Thursday, August 17, 2017
Despite ISU efforts to contain the situation surrounding Starliner Flight 252, a new development has occurred. One of the passengers aboard the flight withheld video evidence and has anonymously put it online for all to see under the name True252, including statements that Union Guard agents from the ISU were called in to “suppress” the release of this information. The video clearly shows unidentified spacecraft of unknown alien origin flying alongside the starliner, some of them darting in briefly for what seems like an attempt at a closer look. Shortly after the encounter, a pulse of energy engulfed the starliner and all power was shut down. The poster of the video claims that he suspects it was an electromagnetic pulse—an EMP blast—of some kind, and that it appeared that the alien ships were potentially hostile. After the starliner lost power and was adrift in space, the passenger claims that the alien ships appeared to lose interest and departed, though there is no video proof of this because all electronic devices shut down. The passenger states that he decided to remove his device's data card, which he encouraged several other passengers to do. Once the starliner powered up again and eventually reached port, all devices were confiscated by waiting ISU officials. The passengers that had removed their cards, however, were able to hide the data cards. Some of the passengers brought those cards to us, but when we sent the data to be independently verified, we have learned that the ISU confiscated the data and advised our verifier to insist that the videos were fakes. If not for the anonymous posting of one brave passenger, we might never have known the truth! ISU, what are you trying to hide from us?
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
As the investigation into the events surrounding Flight 252 continues, we must apologize to our followers for what we can only call misinformation. Yesterday we reported that videos of strange purple lights had been seen by some passengers, but we have been notified that these passengers were never on Flight 252. We have attempted to contact the supposed passengers we spoke with yesterday, but none of them have returned any calls. Although we had sent their videos to be independently verified before sharing them with you, we have been informed that all the videos were fakes. The videos are not being released for viewing because they have been deemed fake. We apologize for our error, and assure you that the incident with Flight 252 has been confirmed to be pilot error. The pilot of the starliner did not heed star-data reports and flew the ship within range of the radiated zone surrounding the Ignatius flare star. All passengers are being tested for radiation poisoning, and are being held at an undisclosed location by ISU officials until further notice.
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Breaking news: new information has surfaced in the investigation of Epsilon Flight 252, the starliner thought lost until it pulled into port yesterday, 4 days late. The flight log does indicate that the craft was nearing the region of the unstable, high-mass Ignatius flare star, but warnings and adequate route adjustments had already been made before the sudden power failure. Telemetry and positioning data indicates that the flight was not near the star enough to suffer a power failure and communications loss. Several passengers have come forward, under condition of anonymity, to share strange videos they managed to take just before the incident occurred. Odd, purple lights were spotted, moving along the same path as the starliner while darting in closer for brief moments, then quickly resuming their course at a distance. The crew's Science Officer has refused to comment and is not returning calls.
Monday, August 14, 2017
This just in: A starliner bound for the colony on Ourea that was believed lost last week has finally pulled in to port, more than 4 days late. Reports indicate a communications failure, but some passengers have independently confirmed a solar event during the expected two week travel time. According to eyewitnesses, the starliner experienced power loss and was adrift for several hours before power was regained. Emergency life support systems kept everyone alive during the frightening ordeal. The captain later informed the passengers that the starliner had to change course because of the activity of a flare star on their route. It has been confirmed that the star, Ignatius, is now in its final phase. All routes have been altered to avoid the extreme radiation levels--enough, scientists say, to cook all occupants inside any nearby spacecraft. An investigation is underway.
Friday, August 11, 2017
I have a few more final tips for mission writing. I highly recommend keeping the GM's narrative sessions short, because players often have short attention spans and they are not very patient when it comes to “story time.” Don't write a book! I usually try to keep things down to one or two paragraphs of narrative if possible, the only exceptions being the mission briefing at the beginning and the mission debriefing/epilogue at the end. Intersperse your narrative with decisions for the players to make. Even a simple “Awareness Check” involves everyone making die rolls with the hope of rolling high so they can determine something helpful for their team. Keep things concise in your writing and don't get overly descriptive—you can do that when you're talking with your players and describing the situation as they're playing. For example, as the players' characters breach a warehouse and see the smugglers, you can quickly describe the smugglers as a group of 5 humans that immediately reach for their assault rifles. Keep things moving and get to the action, but during the action, you can start to fill in the description. For example, a player targets a particular smuggler and as they exchange gunfire, you can describe the smuggler, saying something like, “this human leers at you maliciously as he quickly turns to fire back, his black leather trench coat whirling behind him like a cape.”
I'd also like to add that you need to keep loot and flavor in mind while writing a mission. Players are always excited to discover new weapons, armor, and equipment during their missions, so make sure that they can find a few unusual items. Flavor is a term I use to describe short embellishments of the setting you've created. I hope the mission-writing tips this week have been interesting and useful! I'll end with a short flavor example from the mission, “Egg Drop,” when players finally locate a bar called the “Star Wrangler” that they've been searching for:
As you pass various curio and souvenir shops at the starport, your attention is suddenly captured by a bright, holographic projection. A colorful animation shows a star being captured with a rope and pulled in to another cluster of stars by a Krissethi wearing a ten-gallon cowboy hat. He sits proudly upon the cluster of stars, points right at you, and winks. The words "Star Wrangler" appear for a few moments, and then the animation cycles again.
