Freelancing (and Mini Work Update)

Based on a true story. (And my apologies to Alex Norris whose schtick I have borrowed.)

If all goes according to plan, I will have a novel, two novellas, and a large RPG rulebook to edit, plus I may have a new part-time game design gig. I realize this is a good problem to have, but I'm looking at where I'm going to fit everything in the next 2–3 months.

I can fit everything. It's just a question of how much my unpaid projects suffer—I suspect quite a lot.

Also, this is exactly the time of year my parents are coming to visit.

Oh no.

I'm grateful though, for real. Among other things, I feel less guilty about taking a week off for the holidays. It's been a long time since I've taken a guilt-free vacation. I'd almost forgotten that was a thing people did.

So! How are your holidays going?

Games I Loved in 2017

Here are a few games I absolutely loved this year. You should check them out.

As with previous posts in this vein, these are just games I played in 2017. I don't have enough time or money to decide the best games published this year. Also note that this list is intentionally skewed toward games you might not have heard of. Mostly.

Image result for mages of mystraliaA Zelda-like action adventure where you play a young mage living in a kingdom where magic has been outlawed. The art style is sweet, and the world and story are lovely (created by Ed Greenwood of Forgotten Realms fame), but what really makes this game awesome is the core mechanic of programming your own spells with the rune system.

I mean, it's not full programming, and there are definitely some runes that are more gimmicky than useful, but there's a lot of depth and exploration to the system, and I never got tired of playing around with it.

Image result for overcookedA fast-paced couch co-op in which you and up to three friends try to serve up as many orders as possible. This game is no good single-player, but it's one of the most fun and chaotic party games I've ever played.

My only complaint is that managing a kitchen full of my own children is indistinguishable from managing them in real life.

Image result for abzuThis is what the kids call a walking simulator (swimming simulator, actually). You start the game floating off the shore of a coral reef, uncertain who you are or why you're there. As you swim through the game's levels, you begin to learn about the civilization that fell and your part in it.

There's not a lot of game here other than exploration, but everything about it is gorgeous: the graphics, the world, the visual storytelling, the music. If you play games as a break, and Overcooked sounds stressful, then try Abzu for a super-relaxing, wonderful time.

Image result for mr shiftyA fast beat-em-up game in which you play a teleporting thief—basically Nightcrawler without the blue skin. You are infiltrating a high security corporate tower that very quickly becomes alerted to your presence. You have no tools except for super strength and the ability to teleport a few feet at a time.

This is one of the most fun, visceral games I've played in a long time. Everything about the game feels awesome, from taking out ten armed men in two seconds to Mr. Shifty's cool, slow walk as he leaves a scene. Even the elevator music between levels somehow serves to make you feel more like a badass.

Image result for the witnessThis is the most engrossing, challenging, and satisfying puzzle game I've played since Myst—better than Myst, really. You start the game in a dark tunnel beneath a mysterious island, and for a long time that's literally all the information you get about what's going on. The game teaches you nothing directly, asking you to figure everything out on your own a piece at a time. I spent over 50 hours on this island ferreting out every secret I could, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Warning: This is not a story game. The Witness is very much about the journey, not the destination. As a direct consequence, you don't want to use a walkthrough on it; you will only disappoint yourself.

So what did you play this year? Anything I just have to try?

Difficulty Curves and Mega Man

Those of you who have been following me on Facebook or Twitter might know that I've been making my way through the Mega Man Legacy Collections.

These games are not easy, and it's made me think about game difficulty curves and why I like Mega Man so much, despite the fact that Mega Man's difficulty curve is super weird.

Before this is going to make any sense, we need to talk about what a difficulty curve is. The standard curve looks like this:

Here's how it works. A game starts out super easy, allowing the player to learn the controls and rules. It gradually gets harder until the first checkpoint, like a boss or increasingly strong monsters before a new experience level. When the player has overcome this obstacle, the game is a little easier for a time while the player learns the rules of the next level or their new abilities. This rise-and-fall continues, growing gradually more difficult overall, until the player reaches the final, most difficult boss/puzzle/whatever and wins the game.

