Star Wars Poster

Conquering a Galaxy Far Far Away: Star Wars Rebellion

Star Wars Poster

In honor of #StarWarsDay, I want to take the time to reminisce about one of my favorite Star Wars games of all time. A game that you won’t see mentioned alongside your Rogue Squadrons, your Jedi Knight IIs, your Knights of the Old Republics. I’m talking about Star Wars Rebellion–a real-time strategy game that mysteriously came into my life and took over my imagination.

Star Wars Rebellion

I don’t know when or how Star Wars Rebellion ended up in my hands. I know it was sometime before my family’s move to Southern California. I mean, it had to have been at least 1998, as that’s when the game was released. But other than that, I have no clue who bought the game, placed it in a fuzzy, Velcro CD case, and made it part of our collection.

We had a computer that we kept in the den. While my dad used it mostly for work, my brothers and I were allowed to play games on it. We kept the boxes the games came in on a bookshelf in the den. I remember looking through the shelves; it was mostly full of odds and ends: the aforementioned PC game boxes, some books my dad read, a copy of the DOOM Hacker’s Guide (or something like that), and then this instruction manual for some game called Star Wars Rebellion. Next to the manual was a black, fuzzy CD case–the kind that has multiple “pages.” The Rebellion disc was its only contents.

Star Wars Rebellion screenshot

For a kid that loved the spaceships and battles in Star Wars more than anything else, Rebellion was perfect. Not only did you get to mess around with the galactic map–full of planets and star systems only mentioned in the Expanded Universe (EU)–but you also got to engage tactical fleet battles. Homeworld did this much, much better a year later, but for 10 year-old-me, it was like bringing my LEGO battles to life.

Part of Rebellion’s brilliance is that it let you maneuver your ships–glorious groupings of Mon Calamari Cruisers, squadrons of X-Wings, and formations of Imperial Star Destroyers–in three dimensions. Most other strategy games only operate on a 2D plane. But in Rebellion, you could order your ships to go above or below the enemy. I spent so much time, way too much time drawing battle plans and stuff in my notebooks at school while I waited to get home and put them into action in the game.

It’s Good to be Bad

Let’s be honest: the Empire was cool. Darth Vader (before the prequels) was cool. Yes, yes I know they were the bad guys. But I always wanted my own Star Destroyer. Star Wars Rebellion made that happen. This was the first Star Wars game I played that let you choose the Empire as your side. Finally! I was able to have Darth Vader hunt down Rebel spies. My admirals patrolled the galaxy with fleets of Star Destroyers, cruisers, and endless waves of TIE Fighters under their command. It was amazing.

Star Destroyer

I never actually won a game in Rebellion, but I certainly got close. I painted the galactic map that bright, almost neon Imperial green.

It’s Only Cheating if You Get Caught

According to the movies, books, comics the Empire is supposed to be powerful. It’s supposed to have hundreds of ships under its command. Unfortunately, in the interest of “balance” and “giving the Rebels a chance” (ugh), the Empire starts out with a pitiful number of ships. Enter the glorious world of game editors!

Much like my time with Red Alert and the Tiberium series, I spent many a happy hour tinkering with Rebellion’s innards. I’m not ashamed to admit I completely broke the game in my favor. Imperial Star Destroyers are supposed to have ion cannons according to the Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels? Okay! Mod them in! Of course they’re supposed to have more shields. You know what? I’m pretty sure all the Rebel ships should have no weapons. Sound good? Of course it does!

I wasn’t playing multiplayer–as far as I knew, nobody else had ever heard of the game–so what was the harm? Did I care about winning fairly? Absolutely not! Even though I completely unbalanced the game, it was still horrendously fun.

Talon Who? What’s a Bane Nothos?

Another one of the best parts of Star Wars Rebellion is the fact that it included a bunch of characters from the movies as well as the EU. For somebody who voraciously read any Star Wars novel he could get his hands on in elementary and middle school, playing a game where characters like Thrawn, Talon Karrde, and Borsk Fey’lya were included was a dream come true.

Sidebar: I played Rebellion before I ever saw any of the Thrawn trilogy graphic novels, so the game’s version of Talon Karrde is the one I pictured in my head. Seeing him bare-chested and long-haired in other media just weirded me out.

