Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Jesus Beans

Way back in April I hit a low patch. My world spun out of control and nothing filled the empty hole inside me, not drugs or alcohol, not logic or sex, not money or video games. 

Well, maybe video games. SubNautica is pretty cool.

The point is: I felt I couldn't go on.

I'd never given religion a fair shake, and hadn't planned on it. But I was in a RiteAid Pharmacy and something caught my eye. I saw the true distillation of faith. I reached for it, and it transformed my life.

I speak of course, of The Jelly Bean Prayer.
Jesus saves your taste buds
Sure, you can laugh, but doesn't the Bible say that God exists in all confections?


Psalm 119:103

How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Proverbs 16:24
Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
See! God likes candy. And he loves candy with a prayerful poem on the back.


Thank you, Lord, for these jelly beans that remind me of your love.
BLACK represents my sinful heart, keeping me from you above.
RED represents the blood you shed to provide salvation free.
WHITE shows the cleansing of my sin as I put my faith in Thee.
YELLOW is for heaven above, my new home I'll have someday.
GREEN is for the growth I will see as I read your Word and pray.
PURPLE shows you are King of all, the one I choose to obey.
Thank you, Lord, for these jelly beans.
They mean more than words can say.

And with salvation in my heart, I bought them ($5.99) feeling an overwhelming urge to put Jesus' holy beans deep inside my mouth. 

There was a little card so I could give it as a gift.
Hm. None of the beans were sheep flavored.

Hm. None of the beans were Jesus flavored.

But I decided I needed the holy spirit to myself. I was a bit nervous. I mean, what if I like the black ones the best? They represent sin! 

Luckily, I liked the red ones the best. Which means I like blood.
And so I was filled with the holy spirit. I am closer to God just like if I'd devoted my life to good works or whatever it is that the religious do.

Well, that was easy. Next week, I'll complete my college degree by lighting Scientist Prayer Candles.

Also my literature minor.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Flux Warden - Story Walkthrough IV


Continuing the story of Flux Warden, a text adventure I wrote a while ago. This is a walkthrough in prose format.


I’m in my room again, huddled and trembling. I have a book. I have a paperclip. I have a rusty screwdriver. And with those things, I’ve got to kill an impervious monster with tentacle fingers who can drain my mind away.

Some warden I am.

Am I a warden? The nameplate on the door says Flux WARDEN. And I can flux. I can move between dimensions by using things I find.

So, I guess so. I guess I’m a warden. A terrible warden, but still.

Still.

Still, it’s my job to put things back in order. Get the inmates back in their cells. Problem is, the doors don’t shut because the power is out. Problem is, this isn’t a prison for normal people. Everyone is horrifyingly powerful. There’s no way I can get them locked away.

Maybe I should wait for help. I don’t have the weapons or knowledge or power. All I can do is flux between worlds.

Although I did get Shard back in his room. Somehow.

I look down at what I’m holding again. The paperclip takes me to a dying spaceship. The book takes me home. The screwdriver takes me...

Where?

I hold the screwdriver in my hands and feel its surface. Like with the paperclip, it floods my mind, but not with sights and sounds. I feel things. I feel pain. Blood. Rage.

I drop it. Not going there.

I pick it up. You never know.

I flip through the diary, my diary, again. A passage catches my eye:

It’s my third day as warden, and Leech has already threatened me. “You think you’re so strong, but I know your power. You can’t do anything without your little trinkets. Well, they’re gone. I know Blast took them when he left.”

He’s right. I can’t flux in here without items. Good thing I kept a bookmark.

My bookmark. The paperclip. The spaceship. The frozen woman in the coffin. The gun she’s holding.

I put the screwdriver in my pocket, hold the book under my arm, and take out the paperclip. I bend it. I bend it. I bend it, and it’s gone. And I’m gone.

I stand at the bridge again, staring at the blasted screens. I head aft and climb the ladder to the upper deck. The crazed EOD is gone, returned to its safe repair berth, but I still glance about nervously as I climb.

I enter the cold room and peer into the last remaining animation coffin. The frozen woman’s eyes stare back at me. The gun is gone.

I rub the sleeve of my uniform on the window, trying to scrape off enough frost to see better. Nope. It’s gone.

I swear. I shake with rage. I scream.

Spent, I drop to my knees, my hands on my thighs. My right hand brushes against my holster.

My what?

There, strapped to my leg, is a 30 watt, high density teragun. And not just any teragun. It’s the one from inside the coffin.

What. The. Fuck.

I draw it and check the charge. The ammo readout flickers and wildly guesses at how many shots it can fire. Finally, the word FAULT flashes. Figures. The gun in this world is just as useless as the rusty screwdriver in my own. No matter what world I visit, my luck is terrible.

There’s no way I can defeat that tentacle man, that Leech. I might as well go back into the airlock and blow myself into space. It’d be faster.

