Thursday, October 19, 2017

On Marketing Authors, Worlds, and what people want

Earlier today, Brian Niemeier posted some musings in response to comments from Nathan Housey on marketing. Now, there are some very good points in here, from both, don't get me wrong.

But in the instance of WoW, I have to wonder how much of it was pure marketing. How much instead was building a platform that was capable of popularity with gamers of different preferences? And I don't just mean raiders vs PVP lovers. There's people that hate raids that love the game. There's some that have been fans of Blizzard stuff since before Warcraft(yes, it has been around that long). There's room for casuals in the game. They made WoW a big brand, Blizzard is a brand that owns that brand. How much is simply going for the popular product?

Brian and Nathan both bring up Sanderson, and Brian noted that despite the success of his Cosmere, the marketing is about him, not the universe/multiverse. Brian mentioned that Tor markets likewise. Well, my response is as much as Tor markets anyone not Scalzi. Which isn't much. They push Scalzi more than Orson Scott Card. Now, they did push for a display of their last Sanderson book in B&N. Which was a waste of paper, as it was all reprints of novellas and shorts his real fans had in other volumes, with two maybe three exceptions. I wasn't dropping cash for that, even if I weren't already boycotting Tor.

Brian brings up Galaxy's Edge, which is an interesting study as it's by Nick Cole and Jason Anspach, two authors I've reviewed apart from each other as well. They're both really good. I want more 'Til Death, Jason. But, the brand here is not either author, but both. I don't think either could put out as good a work in the world alone. This is far from an insult, it's a compliment to how well they work together. It's a really good riff on Star Wars. I know of at least one more coming up.

There's a rather good one from Robert Kroese, which started off as a Star Wars riff, but has moved more to SF in general: Rex Nihilio of Starship Grifters. The brand? Kroese, hitting on notes from around sf culture.

One somewhat similar setting that was missed was Mark Wandrey and Chris Kennedy's Horsemen universe. The books are solo pieces so far(there's an announced shared novel). And only a few of the short stories have been cowritten. Here, the strength belongs more to the universe. Yes, it was established by two authors, but others are playing in it, and why is it working? Well, Mechwarrior and Robotech aren't doing the job, and I don't see any dominant anime now. Once again, we hit familiar notes.

So where's the alternate Trek(outside of Orville)? There's Starfleet Universe, but the publisher has done very little with it of late. A smart publisher/investor would buy those rights and do EVERYTHING they can. I don't know all the details of those rights, they may exclude film and tv. If not, Axanar should have bought them. But video and boardgames and rpgs there? They could move, and Nick Cole used Starfleet U in his Ctrl Alt Revolt!, not Trek.  Galaxy Quest did its thing(the best trek film), had some mildly amusing comics, and disappeared.

Which brings us to Brian. He claims that the level of originality has hurt him via the Amazon algorithms. I don't doubt that's somewhat true. But he's also not hitting a single familiar note with fans, either. His work is usually described with combinations of others, and that likely narrows his appeal to many. While I really dig what he's done here, to most people it will be like Beethoven's 9th was when it premiered: they didn't get it.

A lot of people want the familiar. They don't seek new music, they turn on the radio. They don't dig for old or unusual shows, they turn on the TV, and stick to a show or few.

So what am I going to do? I'm going to play with some old notes in a new way. We'll see if it works, I'm barely started, but I'm having fun so far. Maybe others will get it, maybe not. Guessing I might make some folks mad.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Injustice Book Review: A Place Called Hope by Daniel Humphreys. Oh, and another giveaway

Cower not, fierce reader! This day is the day you can return to Z-Day. Now, I can't say for certain, but I suspect one need not read the previous book to follow this one. But, we have a new volume of survivors and Zed(walkers, zyborgs, whatever).

First, this book has a lot more tragedy in it. While the first one had plenty of bad things happen, a lot of them happened to people working against the society they were part of. That's not the case here. Here, we have good men sacrifice for a mission, so rebuilding can continue.

Second, we've got a new perspective, and I won't spoil it. Suffice to say there's a transition from mere survival to a pursuit of redemption. This happens in flashbacks, and meets up with our main story at the end. I look forward to how that plays out in the next book.

There's of course a lot of action, and it's written with enough detail to be visceral, but not too much that it bogs down for noncoms. We have some gruesome deaths, including that of a fictional version of our friend Jon Del Arroz(It's already been on twitter, I don't feel bad).

We see further development of the real threat the virus/program is and will be. This is interesting, in that the characters never give up, we have some sacrifices because the threat is that big, and the knowledge of the changes that important. There is not despair, but there is a grave shock at how badly things are headed.

This book plays with readers emotions. There were a couple of points this book made me mad. Because Humphreys had to kill good characters. There's even references with some of the conversations on twitter about Hanson and Taylor Swift. This roller coaster is definitely a worthy successor to A Place Outside the Wild. 9 of 10 fell deeds.


