Three Random Things

By Shamus Posted Sunday Dec 9, 2018

Filed under: Random 96 comments

Number one: Based on the feedback I got last week regarding my book cover, we decided to take another pass at it. I sort of resent this work. You can fuss over this sort of crap forever. You can dump days of productivity into tweaking font selection, obsessing over text placement, re-wording the blurb, changing image composition, and worrying about a dozen other little details. It’s possible to pour many hours into messing with things that aren’t ever going to impact sales.

How will this look in print? How will it look on an eReader? How will it look as a tiny thumbnail on the Amazon store? Is this font too boring? Is this font too childish? Does the back-of-the-book blurb give enough information to let the reader know what they’re in for? Dies it give too much away? Is it too long?

On the other hand, the cover really is the first thing people see, and it makes sense to put some time into it. Going by the advice some self-publishing authors give, the quality of the cover is more important than the quality of the contents. That’s really cynical and depressing, which means it’s probably true.

If you’re curious, this is where we are now:

It's a story about things that happen to people in a place because reasons.
It's a story about things that happen to people in a place because reasons.

Just remember: As far as you know I’ve been hyping up this release for months and everyone you know is ready to buy two copies, okay?

Number two: I’m still working on my end-of-year list. This has been a weird year for me. In the past I’ve played a large number titles thanks to sales and Steam backlog, but this year I spent a lot of time with a small number of games, and a lot of those games are leftovers from 2016 and 2017. I spent over a month with Andromeda and Destiny 2. And I’ve just spent the better part of last week playing a game from 2010.

This is good in the sense that I really enjoyed my gaming this year, but it also means I missed out on the really big tentpole releases.

Number three: I installed Starcraft II again last week. Oops. I’m trying to release a book, I’ve got lots of current games to play, and I’m still working on my end-of-year content, but the Starcraft II fever struck and I stupidly thought I could just install the game to “play a round or two for old time’s sake”.

I’m sure you’ll be shocked to discover that I ended up playing more than one or two rounds.

I’m still garbage at the game, though.

There’s an old saying in golf, “If you can’t play golf well, learn to enjoy playing it poorly.” This quote is usually paired with an image of a dumpy middle-aged guy hacking a massive divot out of the course in a botched swing. Or he’ll be standing in a sand trap. Or he’s standing in the trees, looking at the ground and scratching his head. You get the idea.

I guess Starcraft II is my golf. I’ve learned to enjoy being terrible at it. I’m really horrible at multitasking, and Starcraft is a game built almost entirely around multitasking.


From The Archives:

96 thoughts on “Three Random Things

  1. Gunther says:

    Completely off-topic, but: Obsidian are making a new sci-fi RPG that’s being described as a combination of Fallout:NV and Mass Effect.

    So far there’s a trailer and a walkthrough of the first 15 minutes on the youtubes – I don’t wanna spoil anything, but it looks absolutely up my (and probably your) alley. It’s called The Outer Worlds.

    1. I’m kinda bummed there won’t be a romance. But I kinda understand why they don’t want to. If you’re gonna have a romance you’d better do it well or not at all. Examples: Bastilla in Knights Of The Old Republic, and Tali in Mass Effect (that one evolved across three games).

      If Obsidian ‘s new franchise does well (please don’t be too buggy) then I’m hoping the sequel will have a romance option, then Obsidian will have the resources to spend some time on that. Apparently Rose in Fallout New Vegas was supposed to have had a more evolved romance plot (more choices dialog). I also found Veronica in Fallout New Vegas to be pretty cool despite not being into the player.

      So I’m hoping for some really cool memorable companions.

      The setting of the game is pretty awesome too. By the looks of things so far you’ll be able to go between two planets (and possibly one moon or some station). I’m guessing a future sequel may let you go to other planets/beyond the solar system you are in.

      What Obsidian has achieved here is to mix concepts and ideas/stuff from multiple genres. It’s like Andromeda got blended with Fallout New Vegas with a sprinkling of Telltales Borderlands. And a character and environment style that is on the artistic side of the uncanny valley and looks pretty darn good I’d say.

      The use of Iggy Pop’s song for the trailer was spot on as well. I wonder if the movie Rock & Rule (1983) was one of many sources of inspiration for this game.
      (Iggy Pop plays “Mock” Ma villain that has kidnapped Angel played by Deborah Harry of Blondie). It’s a wonderfully silly rock cartoon.

      Ancient Making Of docu of the movie if anyone are interested

      1. Zaxares says:

        Apparently that’s largely due to Chris Avellone’s influence. Word is that he HATES romances in games, and he reportedly gritted his teeth all the way putting them in NWN2 (which kinda shows, as they were pretty terribly written). I’m not sure if Avellone’s still at Obsidian though.

        1. Bloodsquirrel says:

          I agree with Avellone on this one, at least as far as it goes for RPGs. I’ve found that the only ones that really work well are the ones that get to tie into the game’s main plot. The Witcher 3’s romances work pretty well because both romance options are major characters who you’ll be doing major plot stuff with, and Geralt is enough of defined character for them to actually have something to write around. I thought that the Morrigan romance in DA:O worked pretty well, because it has something that feels like a real story behind it, with Morrigan having your child and then disappearing with it.

          Basically, romances that feel like they were given a special place and are the “canon” romance. Romances with some actual drama to write around (Ballista’s also works well), and not just informed drama via lots of dialog being recited in their room in the Normandy. Which is at odds with the Bioware-style “We need ten different romance options, and half of them have to be agnostic about the PC’s gender”. There’s just nothing to those romances.

          Really, I’d rather an RPG have 1-2 romance options that you can either take and leave, but which are written far less broadly and feel like an integrated part of the story.

          1. Joshua says:

            About the only ones I’ve enjoyed are the Baldur’s Gate 2 and Planescape ones.

          2. Liessa says:

            I don’t think Avellone is involved with The Outer Worlds, so it’s probably more to do with the fact that videogame romances are – as you say – very difficult to do well. Another problem is that some of the players who like romances can get really obsessive about them, and will complain endlessly that they can’t romance X as a Y, leading to the Bioware-style ’10 bland gender-neutral romances per game’ situation. My own preference is to either have a small handful of romances that fit with the plot, à la KOTOR or Mass Effect 1, or just allow you to flirt with lots of different people and let the player’s imagination handle the rest.

