Ken Plays Outlaws, Part Two

I’m still yakking about Outlaws, which still stands the test of time as #2 in the Top Two Western Video Games That Have Ever Been Made. Seriously, game industry, I’m pretty sure people would buy more of these. This video does a quick tour of Levels 1 and 2 and sums up Level 3 with the words “Ah, fuck, a train level.”

“Problematic,” and The Ignorance Of It

Funeral car

A train coach based on Abraham Lincoln’s funeral car is restored in Springfield, Ill. for the sesquicentennial of his death. | May 2015, Kenneth Lowe

 

So, I had originally meant to post about why Westerns are generally a funny thing for a guy like me to like. I’d also like to tie it in a bit to some of the distressing stuff I hear from the modern fandom these days, and by that I mean the white guys who I grew up identifying with.

You’ve read about Gamergate and you possibly also heard about how some misogynists hijacked the Hugo Awards because they didn’t like that some women justifiably won a bunch of them last year. The controversy has become way too politicized for bizarre reasons. If you go read Breitbart’s site, you’ll find conservative guys claiming that feminists hate games and if you go to Gawker, you’ll be convinced all Gamergaters are not-so-secret rapists. Even one of the online comics I read at The Escapist Magazine treats the subject lightly, while the site itself, if you look, advertises the works of Vox Day, the fellow who is in a sense behind the great Hugo heist, and who blogs about how gay marriage is bad and insists that a bakery taking backlash for refusing a gay couple a cake is an attack on religious liberty.

How is all this tied in to Outlaws and Westerns? Bear with me. (more…)

I don’t know why this didn’t post before…

I distinctly remember composing and publishing an entire goddamn blog post about the video below, talking about how my love for Westerns is a perfect example of how you can legitimately use the word “problematic,” because I know plenty of people who insist that art doesn’t ever have subtext Ken, why do you need to take this away from me?!!?!!!?! But it does, but I still love Spaghetti Westerns anyway, so have a video about one of the only two mainstream games that were “Westerns” and were worth a damn.

But it didn’t post, is my point, and I have no idea why (and neither does WordPress, infuriatingly). Oh well.

Forgotten Autumn – Chapter 2

I truly have no idea why the footnote links below only work in reverse. Maybe I’ll leave that method behind as I code this going forward. It was a long struggle with no reward. – K

2

ChicagoFORTY-FIVE DAYS UNTIL END OF WORLD. I wasn’t to be exiled just yet. They hadn’t even gotten the phones in at the new office in LeBlanc, so I would have at least a few more days of work in civilization.

A statewide campaign is not something you do if you are any less than 255% invested. (I did just let the % slip in there. I did it willfully, and I’m not sorry about it.) What I mean is, campaigning in general is hard and thankless and any grizzled old vet will tell you that it’s different now than it used to be, which is to say it is worse than it used to be. You can work your hands to the bone, go without sleep and eat shitty road food or awful warmed-over slop at Rotary Clubs and fundraisers while you hear this person who you admire spout the same focus-tested talking points they’ve been hammering on for months, all in utter futility when some rich asshole who owns a casino or an oil rig decides to fund your opponent or your candidate gets it in his head to put out a stupid tweet about rape. In a state the size of Illinois, it feels as if most of your time is spent trying to morph into the shape of a car seat while you grip a steering wheel and stare out at cornfields that stretch to the edge of the spiral arm of the galaxy.

I had respect for those who did it even back when I was essentially their sworn enemy, which is to say I was a reporter. That is to say: I was a good reporter, and a good reporter is the sworn enemy of somebody who is running a campaign, because he will wreck that campaign if he is given even a passing chance. By this point, though, I had come away from those petty little concerns about democratic governance. It was us or them, and they wanted to put women in kitchens and gays in camps, if they were honest with themselves. It’s easy to be the one who sits back and criticizes and snarks, but try running things. Try being somebody who makes a thing that works.

(more…)

Forgotten Autumn – The Full Text

Forgotten Autumn

by Kenneth Lowe


1

It got so desperate, and the polls so close (and so nasty) that Rick took me aside and in that slick and smooth and totally insincere way he had, told me that I was getting an important job: LeBlanc.

“This could make or break her, Johnny,” he lied, and would lie to Marcy and Diana, who were waiting outside after me to be given DeKalb and Oswego respectively, two other places that would neither make nor break anybody, least of all Wendy. “That’s why I need you.”

Rick was – Rick is – a guy whose dick is in your face day and night, figuratively and in my case very nearly literally, as he is 6′ 5″ and I barely clear 5′ 7″. If that is not a great image, well, try working for him. But, and I observe this as an expatriate, he fit right in to the country at that time.

I was too young to remember too much about Clinton (42, not 45), but I remember being eight and suddenly having his goddamn dick in my fucking face, everywhere, such that even Animaniacs had to change its opener. And it’s never the fault of the dick’s owner, you’ll notice. He shrugs and shakes his head, all like “What can you even do?” We’re all just along for the ride. We can try for a dick forecast, but you really never know.