I take a deep breath. Not today.

I sense blood and pain again and realize it’s coming from the weapon in my hands. Like the screwdriver, I can feel it pulling me to a world of rough, unending violence.

What have I got to lose? I flux the gun, tearing through reality to the caves of pain.

I’m not as shocked as I was the first few fluxes. I’m in a hard rock cavern, stinking of sulfur and methane. There is no light, but I can tell where I am, the shape and composition of the rock.

I can breathe without air. I can see without light. The rules here are different.

The teragun is now a crude, wooden spear. The hologram is a shield with (surprise, surprise) the word FLUX on the front. And the paperclip became a jagged, rusted dagger dangling from my hip.

None of these things could help my kill the monster in my native world. Everything I hold is a weak weapon.

Hm. Everything I hold is a weapon. Even the shield has sharpened edges for cutting exposed skin. If there was anywhere I could find a truly deadly implement, it would be here.

I’m in the right place. I feel relieved, lucky, blessed. Seized by a pagan impulse, I drop to my knees and lay my weapons carefully in front of me. I pray, my head bowed low to face the ground where they live. “Thank you, my gods, for this boon. I shall serve you in all things.”

I get up off my knees as the ground shakes. The caves trembles. Yes, the gods heard my prayer. Their voices rumble from the stones all around.

“Fuck you and your prayers, you weak piece of shit,” they say, and laugh.

I stand, overwhelmed by… Overwhelmed by… Overwhelmed by hate. I grab the spear and point it to the floor.

“And fuck you back!” I shout. “Who do you think you are, you impotent bastards? I will kill you myself. I will sharpen this spear and clean this knife and then I will dig down to you and spit in your ugly faces!” Then I bend over and fart at them. “What do you think of that, you still-birthed children of whores?”

And I’ve gone to far. The cavern echoes with a terrifying stillness. The air around me trembles with fear. Then the rumble starts. The cave shakes with increasing intensity.

I’ve got to get the hell out of here. I grab the knife in both hands and try to remember the shape and nature of the spaceship as the shaking explodes around me into laughter.

The gods are laughing. It’s a deafening noise that jars boulders and clinker loose from the walls. Dust and pebbles fall into my mouth, making me choke and spit. Finally, the laughter ends.

“Well said! Go to the casinghead,” the gods say. “Your salvation is there, Flux. From there, go to The One Tree of magic.”

I open my mouth to ask what they mean, but the laughter begins again and, afraid the tunnel will collapse, I run forward. I don’t know what a casinghead is, but I’m going to find it.

TO BE C-

You know what? You’ll just have to wait until I get this game converted to Android/iOS. Or play it online (requires Flash).

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Flux Warden - Story Walkthrough III


I’m on the spaceship again, but now somewhere else. It appears to be the bridge. Consoles range the room, but all are cracked. A single, blank square seems undamaged, but I can’t figure how to turn it on. here is some kind of groove, just the right size for my keycard. I put it in, and it pops back into my hand.

A deep voice rattles in a language I never learned, but somehow understand. “You are not authorized for helm control, Flux Noyan.” Well, better than I expected.

I glance around, trying to figure out what to do now. There seems to be a chamber aft of here that-

There is a creak, a splitting sound, and the deck cracks open. Jets of hot mist burst forth, burning me. I fall and pedal backwards towards the stone ledge behind me. The Spirit branch continues along this way, and a small house sits…

And the confusion is gone. I’m back on the spaceship. I stand and glance around. There’s a ladder up, but the room is empty. Wait, no.

Some kind of blank, metal obelisk stands in front of me. It feels significant, protruding from the deck. I touch its angled surface. Nothing. I find another keycard slot. I put it in and again it pops back out. I’m about to try again when a voice speaks.

“Authorization accepted, Flux Noyan.”

Well, at least I have a high enough rank to use this thing, whatever it is. The surface darkens into lines and circles and words. I read.

Robot Control Console – One EOD remaining (location unknown)

Well, I know where it is. From the sound of it, it’s still where I found it just outside the airlock.

A small rectangle extrudes labelled RETURN ALL DRONES. My finger hovers over the button. How will it get outside the ship to the tiny repair bay I saw on the hologram?

What the hell; I push it. The surface flattens and the console goes blank. I wait and listen. There’s a hiss and a clank.

“Warning! Airlock cycle activated.” Clever machine. It just went out the door.  There’s a thump as the airlock cycles. I wait, but nothing more happens. I peer up the ladder. It’s definitely gone.

I wonder if it made it back. I turn on the hologram device. Aaand… Yes. A tiny icon of the EOD appears in the bay.

Now what? I walk back to the bridge. I climb the ladder and look through the empty airlock. Finally, I walk into the room with the animation coffins. The frozen woman stares back at me, clutching the gun. I remember the man made of stone back in that other world of the prison. If I had that gun…

I look around for latches, handles, something I could do to open the coffin, but it’s seamless like everything else on the ship. I’m going to need a weapon if I’m going to fight that thing. I’m going to need that knife.

