Tales From The Loop #1

Ran my first session of TftL tonight.

It was a mini intro scenario to populate the kids lives. There were two kids in this starter adventure – they were 13 year old twins. One chose Weirdo, (Kennet) the other Jock (Olaf). Kennet’s special item is his Walkman, Olafs is his BMX.

We learned their mum (Camille) is considered hot, their sister (Astrid) is a pain, her boyfriend is ok. There’s a dumb guy in their class Rurik who they can’t rely on to make excuses for them, there’s a 3-kid rival gang. We learned their Dad left their mum and moved away with his girlfriend. They haven’t seen him in two years.
I discovered I want a lot more detail on the towns. Even just maps. We based them in Stenhamra just because we couldn’t reconcile how to get them to school any other way.

PLOT BELOW (spoilers)

Continue reading “Tales From The Loop #1”

Current work…writing scripts

For the last few months, on top of travelling and attending a bazillion courses, I’ve been writing.

I’ve written five short scripts in the world of THE 23RD LETTER. I’ve written two more in the world of STATUS: REFUGEE. I’ve written one horror script. And I’m looking at writing some scripts based on FRONTIER and QABAL very soon. And there’s one very special property that I would love to pitch to the BBC…

Two of my scripts are going into production in 2017 and I’ll be doing a “mobile phone” shoot of one of my scripts probably over the upcoming holidays.

So, all change.

Where and back again…

It’s been a while since I updated anything here. Partially because of “situation” but also partly because the blog got infected with some malware (the curse of WordPress) and I needed to shut it down. But it’s back now and I’m going to update it a bit more.

Lategaming started out as a game journal with a bit of design and ideas and reviews thrown in. It grew into way more than that and the future holds even more.

I’m currently studying Performing Arts full time in my home town of Lisburn. Over the last 18 months, I’ve attended courses in Photovoltaic Solar Panel Installation and Maintenance (qualified top of my class), Woodworking, VHF Radio operation (qualified), Day Skipper (Tidal) (qualified), Creative Writing, Acting and I’ve been to Gibraltar, Spain, Portugal, the US, Mexico, Cuba, Croatia and sailed a bit of Ireland and Scotland.

I’ve discovered that I don’t suck at acting and I really don’t suck at singing. I was always a good wordsmith but I’ve had that confirmed.

I’ve found myself out the other end of a toxic relationship, at the “stupid idiot” end of breaking someones heart, at the “fuck it, I have to be alive to survive” end of 2015 and my resolution to say yes to new adventure in 2016. 2017 will be a new dawn with at least two active productions of scripts I have written.

I’ll tell you all about my next writing adventures shortly.

So, if you’re still reading this after all of these years, say Hi. I’d love to keep in touch.

The One Ring

I was really surprised to see this arrive: The One Ring

This is the latest game based around The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The art is simply amazing and the only reservation I have is around the binding, which may be fine but, equally, might be a pain in the butt for actual play. And, to be fair, some sort of GM screen would have been great. All in all, Cubicle 7 have knocked this one out of the park: again.

It is September in the Year of Our Lord, Twelve Hundred and Nineteen

Having met The Greek, Paul Akritas, at the agreed location in the city of Praha, Tangui ex Bonisagus and his loyal servant, Godfroi, start out on their journey towards Budapest. They are joined on the road by a Redcap named Jacques who hails from the Languedoc of France. While these are not strictly countrymen, there is enough commonality between the two Magi to ensure a fast companionship on the road. The Greek, however, remains suspicious.

The first day is not uneventful. Godfroi spots two unmounted figures shadowing the group in the forest as they approach the Brod townlands and the Greek confronts two horsemen who seem to be catching up. It is then they realise the enormity of their journey as none of them have but a smattering of the rough Slavic tongues of the region. Their own communication is difficult – a pidgin made of Bretonian, French, Latin and German. The horsemen jabber their excuses and ride ahead. The unmounted figures have vanished into the murk of the woods.

Two hours later, the four arrive, their horses foot-dragging exhausted, in the village of Brod. The locals are perplexed at their visitors but Jacques convinces them they mean no harm and they are led to a grain store, dry and warm.

