Based on a true story.
I started writing novel-length fiction in 2013, and have published ten such books in the past six years. Each time the process has been different, each time I’ve basically had to re-teach myself the process of what it is to write a novel based on my fuzzy recollections of the last time.
Writing Lighter Than Aether has been no different. I feel, again, like a novice working on his first book.
It only feels like I’m starting from scratch, though. Each time I write something new, I’m starting from a firmer base, I avoid mistakes I’ve made in the past, and I construct the foundation of the story a little more strongly. The uncertainty comes from the fact that I’m trying something new with each novel. It’s always an undiscovered country.
Of course, if each book is better than the last, this means that each book is worse than the one that comes next. This means that the earliest available book I have for purchase is also the worst introduction for new readers.
Yeah. I won’t contest this. It’s a perfectly fine book, but bereft of the lessons I learned while writing it. And the lessons from the next book, and the next, and the next… let’s be honest, it’s the most bereft book I’ve written.
That doesn’t mean I think it’s bad. Not at all. I’m quite fond of the book.
Just a pity that for many readers it’ll be their first impression of who I am and what I have to offer.
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately as I write Lighter than Aether, the seventh book in the series. I’m quite fond of it. I think it’s the best thing I’ve written to date (I always think that, and for the above reasons, I’m usually right.) However, the only people who’re going to read it are the people who’ve read books 1-6 and enjoyed each one.
That’s just the nature of a series. I write my books as fairly stand-alone, but most readers are unwilling to jump into the middle of something.
And that’s too bad. If I had to go back and change things, I probably would have turned Galvanic Century into two or three trilogies. And I could, too… rebrand them that way.
But hey, I got another book to write.
We covered the Atari VCS’s 1979 offerings last time, so check that out if you missed it.
Arcade Games of 1979
In 1979 our arcade sprits get a lot more colorful, as you can see with Bomb Bee and Galaxian. Asteroids is perhaps the most persistent classic from the year, but Lunar Rescue and Sheriff are some games that are perhaps a bit underrated – the latter being one of the first twin-stick shooters.
Apple II Games of 1979
Microcomputer games, meanwhile, limp along with limited functionality. Many of them are hugely popular – as with Lemonade Stand, a simple but ubiquitous economic sim, and Apple Trek, a port of an already famous (and famously unlicensed) Star Trek game that has the Enterprise flying around and blowing up Klingon ships. You know, like on the show.
But the big historic game to come out from 1979 is none other than Akalabeth, Richard Garriott’s precursor to the landmark Ultima series. It isn’t just the connection to Ultima that makes Akalabeth notable, it presents a number of impressive technological firsts in the genre of computer role-playing games, despite (or due to) its largely procedural nature.
TRS-80 Games of 1979
The TRS-80 started off at a bit of a disadvantage and never really pulled itself out of it, but it does get ports of a number of famous classic games released in the late 70s and early 80s. The notable release in 1979 is Datestones of Ryn, an action adventure game in the Dunjonquest series and prequel to Temple of Apshai.
Another surprisingly robust TRS-80 release this year was Galactic Empire, a game that gives the player a surprisingly hands-off approach to control and conquest. The delegation to NPCs here really appeals to me, and it’s just darn impressive what they managed on the TRS-80.
A long time ago I produced a series of flash fiction as text over images. I don’t remember what I called it or why I stopped, and I don’t think I have them up online or archived anywhere.
Anyway, I’m doing it again, and this time I’m thinking of calling them Fictive Memes until I come up with a better name.
Here’s the first, “Roll Initiative.” I’ll post one every Saturday as long as inspiration carries me.
Etatia is a multicultural empire simply by virtue of its immense breadth. While it does its share of “exporting” Etatian values as the “proper” way to be, for the most part it is simply too diffuse to even consider any kind of cultural hegemony. So what kinds of generalizations can we make?
Every month I’ll be giving away two novels in the steampunk Galvanic Century series to my supporters on Patreon leading up to the release of book 7, Lighter than Aether. Last month I gave away the first two.
March of the Cogsmen
A wedding plagued by the unholy fusion of dead flesh and hot brass
At long last, gentleman detective Alton Bartleby is set to wed his fiance of almost a decade, Aldora Fiske. The wedding is off to a rough start with the bride still recovering from a kidnapping in the middle-east and the groom showing up drunk, and matters only get worse when powerful half-man half-automatons mount an assault on the ceremony.
While Aldora protects the guests barricaded in her ancestral home, it’s up to Bartleby and his detective partner James to discover the source of this menace and discern the cogsmen’s weakness… or forever hold their peace under an unending assault of brass and flesh.
Dreams of the Damned
With his partner married, brilliant engineer James Wainwright is at a loose end. When Scotland Yard asks for help with a hostage situation at a mental hospital, he’s only too eager to lend a hand – particularly after he meets the winsome Doctor Loni Teague.
His partner socialite Bartleby, however, has a personal connection – Bedford is the institution into which he had his embarrassment of a father committed a decade ago, and now the old man has asked for him personally. The director, Paddock, has been murdered, and Bartleby the elder won’t relinquish the asylum until the true killer has been found.
The Home Office has allocated the detectives a scant few hours before the Metropolitan Police mount an assault on the asylum – if the detectives fail to get the answers they need from the madmen holding it, many innocent lives will be lost, and a murderer may go free.
So there you go. If you’d like to get these two titles free this month and books five and six free next month, simply sign up to support me on Patreon. It’s inexpensive and it means a lot to me.
1978. The year of my birth. These games are literally as old as I am.
Arcade Games of 1978
The games in the last post in this series were pretty obscure, but in 1978 we see the release of what’s maybe the most famous Arcade title of all time: Space Invaders. It’s so famous that when people need a quick shorthand for “video game,” half the time Space Invaders is what they go for.
