Writing Status

Those of you who saw my post about my super ridiculous September may want to know how I made out. Here are where things stand on all things writing and a few other things.

I'm on schedule for Torment. At least I should be. I'm pretty happy with what I've gotten done, anyway!

I wrote a novella. Specifically, I drafted and revised the novella known as "Post-Edo Bladerunner" on the Works in Progress page. It is out of my hands for now. With luck, this will be a thing you can read in the near future. We'll see.

There may be another story for you to read soon. Specifically, this one, but that is also out of my hands. I'll let you know.

Air Pirates is no longer on submission. For those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time, I know this is really sad news. Though honestly it's been nearly four years since I got my agent; Air Pirates has not been on submission for that entire time, but it has been for a lot of it. I'm sure most of you already figured out it wasn't happening.

We got a lot of great feedback on Air Pirates, and at least one editor wants to see more of my stuff (an editor I really, really, really, really, really want to work with). But a lot of people expressed that -- while they loved the world and the characters and the story -- the category and genre of the thing was kind of hard to pin down, which means it would be kind of hard for them to sell.

Air Pirates is not dead. I love that world way too much. There is a major revision in its future (maybe even a rewrite?), but we'll see. What happens to Air Pirates depends on various career things that are out of my control over the next several months. Speaking of which...

Post-Apoc Ninjas is on submission. This novel has had its own bumpy ride, but I have learned a lot of things from the Air Pirates feedback and other soul-crushing critiques, and so I've revised the crap out of it. The result is something my agent loves (and if preliminary feedback on the Post-Edo novella is an indication, the critiques may also have leveled me up as a writer). Now that thing my agent loves is Out There.

Don't get excited yet, though. Publishing is slow, Tricia and I are cautious, and, well... you know what happened with Air Pirates. The point is I'm still writing and things are still moving.

The Thai government is happy with us. Or at least they're leaving our home alone, which in bureaucracy terms is the same thing.

No children died while my wife was gone. Though there was a fractured bone incident, but that wasn't my fault, and I handled the crap out of it.

Though it was a close thing.

Was there anything else you wanted to know?

Super Late PAX Post

PAX Prime was over a month ago, but I know several of you guys want to know what it was like. I have more time than I did in September, but I'm still short on it, so I'll do what I can.

As I've said before, I had never been on a panel, or even seen a panel, or even been to a convention before. I knew about PAX, of course -- even when I was separated from all things games, I still read my beloved Penny Arcade and witnessed the birth of their Gamer's Mecca -- but I had no idea what to expect.

But a Gamer's Mecca is pretty much what it is. Hundreds of thousands of geeks pile into Seattle for the weekend. Cosplayers are everywhere. Nearly every Uber to and from the convention is a Mad Max vehicle. Some weird tentacley thing is bursting out of the convention hall annex. Even miles away from the convention center, you might be going to dinner at a nice sit-down place and see Harley Quinn or Fire Emblem's Mia walk out.

It's pretty amazing.

And because everyone's there for a shared love of games (and many of them are introverts too), everyone's super nice. I played games and even had conversations (gasp!) with total strangers while waiting in line for other things. I spent the weekend with my brother and his friends -- also game developers -- and we talked RPGs, industry chat, card game design, and a thousand other topics that I never get to talk about at home.
Other highlights and comments:
  • The difference between AAA exhibitions and indie games is staggering. Watching Bethesda's animatronic Fallout robot or the Dark Souls fountain made me realize just how much more money these guys have than we on Torment do.
  • I discovered I'm much more attracted to the styles and innovations of indie games than the flash of AAA (not that I dislike the flash, mind you, I just found myself hanging in the Indie Exhibition Hall a lot more). Here was one of my favorites: Ultimate Chicken Horse.
  • I got to hang out with (and in many cases meet for the first time) a bunch of awesome game devs, including but not limited to Chris Avellone, Brian Mitsoda, Adam Brennecke, Monte Cook, Shanna Germain, and all the folks on my panel.

  • I had lunch with Pat Rothfuss. Our e-mails crossed paths, so we had only good intentions, but no actual plans to meet. But when my brother and I were in line for PA's live D&D show, I saw a notable bearded man walk past and -- in a truly non-introverted moment -- ran up to him, introduced myself, and made plans for lunch. I know. I'm super proud of myself, too.
The panel itself was both terrifying and really, really fun. Honestly, I would have loved to just sit and talk RPGs with Annie, Mitch, Swen, and Josh without all those people watching. Sounds like an awesome afternoon to me. We talked for an hour about RPGs and the difference between old-school and modern RPGs (and why we tend to like the former), as well as answering some very good questions from the audience.

