Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Guest Post: “Space Pioneer” the video game. Kickstarting and coming soon. Get in on the action. Interview with Maximillian “Max” Kovtun.

Created by real world astronauts, scientists, and architects, in Space Pioneer, you will build vast colonies and cities and explore the many unknowns of our universe! Space Pioneer is best described as a space sim, with a heavy dose of real time strategy and city building mechanics. The core of the game revolves around the exploration of a virtual in-game universe via an upgradable and customizable spaceship – with the player having the ability to colonize other planets using a unique combination of RTS mechanics. The player can build Space Stations and come into contact with other sentient species. He/she can choose to coexist with said species, or compete with them. The goal is to make a game that is educational and scientifically accurate, but also deeply satisfying and fulfilling, fun. 

A unique feature of the game is that not everyone will have the same exact experience; you will to be able to explore and conquer the universe the way you want to. If you want to go about destroying everything in your path, then you definitely can, provided that you have enough capital. 

Currently in the Kickstarter/Development phase, there is plenty of opportunity to get in on the action from the front end. The following is an interview with one of the Space Pioneer developers, Maximillian “Max” Kovtun. At the end of the interview is a video that provides more information and an overview of the project.

With Maximillian “Max” Kovtun
Please tell us a little about Space Pioneer.
Our game is best described as a space sim RTS that’s partially developed by astronauts, scientists and architects. Space Pioneer is a conglomeration of different genres and we think that our game has the potential to become one of the best-spaced based games in existence. 

Tell us some interesting facts about the Space Pioneer development team?
Well, there are a couple of interesting tidbits about our team… For one, Aleksandr Zheleznyakov wrote a book about Soviet experiments on sex in space – apparently, this was classified for a long period of time. He hasn’t published it yet, and we’re thinking of adding a reward tier in our Kickstarter that includes this book. Granted; Space Pioneer itself won’t feature express lewd acts in space… 

Yuri Artsutanov was the creator of what is now the modern space lift, and inspired a lot of Arthur Clarke’s writing. They exchanged many ideas amongst themselves, and some of these ideas will be incorporated into Space Pioneer! So we have some interesting people on our team to say the least!

When did Space Pioneer start and what were the motivations behind it?
Well, as an idea, Space Pioneer has been around for a couple of years. Our motivations for making this game are relatively simple – we want to make the best space sim ever!  Some of our team consists of people who have actually been in space and we feel we can contribute immensely to the space sim and RTS genres. 

What contribution do you make in the project?
Officially, I act as the director for our studio, but our team’s structure is actually relatively flat. Everyone has equal say and we’re all free to steer Space Pioneer in the direction that we see fit. In other words – I don’t rule with an iron fist so to speak… I also came up with the idea of Space Pioneer.

Any tips to the young developers and creators?
If you have a good idea – don’t give up on it and don’t be intimidated by the video game industry. With the emergence of the indie scene, right now is the easiest time in the history of our industry to develop and release your video game! 

How has your journey been so far?
It has definitely been a learning experience! The great thing about Kickstarter is that your backers are vocal if you aren’t doing something right and it’s relatively easy to fix those mistakes. All in all though; our experience with using crowd-funding has been overwhelmingly positive. For the most part; people want to see you succeed and will try to help you in any way that they can. The backers on our Kickstarter have given us great tips and even ideas towards making our Kickstarter better!

We see you have kept a target of $150,000 to raise at the Kickstarter.com. Why this figure specifically, even when it is such a great idea?
This is the amount we need in order to realize what we have set out to make. If everyone that reads this interview contributes – then we will have reached our funding goal. So what are you waiting for? Go to our Kickstarter and contribute! Well actually, finish reading this interview and then go to our Kickstarter and contribute!

When will Space Pioneer be released?
We are hoping to release by the end of 2015. 

When it releases will Space Pioneer require high-end graphics card?
No – while we can’t reveal minimum specs just yet – we can say that Space Pioneer scales back nicely to fit mid end graphics cards. 

What more will we see in the future, apart from the present ground breaking idea? Would you like to give us a few hints?
Good question! We’re always brainstorming stuff and I’m confident that our team will continue to make innovative games long after Space Pioneer is released.

For more information see: Space Pioneer, by Space Enigma Studios at Kickstarter. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

“Happy Endings” – and how much are these law enforcement panty raids costing us?

I keep thinking I am not going to be so opinionated, and then something else comes up – like grandiosely extravagant law enforcement panty raids. I am still not sure I got it all straight.