Damn.

I hold out the hologram and use it twice. Reality regrounds itself around me. There, at my feet is the dead woman, still clutching the knife in her stomach. I kneel.

“I’m sorry,” I say to her relaxed face, “but I need this.”

I reach out and pull. It’s not like I expected. It doesn’t slide out nicely. Her hands are like steel. This is more than rigor mortis; there’s something inhuman about her. I tug at saw and finally it pulls free.

I’m covered in blood again.

I take a deep breath and experiment with a few swings with the knife. Okay, fucker. Let’s do this.

I push open the door, tensing to fight the rock monster. And he’s gone. I look around the empty chamber. I glance up and down the stairs. Nothing. I lean out the giant hole in the wall and look around. There, twenty feet below me, is my window with the gold coin sitting on the sill. Far below is the ground, but I can’t seem to focus on it. There’s something about the coin that hypnotizes me. It’s all I can do to look away.

I glance back at the dead woman’s door. There’s a plaque: Iron Knight. Across the hall is a door. A similar plaque reads Shard. Appropriate names.

I stare at Shard’s door. Why did he leave? Did he go back to his room, or is he waiting to surprise me?

I have to know. I tiptoe to his door and crack it open.

The room is different from mine and Knight’s. The walls are reinforced metal. Good thing, too, since he’s running from wall to wall, shouting at them and pounding with both fists. I gently close the door.

So, what now? I could go back down to the entryway and jimmy the door open, but… But something seems wrong about that. There’s more I need to do. I need to get my memories back. I need to know what happened here. I need…

What? There’s some duty I’m forgetting.

There’s one more floor above me. I climb the stairs as quietly as I can, brandishing the screwdriver in front of me. When I get to the top of the stairs, I’m stunned. The walls are floor to ceiling windows. Outside is a panoramic view of the world. We’re surrounded by a forest. It’s lush and green and sparkles with the remnants of last night’s storm. In the distance is a city, bleached and ancient, but vibrant with life and power.

I yearn for that city. It feels like I’ve been away from it for so long.

A sound shakes me back to the present. There are two doors here, like the floor below, and a man is trying to force one of them open. He’s running his hands over the doorframe, muttering to himself.

“Come out little swarm,” he hisses, his voice making my stomach quake. “Come out so I can feed on you. It won’t hurt but for a moment.”

The screwdriver drops from my newly-trembling fingers. Crap. I try to grab it before it hits the ground, but I’m too slow. It clatters on the floor.

The man turns towards me and his hands… His fingers are tentacles. His fingers are tentacles just like an octopus, with suckers. His fingers are tentacles like the ones I saw in my nightmare. And just like in my nightmare, one of the fingers is missing, torn off.

It wasn’t a nightmare after all.

“Hello, warden,” he hisses at me. I grab at the screwdriver and hold it up. “Now, now. We shouldn’t wave pointy bits of metal at the other patients, should we?” He glides across the floor towards me; are his feet tentacles, too? “Someone could get hurt.”

He lashes forward, those tentacles unfurling towards my face. I stab at them as hard as I can, jabbing the screwdriver into his arm.

He yanks back his arm and screams. It’s a horrifying sound that goes on forever, but finally breaks into smaller screams. No, not screams. Laughs.

He’s laughing at me.

“You’re going to have to get a better weapon than that if you want to hurt me,” he says. “Now, run along. I’m busy here. I’ll go kill you later.”

And like a terrified child, I run.


TO BE CONTINUED

If you can't wait for the rest of the story or the new version of the game, play it now (requires Flash).

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Flux Warden Story Walkthrough - Part II

The airlock seals shut behind me, and there’s a shudder in the deck. The airlock venting. A moment later. A second later. And I would be outside…

I don’t know how, but I remember what it’s like to die exposed to vacuum. It’s not cold. Not at first. It’s just empty. And your blood boils. It splits your capillaries open. Blood pours out your mouth, your nose, your eyes.

I get my breathing under control. I get my heart under control. I look down on the durasteel grating that makes up the floor and wonder who I am. What I am. Where I am.

I glance around at the chamber. It’s a space ship, obviously. There’s gravity, too, which is nice but confusing. My mind might be a blank mush, but I know a little physics. Artificial gravity is impossible. It just is.

Where am I?

I stagger to my feet, weak with more than relief. I feel like I ran a marathon. Whatever happened when I came here took effort.

I bang my head on a metal sphere. What the hell?

There’s a giant metal ball hanging in the air in front of me. It’s about two meters in diameter (when did I start using the metric system?), rusted, and pockmarked with scars. Along the bottom are the words External Operations Drone.

Why is an external drone inside?