Thursday, August 10, 2017
I don't have a set formula for writing a mission, but I do seek a fair amount of balance among the different activities. Though this can vary because of the mission plot, I'd recommend that squad combat events should range somewhere from 30% to 50% of the mission, while vehicle/starship combat can be anywhere from 10% to 30%. Hacking should be about 5% to 15% of the mission, and dialogue encounters should be present in all missions, ranging anywhere from 20% to 50%. I try to include all of these activities in a mission if possible, but sometimes the story doesn't warrant certain things. For instance, if the story involves a planetside scenario for the entire mission, trying to fit starship combat into the story will just feel contrived. In a situation like that, though, terrestrial vehicle combat is a great alternative. But do try to include everything if possible, because you want players to feel that the skills they've invested in are useful to the team. A player who was excited about starship combat and designed his character with related skills will be very frustrated and disappointed if he doesn't have a chance to shine. Thanks to the Solar Echoes skill point system which forces skill diversification, no character will ever be unable to contribute, but think about the players you are writing for and try to include situations in the mission that will make them feel special. If you're not writing for a specific group of players, then keeping the different activities balanced is even more important!
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Players can turn a good story into a great story, depending on the decisions they make. In my many years of running RPG games, I've learned that the best stories can happen when the Game Master is able to improvise and adapt the story line. Rail-roading players removes from them the feeling that they have any affect upon the story, so the GM needs to write his missions with a lot of opportunities for player choice. It's difficult to do this, though, because you'll find yourself trying to write branching paths for every possible decision players might make. Trust me, it's impossible to think of everything! Some events will happen regardless of what the players decide, and these “hard events” occur because they are larger than the players—they are outside the players' sphere of influence. At the same time, though, players should feel like they are heroes whose decisions are impacting the story, so the smaller “soft events” should have eventual impact on the storyline. When you begin the mission and introduce the mission goals to the players through their Operations Sergeant (OS), make certain that the goals are actually achievable. When the mission is finished and the players' characters are reporting back to their OS, they will feel like the experience rewards they've earned are fair because each reward is associated with whether or not they achieved the mission objectives.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
In a weird sort of way, writing a mission for an RPG like Solar Echoes is similar to writing a movie script. You're the director and you have the plot and the lines. Your main actors are going to improv their own lines the entire time, so you'll need to adjust to them and have your secondary actors respond accordingly. That part is up to you, too, since you are acting out the parts of every single one of the secondary actors! Write a mission like a story that is going to happen whether the players are present or not, but indicate how the non-player characters (NPC's) in the story would react if someone stood in the way of their scripted goals. For added depth, some of the NPC's should have priorities that outweigh their larger objectives—for instance, an NPC working for a smuggling ring might have a personal debt he needs to pay off, so if offered money to betray the smuggling ring, he might be very willing to do so. Another smuggler might have been branded by the Chiraktis Empire as a servant, and his resentment for them might outweigh his fear of them. Such a character could become a useful asset for the Union Guard! Whatever the situation, the NPC's in your mission can shape the story almost as much as the players' characters (PC's), so your imagination is the limit. Just don't expect all to go as planned once the players enter the story—it really is impossible to consistently predict what they might do!
Monday, August 7, 2017
There are currently 15 official missions for Solar Echoes, and then there are several shorter missions included in some of the available supplements, like the Explorer's Guide to Samesh. But what if you want to run your very own campaign, with your own story? Even if you don't have time to work on an entire campaign—which can last months to years—you might want to write shorter missions for your players that occur between some of the official missions you're running. Whatever the situation, writing a mission involves an approach that might not initially seem intuitive. If you own a Mission Controller's Guide, there are a lot of tips detailing how to create your own missions and campaign. This week, I'm going to share some basics so that you can try your hand at it. And if you think you've really managed to put together a solid mission and are interested in getting it published, send me an email at corefunstudios @ gmail. com (ignore spaces) and I might consider it. I already have one outside writer working on a mission for Solar Echoes, but there's room for more!
Friday, August 4, 2017
Not all of the encounters between the races were hostile, however. Though the Humans claim that they discovered the Reln, the Reln insist they discovered the Humans. When they met, both began a cultural exchange of ideas and technologies, and it is likely that the two felt most at ease with each other because of their physical similarities. The Humans, however, still had to contend with their warlike Krissethi neighbors, and many say it was the Humans that decided to form the Interstellar Union (ISU) to try to form a lasting peace. Both the Reln and Humans put together a council and invited the other races to join. With promises of fair borders and fair trade, the other races—even the Krissethi and Chiraktis—joined the ISU and worked together to find ways to co-exist. The plant-like Erwani were glad to join the ISU so that the Omuls would be held accountable for their frequent raids on Erwani planets. The Chiraktis seemed to be the only race that was ready to violate ISU agreements, however, because the mandate of their Queen was to expand their kind. As a result, the ISU put forth restrictions upon their expansionist tendencies through a law known as the Non-Proliferation Addendum. Many believe the supposed compliance of the Chiraktis Empire was only due to the combined threat of all the other races.
