Sunday, July 31, 2016

Team Mafia

The mud and marsh water had well and truly taken the shine off of Joey Prosciutto’s shoes.  He was thirsty, tired, and the mosquitoes of the Pine Barrens had made a veritable feast out of the fleshy parts of his ear.  Never mind the fact that his back and arms hurt from trucking his end of the rolled up carpet around all morning.  When he looked back and saw that Jimmy Fingers was staring at his phone again, he lost it.

“Man, we shoulda called you Jimmy Thumbs for all the time you spend friggin’ texting on that thing!”

“I’m not texting,” said Jimmy.  He returned his phone to the front pocket of his sweat shirt and, once again, devoted both arms to hauling his half of the carpet. 

Joey’s burden felt lighter, but that didn’t make him any less irritated.  “Look, can we just dump this stiff somewheres and get back to the car?   It’s the day of my niece’s wedding, and I’d like to get back in time to squeeze my ass into my suit.”

“Sorry, Joey.”

He started to trot, double time, causing the carpet to bounce up and down between them.  The rolled up end poked Joey in the back, speeding him down an incline that led to a rocky defile.  There was a little brook running through the bottom.  It wouldn’t be strong enough to take the carpet away unless the whole Barrens flooded.  If they chucked it under the rocks, it’d be hidden from anybody walking by or trying to spot it in the air.

“Hold up, hold up,” said Joey.  “We’ll dump it here.”

To reinforce the finality of his decision, he dropped his end of the carpet.  It landed with a thud on a pile of wet, rotting leaves. The shock of the impact forced the tip of a Ferragamo out of the carpet rolls.

Jimmy eased his end of the carpet onto the ground and fumbled his phone out of his pocket.  “Let me just check something first, all right?”

“Whaddya gotta check?” shouted Joey, loud enough that a distant flock of birds took flight.  “We’re in the middle of nowhere.  We found us a good dump spot.  Let’s just dump him here and get it over with.”

“We can’t.”  Jimmy seemed like he was trying to hide behind his phone.

“Whaddya mean we can’t?” 

“Well, it’s just that this little creek here is, you know.  Whatchacallit.  A water feature?”

Joey peered down into the ribbon of splashing water before looking dagger eyes at Jimmy.  “So?”

“Well, a body of water like this, you know, it attracts a lot of water types.  And since we’re off the beaten path, and all, it actually attracts a lot of rare water types.”

Joey felt his blood pressure spike.  He took a deep breath and let it out noisily.  “Are you talking about that Pokemon Go thing?”

“Yes,” said Jimmy, in a tiny voice.

“You mean to tell me, you’ve been making me drag his fat ass and your fat ass around the friggin’ Pine Barrens because of a goddamn app, Jimmy?  I oughtta kill you and throw you down in this friggin’ hole!”

 Jimmy held up his hands and his phone, as if to ward off the imminent incoming blows.  “Hang on, hang on.  I got a reason.  Look, I know you’re steamed with me, but hear me out.  See, the thing is, I was watching on the news the other day about how some kids were out playing this game on their phones, right, and they found a body.”

“Yeah?” said Joey.  He had heard about that, too.  “So?”

“So I started thinking that maybe I don’t want to traumatize no kids with having them find our leftover hits, you know what I mean?  Like, this thing between the Boss and Jerry the Carpenter, that’s just business, right?”


“Like, I don’t want no little kids out here huntin’ Polywags, or whatever, and run into this.  That’s why I was trying to find a place where there weren’t any Pokemon, so that we could dump the stiff with no problems.”

Joey laughed.  “Jesus Christ, Jimmy, why didn’t you just friggin’ say so!  That makes perfect sense.”

Jimmy gave him that nervous look that guys often gave him, the “you started laughing, so either we’re good or you’re gonna start pounding the crap out of me and I don’t know which one to plan for yet” look. 

Joey took out his own phone, turned it on, and flashed the app in Jimmy’s direction.  “I love this app.  My niece’s kid turned me onto this thing a week or so ago.  Lotsa fun.  Me and Vinny Doombats—that’s my Ghastly—have been tearin’ up the gyms downtown.

“I just wish you would’a told me sooner.  We could’a been back in town buying cannolis instead of sweating our asses off out here.”

Jimmy let out a long held breath and sagged with relief.  “That’s great to hear, Joey.  That’s really great.  I really thought you was gonna flip your lid when I told you.  I’m glad you’re okay with it.”

