Opening lines are easy.
That’s a lie. Opening lines are terribly difficult. Unless they are easy. Sometimes they are easy
Closing lines are easy.
That’s a lie. Closing lines are, by far, the hardest lines to write. Unless they are not. Sometimes they are not difficult at all. They just flow naturally. Sometimes you write the last line first.
Middles are always hard.
No lie there. That’s just the truth. No matter how hard or easy the first and last lines are, everything in the middle is terrifyingly difficult. You can have the start and end all worked out and still there will be issues with the middle.
Where do you start? Where do you end? What do you do in between?
I suppose you start with something strong. Something that grabs attention. Something that invites them in.
Then you absolutely must end with something that will stick with them. Something that sums up everything before, but also leaves room for more.
In the middle, you go from thing to thing, but not in a boring way. You can never be boring in the middle. Even when you absolutely need to. Even when there are things you need to say that aren’t as important. At least not important to that one person. You know the one. You never want to bore that one person.
Middle not boring.
That’s it really.
It will all be easy, because really, when you get right down to it, opening lines are easy.
I’ve had the Steamdeck for a couple of weeks now. I have a few different thoughts about it. Mostly, it’s cool as hell, but only if you like messing with hardware and software.
I happen to love messing with hardware and software. I dig into some flavor of Linux about once a year. Not enough to remember everything, but just enough that I know I can usually fix what I break. If any piece of hardware has some sort of secret menu or hidden configuration, I will probably try to get into it. If, for example, my TV had a hidden menu, I would fiddle with it. It did, and I have.
It’s not that the steamdeck has a lot of secret stuff built into it. There is all sorts of hidden stuff, but it’s not really secret. It has a standard Linux desktop tucked neatly under the veneer of a user-friendly, steam only, interface. Dropping into desktop mode is pretty trivial, but if you aren’t used to that sort of thing, it might be like getting access to a vast trove of power you weren’t ready for.
Just like any Linux PC, you can install a lot of extra, non-steam stuff. Mostly that means emulators. And boy, does this unit ever run emulators.
I have probably played more SNES, Genesis, Dreamcast, Gamecube, PS2, and arcade games on it than modern games at this point. It’s an amazing Rocket League and HardSpace Shipbreaker device, of course, but it plays a mean game of Street Figher 3 as well.
Setting up emulators and other games on it is as simple as using any Linux based PC. Mostly, you just download and launch them. Not much to it. At least not much to it if you like doing that sort of thing.
I have had an issue getting some of the controls to work properly with Dark Souls 3. You can configure almost everything on the steamdeck, but that doesn’t mean that it will work flawlessly. It works pretty well, but, like any PC, it has quirks. Sometimes things just won’t work the first time, so you will have to dig in and adjust some settings or tweak config files. The battery life isn’t great, but it’s probably adequate for most uses. With all these caveats, it might not be right for the person who wants a console like experience. For me, it’s fantastic.
I haven’t set everything up on it yet, but so far I really like it. If you enjoy fiddling around with technology, a Steamdeck is a pretty neat toy.
This is just a short update on how writing is going.
Right now I have two short stories out for consideration, three more that are nearly done or in editing, and another one that was finished quite a while ago, but needs a rewrite in a few areas. I’m thinking it might be a numbers game.
Of the rejection letters I have received recently, a couple have been the usual form letters, but a couple have been personal and outlined why they were being rejected (and no, I won’t be saying what outlets or magazines these are, mostly because it doesn’t matter, but also because I will likely be sending them more submissions in the future). In two of those cases, the editor sending me the rejection letter said it was because the story didn’t fit the format or theme of the issue, but they asked for future submissions. While this could have been a case of someone trying to be polite, or spare a writer's feelings, they probably would have just sent a form letter if they actually didn’t like it.
In the case of at least one of those rejection letters, I have to grudgingly agree. I mean, I like the story, but it would sort of be a stretch to imagine it fit with the theme of the collection they were putting together.
Here is the problem. When they ask for more submissions, that’s nice and all, but I don’t really have that many pieces of writing just sitting around waiting to send out. In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t really been writing fiction very long. Only a few years of serious effort, and maybe two years actually trying to sell the things I write. I just don’t have a big backlog of pages to dive into. And I very much don’t have submissions ready in a lot of genres or in different themes. For example, I don’t really have any horror stuff. I think that’s because I find a solid ninety percent of horror short stories either not scary or not interesting, and I can’t think of a good way to appeal to the people who do like those stories. What I find scary is more slow creeping dread, than shock and gore. That stuff usually gets flagged as literary fiction and not specifically horror. More Twilight Zone, less Tales from the Crypt.