In case you missed it, the audio for that panel is here.

I would love to go to PAX again, though honestly I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have my brother to hang out with. He and his friends were a huge part of what made PAX awesome for me (heck, half the stuff I said on the panel was stuff that I had said to them in our own conversations).

But who knows? Maybe one day I will.

Fix All The Things!

I know some of you want to hear what my time at PAX was like. I intend to write that post, but you'll have to wait a little longer. I have a crapload of work to do, including but not limited to:
  • Write Torment conversations
  • Design Torment conversations for others to write
  • Review Torment conversations others have written
  • Fix a number of problems created by the most recent round of Torment cuts
  • Finish a novella by October
  • Write a newsletter by October
  • Give the Thai government a bunch of documents they asked for while I was in the US (timing, man, seriously)
  • Fix everything that broke around the house while I was gone
  • Parent several children...
  • ...while my wife takes her own trip to the US
So my already ridiculously over-tasked life got turned to 11 for a few weeks. I will tell you about PAX, but not yet (fair warning: I fail at pictures).

However, you can hear me at my panel, wherein I and several awesome designers talk about what makes a classic RPG. There is no video recording, but the audio is here:

What I've been doing since 1999

On Friday, the Torment team released the first Alpha Systems Test, a look at the opening scene of the game and its most essential systems (conversation, mostly).

Shortly after I tweeted that out, some folks wondered what I've been doing, game design-wise, since 1999 (other folks wondered what happened in 1999 which, you know, that's fair).

Here's a very brief look at what happened since:
  • 1999 -- Planescape: Torment was released to high critical acclaim (and low sales).
  • 2000 -- I got married and left my awesome-but-crunch-timey game dev job for what I commonly refer to as my Office Space job.
  • While I was at work (sometimes literally), I designed D&D campaigns and board games, drew crappy comic strips, wrote stories, and programmed games based on those stories.
  • 2003 -- I decided I wanted to actually finish something I started, so I put my other projects aside (fourth question down) and focused on writing a novel.
  • 2005 -- My wife and I moved to Thailand. I kept writing, but I could no longer pay attention to the game industry (among other things) as much as I used to.
  • 2006 -- We took in our first child, and over the next several years would increase our family to include ten children, both foster and natural. Meanwhile, I kept designing RPGs and board games (that never got played outside my house).
  • 2008 -- I sent my first novel to agents (and also started this blog).
  • 2010 -- I wrote a story that somebody actually paid me for.
  • 2011 -- I got an agent and began the search for a publisher (that search is still ongoing, though we've updated the novel it is going on for).
  • 2012 -- I started working for inXile and "researched" what the game industry had been up to since I left (read: I played games again and wrote them off for tax purposes).
  • 2013-2015 -- I wrote hundreds of thousands of words for game dialogue and systems design. I also wrote a novella, a Pathfinder story, and a number of other things I hope you'll get to read some day.

So there you go. That's what I've been doing instead of (or in addition to) designing games for the last 15 years. Hopefully that also explains why my tastes in games tend to skew oldschool.

Wells' Lair on The Flash is Braille?

I don't actually watch The Flash (lack of time rather than inclination), but my sister pointed out to me that the secret lair of Harrison Wells is covered in bumps that look a lot like Braille.

But is it really Braille? And if so, is there some secret message hidden in the walls? Since this aligns with my interests (i.e. ciphers, linguistics, Braille), I decided to investigate. There are some answers on the internet, but not enough to satisfy me or my sister. I'm fixing that now.

First, a little Braille primer. The Braille alphabet encodes the 26 English letters into 2x3 grids of dots, like so:

Braille also encodes numbers, punctuation, and other formatting marks (like capital and italics) in that same 2x3 grid. However, the only markings on Wells' wall that fit any of those Braille markings are the letters n and z.

But Braille also has a cool and ridiculous number of shorthands and contractions. The dots on Wells' wall match these. Specifically, every 2x3 grid of dots on Wells' wall is one of these orientations, rotated either vertically or horizontally:

So the answer to our first question is yes, this is definitely Braille. I didn't see a single screenshot that showed any markings that broke the 2x3 grid pattern, nor that represented any word but those above.

But does it say anything? I'm gonna say no.