            Either way, I’m already quite enthused by the TOW reveal. The setting and gameplay look interesting, and I like the way they’ve gone for an obviously stylised look rather than trying to compete with AAA games on graphics. I’m not so keen on the FPS combat, but hopefully there’s more to it than what was shown in the gameplay video.

          3. BlueHorus says:

            the Bioware-style “We need ten different romance options, and half of them have to be agnostic about the PC’s gender”. There’s just nothing to those romances.

            Are you kidding me? There’s loads to them!*
            The way you don’t even have to read the dialogue your character is saying and just pick the predetermined ‘romantic’ options – sometimes literally indicated by a heart icon.
            Truly a romance system for everybody.

            And don’t forget the way that it’s damn near impossible to avoid the romance options either. I spent the entirety of DA2 being mean to Merril and telling her her plan involving a cursed mirror was stupid. Then her plan ended in disaster and I took great pleasure in saying ‘I told you so’.
            But then she still came to my house and tried to kiss me!**

            Also, any proper romance ends in a ‘win state’ of unlocking a cutscene wherein your characters dry-hump each other in their underwear, right? That’s a true connection.

            *Or is that loads of them?
            **I was consiidering looking into a Ye Olde Reftraining Order by this point.

            1. coleusrattus says:

              Don’t forget that the dry humping is the ENDPOINT of the romance, and neither the participants nor anyone else will ever mention anything even remotely addressing any character relationship

              1. Saints Row (4?) lampshades or circumvent things by letting you just jump anyone’s bones (or non-bones).

                Fallout 4 (can’t recall if New Vegas and 3 an d 2 and 1 also did this), the end of the companion quest is the culmination of the relationship quest for them and you can choose a friendship or romance conclusion each with their own perks. (I’m not dissing the implementation of this though, in a full RPG “everything” can be a stat) but it makes the whole thing feel kinda shallow and it’s probably only done by most for the stats.

                A few games (can’t recall which when writing this) have had romantic interests be aware of each other and fight or demand you make a choice. While others have made the companions relationship (romantic or not) play a part in the ending of the game (who’s side they end up on, if the big bad manage to turn them to their side etc).

                The problem is (IMO) that a good romance needs it’s “quest” to be as well thought out as the main quest of the game itself to work properly. And when so many teens play games like Fortnite or PUGB and publishers and investors (rather than game devs) see how popular those are why should they waste money on companion stories (let alone romances). Which is a huge shame.

                Good luck trying to find a RPG where you can make your protagonist “evil” and you can have a “evil” romance with a “evil” companion. Only ones I can think of is KoTOR 1 and KoTOR 2 right now.
                I’d want to see badass power fatasy evil macho me and my evil gal (or vice versa if you swing that way etc) tear up the world “our way”.

                It doesn’t have to be a canon ending. It certainly isn’t in KOtOR, but it feels pretty awesome still when you play the last chapter in that game and see the alternate end cutscene.

            2. Witcher had the advantage that the characters was established so the player did not “create” the character.

              Dragon Age 2 is forgettable for me, the characters felt too needy (!?).

              But Dragon Age Origins Morrigan (if you go that path) concludes along with the main story. And you even get a “what happened next?” in the form of a DLC/expansion where you basically have a quest to find her and when you do you get a bookend conclusion, it almost feels like a epilogue to the main game.

              In Dragon Age 3 the romances was okay, but they may have spread themselves too thin, they tried to add something for everyone. Sure if you have loads of money and a giant team you can do that. But it’s kinda sad when Bioware are “the best ones” on this for RPGs.

              Here’s a scary thought. Take Inquisition (DA3) and strip away all the action/combat/running around and looting stuff and keep just the romance stuff. The result would be a “ok” romantic visual novel. I guess another issue with DA3 was that the entire game was “ok”. The highlight there IMO was the music during the initial trip to the player fort.

              I kinda hope that Morrigan comes back in DA4 as well. Sure she wasn’t in DA2, but she was in DA1 and a expansion for it and in DA3 and she’s the daughter of a elven god whom used to be together with another elven god. If they kinda spin it around her and the player is just “somebody” that happens to get mixed up in it all, that would make DA4 much better.

              I can’t recall a RPG where the player is the companion or sidekick to the main character. Don’t get me wrong I love the power fantasy of a player becoming almost godlike (yet have hardly anyone react to how much leveled up you are), so the player being a helper to the protagonist could be fun, a romance could be fun too, the protagonist could be bi, and you would only need minor changes to recognize the player’s gender and sexual preferences, but the rest of the relationship could be really properly written out.

              1. Syal says:

                I can’t recall a RPG where the player is the companion or sidekick to the main character.

                Wasn’t that a common complaint about Final Fantasy 12?

                Depending on what you mean, Trails in the Sky 1 might count; you’ve got two main characters who each count as each other’s sidekick, and they’re both holding down the fort while their world-famous buddy is busy saving other, larger portions of the world.

                …oh, and Tidus from FFX.

                1. Randint says:

                  I don’t know that I’d count Trails in the Sky (at least not the entire game). Estelle and Joshua are certainly at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of authority at the Bracer’s Guild, but they also spend a good portion of the game operating independently from anyone who would give them orders. Out of the party members, Olivier, Chloe, and Tita aren’t Bracers, and from what I recall Zane defers to the other characters due to the fact that by the time he’s introduced, it’s obvious that the various incidents involve a bunch of Liberl internal politics, and he’s from Calvard. So it’s really only when you’re traveling with Scherazard (end of prologue + Chapter 1) or Agate (Chapter 3) that Estelle and Joshua have somebody else calling the shots for them.

                  (Not sure if this is tangential or getting back on topic, but if you can get past the anime-ness of the Estelle/Joshua romance (particularly the step-sibling thing), I’d say that it works for precisely the reasons Bloodsquirrel mentioned in an above post: it’s not this optional pursue-at-your-leisure-or-don’t-do-it-at-all thing, but rather something between the two main characters that is directly written into the plot.)