The six races finally found a tentative peace and expanded trade, shared cultural ideas, and enjoyed a growing prosperity. During joint explorations of unknown space, the Archaeloids were discovered in the Zeta 1 quadrant. They were a peaceful, aquatic race that had not yet ventured out of their system, though they had also coincidentally attained light-speed travel when the other races had. The Archaeloids seemed quite caught off guard to learn of everyone else, and though they were kind and welcoming, the surge in their military production gave everyone pause. The Archaeloids joined the ISU and assured everyone that they desired peace, but also indicated that they thought it was foolish to assume the treaty would last forever, or that the seven races were the only intelligent life in the galaxy. How right they were…
Thursday, August 3, 2017
The reptilian Krissethi territory is located between Human and Chiraktis space, and the Krissethi were very aggressive when they realized they could be facing incursions from both sides. Though the Humans were not aggressive, they did fight back when attacked by the Krissethi, and fought with such strength that the Krissethi immediately considered them a potential threat. The Chiraktis, however, are blamed by some historians for inciting the warlike frenzy of the Krissethi, because they aggressively advanced the presence of their hive outward from their territory. Chiraktis were unyielding, and their steadfast resolve to expand their presence across the universe quickly became the primary concern of their immediate Krissethi neighbors. Many battles and even several full-scale wars were fought as the Krissethi pushed back and tried to stop the Chiraktis from taking hold of nearby planets and moons.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Coincidentally, the other alien races in the Solar Echoes universe also began to explore around their home planets at roughly the same time. Present-day historians have a theory about this, suggesting that it seems too coincidental that all the races claimed to have discovered faster-than-light (FTL) speed travel within around 100 years of each other. Some historians suggest that something might have subtly introduced or orchestrated the discovery of FTL around the same time to facilitate the races eventually meeting each other, but there is currently no evidence to support this theory beyond the similar time frame. Despite the lack of evidence, many do believe that there was some type of intervention from beyond--almost as if there was a larger, urgent purpose for the races to meet--and this notion has fueled peace efforts among the races. However, when the races did first discover each other, peace was not on everyone's mind...
Art by Jon Aguillon
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
The universe is a very big place, and it’s hard for us to conceive what it might be like to live in a future where faster-than-light speed travel is a common part of life. The Solar Echoes universe involves a very large section of the galaxy, but it is far from our current corner of the galaxy. If you’re unfamiliar with Solar Echoes history, the Humans in the universe are pioneers that left Earth long ago in a starship known as the Ark 3. They were intending to find a new planet for the Humans to inhabit, but after years in space, they unexpectedly encountered a wormhole that vaulted them into a new section of the universe. They discovered a habitable planet, very similar to Earth, and decided to settle there, naming it “New Terra.” The Humans established a colony with the spacefaring inhabitants of the Ark 3, and eventually began to venture into space to explore the surrounding area…
Monday, July 31, 2017
This weekend I received an email from a gaming review website that had expressed interest last spring in Solar Echoes. I'd sent them the tutorial, Operation: Flash Strike, and a digital copy of the Player's Guide. They just let me know that their review is online, and I think it's a well-written and fair review of the game. Special thanks go out to everyone over at ChristCenteredGamer.com for spending time to learn and play Solar Echoes, and for writing such a nice review! Here's the link to the review:
Thursday, July 27, 2017
Wednesday's question: Name the three biggest crime organizations in the Solar Echoes universe and what they specialize in.
Thursday: It's just about time to wrap up the quiz for the miniatures. The last question is easy: which miniature would you most like to have? Below is a link for you to take a look at each one. Please message me your answers. I'm excited to pick a winner tomorrow!
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Monday, July 24, 2017
This week, I'm going to be asking what you know about the Solar Echoes universe. There will a prize for the winner: a Solar Echoes 3D printed alien miniature (Strong and Flexible material) in the color of your choice, which will be mailed to your doorstep from Shapeways.com. The way this will work is as follows: I'll ask a question, and then you can send me a message with your answer, with as much detail as you'd like to include. The correct (and best) answer for the day will put your name on the list of finalists. If you should have the best answer for multiple days in a row, you increase your chances of winning by having your name included in the final draw that many times.
So, here is Monday's question:
Which alien race claims to have created the deadly extra-dimensional tear in space known as the Voidsea, and why?
Friday, July 21, 2017
So I've written a novel, the first part of a trilogy, that takes place in the Solar Echoes universe. I'm standing on the edge of decision, considering self-publishing but hoping for a publisher. I've been querying agents and some publishers that are open to direct submissions. So far, I have not had success. The more time I put into query letters and other submission requirements, the more I wonder if I should take the path of self-publishing, again. I'm holding off on self-publishing the novel, though, because I've already had years of experience with self-publishing and I'd like to see what a publisher could do differently than I can. Would a publisher increase my visibility and sales? Would a publisher connect me with more opportunities? Most likely, yes, so I am trying to land one. But, this process can take years, and one has to ask after going through the process for a while if it will ever result in anything. There is one last, important tip I'd like to give on this topic of self-publishing, though. Once you decide to self-publish your book, you can't go back—at least, not for that book. Publishers do not want to publish anything that has already been published before, especially something you've self-published. So, don't pursue the route of self-publishing unless you are absolutely convinced that traditional publishing is not going to work for you. That may be the case for me, but we'll see. Solar Echoes as a game addresses a very niche audience—the sci-fi role-playing crowd. Solar Echoes as a story, though, will hopefully attract a much bigger audience. A lot of us must really love space operas, because if we didn't, Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy wouldn't be such big hits. I'll keep you posted on how the process goes for my search, and let you know if I decide to give up on getting a publisher and instead decide to self-publish. From the many people I've talked with at conventions, though, a lot of people seem to be interested in a Solar Echoes novel—would you?
Thursday, July 20, 2017
So what can a self-published author do? Be aggressive and talk up your book in as many places as you can online, at conventions, among friends and colleagues, and any other social situation you can think of. Paying for a vendor table at a convention is sometimes expensive, and you'll have the added travel and hotel costs to deal with if the convention isn't local, but a presence at a convention goes a long way towards keeping your name viable in the community. Personal contact with an author is much more memorable than a picture of your book cover on twitter with a short advertising blurb. I'm not naturally a social person—and I'd guess a lot of authors are similarly reclusive introvert types that prefer to write all day without human interaction—but I've learned how to be outgoing, because it's an important part of sharing what you're passionate about. There's a reason that a lot of publishers want to know that you, the author, will be willing to attend book-signings: people are much more likely to consider reading your book when they can talk with you and sense your genuine passion and enthusiasm for the story you've written. Simply put, as a self-published author, you'll need to do a lot of the same things the publishers would do for you--or require of you--in their marketing strategies, but you'll have to foot the bill and the time for it all.