It turns, revealing a set of tiny, black eyes. They tilt in different directions. Examining me. Analyzing me. Finally, a panel on the side opens. An arm extends from inside that pivots towards me. The end unfolds to a point it tentatively holds out. Is it trying to… Shake my hand?

I hold out my hand.

It jabs past my arm into my chest. A searing pain as electricity flows through me into the floor.

I’m on the ground again. Heart thudding again. Gasping again.

And the world is strange again. The ship’s bulkheads are holy tree bark. The floor is pure light. The drone is part machine, part rock, part dragonscale.

The eyes analyze me as I try to regain my equilibrium. It extends the arc welder again, but now it’s a stone fist holding a saw. I dive away, crashing into a chamber aft and pulling the door shut behind me.

The room is dark, cold, empty. It’s a cave with a skeleton sunken into pool. It’s a rotten tree branch. It’s a suspended animation room built for long travels through space.

And it stays that way. My breathing slows and the only sounds are the hissing and creaking of the ship around me. The ship sounds broken. Damaged.

I stand and look around the room. It’s filled with empty racks. At one time, dozens of suspended animation coffins must have filled this place. Now, there’s only one. I walk over to it and look in the icy window. Inside a frozen corpse holds a gun and stares at me with blank, brown eyes.

I manage to hold in a shriek.

My hands tremble, and I look  down at them. I’m holding two things. The keycard is still there, replacing the paperclip. And my journal is gone, replaced by…  Well, it’s some kind of hologram projector. How do I know that?

I turn it on and a man appears in the air in front of me. He’s dressed in the uniform of a Mongalisen in the Empire’s Fleet. His face is unremarkable with the single exception of his skin. It’s a strange pink, just like mine. He’s me.

“Ship’s log. Not the last one. Not just yet.

“The damage is extensive, and we’ve lost our repair EODs. Doesn’t look like we’ll make dock at Formidicae Station. I’ve ejected all the functional crew pods, may Gok Tengri protect them. As for me, well I’m going to hang on until she finally breaks apart.

“Maybe I’ll take the alien to the Eternal Blue Sky with me. Not a bad way to go...”

The hologram crackles and disappears. I turn it on again. This time, I don’t see my phantom doppelganger, but a blueprint of the ship. It’s marked everywhere with red damage notations. Some kind of greenish-blue glob is blocking the main engine. A white circle, probably that drone pulses inside the main airlock. A readout at the bottom says “No EODs in repair bay.”

The hologram crackles and goes out again. I turn it on again, and it twists under my finger. Like the paperclip, it fluxes into a flat, blue rectangle. Not a keycard, though. A book. It’s my journal. I changed it back, somehow. I look at the keycard. No surprise, it’s a paperclip again.

I stand and look at the new room that grew around me. It’s a bedroom with dark, red hangings and a four-poster bed.

On the floor, the body of a grey-haired woman lies face down in a pool of blood. I yelp and jump backwards. My heart thuds. I gasp for breath. But the world doesn’t change. I’m still in a bedroom with a bloody corpse. I squeeze my eyes shut and beg it all to change. Back in the spaceship. Back in my room. Anywhere. Anywhere but here.

But nothing happens. The bedroom is still a bedroom. The dead old woman is still a dead old woman. The blood is still blood.

Reality is still reality, whatever that means now.

I’m possessed with an urge to see her face. I kneel by her side and, careful not to touch the dark pool of blood, turn her body over. I get blood on my hands anyway.  Her face is lined. Relaxed in death. I resist the desire to open her eyes to see if they’re the same as the woman in the sleep coffin.

A dark-handled kitchen knife juts out of her stomach; her hands are wrapped around it. It’s a weapon. I might need a weapon.

I reach out to take it, but pull back. I can’t do this. I just can’t.

There’s a door out that looks remarkably like the one in my bedroom. Am I back in the prison? I walk out into a hallway. Stairs go up and down, and there in the middle of it all is a crude stone statue of a man.

The statue turns and faces me. The eyes crinkle with rage.

“Hi,” I say. “I was wondering if-”

Its mouth opens with a roar of sheer hatred. I should have taken the knife. It charges, swinging sharp boulder-hands at my head. I try to duck, but trip on my own feet and fall. Still, I’m out of the way of the blow, which crashes into the wall.

With a horrid, creaking sound, the wall shatters. The wind from outside blows through the giant hole, and I have just enough time to notice how sweet it smells before I fall down the stairs. I crash onto the floor below and barely hold in a scream of pain.

And the world is wrong again. It’s a tree. It’s a ship. It’s a cave. Now I know what to do, though. Now I know if I wait and calm myself the pain will go and the world will snap back into order. And now I also know what causes it. It happens when I get hurt.

I stand and look around. I remember this place. I’m back in the prison. This is the hallway outside the room I woke up in. My bedroom.

