeing Krakowski at his best here, but there are still
hints of this essential similarity: specifically I'm thinking
of "Ooh, what a burn" and "That was a UNESCO World Heritage Site!".
- And one bonus thing I forgot to mention last week when Ariel reviewed "Occluded Occlusion". The asteroids threatening Down come from an unstable asteroid belt between Down and its star. The belt causes frequent partial occultations as seen from Down, occultations visible to the naked eye except that you should use eye protection when viewing them. That's why asteroids figured in pre-telescope Alien mythology, and why even in modern Alien languages (chapter 12) the word for asteroid is "occlusion".
Unfortunately, although "occlusion" is a word, it's not a word used in astronomy. The word I was looking for is "occultation". I'm pretty sure the initial "occlusion" was an intentional error along the lines of Tetsuo's arrogation/abrogation confusion, and when Ip Shkoy beliefs about asteroids became important after the book was sold, I forgot that "occlusion" was an error.
You know it's getting serious now. Tune in next week for the book's AMAZING
occlusion conclusion, when Dana will say "Nothing should be exploding."
Image credits: Adam Kaplan, maybe?,
Wikimedia Commons user M.chohan, NASA/Dana Berry.
← Last week
Tue Jul 17 2012 10:47 Mental Organism Designed Only for Kickstarter:
Yesterday Jason Scott tipped me off to Kicktraq, a site that gives a much better interface to Kickstarter projects than does Kickstarter itself. Among other things, Kicktraq gives you the coveted list of new projects in a given category. And the creator of Kicktraq seems just as interested as I am in number-crunching backer statistics.
Speaking of statistics, Sumana sent me to The Untold Story Behind Kickstarter Stats [INFOGRAPHIC], which does have an infographic but also explains things in sensible English text with graphs.
In so far as last year's Month of Kickstarter had a serious purpose, I felt people were distracted by the big-name projects and not getting in the weeds to figure out how things worked. Now there's a ton of attention on the project base as a whole, some of it based on crawls of the entire dataset.
What can I add to this? Since I did this project last year, I can now talk about fulfilment. I didn't keep track of exactly when I received all the different backer rewards from last year's Month of Kickstarter, but generally they post an update saying "the stuff finally shipped", so I just need to go through and find all those emails.
Anyway, on to the Month of Kickstarter portion of this post. There are two new hot sauce projects on Kickstarter today, and I backed both of them. SINNERS + SAINTS Hot Sauce and Blue Owl Vines - Organic Hot Sauce. Will I really eat all that hot sauce? Well, yes, eventually.
Wed Jul 18 2012 08:33 Month of Kickstarter #18: Funding Science:
You'll recall that two hot sauce Kickstarter projects launched on Monday, and that yesterday I tempted fate by backing both of them. Well, today fate tempted me, by producing two more hot sauce projects: Bravado Spice: Artisan hot sauces! and 1Xinfin's - KGWans Hot Sauce. For some reason, rhetoric that would make me stay far away from any other Kickstarter project makes me feel like a hot sauce project is in good hands:
Founded in 2010, 1Xinfin’s mission is to educate through deliciousness. Subtley teaching happy customers that what tastes good does not have to be bad for you. The name comes from an abstraction of love times infinity and that is what we try and put in everything we offer.
But I'm not going to back four hot sauce projects in a row. Instead I backed 1000 Student Projects to the Edge of Space, a genre of project ("put a bunch of projects on a high-altitude weather balloon") which I never tire of backing.
And the science trend continues with my backing of An album all about science! "Terra Lumina", from the guy who autotuned Carl Sagan to bring us Symphony of Science.
Yeah, I dunno what else to say. They're projects, they're cool, I backed 'em. Have a great Wednesday.
Thu Jul 19 2012 08:57 Month of Kickstarter #19: Crea:
Only one project today but I'm really happy about it: Crea, a 2D crafting game that's designed for easy modding with Python.
I haven't mentioned this on NYCB, but during the most recent Seven Day Roguelike Challenge I write a little Unicode-based crafting roguelike called "Walk in the Park". You can see a screenshot to the right. The interface is pretty awful but I did implement the basic features of this kind of game: destroying nature, crafting its bounty into blocks, and building things out of the blocks.
I stopped work on "Walk in the Park" after the seven days because I have way too many other projects. But being able to implement my crafting-game ideas in Python, without having to write a whole game, sounds pretty nice.
