Archive for January, 2011

The Road to World Conquest: Unsettling In

January 29, 2011 3 comments

I’ve lived in some crappy places over the years.

I once shared a duplex in a rundown neighborhood near Busch Gardens in Tampa with a couple of old alcoholics, one of whom wheezed through the night while the other maximized his collection of Victoria’s Secret catalogues. After that, I lived in a block of apartments off Fowler Avenue that was a haven to drug dealers and thugs.

But I’ve never been next door to a murder before. Never lived near someone who died violently on the premises. Never as it happened.

That changed Thursday evening.

The Springs at Huntsville is a nice gated apartment complex in a not-so-nice part of town, but the first two weeks here so far had been largely uneventful. Got up every morning, went to work, came home, watched a little TV, went to sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Early last week, I posted an ad on Craigslist to sell the table, chairs, and bench that I’d brought with me from Cary (only to find that the bar island in the kitchen left no space for them). I heard from a buyer within minutes and agreed to let them pick up the furniture on Thursday after work. Chris, a young husband with a kid, wanted to upgrade their dinette table to something more substantial. He called from the front gate at about 5:45. I buzzed him in. It occurred to me that he didn’t know how to find my apartment within the complex, so I walked downstairs and stepped outside, trying to call him precisely as he tried calling me. Our phones collided like this repeatedly until I finally stopped and let him call me. By this time, I was standing on the curb by the street, between Building 700 where I live and Building 600. It was already dark.

I answered the phone. We laughed about the constant collisions and the fact that we’d done so well working out the logistics up to this point. I told him to keep driving around to the back of the complex. I told him I saw a truck coming. He said, “That’s me.”

He backed into a parking space. We spent the next few minutes hauling the furniture from the apartment to his truck. It took about five trips. When we finished, Chris paid me. I wished him well and walked back into my apartment.

Chris had just been ready to drive away when a neighbor from Building 600 rushed over and pleaded with him to help – a woman had been shot. Chris followed around the corner to the row of apartments that face out toward the wooded hill beyond a fence. He told me later that he knew there wasn’t anything he could do for her. Her purse was on the ground. Her keys dangled from the lock. It appeared that someone had shot her while she was trying to enter the apartment, but they didn’t bother to steal anything.

She died while they waited for the ambulance, he said.

We talked today about what happened, reconstructing the evening in our conversation, trying to work out whether we knew more than we thought. What signs did we miss? Did I see anyone suspicious while I waited for Chris to drive his truck around to the back of the complex? Someone running from the scene? It’s chilling to think that I could just as easily have been a target as I stood by the curb. It’s even more chilling to imagine that Joan Markley, a 49-year-old mother of two sons and a daughter, was dying just yards away.

I didn’t hear a gun shot. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

I wish I could be more help.  I hope they find whoever did this, soon. And please let it be something other than just random senseless violence. It pains me to say it, but I really want there to be a motive. I don’t want to dwell on the fact that bad guys with guns might be creeping over the back fence on a regular basis, just looking for someone to kill.


The Road to World Conquest: Out to dry

January 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve determined during the first week of this new adventure in Huntsville is that I really don’t want to haul my laundry out in the cold to get it cleaned.

It’s nice that the apartment complex offers a laundry facility in the clubhouse adjacent to the gym, but the machines hold about half a real load, they dry at about half the speed, and they cost way too much to operate.

Long-term, it’s just going to be cheaper and far more convenient to rent a washer and dryer for about $30 a month. I’ll be able to do my laundry at home, whenever I want, and without trudging through the winter weather to do it.

I’ve already ordered the machines. Unfortunately, they won’t deliver until next Tuesday. I think I’ve got enough clothes to last. If not, who’s going to notice the fourth time I wear my Cantina Band T-shirt?

The second most important thing I’ve learned: No buying Roma tomatoes from the Kroger off Memorial Parkway and Drake. Yeesh, those nearly killed me.

