So, in last week’s missive I talked about developing some really bad work habits last year, habits born of “hubris, aggressive indolence, a sad tendency toward procrastination, and my well honed ability to justify anything led me into all manner of poor work and bad decisions”. This is a situation that, I believe, most if not all freelancers fall into from time to time. The cry of, “I’ve got plenty of time before this is due!” has rung from many a home-office or co-working space, typically right before Facebook is opened for the eightieth time in two hours, or the newest DLC for Borderlands 2 is launched. So you upload some pictures of cats, like some pictures of somebody elses’ lunch, and kill a few Drifters, when suddenly it’s three days before your deadline and you’ve got maybe seventy words of a thirty-thousand word assignment written. And you have no idea what you’re writing about, because you’ve been busy with cat pictures and Drifters. And it’s not your only deadline. And you’ve got other, non-work responsibilities to take care of. And…and…and… And, well, it becomes a vicious cycle like in that picture up there. Now, there are some guys, like Scalzi and Chuck Wendig and Matt Forbeck who don’t suffer from this affliction, but I’m convinced that those dudes are robots or aliens or alien robots. I, however, am neither a robot nor an alien more’s the pity, and let me assure you children that I suffer from this affliction in spades.
So. Where to begin? Well, I spent the first part of the year cranking out a bunch of books for Fantasy Flight, playing in my band, and generally being as aggressively indolent as possible. It was a time of ups and downs, strikes and gutters. Honestly, a lot of the time I spent wondering what the hell I was doing, and wondering if I shouldn’t just go to sea or take up driving a truck or something. Then, out of nowhere, came Gen Con.
Why, hello there Gentle Readers! So, there were no posts last week because I had a furiously busy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday then The Wife, The Kid, and I piled in the car and decamped for our annual pilgrimage to North Carolina. Now, after stops in beautiful Columbus, OH and quaint Lynchburg, VA, we have finally arrived in the Outer Banks. See, every year for the past ten or so years, The Wife’s step-uncle, who is a wealthy restauranteur here, has invited us down to spend a week. We, and when I say we I mean roughly twenty adults and children, stay in a huge, fuck-off house on the beach with a pool and direct access to the ocean whereupon we cook, eat, drink our faces off and play a lot of board games and cards. Last night The Wife and I spent a nice evening teaching our nieces and nephews, fine young men and women between the ages of ten and fifteen, the finer points of Pandemic, which was awesome. So, you may ask, is there some kind of downside to ten days of concentrated awesomeness in which we travel through the part of the country where American History was invented and culminates with hot and cold running mojitos and sand in our clothes? Well, kinda yeah…
You see, for me at least, this is also a working vacation. Ever since I started writing full time I’ve been bringing my work to the beach with me. It started when I wrote the majority of Macross down here back in ’08. Then last year, even though I had turned in the manuscript before we left, I spent the week worrying little bits of UEEF Marines. You see where that got me. Now of course I’m a freelancer and you know what that means, I don’t work I don’t eat. I’m well under water with stuff from Fantasy Flight. I’ve got two deadlines, one is an outline due at the end of the week and a full outline due the Monday I get back. Then I’ve got copious amounts of rewrites for a Deathwatch book since I still have a hard time getting my brains around various points of the 40K IP.
It’s not that big a deal, though. People generally leave me alone, I can filter out the chaos (mostly), and this year the added complication of caring for The Kid has been handled by a gaggle of enthusiastic nieces who just graduated from a Red Cross babysitting training course. Even with all the noise and slamming doors I got a few thousand words written yesterday, so I’m not too worried. Then, of course, I’m leaving early to truck on up to Indy for GenCon whereupon I’ll be kissing hands and shaking babies and
begging for work networking.
I, uh, I seem to have run out of steam here. So I’ll leave you with some local attractions that I enjoy, and I’ll talk at you again Wednesday. Probably.
Okay, kids. So, I’ve got a heap of shit to do and not enough hours in the day to do it. Since I’ve been lagging on my makeposts here, I figured I needed to get something up but didn’t have the time to wax philosophic about, say, class/level systems. That’s for later in the week. Right now though? Oh, yes. Yes Gentle Readers, it’s time to meet another cast member. This time it’s Lydia Strange, a tall, red-haired drink of water with a tendency toward both fast machines and fire magic. Here she is with everyone’s sidekick Bela, awaiting the arrival of some friends from out of town.