Finally, Month of Kickstarter Platinum returns! Kind of. Ace of Aces rotary series limited edition reprint. is only $60, and last year I would have backed it just for its historical importance, but like I said, lower budget this year. Check it out, though.
Fri Jul 20 2012 12:13 Month of Kickstarter #20: Election Day:
Today's nail-biting project: The Election Day Calendar.
The Election Day Advent is a twist on the classic holiday tradition. Just hang it up, and open a door a day ‘til Election Day (Tuesday, November 6, 2012), and reveal fun facts and thought-provoking quotes about our democracy.
The company running that Kickstarter is the suspicious-sounding Gerrymander LLC.
Non-backed bonuses galore! Demand more nerd pandering? Check out the Little Urban Achievers - 28mm Miniatures. And the Slender Man returns to Kickstarter with Osiris Chronicles in HD. I'm not complaining--every Slender Man-themed Kickstarter project prevents a zombie-themed project.
Fri Jul 20 2012 18:20 Apollo 11 Special:
Today on my #retrorocket microblog feature, I posted some of my favorite pictures from Apollo 11, in honor of the anniversary of the moon landing. I
really like these photos because each has some quirky detail that helps me connect with an event that took place ten years before I was born and was enormously mythologized even before it happened. Since the Apollo 11 pictures are among my favorites in the entire collection, I wanted to cross-post them to NYCB, along with a little extra commentary on the details that caught my eye:
- Dangerous work. (I actually posted this one on the 17th.) Detail: more like an anti-detail. You can't even see the guy this is a picture of.
- Breakfast, the day of the launch. Detail: the jam holders! I want one of those jam holders. And way over to the right, there's another table, with a place setting, and in front of the place setting a nameplate that says "Neil A. Armstrong". Why does Neil Armstrong have a separate breakfast table with a nameplace?
- Spiro Agnew and LBJ are not impressed by the Apollo 11 launch. Details: so, so many. But especially the drink in Agnew's hand, and the smile on the blonde woman standing next to Lady Bird Johnson. (I'm pretty sure that's Lady Bird Johnson, but anyway, not her, the woman standing next to her.)
- Buzz Aldrin reaches into his pocket. Details: partly the sunglasses, but mostly the look on his face. It reminds me of Janice Voss's face in this photo (which I used to illustrate part 29 of the Constellation Games author commentary), and Eugene Cernan's face in my favorite #retrorocket picture of all time. I'm saving the Eugene Cernan picture for a special occasion, but what occasion is special enough? I dunno.
- Cake cutting ceremony on board the USS Hornet to celebrate the return of the Apollo 11 crew. The astronauts are under quarantine, so they're just looking mournfully at the cake from inside the Mobile Quarantine Facility. (More quarantine fun here.)
Sat Jul 21 2012 10:21 Month of Kickstarter #21: Hot Space:
In a continuation of yesterday's Apollo 11 special, I put up for Fight For Space - Space Program & NASA Documentary:
We are not producing your average space documentary where we show restored footage from the moon landings and CGI galaxy renderings. We are covering the real political and economic issues of the recent past, today, and tomorrow.
Second, it's... more hot sauce. I backed the Bravado Spice project I mentioned earlier because I kept thinking about the idea of pineapple habanero hot sauce. And I wanted to do two projects today.
Time to go out and enjoy the weekend.
Sun Jul 22 2012 09:29 Month of Kickstarter #22: Rolling the Dice:
Today I'm backing two Kickstarter projects that break my personal rules. I have these rules for a reason: they help me filter out the large amount of crap on Kickstarter. But these projects have been around for a while and I keep mentally coming back to them, so I'm going to override the general rules and give them a shot.
First, it's Mozart From an Ice Cream Truck. Earlier in Month of Kickstarter, I saw a project called Bruckner from an Ice Cream Truck. It was a funny idea. It raised $0.00. It looks like project founder Alonso del Arte decided that Bruckner isn't a big enough name, and he might have better luck heading the playlist with Mozart.
By backing this project I break my rule "don't back random conceptual stuff." But I noticed that del Arte has started ten clever Kickstarter projects, like The Symphonies of Michael Haydn need nicknames, Typography of Music concert, and Ukulele Concerto in A minor. Given that I've already gotten enjoyment just from reading his old projects, it seems only fair to show some support for his latest. I wish I'd heard about "The Symphonies of Michael Haydn need nicknames" when it was going on, though.