Early next morning they are woken with the smell of cooked edges and rye-oat biscuits fried in suet, washed down with a weak beer. And the journey starts again, next stop Brno!

Games Development Seminar – Belfast, 14th Sept

Last chance to register for a games technology development seminar here in Belfast.

Wed, 14 September from 10:00 to 12:00 at Radisson Blu, Gasworks, Belfast

The speaker is Paul Durrant, Abertay University’s Director of Business Development. He has been instrumental in developing a range of projects to support digital media IP generation, business start-up, incubation, and skills development particularly in the video games area. He developed Dare to be Digital and Dare ProtoPlay to become significant international events including a partnership with BAFTA to recognise talented young developers and the development of the Channel 4 Crunchtime TV series. He also raised £2m to establish a prototype fund for small games developers and has recently launched a partnership with the Technology Strategy Board to fund novel games applications.

In this seminar, Paul will describe the Scottish experience in digital content, the contribution from Abertay and the funding opportunities available through Abertay which are available to companies in Northern Ireland. In particular, he will describe the Abertay University Prototype Fund (http://prototypefund.abertay.ac.uk/) and the Future Games Contest ( https://ktn.innovateuk.org/web/future-games-contest )

And the result is…

The answer to my last message was a resounding “Ars Magica”.

I’m happy about this because I had some of my best fun with Ars Magica back in the 90s. The campaign of Y Draig Goch, a Covenant in the Stonehenge Tribunal, dominated by the Tremere magus, Callistratus, and a rag-tag group of junior Magi, Consors and surly Grogs. The main sourcebook I used for this was Pendragon “Beyond The Wall”.

Notable Characters:
Stefan Barbarossa, Bjornaer Magus
Sheridan of the Imposing Beard and Piercing Stare, Grog Sergeant
Randle – “I’m just a cook”

But we’re starting a new game. I still like the idea of being ‘hunted’ so that will be a theme as the players want to play in the Transylvania Tribunal, there are some leads already. There’s really no comparison between Wales and Transylvania. Luckily I have a few more books on Transylvania.

Yes, they’re for “Vampire: The Dark Ages” but what would Transylvania be without some sort of concession to vampires? And it seems to be the only Mythic Europe tribunal that hasn’t been covered by some sort of sourcebook.

Email sent to gaming group

The plan is to have a Plan B game to turn to.

I’m happy to run one though you’d have to choose between:

  1. Ars Magica (campaigns over years, trouple play, multiple characters – what’s not to like?)
  2. Smallville (I’d love to try this out with the Batman legend or maybe
  3. Traveller (No ideas here but sure I could think of something)

I might be convinced to run something like Dr Who again or maybe GODLIKE.

Game Prototype development quote needed

I’m looking for a prototype of a RTS game on iOS developed. Just a single level, basic graphics. 2D sprites on 3D isometric plane.

Happy for it to be done in Unity and/or another rapid development environment. Would be nice for combat (ranged and melee) and some pathfinding for units.

Can be SP, MP or 0P. For the prototype, I’m not fussy. It’s not necessary to have full functions.

Email would be lovely but you can also tweet me.

God Willt

Another book arrived in the post that I’d forgotten about. Deus Vult by Mongoose Publishing is essentially playing the bad guys from The Da Vinci Code but back in the Middle Ages. It’s like Ars Magica re-told from the point of view of the Church.

It uses a variant of BRP which will please some but not all. I’ve certainly had a lot of experience with people heavily into BRP – most notably a guy called Neil who maximised the experience point system of the original RuneQuest II by carrying one of every desirable weapon for a battle and swapping as soon as he got an XP checkbox.

I’m enjoying reading it – mostly because it’s a dead tree edition and a lot easier to read than the eBook versions of Clockwork and Chivalry and The One Ring which I received earlier this week.

New Haul: from Cromwell to Cthulhu via Mirkwood

Today I got a new haul of stuff. Some of these were PDF bundles so at some point the dead tree version of the book will arrive in the post.