First, there was a big, as in major law enforcement operation in Madison, Alabama, which is a bedroom community to Huntsville. From the looks of things, Madison really is a bedroom community – an active one at that. They had this major criminal type investigation, which culminated in a raid, to crack down on the kind of crimes that people tend to do in the bedroom, with money involved. Then they plastered the pictures of the people they arrested all over the news.

I never in my life thought I’d be writing about such, but let’s get a grip here. Alabama is among the poorest states in the whole country, we are among the least healthy, the least educated, and we make less money. At the same time, we have some of the largest numbers on public assistance, which makes sense, considering the other. We are also third in the nation for the most people locked up behind bars, and this is in the nation with the highest incarceration rate in the world, that pretty much means we are number three, or right at it – in the whole world. Louisiana is number one, in the world, but it gets a little murky with us and Mississippi on the world level. At any rate, they have the second highest incarceration rate in the country, and we are number three behind them.

Not to be outdone though, Alabama has the most overpopulated prison system in the country, which pretty much means we are arresting people faster than we have jail and prison space to handle them. Alabama is already under Federal orders to do something about the overcrowding. At least we are at the top in something.

It is clear that with all those folks we got locked up in the South, we are among the most degenerate people on the planet. We also happen to “supposedly” be the most religious people in this  country, the heart of what is known as the Bible Belt. Talk about some oxymorons – the most degenerate and the most religious.

The other day, I was having a discussion with some folks, who were going on about the crime rate increasing in Alabama and we needed to get tough on crime, clean things up in these parts. And we already have the most overcrowded prison system in the whole country. Where are we going to put them and what are the heinous crimes that the people who haven’t been arrested yet supposedly committing.

The light bulb is now on. First, I figured, well, maybe it was a slow news day, so that is why they got so much coverage for busting up the shenanigans between a hooker and her customers out in Madison. I somehow understood how the TV stations would cover such, sort of, but not really, and then it was on AL.com. I was scratching my head at them, mostly because they generally have a high level of coverage and this whole thing was bordering on front-page National Inquirer material. At that point, I didn’t quite realize the level of what was going on in Alabama.

It got me thinking though. I started wondering how many taxpayer dollars it actually took to pull off a raid like the one in Madison. I don't actually know the answer. You have to consider the investigation time, hours logged, equipment, etc. Also, how much money is going to change hands? How much money is that raid going to bring into the system; there’s bail that needs to be made, lawyers that take a chunk, guards, facilities to lock them up, we could probably double the prison space in Alabama and still not have enough, and they got to eat, and those prison phone calls. The FTC has already been onto that, phone calls from jail are some of the highest priced phone calls in the country. Anyway, there is a lot of money in crime, and I am not talking about what the ones in handcuffs are making.

So I tried to digest all that. Then the next time I check the news, it’s Birmingham. Our neighbors down the road were not to be outdone in their own efforts to combat crime, or to generate all the attention they could possibly generate in the process. They went after the “HappyEnding” special at the VIP Spa.

Now those folks know how to get some attention. Best I can tell, they all dressed in full gear and called every news outlet in town to come out for the raid. They probably weren’t too worried about a lot of gunfire on that one, you got to know your criminals, so everybody came out for the photo op. There were pictures galore; a crime raid in process, good guys and bad guys both, girls, actually women. To tell you the truth, I am not sure which was which, good or bad I mean, but in any case, it was the culmination of a “major criminal investigation.” You’d think somebody had been stealing from little old ladies, or robbing banks, or raping folks in nursing homes, foreclosing on people’s houses illegally perhaps, maybe a serial killer, or two.

Well, no, it was a bunch of middle-age men taking advantage of the “Happy Ending” special at the local VIP Spa. I did a little checking around, never could figure if it was a chain or what, but evidently there are other VIP Spas in other areas, and some of the others have also had a few run ins with the law, mostly about some version of that “Happy Ending” thing, for which they seem to be famous. And people can say, well, we don’t want such as that in our neighborhood, but you know what? If nobody shows up for those “Happy Ending” specials, they will go out of business and leave, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. 

And it is not that I condone these activities, or in any way approve, it is just that I can think of a very long list of better ways to spend our tax dollars than chasing folks who are in some way or another involved in either purchasing or providing “Happy Ending” specials. Mostly, I don’t give a rat’s behind either way. If it doesn’t affect me in some way, or nobody is getting hurt, I really do not care what other people do in the privacy of their bedroom or some back room. Most people don’t.

I do care when my tax dollars get wasted in the process though. And it is not as if we are all living the good life, for all practical purposes, Alabama is poor, kind of low on the socio-economic scale. If we had a lot of extra cash to throw around, I could understand it, maybe. Actually, I still can’t, but at this point in the history of our state, we flat don’t have a lot of spare change, and spending it grandstanding on law enforcement panty raids is just about as big a waste of our already scarce resources as I can think of.