Second, we have A Slow Cold Death, a novel by physics professor Susy Gage: "A cozy mystery featuring big-ticket rocket science and the competitive atmosphere that leads to data theft, threats, and even murder."
Sounds fun, right? But in backing this project I break one of my most cherished, hard-won rules: don't back a book project where the project image is the cover of the book in wraparound format.
Wraparound format is what print-on-demand presses use: a single image with the book's back cover on the left and the front cover on the right. Every other time I've seen this kind of project image on Kickstarter, the book has been self-published crap about the simple equation that explains the entire universe, or the time Connie the Bunny got lost in the forest and had to learn a valuable lesson about sharing in order to get back home.
But A Slow Cold Death isn't self-published. It has a small-press publisher, dedicated to "giv[ing] a voice to nerds and geeks everywhere, people who can give an inside view into the underbelly of biotech, rocket science, or just everyday life at universities." And the book itself looks like something I'd want to read. So, I'm backing it. But, for the record, here's how you create inexpensive Kickstarter project images for your small-press books. Show the front cover of the book, plus some other stuff.
(1) Mon Jul 23 2012 12:21 Month of Crowdfunding #23: I Come To Bury Awesome Dinosaurs, Not To Praise Them:
Monday's a good day to catch up on non-Kickstarter crowdfunding sites, because Kickstarter's so quiet over the weekend. Today I went to Rockethub, which has a lot of cool crowdfunded science projects. Rockethub did not disappoint: after some browsing I found The Feathered Dinosaur Death Pit!, an excavation of a dinosaur burial site near Green River, Utah. (Insofar as a paleontological dig in Utah can be "near" anything.) This led to my biggest spend of this year's Month of Kickstarter: $35 for a cast of a Falcarius utahensis claw! It'll look great next to my U-Dig trilobite.
Back to Kickstarter: nerd pandering is passe, but hipster pandering is hot, hot, hot! It's The Mason Jar Cocktail Shaker! Oh yeah.
(3) Tue Jul 24 2012 09:08 Constellation Games Author Commentary #35: "The Unilateral Extradition Expedition Solution":
When I look at my narrative arcs I see myself shovelling coal nonstop
into a locomotive which builds and builds up speed, until it's travelling at relativistic speeds, like the locomotive
in Einstein's thought experiments, going
so fast that Lorentz contraction becomes apparent, and then the locomotive crashes
into a wall and that's the end. If you've seen me give a technical
talk you've seen the same thing; my talks generally end with "And
that's the end of my talk." Not saying that's a good thing, but that's kind of where I am as a writer.
We start this chapter in the
middle of the big action scene, the climax of the climax, the moment
at which the locomotive is going as fast as it's ever gonna go. As
with chapter 22, I came into this scenario treating it like a
puzzle. I put Ariel in peril, wrote down all the details that might be
relevant and tried to figure the best way out.
The difference between this and chapter 22 is that, as Curic says
after the locomotive crashes, Krakowski's failure is
overdetermined. He's operating on enemy turf and his plan is
insane. He only gets as far as he does because Dana is enabling
him. Dana having somehow gotten the idea that a huge dramatic
rescue is a good way to spark romantic interest in the person you
So here the challenge was coming up with the most interesting way
to solve the problem. The only restrictions were that Ariel had to
take an active role in saving the day, and I didn't want Krakowski to
die. As in chapter 22, Ariel tries a lot of stuff that doesn't work,
and with the introduction of Dana his problem gets even worse, but
here in the second part he's able to save the day in suitably dramatic
I think this sequence is pretty good for a first try, but in the
future I'm going to try to plot these big action scenes a lot
better. The "write everything down and figure something out" technique
is a little sloppy. I should have had this planned much further in
Before the misc commentary I want to announce that the microblog archive is complete! I wrote 403 tweets for Ariel and 173 for Tetsuo, not to mention the software that scheduled their posts in a realistic way, and it was all super time consuming. There are two tweets that haven't been posted yet, but I went ahead and added them to the archive. Ariel's final tweet I wrote just now, to give his feed some closure. I didn't like the idea of the top of his Twitter feed saying I don't think that deserves a special "freezer edition" for the rest of time. That looks the Twitter feed of someone who died suddenly.