                  I’d say the important thing (to me) for considering the player character a sidekick would be that the “main” character should spend the bulk of the game traveling with the party.

                  Tales of Symphonia would be a better example, where the party is doing this salvation-pilgrimage thing (at the beginning, at least) and Lloyd is just some kid from the village who tagged along. Fire Emblem 7 (Blazing Sword, the one that was released as just Fire Emblem in the west because it was the first translated) is sort-of an example, where the player character is a not-nameless-but-the-name-doesn’t-matter tactician helping out Lyn/Eliwood/Hector, who are the ones that drive the plot. I’d argue that that one goes so far that it doesn’t count, though – The player character is so much a sidekick to them that they’re pretty much a non-entity as far as the story goes.

              2. Chris says:

                As for being a sidekick

                (spoilers, for some reason spoiler tag with doesnt work?)

                In DQ5 you actually have this in a way. There is armor that only the hero can wear, so you go to the temple and try to put the helmet on, but it is extremely heavy so the priest tells you you’re not the one. Then later you marry one of the two girls (and for how thin the story of DQ5 is, the romances are pretty big part of it) and your son turns out to be the hero. So in the end you just end up being a sidekick of your son to defeat evil

          4. Mephane says:

            The Witcher 3’s romances work pretty well because both romance options are major characters who you’ll be doing major plot stuff with, and Geralt is enough of defined character for them to actually have something to write around.

            I think a much more important aspect is that Yennefer and Triss are completely independent from Geralt. They’re not henchmen in his party doing his bidding. That makes the relationship more like one between equals, not between boss and subordinate

            1. Daimbert says:

              I can’t imagine anyone thinking that Morrigan or Leliana are subordinate to the Warden in DAO. Alistair might be seen that way, but to be honest he probably prefers it that way …

              Also, while the MC is nominally the leader in the Persona games, most of the characters that he can romance, even in the party, aren’t really subordinates.

          5. Daimbert says:

            I don’t know. I don’t like romances that are too tightly tied to the plot, because then they seem like a kind of “destined pairing”, which then can make them seem mandatory, and it’s also really hard to do options if you tie them that tightly to the plot. Certainly you want them to be with important characters that have plot-related reasons to be there, but you don’t really want to have the “One True Romance” like Bastilla was in KotOR.

            I think the best way to go is to have the game react to the romances in some way and so acknowledge them without making the game all about them. While Morrigan has the most directly plot-related romance in Dragon Age, if you romance the others the game notes it, especially Leliana since she shows up in DA2 and DAI. I also think Persona 5 did it very well, as they added the standard Valentine’s Day and Christmas scenes, but the Christmas scene has more to it there because you have to turn yourself in to be arrested the next day — the detective deliberately lets you go to celebrate Christmas with your friends and your love interest, which might actually be her own sister — and the reactions of the love interests to the fact that you’re hiding something from them adds to the scene. Sakura Wars: So Long My Love, I think, rewrites the final battle and scene based on which of them you romance, which might be the best one I’ve seen for it.

            I like the romances and I like the choices, but I don’t want them to dominate the story nor do I want them to be merely perfunctory.

        2. Henson says:

          The main issue with romance in games is that developers often treat the consummation of a relationship (whether physical or emotional) in terms of a quest end goal. The inevitable problem is that you get together with a character in your party, and then that character sits around in ‘home base’, no different than before; you can’t flirt, you can’t talk about what’s bothering your character, you can’t do any of the things that people in relationships do. It’s a dead end.

          There are certainly ways to circumvent this problem. The clearest I can see is to make the romance character inaccessible after the end goal. They could be off evacuating oppressed mages or stuck in a very busy job, far too busy for romance. Or, simply put the consummation of the romance at the last act of the game. This is what Mass Effect 1 did, giving you no opportunity to interact with your lover afterwards.

          I do wonder what a game would look like with a romance that is never consummated. Like, there’s a real connection between characters, and plenty of flirting and support, but something prevents it from ever going past that critical point. It might be tough to pull off, but I think I’d like to see it.

          1. Gautsu says:

            Romance doesn’t end at sex. Give us a real marriage for once, my wife and I still act pretty romantically.

            1. I’d be up for that in a RPG or even in a Sci-Fi romp. The marriage wouldn’t need to happen at the end either.

              Heck what about a game where you choose the backstory of your character and you can choose “Married” and if you do, you Can also create the spouse you have and they’ll start with you as your first companion.

              One potential idealistic end to such a game would be a “Player: Yes we just killed the big bad dragon. Wife: Honey, I’m pregnant” and then it concludes with them retiring and building a house far away in a mountain, I’m fine with that. Or better yet end up King and Queen of a country or planet. And again switching the male/female arrangement or male/male or female/female (aside for the pregnant part, though there’s adoption I guess) should require minimal dialog changes.

              or perhaps they don’t settle down at all but continue on in their adventures, making the game just a large slice of their lives. If a franchise design/choices could be carried over to a sequel even.

              1. Henson says:

                Speaking of pregnancy…I really wanted this to happen in my pie-in-the-sky hypothetical ME3. Shepard goes to Ashley’s home to ask for her help in stopping the reapers, and in walks her 2-year old son. “Meet your Dad, kid”.

                1. Well. The player character and Morrigan have s son, that you’ll see in DA3. I’m kinda hoping you’ll get to quest with him in upcoming DA4.

                  Not sure if anyone involved with the Morrigan writing is still left at Bioware though. Having pregnancy as a side story, heck even as part of the main story for DA4 or ME5 would be interesting.
                  But they’ll first have to solve another issue. How many kids do you see around in Dragon Age or Mass Effect?

                  Fable handles this stuff fairly well, despite being a tad shallow.

                  A main character or secondary character being involved in a pregnancy and then the main character (and companions) have to handle that admits other dangers. I’m not sure if a “the saviour” plot would work so well though, a game focused around the “B” team (ala “The Other Guys” movie if going for humor) might work better.