Most of the boxes are unpacked. All I’ve really got left are a few boxes of books, which are waiting on a bookcase to put them in. I went on a grand excursion Sunday to track down a decent bookshelf at the two Ross stores in town, but neither had the one Mom had spied in a store down in Florida. I considered getting an el cheapo bookcase from Target, but opted against it on the basis that I’m a poor furniture craftsman to begin with and when it comes to building crappy furniture in a competent fashion, I’m simply a lost cause. I could just put some shelves up above the computer table, but, again, my lack of faith in my own construction abilities leaves me worried that Mark Twain’s autobiography will make a suicide leap onto my HD monitor.

I’ve got a wire-frame shelf unit in the back porch closet that could serve as a bookcase in the short term. All I need is a little rug to sit that shelf unit on. Whatever it takes. I just want to get the last of the boxes unpacked and hauled to the dumpster this week.

I’d also like to get the rest of the pictures hung on the walls. That way, I’ll have more places to hang underwear and socks.


OtherSpace: “Even Stones Yield” post mortem

January 24, 2011 1 comment

In the finest tradition of OtherSpace events of the past, the weekend “Even Stones Yield” activity didn’t come with much of a script attached.

What was set in stone for the asteroid-threatens-to-blow-up-world caper:

  • A grid of several rooms to represent the asteroid for players to land on and explore. I built only what was needed to tell the fundamental story, but it could be expanded upon and changed should it become part of the permanent game grid.
  • Players would discover that the rock wasn’t just a natural chunk of rock. Instead, it contained some architecture and machinery.
  • Players would discover that a colony of Lotorians lived deep inside and this chunk of rock was believed to be the last piece of the lost ancient homeworld of their race.

Everything else just evolved organically, often on a whim or thanks to inspiration from the players involved in the adventure.

One such moment provided an opportunity for the event’s only point of random chaos involving dice rolls. After the adventurers reached the bottom of the damaged elevator shaft, Lucy included a phrase in her pose about how something was “way over her head.” In my mind, this led to a cinematic camera tracking shot up the shaft to a wobbly boulder about to break loose and fall. I used the MUSH random number generator command to pick a number from 0-49. I got 21. Blackjack! I informed the players that I would roll for each of them. Should anyone get exactly 21 for their roll, they would be hit by the boulder.

Everyone avoided the boulder’s impact except for Dean. Luckily, he’s a Phyrrian, so the boulder didn’t kill him – it just severely damaged him. As the guy who got hit by the rock, Dean had the chance to be the hero, using his pose to help shove his comrades out of harm’s way so that he could take the blow instead.

Aside from this, we didn’t use dice at all. Everything else was character and plot.

I knew going into the event that I’d need to play up the contentious and utterly irrational nature of the conflict between the Opodians and Llivori on Kamsho, but I couldn’t entirely predict how the players would deal with their brinksmanship. I certainly didn’t expect that it would lead to some dramatic in-character conflicts between captain and crew, but it did.

At one point, the Llivori and Opodian governments had both launched their entire nuclear arsenals at the oncoming asteroid while Garviel’s crew waited for the Lotorians repair the rift drive inside the big rock. Frustrated with the madness unfolding before her, Lucy broke regulations by communicating with the authorities on Kamsho, trying to convince them to disarm the nukes. Garviel silenced Lucy by blasting her in the back of the head with a stun pistol. No doubt, this’ll have some impact on crew morale!

The event revealed the following twists:

  • The asteroid was occupied.
  • The occupants were Lotorians.
  • The asteroid was all that remained of the ancient world of Lotor.
  • The Lotorian colonists had captured the deposed Zar, Hideg Fekretu, near Rigor Strand.
  • The ex-Zar paid for his continued survival by equipping the asteroid with a rift drive.
  • A Medlidikke pirate arrived to take Fekretu and collect on a bounty. The Lotorians thought maybe they should be the ones to profit from such a bounty, so they activated the rift drive without really knowing what they were doing. This led to the asteroid popping into existence again close to Kamsho. It also caused a structural collapse that killed both Fekretu and the pirate.