As you find out this week, Ariel doesn't die, and this isn't the end of the stuff he and Tetsuo post in-universe, any more that "A Few Ip Shkoy Games About Asteroids" is the last thing Ariel ever posts to his blog. But it is the end of the slice you'll be able to see, because the novel's just about over.
- This chapter ends the framing device, the document Ariel
constructed out of his blog posts and his recollections. You could
stop reading after this chapter and it'd be a good ending. (After all,
that's what people are supposed to do in-universe.) But you're not
in-universe, so you get one more chapter, made up of miscellaneous
documents that wrap up some longstanding mysteries.
Ariel doesn't bother to reveal these mysteries in his book because
he figures they'll be old news by the time the fate-lock expires, but
I thought you'd like to know.
- "Might be relevant" details that turned out not to be relevant
include the earlier running gag w/the strawberry pie, and the fact
that Alien Ring's atmosphere is full of nitrous oxide.
- I believe "wearing your appearance like a hat" is the only
explicit nod to Starslip in the novel, but see last week's
commentary for an appreciation of Kris's influence.
- I think the last scene with Ariel and Curic is some of my best
writing. The've been working together for pretty much the whole book,
each trying to manipulate the other in various ways, and they still
don't understand each other.
This scene has my two favorite Curic lines: "It's quite simple to play poker against an opponent who never
bluffs." and "It wouldn't be the first time the power of love was
responsible for a whole lot of bullshit."
Note the similarity between Curic's "Why would I play poker?" and frat boy's unvoiced "Why would I play a Japanese RPG?" in chapter 5. And the difference between "opponent who never bluffs" and Tetsuo's "declining to play my cards upfaced" in 33.
- I discovered a HUGE continuity error in this chapter while writing an
earlier commentary, and asked to have it fixed it at the last
moment. Here's the problematic paragraph, see if you can spot the
I ripped open the velcro pockets on the chest of my spacesuit and
pulled the two strings simultaneously. Like I always did at the end of
a day's work in Utility Ring.
That's right, it's already been established that Velcro doesn't
exist in this universe. No, just kidding: chapter 30 mentions
Velcro. The real problem is that Ariel's hands have been bound behind
his back with reentry foam, so he can't pull those
strings. Fortunately, I'd already established the tongue-based
interface to the spacesuit HUD, so it was easy to fix.
- There's clearly some backstory between Dana and Krakowski, some
story I could write about the gaslighting that went on between chapter
30 and now. But I'm not really interested in that story, so it kinda
got short shrift. And by the time I started "Dana no Chousen" I'd moved
on to other ideas.
- Krakowski took unknowing posession of Dana right after Ariel moved
to Ring City. After going to Jenny's house to take anything Ariel
might have left there, he went to Bai's house to do the same, and
ended up with Dana.
But, in a
comment to chapter 19's commentary I mentioned the possibility
that there are two copies of Dana, one of which has been in the BEA's
posession since chapter 19. If that's true, then that Dana is the one
responsible for the events of the past two chapters (as well as "Dana no Chousen"), and I don't know
what happened to the copy of Dana who was socialized with Bai.
I don't like this idea because it's effectively passing off
Dana's identical twin as Dana, which kills a lot of the drama. But
it's something I've got in my back pocket in the unlikely event I need
- How does the fate-lock work? It's got something to do with generating a quantum encryption key from a piece of radioactive material, and a whole lot to do with... Creative License.
- I've got plenty to say about Ariel's rearrangement of Human Ring,
but I'm saving it for the finale.
The denouement approacheth! Tune in next week for THE SERIES FINALE, when Ariel will say, "You named a girl after me?"
Image credits: Unknown, Wikimedia Commons user Sissyneck, Luigi Rosa.
Tue Jul 24 2012 11:20 Month of Crowdfunding #24: Space Shuttle:
Back to Rockethub today to back ROCKETS On RocketHub - Space Shuttle Movie! As you might have guessed, this project is a film about the end of the Space Shuttle program. Like many space-related crowdfunding projects, this one doubles as a Month of Kickstarter Platinum entry: high-roller contributions get you perks like a visit to a private space launch. And like many space-related crowdfunding projects, I backed it.