                  Speaking of kids and Mass Effect. We do see some when you reunite temporarily with Jack in ME3. They could easily have done a expansion with her as the main character, rescuing those kids.

                  I kinda hope Bioware manage to recreate the magic of the “Origins” of Dragon Age Origins in a future Dragon Age or Mass Effect game, that combined with companion side expansions. So much potential there.

        3. Narkis says:

          Chris Avellone left Obsidian some time ago, and on pretty bad terms from what I’ve heard.

          1. baud says:

            Pretty bad terms? Well, Avellone had a minor share of Obsidian, being a co-founder and lost it from maneuvering by the other owners, just before the bonus from PoE 2: Deadfire arrived. And he’s also talked about mismanagement, nepotism and funds from Paradox for Tyranny, which was publishing the game, reallocated to PoE 2, so I agree that pretty bad term is close to the truth.

            1. AndrewCC says:

              Bonus from PoE2? Hahaha. That game was a disaster financially. No bonuses.

              1. baud says:

                I was wrong, it was the royalties from PoE, which definitely made some money.
                It was in a forum thread after Microsoft’s acquisition of Obsidian and someone asked him if his leaving (and losing his share) was related to the Obsidian-Microsoft deal (because Avellone losing his small share meant more $$ for the other owners). And Avellone replied that the date of his departure was two weeks before the distribution of the bonus for PoE and unrelated to the Microsoft deal.

                1. baud says:

                  Here’s the post:

                  (I prefer to split from the other comment if Shamus blocks messages with links (or links to the RPG Codex))
                  Also it’s a link to the RPGCodex, this thread is not bad, but some content there is disgusting.

        4. krellen says:

          Chris Avellone no longer works at Obsidian, and hasn’t for several years now.

      2. Thomas says:

        I doubt there will be an Obsidian made sequel. It’s being published by Take-Two under a contract that was made before Microsoft bought Obsidian out. Take-Two almost certainly own the rights to the IP, so Microsoft would need to make a deal with them.

        I’m worried the takeover is going to affect the game to be honest. Chris Avellone accused Obsidian of stealing Paradox’s Tyranny resources to finish Pillars of Eternity 2. Now that Microsoft own them, it’s going to be tempting to do that with Outer World. Less conspiratorial than that, when this game is late and over budget and buggy, are Obsidian going to be free to spend more time on bug-fixing it when Microsoft will want them to get the Xbox Two game done as soon as possible?

        EDIT: Huh, apparently Obsidian might own the IP. That’s an interesting new way of doing publishing. In that case, if Microsoft have smartened up since last time, they’ll let Obsidian polish this to heck.

        1. I think Obsidian actually learned from Alpha Protocol (where the publisher Sega owns some or all rights?).

          It’s also entirely possible that Obsidian made a exclusivity deal with Take Two, I don’t think Microsoft would have issues with that (they might want to buy all publishing rights later though).
          It’s also possible Take Two just has a first offer deal with Obsidian on this new game franchise.
          And it’s also possible Microsoft worked with Obsidian behind the scenes to release the possible franchise from Take Two.

          What I’m curious about is if the game will also be available on GOG (I’d be fine with waiting a few months or next year etc. to see that)
          Obsidian and inXile both became indie studios with potential AA or AAA budgets now which will be interesting.

          Also note that the guys behind The Outer Worlds worked at Troika. Im’ not saying another Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines can happen, but it could… While Paradox owns White Wolf (purely a licensing company now) and the IP to the table top RPGs and thus the White Wolf games in general, I don’t think they’d have an issue making a deal with Microsoft and Obsidian of a reboot/sequel etc.

          I think some ex Troika folks might be at inXile too? But that doesn’t matter much as both studios are a 15min car ride away from each other, so any colab projects should be relatively easy.

          1. Thomas says:

            It wouldn’t be about learning – publishers almost never offer IP rights to the developers, because to a publisher the IP can be the most valuable part.

            A great example is Stick of Truth where Ubisoft didn’t even ask Obsidian about doing the sequel. They farmed it out to someone else without a thought.

            Tyranny is another example of a post-Alpha Protocil game where the publisher owns the IP not Obsidian. I can’t stress how unusual it is that Take-Two are publishing this way.

            I’m pretty sure if Microsoft has made any detail, it’s not at all comprehensive with Outer Worlds. Theres no way Microsoft would let Obsidian publish it to the PS4 if they had any control over the game. That by itself is incentive not to let Obsidian work any more than they’re contractually obliged (except by some miracle, Obsidian do own the IP so the smart move is to make the game good)

      3. Thomas Steven Slater says:

        One of best Romance systems is in the game “a house of many doors” where you can flirt with any of your officers and they might turn you down for character given reasons or in one case because shark men don’t work like that. Some of them build up all the way to marriage which actually effects the ending and you can do stuff with them before then end to.

        Also you can sedduce ten million crows and an oil rig outside of your train with legs in the ports.

        1. Gunther says:

          I should give that game another go. I bought it cheap in a sale and was loving the narrative, but couldn’t force myself to suffer the god-awful combat.

          Might have to look for a mod that just flat-out removes it or something.

          1. Thomas Steven Slater says:

            I don’t remember that much frustration with the combat, mainly because I stayed pretty much out of it until the train was soupped up and all stats raised a lot. Then I went and boarded and one hit multikilled my way though any ruffians I came across.

            Out of all the games I’ve played with combat in them HOMD is the one that mandates combat least both mechanically and narratively. You can get all the way to ending without even entering the combat screen with some luck, planning ignoring some very tempting options.

  2. Wow! The suit really changed the vibe of the front cover.

    And nice seeing the back cover text. That’s a pretty good teaser.

    I’ve got one tiny nitpick though. Maybe a tiny “by” in front of Shamus Young on the front cover?
    I guess it can be inferred instead, but it reads like you are the other kind of life (not entirely wrong there though :P)
    I can’t actually recall what is “standard” on the book spines though, and if the book is the kind that has a paper erm, wrap (sleeve?) around cover then it’s spine is usually different from the wrap.