These are:

Indies on the Mac

From the Oddlabs blog:

Many game developers, indie or not, view the Mac as a freak that no one cares for or wants to be associated with. They look at statistics that show only 5% of desktop machines are Macs and say: “Why waste a lot of time and money for only 5% of the market?”
Consider this:

  • Out of the several hundred thousand downloads of Tribal Trouble. the Mac is responsible for 23%!
  • Out of all sales of Tribal Trouble, the Mac is responsible for 47%!

Not bad for 5% of the market.. And we haven’t even done any paid advertising that has been directed solely at Mac users.

What this shows is that not only are the Mac users easier to reach, they also convert at a much higher rate.

This is not a secret. Wil Shipley talked about this in 2005. Developing for a platform where the users appreciate design and good software will reap dividend (if your product doesn’t suck).

This is why I question people who make silly decisions. Like not to support the Mac when porting software or deciding to go Android-first when developing for mobile platforms. Go where the money is – where the money truly is.

And yes, it’s not an easy ride. As I said, your product has to not suck. And if you’re entering a crowded market (like games on the App Store), you may have to work a little harder to get noticed but these people do not mind paying money for quality software. That has to count for something.

Although they are developed in software, games are not software

The title of this post is from this article: You Need $100,000.

Users relate to them differently. Immersion matters. Balance matters. Drawing people into the world of the game in a way that doesn’t break their attention every few seconds matters. Any successful game weaves a web of illusion around the player to engage them at more than just a rational level, and so they are more than the sum of their parts.

This applies just as much to tabletop RPG design. They are made of words and pictures but they are not words and pictures.

It’s the difference between a well-made FPS and a poor FPS. The former is addictive, the WASD and mouse look are intuitive and it becomes part of you. You don’t have to think about it. In contrast a poorly made FPS feels like you’re fighting the system. It’s like lag in a multiplayer system – it just becomes an exercise in frustration.

Many RTS games are about whether the user interface is tolerable enough for you to learn. The control of subunits is left to grouping strategies activated through arbitrary keyboard commands. We learn the controls but we’re not learning tactics.

Skirmish MP

Following on from my last post, I would posit that there is something missing from MP RTS (Multi Player Real Time Strategy) games and that would be the lack of a feeling that success has an impact.

Left 4 Dead is my favourite FPS game because it encourages teamwork between players on both sides and even though the macro gameplay is poor, the micro-events within each of the 3-5 episodes within a scenario, make for an entertaining mix. A lucky strike and a Survivor is dead and the game becomes that bit harder for the remaining Survivors. But other than the accumulation of points, there is no lasting effect for poor performance (or even great performance) within a episode of a scenario.

Myth II almost managed because if you had surviving forces, they would become more “seasoned” in the next episode of the single player. That wasn’t extended to multiplayer (and indeed there was no way it could be) but the thought of a multiplayer game where you began with raw recruits and ended up with seasoned warriors through six episodes of a scenario is kinda tantalising. Especially, with the Myth II model, that a skirmish tends to take about 10 minutes. Historically accurate? No. Cracking good fun? Yes.

So, take the Left 4 Dead model of a multiplayer game having 3-6 episodes, add to it the concept of units gaining expertise between battles (and for high performance during earlier episodes, additional units) and sprinkle a little story across it.

Most RTS single player modes suck…

Josh Bycer writes:

Honestly, most RTS single player modes… suck. The reason is that designers try to use it to teach the player about multiplayer which doesn’t work, as an AI is not a good substitute for a player …
Over the years, the structure of mission design has changed and can be broken down into several categories:

  1. Skirmish
  2. Puzzle
  3. War
  4. Story

One of the amazing parts of the Myth series by Bungie was the focus on the single-player story. While there was a “puzzle” element to it – having limited resources and time – it was heavily narrated and each battle, though skirmish-sized, contributed to the progress of the story. So while it was a war, there wasn’t control over the outcome of the war in terms of high level strategy. You fought where you were told to fight.

Compared to the single-player game, Myth multiplayer was a poor cousin with mismatched units and allegiances. While the array of game devices (the various match conditions) was impressive and a lot of fun, I couldn’t help but want more control during match setup, with the ability to select either light or dark units and allow my opponent to do the same. The ability to vary the number of points used – to deliberately create unequal games – would have added another dimension to allow use of terrain, tactics and skill to get a victory against a far superior force. This was the essential gem in the single-player game – the tactical use of your units to defeat wave after wave of superior forces.

