Dev Log Friday: Core Gameplay

The goal of the player in the Shadow Decade Simulator (not the title) is to survive, which in our urban cyberpunk context means pay the rent and get enough food to eat. I’m not sure at the moment what exactly the failure state will be – it might be getting evicted, or it might be freezing/starving to death. Depends on how easy it’ll be to get yourself back on your feet if that happens.

Each “turn” in our game represents a single day, ending when the player goes to bed. What we can accomplish is limited by how many hours we have in the day, and how much energy we have. Possibly mood, though mood might turn into a modifier on how efficient you are at what you’re doing.

Run out of energy and you can’t get anything done, so “energy” becomes a primary resource. It’s recharged by sleeping, maybe with slight boosts from energy drinks or coffee or whatever.

Capping our energy is our overall health, determined by how physically active we are and what our diet is. The better you eat, the better you feel. Diet can also have an impact on mood, which may be contrary to its impact on our health. High sugar junk food boosts mood but a constant diet of it makes us sluggish and weak. Eating nothing but rice and beans is healthy, but unfulfilling.

And cooking. Buying groceries and cooking your own meals is cheaper, but takes more time than buying pre-made meals. This gives us another element to balance.

How does our player get food? Well, it’s the future. Our refrigerator monitors what we have and automatically orders more food when we’re running low, based on what food subscription plan we’re running.

I like the idea of groceries vs packaged food as one axis of opportunity. Cooking takes time and energy but raw groceries are cheaper. Packaged food is more expensive but quick and easy and filled with preservatives.

We’ll further divide food up into quality as well. When we’re polishing things up we’ll come up with brand-focused descriptors, but for now we’ll just give the options grades from poor to luxury.

Idea: Top tier food lets you go for either super-healthy or super-gourmet, giving great boosts to either mood or health.

At this point we need to also consider our economy. It is the future, it is a recession, and we’ll need to assign numbers to some of these things. We’ll go with a rough “loaf of bread” index as a basis… we’ll say, in 2025, that a midline average loaf of bread goes for $5.

Some implicated costs based on five minutes of googling:

  • A meal’s worth of middle-class groceries: $15. A day’s food is $45. A week’s worth is $315. Weekly grocery deliveries are a good basis. Let’s simplify that to $300 and say that grocery subscriptions cost $1200 per month at a middle-class quality.
  • Lower quality groceries cost maybe half that. Less variety, more bulk, store brands. $600 per month.
  • Bare minimum might be something like $250 a month. Bags of rice, cans of beans, cheap “enriched” bread. You’ll feel like shit, but you’ll be alive. Technically.

That implies time spent cooking. Simplify to an hour or two a day. Maybe implement a cooking skill that modifies how much cooked food impacts your mood.

Our other option is subsisting on pre-packaged foods.

  • Cheap but tasty. Individually packaged microwave burritos, cheap cans of soup, store-brand TV-dinners. $5 per meal, $15 per day, call it $100 per week or $400 per month. Good for your mood, not for your health. Stuffed with preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Moderately expensive. Premade sandwiches or wraps, frozen pizza or lasagna, bagged salad. $1000 per month, maybe. Not as bad for you, but still more expensive than cooking.
  • The good stuff. Gourmet dinners, delivered to your place. Either rich and fatty, or super healthy. $2500 per month.

Something like that, anyway. Maybe add-ons for booze or candy or whatever little luxury items you’re interested in.

If you budget poorly and run out of money for food then you’re in trouble. You can either go a week without eating (very bad for your health) or spend a good amount of time each day scrounging and going to soup kitchens. For this reason, weekly food billing is probably the best option.

Idea: Option to either set up grocery delivery or go shopping manually. Track food-in-house in the latter case, but it’s cheaper. Takes a few hours each week, and you have to remember to go.

I don’t think the player should have to manually choose to cook and eat every day. Instead, simplify each day’s time to a number of hours, and don’t track them too carefully. By default, 12 hours of useful wakefulness after accounting for sleep, bathroom use, meals (sans cooking), etc. -1 hour for cooking, -2 hours for groceries.

Alternatively track the hours, but have players “automatically” cook and eat when hungry. This gives an added layer of strategy when leaving the house with regard to business hours, and does not force players to sleep, instead letting energy dictate that.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Cold Reboot Audiodrama Launch

Synesthesia Theatre’s second season launches today, bringing listeners the 9-part audio-drama serial adaptation of the cyberpunk thriller novel Cold Reboot.

The future is a cold place when you don’t have a past

CR-cover-smallCold Reboot was produced by Burning Brigid Media and stars a brilliant cast of very talented professional actors from the Chicago indie film and live theater community. The quality of the audio story is entirely due to the massive skill they brought to bear.

Give it a listen. Let me know what you think in the comments. If you like it, subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or the direct rss. Rate and review it.