Wed Jul 25 2012 10:42 Month of Kickstarter #25: Don't Call It That:
Given the horrors I've seen, "ALIEN GODS" is about the least promising title I can imagine for a fiction project on Kickstarter. Which is probably why the full title is "ALIEN GODS:Card-Foster-Haldeman-Rusch-Barnes-Steele-Resnick". OK, with big names like those, I'll take a look:
The concept for this anthology is to present stories about the religions of aliens encountered by humans as they explore the universe, and the culture clash that ensues.
Solid idea, good editorial credentials, and most importantly, a desire to anthologize other peoples' work rather than self-aggrandizing. I'll back it even though there's no electronic edition!
Today's pandering project: 2013 Cute Guys and Kittens Calendar. Featuring "cute, local guys", so you know it's got a low carbon footprint.
(2) Thu Jul 26 2012 08:09 Month of Kickstarter #26: Wall Type:
Today's theme is "art for the wall". And reasonably priced art, too! First up it's
Re-Creating my Artwork from Original Dungeons & Dragons!. The original artwork having been thrown away because game companies have terrible senses of corporate history. Follow that up with Hydrophobia: A Look Into Another Universe (Prints). Nothing is said about how those photos were made, but presumably they are photos of water droplets in a hydrophobic material.
I'm still writing words in this box because I can't believe today was so easy. I'm so picky this year that MoK has been a real struggle. Anyway, back to writing stuff for money.
Fri Jul 27 2012 08:18 Month of Kickstarter #27: Back to the Moon:
Remember July 17, when two hot sauce projects went up on Kickstarter on the same day? Man, that was hilarious. Good thing that'll never... yeah, it happened again. Yesterday three beef jerky projects launched within a few hours! 100% Organic Beef Jerky - Sweet Meat Jerky, Please Help Fund "Actively Primitive" (which also has non-jerky food items), and NewMiners Gourmet Beef Jerky.
So which one did I back? I actually didn't back any of them, because once again I heard the moon calling. RRE: Remote Rover Experiment is another project coming out of Google's X-Prize. Here the goal is to test a prototype rover design for moonworthiness. They're crowdsourcing the testing by selling vouchers for operating time on the rover. Then they see if you can break anything and measure the energy expenditure of your flailing attempts to control the rover by remote.
I thought this was a really corny idea (the project promises you "your very own mission countdown"), but over time it grew on me, so I backed the project.
Today I also backed a project I'd skipped before, Lunatics Animated Series Pilot - "No Children in Space". This is an "animated web series about the first settlers on the Moon." I skipped it when I saw it last week because although the series does take place on the moon, that's the only button of mine it pushes. Or so I thought, until I saw this post from project creator Terry Hancock on questioncopyright.org, which mentions that the series is going to be released under the CC-BY-SA license and that the goal of the project is "to get a sustainable cycle of support for a free-culture series." This is mentioned on the Kickstarter project page, but I look at so many projects during MoK I don't usually go below the fold. Anyway, that leaned on a bunch of the other buttons on my control panel, so I backed the project.
You might think Month of Kickstarter Platinum is unnecessary today, since the projects I backed, a lunar rover and the commission of free culture, are notorious money sinks in themselves. But no, there's more! For the less moneyed set, a mere $75 will get you a DIY vacuum forming machine. "Custom ice cube trays, custom chocolate molds, regardless of intricacy, vacuum forming can do it." Despite that cool-sounding promise, "not everything is formable (google draft angle)." Whatever that means.
Sat Jul 28 2012 08:28 Month of Crowdfunding #28: Film:
Yesterday I heard about an Indiegogo project I wanted to back, but this morning I was like "well, good luck finding it based on that slender reed of information". Fortunately it was still open in one of my browser tabs. It's Digitize 100 Miles of the AV Geeks films. 16mm at a time. More old films on the Internet Archive--I'm sold!
Meanwhile, the Castle Story computer game must have a huge pent-up fan base, because by the time I saw it in the new Kickstarter projects list it had already raised about $100k. It does look really cool, and I may end up backing the project even though they're pretty halfhearted about support for a Linux version. It's probably a smarter move to wait until a Linux version shows up. OK, I talked myself out of it.
Oh, and in the spirit of a year ago yesterday, I bought The Humble Music Bundle.
Sun Jul 29 2012 09:41 Month of Kickstarter #29: Jerky and a Movie:
Of the three beef jerky projects I mentioned a while ago, only one of them is likely to deliver any jerky. It's also the one with the lowest goal. A natural experiment! What's the difference between these three projects? Last year I would have been really interested in this question, but right now it seems like more like a marketing question than a number-crunching question.