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
I'm talking about marketing. My naïve, 2012-self figured that putting up a website, putting my product on sale through a reputable digital storefront (RPGnow.com), and talking about it on social media would be what I needed to get the word out. Five years later, I have only 100 followers on my product's Facebook page, around 630 followers on Twitter, and my product is buried among the thousands of other sci-fi RPG's on sale at RPGnow.com. That's not to say that I'm not making sales—the last time I sent out an email notification of a new product, I had over 700 emails on my list of people that have purchased my products on RPGnow. Don't just take my example, though, there are plenty of self-published authors selling their books online, often through Amazon, and I typically see around 4 or 5 reviews total on a book that is ranked somewhere in the millions in the Amazon best-seller rankings. This can be true of books online sold through a reputable publisher, too. The difference, though, is that the self-published author is doing all of the marketing himself. On Twitter, I've followed a lot of authors, and I'm constantly seeing announcements and ads for their books. These authors are working hard, using social media to spread the word. Although I don't have actual statistical numbers on this, my guess is that a lot of these authors aren't investing much money, if any, into paid advertising. There is a line we all must face where you ask yourself how much more money are you willing to pump into a project that is seeing a limited return?
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Publishers can utilize their contacts and marketing savvy to really push a novel forward in ways that a self-published author is usually incapable of doing. However, the success of a novel is really hard to pin down to one thing. Even if it's truly great, it's empty idealism to think merit alone will generate a huge following. You need people to know about your book to appreciate it. I'll admit, I entered self-publishing as a bit of an idealist. I really believed in my product, Solar Echoes, and thought that it would sell itself. I still believe in it very strongly, and I've enjoyed a lot of positive response from those who have bought the books. But in the end, self-publishing sales statistics are as dismal as they are because anyone can do it, which means that you're very likely to quickly become lost in the crowd.
You have to start somewhere, and petitioning agents and publishers often takes years before seeing any results, if they happen at all. Self-publishing your own work does “get it out there,” and you won't be wasting time going through the process—you'll learn a lot. You'll also gain some visibility, and possibly generate a following. You might even be lucky enough for your work to go viral, and then you'll praise the virtues of self-publishing and thank yourself for never signing with a publisher. Yes, all this can happen, but understand that success—whether self-published or officially published—is like a random bolt of lightning. It's impossible to know when or if it will strike, and that lightning is just as likely to strike a published author as it is to strike a self-published one. If there was a way to guarantee success in this industry, everyone would be doing it. So the real question to ask yourself is not whether you'll have a better chance at success by working through a publisher or by being self-published, but instead, you should be asking yourself which one fits within your goals and resources the best. Getting a publisher requires a lot of time and patience, and there is no guarantee you'll ever get one. It could mean years wasted when people could have been enjoying your book, generating at least a small profit. Self-publishing is a better fit for those that don't want to wait—they know exactly what they want, have the time and money to invest in the process, and are prepared to push it for the long haul. Self-publishing means you have to do everything yourself, and some of you might prefer it that way. However, you will also have to reckon with situations that you may not be skilled or experienced enough in to make a difference...
Monday, July 17, 2017
I recently talked about seeking a publisher, and there are some distinct advantages to having one. However, there are some reasons you might want to self-publish instead. For one thing, publishers take a sizable cut of your profits. It used to be a simple 50/50 royalty split between you and the publisher (it generally still is in the music industry, at least), but these days, I've been seeing 60/40 and even 70/30 with literary publishers, leaving the author with a lot less than he or she was hoping for. Publishers do a lot of overhead work, though, printing the physical copies and working with distributors, handling inventory and shipping, dealing with logistics for e-books and online sales, etc. The downside to a lot of publishers, though, is that they may print up, say, 500 copies of your book, but if those books just sit on shelves and don't sell, the publisher won't do another print—and they'll own the rights to printing your books until your contract with them ends, which could be years. This means that if you wanted to print up a bunch of books and sell them yourself, you can't—the publisher owns the printing rights. Some of this is circumvented through the Print-On-Demand publishing model, which some publishers are using now. They print only the number of books they get orders for, including any you want for yourself (you literally have to buy your own books from them if you wanted to have them printed for convention sales or book signings.) If you decide to self-publish, you'll be faced with the same situations a publisher would face: use POD, or go to a printer and print a run of copies. If you print copies, it's more cost-effective to do larger numbers, though you'll be looking at hundreds or thousands of dollars. My first print run was 150 books, and that cost me close to $1500. Once you do this, you'll have lots of unused inventory sitting around until you sell it. You'll have to store it all somewhere where the books won't be damaged over time, you'll have to transport and mail them out yourself, and you won't immediately recoup your initial printing costs. Traditional publishing requires a lot of patience and time. Self-publishing requires a lot of patience, time, and your own money.
