Choose Your Own Adventure

My favorite ending was the one where I turned into a unicorn. This should not be a surprise.

How great are these books? Someone in my writing group did a Choose Your Own Adventure-style submission this week, and it was so much fun to read. Took me right back to being a kid again!

I loved these books any old time, but they were my go-to for when I was home sick from school. I’d sit down on the couch in the TV room with a pile of Choose Your Own Adventures next to me and read them all day long. Some were the standard ‘CYOA’ brand, but others were a Dungeons & Dragons collection. I think we had others that actually had a character sheet involved, but those were far too complicated for my tastes at the time. And would be now, really–if I want an RPG, I’ll play an RPG. CYOA is the time for making arbitrary choices and finding out where they took me.

What better way to make yourself feel better than getting lost in the life of someone else? Saving villages, kingdoms, friends and family! Traveling through time and dark forests! Keeping your fingers in the last few pages you make decisions from because you want to go back easily if you die; and seeing the totally unrelated

I never got into Hero of Washington Square. I blame the lack of dragons on its cover.

development on the opposite page from yours and desperately wanting to figure out how to get to that one!

I’m confident that I never found every path in these books, despite reading them over and over again. Though I’d try to find new ones each time, there were some favorite paths that I couldn’t resist taking a second, third, or fourth time. They were as much a comfort as the chicken soup, my mom, and my blanky. Having been reminded of them, I’m tempted to dig around in my parents’ attic until I find again now in anticipation of my next sick day!

Really, is it any wonder I grew up to love role-playing games, computer adventure games, or that I’m a writer? That I love the idea of branching storylines and endings? (I just finished Heavy Rain, which has numerous possible endings. It’s amazing. And I want to go back and get all the other endings now, too!)


What Do You Want to Know About Kickstarter?

As I’ve posted about before, Phoenix Online ran a Kickstarter campaign for our upcoming game, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. It was a fantastic success–we not only hit our $25,000 goal, we raised $34,247, and we’re now the 8th most successful video game project on Kickstarter, ever.

This April, the Penny Arcade Expo will be having it’s Boston-area event, aka PAX East, and I intend to attend the convention. I went in 2010 and it was a lot of fun, myself and another director did some interviews that were key in saving The Silver Lining, plus it was just really interesting! (Linkapalooza today, aren’t I?) There’s a huge area of booths for companies to showcase their games and other products, panels on all kinds of topics relevant to gamers, from gaming culture to Q&A with game creators, to dramatic presentations to suggestions for raising your geek toddler. They truly run the gammit, and quality will vary, but they are all of interest to the gaming community.

I’ll be honest–I did the majority of the work running our Kickstarter campaign. I managed our page, set it up, replied to emails, sent a thank you message to every single person who donated, posted the updates, tweeted, Facebook’d, emailed friends & family to ask for their support, I was all over that thing. I won’t pretend it was ALL me, but I was the person mainly driving that thing. And I really loved doing it! Kickstarter’s great, and I know there are others out there who are interested in and would like to use it to get their own projects going.

So, I’m looking to put together a panel proposal for PAX East. Right now I’m trying to decide what

Rich and I at PAX East 2010

sort of format I want to go with: one that’s purely about Phoenix Online’s experience with Kickstarter, or approach other successful gaming-related projects and try to get a panel of people together to talk about all our experiences. Both set-ups would involved plenty of audience Q&A, but I’d like to get a chance to talk about the experience before launching into pure Q&A as well. A panel of a number of people would cut down on both time available to talk about that as well as Q&A time. But, it offers a wider variety of experiences and answers for people as well, and that can only help since no one’s going to have the exact same experience.

Panels, of note, run about an hour.

So, readers, what do YOU want to know about Kickstarter? What format sounds better to you? What kind of information do you want, what questions would you have? I’d love to get some great feedback on this, and soon so I can submit the proposal. Thanks in advance for your help!

Am I a Technology Fogey?

