Twelve Years of Twenty Sided

By Shamus Posted Friday Sep 1, 2017

Filed under: Landmarks 39 comments

The blog is twelve years old today. A child entering first grade when I launched it back in 2005 would graduate this year. (Assuming they didn’t flunk at some point. You know how it is with hypothetical kids. Always letting you down, hypothetically.)

I like doing retrospective posts like this one because it gives me a chance to note the passage of time, which for me is happening at an ever more terrifying rate. On the other hand, it’s sort of annoying how the anniversaries are all bunched up in the same general part of the year. The Patreon anniversary is in June, my birthday is two months later in August, and the blog itself is just two weeks later in September.

So I’m usually out of retrospective-y kind of things to talk about by the time this anniversary rolls around. I sometimes ask my Patrons for questions. This time Paul Spooner came through. The questions below are from him:

How are your allergies doing these days?

I’m actually doing fantastic. I got a new drug for my asthma. Breo might look like a 1980s science fiction prop, but it’s also a dang good medicine. It’s the only thing I take these days. August / September is usually the worst time of year for me, but this year I’ve barely noticed. I got a little sniffly like most people with allergies, but I haven’t had any asthma trouble. Which is good. I really enjoy breathing.

Any hope for a new book?

Here’s the thing with writing books: Per hour, the Witch Watch was probably the most profitable project I’ve done outside of working in an office. However, writing books is, on average, a huge loser for me. The problem is that since 2003 I’ve started something like six or seven books and finished just two. (Free RadicalWow. The Free Radical site gets more broken every year as (adherence to) HTML standards change. That site REALLY needs an update. and Witch Watch. I also finished How I Learned, but that’s not a fiction book and is kind of a different thing entirely.)

See, if a book stalls then the months I put into it were wasted. Meanwhile blog series are usually (but not always) much smaller in size. If I start to get sick of a topic I can wrap it up quickly and move on, and I’ll still get some content out of it.

I’d like to write some cyberpunk again. I’ve got tons of ideas for settings. I’ve got lots of cool characters. I do okay with dialog. But I struggle with creating the overarching structure. I have trouble coming up with that big thing for the characters to overcome, or with figuring out how they overcome it. I write good scenes, but bad stories. I think that’s why DM of the Rings was such a win for me. Someone else provided the structure, and I just filled in the blanks. Same goes for my Let’s Plays.

Or maybe I’m just too critical of myself. I analyze my own story and think, “A is too muddled of an idea. B doesn’t have a strong enough link between the protagonist and the struggle. C sags too much in the middle. D is way too obvious.” I’ll get a few weeks or months into a project, recognize the fatal flaw, and lose interest.

Any hope for a new programming series?

I dunno. I’ve been doing a little coding with a friend. I hope it goes somewhere, but there’s nothing to write about yet.



[1] Wow. The Free Radical site gets more broken every year as (adherence to) HTML standards change. That site REALLY needs an update.

From The Archives:

39 thoughts on “Twelve Years of Twenty Sided

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    A child entering first grade when I launched it back in 2005 would graduate this year

    Something something Rutskarn something.

    Meanwhile blog series are usually (but not always) much smaller in size.

    So why not turn the books into blog posts?Post what youve finished writing here,and if the book gets finished,then publish it.If not,hey you had content from it.Not to mention,youd have your audience proofread it for you.And Im sure a bunch of people would buy free radical if you dared to put that on sale,but yeah,copyright and other stuff.Because owning a book on kindle or in paper form has its advantages over the free version.

    1. WWWebb says:

      You mean serial fiction? That’s like a two hundred year old idea. This blog is all about the future, man.

    2. Philadelphus says:

      Sort of the Early Access model but for books? Interesting idea. Has that been tried before? (Probably.)

      1. methermeneus says:

        “Early Access, but for books” (aside from the mentions of serial fiction) has indeed been tried, with a fair amount of financial success, by Tracy Hickman with “Dragon’s Bard.” It’s kinda like a cross between serial fiction and Kickstarter.

    3. `Retsam says:

      Ehh, the serial format has merits (Worm and Mother of Learning are both great bits of serial fiction that I’ve read recently), but if Shamus’s main problem is overarching structure, I think a serial is exactly the wrong format for him, as a serial (to be done well) requires that you have a pretty strong enough idea of where the story is going before it actually gets there.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I think that's why DM of the Rings was such a win for me.

    Why not try another screencap comic then?It doesnt have to be hobbit(but it definitely should be hobbit),you can pick any movie that youve enjoyed very much.DM of the avengers.WM of the justice league.The bloody nipple saga.Oh,wait,that one has been done already.

    1. Mephane says:

      How about DMass Effect. Unlike DMOTR, it is the DM who utterly screws up while the players are desperately trying to make the campaign work.