This curve provides a balance between too easy and too hard, giving the player a healthy mix of facing difficult challenges and feeling super awesome about themselves. As such, this difficulty curve is used in most modern games.

Mega Man's weird, though.

Every Mega Man game follows the same basic formula. The player is initially faced with a set of bosses that can be defeated in any order. Upon defeating each boss, the player gains a new weapon, and over time they discover that each boss is weak to a specific weapon of another boss.

After the initial set of bosses, the player must make their way through Dr. Wily's (or sometimes a different Dr.'s) castle. The castle levels are designed knowing that the player has access to every special weapon, meaning the player will be called upon to use most weapons at some point. At the end, the player faces the initial bosses again, all at once, before facing a final boss (spoiler: it's always Dr. Wily).

This means every Mega Man game is difficult from the start, when the player has no special weapons, and gets gradually easier as they defeat each boss. The easiest time in the game is the final boss before the castle, when the player has nearly all the special weapons and can deduce which will defeat the boss. Then the castle levels get increasingly difficult again, leading up to Dr. Wily.

Mega Man is one of the most popular game franchises in history, spawning over 50 games and selling over thirty million copies worldwide. But the originals were freaking hard! My son sat down to play Mega Man 1 for the first time and got his butt kicked. He has yet to beat a single boss.

Why the heck does this work? Because Mega Man knew exactly where it fit in the gaming world. Not only was the original released in a time when difficult video games were the norm, but look at Mega Man's difficulty curve when we put it up against the normal one:

Mega Man's difficulty curve does not exist in isolation. For people new to the run-and-gun genre, Mega Man was rough, but for people who had played games like Contra, Rush'n Attack, Castlevania, and Metroid, Mega Man was just a different point in a curve they were already familiar with.

I suspect this is why ridiculously difficult games like Dark Souls and Cuphead are as popular as they are, too. They aren't targeting the casual gamer; they're targeting people who have traversed the curve so many times that they don't mind jumping ahead to the hard bit (plus bragging rights are pretty cool, too).

Thoughts on this? Reminiscences about how awesome Mega Man was? What other games have weird difficulty curves? To the comments!

Success You Can Control

When we start writing, a lot of us do it, at least in part, to be "successful" (maybe just me, but I'll assume a lot of us because it makes me feel better). By successful, I mean like famous, best-selling, award-winning, rich, amazing whatever. And we know, we KNOW we can't control it, but it so feels like we can. Shoot, I've been writing professionally for almost a decade and have been rejected more times than the 45th US president has lied on record, and I still feel like I can control it.

(Sad that this had to get political? Me too, man. *heavy sigh* Me too.)

It's not just writing either. This is true in basically every creative industry and probably a fair number of non-creative ones as well. But what do you do when success doesn't come? Like, for years and years and years and . . . nothing?

There are lots of ways to deal with it, but I think they all boil down to these two: either give up or redefine success.

Now, when I say "redefine success," I don't mean give up on your big goal-dream of making it big; that's just giving up. I mean redefine your goals to be something in your control so that you're not just pulling yourself out of bed each morning, but rather you're jumping out of bed because you have another successful day ahead of you.

This is what I've been doing lately. I've still got big dreams, and I'm working hard toward them: I have a novel outline in the hands of a Big 5 editor. I have a mobile gamebook in the works. I hope to carve time to write some more novellas. But my happiness isn't resting on those things. They're way too far out, and too much of it is out of my hands. Saying my book has to sell or my game has to hit it big is just begging for depression.

So where is my happiness? Partially, I'm still trying to make myself truly believe these things, but here's where I want it to lie:

  • In making enough money each day to feed my family well and maybe take them to a movie every once in a while.
  • In spending time with my family.
  • In having time and purpose to create something that I love.
  • In having time to play a game or watch Netflix every so often.
I have so many freaking projects that if I put my happiness in any one of them -- or all of them all at once -- I'd end up working 28-hour days only to have the project flop while simultaneously missing out on what makes these projects worth doing at all.