Beside the doorway is a small plaque. It reads “Flux WARDEN.” The second word looks newer, scratched crudely in next to the name. Name? Is Flux my name?

It’s a pretty stupid name if it is.

I push the door open and go in. Everything is the same as it was when I left a little while ago. Same bed. Same bookshelf. Same bland, pink-skinned face. I look out the barred window past the coin to the antenna on the ground. Now that I see it again, it looks more like a lightning rod than an antenna.

I remember a storm last night. Of course, I also remember a man with tentacles, so who knows what’s going on in my head. But if both are true… If both are real, then maybe a gust of wind knocked the rod off the roof. And then maybe lightning struck the prison and knocked out the power. And if that’s true…

If that’s true, maybe it’s all true. The stone monster. The corpse. The spaceship.

Maybe I’m not crazy.

I sit on the bed and look at the journal. I flip through to a random page.

They say I’ve come far in my therapy, but have I? I look at the faces of my fellow prisoners, and they scare me. How can I ever be healed if I’m like them? How could they ever let me out knowing what I can do to the world? To people?

The horrible things I’ve done to people. How can I ever pay for that?

I have to stop reading. I know it’s important, but it hurts me inside. I start to take the paperclip on the page to mark it for later, but stop.

I hold the paperclip out and stare at it. Concentrate on it. I feel something within it. A potential. A key. It’s made by machine and technology. Someone dug up metal, smelted it, stretched it into wire, and then bent it into exact proportions.

I stretch it out into a line again. At the edge of hearing comes the sound of a starship, damaged and bleeding air. I glance around the room. Were the walls so smoothly perfect before? Was the window so small?

I twist it again. And again. And it’s not a paperclip anymore. The keycard is back. The hologram is back. The starship is back.

I’m beginning to understand. I’m beginning to understand me and what I can do.

TO BE CONTINUED

If you can't wait for the rest of the story or the new version of the game, play it now (requires Flash).

Monday, April 23, 2018

Flux Warden Story Walkthrough - Part I

Back in the late 70s, I decided I wanted to learn to program games. I read books and worked on my home computer, but I couldn't wrap my mind around how it worked. Over the decades I tried eight programming languages and a dozen classes and books. The culmination of my efforts was a Flash text adventure called Flux Warden.

Nobody played it, which was a shame, but understandable. It was really, really hard. I wrote up a walkthrough, but still nobody played it. Recently I wondered, what if I made the walkthrough into a story? Would that entice people into playing?

Well, let's see. If enough people ask, I'll continue the story/walkthrough. If enough people ask, I'll port it from Flash into something else.

Part I

I think it’s a new nightmare, but how would I know? It felt new. Tentacles wrapped around my face, sucking at my brain. I push and struggle against the pain and kick out against… Something.

It squeals with rage and stumbles back. The the suckers rip free, taking skin from my face, hair from my scalp. In the flashes of lightning in the dark, I can just make it out. It’s a man. Kind of.

Then he’s gone. And I’m alone in the dark. I look out the window. Rain. Thunder Lightning.

I don’t know anything. I wait, shivering, whimpering on the bed. It’ll come back to me. Who I am. Where I am. It has to come back. Doesn’t it? I just have to wait.

The storm clears. The sun rises. I still don’t remember.

I squint out the window, looking for a landmark to jog my absent memory, but beyond the glass and bars are just nameless trees. On the sill is a gold coin, dropped from who knows where. On the grass one story below is some kind of antenna, blown off from the storm last night.

Bars. The window is barred. I stand and walk over to it. The window is blocked on both sides with smooth, metal bars. The glass itself has metal wires running through it. Unbreakable glass. Bars to keep prisoners in.

I’m a prisoner. I turn back to my room. My cell. It’s sparse: a bookshelf with a single book. A mirror.

I take a look at myself.

Well, that didn’t help. I’ve got the standard “two eyes, two ears, one nose, one mouth” configuration, but I don’t recognize my face. I’ve got round circles of torn skin; so the nightmare was real. But here’s the weird thing. Here’s the kicker. My skin is an even, almost plastic pink. There’s something unnatural about it. Something unique and wrong.

But still no memories. Great.

I go to the bookshelf and take the slim, blue volume. It’s a tattered old diary. When I open it, the pages crackle with age. I read the first few sentences.

They want me to write a diary. They want this book to tie me down. I will kill them all. I will go into other worlds and twist them. I’ll go to Madness and break the Warden’s mind. I will go to Love and break her heart. I will go to Hope and break her soul.

Whoever wrote it was unhinged. I hope it wasn’t me, but of course it must be. There’s a paperclip on another page. Some kind of a bookmark. I flip ahead and read.

They want me to “get better” but what does that mean? They want me to stop breaking people. Breaking the world. They’re so weak they had to lock me in here. Keep everything out of my reach, fearing what I could do with the simplest of things.