Anyway, I wanted to tell you about the other project I backed today We Lived Alone: The Connie Converse Documentary:
Connie Converse was a misunderstood and multi-talented woman who dropped out of college in 1944 to pursue a music career in Greenwich Village. After years of hard work and no commercial success, in 1974 – at the age of 50 – she packed up her Volkswagen bug and drove off, leaving only notes of goodbye to her family and friends. All she left behind is a meticulously organized filing cabinet full of her letters, writings, drawings, and reel-to-reel tapes of hauntingly beautiful music.
I listened to some of the music on Youtube and "hauntingly beautiful" is pretty fair. This precis of Connie Converse's story puts me in mind of my mother and my aunt LeJeune. And you can get a digital download of the film for just $5.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you want to spend $39 on a digital download of a film, CAUCUS - New Documentary on the 2012 Iowa Caucus sounds like a good bet. By the director of Gigantic!
Mon Jul 30 2012 13:15 Month of Crowdfunding #30: Dolphins, I Say!:
Coming up on the end of Month of Kickstarter, and my pickiness has led me to pursue crowdfunding sites I'd totally forgotten about, like Petridish. Today's project is
Tracking Killers: GIS Mapping of Pacific Killer Whales, a project to map the habitat of Pacific killer whales, which as everyone should know by now are actually dolphins.
Except, while doing dolphin research for Constellation Games, I discovered that cladistically speaking, dolphins are whales. They're Odontoceti, toothed whales. In particular, sperm whales are more closely related to dolphins than to baleen whales. As a result I've become much more relaxed about policing the dolphin/whale boundary, since it turned out Dolphinville was entirely contained within Whalistan the whole time.
(3) Tue Jul 31 2012 09:17 Constellation Games Author Commentary #36: "Protector of Earth":
Here it is, the denouement. I hope you've enjoyed the story, the
commentary, and whatever bonus materials are coming your way. As I start closing out this commentary series I want to give a big thanks to you, the fans. I've done projects before that have garnered fans, but Constellation Games is the first time I feel like I have a traditional fan base, and it's greatly appreciated on my end.
Now that I've buttered you up, I want
to once again ask you to do what you can to get other people interested in Constellation Games. "What's in it for me?" you ask, because buttering you up only goes so far; I get it. Well, maybe you want a sequel. I have an idea for a sequel. But I can't justify spending the time to write a sequel to a book that wasn't a big hit. I'd be better off writing a totally new novel, as I'm doing now.
Hopefully getting people interested will a lot easier now that
serialization is done. Ebooks will soon be available for $5, which should take the book into the realm of instant-gratification impulse buys. You'll
be able to get a PDF direct from the publisher, or to get Nook
and Kindle versions from B&N and Amazon.
It would also help a lot if you left reviews of the book on the
bookstore sites, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and so on. Or just post a review on your blog. And remember that someone who's on the fence can read the first two chapters for free as PDF or HTML.
I'm still trying to line up podcast appearances and so on. But I've learned that it's really difficult for an author
to effectively promote their own book, because everything I say sounds
like an ad. Well, it is an ad. That's why books have quotes on the
back covers from people who didn't write the book. Fan-driven
publicity is a million times more effective than anything I can do. (n.b. I haven't actually
measured this, but a million times seems about right.)
Hopefully after that you're ready for some commentary:
You can read the end of the book as an unimitigated "yay, Ariel",
and I deliberately didn't spend much story time on what I'm about to
say, but... Ariel's redesign of Human Ring is an incoherent mess. His
appreciation of art does not extend much past "art is good and we
should have more." He's not a curator, an architect, or a designer of
ecosystems. He didn't even get to finish his metafractal before
But this huge mess pushes a habitable Human Ring into the realm of
the imaginable. Ariel gets in your face with a really cheesy version
of whatever you're good at, and gets you thinking about how amazing it
would be if you could redo it properly. (Most of what Ariel does between December 26 and April 22 is working with people with real domain knowledge.)
I used The Dinner Party to dramatize this. Judy Chicago's piece is a
monument to dead and mythological heroes, realized in media
traditionally associated with women: ceramics, sewing, weaving,
embroidery, lace, and (implied) food. It serves as a counterweight to
all of history's monuments honoring men.