“That’s…odd…” Said Bela.She and Lydia stood on the cracked plain, considering the thing in front of them. A thin metal pole near thirty feet tall crowned with a round platform ringed by a small rail. On the platform was bright, rotating light shaped like a barrel with a lens at each end, one clear white, the other bottle green. Two small arms stuck out from beneath the platform, one topped with a little airspeed meter, the other with a limp, orange air-sock. The light had come to life at dusk, squeaking about on its ancient bearings and casting it’s searching light for miles into the ruddy Texas twilight. It was the only thing in a hundred miles, this strange beacon. The sun had recently retired and the sky was a deep orange fading through purple to black. Scudding clouds filled the sky like fish scales, black at the bottom. Here and there a star glared down at them.“What is it?” She asked.“It’s an airfield beacon.” Lydia said, and watched the lights probe the growing dark.“What the hell’s it doing way out here?” asked Bela, looking around at the dusty stones and lizards that made up the local scenery.“Wait.” Said Lydia, and gave Bela a smile.“For what?” Asked Bela, and immediately wished she hadn’t. Slowly she became aware of a heaviness in the air and a taste like tin in her mouth. Her ears rang and she shook her head as if to shake the sound out.“Oh no,” she moaned. Lydia nodded. Atop the pole the little airspeed meter spun wildly to life and the wind sock snapped taut in a nonexistent wind, pointing due south. The beacon started to glow. Little arcs of blue-white energy appeared around them and skittered across the ground like nervous spiders. Bela yelped and shied away from Lydia like a stung horse. The little energy arcs were snaking around Lydia’s feet and up her legs. Every bit of metal on her, from the buckles on her boots and gun belt to the chromed hoops in her ears and eyebrow shone blue and crackled with static. Bela looked down to see the same thing happening to her, and she frantically beat at her clothes in an effort to brush the energy away. Her head was pounding and she caught herself whimpering under her breath. Her hackles were raised and all the hair on her body was standing up and sparking with static. She saw the crackling magic dancing over invisible shapes all around them, defining slab-sided bunkers and the great arced walls of hangars. Tiny points of light suddenly flared to life in the ground to the east of the beacon, indicating runways and landing strips.“Lydia!” Bela whined. “We need to go! Now!” The last word came out in a bark.“Don’t worry, Bela.” Lydia hooked her thumbs idly into her belt and rocked back on her heels. She turned to Bela, magic energy sparking from her eyelashes and stray strands of red hair swimming around her face. “I’ve got some friends coming I want you to meet.”Suddenly there was a sound, more a suggestion, like a far off song. It came up through their boot soles, twanged across their nerves, and settled behind their hearts. It grew louder, like a choir in full roar, and filled the space around them. The energy arcs converged on the beacon and crawled up the pole. They sparked and flared into the sky from the top of the beacon like lightning. The choir reached its screaming crescendo, then there was a noise like a sail tearing in a storm and the sky opened above the beacon like a great blue eye. Bela yelped again and reflexively drew her pistol. Lydia put her hand on Bela’s shoulder, pointed into the swirling blue hole above the beacon and said,“Wait. Check that out.”As they watched a huge aircraft punched through trailing leyline energy behind it from its wingtips. It was a massive, ancient, straight winged bomber painted in desert camouflage. Its glass nose winked in the last of the dying sunlight, and the glow of the magic showed a young woman painted beneath the cockpit windows along with a name, “Yellow Rose.” The remains of the magic danced over the aircraft and showed the gun barrels bristling from its flanks and the four great propellers on the wings churning up the air. Powerful landing lights flared from the base of the wings, and the running lights winked on at the wingtips and the top of the sail-like tail. The bomber’s engines spun up and it slowly and gracefully climbed away from the beacon and the rift seething above it.Hot on the bomber’s tail a half dozen mean looking fighters screamed through the rift. They were painted like the bomber, and each had a lurid shark’s mouth painted behind the propeller to accentuate the air intake there. The fighters broke into pairs and climbed into the sky where they set to orbiting the landing site like a swarm of angry hornets. Lydia laughed and waved at the aircraft as they sped overhead.The pitch of the bomber’s engines dropped an octave and it dipped its starboard wing to come slowly around in line with the ghostly landing strip. The fighters held their patterns as the bomber leveled out and approached the beacon. Landing gear dropped from beneath the bomber’s broad wings and it skimmed over the plain. Lydia and Bela ducked as it passed over them, stealing their breath and snapping their clothes around them in its passing. It touched down, bounced once, twice, then was bowling along scattering sagebrush and lizards and kicking up huge clouds of red dust. The bomber’s speed fell and soon enough its tail wheel hit the ground and it heaved to a halt at the far end of the landing strip. It wheeled around to face Lydia and Bela, squatting there in a roiling cloud of dust, its landing lights stabbing out into the night. The pilot killed the engines and feathered the props and they slowly spun to a stop.Once their charge was safe on the ground, the fighters wheeled around and dove for the landing strip. They came in hot, at full throttle, and so close to the ground that Bela could see the pilots’ faces lit by their instruments and count the stubby gun barrels poking out from the leading edges of their wings. Lydia and Bela both hit the ground as the fighters passed over to keep from being struck by landing gear and propeller tips. Despite herself, Bela was laughing and marveling at the strangeness the of antique aircraft here in the Texas desert. The fighters came to rest gathered around the bomber like chicks seeking shelter under the wings of a hen.Above them the crackling rift collapsed with a flash and a clap like thunder. The landing lights and spectral airfield faded, leaving only the lights of the aircraft and the slowly spinning beacon to light the plain. Lydia and Bela stood up and, still laughing, dusted themselves off. There was a commotion as engines sputtered to a stop and men dismounted their aircraft. Bela gaped disbelieving first at the aircraft and then at Lydia.“Come on,” Lydia said. “Let me introduce you to the Republic of Texas Air National Guard.”