If you really like Synesthesia Theatre and want to help them fund their next season, consider donating to their Patreon. They can’t do what they do without your help.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Dev Log Friday: Hello World

I was twelve when I wrote my first text parser.  It was in Atari Basic, I think. I’d been playing a lot of text adventure games at the time, and wanted to try my hand at writing one, so I wrote a short program that would take text input from the player, use the spaces to chop the words up, and then match them to a list of verbs and nouns to parse attempted actions.

I think it was Atari Basic. I had an Atari 400. I had a bunch of little microcomputers, though, salvaged at garage and rummage sales, and I used them exclusively for “programming.”

Years later, when access to the internet was a thing, I’d discover that people had already built engines to do most of the heavy lifting for you. Inform. TADS. AGS. OHRRPGCE. Sphere. Arcane names for arcane products. I’d play around with them, test their limits, and eventually get so far from what they were designed that I figured I might as well just shift to a ‘real’ language like C# or Java. Then I’d get distracted, or bored, or discouraged, and quit.

Eventually, though, I’d come up with a new cool game idea and start over.

The Cycle Continues

These days I’m a creative professional. I write novels. I produce audio-drama. I design role-playing game supplements. But I still want to make games, and the stories I write give me tons of ideas for fun little projects.

I’m hoping that chronicling my attempts here, in this blog, will provide me with some sort of accountability. Stick-to-it-ive-ness.

We’ll see.

Project One: Shadow Decade Simulator

The Shadow Decade books are cyberpunk thrillers set in 2025, telling the story of a woman who finds herself waking from a coma with no memories of the last year. She has to try and get by without friends, without a work history, without a bank account in a world wracked by economic recession and rampant unemployment.

Sounds fun, right?


Players will be in similar circumstances to the book’s protagonist… out of work, out of prospects, few resources. It’ll be a primarily menu driven game focused on day-to-day survival at the bottom of the cyberpunk economic barrel, highlighting the difficulties in rising out of poverty, and asking players how far they’re willing to go to survive.

We’ll see how it goes.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Hardcover Edition Availability

$29.99 throughout OctoberHey hey.

I just got the printer’s proof copies for hardcover editions of Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken, Cold Reboot, Ghosts of Shaolin, and the Steampunk Omnibus, and they look amazing. Good binding, quality paper, nice heft.

I’m thrilled to have these in stores by the holiday season.

$19.99 in hardcover

Price points

So right now I’m pricing most of the hardcover books at $19.99. It seems like a fair price and still gives me about as much profit as the paperbacks do, for a good quality product. The Steampunk Omnibus is much heftier at 450 pages, so for that I’m going to have to charge at least $29.99. In fact, given the size, I might settle on a $39.99 price point eventually… this October, though, it’s sitting on $29.99.


Future Plans

While the Omnibus contains the text for Bartleby and James, A Gentlewoman’s Chronicles, Dreams of the Damned, and March of the Cogsmen, I haven’t yet created hardcover editions for those individual titles. First of all, it’s a lot of effort and not inconsiderable cost. Secondly… most people just buy the Omnibus.

Still. If the hardcover editions sell, for the sake of completionism I’ll whip up hardcover editions of those books, and for the future released books.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Cold Reboot Audiodrama Trailer

My cyberpunk thriller novel Cold Reboot has been adapted as an audio-drama for Burning Brigid Media’s Synesthesia Theatre’s second season. Here’s a teaser from what we’ve got in store.

Like what you hear? Subscribe to Synesthesia Theatre on iTunes, maybe listen to the first season, and check it out when the second season begins this fall.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
Photo Credit: geishaboy500 via Compfight cc


Frequent visitors to the website may have noticed a few changes this week.

First, I added a few banners.

rebootBannergalvanicBannerstBannerNice, right?

Secondly, I spruced up my About page a bit, consolidating it with my list of interviews. Found that I’d left a few recent podcast appearances off the list, so I added those in.

I added a page describing what Patreon is, how it works, and why you might want to become one of my patrons.

Finally, and this is more of a change of policy than anything else, I shifted RPG-based discussion from this blog to the Taoscordian Games blog.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.
Photo Credit: geishaboy500 via Compfight cc

Check out these rad postcards

biblioboxOne of the rewards I’ve promised to my $5+ supporters on Patreon are personally mailed postcards every month. Of course, when making that promise I didn’t consider where one finds postcards… I think I imagined myself just ambling down to the post office and grabbing whatever I could find once a month.

Instead, I browsed around on Amazon until I found these — striking monochrome postcards featuring famous literary quotes. Sounded pretty cool to me, so I went ahead and ordered them.

They arrived over the weekend. What did I find?


The Cards

The cardstock is nice, the art has a detail and depth to it, and many of the quotes hit me deep enough to tap the spine.


I think my supporters are going to get a kick out of these. I know I do.


Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.

Cold Reboot goes wide

Cold Reboot, the first title in the Shadow Decade series of cyberpunk thrillers, has exited its stint in Kindle Unlimited, and is now available through the following ebook retailers:


Cold Reboot has also been adapted into an audiodrama for the next season of the Synesthesia Theatre podcast. Look for it to start early next month.

Questions? You are invited to either leave a comment below, or ask directly through the comment form.