So I'm trying to take things slow, one day at a time and enjoying my family at each step. How about you? What does success look like for you?

The Importance of Being Mercenary

A thread I posted on Twitter that is important enough (and I think about this stuff often enough) to post it here.

Got Me a Jorb

Last month, as you'll recall, I lost my game design gig. For the past several weeks, I've followed every lead I have and pulled together pieces of several jobs. Unfortunately, none of them are big enough (or steady and consistent enough) to serve as a Family-Providing Job.

But that's the past! I am now officially a remote editor on the roster for an online editing and proofreading firm.

Okay, that sounds super boring, but let me tell you why it's exciting IN LIST FORM!
  1. It's a steady job! Game design is super awesome, but it's hard to consistently find contracts for a remote designer/writer/whatever I am.
  2. It's ridiculously flexible! I can stay on the roster as long as I edit a minimum 10,000 words a month, which is like a day of work for me. That means that I can still do game design contracts, freelance editing, and writing gigs as they come up, and this editing firm will still be there when I'm done.
  3. It'll make me a better editor! I get tons of practice, advice from professionals, and even free training, so every job I take for these guys improves my skills for my private clients as well as my skills as a writer.
  4. I set my own hours! Do I need to make extra money one month? I can work crazy hard and do that. Do I need to take a week off suddenly without asking for permission? I can do that too. Nobody cares, so long as I meet my minimum (and feed my family, which my family cares about, I guess).
  5. I work to a task rather than to an arbitrary number of hours! On Torment, I was paid monthly no matter how much I worked -- and I worked a lot. I don't regret the time I put into that game (the opposite, actually; I wish I could have put more time into it), but it wasn't really sustainable. On the other hand, most projects pay me only for the hours I do, which is more fair but gets tricky when they don't have enough for me to do or when there's too much for me to do in the hours they've budgeted for me. I much prefer to get paid for a task and then be left to work at my own speed. I don't have to stress about working too slow (within reason), and if I work fast then I get bonus freetime.
  6. As I said on Twitter a few weeks ago, I freaking love editing! I get to help people! And clean things! And make money doing it!
Reasons #2-6, by the way, apply to freelance editing as well. And freelancing pays better. AND I get to work on awesome projects like novels and RPG rulebooks. But yeah, that Reason #1 is kind of important. Editing resumes and college essays and dissertations might not be a manic dream job, but it's exactly the glue I need to hold all these other job pieces together while still keeping my family alive and junk. (And I do get to edit novels sometimes).

Other theoretically more exciting updates, in no particular order:
  • My Sea of Souls outline is still in the hands of the person who will decide its fate. That's publishing, man.
  • I'm working on a gamebook for a mobile game company. It's no steady job (and no contract has been signed, so I can't say anything concrete), but it's pretty exciting. Gamebooks are basically my prestige class.
  • I'm doing some proofreading and editing for Monte Cook Games and enjoying every minute of it (and not just because I get to read all this awesome stuff before anybody else). I love all my clients, but MCG might be my favorite.
  • On Sunday nights (US time), I'm currently streaming Ori and the Blind Forest, which is one of the prettiest most explory-fun games I've played.
  • I might MIGHT be able to breathe new life into ye olde Cunning Folk (which could be exciting for the two of you who've been reading this blog since forever).
As always, more on these if/when I have it.

In the meantime, how are you doing? What are you playing? Or watching? Or whatever you do for fun?

Let Me Edit Your Book

While I'm in between design gigs, I've decided to offer up my services as a freelance editor. I've been critiquing and editing novels for years (in addition to virtually every single conversation in the incredibly verbose Torment), and I'd like to use that experience to help you.