Whatever the case, I will probably have a couple more stories submitted for consideration over the next couple of months. Maybe that will increase my chances of selling another one. Like I said, it might be a numbers game.
Best Games - Bagman
1982 was a pivot point year for video games. Games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were still riding high. To any arcade operator or game seller, it would have seemed like video games were on an unstoppable upward trajectory. Arcades were making money. Atari and Coleco were raking it in with their home consoles. Even home computers, like the Commodore 64, were driving huge game sales.
There was a slight snag for a year or two after that. Honestly, no one could have predicted it. Atari was the biggest player in the industry by far, and they over extended. The floor fell out, and for a hot minute it seemed like video games might be just another fad. If you were designing an arcade game set to be released in 1982, you could be excused for trying to make something a little more ambitious. Something that no one was doing. Something that players wouldn’t be ready for. If you were making an arcade game in that heady environment, you might make something a little weird. You might make Bagman.
Bagman, or Le Bagnard, is an action platform game made by French developer Valadon Automation. In it, you direct an escaped convict around an old mine in a mission to gather up your stashed loot, stuff it in a wheelbarrow, and cart it off screen. It’s a very simple idea, and it could easily have been a riff on Donkey Kong, or a clone of Space Panic, but it’s not. It’s an entirely different sort of beast. Bagman might be the world's first systems based game.
Maybe that’s a stretch, but maybe it’s not.
Here are some things about Bagman. It’s a game played with a joystick and one button. With that stick and one button you can, climb ladders, pick up money, drop money, put money in a wheelbarrow, drop a bag of money on a guard from the top of a ladder, push a wheelbarrow, grab a mining pick, put down a mining pick, scare a guard with a mining pick, hit a guard with a mining pick, hang from a beam to avoid a minecart, ride in a minecart, garab a bag of money while riding in a minecart, and ride an elevator.
More than that, the state of the multiscreen mine is saved between lives. If you get caught or fall, all of the bags you have moved stay moved. It’s a small thing, but it also means that the game is built on independent systems that interact with one another in predictable and player influenceable ways. This was an extremely uncommon way to develop games at the time.
It’s sort of unbelievable that you can do so many, context-sensitive things in one game using only a stick and one button. Not only that, but so many of those actions combine and overlap. Bagman is one of the first ‘If it looks like you can do it, you probably can’ games. There are unique bits of animation and sound that kick off when you trigger most of these actions, but it’s really sort of amazing that you can do them at all. This was in the era of very simple arcade games that could be understood and played in seconds.
You might think that all this interactive complexity would make Bagman difficult to learn or understand, but it is just as intuitive as a game like Donkey Kong. Your goals are clear, and when you mess up, you know it’s your own fault.
So why then is Bagman not up there with Donkey Kong in the list of fondly remembered classics?
There are two reasons.
First, there might be a lot of ways to interact, but there are almost as many ways to get caught or killed. The game is incredibly difficult.
That difficulty is probably to the game's detriment. Sure, it probably gathered a lot of quarters, at least for a while, but that sort of variety of player driven interaction wouldn’t be seen again in a game for a few years. Had it been even just a little easier, more arcade goers would have played it, and more developers would have tried to copy it. Maybe that doesn’t make the best short term business sense.
Second, It’s too easy. I know I just said that it was too difficult, but, like a lot of systems based games that would come later, there are ways to exploit that difficulty. Exploiting games usually means being very patient and taking your time to do everything. If you are willing to pick up a bag, move it a few steps, put it down again, use the pick for a few seconds, and then start moving the bag again, you can finish the game’s, single level. If you are very patient and willing to play for somewhere between twenty to forty minutes, you probably will finish it. Your time playing might not be the most exciting to watch, but it will be full of near misses and well planned escapes. Depending on how much you like exploiting systems, this could be a bad thing, or a very good thing.
I think that we have seen, time and time again, that letting the player win is a good business strategy when making games. Letting them win in a way that is satisfying and makes them feel like they earned it is even better. We did get a Super Bagman, but it was more of a minor iteration on the theme rather than a full evolution. I wonder what an entire series of Bagman games might have been. What could have been done with that innovative layering of actions and systems during those early stages of the industry. I suppose we will never know.
Regardless, Bagman is one of the best games.