    I gotta say though, a body hopping AI sounds awesome. And kinda the type of thing that Netflix might want to do a half length test season on (hint hint *prods* Netflix).

    1. Zak McKracken says:

      Agree, some clothes work wonders to the appearance of a person :)
      I also really like what you did with the title text and the hair.

      Smaller nitpick:
      It didn’t occur to me the first time around but after looking at the cover some more, I feel like the red/cyan colour filter is a little stronger than it should be. If I guess correctly then the lady is supposed to be a robot, so it’s fine for her t o look a little unnatural, but … don’t know, I think I’d turn the effect down a notch. Maybe also desaturate the hair-background transition so you don’t get those red/cyan hairs in the title text.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        No, turn everything UP – the robot cyber-future is going to be full of technicolors! It’s going to be the wacky parts of the internet, but in real life, so wacky colors will be commonplace! :)

        1. Cyberpunk being toned down, dark and deary is not “correct”. I mean. It’s in the name.. “cyber” + “punk” and punk is all about being loud and color full and in your face. Blade Runner is on the more sober side but it too retains the color full neon lights (these days it’s RGB LEDs though), noisy advertblimps.

          I think Cyberpunk works best when the streets are a light-bulb away from anarchy, that anarchy is just waiting there in the shadows.

    2. Lars says:

      The back-of-the-book-blurb is much better than last week. It really tickles the interest. It makes a huge difference to not talk about “an impossible crime”.
      Clothes for Jennifer are the better choice and to increase the color-inverted hair in the white letters of the title is also an improvement.
      I also like the twentysided-Logo on the spine.

      Hype-train accelerates once again.

    3. MelfinatheBlue says:

      Read it yesterday, it’s pretty damn shiny! Noir meets cyberpunk in a wonderful combo, and the setting is great. Oh, and the AI is a fascinating character who has some fascinating conversations with Max about how they think and make decisions.

  3. Jabberwok says:

    You put clothes on the lady. Interesting…

    I’m not good at most RTSs, but I still enjoy Starcraft. I just turtle against the AI. It’s fun and probably completely rubbish in a real match.

    1. Zak McKracken says:

      Exactly what I used to do in SC 1. After getting SC2 and watching a couple of “real” games beforehand, I decided to prevent myself from doing that and learn to play properly.

      I still suck at multitasking. I find 1v1 way too stressfull to bear but whenever I can find others to play with me, I really like 2v2 or 3v3 ladder. I like ti kid myself into believing that my multitasking becomes better. Although the Legacy of the Void update pretty much broke the game for me again … so much mor micro required, no breathing space at the start.. haven’t played in a pretty long time. But now that Shamus mentioned it, I think I should try and get going again… not before Christmas, though. Way too much other stuff to do…

      1. Jabberwok says:

        It seems like in SC2 especially, they’ve spent years honing the balance and mechanics of multiplayer with e-sports and experienced players in mind. That loses me pretty fast. I’ve no real interest in micro, and in fact fiddly micro strategies kill my immersion faster than anything.

    2. tmtvl says:

      I never played SC2, but I loved watching BLH. If I ever do get into the game I’ll be able to tell exactly what I do wrong.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Once you actually start playing, what you’re doing wrong is mostly that you’re not clicking on enough things per second, and your fingers don’t know the hotkeys by themselves yet.
        The next thing after thjat is the multitasking: Regularly checking in to all the things you’re supposed to keep track of.
        Only once that is kind-of okay-ish can you even start considering implementing anything you’ve learned from watching proper good players.

        I’m still stuck learning to multitask. In the meantime, I’ve developed more stable strategies which minimize the use of abilities requiring activation and micromanagement, or other sorts of attention. I queue up actions and units for production like a noob, I amass huuuge armies before I do anything with them (if opponents let me), and almost never scout. And I think that’s the best strategy for me because it’s better to do some things okay than fail at all the things simultaneously.

        1. Jabberwok says:

          Yeah, that is the stuff I’ve never had the inclination to practice. I’ve always hated the way Blizzard handled unit abilities. You used to have to select each individual unit to cast anything. I think it’s a bit easier in SC2, but still the twitch skill required to get a unit to do something that I feel they should be able to do on their own is annoying. And it’s this annoying design that allowed for an entire sport to develop around the game.

          Mechanically, I’ve always preferred Total Annihilation because the game just handles those low level elements and lets me do what I want without having to babysit each unit.

          1. Zak McKracken says:

            Since I played SC1 a lot, SC2 was a big improvement, especially if you try to use hotkeys from the beginning, it becomes way easier to make your units do what you want them to do. The LotV update made things a bit more tedious again but with HotS (the second of the trilogy) it’s actually not so bad.
            My main gripe is not the interface as the fact that a better player can just do multiple things at once. Run their economy, produce things, expand and control multiple attacks, while I’m reduced to doing maybe 1.5 of these things…
            Learning to set up hotkeys for units/buildings helps a lot, though.

            That said: I’ve been watching some Ashes of the Singularity lately, and I love how it doesn’t seem to have a lot of micromanagement in it. Has anyone played that? How does it compare to Starcraft in terms of multitasking requirements? I guess RTS games will always benefit from that ability, but although I have next to non of it, I still feel drawn to them for some reason …

            1. Jabberwok says:

              Haven’t played it, but it’s on my list. I pretty much always prefer scale in RTSs. I want as many units onscreen fighting as possible. Simulation depth is great too (one of the things I loved about Total Annihilation), as long as it doesn’t require too much input from me. Basically I just want to tell my army where to go and then watch a huge battle play out. Which is kind of strange in Starcraft 1 or 2, because the rules of how units attack and cause damage feel very rigid. They mostly just stand still and attack one enemy until that enemy dies, etc, so there are a bunch of ways for the player to optimize placement and attack orders by directly interfering.

              And as much as I loved the original Starcraft, or even Warcraft 2, the ability to only select 12 (I think) units at a time was a constant buzzkill.