Though I’m no techie, I’m not bad with technology either. I’m usually fairly aware of what’s going on at least relatively soon after it’s gone on. I learn programs pretty quickly when I can get my hands on and a bit of guidance. I’m confident that I will not need to call my future-kids to remember what my password is (to her credit, mom has gotten much better!).

So my technology fails of late have been rather humbling indeed.

First I tried to update myself from my iPhone 3G. I’ve loved it, but I’ve had it for over two years and it’s time to get a new phone. As the 3G is the forgotten child of the iPhone line who no longer gets praise or treats and glowers at his older brothers 3GS and 4 with great jealousy, apps crash or move with remarkable sloth, and forget ever trying to use the GoogleMaps app and get directions to where you’re going before you actually get there. I was wary of getting another iPhone for two reasons. One, an OS upgrade about 6 months after I got my 3G left it slow as hell, and this was never fixed. Two, a new model is out soon, meaning the 4 may get the same treatment, and the new one will be pricier. So I decided it was time to try a Droid, and so I did. An HTC Inspire 4G was mine.

Don't be fooled, it's programmed with trickery and maniacal laughter.

I hated it.

My contacts were either never ported over or were erased when I did an update, leaving me with the contact info still somewhere on the phone–God knows where!–and my only choice being to use my gmail contacts to make a list of names instead. Meaning I had a list of contacts over 1000 people long of everyone I’d ever emailed. Useless!

Additionally, while I first thought the syncing to my google account was very useful, I was quickly proven wrong, first by the contacts debacle, and then by how it dinged everytime I got an email. No matter what. And damned if I could figure out how to simply close an app so it wouldn’t do that.

Gone was my email that only checked and updated itself when I actually open the app and asked it to! Gone was the simple flip of a little switch to silence the phone! Gone was the nicely sized piece of technology that fit in my hand! Gone was a phone charge that could last more than 36 hours!

So two weeks later, I brought the damn thing back and got my 3G hooked up again. I’m so sorry I left you, darling. But I have to admit I’ve got my eye on your new baby brother 4S now.

The real kicker there is that I’m not an Apple person. You know the type–they love all things Apple, must have the newest, shiniest awesomest Apple products, in multiple colors, and sing the praises of the brand every second of the day. My iPhone and iPod are great, and I really like them. But I hate Macs, and this is coming from years of using one every day, so don’t think I’ve got an uneducated opinion on them (or that you can change my mind; you can’t). Yet here I am, a fogey who wants her old phone back and who doesn’t remotely like the competition’s phone set-up at all. Sigh…I never thought this would be me!

Then there’s the computer problems. I’ve been wanting to get a new one recently–my latest Dell (her name’s Athena) has been around for about 4 years now, I’m running out of room on it, it was, again, getting to that point. But when I started looking, I realized I had no idea what was good, what was the latest technology, what amount of Memory was too low and what was too much, how fast my processor should be, any of it!

A blank black screen is still better than this, however!

Then this past weekend, Athena’s screen started to give out, not always showing what it should be when I turned her on, just a black blankness and the sense there somewhere in there, a cursor was waiting for my password. So the time of buying had to be now.

After research and hemming and hawing, I finally purchased a new Asus computer last night. It’s not the prettiest thing, but I’ve heard I can make it pretty with some nice decals.And it’s pretty nicely jumped up with some good tech from what I’ve heard and read, so I think I’ll be happy with my new Asus for some time to come. The real question now, of course, is what do I name the new lappy?

I’m fairly certain, in the end, that I’m not a technology fogey just yet. I was able to learn, adapt, and in one case opted for the familiar as a stop-gap, while in the other case I found something I’m confident will work for me and bring my computing to the next level. But I may make a better effort to stay on top of what the updates in the tech world are between now and my next big purchase.