So, in the creation of a game to “replace” Myth in my heart, it should offer this “relatively” simple concept.

Back again

I’ve been on a holiday-and-work-fueled hiatus. Two weeks driving in France and Spain and then two weeks spent helping people access seed funding for new ventures in “digital” as part of the CIIF programme.

The latter has been frustrating because essentially as I am part of the process, I am unable to apply for any personal ventures. It’s not because of any impropriety – it is possible to do these things and remain above board – it’s more because of the perception that it would bring. I am, technically, best placed to design something more likely to be funded. And as it is a competitive fund and I’m paid to help people compete, I’d have an automatic conflict of interest.

On the other hand, it ends up being one more excuse piled onto the other excuses about what’s stopping me doing something. I feel burned out at the moment – the impact of working with the fund (and the companies applying) after a holiday seemed to remove all the good work the holiday had done.

So – anyway – I’ve killed off updates on my Twitter for a while and disabled my ‘work’ blog for the time being. I need to spend some time just repairing myself. Doing stuff I enjoy like reading, writing and sailing is going to make life that bit more fun. Thanks for listening.


This thread on rpg.net asks why secret magical settings in games tend to be dumb.

My problem is, it’s never made any sense to me on an absolutely fundamental. The idea in most of these settings is that humans not only don’t believe in the supernatural, they’ll even go so far as to doubt their own personal experiences and rationalize them away, or at the very least refuse to talk about them for fear of being labeled insane. That sort of thing would make sense in the real world, where everyone (or close enough) knows magic doesn’t really exist. But the reason everyone stopped believing in magic in the real world is because it actually doesn’t exist. In a fictional world where magic not only exists but there are monsters that kill people, I see absolutely no reason humanity would stop believing in magic. It’d be suicidally stupid on a species-wide level.

My reply:

Is it going to depend on what your magic effects are?

When magic is showy then it’s going to be hard to hide it. Fireballs, teleporters, flying stuff, people walking through walls, turning into werewolves, eating people – all of that stuff is going to be reported, captured, measured, verified.

When Mage or Werewolf came out in the early 90s, not everyone in the developed world had a cameraphone. It’d be a different world now.

The pitch for Qabal was that magic would not be able to be measured. The importance in magic was the INTENT and not the IMPLEMENTATION. There may be a TELLTALE but for the most part there’s only INTUITION to help you deduct a connection.

Look at The Omen for a great example.

Damien Thorne, the son of the devil, had several telltales. The black dog was one of them but another was found in the photographs.

From wikipedia:

While developing the pictures of the day, Jennings notices the priest has a dark object like a javelin over his head in the pictures he appears in, but the anomaly doesn’t appear anywhere else on the film.

Jennings is also at the event, taking pictures. The pictures again show the dark anomaly above the priest.

As the priest leaves, a sudden rainstorm comes up and the priest is impaled in a freak accident while trying to get into a nearby church.

Jennings said he is now involved because he found an anomaly on a picture of himself in which he has no neck.

Jennings goes after the knives, saying he will do it, and is decapitated in a freak accident.

Damian wouldn’t have engineered the process of the falling church spire or the panes of glass. He’d have registered his intent that they die. And magic would take care of the rest.


I’m a fan of the Smallville series (so much so that the collected series is on my Amazon wishlist for October when it’s released). I’ve not watched all of it – only about 20 or so episodes across all of the series. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a “no tights, no capes” story of Superman before he became Superman. They link most “supernatural” phenomena to the Kryptonite meteor rocks but other than that it’s an episodic relationship drama (where people don’t tell people all the facts in order to prolong confusion).

But even better than the series, is the RPG. It’s got a really nice way to build characters and it’s fun watching people build them, as you can see from this “Gotham” thread and, more recently, from this “MARVELS” thread.

The former thread explores the Batman story in the years while Bruce Wayne was in college and when he started to form into the person he would become. The story in the thread explores the relationships that he would have made, his contemporaries and the reasons behind some of the stories. It’s excellently written and provides a great backstory to even the movies.