Darth Vader

All the characters in the game came with encyclopedia entries about them, so if you had no clue who Jan Dodonna or Pellaeon were, then the game was there to help you out. I loved the fact that I got to play around with people I recognized from the books in ways that didn’t have to follow established canon. I always paired up Thrawn and Pellaeon though. Couldn’t break up that duo.

Control a World. Command a Galaxy

Was Star Wars Rebellion a great game? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t even rank it among the top Star Wars games. Parts of it were extremely boring. And aside from the space battles everything else happened via info cards. Still, the ability to spread fleets of Star Destroyers across the galaxy goes a long way toward winning my heart.

If you’re looking for a Star Wars game that’s more grand strategy than Empire at War, Galactic Battlegrounds, or Force Commander, then give Rebellion a try. Just be willing to sit through some outdated game design.

Battle of Endor

A Love Letter to the Battle of Endor

Battle of Endor

As I saw this Star Wars tattoo yesterday it made me think: if I was to get a Star Wars tattoo what would I want? (OT only of course) Obviously, since this is hypothetical–let’s go big, insanely big–I’d get a full sleeve of my favorite part of the entire original trilogy: the Motherfuckin’ Battle of Endor. (That’s what ol’ Jorge called it in the original script, you know.)

So here it is: a love letter to what I think is the greatest space battle ever put on film. Star Trek (the rebooted movies) had some fancy CGI and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica had some great dog fights, but they all owe some of their coolness to the OG BoE.

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The Time of the Doctor

Let’s Talk About: Moffat’s Doctor Who

The Time of the Doctor

This’ll be a quick post with not a lot of structure. I’m trying to turn these “Let’s Talk About” pieces into looser articles where I don’t have to have a central point or something.

Anyway this morning it hit me that my experience watching Steven Moffat’s three seasons of Doctor Who has been largely defined by questions. What do I mean by that? Well, when watching a Moffat episode (especially ones he writes himself), my wife and I end up pausing the show every few minutes because we’re asking questions.

“Wait… How does that make sense?”

“If he did this thing now, then how could he do that in the past?” (or some other time-travel related question)

“Does this mean he changed the future?”

“I’m confused. How could that happen?”

Over and over. And I really don’t think being confused should be the core feeling one gets while watching Doctor Who. But it’s not that we’re stupid (in my opinion) or not paying attention. I’d like to think that as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I’m pretty good at keeping up with sci-fi shows. Same thing for my wife. She’s not a writer but she gets hyperfocused when she’s watching something she loves, and Doctor Who definitely falls under that category.

So I think this comes down to Moffat’s fundamental flaw as the showrunner: he tries so damn hard to impress the viewer with how clever he is.

Doctor Who the Silence

Sometimes it creates “ah-ha” moments, but for the past few episodes–the end of season 7 and this year’s Christmas special, “The Time of the Doctor,” in particular–those moments never came. Instead the episodes were marked by either me or Erin calling out “Pause! So wait, what…?”

The emphasis on plots, timey-wimey twists and turns, and clever surprises can sap an episode of its emotional, character-driven moments. I really enjoyed Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor, but I was more sad to see David Tennant go than I was last night. Instead of feeling sad last night, my mind was occupied with trying to untangle years of plotlines (exploding TARDIS, the Silence, warrior priest soldier people, crack in the wall, etc.) rather than savoring Matt Smith’s final goodbye. (Okay his last couple of lines about changing from moment to moment were real good)

So another chapter of Doctor Who is over and a new one begins. I’m excited to see how Peter Capaldi will play the character. I just hope that I can start watching the show again without having to ask “How does that make sense?” every few minutes.

Doctor Who Season 7

Side bar: I think having Matt Smith’s last episode be the Christmas episode was a mistake. The show tried to mix normal Christmas-special stuff with Regeneration-stuff plus tying up Moffat’s loose ends. That’s way too much disparate stuff to cram in a single episode.

Side bar to the side bar: Here are a couple of articles on i09 (here and here) about “The Time of the Doctor” that I liked. Check ’em out. They also touch on some of the episode’s highs and lows.

Ancillary Justice

Challenge Accepted!

Ancillary Justice

I followed the Twitter conversations about The 52 Review’s “Best Of” post (I think this was last month or the month before). That’s when I first saw the challenge: only read genre fiction books written by women in 2014. Since then I’ve been caught in a morass of indecision.