Joey stuffed his phone back in his pocket.  “Yeah, yeah, sure.  I even got a plan as to how we can rectify this situation.  Here’s what we do.  We tell the boys, right, that they’re gonna get the app and start setting up lures all around town.  That way, all the kids and whatever will be goin’ to those hotspots instead of coming out here.  Nobody disturbs old Jerry’s final resting place here and you can sleep at night.”

“That’s a good plan,” said Jimmy, stowing his own phone.  “Here, grab your end and we’ll sling him down here, and…”

As easily as it was said, it was done.  Jerry the Carpenter was snug in his carpet down among the rocks and Jimmy and Joey started their long walk back to the road.  Joey smiled to himself—even without setting up lures, there was no way kids would come all the way out into the Pine Barrens just to find Pokemon.  The cops probably wouldn’t come out here, either, and even if they did, the Boss had things fixed so that nobody could trace the hit on Jerry back to them.

“So, hey,” said Joey, his mood much brighter.  “I’m on Team Valor.  What about you?”

Joey noticed after a couple of steps that Jimmy was no longer beside him.  Something tickled at the back of his brain.  He turned around to see Jimmy slipping a pair of brass knuckles on the calloused fingers of his right hand.

“Whaddya doin, Jimmy?  Come on!”

 “You made a big mistake.”  Jimmy sank his armed fist into the meat of his left palm.  “Spark is my boy, Joey.”

Joey spread his arms in disbelieve.  “You serious about this, Jimmy?  You want to throw down with me over a goddamn phone app?”

“Serious as a heart attack, Joey.  I’ll go easy on your face, though.  You know, ‘cause of your niece’s wedding.”

Joey dropped into a fighting stance and dragged the back of his hand underneath his nose.  He made a come-on gesture.

“Jesus Fucking Christ,” he said, as Jimmy rushed him.  “I knew I should’a stuck to fucking Candy Crush.”

Friday, July 29, 2016

Boldly Going!

I am almost never entirely serious about anything.

I am, as the song says, the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral.

I bring this up because most of my games and a lot of my stories start out as goofy parodies of things. Some of them got all the way to the end of their design cycle with the ridiculousness still intact (Fishing for Terrorists, Tiki Mountain), while others had most of it either pruned out or toned back to more reasonable, thematically appropriate levels (Kung Fu Fighting, En Garde: Honorable Combat for a More Civilized Age*).

And so it was for my Star Trek-inspired role-playing game.

My first notes for the game were, predictably, about silly things about the original series that I noticed.  Kirk tears his shirt open a lot!  Janice Rand has that weird basket thing on her head!  The special effects are a little dated and cheesy!  Those uniforms look like pajamas!

These observations weren't anything that millions of people hadn't already noticed in the fifty years since Star Trek first aired, but they were still amusing to me.  Because of this, the initial draft of the game was more of a loving parody of Star Trek (possibly in the vein of Galaxy Quest). Because of that, I decided on a snappy title for the game that conveyed its inherent ridiculousness: Velour and Go-Go Boots.

As mentioned above, a thing that happens with a lot of my projects happened with this game.  The longer I worked on it, the more I started to take it seriously.  The more I took it seriously, the more I began to rewrite the parody aspects of the game. Yes, there's still a rule about how you can tear open your uniform to reduce the damage of an attack, but that's because it's thematically appropriate to the setting, not because it's lol Star Track, amirite?

In addition, the more I watched the shows for inspiration for the game, the more I got into the mindset of Roddenberry and company.  Yes, there are plenty of goofy things in Star Trek, but it's also about fundamental optimism for the future of humanity.  We'll figure it all out eventually, says the show (and its attendant tie-in products).  We're basically good at our core.  Ever little thing is gonna be all right.

Wait.  That was someone else.

After a while, I got to the point where I became hesitant to continue referring to the game as Velour and Go-Go Boots.  Sure, it's a catchy title, and if you know anything about Star Trek, you know what the game is about before I describe it to you, but it's also a little too silly.  Quite a few people have thought that the game was a straight parody or just silly adventures in space.  That's not to say that it can't be, and that's not to say that I'll be staring disapprovingly over my glasses at people who want to play the game that way, but the game is no longer specifically designed to be for that.  So it needed a new name that reflected that new direction.

Unfortunately, I couldn't think of a name that wasn't painfully generic and would make it get lost on store or virtual shelves.  I think part of this has to do with the fact that I'm terrible at coming up with titles (see the workmanlike names I've given all of my books and stories for limitless examples). Space Patrol?  Already at least one game with that name.  Guardians of the Galaxy?  That sounds...really familiar? Oh, what if I just busted out my thesaurus and found alternate words for Star and Trek.  Like maybe Galaxy and Que...oh goddamnit!