The Leap of Faith

You’ve all seen this trope in a movie or on TV, or perhaps encountered it in a role-playing game or video game: the leap of faith. The jump or step

Thank god his binocular vision kicked in!

off the cliff and into oblivion, hoping but not knowing that there will be something there to catch you. Made particularly famous by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, of course.

I enjoy the idea behind this–having a character lead to a point where they cannot know for certain who or what they can trust, where they have to indeed have faith and that has to be enough, is great when pulled off correctly. However, I also feel like making it a literal leap of faith has become very overdone. Frankly, I want to see someone step off a cliff and plummet to their death because they were foolish enough to think their eyes couldn’t see the walkway right in front of them.

Because standing at the edge of a cliff should be scary. Everything around you says that this will kill you–the height, physics, the lack of solid ground to keep you upright and safe. You should look down the depths before and feel terror and complete denial that this will be anything but your untimely death if you move another inch. The same should go for anyone walking the plank, especially if there are sharks in the water. The only people who shouldn’t be afraid here are the foolhardy or the crazy–not the heroes. Why not, because heroes (or main characters or protagonists, your choice) need to be relatable. And the everyday person cannot relate to someone who will step off a cliff without any proof that they’ll not die for it.

Now if you'd stop dating vampires, you solve a lot more life-or-death issues for yourself....oh, who am I kidding, like I'd say no to that!

In the most recent season of True Blood, in fact, this came up (minor spoilers for Season 4, Episode 1): Sookie is told that to return to her world and get away from some nasty fairies, she has to jump into a visually bottomless and shrinking hole in the Earth. She sure as hell does nothing of the sort, because that’s what a sane person does! She only ends up jumping (and thus returning to the normal world) because she’s pushed by someone else. No part of that leap was her choice, and I was glad that was the case. Good for you for not being suicidal (in this particular instance), Sookie!

However, I still love Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and I don’t begrudge it this particular moment in the movie despite what it may have spawned. Why? (What a fun question!) Because they build up to this. Indy spends the entire movie being a practical, logic-based, believe-my-eyes man. The legends of the Grail present facts to him, and those are what he follows–he’s a man of science here, not a man of faith. Whether or not he should be given his past is a different story altogether, but in this movie, his reliance on science (rhymes and) contrasts with his father’s focus on matters of faith. Yes, there is more nuance to it, sure, but I’m talking in overarching terms here. He’s now been put into an insane situation–his father is dying, and only getting through these trials can he save his life. He has to put his faith not only in the Grail legend, but in the results of his father’s research. The first few tests would seem to be ones of faith as well, but they are broken down into facts that Indy qiuckly picks up on. Something solid and reliable. But this last test, the leap of faith, is different: prior to committing to the test, Indy has nothing to tell him this won’t kill him, except the fact that he’s come this far and there have been reasonable ways around the previous tests. But those tests were very deadly all the same, so he could die here if he doesn’t get it right. And that’s what it comes down to: have faith, take the leap, and pray to God it works.

For the rest of us, let’s agree to stop with the cliff edges and roofs of buildings, shall we? Unless someone’s about to go splat. That’d be awesome.

My Favorite Season

The Daily Post photo challenge this week is “Fall.” And while I will later be making my usual photo challenge inspired post, Fall is my favorite season, so I want to talk about it.

I’m an Irish lass, and I burn easy, so the hot outdoors of the summer are not so much for me. It’s lovely, of course, and I like a day away at the beach like anyone else, but I’d still be just as comfy in some air conditioning at my computer or relaxing on a porch with a book. Moreso, really.

But then Fall comes in and just….ahhhh. The air smells different. It always does when the seasons change, but fall has a small of the air being a little more chill than not, of warm scents edged with cold–it smells like cider tastes. The tingle of spices, and it’s good warm or cold, and even when it’s cold there’s a warmth in round, crisp flavor of it. That’s the small of Fall–warmth in cold, with a crispness in the air and a hint of spice.