Hey look! It’s a whole new week, and you know what that means gentle readers. It means back to the salt mines for yours truly. Well, maybe not salt mines exactly, but it does mean that I need to get back to work after taking a week off to help care for my new daughter, who you see up there with dad. So now, with roughly seven hours of sleep under my belt since last Sunday, I’m back in the saddle. Speaking of babby, I’d like to tell you a little story about how I phoned it in to my regular Thursday game last week.
Okay, I don’t know how many of you are parents, but if you are you know what the first week of parenting is like. Those of you who aren’t parents, and I highly recommend it, let me tell you something. It’s a lot of work. Like, a lot of work. Since babbies are essentially massive, incontinent time sinks, I felt it was prudent to not drive the 50 miles to Ann Arbor on Thursday for our weekly game. For a while now, our group has been discussing virtual gaming due to one of our guys getting his jaw wired shut and the fact that both Wayne and I live over 50 miles away and, frankly, a simple wish to play in our underwear from the comfort of our own mancaves. So, since Thursday was upon us and I was going to have to miss Harn, Jacko, Riff, and I set about ginning up a solution to the problem.
First thing we needed was a way for me to talk and listen. We looked at both Teamspeak and Ventrillo, and eventually settled on Vent. Riff picked up a decent, temporary microphone and ordered a very nice one, and both he and Jacko provided the on-site hardware and software solutions in Shade’s basement with some speakers, the mic, and Riff’s laptop. Once everything was set up, they configured Vent for voice activation and set it to stay active for 30 seconds or so. In theory, that would keep the mic on their side on the whole time as long as someone was making noise. We did some troubleshooting with the setup and found it good and they fiddled around with mic placement and input/output levels, and got it pretty well nailed down before the rest of the group showed up. On my end, I prepared by getting into my jammies, pouring a cocktail, settling in with babby, putting on my headset, and setting Vent to “push to talk”. Push to talk is, of course, the best setting when you plan on both gaming and making googoo noises and babby talk at your kid.
So everyone showed up, we tested the room with everyone in it to make sure that the mic would pick up all the players, and set to playing. The verdict? Well, it was a mixed bag. I was able to play from home so I could be available to help with the kid, I didn’t have to drive an hour each way, and I saved money on gas and take-out food. On the other hand, we quickly ran up against the technical limits of Ventrillo, the lag eventually got pretty bad as the buffer tried to keep up with all the chatter, and I missed out on the face to face socializing and the after session debrief at Denny’s. I felt kind of disconnected and distracted, which is probably attributable to the kid more than anything.
In all, it was a very successful experiment and, while not optimal, a good short-term solution we can use to play when a player would otherwise be absent. Since then, Jacko and I have worked with Skype and have decided to go with that instead of Vent. It doesn’t seem to have the problems with lag and handling multiple speakers at once that Vent has. The better microphone arrived to replace the cheapie stop-gap mic used for the first session, which should improve sound quality and range. We’re also looking at a virtual desktop program for mapping and die rolls and such, probably MapTools. Oh, and a webcam probably so I can see what’s going on.
So that’s it. My first experiment with virtual gaming with my friends was by and large a success, and even with some technical glitches I was able to take part in the session and still have fun while being able to stay home and be a dad. I’ll be doing it again Thursday, so we’ll see how it goes with Skype and the new mic. I’ll keep you posted.