Every day, I hear somebody ranting and raving about how they don’t want their tax dollars going to help lazy poor people, or lazy sick poor people, or feeding poor kids in school. They are all about how they don’t want their tax dollars going to help whatever poor person they are ranting and raving about that day.

I will tell you what I don’t want my tax dollars going for, I don’t want my tax dollars going toward policing folks in their behind closed doors bedroom activities, and I don’t appreciate the fact that I am now apparently paying to regulate these “Happy Ending” specials. There was some mention that trafficking might be suspected as being involved in the Birmingham case, in which case, if they were there to rescue somebody, I am not sure why they led them away with their hands tied up behind their back. That is some kind of heroic rescue. (Update: No evidence of trafficking was found and charges were filed.)

It seems to me, if nobody is being abused and everybody is agreeable as to what is going on, the government does not belong in folks’ bedroom. I do not want my tax dollars to be wasted on this kind of mess. I don’t know who in their right mind would. But somebody has spent a wad of cash on these raids, and that wad of cash is coming out of the taxpayers’ wallet, and that is just the start of what it is going to cost the citizens of this state, or the people who just had their lives turned upside down, in Birmingham and Madison both. At this point anyway, I don’t know that anybody involved was actually hurting another single person on this whole planet. And I can’t see as how any of it does much of anybody a lick of good, except maybe the folks getting a paycheck for pulling it off. We already know what the prohibition laws (alcohol and marijuana both) did for us with law enforcement types worried about their job security and looking for somebody to arrest. No wonder they were wearing ski masks. I guess I didn’t mention the ski masks.

And I know people talk about Christian values and this being the Bible Belt, but I don’t recall Jesus spending a whole lot of time persecuting prostitutes; actually, some of his best friends were prostitutes. So don’t go blaming this one on the Bible. Prostitution is the oldest profession, still going strong, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The thing is, you can do it fifty times a day if you want to, as long as no money is involved. And there are all kinds of grey areas when you get down to such, shacking up, helping each other out, payback for that lovely dinner out, and it goes on and on.

Folks aren’t always the way folks in politics like to make them out either, or the way it comes out in the news, to justify what they do to people’s lives. This one prostitute I knew way back when I was in college, looking back, no matter what a person might say about such, she was one of the hardest working people I ever knew. I don’t think anybody who ever knew her could have ever said she was other than a good person. She had kids, a husband who didn’t show up much, and she worked at the same restaurant as me.

If you think the difference in men and women’s pay is outrageous now, go back a few decades. She didn’t make near enough to support the family, so she “supplemented” her income. I didn’t think a whole lot about it at the time. I don’t think anybody else did either. Nobody I knew gave much of a rat’s behind what other people did in the bedroom. The other minor detail though is that most of her regular customers were on the local police force. That was a long time ago though. Things sure have changed, now it’s all over the news what people are doing in the bedroom. Also makes you wonder what goes on during those investigations.

I sure did some thinking when I noticed the pictures of those police officers in Birmingham, BPD's Vice and Narcotics Unit, ICE and the FBI were all there. Back in my day, criminals and bank robbers wore ski masks. You’d see pictures in the paper of some criminal that had been robbing banks, or some such, and likely as not, they would show a picture of a man in a ski mask. Now the police are the ones in ski masks, not all of them, but some sure were. Look at the gallery.

It seems to me, if they were proud of what they were doing, they would not have been putting on those ski masks. They would have been holding their head high. And I am not even blaming the police on this one; they were just doing their job, following orders. It seems to me though, the police used to be the most esteemed members of the community. Now, they are the ones wearing the ski masks.

And I am not saying that I think all this stuff is right, or that I am into it or any such. What I am saying is I don’t think it is the place of law enforcement and our government to legislate what folks do in the bedroom, or the back room either for that matter.

And don’t get me wrong, if an underage person is involved, I think you should throw the book at the freaking pimp and the person who paid for the services. If somebody has been raped, somebody needs to be doing some hard time. If children were involved, lock the ones who were behind it up for life, and I mean don’t ever let them out. *If there really was trafficking involved in the Birmingham case, that needs to be handled appropriately, the punishment harsh, and the individuals who were trafficked need to get the help they need and some social services too. But if is a matter of adults behind closed doors doing whatever the two of them have mutually agreed that they want to be doing, for whatever reason, including money, leave them alone.