I want to do it. I am going to do it. That’s not what I’ve been undecided about; I’ve been going back and forth whether or not I should tell anybody I’ve accepted this particular challenge.

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Interview with “The Returners” author Mikey Neumann

Mikey Neumann

Today, I have the privilege of interviewing Mikey Neumann, author of the serial novel The Returners, and Gearbox Software Chief Creative Champion. He’s a super cool dude, so I was excited when he agreed to answer my questions. I just finished Part One of Season One of The Returners two nights ago, and I can’t wait to dive into Part Two. Onto the interview!

You’ve had numerous health problems—ones that shouldn’t have affected a 29 year old, which if people are interested they can read about on your blog (http://diagnosismia.blogspot.com/). I actually recommend that people check it out. It was a funny, open, touching take on everything that’s happened since last year.

Would you say that these issues with your health have changed the way you approach writing? Has there been any change to your worldview that might manifest itself in some way in your writing?

I think it’s safe to say that my worldview has changed and this has affected my writing to some degree – though, it’s probably in unexpected ways. I think the most obvious way is how freeing it was to just dive into things, I mean, that’s where the blog came from in a sense. I wanted to inform people purely on my own feelings, thoughts, and emotions going through some difficult times. I know that some relatives and friends were a little taken aback by the honesty on display, but in the end, I think it made it more valuable.

In concrete detail, that journey is what created The Returners in the first place. I wanted to lose the safety net.

Let’s get away from that topic and focus on cool stuff: video games and writing. You’re the Creative Director at Gearbox, and you’ve worked on some great titles like Borderlands, Brothers in Arms, and Aliens: Colonial Marines. How did you get your start at Gearbox, and when did you start writing for video games?

I have been the Creative Director on products here, but my official title is Chief Creative Champion. I started at Gearbox in 2001 at 19 while working on Counterstrike: Condition Zero as a texture artist. I also did a bit of work on Half Life for PS2.

The first game I wrote from start to finish was Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 – I think this job solidified on the

follow up to that game, Earned in Blood, when I was nominated for an Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences award for writing. I was around 24-25 at the time and it cemented in me a desire to write stories for the rest of my life.

How hard is it to switch gears (heh, get it?) between writing for a visual, interactive medium than it is writing say a short story or novel? What techniques do you find work well across both media? And has your time in the gaming industry influenced how you create scenes for your novel experiment?

I’ve never seen anyone ask so many questions in a single paragraph before. (Editor’s note: There were more questions in that paragraph originally)

In short, the example I usually give is describing how I’ve hired other writers (like Anthony Burch) to work at Gearbox. It’s easier to train a person that’s a good writer to be a game writer. If they understand story, pacing, character arcs, etc., then you can teach them the tools and structure of a type of game. If someone comes along and says they only write games, that raises an eyebrow. Storytellers are storytellers and the medium is of middling importance.

As for the rest of that mammoth inquiry, I’m not sure the novel experiment is too influenced by the games I’ve written in the same way that Anthony Saves the World wasn’t influenced too much by Brothers in Arms. They’re just different types of stories.

You’ve been working on your serialized, internet novel experiment, The Returners for a while now. For those that don’t know about it, can you give a quick description/synopsis?

The Returners: Season One Part One

It was the thing that got me out of writing the illness blog. I was done feeling sympathy for myself and wanted to channel all of that creative energy I was spending explaining and telling stories about my illness to become something greater. So I was thinking to myself, what if I blogged a book, chapter-by-chapter?

The Returners is what came out of that. I wanted to serialize a book like Charles Dickens did with Oliver Twist. He wrote that under the pseudonym “BOZ.” as it was being published in the magazines at the time. That’s where “BOZ.” Publishing comes from. The idea was to serialize a novel of grand scope on the internet – that’s why the website is fixed height and width – it’s just worked on a Kindle of an iPad.

The book is about a group of known historical figures that all find themselves born into another life on this Earth in the modern day. Why are they here? Why is someone trying to kill them? When you write Joan of Arc having a conversation with a thirteen-year-old Albert Einstein, you know you’re onto something. It comes from a place of wanting to spiral a personal story of friendship and survival into something of much larger and grander scale.

It’s my LOST, I guess.

Since The Returners is serialized, would you say that it might be similar to writing for a TV show than a more traditional novel? How much of the story do you have outlined in advance? Do you have a secret list of all the historical figures you want to make an appearance? Or because these are daily chapters, do you just kind of make it up as you go along and see where the story takes you?

