Running Out of Year

The year is almost over. It is a time to reflect, a time when we are more likely to notice that this day is one that was preceded by another one 365 days earlier, and then to obsess about what we did in the intervening period, and about what we hope to do in the next such period.

It is a bandwagon I would like to jump on, please. Here is some cool stuff I found in 2007. Much of it actually coming from other years (but not years in the future, as I am not a time traveller - or AM I?!) because I am always behind on everything and they have been making cool stuff for billions of years, so give me a break, okay?

---Of the movies I saw:

A Scanner Darkly
Funny, moving, strange and deeply human psychedelia.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society
Politically aware cyberpunk, demonstrates that Kenji Kamiyama can spin a decent yarn if you let him do it in a more cinematic format. Needs more colons.

The Host
Character-driven monster movie provides laughs, scares and tears.

---Of the books I read:

His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
Breathtaking imagination and heart.

A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick
Because my record got stuck.

Pushing Ice - Alistair Reynolds
All this is fleeting, the most solid buildings just motes of dust.

---Comics and manga:

Lost at Sea - Bryan Lee O'Malley
So adolescent angst can be evocative and touching. Now I shall have to eat my hat. Pass the pepper.

Death Note - Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata
Teenager becomes vengeful angel. World-class detective pursues! But I only read the first volume. Why? Because I got distracted. Thus forms my first new year's resolution.

One Piece - Eiichiro Oda
Why did I read so much of this stuff? And there are like a million volumes of it! My name is Pacian, and I am addicted to dumb stories about pirates.

---TV Shows

Battlerstar Galactica
Intelligent science fiction on television? Someone should have done this before!

It is better than Doctor Who. It is better than Doctor Who. It is better than- you get the idea.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig
Didn't live up to its potential, but full of cool ideas, beautiful visuals and visceral action.


Nelly Cootalot
So... cute... can't breathe...

Art of Theft
Actually, I could probably have spent all those hours doing something much more productive.

Sam and Max
They're back! And some of it is excellent! And some of it is not so excellent, but we will ignore that because these two seemed to chime more with my personality than Lost Pig or Aquaria or other - arguably better - games. Tomorrow I am probably going to think of a really stonking game I played in 2007 and kick myself.


You, and you, and especially you. On which note, I wish you all a happy and creative New Year!


Potato Moons Too

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Image source with more information

What I like best about this Cassini image is that it's a rare example of one of Saturn's small, irregular moons coming to the visual party. Potato-like Hyperion is visible in the bottom left quadrant (click the image to enlarge), while the more spherical Tethys and Enceladus hang around by the rings.


Friday Aviatrix Blogging

Amelia Earhart.

Aviatrix is my new favourite word.


Ho Ho Ho

Well, I'm going to spend what's left of the year reading my way through the pile of books on my bedside table. It will be nice to take a break from working on whatever dumb project I have on my plate. Come January I'll see about getting my mute cowboy game out of the door...

Voting is open for Text the Halls - I've played all the games, and I think they all have something fun and/or interesting to offer. Voting closes in a week, and I'll post my thoughts on the other entrants then.

Hope you all had a nice Christmas. I will shortly resume whatever the hell it is I do on this blog.

Snowblind Aces

For the TIGSource Text the Halls competition...

Snowblind Aces
An adventure/romance by Pacian
Competition result: 1st Place

-Download .t3 file (600kb)
-Download zipped windows application (1Mb)

Features include:
  • TADS 3 game, interpreters available for Windows, Mac and Linux.
  • Windows executable version also available.
  • A short game with the emphasis on decisions rather than puzzles.
  • Adaptive hint system helps out if you get stuck.
  • State-of-the-art 'English words' graphics system, 100% future proof.
  • Yours for the rock bottom price of COMPLETELY FREE.
10% of all proceeds go to the Icekin Preservation Fund. Help protect our shared ecological heritage.


1. Download and Run the Game
-If you have Windows, you may prefer to download the zipped executable. Just click the link above, unzip the download (this step is probably not necessary) and double click the application.
-Alternatively, if you're a seasoned IF player, or you're using Linux or a Mac, download the .t3 version. Run the file with an interpreter from this page.

2. How to Play
Snowblind Aces is a simple IF - or 'interactive fiction' - game. Interact with your environment by typing phrases like 'examine me' (or just 'x me'), 'go north' (or just 'n'), 'shoot the bad guy' (or just 'shoot guy') and so on.
-A more comprehensive guide can be found here.
-Alternatively, type 'instructions' during play.


Latest version: 5
-Fixed a couple of errors in the text.