Like all monuments, The Dinner Party works by overwhelming
you. In the Brooklyn Museum the piece has three parts: you walk down a
hallway hung with very 1970s tapestries, then you turn a corner and
enter a dark triangular room containing nothing but the installation,
and you're overwhelmed. Finally you leave the installation room to a
big Mathematica-like timeline explaining who all the women
mentioned in the piece were. (I get why the timeline is necessary, but
it leaves me with the feeling that I've just visited a state park.)
Ariel does not really understand The Dinner Party. Even
Somn, who understands it less, can see this. Ariel's reproduction
omits the timeline, the hallway with tapestries, and the dark
triangular room. He just reconstructed the table in the uniformly-lit
docking bay along with everything else. This ruins the overwhelming
It's highly questionable whether Jenny would want to put
Protector of Earth in that room. Setting up The Dinner
Party next to Trajan's Column doesn't do either piece any
favors. But it does put them on the same rhetorical level, and putting
hundreds of those pieces in a room a mile square creates its own
overwhelming effect. In the docking bay, the monuments humanity has
built to its accomplishments are themselves recognized as
Even before the contact event, Ariel knew what this tasted like. He
had an archive of all of humanity's Games of a Certain Complexity,
acquired through software piracy and playable whenever he wanted to
play them. Now he's demonstrated that kind of abundance in a way that
people who don't care about video games can appreciate.
Of course, all the artworks on Human Ring are replicas. Even the
"fucking Banksy mural" got destroyed by the matter shifters and had to
be restored from backup. But as Tetsuo says in chapter 12, there are
no un-replicas. Even the original artwork is an imperfect replica of
the pure idea in the artist's mind.
And every replica is imperfect. Duchamp's famous "readymades" are,
less famously, not
ready-made. They've been altered, or they're nonfunctional
replicas, or (later on) they're laboriously reconstructed (and further
altered) replicas of the
original replicas. When BEA Agent Krakowski smashes
Fountain in chapter 34 he's destroying a replica of a replica
of a possible replica.
Constellation Games is full of replicas. Ariel's house,
Dieue's apartment, the shipping containers, Ariel's notebooks, the CDBOEGOACC games and hardware, the
golden cellular-automata machine, the periodically resurfaced lunar
field, the Disneyland environments of Ring City, Jenny's cosplay, Tammy's missions in the Orion simulator, Ariel's recreation of Tammy's go bag, Dana Light in all her forms, the game companies making the same game
over and over, Recapture That Remarkable Taste and Sayable Spice: Earth Remix, the imperfect copy of Tetsuo that Somn has in her head,
and the imperfect immortal electronic copy that could have existed
Negative space is Ariel's theme, and replicas are Tetsuo's. Throughout the book, Tetsuo concerns himself with the
negative space that separates real replicas from fake ones. The way someone from a
culture with less history might care a lot about originals
vs. replicas. He cares because the original was
trying to tell you something. Probably unintentionally, probably not
what the original creator was trying to convey, probably
something about that person and their society. A real replica
will let that message come through. A fake replica will preserve the
text of the article but lose the revealing advertisements. And how you use a replica will, in turn, reveal something about you.
Maybe miscellaneous notes are an anticlimax after that, but here
they are anyway:
- In the second draft, the novel ended with Somn's letter. I still
prefer that ending! But man, the writing group hated it! They said
that Somn was not defined well enough to handle this (definitely true
in the second draft, and arguably still true), and that the book
needed to end with Ariel's voice in particular, because he's the
As far as I'm concerned, Ariel yielded control of the narrative at
the end of chapter 35. But everyone was so adamant, I caved and wrote
that last email of Ariel's. And no one has complained about the ending
since, so I guess I did the right thing. But I don't think it's
- The first email in this chapter, the automated reminder, is
also not strictly necessary, but it's funny and it sets up the
"Vanilla" rewrite that probably won't happen. To the extent "Vanilla"
still contains an exploitable idea, it's that after the events of
Constellation Games, America (and Earth in general) is on the
wrong side of a gravitational Berlin Wall. That's what I've been
getting at with stuff like Ariel's need for an exit visa, and the
"request the presence of a Constellation observer" in this email.