I think writing The Returners is a lot like writing a TV show. I’m clearly borrowing their nomenclature with doing the book in “seasons” and such. I want people to know it’s an ongoing story and there are many kinds of stories to tell in that universe.

As far as what I have outlined in advance, I have all of the chapters in Season One (all three parts) outlined and ready to be written. From there, I have where it ends and the major ideas of five seasons of stories, increasing in scope and grandeur with each one. In my head, the story would make an excellent TV show (which I’ve also heard a lot from the fans of the books,) but I’m not sure if it would make a good movie. That’s probably just me, I always like TV shows more than movies – I like spending time with the characters.

Of course there’s a list of who else comes back in the book! There’s some new faces that arrive in part three of Season One *winky face*

Sticking with the TV analogy for just a bit longer, have you ever envisioned taking a “summer break” where you don’t put up new chapters but instead plan out where you want the next season to go?

Yeah, when Season One has concluded I’m going to outline in detail that entire second season as well as put up another novel I wrote last year called The Ending. The website will continue to grow with not just my own content, but the content of other authors as well.

I gotta thank Mikey for answering all my questions! Great stuff! If you’re interested in The Returners, you can read it for free at “BOZ.” Publishing or buy the collected chapters of Season One Part One from Amazon. You can also follow him on Twitter and see more of his work at Gearbox Software.

In Situ is Now Available!

In SituIn Situ, a new science fiction anthology from Dagan Books that is centered around archaeology, is now available for purchase! The wait is over!

According to the publisher, In Situ is loaded with “science fiction stories featuring alien archeology, hidden mysteries, and things that are better off left buried. […] These fifteen evocative science fiction stories will take you from dusty archaeologists digging up our alien past into a distant future where we’ve become the relics. Thought-provoking and entertaining, IN SITU explores science, theology, preservation, and the art of alien finance, in a whole new way.”

My story, “Jewel of Tahn-Vinh” is a science fiction horror story about things left adrift in the depths of space that  are better left alone. There are other great stories in the anthology, and I have to say that Ken Liu’s “You’ll Always Have the Burden With You” is quite fantastic.

In Situ is available in DRM-free ePub format for only $3.99.

To get a copy for Kindle, buy it here.

And the trade paperback is also available from Amazon.

 

Repost: When Mass Effect 3 and Doctor Who Collide

This is reposted with some minor adjustments from my gaming-related blog over at Destructoid, but I thought it was worth sharing here.

The original article talks about how the interactivity offered by videogames made me feel in ways that books, TV, or movies couldn’t. There’s definitely something powerful at hand when you can take ideas from one type of media and apply them in another. Mass Effect 3 wouldn’t have affected me emotionally if they hadn’t used good characterization and storytelling techniques perfected in places like books.

When Mass Effect 3 and Doctor Who Collide

Originally posted on Destructoid 3/19/2012

I want to talk about Mass Effect 3, but don’t worry, I’m not here to talk about the ending; I haven’t gotten that far yet. Instead I want to talk about how it made me experience one of the most awesome moments in gaming ever. Better yet, it combined my love of the Mass Effect series with my love for Doctor Who. There will be spoilers for those playing through Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect is one of my favorite series of all time. I played the original back in 2011, years after it was released. I’d heard the name of the game before that, but nothing about more about it. I picked up a deeply discounted used copy and decided to give it a go. I’m so glad I did. Despite certain flaws, the game grabbed hold of me. I loved the space opera story, the meticulousness of the in-game universe and backstory, and the music. (The soundtrack deserves an article all its own).

As soon as I finished the game, I bought a copy of Mass Effect 2 and proceeded to play it through twice back to back. I enjoyed its many improvements and loved its character-oriented story. My companions became my friends, especially ones carried over from the first game: Tali and Wrex.

At first I felt like the character interactions in Mass Effect 3 were lacking compared to Mass Effect 2, and I missed seeing my old squadmates. Then I got to the Tuchanka mission and everything changed.

You go to Tuchanka to earn the krogan’s support by curing the genophage (basically a sterility plague) that’s affected their species for years now. But there’s a twist. Another species–the salarians–implores you to sabotage the genophage cure because they’re afraid that once the Reapers are defeated, the krogan will go on another bloody rampage across the galaxy like they’ve done in the past.