I love the colors of fall. There’s more than one reason I chose the wordpress layout I did–just look at that header image! The oranges, browns, reds, yellows, they stand out against the blue in the sky and the green that still lingers on the ground from the summer. The world is changing, beginning again, Fall is the start of things. That’s likely an impression that lingers from 22 years of school starting in the Fall, but life begins where it ends, and its end begins in the Fall. The last glimpse of things as they were, and the start of things as they will be. It’s when change begins in the world.

And the things you can in Fall are so much fun! Apple-picking, corn mazes, mulled cider! Pumpkin-flavored things! They are my favorite things ever, pumpkin-flavored things. Pumpkin coffee, pumpkin beer, pumpkin raviolis, pumpkin donuts (possibly topped only by cider donuts, another flavor of fall), pumpkin soup… Fall is delicious. I’m licking my lips thinking about it all now!

Finally, there is possibly the funnest of holidays: Halloween. I love Halloween. I love costumes and every year I have a Halloween party where costumes are required. I really get into it, figuring out what my costume will be and putting it together. Over the last few years I’ve made costumes and gone as Battlestar Galactica’s Starbuck, battle-damaged Clare from Heroes, Codex from The Guild, and Molly Carpenter from the Dresden Files. Not pictured is another of my favorites when my friend Melissa and I went as Harry and Ron (respectively), and our costumes were fantastic! Spot-on Hogwarts students! I love getting to create a costume, and I love seeing what my friends come up with. Everyone can be a goofball on Halloween and they get to have fun doing it. What’s not to love? Plus, candy! (OMG. Candy corns. Yum!)

This got a little silly, but you get the idea–I think Fall is fabulous and it’s my favorite season. I even enjoy going to a BC football or two (my alma mater) and tailgating, getting some delicious food and cheering on the Eagles with friends.

Fall’s just a great time to be alive.

Stop Being So Agreeable, Dammit

Interesting, imperfect and three-dimensional characters are awesome. They make you want to keep reading a story, or series, they can sometimes make up for failures in plot or other areas of writing, they’re often quotable, and they feel more real. They’re also really hard to write.

In my many hours spent playing roleplaying games, it’s become more obvious over time that almost everyoe has a default character they go to when creating one for a new game. The system may be different, the setting wildly unique, the scenarios new and exciting, but the patterns who of plays who can be discerned. I’m no exception–I like playing good-hearted rogues. The underdog coming from a somewhat put-upon background to rise above and be a hero, I freaking love playing that guy or that girl. So much so that it’s really hard for me to be anything else even when I’m trying. This became really obvious to me when my friend Melissa ran a game where the PCs were specifically intended to be villains. I crafted my character a certain way, but with how her background ended up unfolding and my natural reactions in-game, it just plain had to shift. She was meant to be a ruthless and proud assassin intent on killing the ruling family who’d had her own family killed. She ended up being the classic “Misled” villain who believed she was doing good despite doing some kinda bad things, and in the end joined up with the secret police watching over the world at large to make sure no one group or individual ever got too powerful. (She also turned into a giant bug on ocasssion, but that’s neither here nor there!)

So the next time I had a notion of playing a not-quite-good guy, I put a lot more effort into making her morally ambiguous, driven by her own motives for power, argumentative with other characters, and if she did the right thing, it was somewhat more of a side effect or an alignment of goals for the time being. It wasn’t always easy, but it was fun and rewarding once I got it down.

It’s hard for anyone to get outside their heads for any stretch of time and see why someone else doesn’t agree with them or see things their way. Which is why players have default characters–the put-upon underdog hero, the violent thrasher, the shrewed businessman, the amusingly arrogant aristocrat, the wacky nerdy sidekick, the spunky young heroine, the hulking brute with a heart of gold, the list goes on.

Likewise I’ve noticed a pattern when writing scenes between characters I need to not get along–it’s really hard. I’m a pretty reasonable, logical, and practical person, and I make the effort to see the other side of the argument when I’m in one. But characters can’t all be like that, not very often anyways, because people aren’t all like that–we argue, we fight, we just don’t get it and we get angry about it! So a number of the conversations I’ve been writing keep going too smoothly because everyone gets what they need out of it on the first go.