The latter thread does much the same but the lead characters are the Fantastic Four, with the addition of Tony Stark and Victor von Doom. Relationships between these ‘science heroes’ are fraught even in the beginning and it’s fun to speculate on the individuals who they would have met during their early life. Who would know that two of them would spend considerable amounts of their life wearing armoured suits?

Frontier: A Changed Man

Kibwe had returned home a changed man.

Kibwe had always wanted to be a pilot. From an early age he made airfoils from balsa and drove his parents to distraction with his attention to detail, his constant entreaties to be taken to the airport at Mtwara and, when he was older, his insistence on visiting the spaceport at Beira.

By the time he was seventeen, he already had a pilot licence and was operating trips around the countryside in a twin-rotor electric speeder. Three years later he was the lead pilot on an aerial search and rescue mission to Northern Europe.

Northern Europe had received the worst of the violence of the Conquest Wars as atomic, biological and chemical weapons destroyed city after city, town after town. The farmlands of eastern europe were burned, the industrial heart of western europe was razed to the ground. The people who survived, the few who remained in the north, were forced to eke out a miserable existence in the cold and barren tundra.

The mission lasted only two weeks, rescuing four people from the ravages of the wastelands formerly known as Belgium. The experience was traumatic. Four malnourished and diseased people from a community of hundreds of thousands. During the rescue they had to be careful of becoming prey to some of the other desperate inhabitants – warlord remnants of the old military, murderous cannibals and even other rescue parties, especially those from the recovering United States.

Kibwe was changed. He had witnessed horrors that his young 22 year old mind was having trouble comprehending. And he would never go north again. Instead he fixed his eyes upon the stars. He began training to join an Explorer vessel.

Anomaly Warzone Earth

Great videos from the launch team here.

Described as a Tower Offense game, it certainly adds a different flavour to the stock re-runs of tower defense games (like Plants vs Zombies) which have been so popular recently. And certainly distracts me from plans to make “World of Angry Zombies versus Goo”. Because that could win, obviously.

Anyway – as you can see, I’ve downloaded it and I just played through the tutorials and it is fun. Now, multiplayer would be awesome…


On TV, on your phone and online

through music and games

Something is happening

The way people create and engage in stories is changing

Resonance is a grand narrative told across multiple platforms on a massive scale

A new science-fiction universe is being created and there is only one question…

Will you help?

Running the Numbers…

Ian Robinson sent me this link. It’s Joe Konrath talking about the numbers involved in publishing, especially eBook publishing.

But now I’m convinced. Signing with a traditional publisher, even being offered $200k per book, is a VERY BAD IDEA.

My reply was:

I may have to reconsider my previously out-of print editions. With the explosion in eBook sales, I could make $300 a year.

The numbers he quotes even assume you get an advance. The possibilities for vanity press are even greater.

The Laundry is here

On Thursday I received ‘The Laundry‘ in the post. The announcement came back in March so I was really excited to get the book in the post this week. I have now spent a few hours reading it (all but most of the rules – which is another flavour of BRP, familiar to any CoC player). The game is based on Charles Stross’ Laundry Files – which is a series of novels set in a world where fighting unseen menaces from beyond our universe is left to a civil service department not dissimilar to MI5.

“The books are Lovecraftian spy thrillers. The best elements from both genres are thrown together with a sprinkling of long lost Nazis, terrorist cultists, other foreign governments wanting a piece of the action, as well as Her Majesty’s Civil Service.” added Cubicle 7’s Angus Abranson.

The Laundry is a branch of the British secret service, tasked to prevent hideous alien gods from wiping out all life on Earth. Players take the part of Laundry agents, cleaning up the mess after things go wrong or, sometimes, even managing to prevent the manifestation of ultimate evil. Agents have access to the best equipment they can get their superiors to approve, from Basilisk Guns to portable containment grids to a PDA loaded up with Category A countermeasure invocations.