    3. Echo Tango says:

      What’s the deal with the clothing anyways? I didn’t find the original cover to be out of place or anything; It’s vaguely titillating, but once you zoom in with you flesh-based optical units, you see that she’s not a real (unmodified anyways) human. Worst case scenario, she’s a black-widow / praying-mantis / femme-fatalle character, who’s going to murder you for resources, and seducing you is a means to that end. Otherwise, she just seems like a typical future-robot to me. Heck, if this book is a cyber-future, then having a cover that looks like today’s hyper-sexualized, pandering advertizing makes total sense, in my opinion! :)

      1. Syal says:

        once you zoom in with you flesh-based optical units, you see that she’s not a real (unmodified anyways) human.

        I could not, and still cannot, tell she’s not human. Color filters just imply the tone of the setting, eye patterns just imply they’re thinking about something, and painted eyebrows just go with painted lips.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          I’ll agree with you on the skin-color thing; It just makes her look like she’s in a neon-lit club or something. On the other hand, if abnormal eyes are taken non-literally, how is Shamus actually supposed to literally represent android eyes? Go too far in the robot direction, and she doesn’t look like an android anymore, but a human-shaped robot, more like C3P0 from Star Wars, or Rosie from The Jetsons.

          1. Syal says:

            If I had to show someone was an android just from their eyes, I’d probably use the power button symbol, or a bar code. But better to use something other than their eyes. (Remember the old cartoons where people’s eyes turn into dollar symbols, and the audience immediately thinks “oh wow, this whole time that character was actually an android with cash register functionality”? Eye patterns aren’t taken literally.)

        2. MelfinatheBlue says:

          That kinda fits with her in the book. She looks quite human but doesn’t move quite right (different weight distribution for one). There’s actually droids who look much more human, but they’re from a different company who went for human-like appearance rather than human-like intelligence.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I can say I like it better with clothes, it could also be a combination with the blurb: the double name and “body-hopping robot” sounds much more interesting than “robotic companion”. The more I think about it between the old blurb and the cover if I didn’t know the book was by Shamus I would probably assume it was the way the author was trying to introduce at least romance and possibly some steamy content. Not that there is anything wrong with that, detective fiction certainly has a long history of the tropes you mentioned, I’m just not sure that was the vibe Shamus was going for.

        Man, getting a cover for your book sounds painful.

  4. Mephane says:

    Shamus, Amazon shows the updated cover in the store, however I don’t seem to receive any update for the Kindle eBook edition on my reader, I checked and triggered synch manually, but it didn’t download an update, and still shows the old one.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      You got a pre-release version or something? I can’t buy this book! ^^;

      1. Mephane says:

        Amazon sells it for the Kindle already.

  5. Narkis says:

    Yeah, that’s a small change but a definite improvement on the cover.

    And only two copies? What kind of pleb plans to buy less than five? :P

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Seriously, Christmas is coming up! My list is completely sorted now.

      Grandma will lover her new Cyberpunk-ish ebook.

  6. Lee says:

    Am I wrong, or aren’t her eyes supposed to be purple? Violet, maybe? I’m only up to the protest scene, but I was definitely picturing purple eyes.

  7. I’m really horrible at multitasking…

    Oh lord, me too! I’m absolute rubbish at doing more than one thing at a time. Which is doubly difficult when you’re a woman, because there’s a cultural stereotype that we’re somehow naturally good at it due to the possession of ovaries, or some such nonsense.

    Also, glad to see that Jennifer is now wearing proper clothes. I have to confess that I’m a tiny bit disappointed that the story is not about Max and HER robot sidekick, Jesse.

    Stories about guys with lady robots has been done to death. How about a story about a lady and her guy robot, instead?

    1. Zak McKracken says:

      As I understand the teaser text, the robot (“Jennifer/Andrew”) can switch bodies, so it’s not a lady bot but reconfigures itself to male/female. That should reduce the chances of stereotypical human/robot romance. Or maybe Max goes both ways? In that case, even if there was romance between them, at least it wouldn’t be stereotypical :)

      1. I think “both ways” may not be descriptive. If a AI (or a being in general) can take any form (technically even a non-human form) then male/female is kinda pointless. So are procreation and kids in general.

        I mean if a AI where to reproduce why waste years to raise a kid, making a fully grown copy instantly is so much more efficient and less error prone.

        Take away gender and you take away half (literally) of what makes a human, erm human. It’s no wonder that some scientists are worried about AIs. The human body is holding back human evolution, over the last few thousand years our bodies have changed a lot but our brains have not. An AI has no body so starts without limitations figuratively speaking.

        PS! Do note I use gender as in male/female, the sex someone is born with and a large parge in how most species in the world procreate. I do not mean gender as in how people identify, if someone identify as a banana sandwich I’m perfectly fine with that.

        1. BTW! Just to be clear, while I may physically be male, I identify myself (hold on for it) as a “person”.

        2. Echo Tango says:

          Typically in English, male/female is referred to as “sex” / “biological sex” “physical sex”, etc, and “gender” refers to man, woman, or any other way the person identifies themselves.

        3. Zak McKracken says:

          procreation? I did not think that procreation would play any role in human/robot romance … I mean it doesn’t play a role in homosexual relationships, either (or, well… it’s not a biological outcome of those relationships, although some couples do want children and adopt them but… dude, this is off-topic). What I was talking about is more the classical “man likes sexy fembot” thing, which can play out somewhere on the spectrum between romantic love and purely physical attraction (including using the fact that the female is a robot as excuse for complete objectification).

          Of course, I just realize that what I said above makes only limited sense — body-switching bot or not, Max could of course still be attracted to the female form… but it’d still not be a stereotypical thing, at least not from the perspective of the reader.

          … but actually actually, I think I’ll just go and read the thing because I’m just speculating like stupid and half of this is probably nonsense.

    2. Cubic says:

      “Stories about guys with lady robots has been done to death. How about a story about a lady and her guy robot, instead?”

      Check out Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover and your wish shall be granted.

      1. Neat! Thank you. Why am I not surprised that Tanith Lee would write such a novel?

  8. baud says:

    I complained about the back of cover text last time and I have to say it’s better now. More engaging and less generic. Also the 20 on the spine is a nice touch.

    1. kincajou says:

      Same here, it has really improved massively… ow i’m intrigued to know what story will be told!