- If the last chapter is not part of Ariel's manuscript, what does
this imply, ontologically, about the text of Constellation
Games? Well, it implies it's a story I made up. But if you're
Adam Parrish and you're not satisfied with this answer, it can imply that
Constellation Games is the result of someone in the future
annotating Ariel's text with excerpts from Ariel's email archives and
Somn's published correspondence.
- I wrote Ariel's note to Jenny about the FERNs long before that
final Tetsuo scene in chapter 33, which showed that Tetsuo is more
complicated then "has no filter between his brain and his mouth." But
it works out, because Ariel wrote that note in October, a month
and a half before seeing the other side of Tetsuo.
- Argh, Ariel mentions a blog post he wrote about FERNs, but in the
final draft the FERNs scene is a "Real Life" section. Let's just say
Ariel also put up a blog post about FERNs that didn't make it into the
final curated document.
- Somn's reaction when Ariel puts a finger in her
son's mouth is a direct callback to Ariel's reaction when Tetsuo
touches him in chapter 11. ("I flinched as he touched me, because I'm a big
- Cerise and Drew, the two kids not named after Ariel, are
tuckerizations of Cheryl Barkauskas and Andrew Willett, the two members
of my writing group who critiqued Constellation Games from
beginning to end.
And that's Constellation Games. This commentary series will
continue for two more weeks, with commentaries for the bonus material
posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you ordered the bonus material, you should be getting it soon along with the complete ebook. If you ordered the USB key, the bonus material's on there. If you're not sure what to read first, here's the commentary schedule, and my recommended reading order:
- August 7: "The Time Somn Died" (the Somn story)
- August 9: "Found Objects" (the Jenny story)
- August 14: "Dana no Chousen" (the Dana story)
- August 16: "Pey Shkoy Benefits Humans" (with guest
commentary by co-author Adam Parrish).
Update: I originally put the stories in this list in the order I wrote them. But when I suggested a reading order to Kate, I suggested chronological order, which is the exact opposite order. I've changed the commentary schedule to reflect the order recommended in the email that contains the bonus material.
If all you're getting is "The Time Somn Died", then your task is easy.
Otherwise, tune in next Tuesday, when Dana will say, "Americans cost extra." Tune in next Tuesday, when Somn will say, "Ha ha ha... stop it!"
Pictures from the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanical garden are ones I took on March 9, 2012. Other image credits: NASA, Jerry Paffendorf, and Kevin Stefanovitch.
← Last week | "The Time Somn Died" →
Tue Jul 31 2012 13:02 Month of Kickstarter #31: Jazz Python Planet:
As I write this I have backed 269 Kickstarter projects. I've also been posting the word "Kickstarter" to my Twitter feed every day for the past month. (In my defense, it was always in a sentence along with other words.) So you might imagine that people who are hustling especially hard on their Kickstarter projects might discover me and pitch me to back their project.
Throughout Month of Kickstarter I've gotten a lot of recommendations from friends. Some I've backed, some I haven't, some I'd already backed when the friend told me about it. But from strangers? Not too often. Earlier this month someone asked me to back their video project about (I think) how to do video projects. It wasn't really my thing so I ignored it. And yesterday Daniel Davis asked me to check out Urban-Jazz Violinist Daniel D.'s New Album Project! I actually saw this project when it launched, and decided it too was not really my thing, but what the hell. It's a fine project, today is the final day of MoK 2012, so let's go out with the abandon that marked last year's observance. I've backed Daniel's project and two others:
- Practical Python: Learn programming for the real world! By backing this project I can make sure that the author talks about Beautiful Soup 4 in the web-scraping section, and not Beautiful Soup 3.
- Balance of the Planet, "An educational simulation of environmental-economic issues." That's the kind of description that usually spells trouble on Kickstarter, but Chris Crawford is behind it, so... well, it still may spell trouble. But it's a very cool idea, and the project page promises "no dancing dolphins," which is good because I handled the dolphins yesterday.
Thus ends Month of Kickstarter, coincidentally on the same day as the serialization of Constellation Games. But just like last year, the fun doesn't stop when I stop backing all these projects. Once the projects complete (or fail) I'll be updating the graphs I made last year, when I said things that sound ridiculous now, like "realistically you're not going to get more than 350 backers." What's the realistic number of backers now? We'll find out.
This year there are other people crunching numbers on Kickstarter projects, notably Kicktraq. But this year I've gathered a lot more data than I did last year, and I've got my own ideas for how to slice it up. See you then!
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