That’s what the editing process is for, of course. I’m not tied to what I’m writing down right now. So hopefully, like an RPG, even if it isn’t easy, it will be fun and rewarding once I’ve got it down.

Counterpoint: I Don’t Wanna Die

My friend Auston has posted today about the age-old (ha!) sci-fi genre question, “Who wants to live forever?” He does not.

Counterpoint: I don’t wanna die.

Dying, quite frankly, terrifies me like nothing else. The very idea of it is something that I cannot honestly focus on without getting seriously freaked out. I consider myself to be more spiritual than religious, so while I’m not sure what, I do feel fairly confident that something is out there greater than us. I believe humans have souls. I believe that what we do matters.

And yet…I can’t convince myself that I know what will happen to me when I die. Is there a Heaven? Will I go there? Or will be it a fiery abyss for me for some reason? (I actually don’t believe that Hell can exist as given to us in Biblical terms, not in parallel with Biblical Heaven. How can we exist in a state of pure joy and happiness for all eternity if we know people we loved in life are suffering in damnation at the same time?) Will I exist as some sort of ghostly spirit, lurking about in the material world yet never interacting with it? (Now THAT sounds like Hell.) Or will I simply cease to exist, end of story, into the ground with me and that’s that?

This latter one terrifies me most of all. It’s impossible to really conceive of an end to awareness, simply ceasing to be and that’s that. So that leads into considering awareness of only an endless dark abyss and absence of everything, which similar to a ghostly existence, sounds like Hell. Really, almost all these options are not desirable, for all that death is a part of life. Some sort of reincarnation or Heaven sounds good, but neither of those are things I can ever know to be true or not without the death part, the risk that they are wrong entirely and I just cease to be.

Which brings us back to: I don’t wanna die!

(As a sidebar, growing old has a lot of downsides I’d be okay with avoiding, too.)

We’re talking sci-fi here, too, of course, so let’s take a practical look at the popular options for How to Avoid Death Without Even Trying.

1) Vampires

“Drink from me, and live forever.”

This is NOT a vampire.

Vampires have a number of variations in fiction, so we’re going to take the basic and most often-used traits.

The Cons: cannot go into daylight or you will die, a stake through the heart will kill you, and holy items harm you.

The Pros: live forever so long as you avoid a few certain things, eternal youth, and by most accounts you get to be superstrong, fast, can heal all other wounds, and are nigh-invulnerable.

The If-y Parts: You have to drink blood to live, technically a walking corpse, and you might by your nature be a killing machine without a soul.

I’m not an outdoorsy person, but I like getting some sun now and again (with a heavy dose of SPF 30+), so no more sunlight is kind of a bummer, but I think I could deal with it. I would miss barbecues, though. It would be more awful if I couldn’t be awake during the daytime at all, but I don’t think that trait is prevalent enough to be a given. Avoiding getting stabbed in the heart and touched by holy objects wouldn’t be so difficult. So the cons are so far things I can deal with, if they are unfortunate and things to be on the lookout for. The pros speak for themselves and sound pretty good to me!

Now the If-y Parts, on the other hand…well, these are the things that are either in too much contention in the genre to be certain of or things I’m really not so sure I’d be okay with. Walking corpse is one of those things were in most fiction, they seem to get by okay. Vampires are cold to the touch, no pulse, but usually seem to get by just fine, no issues with a lack¬† of blood flow and frankly their sex lives seem to improve if anything. But there’s a big issue for me here: that means never having kids. Some people don’t care about that, but I do, I want kids someday, and this would be a real big end to that idea. Then we’ve got nutrition. Blooddrinking is kind of nasty when you get down to it, and does that mean I couldn’t eat anything else? Or would food just not be as good anymore? I like food! I’d miss food a lot. I also don’t dig much on drinking blood from just about anything, from people to little furry forest creatures.