Now, about that giveaway. I just thrifted copies of Max Allan Collins' Comics and Crime trilogy. (Strip for Murder, A Killing in Comics, and  Seduction of the Innocent). Same rules as last time: comment below if you want to be eligible, and I'll draw for it in a week.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Getting to the point

Of the blog, that is. Or at least one of them. Not my primary reason, but I did start blogging in order to try to improve my writing, and to get in the practice of writing regularly. I had not been writing for a few years, had fallen out of the practice, and was quite rusty.

What am I getting at? Fiction and essays. There's a nice upcoming anthology that will have a couple of my pieces, one short story and one essay. You might even know of the anthology from some of the other authors in it. I happened to be available at the right time to help fill in some gaps.

Here's the anthology, for those that might want to preorder:

Now, they share a common theme aside from Trump, though they approach it from different ways. The story has a bit of retrospective at unintended truth. And my essay approaches the subject with reference to history, albeit in brief. Should you read my work in this book, please, let me know what you think.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Robin: Reborn, and the reason it brings real hope for Alt*Hero

So, I picked a copy of the Robin: Reborn trade, to remind myself what some of Chuck Dixon's hero writing was like. I wasn't reading the Batman books at the time, though I was somewhat aware of what was going on.

There's a few things of interest here, the most significant being that Mr. Dixon is one of two writers working in parallel on the same part of the same story. Two writer-artist teams, and Mr. Dixon and Mr. Alan Grant pass the scripting between them REALLY well. Oh, there's some differences in style, and certainly some art differences(maybe due to a style conflict), But overall it reads the way you would expect a single creative team story to read.

This is the story of Tim Drake becoming Robin, after figuring out that Batman was Bruce Wayne, and Nightwing Dick Grayson. And there's a lot of emotional depth and moral anguish here. Batman does not want Tim in costume, but only helping in the Batcave with investigative work off scene. Tim's parents are away, and end up kidnapped.

Bruce spends every effort he can to save them, and ends up with only a partial success in saving Mr. Drake. Tim has early anguish in both the loss and not wanting to go to the dark places Batman does. And then, Batman follows a reporter into a trap. Tim figures out the culprit, and knowing it will stop him from being Robin, goes to save Batman and stop Scarecrow. After, Batman says he earned the right to be Robin.

The second half follows Tim in schooling in healing and fighting. And I really don't need to describe more, the story is solid.

My point? Chuck Dixon knows how to work in parallel with another writer. He also has been burned enough in the industry that if he trusts someone to put his name with a project, the deal is solid.

What does his involvement with Alt*Hero. From what I've gathered from Vox's postings, Dixon's stories will be written in parallel, but entirely in a city called Avalon. In fact, that's the name of the book.

There's another well reputed book that features a city and its heroes. That's Astro City, written by very liberal Kurt Busiek. Now, Mr. Busiek hasn't sacrificed all his talent to preach SJW thought, but there's been more instances in recent volumes. So, I'm going to hope that in many ways, Avalon will end up being a response to Astro City. Mr. Dixon tells great stories on his own, and has no problem poking fun at liberals, as seen in Winterworld(Cee-Oh-two!).

To clarify one aspect about Astro City: it doesn't follow a hero or team. It tells stories about the heroes that are based there. But they aren't a normal continuity. If Avalon works well, it could do the same.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Game mechanics: Role Selection

Today, I'm going to look at the Role selection mechanic in boardgames. Now Boardgame Geek has no specific entry for this, but rather has a Variable Phase Order entry, which is more broad, and not quite suited for a good discussion of the workings of games. The games I'm going to consider have something along the lines of a lead/follow mechanic with relation to actions.

Puerto Rico and San Juan- These two games are heavily related, and the role selection works the same, so I'll lump them together. The games are played in rounds, with the first player rotating each round. In turn order, each player will choose a role to take, which others can execute as well, but the active player gets a bonus. That role is not an available choice again until the next round. The roles are slightly different by game, but both include captain, builder, and merchant.

Race for the Galaxy- This game is also related. The designer of Puerto Rico asked the designer of this to work on a card game version. They eventually split projects, and this one came later, but has a lot more options. There are 3 expansion arcs for the interested, each of which take the game past 4 players. I won't detail those here, but before anybody tries: the arcs are not supposed to play together! Besides, the card pool gets HUGE.  The roles here are similar to San Juan's, but here, there are two major differences: simultaneous action selection, and role modification.  Each player has a set of Role selection cards that they choose from simultaneously, then execute phases in order.

Both Race and San Juan also build tablueas of cards for each player. In Race, the cards in tableau also let you take actions based on the symbols you have, letting you do more than just what you selected. Cards pay your costs in this game(and San Juan), and are also your goods(shown facedown below).

Related to Race for the Galaxy is Roll for the Galaxy, a dice game with tiles set in the same universe. Each player has a pool of dice, rolled behind a screen and assigned secretly. One die chooses an action that WILL happen, while the rest line up as rolled, and may execute based your choice or those of others. Your dice let you find planets/tech to settle/conquer/develop, sell goods,and are goods.