      1. Chris says:

        “DM of the Ass Effect” seems like a pretty good statement of the quality turn that series took. Although it might be worth making sure there isn’t already a porn parody titled Ass Effect.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Nah,thats how they did it back in the day when they had imagination.These days it would be titled:
          Mass effect XXX:A porn parody.

        2. Gresman says:

          And the twist and reason why the DM is not good at DM’ing is …
          that he is a donkey!

      2. Liessa says:

        I really like that idea, though I don’t know how you’d handle the obvious differences in plot direction and worldbuilding between the first game and the subsequent instalments. Maybe there could be two people running the campaign together, then one of them leaves and the other has to struggle on alone?

        Another thing I’d like to see is a long-form analysis of ME: Andromeda in the same style as the other games. It would be interesting to see if Shamus thinks the game is as bad as it’s reputed to be, and why (or why not, as the case may be).

    2. Falcon02 says:

      I recall Shamus mentioning something way back that he had some custom made software, to make the DMoTR and/or Stolen Pixels easier to make, that has since been lost and would need to be recreated.

      So aside from inspiration, the level of effort required in streamlining long term production of such a comic might prove problematic, especially if Shamus doesn’t really feel like recreating his lost software…

      Still, I miss DMoTR and Stolen Pixels…

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yes,but since then the software tools for processing images have improved significantly.There may no longer be a need for custom made stuff.

  3. Syal says:

    I have trouble coming up with that big thing for the characters to overcome, or with figuring out how they overcome it.

    Shady Company #1 hires the Super Hackers to steal a revolutionary new anti-asthma drug from Shady Company #2. At SC2, Super Hackers discover a projected casualty list for the Super Hackers’ neighborhood in the near future, correlating with the arrival of Unusual Politician,

    They prevent it by setting the entire neighborhood on fire the night before.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Actually, this kind of ad-libbing was what I was going to suggest. There’s a few pen-and-paper games that focus on world-building. One has the first game session as basically just a shared all-the-players thing where everyone’s fleshing out their world. In Fact I think Rutskarn posted about a few of them, and the particular one I’m thinking of is from that post.

      Shamus could scrounge up some people for some kind of brainstorming / world-building session. Hell, even just asking Rutz for the names of some games which focus on world-building like this, might help Shamus get some tools for building out a book’s over-arching plot points, characters, and setting. :)

    2. Gresman says:

      If you go with burning the neighbourhood someone might think Shamus has some kind of aversion towards the places where his protagonists have friends and families.

  4. Daimbert says:

    I play better in other people’s worlds, too, when I write, but I have the opposite problem of yours, I think. I’m pretty good at coming up with and building plots, or at least plots that work well enough to get to the scenes I want, but am not good at building worlds and characters. Going inside an existing work does all of that for me.

    Of course, my biggest problem with writing isn’t starting things and abandoning them, but not starting them at all. I have a ton of ideas that I don’t have the time to really start. I’m looking at doing a novel-length fanfic that I had promised to start before, and just now as I went back and looked to see when I said that it was over two years ago …

    1. Echo Tango says:

      If you can spare half an hour to read / post on this website, you have time to start crafting a world. For example, I made up a sci-fi desert planet for a pen-and-paper game, with 4 main sapient (i.e. player) species and 3 suns. Howling dust storms that circle the globe periodically, and native wildlife related to one of the player species. It’s not fully finished, but I did the rough draft in the first half an hour. I later spent more time, but that’s a godo start. i.e. The next Friday I spent half an hour on each of the species, and another half hour on the starting town, and ending dungeon. So you can definitely start something, if you’re on the internet here, wasting time. :)

      1. Daimbert says:

        It’s not that I don’t have TIME to world-build, it’s that I don’t have time to WRITE. I’m just not very good at world/character building. and so would rather write, but to even do a short fanfic — as I did recently for my own blog — takes a few hours and works best if I can do that as a solid block.

  5. Sarcastro says:

    What about publishing DM of the Rings on some dead-tree medium? You now know the publishing world some, and I know I would pay for a copy to pass around the dice table.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      Is that practical, legally speaking? Wouldn’t the film company be entitled to a share of any profits?

      1. Ardis Meade says:

        Not even remotely practical and their share would be all of it.

        1. Sarcastro says:

          I very much disagree – this is like textbook derivative work, covered under fair use.

          I’d understand about being gun-shy before Disney’s awesome legal might though. Even if you have a case, they can bleed you dry.

          1. Jabor says:

            That’s not really what “derivative work” means. Being a derivative work doesn’t give you any sort of fair-use right to the original work.

            Whether something is “fair use” or not depends on a whole lot of different factors, and it’s hard to predict unless there’s already a very similar precedent. Notably, though, whether something is being used commercially is a pretty significant factor.

            1. Falcon02 says:

              Yeah, I believe just the original screencaps would be covered under copyright (just like any other professional photo).