If you'd like to have a professional author with an obsessive eye for detail take a look at your novel, I'm your guy. I'm offering several different levels of editing, including a sample edit so you can try before you buy. If you can't find what you're looking for... well, I'll be surprised.

Details on the Editing Services page, here.

Update, August 2017

Hey, guys! If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, then you probably already know this, but for those who don't: my new game design gig (mentioned in the last post) has ended and I am currently looking for new work.

Being unemployed is weird, but I think I'm through the emotional worst of it (he says, just before his family runs out of money entirely and he discovers new meanings of "worst"). I have a few leads, though nothing concrete yet as of this writing. Honestly, I'm excited at the possibilities, but that's easy to say, isn't it? Possibilities are always exciting.

Here are some other things that are going on:

1) I'm still thankful. Remember that gratitude posting I talked about last year? I'm still doing it, day 257 and counting. And I'm really glad I have been. Not even counting the rotting landfill that is American current events, I've had a number of depressive times in my own life this past year. Forcing myself to literally count my blessings has really helped me get through them.

If my notifications are any indicator, it's helped other people as well. So no worries. I'm gonna keep going.

2) Sea of Souls. Last time, I mentioned a Middle Grade novel tentatively titled Sea of Souls. This novel has been outlined and the outline sent to the person who requested it. We'll see what they think. Me? I'm excited. This novel feels important to me, more so than most things I've written, and I'm anxious to see what comes of it.

3) I'm streaming on Twitch. What's streaming, you ask? Basically, you get to watch me play a game while you and other fun folk chat at me (my family, in particular, is pretty fun to chat with). I've been playing games like Thimbleweed Park, Black the Fall, and Old Man's Journey -- mostly games with strong narratives because that's the kind of thing I enjoy. If you'd like to watch, head over here on US Sunday nights:, or you can catch up on old streams at YouTube here:

(Yes, I realize I stream the same time as Game of Thrones. Whatever.)

I've got some other things going on, but I can't talk about them yet as they're all just possibilities at this point. None of them are guaranteed provision for my family, but they're exciting possibilities with the potential to provide. I'll tell you more when I can.

How are you guys doing? Tell me in the comments.

Current Status

For a long time, not a lot had changed, hence the lack of updates. But here's what's going on in my life right now that you may (or may not) be interested in:

1) Torment is out. You probably already know this, but if you don't let me say it again: TORMENT IS OUT FOR PS4, XBOX, PC, MAC, AND LINUX. It's also getting some pretty great reviews, with a metascore of 83 on Metacritic. I don't think I could be happier with all of our work.

2) I have a new game design gig. I am not (currently) working for inXile and instead am doing narrative design for Nexon. I do very much hope I get to work with the fine folks at inXile again in the future, but I'm also pretty excited about what we're doing at Nexon. Such is the life of a freelancer.

3) I'm currently drafting "Secret Middle Grade Fantasy Project." I want to tell you more, but I can't. Suffice to say I'm excited about this project.

4) I'm also writing another Middle Grade novel. This one tentatively called Sea of Souls. It's very different from anything I've written, which makes me both scared and excited. I think it could be pretty great, but we'll see!

5) I'm considering starting a Twitch stream. Because obviously I have all this free time. If you don't know what Twitch is, don't worry about it yet (I'll explain more if/when I do). Right now, I'm just trying things out and deciding what I want to do with it (and why). Any thoughts you have on the topic are welcome.

6) I'm finishing up Rurouni Kenshin. Thinking about what to watch next. Probably Iron Fist (since I'm fully invested in the Netflix Marvel universe), but there are so. Many. Shows.

7) I'm (finally) playing Banner Saga 2. And discovering I really suck at it, but also discovering how not to suck at it, which is fun.

As for other things you might be interested in -- like Izanami's Choice, some kind of sequel to Izanami's Choice, Post-Apoc Ninjas, etc -- I have no new news on these things (hence the long periods of silence). But that doesn't mean they have disappeared. As always, I'll let you know when I have something to share!

So that's what's going on with me. What have you been doing lately?