“Verdigris” – A Tale from Nimbus

“Tales from Nimbus” is an ongoing series of shorts that expands the world of Nimbus in ways the novel’s main narrative cannot.

“Verdigris”

Nimbus: A Steampunk Novel - Part Two Cover

Even though the sun was up, Altza felt that he could sleep a bit longer. But Elden hadn’t stopped nudging him, so he had given in. Outside, however, the day was gloomy. Lately, things were always gloomy, but there was something about today that left a particularly twisted feeling in Altza’s chest.

“It’s not that bad,” Elden said. He nodded at the others, all making their way toward the statue at the center of the acropolis. “One quick bow, and we get to start our day. Things could be worse.”

Altza scoffed. “Do you ever get tired of being so optimistic?”

Elden just smiled. “When I’m gone, that’s probably the thing you’ll miss most about me.”

Upon seeing the statue up close, the twisted feeling in Altza’s chest moved down into his stomach. He could still remember when the idea of a statue erected in the Interloper’s honor would have seemed like a joke. He might have even laughed at the thought. But not anymore.

“Come to pay your respects?” asked Ira, who appeared on their left. She wasn’t smiling, but it was hard for Altza not to hear the sardonic tone in her voice. “I didn’t think Altza bowed for anyone.”

“I don’t,” Altza said. He looked around. The acropolis was crowded, but he couldn’t see Malrok. Leave it to the Interloper to be absent from his own induction ceremony. Not that it mattered; the entire event was a sham anyway, completely arranged by the Interloper himself.

Elden kissed Ira lightly on the cheek. “It’s good to see you again.”

“I bet it is,” Ira said, and her smile widened.

A large group of guards arrived at the statue, all of them looking tough and humorless. Altza glanced around, but he still couldn’t see Malrok anywhere. Maybe I’ll get lucky, he thought. Maybe the treacherous bastard will stay at home.

“I hear about fourteen workers died while building that sculpture for him,” Ira told them, nodding toward the statue. “But he wouldn’t let them stop, not until it was perfect.”

“That’s appalling,” Elden said. His jaw was set. “We should have won the war.”

“You should tell that to the Uprisers,” Altza said. He was still focused on the guards that were circled around the statue. “They look like a cheery bunch.”

“You’ve got to admit,” Ira said. “It’s not a bad statue.”

Altza had always liked Ira, but right now he found her revolting. “Are you serious?” he asked, his eyes still on the statue. “I hope I live to see the bronze turn green. It won’t look so shiny then.”

“You should tell that to the Uprisers,” Elden said.

“Or better yet,” said Ira, “tell that to the Interloper.”

“Damn the Interloper,” Altza said, “and damn his statue!”

There were a few gasps from around the acropolis, and everyone’s eyes seemed to fall on Altza. That twisted feeling in his stomach got tighter.

Then, Altza saw him—carried on a litter which had just reached the statue.            Malrok.

 If the look on the Interloper’s face was any indication, he had heard exactly what Altza had said.

Several guards came over and dragged Altza to the statue. The crowd parted for them.

“Do you not like my statue?” Malrok asked. He twirled a thin finger through the air. “I believe you also said something about me?”

Altza tried not to make eye contact. He was certain he was about to die, but he didn’t want to look like a coward in front of everyone. He would be brave. To the bitter end.

“Are you aware that I forbade anyone from calling me the Interloper ever again?” Malrok asked. His teeth glinted in the sunlight. “That is a crime punishable by death.”

Altza looked back at the statue. “I’ll live to see that thing lose its luster. And I’ll be here when it’s torn down.”

“You think you sound so brave,” Malrok said, his hand reaching for something in the litter. “But to everyone else, you simply sound like a fool.”

“Stop!” Elden called from the crowd. For once, Altza saw that his brother looked scared. “He doesn’t know what he’s saying! He’s just a child!” He looked at Altza and frowned. “You don’t always have to play the hero, Altza.”