Friday, July 14, 2017
There were a lot of other cool things going on at the ShoreLeave convention that I missed, since I was busy running games all weekend in the game room. At the convention, a lot of sci-fi actors and actresses from various TV shows and movies were signing and having pictures taken with convention attendees. One of the guys that gamed with me Saturday evening stopped by on Sunday to tell me about a cool experience he'd had. He showed me a sculpture he had crafted himself--years ago in 9th grade--of the Klingon, Lieutenant Worf, from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He had built it himself with plaster and painted it to look like Worf. He brought it to the convention where the actor, Michael Dorn, was signing autographs, and he signed the sculpture of his Star Trek character. How cool is that? What a great experience!
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Meanwhile, two of the gang escaped in their cars while the Chiraktis and the Reln hopped into the car and sped after them. The team's Omul had spotted their target—a Reln arms dealer—hiding in the warehouse office, and she bluffed from the door about how he was surrounded. She stole over to the fallen Krissethi and healed him back to critically wounded, and the Krissethi blind-fired his pistol through the office window into the room to scare the Reln inside into submission. When the two finally broke into the office to find the unarmed Reln, he realized too late that the Krissethi had been faking his condition and that he was almost at death's door. Interrogations ensued, and the two finally broke the Reln's resistance. Meanwhile, the other half of the team took out one of the gang members in the car chase by using a vehicle-mounted rotary cannon to slow it down, finally finishing off the driver with a drive-by shot from a handgun. Unfortunately, though, the gang member in the other car dropped magnetic caltrops which worked their destruction enough on the team's anti-grav system to finally bring their car crashing down into the pavement. Their mission was a partial success and everyone survived, though barely!
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
A new group of players wanted to try Solar Echoes, so I prepared the demo, Operation: Flashstrike. The group tried to approach the warehouse stealthily, but the patrolling security drone eventually noticed the Reln in the group when he failed his stealth check. The robot gave him a verbal warning, and while he was retreating the rest of the group tried to distract the robot and then sneak past it. Unfortunately, the distraction didn't work and the robot resumed its patrol, spotting the group of characters hiding behind a crate. Combat began, and the robot was overwhelmed by the team's focused fire. The team did not have a hacker among them to crack electronic security, so three of them opted to enter the aluminum air ducts. It wasn't long before one of them failed a stealth check, and the gang below decided to fire at the air ducts for target practice. When the characters and tear gas grenades began jumping out of the air ducts, the gang ran for their cars, only to be surprised by the team's Chiraktis dropping down from above, right onto their car. The Krissethi character had already taken damage from failing his Athletics check when dropping down from the air duct, and was then unfortunately hit by a gangster with his automatic rifle. The Krissethi went down, surviving only because he stabilized himself with his hero point—he was no longer bleeding out, but still unconscious...
Tuesday, July 11, 2017
You know you're at a science-fiction convention when you walk up to the hotel and see a Cylon Raider sitting out front! I love these sci-fi cons, and someday I'd like to experience all the events they have to offer. But, back to our program: Our first Solar Echoes team finally decided to hire some Krissethi NPC hunters as guides into the forests of Sa'mesh, because they learned something about the coordinates they had for the location of the mysterious starship—the area was the hunting ground of an alien lifeform called a Green Jegu. If the rumors were correct, this giant reptilian creature was going to be far more than they could handle. Half of the group was convinced they could kill it, while the others—those that had done a little research and talked to a few locals—they believed their weapons would do little more than irritate the creature. The team ventured into the forest and fought off a variety of local denizens, including the spiny, whiptailed “Snapwhippers” and the blood-sucking, poisonous Mokaru. A few of them also encountered an adorable, furry little creature waddling around, and one of the characters failed her Discern Motive check against it, becoming convinced that it was someone's lost pet. She role-played the situation well and, long story short, let's just say that the fact that she had to leave the game for another convention event reflected why her character was no longer with the team. Note to all interstellar explorers: avoid cute fuzzy creatures on Sa'mesh!
Monday, July 10, 2017
This last weekend at the Shoreleave convention was a lot of fun, and I logged over 20 hours of Solar Echoes games! It was really great seeing some returning players from last year, and it was also a lot of fun meeting new players. The games were very dynamic and full of personality, and the first game I ran on Saturday was a large team of 8 players! It was a very interesting mix of alien races, too, including representatives from every race except the Krissethi. Ironically, they discovered that the mission I was running--the brand-new Operation: Void Hunter—takes place on a Krissethi planet, Sa'mesh. The mission includes a lot of role-playing, gambling opportunities, shopping, NPC interaction and investigation. The group spent about 3 hours on those activities alone, trying out the various gambling games to earn (and lose) some money, including a dice game I invented that involved sets of colored dice—the Krissethi NPC's didn't seem to care that the colorblind Reln and Omul races couldn't play their game. Some characters decided to visit a weapon-smith who was able to combine features of weapons. Players were borrowing money from each other to try to afford some of the options available, and then when it came time to venture into the deadly forests of planet Sa'mesh for their mission, they could barely afford to hire hunter guides to lead the way to their destination.
Friday, July 7, 2017
Thursday, July 6, 2017
The next portion of your query letter is about you. What is your background? Have you won any writing contests? Have you ever had anything published? What makes you qualified to write a book like this? If you've written a picture book for children, then you'll want to share supporting evidence--maybe you have kids of your own, you teach children, or you spend a lot of time with your niece or nephew. This section is a chance for the agent to get to know you a little and to see what motivated you to write your book. Only include relevant information, though--if you're a molecular biologist and are trying to sell yourself as a children's book writer, don't start listing your credentials in the scientific community.