But they missed the paperclip. Idiots.

I take the paperclip off the page and hold it in my palm. It’s a simple, silver coil of wire. There’s no magic, no power. It’s just a mass-produced piece of junk.

But…

But there’s something about it. In it. I put the journal under my armpit and rub my fingers against it’s coolness. It grows warm with my touch.

I twist it into a line, leaving little crimps along the way.

I hear something. The tintinnabulation of electronics. Whirs. Beeps.

I jump in shock. I look around. There’s no computers. There’s no shining bulkheads or airlocks.

Were the lights always a fluorescent blue-white? I thought they were yellowish incandescent.

I bend the paperclip back as best I can, hoping things will go back to normal, but they get worse. The beeping in my head. Outside the window, stars shine brightly through the blue morning.

“Stop it!” I grunt to nobody. My voice is strange. “Stop it. Stop it.”

The world ignores me, saying strange. A flux between madness and sanity. I have to get out of here. I bang on the door of my cell. It opens.

I step out into the hallway. It’s round. Sparse. Utilitarian stairs go up and down.

Bright lights shine down from the ceiling. Emergency lights. Something is wrong. Did I do it? Whatever caused it is fine with me. I’m free. I take the stairs down clutching the railing. It’d just be my luck that I’d slip and fall now.

I’m on the ground floor now. It’s bare. Circular, like above. No windows. The emergency lights are on here, too.

And there’s a door on the outside wall. A door out. It’s a huge affair, all thick metal and exotic ceramics. I have a briefest puzzlement about the tiny, mechanical keyhole sitting in the center. It’s an anachronism. A paradox. I put my eye up to it and feel the cold air of outside before I can focus away the blurred brightness.

Trees. Grass. A path away from this prison. I’m a few inches away from freedom. If I only knew how to pick a lock.

I reach my fingers in, but I can’t make contact with any of the gears. I try to push and pull, but there’s no handle. I kick it. I scream random security phrases. Nothing.

There’s a panel at the bottom. I almost didn’t notice it, because it’s perfectly flush and seamless with the rest of the door. I can see the two screws holding it in. I kneel. Straight screws. I think I can fit my thumbnail in…

Yes. My thumbnail fits perfectly. I turn, and it hurts, but the screw turns with me. The lip of the screw comes out enough that I can get it with my fingertips and I turn and turn and turn and finally the endless screw comes free. I work on the other for a few minutes, and I’m holding two screws in my hand. For a moment I stare at them and… And I feel something…

I feel something...

Wrong.

There’s something behind these screws. The one on the left screams of a dark place far beneath a sea of molten carbon. The one on the right weeps, whimpers of a place with no form but the islands of pain and torment.

With a small cry I throw them from me. Maybe it’s not a prison. Maybe it’s an asylum.

I feel my face. The small welts from the tentacles are still there. I’m not crazy. Not yet. But this place is cracking me into fragments.

Back to the door. The panel at the bottom has moved a little and I can see the edges. It’s a small rectangle. I work at the edges and it pops open, sliding up with a satisfying snap. Inside, two metal contacts glimmer in the darkness.

I touch one and it sparks. It’s just a little jolt, barely any pain, but my head swims. The world jumbles and breaks. I stare at the room, lost in what it’s become. It’s a tower built for suicides, hanging a hundred cubits of spikes. A mouth twice my height waiting impatiently to swallow me. A dock on the edge of a gelatin ocean.

And then it’s gone, just a plain old exit foyer in an asylum built like a prison.

I turn back to the doorway. One contact is charged. One contact isn’t. They must connect when the key turns. I could try to force them together, but I’m afraid I’ll go nuts again if I touch them.

I remember the book under my arm. The journal with the paperclip in it.

I take the paperclip out and hold it out to the contacts. It’s too short. I bend it straight.

Only it doesn’t bend. It stretches in a way that’s just wrong. It thickens. It gains mass. I want to stop. I want to drop it, but it’s too late. My fingers are working by themselves. They move in ways that make no sense. They turn inside out, they split into hundreds of fingers and back again, they change from black to white to plaid and back to pink.

And then they stop.  And then I’m holding… I’m holding a small, plastic card.

I stare at it. It’s featureless. Red. And I know…

I know it’s a keycard. Back during the war with the Hexchak, we created these. The Hexchak were masters of biological subterfuge. We never understood how they could do it, but they could change you in subtle ways. You wouldn’t even notice it, wouldn’t feel anything, but you’d suddenly be different. You’d walk home from work, but when you tried your thumbprint at the door, it wouldn’t open. When you offered your eye to the retina scanner, it wouldn’t open. When the police came to help, they took your mouth swab and couldn’t recognize your DNA.

So, keycards. Primitive. Silly. But they worked. And for some reason, the Hexchak never figured out how to steal them just as we never figured out how their technology worked.

How do I know any of this?