“Yes, I do. And I know exactly what I’m saying,” Altza said, turning to look directly at Malrok. “You can call yourself a king, but you’ll always just be an interloper. A liar. A thief.”

The earth shook.

The skies parted, and the sun became so bright that Altza was temporarily blinded. When he regained a bit of his eyesight, he saw that everyone was running in a frenzy.

The fog thinned, which made it difficult for him to breathe, but Altza also noticed some strange creatures moving through the acropolis. They walked upright, their arms and legs covered in strangely colored clothing. They had thick hides, and some of them had hair like animals.

He felt someone grab him by the arm. It was Elden.

“What are those things?” Altza asked.

“Monsters,” Elden said.

My Story “Working Retail” Published Today by BuzzyMag!

Well, today’s a good day, folks. A very good day.

My first professional short story hit the shelves (virtually, at least) over at Buzzymag.com. I thought you folks might like to give it a gander.

“Working Retail” is a horror-comedy story, and I think that I’ve handled the whole zombie apocalypse thing in a pretty unique way.

So if you want to find out what student loans, HDTVs, and zombies all have in common, then head on over to BuzzyMag and read “Working Retail” in all its glory.

And just in case that isn’t enough, here’s a quick teaser so you can see all the inherent awesomeness in the story:

“Working Retail” by B.J. Keeton

I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard a grunt. I stood up from straightening the endcap of blank DVDs, and put on my best smile. If I had learned nothing else from nearly four years of working at MediaTown, it was that I never sold a single laptop, flat-screen TV, or Elton John boxed-set if I didn’t greet everyone who wanted my attention with a smile.

Sometimes it was all I could do to make the smile touch my eyes, but it still counted as a smile. That day, I was in a pretty good mood. I was getting paid at the end of my shift, and for the first time in my life, I was going to be able to pay something off. Two somethings, actually. I had made some stupid decisions since I had graduated college, the worst of which involved living off a high-interest credit card and buying a new car a month after graduating. In my defense, I had been promised a cushy programming job at a tech firm in the fall, and I thought as long as I could live through the summer, I’d be okay. But that was the summer of the outbreak, and while I–and my accrued debt–lived through the summer, the firm didn’t. On top of regular living expenses–rent, utilities, gas, and so on–those decisions made money a little tight in my neck of the woods.

But that week’s paycheck was going to make the final payment on the credit card, which was going to finally get me off my signature “Dollar Menu and Bologna Diet.” I would still have enough money to throw at getting the car paid off, too.

So it wasn’t even a fake smile I put on when I had to stop stacking DVD-Rs.

“Hi there!” I said as I pushed myself from the floor. “What can I do for–Holy Mother of God!”

Good right? Make sure you head on over to BuzzyMag to read the complete story.

[Guest Post] – Best Board Game Adaptations for iPad

Evan Fischer is a contributing writer for Download Free Games, where you can find games like Gold Miner Special EditionPuzzle Games and countless others.

Remember the good old days, when all it took to amuse you was a night of fun provided by the game closet? Popular board games were used not only for diversion, but to teach kids valuable life skills. For example, Monopoly imparted concepts like earning, spending, and saving (i.e. counting) money, as well as the progression of purchasing and upgrading property in order to charge more for rent. And Life gave you a window into the adult world, from getting a job and buying a house to having a carful of kids.

In short, most board games offered an education in addition to hours of entertainment.

But technology has definitely gone beyond what can be offered by a simple piece of cardboard with a printout pasted to it. These days most relevant gaming occurs on consoles like the PS3 and Xbox 360, computers, and of course, mobile devices like cell phones and tablets. Luckily, some of your favorite childhood board games have been adapted for use on the iPad.

Scrabble. There are plenty of rip-offs running around out there that you can try (Words with Friends, Bananagrams, etc.), but you can’t beat the original game that gives you a limited selection of letters and then forces you to make real words out of them. This is pretty much the same deal as the board game you’re used to, except that you can now play it on the go (without the mess of physical travel versions) and your friends don’t have to be in proximity to engage in wordplay with you.