“What’s the ground game like there?” I asked. Whenever you want to convince somebody you have been listening, you should highlight portions of what they have said and devise three follow-up questions. If I ever do this to you, you will know the sheer degree of effort I am putting forth not to fall asleep out of disgust.

“We’re opening it up, it’s a new front,” he said. “We just got a great donation from the Party and it’s going to get us all set up for a real grudge match. I think you’re just the guy for it, Johnny.”

I go by “Jack,” but not to a guy like Rick. Rick makes his own names for people. He respects no sovereignty but his own.

“Well,” I said. “I guess I better get started.”

Out in the hall, Diana was making a pointed effort at ignoring me, and I her. Marcy might not have been able to talk for Rick’s door being open, but then the Batphone rang and she leaned in close. Her face is about 75% eye socket, as if campaigning has well and truly sucked the marrow out of her bones. Back then, she had dyed-purple-black bangs and wore two sweaters in the late September heat and still managed to look as if she were barely able to keep from shivering.

“What fuck-pit is he sending you to?” she asked.

“LeBlanc,” I said. “Guess it’ll be DeKalb or maybe Taylorville for you. Maybe flip a coin.”

I was half-right. That’s about my percentage on all political prognostication, and yet they keep hiring me.

Marcy was never one to sugarcoat her views, but Rick hung up the phone and called her in and it was the last time we would see one another for a number of years. In she went, and the door closed behind her. As I walked by Diana’s chair I had the unmistakable impression that I had seen her stir in the corner of my vision, but when I looked back over my shoulder she was just poking at her smartphone. I hurried to the stairs down the hall and headed back out to the L, the city closing about me like a whale’s maw made of noise and light and the jackhammering heat.


© 2015 by Kenneth Lowe. Reprint with credit. Contact the author at nixonhacker at gmail dot com.

Forgotten Autumn – Chapter 1

Forgotten Autumn

by Kenneth Lowe


1

It got so desperate, and the polls so close (and so nasty) that Rick took me aside and in that slick and smooth and totally insincere way he had, told me that I was getting an important job: LeBlanc.

“This could make or break her, Johnny,” he lied, and would lie to Marcy and Diana, who were waiting outside after me to be given DeKalb and Oswego respectively, two other places that would neither make nor break anybody, least of all Wendy. “That’s why I need you.”

Rick was – Rick is – a guy whose dick is in your face day and night, figuratively and in my case very nearly literally, as he is 6′ 5″ and I barely clear 5′ 7″. If that is not a great image, well, try working for him. But, and I observe this as an expatriate, he fit right in to the country at that time.

I was too young to remember too much about Clinton (42, not 45), but I remember being eight and suddenly having his goddamn dick in my fucking face, everywhere, such that even Animaniacs had to change its opener. And it’s never the fault of the dick’s owner, you’ll notice. He shrugs and shakes his head, all like “What can you even do?” We’re all just along for the ride. We can try for a dick forecast, but you really never know.

(more…)

Branching pathways

So, my quest to create this samurai game continues. I recently plunged in again, this time designing an inn in the first town players are likely to discover if they approach the game carefully.

And man, is it demanding. As I said, I’m designing the game around a strict Choose Your Own Adventure limitation. In practice, this presents some programming hurdles, most prominently that I am unaware of any way in which players will be able to save their progress if they aren’t 1.) on the world map, or 2.) specifically prompted to do so by the game.

RPG Maker VX Ace simply doesn’t have a built-in way to save mid-event. I tried a solution somebody posted online and it promptly fried my save files in what was among the most hilariously disastrous bugs I have ever uncovered while designing a game.

(more…)

Holy crap, I’m back

I can’t read Fifty Shades out loud, guys, are you crazy? I’ve gone legit. I have principals to staff, events to set up, the state budget to worry about, and, you know, those wife and kids I don’t have. Or something.

The quality on this and the next few videos are, I’m sorry to say, not going to be as good as when Hugh was behind the trigger. That’ll change as I can afford slightly better equipment and lighting. For now, you get clashing compact fluorescent lighting and either Daylight Savings Time After Work Night-Hell or milky daylight with the background of an unfurnished apartment. THIS IS CINEMA VERITÉ.

I also wrote 1,000 words tonight, and in not an unreasonable amount of time. That is very little to write, but for me it’s a watershed moment. With the move and with my general malaise in the end of the era that was my previous temporary job, that’s 1,000 more words than I’ve written in one sitting in months. I might even hit the gym tomorrow.

And yes, I am going to see the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. Fuck you. You did this to me!

Too much creativity

World map

I’m not even touching procedural world map generation. | 2015. Kenneth Lowe via RPG Maker VX Ace.

 

My job duties officially come to an end just this week, and it looked as if I would have some time to contemplate the future and wander the earth again.

Alas, no. I was just finished with a great workout session with a friend when I realized I had at some point gotten a call with a job offer. It’ll mean a move down to Springfield, but it’s some stability after years without it. Debts will be paid off. I’ll have ready access to friends I hardly ever see anymore. The savings account will grow.