Glory to Rome is a near mythical game now, due to project mismanagement. But, it is a great game to discuss here. Like Race for the Galaxy, cards perform a lot of functions. Here, they have your role on them, are patrons to improve you action, are material, are buildings, and points, all dependent on where they sit in relation to your player board. The other players could follow the action by playing a card of the role as well, or decline and draw. (pictures of the 2 most known versions below)

I would be remiss if I did not mention the last game I reviewed here. Villages of Valeria has a lot in common with many of these games. You're building a village and hiring adventurers. There's less multifunctionality here, and that will make the game feel closer to Puerto Rico and San Juan. But, the role chosen has no effect on what is eligible for the next player to choose.

As usual, none of these are just that mechanic. The mix of ideas, player interactions, and cost/benefit analysis makes each of these a different creature.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Injustice Book Review: Sea of Fire by J F Holmes

Cower not, fierce reader!  This day we take a look at a seaborn fantasy. And there's a bit to talk  about, not all good, unfortunately. Let's take a look. Warning: this will have some spoilers, as this is going to have a lot more critique than usual.

Fantasy races: We've got dwarves, elves, half-elves, and dragons. The unfortunate thing with this is that the elves and dwarves are about as generic as they could be. There's currently a war of racial purification going on where the elves are trying to exterminate the half-elves. Not really a big deal, I've seen it in D&D before. The elves do have a penchant for eating humans, characterizing them as less than human. The scene isn't even graphic, it's just a conversation. There are some interesting implications in there, but I won't discuss them here. Dwarves, I didn't see anything remotely unique or interesting.

The dragons are also mostly nondescript, but they do have a bit of personality, separating them from the bulk of the cast in the book.

Fantasy religion/magic: There's a moon cult, and that has some of the more interesting pieces here. Honestly, I wish there were more of it present, though I can understand that the setting and plotting avoided that. The priests have access to magic, but it is powered by the moon, so they are weak during the day, and on moonless nights.

There are brief mentions of a couple of other religions, one on land based, and one followed mostly by sailors. This is interesting, but it's only a casual mention, more in laying the fallen to rest than anything else.

There's also a couple of magicians on the ship, and magic does not travel well across water. Interesting. Very little in the way of mechanics of magic, which I appreciate at times. Worldbuilding can be excessive.

Action: This is one thing the book does very well. I do commend the fights here, for being a good mix of tactical portrayal, and sweeping action. There's not too much detail, and yet, there's a clear knowledge of formations and techniques.

Language: I know, there's a good middle ground between being accessible and realistic. This veers too far to the modern accessibility side of things. The word "fanboy" should not appear in a world where THERE ARE NO FANDOMS. And while I've given some authors a measure on their copyediting, I have to do so here again, and it's easily avoidable.

IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TO AND TOO, DON'T USE THEM. USE ANOTHER ADVERB AND PREPOSITION. OR HIRE A DECENT COPYEDITOR.  "Where too?" shoves me out of the story faster than a lot of homophone misuse.

Now that I'm done with taking the book apart, I will say that overall it was a fun and fast read. I just wish there were more to separate it than the sea, and putting a dragon on the ship. The worldbuilding is fast, and happens with the story, rather than aside from it. 6 of 10 fell deeds.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Well, I tried a couple new DC titles this week...

Something I haven't done for quite awhile. DC lost me with New 52, and I hadn't bothered to check out Rebirth or even the Chuck Dixon Bane story(loved his Green Arrow work, though I didn't get into the Bat-books). But, seeing a lot of talk that DC is doing better these days, I thought I'd give it a try. My results? Mixed.

So, the two books I picked up were Ragman and Michael Cray(links are to DC preview pages). In both cases, I will say the artwork was fine. Nothing I found spectacular, but far above a lot of the art we've seen from Marvel of late.

First, I'm going to talk about Michael Case. We've got a covert government ops group dedicated to taking out "bad people". Unfortunately, they're playing politics here. They made Oliver Queen the target, saying he's selling weapons to less than legal organizations. Also, he hunts veterans. Cray's father is an angry black man with an added touch of New Age hipster, drinking kamboucha, and talking about toxicity. Oh, and he doesn't care what they do to Queen as long as they don't make him President.

Yeah. The authors played that card. Now, I don't have a problem with the DCU having extralegal government ops. That's fiction. Going after an industrialist based on lies is another thing. And clearly equating him in some way to our current President is way out of line. I state the equivocation, because there's no other reason for Presidency to have been mentioned. Oh, and Queen's origin(as well as Bruce Wayne's), of losing his parents is now treated as a little pain(from Cray's father).

Now, onto Ragman. This is not classic Ragman, but a new take, bringing it seemingly more in line with the Egyptian origin(as far as aesthetics). We have a PTSD discharged soldier who was a sole survivor of his team. He brought back something else, and has to learn to control it. Oh, so far, no real measure of politics.

Of the two, I will say Ragman will continue to get a chance. Michael Cray, I will not recommend. As I said, I have no artwork complaints on either, but the story, well paints a different picture.

When you play Social Justice, the world loses.