Monday, July 30, 2012

Hero Games Introductions: Paul

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

This week, we'll talk to... Paul! A stocky, broad shouldered Hispanic guy comes in, smiling and waving to a non-existent studio audience. He pretends to shield his eyes from bright studio lights (though his lime green sport glasses are bright enough), scan the 'crowd,' recognize someone with a big smile, and point them out before finally joining us in the overstuffed interview chairs. The Hero Games tee shirt from the company is put on over top of the collared golf shirt he wears underneath.

JACE: Good morning, Paul. You seem to be in good spirits today.

PAUL: Every chance I get! He shrugs. I try to focus on the happy side of life. So, what did you want to talk about?

JACE: Laughs. Well, I thought we could talk about your role as a Beta tester, and your experience in the game, and maybe a little bit about you. Tell us about Hero Games.

PAUL: Okay. Well, you have this tower thing, with a helmet-gizmo attached to it. I think they call it a Neural Inter-something. Anyways, you put on the headset, and your whole body starts feeling numb. Oh, and everything is dark. Then all of a sudden you're floating kind of in space, and there's a start button that you can reach out and click, then you're in the game. You start by making a hero character, and then you become the hero and go out and fight crime.

JACE: That sounds intriguing. So, what sort of hero did you make?

PAUL: Oh, mine is named The Peace Keeper. He's got all this body armor, and he uses a quarterstaff that shrinks down when I'm not using it. When I level up some more, I plan to get a Bolo Gun.

JACE: I couldn't help but notice that you switched pronouns, there, Paul. You went from talking about 'him' to yourself. 

PAUL: He grins sheepishly. Yeah, well, that's kind of the way it happens in the game, you really do become the hero. It feels so real. Once I finished creating the character and got into the armor myself, it was me out there fighting crime. It isn't like you're just pushing buttons and watching a screen; you're really out there- or, in there, or whatever, I am the Peace Keeper. It's great.

JACE: So, Paul, there may be some of our audience that don't know what a Beta tester is. Could you explain that for us?

PAUL: Sure. When a company is making a video game, they have to write all the programming, and then part of the programmers' job is to test it. Only they can't see all the problems, cause they're too close, so they do a Beta Trial. They invite a small group of people to play the game and see if they can find mistakes, or problems. We can make suggestions, and we can even try to break the game. I know one guy that always tries to find the highest part of the game he can and jump off, just to see how the game handles it.

JACE: I see. Have you tried that in Hero Games?

PAUL: He shakes his head vigorously. Not me; not in Hero Games. It's too real. I'd feel like I was really jumping off a building. Some of the heroes can fly, though, so maybe they've tried it. But you do some exploring, you try to go into places of the game environment that the designers don't expect you to go. I'll be honest, I've mostly been having fun just playing the game. The world's pretty complete, though. My buddy Blue Bow has been following the NPCs trying to figure out the patterns. He says they're more complicated than any game he's seen yet.

Images thanks to

PAUL: Oh, sorry. NPCs are Non-Player Characters. They're just fake people run by the game to help fill up the world the game is in. 

JACE: Well, Paul, you've told us a fair bit about the game, but what about you? Who is the 'man behind the Peace Keeper'?

PAUL:  His grin expands to cover half his face. Aw, there's nothing interesting about me. I'm just a guy.

JACE: I don't believe that for a moment. What's your family like? What do you do for fun?

PAUL: Not much family, really. Just my mom and me. Mom doesn't want me to work so I can concentrate on school. She wants me to get into a good college. She says she's supporting me now so I can support her later. He laughs. She says when I turn 27 she's going to retire, so I'd better be ready to take care of her. For fun, right now, I mostly just play Hero Games. It gets pretty addicting. I'm in there most of the time.

JACE: Offers Paul his hand to shake. Well, Paul, it's been a pleasure having you stop by. I wish you great success in the future. Before you go, though, I have a special announcement to our audience:

The Beta tester that gets the most attention for his interview will receive a special in-game reward! So, tell all of your friends to come check out your interview, and comment, Like, +1, etc so you can get that special in-game prize. Also, the lucky Beta tester will choose one of their supporters at random for a cameo appearance in Hero Games!

PAUL: You got it! He gets up and again waves to the imaginary crowd, his grin as big as his heart. 

Hero Games Introductions:
Nick "Virgil Ante"
Erin "Vanessa Pyre" Moore

Monday, July 23, 2012

Hero Games Introductions: Nick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JACE: Sounds like you're trying to be his hero.
Images thanks to
NICK: Nah, I just make sure he doesn't starve or anything, you know? I mean, it's the least I can do, after... everything.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 16, 2012

Children Make Great Villians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 9, 2012


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

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

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

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

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