“Airlock cycle in progress. Ten second warning.”

I look around, startled by the voice. I’m not in the entry hallway anymore. I’m in some kind of white tube. A round door sits on either side of me. One has a window and I walk over to look out. It opens to the night sky. Stars in all direction. Some kind of satellite hanging in the void. Wasn’t it daytime? And where’s the ground?

“Airlock cycle in progress. Five second warning.”

It’s not a doorway. It’s an airlock. I’m in space. I’m about to be blown out into space.

“Four. Three.”

I turn and dive for the other door.

TO BE CONTINUED (?)


Thursday, April 19, 2018

GDC 2018 Booth Babe Report

So, hey! I went to The Game Developer's Conference last month and saw some great talks, met some of my personal heroes, and played some weird VR games.

Turns out you don't have to punch VR people as hard as real ones.
And then I... Oh, you're falling asleep already. You just want to see the annual booth babes thing I do. Fine.

For the uninitiated, every year I go to the GDC and report on how many women are employed to work the booths in hopes of attracting male attention.  Then I get them to take pictures with me, which pretty much ends their careers.

You can't see it in the picture, but they only gave her one pant leg.
These models have appeared less and less frequently every year. I keep thinking I'll find none, but then...

They only gave this woman half her clothes!
Well, there's always one or two.

Sometimes that doesn't work out so well for me.
I thought there weren't going to be any this year. Then I saw this booth (below) and thought "These look like they were just hired for the conference to draw men in, but maybe they work at the company. I should ask."

They now call me "triple threat" because I can make three women uncomfortable at the same time.
I walked over to this woman.


Me: So, what's a cryptocurrency.

Her: It's pretty simple. It's when you monetize the sixteenth sprocket of the antidiluvial commerce brackets you can create trammeled extruded marketing services.

Me: *nodding* Uh-huh. So, I was wondering if I could take a picture with-

Her: What's really interesting is how they used advanced microeconomic development modelling with tectonic apertures to fraternize greater profits!

Me: So... I guess you work for the company.

Her: No, they just hired me for the conference. I'm an econ major. I'm really into blockchain.

Me: So, I wondered if I could take this picture. If you could look disgusted...

And this woman broke in.


Her 2: Weren't you here last year?

Me: No. Not at all. I've never even been to San Francisco. What! Where am I? How did I get here?

Her 2: I remember you!

Me: There are a lot of people who look like me. Sleazy guys who are definitely not me.

Her: I was dressed as a fairy.

Me: Uhhhhh.

Her 2: With red hair.

Me: Ohhhh!


Her 2: You wanted me to look disgusted, but I didn't do a good job. You want to try again? I think I can be more disgusted with you.

Me: Oh. Okay.

And then this woman walked over.


Her 3: Are we looking disgusted with him? I can totally do that.

And that's this year's report.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Black Hair

Oops, looks like I forgot to post last week. In my defense:
  • I was on vacation.
  • I thought I'd already posted.
  • Nobody reads my blog.
  • I'm working on the paperback version of my new book.
  • Nobody is reading my new book.
  • I hate you.
To make up for it, I'll post twice this week. However, it will require me to water down the usual, high-concentrate humor I normally shove down your cyberthroats.

So, today's post is entirely about my new hair color.  If you're new to my blog, you know I do a different color every year on my birthday. I decided to do it a few months early this year.

Problem was, I've done red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, rainbow, and a kind of opalescent silver. I've done brown most of my life (and red and blonde when I was a kid). "What colors are left?" I asked myself.

Then I realized there's three colors left. This year:


Black as a moonless night seen from inside the heart of a GOP congressman.

The fun thing about "normal colors" is they stay in for a long time (instead of leaking out over your pillows at night). The other fun thing is you have to do the eyebrows to make them match.


Oh, and natural colors make you look like Nixon.




Friday, April 6, 2018

Iron Chef for the Disposophobic - Conclusion

Way back in the mists of time, I wrote this post about trying to stop wasting food.  Wasting food has always bothered me, the reasons outlined in this novel:

"The greatest work of modern literature!" -John Oliver
And this video from Last Week Tonight:
"Not a bad show." -Matthew Kagle

Let's just say I don't like wasting food. However, I'm pretty bad at using all the leftovers, especially now that we have children.

Fun fact: the word "children" in the North Russian Zulu language roughly translates to "picky eaters."

The problem is that food in America is bought and sold in enormous quantities. You want a zuchini from Trader Joes, you have to buy a bag of six. What do you do with the other five? You can hide them in your kids' shoes, grind them into the cat food, or throw them into the compost bin where the raccoons will get it.

I wanted a different option. I wanted to eat those zuchini. Later, of course, I'd throw them up, but the effort was the important part.

Here is the journal of my struggle.