This state has enough problems, I really would like to see Alabama get ahead, be the great state that some of us really do know that it is. We got too many real problems; we don’t need to be wasting our tax dollars on this mess. And yes, it’s a mess, but wasting the hard-earned tax dollars of the people of this state on such as this, especially with the way things are with the economy, and all the real problems we got, is a whole lot bigger crime than the mess they were grandstanding about cleaning up.

I’d rather see a little more money go toward education. Actually, I’d like to see a lot more money go toward education, and a lot of other things that could do the state and the people in it some good. My vote is to get the government out of folk’s bedrooms and send the bill on this one to whoever thought it was a good idea. I do not appreciate my tax dollars being spent on this kind of shenanigans.

*Update: No evidence of trafficking was found and charges were filed.

Copyright 2014 Regina Garson
All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Byline Blues and My Advice to New and Aspiring Writers

It’s a toss-up whether I spend more time as a writer or an editor. It varies. I’ve been writing a while now but I am also an editor and I help other folks with their writing as well, go back and forth between the two. At a certain point, whatever you do, that’s what you do though, or something like that.

I’m pretty much compulsive about my writing and editing both, moderately OCD, but only moderately, which is actually a good thing for those in the editing profession. It can do a number on writers though, those byline blues come honest. Despite the perpetual worry of what other people are going to think about your writing, most word smyths really are their own worst critics.

I agonize over every word and if I can avoid it, never turn anything in for publication without sleeping on it. Why can’t one work twenty years on each and every story? I’ve given it my best shot on more than a few. I can generally churn out a news piece or review without significant angst, but the thrill of my long awaited first fiction byline was very short lived.

Nonetheless, if you make your living as a wordsmith, whatever you write, at a certain point, you occasionally have to publish what you write. Minor details.

Maybe you only had an hour to do it, well maybe three weeks, but you knew from the start that was a ridiculous deadline, you really did have a headache, or your dog just cleaned out the cat litter box, again, and barfed all over the kitchen floor. But that still doesn’t stop the deadlines.

No matter how long I have ever worked on anything, I have never had a piece published anywhere in which I didn’t later find something that I wished I had done different. Mind you, I am also a professional editor, moderately OCD, a good quality in an editor, if I do say so myself…. Well, anyway….

Add to that though, if you write for a living, the work you do is often public, the criticism you get, and your bad day bungles, often turn out to be very public as well. Could be you came by that OCD honest.

My first published fiction: Magic Stream, The Fairy Tale, I was absolutely certain it was a creative masterpiece, I had published it first on my web site, then the publisher of a small magazine picked it up, I was ecstatically elated and my head was inflated. I was getting feedback from all kinds of folks telling me they had all taken it to their 12-step group and read it aloud. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and everybody seemed to like it in the 12-step groups.

So what if it wasn’t a New York Times Bestselling Masterpiece, it was a 12-step masterpiece and this little story was going. I was proud.

Then the day came when I got my first literary review type comments from a reader, actually there were a few. Now my head was really swelling. This English teacher had gone online and found a couple stories, of which mine was one, and she gave her class the option of reading and analyzing one of them. Since it was online, she also thought it would be a good idea and a wonderful experience if they all wrote the author of their chosen story and shared their literary analyses with them.

The students dutifully read the stories, of which mine was one! Then they analyzed them, in flawlessly perfect prose, that you would not be ashamed to send an esteemed author of Internet, who published her story on her own website fame. They analyzed the stories according to every literary device in their literature textbook. And then, as is tradition in literary analyses, they contemplated the writer and what would have possessed that particular writer to write that particular story.

Certifiably Bat Shit Crazy

They all sent me their critiques of my story, the most elegant of prose. The first line, “We read your story in our class and...” oh, how my head was swelling, and they continued with their highly astute literary analyses, as my head continued to swell. Then they continued on into the part well, “It’s obvious the writer has numerous psychological issues to work through, etc., etc., etc.” The gist of their combined and mutually agreed upon collective opinion of the story, which was written in the vein of an old fashioned fairytale was that it was indeed lovely, to a point, but what’s with the gore, whatever did she do with Disney? This writer was most clearly “bat shit crazy.” So much for literary fame and fortune.

Exactly what do you do next?
How do you handle remarks like that?

Ok, so my sweet little fairy tale was on the gory side, and perhaps not exactly what they expected from the fairy tale opening of a fine castle and a not wonderfully lovely princess. I like my fairy tales in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm. The ending was happy, I at least got that.

I know, I am rationalizing and making all kinds of excuses for why they declared me bat shit crazy, but the class obviously spent a lot of time and effort reading and analyzing my fairy tale, and writing me about it. Do you thank them for reading your work? Do you thank them for the benefit of the free psychological analysis? Do you thank them for collectively pronouncing you bat shit crazy?