 

Monopoly. While you’ll have to settle for playing with virtual versions of your beloved avatars, you’ll still get the game you remember with a few added features. Aside from the stellar HD graphics (courtesy of the new retina display), you’ll enjoy three modes of gameplay, including a solo version that you can play against the computer (it’s a lot more fun than playing the traditional board game by yourself), as well as two options to play with friends (either remotely or in “tabletop” mode that allows you to play with up to four people).

 

 

Trivial Pursuit: Master Edition. If you’re all about trivia, then this mobile version of this classic recall game should be right up your alley. However, it comes with extras that allow you to pick your mode (classic lets you play with others with pursuit mode allows you solo fun), you can utilize the tabletop version if all the players are in proximity, and you can even up the difficulty level, set time limits, and track your stats.

 

 

The Game of Life. I have to admit that I didn’t like this game as a kid (what 10-year-old wants to think about getting a job and having kids?), but the electronic version of the game seems a lot more fun. You can now zoom in and interact with the game board (thanks to HD graphics), customize your character, and play with up to six people. And you won’t be tempted to flick your car (kids and all) off the game board halfway through.

 

 

RISK. Some of us are content to play whatever free games happen to be available on the iTunes store (no matter how crappy they are). Others are hell-bent on world domination. RISK is a game for the latter group. You can go solo, play with those in your immediate vicinity, or get your friends in remote locations to log on and challenge you. Then all you have to do is conquer the world!

 

 

What mobile board games are you playing?

 

Why You Should Try DOTA 2 (and Other ARTS Games)


The rise of the ARTS (Action Real-Time Strategy) genre has been meteoric indeed. Earlier this month, data provided by XFire showed that League of Legends had become the most played PC game in the world, with over 1.3 billion hours played and surpassing even the mighty World of Warcraft.

For many of us though, the ARTS genre remains a mystery. There is no doubt that it is popular, but many of us just haven’t had the chance to engage with it. Where did this phenomenon begin? What’s the hype all about? And, perhaps most importantly, why start playing now?

The Mod that Started a Genre

The first commonly-accepted example of a ARTS was Aeon of Strife, a custom map for StarCraft. In the map, each player controls a hero that levels up during the course of the battle.

This concept was further refined in the form of Defense of the Ancients (DotA), a custom mod for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. The objective was to destroy the other team’s ancient, located in their base. Still using an RTS-style interface, each player took on the powers of a particular hero. These were based on units from Warcraft III, but the player controlled no other units–just the hero. Automated NPCs called “creeps” travelled on predestined paths toward the enemy base, and there was no base management since these “creeps” spawned automatically at set intervals. Defeating enemy computer-controlled units as well as enemy players granted XP and gold, allowing heroes to level up and purchase powerful items. The unique composition of each team and the tactical decisions made during the course of the match would determine the outcome.

The mod was intensely popular and spawned several spin-offs. One of the hallmarks of the mod from the very beginning was the emphasis placed on game balance and on keeping the game competitive. This aspect of the mod’s design would carry over to its successors and is part of what made the genre so popular.

The Genre Emerges

Demigod was the first commercially-produced standalone title in the ARTS genre when it was released in 2009, but a troubled release including bugs and server problems meant that it received mixed reception from both critics and users. In addition, while it was definitely a member of the genre, it was evident that it was trying to appear aesthetically and thematically different from DotA. It also lacked some of the highlights of DotA, like a large and varied character selection.

The first standalone game that was both a title in the genre and a spiritual successor to DotA is undoubtedly League of Legends. While Riot Games, the developer and publisher of the game, tried to redefine the genre’s name (opting to call it a MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) to move it away from its DotA heritage, the experience was undoubtedly based in the original mod.