Previous version: 4
-A few small changes to the dialogue web.
-Fixed a stonking great typo right at the beginning.

Previous version: 3
-Fixed a few typos and a broken hyperlink
-The hint system was misfiring in the forest clearing
-The fire-making bit had a small bug and didn't account for an important possibility


All bug reports and suggestions are welcome. An email address for me appears as a hyperlink in the game (type 'credits'), or you can comment on this blog post.



Well, I'm about to sign off for Christmas. As you may be aware, I love Christmas hugely, Christmas Eve as much as the day itself. I'd have disappeared from the internets sooner, but I had to put some finishing touches to Snowblind Aces, which you can now consider your Christmas present from me.

The most portable, but least user-friendly option for playing is to download the .t3 file from here and then find an interpreter to run it from this page. This is kind of like how you need a word processor to run a file containing static fiction. Interpreters are available for Windows, Mac and Linux.

If you're running windows, you may prefer to download a zipped executable from here - just download, unzip and double click.

After Christmas I'll put up a more comprehensive post, but for now, if you're new to interactive fiction, go here or here to learn a little more about how to play.

Have fun, and happy holidays from me and my cat. ;-)


Tiny Robo Tim

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
Image source with more information

Mars takes over twice as long to orbit the sun as the Earth, and its southern hemisphere is on the verge of winter. Poor dust-caked Spirit (compare the image above to this one) looked to be in dire straits with respect to its need for nourishing sunlight, however NASA have finally succeeded in perching it on a northern-facing slope so it can maximise its energy intake.

Also of interest, Mars will be in opposition, as viewed from the Earth, tomorrow on Christmas Eve.


Snowblind Aces: Let's Beta

The End

Snowblind Aces is now essentially finished. I need to write the rest of the built-in hints, and I want to add some garnish to the interactivity, but everything important is there.

Now, this is a relatively complicated game that I've written in less than two weeks, so I expect there to be all sorts of bugs unintended behaviour and typos non-conventional spellings. If you'd be able to beta test* the game before Christmas Eve (because it's not like you have more important things to do at this time of year ^_^;) please PM me at the TIGSource forums or leave a comment below.

(I don't think I have any lurkers, but I'm afraid I'll only consider letting you on as a tester if I already 'know' you to some extent).

*Which basically involves playing through the game and making notes of what goes wrong for you.

Commenting for All

I complained enough about Blogger removing the 'other' commenting option, so I think it's only fair that I thank them for listening to their users and reimplementing it (specifically, the 'nickname' option now allows you to enter a URL).

Not that they'll read this, but still.


Future events such as these will affect you, in the future...

Well, that's all my stresses out of the way, and my Christmas tree up. Snowblind Aces needs to be done for the Text the Halls deadline of Christmas Eve, and I've surprised myself by getting a lot done today. It's now possible to reach the ending, although a lot of text is missing, and one very important point out of the maximum possible score of seven is currently sitting in the unimplemented depths of my dialogue web. Still, I'm feeling pretty confident.

Best case scenario: beta release on Saturday.
Worst case scenario: game released on Christmas Eve with no testing...
Really worst case scenario: game release prevented by zombie apocalypse.


Christmas Decoration

It's Jack!

Foreshortened Jack, that is. He is remarkably spindly.



It's good to talk.

I have little left to do before the end of the week except stress out over what I've got left to do, but I've been trying to relax by working on Snowblind Aces. I've implemented about a third of my big dialogue web, and it's now possible to acquire a score of 5. I also have a long list of little niggles I need to iron over, some of which I am probably going to forget to do.


Dialogue... Um, Web

Well, since the lead character of Snowblind Aces isn't mute, I've had to get to grips with the TADS 3 dialogue system-a-ma-jig. And yeah, okay, I'll admit that it definitely has nift (ie. it is nifty). One thing that's great about it is how easy it makes it to create conversations that flow from one topic to another. It's also great for creating characters that are as interested in talking to you as you are to them.

A couple of things I've made design choices on: one seriously nifty feature is that it's so easy to make topics different depending on what you've already talked about. So if you ask Alice about her husband, you could get a different answer from her depending on whether or not she's told you about his affair. I have, however, elected to use this feature only sparingly in Snowblind Aces (ie. where it would be inappropriate not to). I want Snowblind to be a really replayable game, and while I think that organic games are great and all, there's nothing more annoying than making a character say or do something cool and then having no idea what combination of topics and actions made them say it. It might be okay for something like Galatea, where the whole idea of the game is to investigate whether the player character can believe that Galatea is a real person, but for an adventure-romance where players are likely to be looking to get a certain ending... it would probably be a new kind of annoying.