I’m not sure there is an easy answer. But like it or not, that too is part of being a writer, and singing the blues isn’t going to do your writing a whole lot of good. Actually, it could be something to fall back on. But those students delighted in my bat shit craziness, and they delighted in the reading and the literary analysis that led them to that conclusion.

Despite the fact that I picture myself as an extrovert, and I really like to get out and about, the truth is, most writers are not extremely outgoing. Neither are editors and writing at least can be a very personal profession.

Soul Stripping

It’s kind of like stripping, I used to tell my own students, if you can’t take it off—you are not going to make it as a writer. We’re not talking about stripping down to your skin though, we’re talking about stripping down to your soul. All the way.

On a certain level, you have to do that, even though, if you hang with it, chances are pretty good, at a certain point, you too are going to be out there getting heckled, trolled, and variously declared bat shit crazy. To be a writer, you have to get past that and keep reaching until you grab hold of the universal, way down deep inside, you got to take it down to your soul, the tie that binds us and makes us all human.

Then you splatter your soul all over that paper. That’s what makes writers different from other people, it’s not just putting words on paper though. To be any good, you have to write like no one is watching. You really do. But once you are published, oh boy, it’s the part about soul stripping that can really get to you.

I’ve seen new writers throw in the towel when they already had more readers than every other writer in town, all because of very public and mean criticism of some minor something, like a grammar error. We get that too, but that can be corrected with time and experience. You want to be a writer, you might as well pull out that old grammar book. It’s not optional. We haven’t even got to the good stuff yet and here I have gone from soul stripping to grammar, no wonder they said I was bat shit crazy.

Anyway, if your grammar isn’t where it should be and you publish, you might as well expect somebody is going to start picking at you and your grammar both. And there you will be thinking you just wrote the most astute philosophical analysis since Plato himself, or at least Sartre, and someone will call you out and drag you over every burning coal of the Internet because you used “there” when you should have used “their” but if you had really had it together, you would have used “they are.” And they fill three computer screens yelling in ALL CAPS about your incorrect use of “there.” Whatever were you thinking?

Suck it up, that too comes with the territory. And when they finish picking at your grammar, thirty years later, you will still be having nightmares about the word “there,” except now they are tearing into your soul, or your intellect, or something. They’ll find something. One very famous poet had a whole town mad about the color of her house.

To make matters worse, when it comes to writers, most of us are already our own worst critics. That OCD thing is not actually a joke. If you think your self-criticism is bad….

So what do you do?

You roll up your sleeves and keep on writing.

You can always thank them for their feedback, that’s pretty generic. Also remember the old public relations adage, any publicity is good publicity. It may not be such a bad thing at all.

Whatever you write, if somebody writes in with comments, that meant they read your writing, they thought about what you said, and they looked at how you said it. They may agree or disagree with what you said. They may tear your grammar to pieces, even catch a spelling error, and don’t be surprised if, after serious contemplation, you too are declared bat shit crazy, and they tear your soul to pieces while they are at it. Look at it as a writerly right of passage.

If we all agreed with each other on everything, the world would come to a standstill and progress as we know it would be nothing more than a tumble weed in the winds of time (gratuitous literary devices). Nonetheless, I do believe that the most important function of a writer is to make people think. Furthermore, if everybody agrees with what you are saying, they are probably not honestly thinking.

That can be tough. We all love an occasional pat on the back. And we do so love to see those heads a nodding, traffic flowing and that “Like” count going up. But at the end of the day, that is not the point. That is not why we write. Actually, maybe it is.

Some writers make their living by deliberately stirring the pot. I’m not one of them. See above about OCD. But I’m not saying that I am completely past singing the byline blues either, sometimes a comment will get to me too. Comments come with the territory.

Also, sometimes maybe a comment is valid, and you learn from what was said. Online especially though, some folks just look for whatever opportunity they can find to shovel whatever negativity they can. And they do so love to shovel it at writers. If you write for any length of time and publish online, you are almost surely going to run into a few of them.

Fans are a lot of fun, but you can pretty much count on meeting a few self-appointed foes along the way as well. After a while you learn to recognize them for what they are, ignore them if you must, but don’t be afraid to block them if they affect your other readership. Learning to deal with such is a reality for writers today. Either way, keep on writing. Dealing with a classroom full of literary explications simultaneously declaring you bat shit crazy, can be small potatoes to the blues you get when dealing with trolls. But don’t let any of them stop you from writing.

In some kind of way, that and the blues are part of it. Vent, rant, and yell if you must, but keep on writing, even when you are singing the byline blues. 

Copyright 2014 Regina Garson