Riot Games also managed to make the game a resounding financial success by appealing to their players’ competitive nature. Some heroes were free to play, but others required that you purchase them from the store in order to play them. Some heroes would have limited free periods, so you could see the hero in action before you purchased it. Though you could technically play League of Legends and spend nothing to do so, not many people did. Riot showed the world that the model worked and that the genre held great profit-making potential.

On the other hand, Riot’s monetization of hero selection was criticized by some players. The dedication to balance and a competitive environment that began with DotA was harder to maintain, since a player would need to spend money to get additional hero choices. In addition, some players claimed that new heroes tended to initially be (or to seem) slightly more powerful than older ones. Some theorized this was an attempt to encourage players to purchase the new hero to gain a power advantage.

Still, you can’t argue with results. The impact of League of Legends’ emergence had been felt, and other companies would answer.

The Next Wave

The next major title to be released in the genre was Heroes of Newerth, from S2 Games. The game featured a steeper learning curve and was less forgiving than League of Legends, and in some ways this was more in line with the original DotA mod. Active abilities were used less on creeps and more for harassment. Mana conservation was more important. Like the original DotA, there was no way to recall to your base outside of specific items.

The game did gain significant converts and showed that multiple games in the genre could co-exist if they were mechanically different enough. Though both games were undoubtedly based on DotA, they each had a niche: HoN was trying to cater to the more competitive, original DotA audience while LoL had expanded the genre and pushed it to the forefront.

Heroes of Newerth did eventually convert to a free to play model, as well–however, unlike League of Legends, the purchasable items are now mostly cosmetic and S2 has announced that in the future no restrictions will be placed on hero selection (besides early access to the hero).

Dota 2 Arrives

Dota 2, produced by Valve Corporation in association with IceFrog (one of DotA’s creators), shows promise as the next entry in the ARTS genre. As with so many of their games (see: Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2, Portal), Valve hired the talent and worked with them to make sure they got the game that they wanted. They also went with Dota 2 as opposed to “DotA 2”, as they believe that Dota has become its own concept.

It is currently in beta, so while you can’t guarantee a free invite, you can guarantee yourself a paid one. Basically, if you buy an invite to the game via Steam, you’re paying for a bunch of cosmetic items for heroes in the game. The game is currently slated to be free to play, and hopefully will release this year, so if you wait until it is released generally you won’t have to pay anything to begin playing. You can sign up for a chance at beta access here.

And what a game it is!

Valve’s well-known talent for polish takes the ARTS experience to a whole new level. The spectating system is easy to use and allows you to learn the game by watching others play. There is a full in-game encyclopedia of all heroes and items available. It is clear to me that Valve has designed this game to be playable and user-friendly from the moment the floodgates are opened and it becomes publicly available. High-profile tournaments are held and advertised within the client itself, on the main page. The main page itself is beautiful and easy to navigate and the UI generally is just a thing of beauty. And, as a kicker, all the heroes are free.

That’s right, all of them. The purchasable items in the Store are cosmetic or fun items. Think of it much like the inventory system in TF2, except that the items have no additional effects. Valve has continued their crate metagame, wherein you can pay for a key in the Store to unbox a crate containing a random item that you may sometimes receive after a game. There are also extremely entertaining Announcer Packs, which change the default announcer’s voice to a different one. Again though, these are entirely optional.

I’ll get this out of the way right now: Dota 2, as a game, is less forgiving than League of Legends. The difficulty and technicality of the gameplay is much more in line with the original DotA than with LoL. There are critical moments in the game like during early-game gank attempts, or during mid- to late-game team fights that you’ll have trouble identifying at first. If this is your first ARTS, you will probably suck badly in your first few games.

I know I did, and I still do.

There is some learning to do if you’re new to the genre. Initially, you’ll probably struggle with some of the following: risk management, which items to purchase, how much punishment you can take, and what the other heroes around you are capable of.