That conclusion does come with a few caveats though:
  1. I only know the basics of Braille. It may be that a fluent Braille reader would be able to see a pattern that I'm missing.
  2. Because the characters are rotated, it's hard to tell what orientation they are meant to be read in. I assumed a specific orientation and stuck with that for the image above.
  3. My translations assume English Braille. A lot of other languages use these grids for their own characters too (e.g. here are the Thai consonants).
With those caveats in mind, I would call this "decorative Braille." It's possible that there's a secret message hidden in some other language or character orientations, but I doubt it.

Even if there was, I'd never find it. You start doing this long enough and Wells' face starts to look like this:

Classic RPGs Panel at PAX

Hey, all! If you're going to PAX Prime next month, I'll be on a panel there.

The panel is "CLASSIC RPGs FOREVER!" (yes, in all caps, apparently), and it'll be on Sunday, August 30th at 11 AM in the Sasquatch Theater.

We'll be talking about resurrecting subgenres of classic RPGs that were once thought dead. I'll be joining veteran game developers Annie Mitsoda, Josh Sawyer, Mitch Gitelman, and Swen Vincke, with Penny Arcade's Jeff Kalles moderating.

I'm super excited and super terrified. This will be the first time I've ever been on a panel (or even seen a panel, or gone to PAX, or gone to any convention of any kind). It'll be awesome to talk games with a bunch of developers I admire, but yeah, combine a thousand unknowns with enormous crowds with nigh-clinical introversion and you get something that's even scarier than what I already do all day.

But hey, I'll manage. I always do.

So if you're going to be at PAX, let me know! It's possible I might be able to do something about that information without crawling under my bed in terror.*

* That's a joke. My bed is a mattress on the floor. I can't crawl under there without straining something.**

** Unless I crawl under the bed at my hotel. Hm, there's an idea....

Q: Big Pot Cooking Recipes?

Erik says:
You're a foster father of 10. Got any good big pot cooking recipes to share?

Actually, I do! Here are two of my favorites (my kids like them too, as it turns out).

Note that, as far as I'm concerned, cooking is essentially magic. So these numbers aren't exact (as evidenced by the ranges below). I usually try different amounts of things each time until I figure out what feels right. Tasting as you go also helps.

CASHEW CHICKEN (ไก่ผัดเม็ดมะม่วง)
Roast 1 1/4 cup of cashew nuts and 1 1/4 cup of chopped green onions (actually, I tend to fry these in oil nowadays, but you can do what you want). When they're nice and brown, take them out and set them aside.

In 2-3 Tbsp. of oil, fry 1 cup of dried chilis. When they get dark, take them out and set them aside. (IMPORTANT: Take them out before they start smoking, lest you fill your house with face-melting, eye-scalding chili smoke. My children hate me for the times I've done this. They still won't let me forget it.)

In the chili-infused oil, fry a bunch of garlic until it's brown, then add all of this stuff:
1 kg of chicken
1 green bell pepper
2 onions
1-2 big carrots
5 Tbsp. soy sauce
5 Tbsp. oyster sauce
5 tsp. sugar

Cook that for a few minutes, then add 1 cup of chicken broth. Cook it some more until it's done (see? magic).

Turn off the heat, and add the cashew nuts, green onions, and the fried chilis (the latter is optional -- most of my kids complain when I leave these in, so now I just put them in a separate dish for the spice-immune teenager).

Serve it on rice (we make 7-8 cups for our family). Feeds at least 12 people.

YELLOW CURRY (แกงกะหรี่)
I loved this stuff as a kid. It's even better now that I live in a country where the spices are native.

If you can get yellow (or Indian) curry paste, then use some of that with an appropriate amount of coconut milk (it'll probably say on the package what proportions to use).

If not, here's how I made my own curry sauce:
3-5 Tbsp yellow (or Indian) curry powder (sadly, if you can't get this, I don't think I can help you)
Lots of garlic (I put in like 10 cloves)
1-2 Tbsp red chili pepper
2-3 Tbsp ginger
2-3 tsp salt
1500 mL coconut milk

Pretty much just mix that in a pot, then throw this stuff in:
1.5 kg of chicken (or whatever meat you want, really)
4 big potatoes
2 big carrots
2 onions

Bring it to a boil, and then leave it on low heat for like 30-60 minutes. Serve it on rice (we make 7-8 cups for our family). Serves at least 12 people.

Anyone else have any good big pot cooking recipes to share? I only cook like four things. It wouldn't hurt to discover other options.


Got a question? Ask me anything.