It was about this time that several friends of mine started suggesting names to me (some out of the blue, some because I questioned them on it).  A number of them hit upon calling the game Boldly Go.  I really liked this idea.  It's obviously Star Trek (it's right there in the opening narration!), and it conveys that epic, exploratory feel that's a key component of all the shows.  Any time I think about the name, I imagine a vast starscape in my head and hear classical music start to play.

But then I got nervous. What if Paramount sues the pants off of me? Maybe I should go back to the drawing board.

It was at that point that Jonathan, my very wise friend, told me not to worry about it, for a host of reasons that are both obvious and too numerous to go into here. Suffice it to say that the game that was Velour and Go-Go Boots is now Boldly Go. There's 50% less Go in the title, but 100% more gravitas!

And this is probably the longest post to describe a product name change ever made. Hello, verbosity!  

*It's intellectually distinct from the En Garde role-playing game, which is why I'm contractually obligated to say the whole thing.

Friday, July 22, 2016


A friend of mine recently posted the following to social media:
"'The room was remarkable for being completely unremarkable.' If all writers could stop doing this, say for the next hundred years?"
Being the dink that I am, I read this statement and saw it as a challenge!

So, here's my attempt to describe the unremarkable room and also to make it funny.  I sent it off to my friend and they laughed instead of trying to throttle me, so I think I succeeded!

I have posted it below for posterity.

The room was unremarkable.

A lesser writer, upon confronting the descriptive void that was the room, would have been stymied in their attempts to describe it.  They might have tossed off the usual bon mot—the room was remarkable for being unremarkable—and left it at that.

Other writers would at least make the attempt, although some might be so bored by the room’s intrinsic lack of remarkableness that they would give up after less than a sentence.

Still other writers might find the blank void of the room a useful space in which to unpack their overstuffed trunks, casting similes and metaphors out in reckless abandon in the hopes that something, somehow, would stick to the unremarkable walls.

Let us try that last attempt ourselves, shall we?

So, a room.  It is the sort of room that a character in a dystopian or science-fiction story would awaken in, wondering where (or even what) they were.  It is the sort of room that a number of tertiary characters, their voices indistinguishable thanks to lazy characterization, would occupy to have a rambling conversation that both lacks dialogue tags and does not further the plot in any meaningful way.  It is a room that those without easy access to a dictionary might describe as cringing or insouciant.

The walls of the room are white, of course, though the exact nature of the whiteness of the room is currently in dispute.  Color theorists and employees of a local paint store are currently engaged in a bitter feud about whether or not the room is a light grey or bone-colored.  The sole holdout who insisted that the room was ecru has been summarily drummed out of the discussion, but not before pointing out that ecru is a very light beige and that beige, of course, is one of the most unremarkable colors known to humanity.

It is fortunate indeed that your humble author is colorblind, and can therefore pay little heed to this intractable discussion.  Let us move on.

One might imagine that the room has no features, for features are interesting by their very nature and therefore worthy of description.  The floors and ceiling are thus also white (or ecru), presumably, although one might think it worth mentioning that the floor is painted white.  However, dickering about with paint, its shade, and the strangeness of location, is merely avoiding the actual interesting question when faced with a room that is otherwise devoid of interest.

Where is the light coming from?

It must be coming from somewhere, otherwise the room would be dark and the sentence would read, “the room, apart from being dark, was unremarkable.”  Since we can see that the room is unremarkable, we know that there must be some light.  It can’t be coming in through a window, however, since it (and possibly the scene viewable through it) might be worthy of some expository phrases.  Similarly, it cannot be coming from a light fixture, because a light fixture, even one as humble as a bare bulb hanging from a cord, is worthy of a description.

Perhaps the walls themselves glow faintly with a pearlescent radiance, thereby providing the room light.  Except, as we have already ascertained, this can’t be happening, because glowing walls would increase the remarkableness of any room into which they are installed a thousand-fold.

Ah, but there is a solution.  Maybe the light comes from our slightly-better described protagonist.  He (for it is always a he in these sorts of stories), could be creeping about a darkened building, using a flickering oil lamp, a torch, a flashlight, or the screen of his cellular telephone to illuminate the scene.  Our protagonist opens the door and, in the dim light, sees an empty room, devoid of windows, furnishings, or light fixtures, and whose every surface is coated in flat, off-white paint.  He nods to himself, thinking how remarkable it is that this room is completely unremarkable.

Except for the dead body on the floor.