  9. Marius says:

    Hi Shamus. My 2 cents on the cover.

    1. If I saw this book on a shelf in a bookstore and did not know your name, I would instantly think it is a book about corporate life – someone’s description of it or a self-help guide. The reasons are two: the suit and the shirt. Please – get rid of them. Some other thing is needed. These damage the first impression more then I could imagine.

    2. The spine – quite fine, but the logo should be signed. Adding “Twenty Sided” there could work wonders if someone sees the spine, reads the title and wonders whether it belongs to scifi or is it a wrongly-placed 20th part of some self-help series, this time discussing corporate life. Yes, I know, I am boring. :-)

    3. At the back, the text background ends very abruptly. I think another half a line more of that gray would look very good. Right now, it doesn’t. I had an instant thought “hey, that’s not looking right”.
    Hmm. Maybe it’s worth a try to make that margin as big as at the top?

    I’m glad you wrote a new book. :-) I will definitely get one for myself. :-) Best wishes. :-)

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Maybe have some kind of seams on the woman’s neck or shoulders? It would work to show that she’s a robot. The robo-eyeball effect could be turned up a bit too. I’d cut the number of orange and black bars in half in her (“it’s?”) irises – down to ten orange bars, or maybe even fewer. Right now it’s a bit too subtle, to grab people’s attention. As for the clothes, I’m not sure what else to use. If it’s purely to de-sexualize her, I’d abandon that and just leave her unclothed; The internet is too horny to be tricked by a thin layer of clothing. If it’s to make her look more capable, then a business suit doesn’t add a whole lot; Maybe make it a motocross-armor-jacket-looking thing? Sports clothing, astronaut’s clothing, etc, are all much more functional. Business suits are made for people who are paid to pay other people to do things, not get things done. :)

      1. Syal says:

        The suit makes it look like she has money, which removes the “does anything for money” vibe the first version had. The black jacket with white collar also has a bit of a religious vibe to it, so, more mysterious. It still doesn’t say cyberpunk to me, but it leaves me wondering what the story is, instead of assuming it’s a story about a present-day streetcrime woman.

        But neck seams would be better.

      2. Echo Tango says:

        One other way to de-sexualize the cover (if that was the intent), was painfully obvious, but only after I’d walked to the gym – just change the look on her face! Right now, the look can only be interpreted as 100% seductive/hungry/etc, although if she’s supposed to be a sexy temptress / murderer, then it’d still work. Otherwise, I’d go with a more neutral look, or a look that implies some other emotion or personality trait of hers. Calm, wicked, mischevious, insane – anything else. :P

  10. evileeyore says:

    I don’t get what was wrong with the last cover*? What were the complaints?

    * Made me want to pick it up and read it. The current cover still does this, so don’t take my questioning as disparagement of the current cover.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      The previous cover looked a bit generic, and a bit like a romance novel, I guess (from what I read of the other comments)? That’s debatable, but the previous cover also lacked the intro-text, which is a definite improvement in my opinion. :)

  11. AndrewCC says:

    First thing I noticed is that this book is the 20th in a series.
    But really, get rid of the 20 and just put a die without number, or else you’re gonna restrict sales to mostly readers of your site.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Yeah, I can see how some people would look at the cover and think, “Shit, I don’t even know about the other books in this series. Google’s also not pulling anything up, so they must be really niche and artsy – I’ll get something else instead!” :)

  12. QuasiMoto says:

    The d20 logo on the spine makes me think that it is volume #20 in a series … a definite turn-off when quickly browsing.

    1. Rymdsmurfen says:

      I have to agree. It wouldn’t be a problem though if the logo was more “logo-like”.

  13. Paul Spooner says:

    Ooh! You’re taking feedback now? Here’s my suggestion for the text on the back:

    The impossible has just happened. Max is out of prison.
    No, that’s not the impossible thing. The impossible thing has to do with robots. One of them will help Max to…
    No, that’s not impossible either! Robots help people all the time in… you know what? If you’re so smart, how about you stay ahead of the corporations, gangsters, and crooked police in a back-world techno-topia while trying to puzzle out just exactly what has gone wrong with…


    1. Droid says:

      Sorry, but no, this really doesn’t work. Of all the places where you can make yourself look like you can’t tell a story straight if your life depended on it, a book blurb is possibly the worst one of them.

      1. Paul Spooner says:

        Yeah you’re probably right.

        So what do you propose I do with this animated book teaser then?

    2. Fizban says:

      Ehhhhh. . . that sounds like it’s trying too hard to me.

      The current version has me much more interested though. The headline hook works, the first paragraph distinctly introduces the two different characters well enough- I don’t need more details on Max, since it sounds like he’s more of an “audience viewpoint” character and the robots are clearly the focus (of course he could be more interesting, but that’s fine to discover by reading). The two sentences have a bit of a harsh line between them with “He’s,” but this keeps the characters more separate than “He’ll” or “He will.”

      The second paragraph hasn’t changed though I don’t think, and I think it could flow better. I’d change “They” to “They’ll,” and strike “that are”. Thus, “They’ll need to figure out what went wrong while staying one step ahead of the corporations, gangsters, and crooked police hunting them across the city.”

      Note that opening the second paragraph with “They’ll” works because of the previous “He’s”- it brings the two characters together where the first paragraph introduced them more separately. If you changed “He’s” to “He’ll” to smooth out the first part, then you’d lose the option to use “They’ll” here, because you’d be using ‘ll twice, in a row.

      Basically I’m just saying that the first paragraph might feel a bit rocky, but it actually works even better if you leave it as-is and just smooth out the second paragraph, thanks to the contrast.

      The art looks fine to me, no comments.

  14. Snarkangel says:

    I loves me some StarCraft II! I run a bunch of events at my uni, and do monthly BarCraft events. We get a bunch of people, many of whom have never played a single game, together in a bar and throw them at each other. It is absolutely hilarious, and I usually stream the games.