After you've written your bio paragraph, you need to close with information about the agency's submission requirements, saying something like, “I have included a detailed synopsis and the first 30 pages of my novel. I would be happy to send my full manuscript if you are interested. Thanks for your consideration.” Then, make sure you follow ALL the instructions indicated by the agent or agency about the materials they want from you. Sometimes they are also extremely specific about the format your manuscript sample should be in: Times New Roman, 12 pt., double spaced, headers with your book title/author name/page number, 1-inch margins, etc. Each agency (and agent!) is different, so submitting to multiple agencies is a long haul and a lot of work.
Don't be discouraged by a rejection (some don't even bother to send you that, they just leave you hanging forever), and don't get over-excited if they request a “full” (the entire manuscript.) Even if they want a “full,” they still have to like the entire thing, and then they'll proceed to how they want you to edit and change things. After that, the agent has to start pitching your story to publishers, and it's basically the same process all over again. Finding a publisher can be difficult, and it's easy to see why so many people have chosen to self-publish. Self-publishing, though, is another topic for another day...if you'd like me to pursue that topic next week, let me know!
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
The query letter. This letter is your pitch, and it's literally your only chance with an agent. Once they've read it and decided you're "not the right fit," it's over. Don't ever write that agent again, unless it's for a completely different book. They receive thousands of submissions that they have to read through, so if you bug them at all, you're only hurting yourself; agents talk, and you don't want your name floating around on a blacklist. Some agencies don't even want you trying again with another one of their agents--a denial from one is a denial from the entire agency. Accept rejection, and move on. You may think your novel is the next "Harry Potter," but no amount of your insistent personal conviction is going to change the mind of an agent once they've decided against your book. So how do you write your query letter? Very carefully. There is no shortage of advice online about how to write a query letter, but it's safe to say that there are a few basics you'll need to include. First, you'll need an introduction. I've seen it done in a number of ways. Some people open with a single sentence summary of their book. That hook is either going to grab the agent and cause them to read further, or they'll trash it immediately if it's not right for them. Another way of opening is to give them some up-front info about your book--this info, if not in your intro, needs to be somewhere in the letter. Name the title of your book, the word count, the genre, and the target audience. Example; "I'm excited to share BUCKET OF ANGRY SNAILS, a 93,589 word fantasy novel for young adults." After your intro, you need a one-paragraph summary of your novel. This summary should read like the back cover of a book--it doesn't tell you every plot point, but it lets you know what the story is about and poses some intriguing questions the story will answer.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
The process of submitting to an agent would be an easy one if it was a standardized process; you could write one letter, then copy/paste it to an email and send it to every agent interested in your genre. Unfortunately, though, that is not the case, and I think this is by design to discourage the number of submissions. Each and every agent out there is particular in his or her preferences, and if you don't bother to find their profiles and read, you may be discarded before ever being considered, simply because you didn't follow instructions or pay attention. The most important thing to look for first is an agency that represents your genre--some agencies focus on a very narrow selection of genres, so submitting something in a genre they have no interest in is going to end up in the trash. Do your research! Even though I quickly rule out anyone that doesn't list sci-fi, I also need to try to figure what type of sci-fi a particular agent likes. Sometimes they'll be helpful and it will be indicated in their bio--I just read one that said “soft sci-fi and space operas only, no hard sci-fi!” But most of the time, you'll need to do a little detective work, and read beyond the agent's profile on the agency website. Do they have a blog? Are they active on Twitter or Facebook? Did the agent list some favorite sci-fi books, or can you find what type of sci-fi books that agent has represented before? Take note of these things, because this info will help when you write your query letter...
Monday, July 3, 2017
I've written a sci-fi novel based on the Solar Echoes universe, so now I'm looking for possible representation. I decided to try to find a publisher instead of self-publishing through Corefun Studios because I'm hoping to have a wider reach than I'd be able to achieve on my own. Statistics show that self-published books tend to reach only a couple hundred people. Publishers have established connections and marketing resources that I don't, and since my only means of spreading the word has been through social media and convention attendance, it is true that I've not been able to reach more than several hundred people. However, finding a publisher is not easy--very few publishers even allow for a direct approach these days. Most publishers work through agents, and because agents now have to sift through piles of submissions to find a solid prospect, appealing to an agent is even more challenging. What does it take to find an agent, send a submission, and eventually get published? It's a long series of steps. I'm not there yet, but since I have some experience at it, I'll share a few details of the process in case you've been hoping to get published, too.
Friday, June 30, 2017
This week I downloaded “Ancient Amuletor” for the Sony PSVR. Before I share my impressions, I need to mention that I absolutely hate tower-defense games. Why did I buy Ancient Amuletor, then, you might ask—isn't it a VR tower defense game? Yes, it is, but after trying the demo, I was sold. There is something extremely fun about hopping around to different platforms as 1 of 4 different characters you play to take out the advancing enemy. You can play an archer, a gunner (with 2 hand-held shotguns), a mage, and a puppeteer. The archer's bow mechanic feels perfect, and you can totally imagine yourself as Legolas or Robin Hood, firing off arrows as fast as you can make the motion with the two move controllers. The gunner is also tons of fun, complete with a flipping motion to reload shells. The puppeteer is really unique—you throw out an avatar onto the ground with a giant axe in one hand and a giant hammer in the other, and then the swinging and slamming motions of your own arms are mimicked by your avatar as he slices and pounds nearby advancing enemies. The mage is very cool—you generate magical orbs with your spellbook (and can line up to 3 in the air) and then grab them with your wand. The mage is the most difficult to use, though, because you then have to hurl the orbs and getting them to land where you want them requires a lot of practice and skill. The orbs explode with area effect, though, so you can potentially take out a couple bad guys at once.