I’ve only read “The Atrocity Archives” so far in the Laundry series (I’ve also read Glasshouse and Accelerando by Stross – they’re more straight sci-fi – the former very similar to Culture novels, the latter very cyberpunk. Both great.)
so I’ve added “The Jennifer Morgue” and “The Fuller Memorandum” to my Amazon wishlist. I’ll be taking The Atrocity Archives with me on my trip to Paris – Lord knows there’s going to be a lot of downtime.

If you’re not sure if you’ll like them, then you can get a taster with some of the Laundry short stories.

Overall, it seems enchantingly similar to Delta Green but without the feeling of hopelessness that comes from being mostly alone in a universe that is cold, dark and hostile. It’s gotten me interested again.

The Final Frontier. No, really.

Ian Sales writes on his blog:

And sometimes those imaginations run a little too free. A lot of science fiction is set in outer space, or on worlds which orbit other stars. Or, indeed, other types of celestial objects, both natural and artificial. In these stories, much of the difficulties associated with space travel are blithely ignored. Spaceships magically travel out of gravity wells. Spaceships magically provide interior gravity. Spaceship hulls magically protect occupants from all manner of spaceborne hazards. And, of course, spaceships magically travel unimaginable distances within days or weeks.

As Sir Arthur Eddington, an astronomer, said, “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine”. And yet sf writers seem content to refight historical wars in some sanitised and romanticised and safe imaginery place which is supposed to resemble the universe around us. They’re ignoring the unimaginable strangeness and the mind-boggling vastness of it all. They turned the Orion Arm into a shopping mall, and the Milky Way into Smallville. They’ve taken the wonder out of the real universe.

It’s time to put it back. Please.

My reply:

There’s a non-sequitur here that adding interstellar travel to a setting takes the wonder out of the universe?

Is science-fiction/fantasy really about the locations? Or is it about the plots and the drama and the characters? I can take MacBeth to the Interstellar Court where the Zanifraxians rule and the Darkness Syndicate seeks to destroy humanity before it can be accepted into the court, but at the end of the day, it’s still MacBeth.

For some science-fantasy it may be important to be in a galaxy far far away but yes, these stories could be set nearer to home – but why restrict ourselves?

My own writing is more about the interactions between a Earth human culture which is as alien to our 21st Century minds as anything I can conjure for interstellar aliens. That’s the sort of stuff that interests me and it’s why I enjoy reading Charlie Stross and Iain M Banks.

Is there a difference between a science-fiction tale of a lone cosmonaut on a supralight scout ship meeting strange new species or a pulp-fantasy take of a Venusian farmboy deciding to join the AetherCorps? Not really. But all of these stories elicit wonder in this reader.

Just because we cannot travel these distances, doesn’t mean we cannot dream these distances.

Setting Riff: Oa versus Krypton

A thousand years ago, on the planet Krypton, there was a technologically advanced, cruel and nihilistic race which carved a vast stellar empire, subjugating thousands of civilisations under their regime. Only one planet managed to overthrow the grip of the empire, Oa, but their rebellion only served to free their own planet.

Their thirst for power eventually cost the destruction of their own homeworld. In the dying moments, one of their top scientists sent his offspring to one of their genetic stock planets in the hope that he would revenge them by breeding a new race of soldiers. The spacecraft travelled for a thousand years until it reached the small blue marble orbiting a yellow sun. The primitive present on the planet were seeded millions of years before and would be almost completely genetically compatible with the offspring. The scientist had not realised that these primitives would had evolved rapidly in their culture in the intervening years. The Kryptonian offspring would fail in his mission, living as one of the primitives, becoming their protector.

But the offspring was not the only survivor. Thousands of their genetically superior supersoldiers had survived the destruction of the planet and were now warlords over the planets they had subjugated reporting to a military command structure engineered to survive a cataclysm – their commanders reside on Kandor, previously a planet not dissimilar to Earth, whose population were also seeded by the Kryptonian war machine.

The rebellion would be slow, it would be thorough and it originated from Oa. Their agents would spread through the shattered Kryptonian empires and recruit forces of rebellion from their own people. Oan scientists had discovered that fragments of the destroyed planet were toxic to the survivors. Each type would cause a different effect, but only one could be used as more than a poison, only one would be able to take the fight to the stars: green kryptonite.

And from these fragments, they fashioned their weapons.