The players discovered the Zar’s body early on the second day of the event, as they cleared rubble from in front of the elevator shaft. This was another of those moments that just sort of snuck up on me. I had expected them to find dead bodies, and originally they were going to be Lotorians, but I decided on the spot that I didn’t want to reveal that part until later.

So what would I reveal instead? Well, the Zar’s always been a threat hanging out there, but I’d never really gotten attached to him as a character. He really has to be the most one-dimensional bad guy I’ve ever introduced. The only purpose he ever really served was to create a fleet that would become a force to be reckoned with in the universe, our answer to Emperor Palpatine, but he never really got traction as a workable character for me. So, he ended up in the rubble. When last we left him, Fekretu was being hunted by the Medlidikke, and thus I determined that he’d have a companion going with him to the afterlife.

We had a few points with pacing issues during the event, but not many. Sometimes people would lose track of pose order, but other times it was my fault for letting the action go too slack for a while. This was more of an issue on the second day. The first night went incredibly well, from my perspective.

The final hurdle we ran into was sharing the spotlight. Garviel, a character player by an admin, was in command of the action after Dean was struck by the boulder in the elevator shaft. We don’t really like to have admin-played characters “hogging” all the fun. So, I improvised an NPC who came up with a plan that would give Lucy and Newt something important to do – something that would save the day – while Garviel stuck to coordinating his troops.

The initial feedback from the event was good, and we struck the notes that I wanted to strike. Players who didn’t hate the denizens of Kamsho before sure hate them now, and anyone who hated them before will absolutely loathe them now. The Lotorians now have an Ungstir-like homeworld floating around out there in the galaxy somewhere. The ex-Zar is dead. And the epic storyline has returned to OtherSpace.

I want to thank everyone who participated. It’s always important for an event coordinator to remember that without the players, your big idea for a grand adventure won’t be anything more than that. It requires collaboration, creativity, trust, and a good sense of humor and fair play to make it work. Garviel, Dean, Lucy, Newt, Umishi, Hess, Amanda, and Franceza definitely made this a worthwhile experience for me.

Can’t wait for next month!

OtherSpace: Armageddon!

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

On Friday evening, Jan. 21, I’ll be kicking off a weekend-long event on OtherSpace that revolves around a planet-killer asteroid putting the world of Kamsho in dire jeopardy.

Players get the opportunity to save the day – or, as some suggest, ensure the asteroid hits! (Some folks find the inhabitants of Kamsho – especially the zealous Opodians – terribly annoying.)

It’s the first major event I’ve run on the MUSH in a long time. “Even Stones Yield” marks the resumption of regular story arc activities. It represents my official return as a regular storyline contributor to the game. I’ve missed it a lot and look forward to the mayhem that awaits.

Going forward, I expect to hold weekend events at least once a month. Stay tuned to our Facebook fan page for updates on scheduled events!


The Road to World Conquest: Territorial expansion

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been looking at this the wrong way.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been stopping in my old haunts around Cary and Durham with the mindset that I’m enjoying them for what might be the last time.

That’s not going to be the case.

Yes, my career is taking me to Alabama, but Catherine’s in North Carolina and I’ll be returning regularly to see her.

In these last days before the move, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with others in similar – or even more extreme – long-distance relationship situations. Some split time between Durham and Philadelphia. Another couple straddles two continents and the Atlantic Ocean, between North Carolina and the Netherlands. I know others who commuted between Georgia and Florida, or even New York and Florida. They’ve all survived so far. Even thrived!

So, I’m no longer considering this change of address “moving.” Instead, in the tradition of all proper world conquerors, I’m just expanding my territorial borders.

Catherine’s place in the Durham tobacco warehouse district becomes *our* place in North Carolina. The new apartment in Huntsville becomes *our* place in Alabama. She’s going with me to help set everything up this weekend, and she’s bringing along candles, art, and some other items to make the apartment feel like her home when she visits. Her apartment is now set up with a monster gaming computer and will soon have a few of my action figures so that, when I come to town, it feels more familiar to me.