In addition to the normal attacks, each character charges up a special after a certain number of kills: the archer has a spread-fire chain that can hit up to 10 enemies, the gunner has a burst of unlimited ammo and quicker fire for a time, the mage can throw down a freezing blast, and the puppeteer's avatar can do a whirlwind spinning attack against all within his reach. You can switch between any character at any time during the game. There are also three pick-ups in the game: Slow, Attack, and Death. In addition to this, several of the levels have traps—if you hit them, the trap will initiate for a short time. For instance, I shot a target with my arrow at the perfect time, and that triggered a wooden contraption holding an axe that gave a quick burst of axe hacking across the path of the enemy, cutting the enemies there to pieces. Did I mention that there is up to 3-player multiplayer, too? I played it with a couple people already and it's fun bouncing around the platforms to cover all areas, teaming up against the giant boss creatures or hopping to an uncovered area where the enemies have advanced too far.
The enemies are varied enough, too. There are basic skeleton/mummy types that slowly advance and attack the crystals you're defending with melee attacks. There are archers that advance until they are in range and then start attacking the crystals with their arrows. There are bombers—big, slow guys carrying gigantic bombs that they bring right up to the crystals and then drop, blowing themselves up. There are centurions that have giant shields which they use to block your attacks as they advance. There are dark sorcerers that conjure up portals to summon more enemies. And then there are mages—they conjure up a spell that locks one of your available pedestal locations, preventing you from warping to it. If you happen to be standing on the one the mage locks, you can't leave it! There are also two boss fights, which involve a variety of attacks you must defend against either by shooting or literally dodging your body out of the way, all while trying to slowly bring down the giant boss's health.
My only disappointment with the game is that there are currently only 4 levels, but each level has 3 levels of difficulty (and Hard is HARD!) If you beat hard mode, the character you beat it with unlocks a special version of his or her weapon—it's only cosmetic, but it sure looks cool and gives silent bragging rights in multiplayer (you can't talk in multiplayer.) Despite only 4 levels, though, there are already spots in the menu that are locked but say “coming soon,” so I'm excited for the release of whatever DLC the developers have planned. They also have two locked/coming-soon spots for two more characters. I can't wait to see what they come up with next! (Update: just read that the developer is planning new bosses as well, in addition to the new levels and characters. They are also saying there will be “new game modes in later updates, which are not limited to just tower defense.”)
If you're looking for a serious, realistic, immersive VR game, maybe Farpoint or Star Trek Bridge Crew is the game for you. Ancient Amuletor doesn't pretend to be very realistic, as it has a cartoonish, arcade feel to it. The graphics are really solid, colorful, and consistent, including full-body avatars that you inhabit for each character. In my opinion, this style totally fits with the game and I love playing the different characters, hopping around between platforms to dispatch my enemies as efficiently as possible, flinging arrows or blasting away with the shotgun like I was in an action movie (I still need to practice that mage more—he feels so powerful when I can land my throws right!) The game is really fun, and I keep going back to play it. Games like this make me believe that VR won't just be an occasional experience. I want to beat every level on hard mode, not because I care too much about the cosmetic weapon unlocks, but because getting 3 stars in hard mode is a very fun mental and physical workout that makes me feel like I'm in an action movie!
Thursday, June 29, 2017
Another new approach I'll be taking with future missions is based on some of the things I decided to include in Void Hunter. Some of the earlier missions involved moving from event 1 to 2 to 3 without downtime for the characters. In Void Hunter, I decided to "flesh out" a location or two with things players can either get involved with or just pass by if they're in a hurry. For instance, there is a bar/lounge area in the Void Hunter mission, and if characters want to spend time investigating, they'll find that some of the NPC's are more interested in gambling with them than answering questions. If the characters play a few games and develop a social relationship with some of the NPC's, they might open up to them a little and share some info. There are also a few places to shop, and possibly improve weapons in ways that aren't normally available. Yet there are still plenty of combat situations in the mission, too. I'm trying to accommodate all play styles in each mission now, and will leave it more up to the MC to decide what he is going to emphasize for his group of players.
Wednesday, June 28, 2017
With the latest mission, Operation: Void Hunter, I'm trying a few new things. The biggest difference between Void Hunter and previous missions is that this mission is the beginning of a larger story arc. It can still be played as a stand-alone mission--nothing is left unresolved at the end. However, there is a special section at the end for the MC that gives details about how the ending can play into a future story line. I haven't written the next mission yet, and it will probably be a couple months before I get to it, but if your players are the type that are interested in a larger campaign, then playing a few beginning level missions will level them up and prepare them for Void Hunter, a level 3 mission. By level 3, players will hopefully have the talents, skills, and equipment necessary to take on this challenging experience.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Earlier this year, I met for a few weekends to run Solar Echoes with a group that really wasn't interested in combat. I decided to use the Tarball Run mission, which involves a complex investigation to locate a target among a wide variety of starship racing teams. All the characters had to go on was a name and the fact that the racer had won the previous race. Nobody knew what he looked like, and no one was even certain what alien race he was. The mission was very involved and spanned a couple game sessions, but this group of players enjoyed the story and character interaction--they almost went out of their way to avoid combat! Knowing the type of mission a group will enjoy most is key to your players having a great time. As a mission-writer for Solar Echoes, though, I need to consider all this so that I can hopefully create something that is fun for everybody!