That may sound like a lot, and it is, but these things come with experience, so you shouldn’t be discouraged if you aren’t an instant professional. What I recommend is finding a group of friendly people to help you along. Unfortunately, these types of games aren’t known for friendly, welcoming teammates when queuing for random games.

If you don’t have friends to play with, look for a regular group or just watch some games for a while. If you want to get used to a particular hero, you can play a practice game against bots. The bot AI in this game is actually pretty decent, too.

Having said that, if you can push past the initial frustration, there is incredibly deep gameplay waiting for you on the other side. Communication, coordination, and proper use of abilities are crucial to success. Again, I confess to be terrible at the game still, but I am starting to see the little strategies and tactics that can make a difference. The detail-oriented gamer in me squeals with glee when I see these in action.

I really think Valve’s model and their beautiful, user-friendly client are the future of this genre. World Cyber Games thinks so too, replacing League of Legends with Dota 2 in this year’s tournament. The game is amazing, and for all the reasons listed above, you should check it out. If the initial $30 for an invite and the aforementioned cosmetic items is too prohibitive, you can always wait until the floodgates open later this year.

How do you feel about ARTS games, or League of Legends or Dota 2 specifically? Let me know in the comments!

 

[Guest Post] – Top 5 Ultimate Batman Villains of All Time

There are literally hundreds of villains in the DC universe and Batman has tangled with his fair share while protecting Gotham City from the dregs of humanity. But of course, some are more dangerous than others (poor Ventriloquist…stuck committing crimes through a Tommy-gun toting dummy named Scarface). Here are just a few of the most memorable villains to go up against the Dark Knight and truly earn his ire.

Catwoman

The hero usually gets the girl, but this nimble minx certainly makes him fight for it. A staunch feminist at best and a man-hater at worst, this villain has a love-hate relationship with the one bat that can best her, and she fluctuates between wanting to play house with him and tear his eyes out. Eventually she always seems to lean towards the latter (thank goodness for those of us that love a good villain!). But whether she’s catapulting over his head (pun intended) or giving in to the temptation to smooch him, this black cat seems to bring the Dark Knight nothing but bad luck when she crosses his path.

The Joker

Few villains in the Batman universe have more reason to hate the caped crusader than the gangster he dropped in a vat of chemicals, especially since the experience turned the Joker’s visage white, his hair green, and his mind to mush. The result is a crazy criminal mastermind hell-bent on destroying Batman and the city he protects in the most cruel and inventive ways possible – so long as they’re fun. He and his posse of and purple-clad miscreants terrorize Gotham City with both a snappy fashion sense and a sense of humor.

Ra’s al Ghul

His name translates to “the demon’s head”, and this is a fitting descriptor for Bruce Wayne’s one-time teacher. Okay, so he was actually only a mentor in the movies (in the comic world he tried to enlist Wayne as a sort of heir in his genocidal plans, which Wayne refused). But it’s no surprise that the two would be enemies; al Ghul is apparently over 500 years old (thanks to the discovery of a life-giving spring) and determined to use his many well-honed skills to eliminate the majority of the human race in order to restore balance to the world.

Two-Face

This unpredictable scoundrel makes Batman’s life hell, at least when the coin flip tells him to. As the former district attorney, Harvey Dent tipped the scales of justice. But as half-crazed Two-Face (so named because one half of his face is horribly scarred by acid) he lets Lady Liberty decide; his misprinted dollar coin has her face on both sides (with one side is scratched). This dichotomy makes Two-Face one of the most difficult villains for Batman to fight since he never knows what’s coming.

Scarecrow

This psychologist-turned-super villain is nothing if not a gas, and he uses his fear-inducing chemical cloud (along with a creepy scarecrow mask) to frighten his marks into submission (whether they are helpless patients or cape-wearing heroes). You could play Zombie Games 365 days a year and never come across villains this devious or devoted to their craft, and he certainly packs a psychological punch when poking around in Batman’s fractured psyche.

Evan Fischer is a freelance writer and part-time student at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.