              I love the idea… but to be fair none of us (to my knowledge) is a copyright lawyer, and Shamus would have to consult one before seriously pursuing it…

              I’d certainly love to buy it if Shamus was able to actually get it published though…

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Ive heard that there is an artist that sells pictures taken by others by appending his comment below them and gets his work defended in court.So its most definitely fair use.However,that guy is regularly taken to court to defend his work,and that doesnt seem like a good idea for Shamus.

    2. Julian says:

      That idea is, at best, legally fraught.

  6. Paul Spooner says:

    Thanks for answering my questions! On the whole, good news. Here’s hoping for another twelve years before the increasingly rapid HTML standard updates catch up to us all and finally make human communication over the internet unintelligible.

  7. Aevylmar says:

    How about “steal structure” as a more general concept? My initial concept for my first (unpublished) novel was “King Lear with Supervillains.” If you have a basic plot structure given to you by some other archetypical story, whatever that is, then that lets you keep going along with it until your characters (as they inevitably will) demonstrate their free will and their differences from their inspirations by busting the plot wide open. But until that happens, you can make quite a lot of progress with a stolen concept.

  8. WWWebb says:

    So…we’re almost 20 years from the oft-lauded golden age of gaming. Does anyone think that’s long enough for developers to talk about how the sausage gets made?

    Shamus is very, very good at guessing where script decisions were made in response to developer limitations or marketing directives. Can anyone talk about this stuff now or is everyone still under N.D.A.s or still working in the industry?

    Has anyone but Double-Fine and Valve ever done a a developer commentary track? Has anyone ever done a developer commentary track worth listing to?

    1. Droid says:

      GDC (Game Developers’ Conference) has a bunch of game postmortem videos on YouTube, as well as some interesting stories from still ongoing projects, like the devs of EVE Online, who talked about their overhaul of … whatever it was that the ingame police is called in EVE.

      That’s probably the closest we came after Portal.

      Even though the live commentary is probably best suited for linear (and particularly puzzle) games, especially ones where sound cues are rare and/or unimportant.
      Imagine Witcher 3 with game commentary. How would that even interact with all the dialogue? And a lot of the stuff in that game, like the very plausible (not to say “realistic”) way they designed the plant life, be it in mountains, plains, fields or orchards, is not something they can just talk about “whenever”. You have to have a good visual to go with it to appreciate it, but at the same time, you don’t want the player to just miss it.

      It’s possible to do, but only with more work, and it’ll be a lot worse than in linear games.

  9. “I write good scenes, but bad stories.” Have you asked Rutskarn about a possible colab book?

  10. Marty says:

    I’m still hoping that Shamus eventually tries this hand at procedural music generation or gets back into making procedural environments.

  11. paercebal says:

    Any hope for a new programming series?

    I dunno. I've been doing a little coding with a friend. I hope it goes somewhere, but there's nothing to write about yet.

    BTW, about development.

    If you’re still doing C or C++ on Windows, vcpkg could well help you a lot. It’s an open-source package manager for Windows that brings ready-to-use libraries (among ~300) with just a single console instruction:

  12. Cuthalion says:

    I write good scenes, but bad stories.

    I can definitely relate to this. It even applies to coming up with campaign plots to GM! I always wanted to write a novel, but I’m going to need to get a lot more familiar with story structure to the point where it clicks naturally before I really have a chance at that.

    1. Droid says:

      Not really. I mean, maybe I’m not the best source as I am not the best GM myself, but I think Rutskarn also put it this way: Your big advantage as the GM is that your audience wants to be fooled. Of course I don’t advise you to just go in and do all the stupid stuff you can come up with, for “teh lulz”, but GMing is probably the one narrative job where writing good scenes may be all that is required.

      Also, sometimes, less is more. If you have a gigantic overarching story with a lot of motivations and actions influencing stuff behind the scenes, then that is a massive overhead for you for maybe no discernible effect to your audience. Of course, unless you really like to do it anyway, in which case, at least be sure to have some of that stuff your players found strange come back up in conversation (in-universe, of course). Sometimes closure for strange stories is better than completely logical paths of information (would this person know that other guy’s motivation or would it die with him).

  13. Zekiel says:

    Don’t know if this is at all feasible but if you’re looking for ideas for more writing projects for the blog, would you consider doing a potted history of videogames? I realised recently that its been 20 years since I started videogaming. There have been plenty of changes during those years, and I went looking for a potted history and analysis of trends in gaming during its history (which is what, 40 years mainstream??) but I’ve not found anything easily-digstible. I’m sure you’d do a great job, but I recognise it’d be a pretty monumental task.

    Congrats on 12 years!

  14. Segacact says:

    You should start focusing on your youtube channel, Shamus.
    Even with a low turnout of a video per month, that’s where all them patreon bucks are at.
    People are starving for youtube content.

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