And finally, the soulless/killing machine factor is rather up in the air as well. I REALLY don’t want to be a soulless killing machine. I might not give a crap about that once I am one, but I’d like to not become one and go around killing people and so forth. Not on my agenda at all.

If I could get a definitive answer on the killing machine thing, I might go in for being a vampire. You get a raw deal on some things, but there are a lot of pros to outweigh the cons.

2) Immortals, Highlander-style

These guys start off not knowing they’re Immortal, but they get there after they die the first time. Which could lead to wacky hijinx, some serious confusion, or outright hysteria. The shocking reveal of their true nature aside, let’s get into long-term Pros & Cons.

Are you SURE there can be only one?

Pros: You have eternal youth AND you’ve still got a pulse! Good for you!

Cons: Really, none, beyond the everyone you love will grow old and die around you part, but that’s a given for all of these.

If-y Part: For some reason, There Can Be Only One.

Why is that If-y when it’s the driving point of all six five movies (the 6th is a reboot that’s still in pre-production), the live-action TV show, the 3 cartoon shows, and at least one (crappy) video game?

I answer with another question: How many Highlander items did I just list? (11 10!)

This ‘there can be only one’ thing is total crap! There was only one at the end of the first movie, AND YET….! So it’s a load of BS, by the series’ very own vague continuity problems. On top of that, WHY can there be only one? Just ’cause seems to be the answer. You’ll get some bad apples in any bushel of a certain size, but it seems to me that most of these guys could’ve just, y’know, agreed to NOT kill each other and everything would be just fine.

But to honor the idea of the series somewhat, it would be a big Con if a handful of other people were really interested in taking off my head for a piss-poor excuse. Guys, I’d be happy to share my knowledge with you if just asked, y’know. On the other hand, avoiding a select few individuals and not getting into swordfights shouldn’t be all that difficult.

3) Immortals, demi-god style

Not actual gods, because that’s going outside the human race completely. But these are the demi-gods who pop up in fiction who are human descendants of gods and often are themselves immortal.

Pros: Immortality, eternal youth, and quite possibly some cool powers

Cons: ….

If-y Parts: Your divine parents may be a divine pain in the ass.

Yeah, that’s all I got for this one.

4) Mutant Healing Powers

There are two big examples from pop culture I can use here: Wolverine from the X-Men, and Claire “The Cheerleader” Bennet from Heroes.

I don't care how much mutant healing you've got, this is a terrible idea.
It's...clobbering time?

Pros: You heal everything, and you do it so fast that you are slow to age and possibly immortal.

Cons: ….

If-y Parts: You don’t actually know if you’re immortal, and the government may want to perform experiments on you.

You can still feel pain, you can still bleed and breathe, and you don’t actually know the extent of your own immortality. Could you survive a gunshot to the head? Do you really want to find out? Also, there’s that pesky government that shows up in these stories more than others.

This one’s kind of ideal. How often do normal people stumble into life-ending situations? Far less than these people do in fiction, that’s for sure! So avoid those, avoid the government (how well you can do this may vary), and you’re pretty much set if you’ve got mutant healing powers. And if you’d like your immortality tinged with a little more uncertainty, this is the brand for you, my friend.

In the end, it will still be awful no matter what kind of immortal you are to watch the people around you die while you do not. Let’s not downplay this fact. And maybe, someday, you’ll realize you too would rather move on from this world, uncertainty be damned (or, possibly, you be damned). Is this a survivable tragedy for you? I tend to think it would be, but I’m young, and my experiences with loss are very limited. I know it would not be a fun time. And then how do you deal with this fact as you continue to live? Form only passing acquaintances? Only hang out with other immortals like yourself? (More difficult if you’re the Highlander variety.)

Or just continue to exist until you can finally figure out a way to face that fear of the ultimate unknown? If you’re immortal, then the choice is yours.