Since I’m playing as a Renegade, I decided to do the “evil” thing and agree to sabotage the cure. Several times during the mission I had to lie to my companions, including Wrex, about my intentions. I know it’s just a game, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

In order to rationalize my decision, I ended up turning to Doctor Who. In that show, one of the running themes is that everything has its time; everything dies at some point. That’s what I told myself as I progressed through the mission, inching closer to the point when I’d stab Wrex and his entire species in the back.

I thought: The krogan had their time before. They devastated their world with nuclear war. They got a second chance when the salarians uplifted them. Then they blew it again with the Krogan Rebellions. It’s just their time to go now. Everything has a time.

I told myself that over and over until I reached the mission’s climax. I was in a crumbling facility with the salarian Mordin (also one of my favorite characters) seconds away from deploying the genophage cure. Mordin decided he had to make sure it deployed properly. The game presented me with a terrible choice: let Mordin go cure the genophage and potentially unleash the krogan on the galaxy again or murder him and basically doom the krogan to a slow extinction.

My resolve crumbled. Then in my mind’s eye I saw Matt Smith (the current Doctor) standing there in his coat and suspenders. His head is lowered and he’s saying, “Everything has to end sometime…” Dramatic pause. You think he’s going to go through with it, condemning an entire species to death. Then this song kicks in. The Doctor looks up with a maniac’s grin on his face, he points right at the camera and shouts, “…but not today!” Then he saves the day.

As soon as I saw that in my head, I leapt to my feet, pointed at the TV and shouted, “But not today!” My girlfriend in the next room probably thought I was crazy. It didn’t matter that I was ruining my pledge to play as a Renegade; I couldn’t bring myself to betray a friend, murder another one, and condemn a species to death on a mere possibility of a future disaster. I let Mordin go cure the genophage. And then the game ripped him away from me.

That mission affected me deeply on multiple levels. I felt so much for these fictional characters that I couldn’t betray one of them. Then I was devastated when another one was taken from me. But multiple types of media are able to make you care for fictional characters, so it couldn’t just be the fact that I cared.

No, Mass Effect 3 really brought home how the interactive nature of videogames allows the player to experience feelings that TV, movies, or books can only show them. I’ve watched all six seasons of the current Doctor Who, but I’ve never had a moment where I felt like I was in the Doctor’s shoes. This Tuchanka mission did that to me. I felt like I had the weight of galaxies and entire species on my shoulders.

I feel like that kind of experience has to be unique to videogames. Movies and books have played with my emotions before, but nothing quite on this level. Rather than absorbing things passively, I had agency (within the confines of the game’s mechanics and narrative of course) and the ability to change things on a galactic scale. Mass Effect 3 was the perfect game to make me experience something like this because of how well the characters were written and presented since the first game. I doubt I would’ve felt the same way if this type of decision had been presented to me in a different game.

New Acceptance! The Exile’s Violin Contracted by Hydra Publications

Good news, bad news time. Bad news is I got a flat tire on my way to work this morning (Mondays…amirite?) and have to buy some new tire(s). But the good news definitely outweighs that: I get to officially announce that my steampunk, fantasy novel The Exile’s Violin has been accepted by Hydra Publications! Here’s a little description about the novel:

The Exile’s Violin is a steampunk novel set in the fictional world of Tethys. Jacquie Renairre’s life is ordinary up until the night her parents are murdered and two of their prized possessions are stolen: a pair of black and white revolvers and a black key. After spending six years trying to track down the murderers, all she uncovers is a mystery that will take her around the globe in order to stop a war from breaking out. The Exile’s Violin is a story of loss, action, airships, gunfights, and long-buried magic.

So I’ve known about this acceptance for a couple of weeks, but I got the official green light to announce it today. I had to wait until the ink was dry on the publishing contract and all that. Right now The Exile’s Violin is slated for a Summer/Fall 2012 release in electronic and paperback formats. It’s funny up until now I didn’t feel like this was really happening…but it is!

That’s all the information I have for now, but I’ll post updates on the revisions, samples (if I can), cover art (when I see it), and a firm release date (when it’s set). I’m also going to blog about my experiences getting a novel published for the first time. I have a feeling it’s a whole different ballgame than being included in an anthology.

Please contact me if you have more questions or want to set up an author interview or guest post or something! Now I have to go celebrate! (aka get back to my day job)