Day 0 - The Ingredients
This is what I have to eat if I don't want to throw anything out:

  • Jalapeno peppers (5)
  • Chicken sausage (5)
  • Sauerkraut (half jar)
  • Rice (1/3 cup)
  • Plums (2)
  • Lavash (1 package)
  • Egg white omelet with cheese and spinach (One box)

You may notice, I have a ton of jalapenos.


You may point out that jalapenos are one of the least spicy peppers. You may point out that kids in some countries have lollipops laced with spicier peppers. You may point out that if I can't eat one jalapeno, five is going to be a problem.

You may kiss my ass. Although, I wouldn't because it's going to burn down there for a week.


Day 1 - The easy parts
Chicken sausage fried with diced jalapeno. Warmed sauerkraut. One half cup of rice with soy sauce.



Sauerkraut didn't go well with this meal. Not sure why the Germans bothered inventing it.

Day 2 - Disaster
We made salmon burgers and sauces for dinner. Nobody liked them. I now have extra foods to get through by the end of the week. On the positive side, my svelte frame can handle the extra calories.


My wife bought bread that was almost like what my son ate. But not quite enough. Guess who has to eat it before it spoils?

Okay, so more sauerkraut, more sausage (made into a sandwich to use up the bread), and those fish things.

I was going to eat the plums, but they were sitting around so long they grew eyestalks and wandered out of the house.

I'm so full I can't eat for the rest of the day. I don't want to cook, which of course leads to...

Day 3 - Disaster Disaster
Leftovers. Why did we bring food in? I don't know, but it may have something to do with not being fat enough. So, guess what I ate instead of the backlog of food?


For breakfast I have more of the bread as French toast.


I tried using the lavash, but we mistook it for paper and stuck it in the laser printer. On the positive side "the dog ate my homework" is now something I can say honestly.

Day 4 - WTF?!
For dinner, we make ground meat mixed with...

You know what? It doesn't matter. Nobody ate it. So, on top of all the plums that have become squashy

Okay, I give up. Thank the gods Mountain View does composting.


Monday, March 26, 2018

A Show of Hands

Last week was the Game Developer's Conference: the biggest conference for professional game developers in the world. Game people come from all over, attend talks, look at the latest technology and (increasingly) get drunk. I've been going for twenty years.

Twenty is one of those big, round numbers when you should reconsider the choices you've made in life. As I walked around the conference, I wondered why I was there. I couldn't say I'd been all that successful in my games career. Maybe it was time to call it quits.

Still, just leaving quietly seemed anticlimactic.

On Thursday, I walked by a group called Lost Levels. They give an open forum during GDC to anyone who wants to talk. I had an inspiration and signed up, hurriedly typing into Google Keep.

I spoke in increasing fury and volume, so imagine that as you read. Here's what I said:

I'm here for a show of hands.

This is my 20th GDC.

I always wanted to make games, but there were no schools when I was young. Developers were meager and few.

It just wasn't a career.

But in 1997, the industry had grown and I wanted to be a part of it. ‎So I came to GDC. I came looking for a career that would feed me. That would let me share something cool stuck in my head or help someone else share something awesome.

Awesome was a real word back then.

I went to sessions. I met famous developers. I schmoozed at parties in spite of my introversion and social obtuseness.

I didn't get a job.

I sent off resumes and cover letters. I used three headhunters.

I didn't get a job.

I interviewed. They required I make up weapons or levels or monsters to prove my skill. They stole my ideas and put them in their games, but -- say it with me --

I didn't get a job.

I took classes in six programming languages. Turns out I can't program.

I sketched and bought hundreds of dollars of art tools. Turns out I can't draw.

I volunteered with the IGDA.

I wrote 35 design docs and countless levels.

I gathered friends, then coworkers, then strangers to develop something on our own eight times to watch it fall apart over and over.

I spent tens of thousands on contractors who never delivered.

I designed and printed business cards six times.

[I reached into my badge holder, where I kept my business cards and threw them all at the audience]

I published two novels and a bunch of interactive stories.

[I reached into the other side, where I kept the cards about my book and threw them]

I brought gifts.

[I reached into my backpack for the giveaways I bring every year and threw them]

I didn't get a job.

I spent two decades watching the industry grow up around me, turning ideas I thought were my own into games I'd never make and then into tropes nobody would ever touch again.

I've spent thousands of dollars here. I've spent hundreds of hours here. I've been to 20 goddamned conferences.

I never got a job.

So, here's where I need a show of hands.

Should I come back? Should I be here for GDC #21? Will I ever get a job?

And I looked up. I expected no hands. I expected to nod sadly, like a tragic hero at the end of his life. I was going to say "Well, that settles it" and walk off into the sunset.

But there were hands up. Not all, but a slim majority.

Really?! I shouted, floored.

Okay. Well, I guess that settles it.

So I nodded, confused, like a tragic hero at the end of a free buffet and wandered off into the parking lot.