So: Better focus on getting some real writing done, or it won’t ever get done. Fortunately, I have plenty of stuff I actually care about that I’m working on.

The past week, in between job apps and lying in a fetal position consumed with fear over continuing to write my loathsome novel, I have been tinkering with RPG Maker VX Ace. It’s a program that essentially provides you the ability to create a cooker-cutter JRPG. Unless, of course, you get creative with coding. Then you can pretty much make it do whatever the hell you like.

In messing around with another game idea, I discovered, to my great delight, that I possessed enough know-how to make the game become a rudimentary text Choose Your Own Adventure-type game in the tradition of the superb Lone Wolf books. I discovered this while I was down in Colombia (if I remember right), but I never did very much with it. The game I designed began to get too cluttered, and my inspirations for it competed with one another. Ultimately, I had an idea for the story and the execution of it, but I was making it too big: Six character classes, a sprawling story, dungeon after dungeon, nearly a dozen weapon and equipment categories, dozens of spells and abilities for the characters, and on and on.

It was with a ludicrous amount of enthusiasm that I came up with my current idea: A focused adventure game set in Japan’s Warring States period (late 16th century – a favorite setting for Kurosawa’s films). The player takes control of a party of four adventurers – a samurai, a monk, a ninja, and a Shinto priestess – who return to find the castle of their lord sacked and everybody dead. One of the daimyo competing for leadership of Japan is surely to blame, but which?

The object of the game is simple:

  1. Find your lord’s killer.
  2. Kill him.
  3. Commit seppuku to join your lord in death.

If you fail, you of course commit seppuku out of shame. To be clear: Victory = Seppuku, Defeat = Seppuku. It’s the fine distinctions that truly matter in life.

Besides the obvious Lone Wolf books, the game has a couple of strong influences, ones I think I’ll be able to incorporate while keeping the overall scope of the game fairly narrow. The first is Darklands, a ’90s computer RPG that takes quite a while to fully describe. In it, you control a four-person party of Germans in 15th Century Germany as they pretty much wander around and sword-stab or magic the shit out of people who look at them funny. I think you can kill some demon lord to beat the game, but it’s so aimless that it feels like Skyrim but without a main quest. It is, to be as fair to it as I can be, fucking impenetrable: Stats so hair-split that you can have a character who can speak Latin but not German, a randomly-generated map, no clear indication of what derived stats are derived from and how any of them allow you to cast spells, &c.

But man, that choice-based navigation! It essentially cuts down on a bunch of development. Rather than stress over creating environments the game put up illustrations with text and gave you choices. In battle, you went to a turn-based sort of environment and you saw the fights play out, and moving on the world map was also animated, but that’s because those two actions really couldn’t work in the same text-and-image-based environment as simple adventuring. It’s that approach I want to take with this game.

Another major influence is The Consuming Shadow, a game by Ben Croshaw, widely known as Yahtzee for his hilarious video game reviews. Croshaw also programs on the side, and his game, beta stage though it may be in, is a solid concept. You play as a paranoid British shut-in who has determined that fucking C’thulu is about to invade our reality. You must drive throughout an England enveloped in Lovecraftian evil as your sanity decreases, using scarce resources and quick thinking to try to gather enough clues to perform a banishing ritual. But what if you banish the wrong C’thulu?

The game is notable not just for its unsettling aesthetic, but also because it has an underlying logic structure the player must investigate. Each C’thulu is associated with a color, a rune, and a divine duty. As you rove around fighting evil, you discover clues like “[Some C’Thulu] is NOT associated with the color red” or “[Other C’thulu] is NOT the invading god.” I have played through to the end and reasoned the incorrect C’thulu, thus damning my dimension to eternal tentacle-rape.

It’s this logic-web I’d like to apply to the adventure of the four dishonored ronin as they try to figure out which of three daimyo had their lord killed and his damn house burned down. I’ve even figured out how to populate each of these fiendish lords with the variables that determine which castle, battle, and province they are associated with. The difficulty, of course, will be figuring out how in the bloody stool of Vishnu to get those clues spread out across the world. It seems like using arrays or matrices could help, but I have no effing clue how to write such code, since I am only using the editor that comes with RMVXA.

I plan to show off some more cool parts of this game. I’ve already designed the first area, including random item pick ups, a randomly-timed event, and even *gasp* a moral choice. What will I think of next?

Cold as balls

image

Yeah, yeah. Real original, I know. | Kenneth Lowe via LG smartphone and Weather.com app

It is relentlessly, mercilessly cold out right now, but it is fortuitous all the same, since a friend passed me some supremely useful criticisms of my latest short story, another one dealing with the detective, Blackdale. I’ve posted his first story here.

This harrowing tale finds him in the midst of a theft investigation set against the backdrop of an awful winter, written largely while I was actually in Colombia, where there is no such thing as an awful winter. The story had several problems with it that I am working through, with my friend’s assistance.

(more…)