Time to re-draw the maps of Westanbul – it’s gotten much bigger than that ramshackle desk in the corner of the office at Icarus Studios.

The Road to World Conquest: No friends in leaky lifeboats

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Don’t count on people who call themselves pals when you’re huddled in a lifeboat that’s slowly – or maybe not so slowly – filling with water.

Oh, sure, maybe you dined together at the captain’s table before the ship breached its hull on that stray iceberg that everyone saw coming. That was a lifetime ago. Survival is serious business. No room in that little boat for camaraderie. It might sound cynical, but it’s true: It’s you or them.

When the lifeboat engineer walks up to you after the ship starts sinking and says you can take X number of passengers with you, don’t haggle to bring extra. Take only what you can carry. Save only what the lifeboat can hold.

If you ignore this advice, you really shouldn’t be surprised when that extra passenger turns out to have a naturally cynical outlook, a healthy sense of self-preservation, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to make sure that if the lifeboat sinks, they’re going to be the last in the water with the sharks.

When other sensible passengers share clear evidence that the boat would stay afloat longer with fewer people and more buckets, don’t dismiss this as panicked exaggeration, even if another passenger that you might trust says it’s nothing to worry about.

While you’re floating along, bailing salt water and searching the horizon for signs of rescue, pay attention when a passenger pipes up with a seemingly hypothetical question, such as: “If you were presented with the opportunity to toss someone else in the deep blue if it meant you’d last longer in the lifeboat, would you?” Don’t toss this aside as harmless ethical musing. That passenger probably wants to use your leg as a paddle and the rest of your corpse as a pontoon.

Start looking for land.

OtherSpace: Some resolutions for the new year

January 3, 2011 2 comments

Last summer, I lamented that I was losing faith in the ability for text-based games to thrive in the current online entertainment climate.

Now, as we begin 2011, I’m doing what I can to adjust my attitude. Trying to get with the program. Keeping the faith.

The first resolution: I want to see OtherSpace thrive again, but I have to revisit what I think constitutes a thriving MUSH. It’s not having 100 people online on our busiest nights, although it’s great to have a crowd that size. No, the game thrives when the players that you do have – 5, 15, or 50 – are actively involved in a story that keeps chugging along. In-game events are frequent. News articles keep giving the game world a steady heartbeat. Channels are alive with chatter. Forums are bustling with short stories. The Wiki is getting filled with roleplaying event logs.

The second resolution: I’m going back to basics. I’ll be running major events at least once a month, treating OtherSpace more like a community theater project than a game. We were at our best in the past when we could build a sense of excitement and anticipation for what comes next. I’ve tried to encourage players to do their own thing, to create a perpetual roleplaying engine powered by their adventures. Some players are very good at it, but others get frustrated with their peers, bored with the plot, or distracted by other things.

Back in the early days of OtherSpace, I owned and accepted the fact that the game would succeed or fail based on my involvement. Serious involvement – not just sitting on the sidelines, watching other people run things in my absence. I’ve been satisfied in the past few years to let others manage OtherSpace for me. I can’t allow that anymore. Time to take back the reins and get us back on track.

The third resolution: I’m making the most of social networking. Twitter and Facebook are amusing distractions, but I want 2011 to be the year that I really turn them into tools that work to the advantage of OtherSpace. If possible, I want people playing OtherSpace on Facebook before 2012!

The fourth resolution: I want to turn a perceived weakness into a strength. MUDs and MUSHes are niche games, they’re antiques compared to today’s popular graphical MMORPGs, but they succeed in channeling a player’s creativity and imagination in ways that World of Warcraft and EVE Online can never hope to accomplish. They’re retro. People seem to enjoy playing the old Zork games on the web. Why not give a MUSH a try?

I firmly believe that if I go back to basics, if I focus on the stories, retro elements, and the creative appeal of the MUSH, that we’ll see a resurgence of interest in the genre.

We celebrate the 13th anniversary of OtherSpace in June. I’m counting on a lucky year!