Breakout is similarly famous, and Avalanche might be better recognized in its Atari VCS port Kaboom. Gee Bee is possibly the best pong/pinball/breakout style game we’re going to see until the release of its sequel Bomb Bee the next year.
Overall the games are a big improvement over 1977’s releases, with the major exception being Frogs – something I’d expect to see on the TRS-80, not in the arcade, but they can’t all be winners.
Apple II Games of 1978
We’re seeing some of the earliest Apple ][ games here, the earliest home computer games. The Apple II is going to be king of the computer market for a long long time – at least until the Commodore 64 is released.
Our first game is one of the first roguelikes – Beneath Apple Manor, predating Rogue itself by two years. Dungeon Campaign also uses a randomly generated maze, but the graphical style is much simpler, and the game itself even more elementary.
I really wanted to get into Space – an unauthorized text-based Traveller rpg, but it was exhaustively difficult to even roll up a functional character that wasn’t so physically or mentally crippled that you could even play the game with them. Most of my play time was spent sitting through the character creation segment, discovering the character wasn’t viable enough to even try playing with, and then restarting.
Microchess is historically very interesting as one of the first chess games for any home system, but my modern gamer brain just doesn’t have the patience to enter in moves via grid coordinates.
Atari Games of 1978 and 1979
A twofer this time, simply because there weren’t enough individual games released in either year to make a good video out of.
We’re seeing a lot more technical innovation for the Atari VCS a year in, and a lot more attention paid to gameplay as the programmers get used to their tools.
Superman shows a lot of complexity for a game of the era and is the first game to really feature an end “win” state. Breakout and Sky Diver are ports of the arcade games of the same name, with the latter being significantly more difficult simply due to the smaller resolution – you have less room to maneuver and less time to react.
The other games on this list are sport simulations that are, gratifyingly, not simple re-imaginings of Pong.
TSR-80 Games of 1978
Compared to the Apple II the TRS-80 doesn’t have a lot to offer, but it holds a special place in my heart simply by virtue of being the machines the computer lab in my grade school had to offer us, and the first home-computer I had – a simple keyboard that hooked up to the television like a game console. I did my first BASIC programming on a TRS-80.
These games are simple. Dead simple. And they don’t get a great deal more complex before the machine drops off the face of the earth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth playing with them.
They’re all text-based, most programmed in BASIC. The real standout here is Scott Adams’s Adventureland, the first text adventure game for microcomputers, the first in the 13-game Adventure series, and the first such game I cover.
Friends, it’s tough covering interactive fiction. Making videos about them entertaining. I could treat them like an audio book, but to be frank, my voice acting skills aren’t up to it. I do cover quite a few in this video series, particularly in years where they make up the bulk of notable or interesting games, but you can tell that I try to avoid it.
As I mentioned, I’ve been making videos on classic games for each platform for each year. I decided to start with 1977 as the launch year of the Atari VCS, even though it’s not really one of my own gaming memories – while I had a 2600 as a kid, these games came out the year before I was born.
The first things that strikes me is the lack of color. But don’t let that fool you – with a lot of these games, the color was part of the screen overlay and not the digital display.
The games are otherwise as simple as you’d expect, mechanically speaking. There’s usually one primary control scheme that serves as the focus of each game – something admirable, really, though implementation varies quite a bit.
Depth Charge and Destroyer are the most complex games, and the ones I found the most fun.
Now these games I was more familiar with. By the time I was old enough to understand even simple games, it was the mid-eighties and you could find most of these at garage sales for under a dollar… I remember the Atari 2600 – what the VCS was called after 1982 – being sold in stores for $25.
They were old even then, though – it wasn’t too long before the next generation games were coming. Air Sea Battle and Combat were the ones I recall best, though the others feel familiar enough that I’m sure I played them at least once or twice.
I find it difficult to really call any of these games a favorite, though if I had to I’d probably say “one of the games that can be played single-player.” Many of them can’t be, which is unsurprising but a consideration that doesn’t really have as much weight in 2019. Made them difficult to evaluate solo, which is the whole point of the Classic Games video series – content I can produce on my lonesome.
Here we go.
As always, if you’d like to be kept up to date on my progress with the book, your best bet is to support me on patreon.
I’m an author, game dev, podcaster, and all-round creative professional, so I don’t have a lot of time for hobbies that are just hobbies. I also don’t have a lot of free time to hang out with friends unless I make a project out of it.
So I did. A buddy and I started a retrogaming YouTube channel as an excuse to get together and hang out. Once every other weekend or so we meet to record ourselves riffing on video games that we’ve played, record it, and upload the resulting video.
It’s fun. I follow the development of the channel and its increasing subscribers out of habit more than anything else – seeing that people care about our nonsense warms the heart – but really it’s just about reconnecting with an old friend and swimming in the nostalgia of the games we used to play.
I can’t just leave it at that
I’ve been at the creative professional game for seven years now, so I can’t bring myself to just upload the videos and leave it at that. No. I have to build a platform for what is ostensibly not a professional project, because if I don’t do my due diligence it nags at me. So of course I need to make a twitter for the channel.
You know, to announce new videos.
And a facebook page. And a linked Twitch account, so we can stream the games as we play them.
And, of course, a single video every other week is no way to grow a channel. I had to come up with more content, so naturally I go and make year by year and platform by platform videos of the classic games released each year.
Anyway, this is my latest project, so if you want to hear two old-ass gamers ramble on about old-ass games, make funny voices, and complain about the good ol’ days consider subscribing to the channel or tossing a dollar into the Blown Cartridges Patreon.
Because of course there’s a Patreon.