  15. kikito says:

    I’m gonna buy the book no matter the cover. You can tell that to your editor :)

    I definitively enjoy watching Starcraft more than playing it (multiplayer. I enjoy playing against the AI because I know it will try to kill me but not be a jerk about it). I think I would also enjoy programming an AI to play it for me more than playing it myself.

  16. RCN says:

    You could try being terrible at other strategy games.

    One that leans more heavily on the strategy side than trying to force you to directly control dozens or hundreds of units yourself at the same time.

    It is a common saying that ALL RTS games have an extra hidden resource called “awareness” or “attention” or “focus”. Basically, the player’s capacity to handle tasks and how much the game demands it at any given time. Micro-heavy RTSs like Starcraft are focus-hogging games where at some point you’ll have to learn how to keep doing the important stuff (like keeping the income coming and ordering units to be trained/built) while telling scattered marines to dodge incoming barrages and actually return fire.

    I dunno, that’s just too stressful and annoying for me. I want to feel like a commander or general, not a nanny that has to go to the rescue every time a soldier stumble into the enemy and has no idea of what to do.

    1. Droid says:

      Oh definitely. One RTS (kinda) in particular that really tries to make itself all about the strategy side of things instead of the tactics and the doing-ten-things-at-once stuff is AI War. It’s an indie game by Arcen Games, who have a soft spot for mixing genres. The first one kinda looks very dated by now, but it’s still lots of fun once you grasped what the hell you actually do in that game (the tutorial helps, though). But thankfully, the second entry is not far from release by now.

      1. RCN says:

        My favorites are Sins of a Solar Empire and Supreme Commander, though I heard good things of AI war.

  17. Duoae says:

    Wow! I think you guys should be really happy with the new cover. It’s miles better than before.

    Not sure I agree with letting the body-hopping out of the bag on the back cover but I guess that’s just one of those things.

    I bought the book already and am enjoying it so far (though the tense of the book was/is a bit difficult for me to get into every time I pick it up). I just got to jennifer’s intro. Didn’t know it was a body-hopper. :/

  18. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    You wrote Startcraft.
    I got into it again! My cousin’s crazy about the coop mode and it’s so much fun. The commanders are very varied and well thought, with a lot of different possible tactics. There are a lot of missions out now too, so there’s variety there too.
    Some commanders have to be bought, but they’re all playable until level 5, so you have dozens of hours of game before maxing all free characters.

  19. slug camargo says:

    I’m on a similar boat re: games played this year. 2018 has been a pretty great year for games (and even DLCs), but I think I gave a pass to everything. I have a bunch of stuff wishlisted, mind, and I’m honestly excited about some of it; I just hadn’t had the real urge to dive in, even during sales.

    Instead, I spent this year finishing old stuff I had sitting around for ages. I finished Dead Space, I’m closing to finish Dead Space 2, and I decided to finally go all the way with No One Lives Forever and Thief 3, two games I’ve been having and on and off relationship with since they released.

    NOLF holds up magnificently, I have to say. The shooting feels satisfying and responsive; and it works really well with the Steam controller. It’s also refreshing in this day and age to go back to such clear overall design. I know it’s more about the limitations of the time, but I actually love *not* having the levels cluttered with nonsense to the point that you need overimposed indicators all over the screen because you can’t make out useful stuff from decoration.

    As for Thief, I’ve never made it to the infamous Shalebridge Cradle, and it’s been a bit of a shaming stain in my gaming life. I refuse to look it up in youtube, but the truth is that every time I restart the game I bounce off of it sooner or later. I want to believe this time will be the one, but quite frankly the game plays like shit.

    I’m also couching my gf through her first ever Psychonauts playthrough. She’s loving it to bits, and I’m really happy to see that it’s still every bit as great as I thought I remembered it. Incidentally, I can say without a doubt that the recently released Psychonauts 2 trailer looks *exactly* like what I’ve always thought a sequel should look like. It’s still Psychonauts, but prettier. I’m really happy they stuck with their own style and didn’t pull a BG&E2.

    1. GoStu says:

      She’s loving it to bits, and I’m really happy to see that it’s still every bit as great as I thought I remembered it.

      That’s one of the great things about Psychonauts; the humour holds up in ways that graphics and gameplay of older games cannot. The vague action/adventure style platforming hasn’t been done a lot recently but it is still a classic style.

  20. Ninety-Three says:

    Shamus: regarding Starcraft I cannot recommend CheatEngine enough, specifically, the speedhack function which lets you slow the game down arbitrarily. Like you, I love and suck at Starcraft, and it feels really good to turn the game down to 0.25x speed and crush the campaign missions with perfectly micromanaged blink stalkers.

  21. GoStu says:

    The only other criticism I could add to your book cover is the [20] logo on the spine. It looks like your book might be part twenty of a series if seen side-on (such as on a shelf).

  22. Boston says:

    On the other hand, the cover really is the first thing people see, and it makes sense to put some time into it. Going by the advice some self-publishing authors give, the quality of the cover is more important than the quality of the contents. That’s really cynical and depressing, which means it’s probably true.

    I agree with that. I have to confess, I’m part of the problem, one of those people that does judge by the cover. My reasoning always was if an author puts effort into having an interesting and unique cover, the book is (probably) better than a book with a generic cover. Hearing you share your frustrations trying to make an interesting cover has certainly made me reconsider that mode of thought. I never thought about how much work it actually takes to create a meaningful and eye-catching cover, and yet I always expect it to be a quick and easy way to gauge quality.

    Is the cover more important than the content? I suppose, but only if you’re trying to unload 1000 copies before the reviews cascade in. Once heard someone describe it as “stack ’em deep, sell ’em cheap.” Maybe that’s the way the industry runs, I don’t know; in which case I’m sorry that this is the stuff you have to deal with trying to publish.

    All that being said, I’ll be dusting off the ol’ Kindle and looking for this. Looking forward to reading it!

    1. shoeboxjeddy says:

      The purpose of a cover is to draw your attention to the book. “Judging a book by its cover” is just like “judging a movie by its trailer” or “judging a game by its demo” aka, a sensible thing that all people do. Which is not to say a bad cover should forbid you from checking out a book, just that then it will have to lean on good reviews or word of mouth or something like that.

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