Monday, June 26, 2017
The new Solar Echoes mission, Operation: Void Runner, released on RPGnow.com this weekend, and I've been looking back, thinking about the kind of game it is. A variety of RPG play styles exist among gaming groups, and from all the games I've run as a GM for so many different types of people, I've found that it's necessary to adjust for each group. At conventions, I need to pick the mission that best fits the group I'm gaming with, and this often involves a little guess work and some intuitive personality analysis. The biggest hint for me is watching people go through the process of building their characters together. Sometimes a new group of players just wants to jump in and start the game, so pre-made characters are quickly selected. This tells me that I need to run a mission that is faster moving with lots of action scenarios. The free demo, Operation: Flash Strike, is a great mission to run with players like this. However, when players take the time to carefully consider and build their characters, working together to make sure all skills are covered across the group, it becomes clear that I have a group that likes to plan every detail. A tactical mission is a good choice for a group like this, but I need to look deeper: some players are much more into role-playing than combat. If the players choose personalities and physiques for their characters that emphasize a theme or story, and if they choose talents that aren't combat-oriented, then I need to run a mission that focuses more on character encounters, dialogue, and intrigue.
Friday, June 23, 2017
The mission is on schedule for a Saturday morning release. What is included in Operation: Void Hunter? You'll find fully detailed NPC hunters in addition to other NPC's you can interact with, including a couple that might be useful resources in future missions. Mechanics are included for several weapon options, there are menus with exotic food and drinks, and there is even a small shop with some unusual, modified weapons. There are full colored maps and map icons for all of the alien lifeforms, including the new and very dangerous Mokaru, illustrated by John Fell. Full-color art and great art design is peppered throughout the mission to enhance the experience, and to top it all off, the storyline of Operation: Void Hunter is the beginning of a larger story arc that will span across future missions. It can be played and completed as a separate mission, or played as part of a larger campaign. I hope you like what I've put together and enjoy the characters, battles, story, and everything else included in Operation: Void Hunter. Have fun!
Thursday, June 22, 2017
Players will have to make a lot of decisions in their investigation. After landing at a Hunter refuge a few hours from the coordinates of the Voidrunner landing, they may want to learn from the locals about the planet before plunging into the hostile wilderness. There are even NPC hunters that might be willing to join the team and guide them--for a fee. Gathering information will be easy with some NPC's, but others might require more from the characters. Playing a few gambling games, buying some drinks, or stroking a few egos might yield useful intel. Once they are ready to face the wilds, though, players will be up against the natural world of Sa'mesh. Survival will often depend on some of the choices they make more than the firearms they carry.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Why are the players' characters being sent to Sa'mesh? The Union Guard is acting on a tip that an unregistered Voidrunner starship was spotted landing somewhere in the forests of Sa'mesh. Voidrunners are unique Reln starships that can enter--and return from--the deadly dimensional rift in space known as the Voidsea. No other race has managed to survive the Voidsea, but the Reln have somehow figured it out, and have been collecting artifacts from an advanced alien civilization that was obliterated when the Voidsea was formed. These mysterious and powerful artifacts are classified secrets by the Reln government, but on rare occasions, smugglers and spies have managed to bring some of these artifacts to the black market. The unregistered Voidrunner landing on Sa'mesh is highly suspicious, so the Union Guard is sending you and your team to investigate and to stop any illegal activities.
Tuesday, June 20, 2017
This mission takes place on the Krissethi planet, Sa'mesh. You may recall that earlier in the year, I released the "Explorer's Guide to Sa'mesh," which details the planet and culture, including a few NPC's, two new weapons, the details of local cuisine and a guild, plus a mission involving a new lifeform, the Green Jegu. The Explorer's Guide is actually a helpful supplement for fleshing out the world of Sa'mesh, and can be used as a great companion guide for creative GM's that want to detail the experience as much as possible. However, you don't need the Explorer's Guide to fully enjoy the Void Hunter mission. I wanted players to be able to visit Sa'mesh at earlier levels (the mission in the Explorer's Guide is level 8), so I designed the Void Hunter mission for characters of level 3-4. Players beware: though the Krissethi planet is officially labeled a wildlife preserve, it is actually a commercialized hunting ground full of deadly lifeforms. Do you think you can survive the wilds of Sa'mesh?
Monday, June 19, 2017
I am nearing completion of this exciting new mission for Solar Echoes, and hope to have it ready to purchase by Saturday this weekend. During the spring of 2017, I worked hard on the demo, "Operation: Flash Strike," and developed a lot of new techniques and standards for missions. The Void Hunter mission is looking really good, and is packed full of content, including lots of colorful artwork. I've added a lot of role-playing content to the mission as well, detailing a number of NPC's the characters can interact with. There are also some options included that are derived from opportunities detailed in the Mission Controllers Guide, so players will have a chance to try a few creative modifications. Tomorrow, I'll share a little about the mission setting...
Friday, June 16, 2017
I'm not a fan of Star Trek, but the Star Trek: Bridge Crew game had me really interested because it involves players working together to operate a starship (similar to the starship game system in Solar Echoes.) I bought the game and went through the training tutorial. It was very impressive: I could design my character's appearance a little and then look down at myself and see my hands, arms, and body in VR. After learning the different roles (Captain, Helm, Tactical, and Engineer) I tried the game with some AI-controlled crew. It was very impressive, but the true fun started when I tried it online with real people. It was like we were all in the same room together, talking, laughing, waving, and blowing up angry Klingons as we worked together as a team, each of us with our own crucial contributions toward the operation of the ship. This game shows me that the developers got it--they understood that designing a game for VR is largely about creating a gaming experience from a perspective that puts you into the character's shoes and allows you to actually physically do the things that character does. One of the coolest things about VR are my memories of playing the game: I have to remind myself that it wasn't actually reality, but my memories feel like I was really there!