Also, for my sins, I'm going to be using the conversation system in a similar-ish way to the Poizoned Mind one. TADS 3 has an optional 'topic inventory', which I'm going to be using. Topics won't stay in the inventory after you use them, but they may reappear if they change or if they take on a new relevance. Also, since - as I suspect a lot of people do - I tend to just type 'topics' over and over to see what I have left to say, I'm making hyperlinks of all the topics mentioned in dialogue. This may shoot me in the foot if it means that people end up accidentally asking (what they don't realise are) the same questions over and over again, so I'll have to be careful.

Anyway, I'm still really stressed (it doesn't take much), but hopefully my schedule is clearing up and I can start turning that complicated mass of doodles above into a complicated mass of TADS 3 code...

Blogger Eats Humble Pie

Then says: Actually, I don't like the taste, I think I'll stick to my do-what-I-say sandwich.

Right now, the only way to add a URL to your name when commenting is to sign your comment with OpenID. We apologize for removing the URL field from the comments form prematurely two weeks ago. That was a mistake on our part that came from launching OpenID support on Blogger in draft.

Ironically, our testing of OpenID, a feature that lets you use accounts from all over the web to comment on Blogger, made it appear that we were trying to force you into getting a Google Account. We regret this appearance, since we're strong supporters of OpenID and open web standards in general.

If you haven't set up OpenID, you can still link to your blog - or any webpage, for that matter - by using the standard [a] tag inside the comment form.

Because adding hurdles to commenting isn't a problem. Just expect your commenters to jump over them.


The Plot Thickens

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Colorado
Image source with more information

Larry Esposito, principal investigator for Cassini's Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said data from NASA's Voyager spacecraft in the 1970s, and later from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, led scientists to believe Saturn's rings were relatively youthful and likely created by a comet that shattered a large moon, perhaps 100 million years ago.

But ring features seen by instruments on Cassini -- which arrived at Saturn in 2004 -- indicate the rings were not formed by a single cataclysmic event. The ages of the different rings appear to vary significantly, and the ring material is continually being recycled, Esposito said.

"The evidence is consistent with the picture that Saturn has had rings all through its history," said Esposito of the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. "We see extensive, rapid recycling of ring material, in which moons are continually shattered into ring particles, which then gather together and re-form moons."

Read the rest.

Also, dig this:

The team tagged the clumpy moonlets with cat names like "Mittens" and "Fluffy" because they appear to come and go unexpectedly over time and have multiple lives[.]


Game-Start: Announce

Snowblind Aces:

Snowblind Aces
Competition deadline: Christmas Eve.

No, I don't know how I'm going to finish it in time. Yes, this is putting testing of my mute cowboy game back.



Apologies, fellow mutineers, but posting is likely to continue to be sparse for the next week or so. I am but a delicate flower, and the mild-to-moderate stresses I'm currently experiencing are leaving me a little drained and wilted.

Update: Uh-oh. Looks like a busy month for me...



Ponder Ring Origin

Image source with more information
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

This natural colour image of Tethys and Saturn's rings makes me dizzy. We're looking towards the unilluminated side of the rings - or to put it another way, the sun is shining on the other side of the rings from the side we see here. The thick black strip within the rings is not a gap, but the opaque B ring, which isn't letting any light through.

It's also worth checking out this short article. The Cassini imaging team have pieced together a likely history for Saturn's smaller moons (Pan, Atlas, Prometheus, Janus and others), a history which also provides further hints for the origin of the dazzling rings themselves. In short, Saturn's smaller moons seem to have formed from dense cores which have accumulated ring material into a somewhat larger light-and-frothy moon. The interesting question now is where those original dense cores came from. One obvious possibility is that they were the fragmentary remnants of larger moons that were shattered by impacts - part of one of the favourite hypotheses for the formation of Saturn's rings.



In the absence of genuine content, here's a text dump of meme questions via Diddums. Feel free to pilfer and/or purloin.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To be loved and appreciated, to be able to create, to feel safe and secure.

2. What is your greatest fear?
Dying horribly in some fashion.

3. Which living person do you most admire?
Aung San Suu Kyi leaps to mind. Most of my biggest heroes seem to be dead.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
It would be a very long list.

5. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Lack of empathy, impatience.

6. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

7. On what occasion do you lie?
When I want to hide something about myself.

8. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
My hair, I suppose.

9. What is your greatest regret?
Being so sucky.

10. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
A little robot called Cassini.

11. Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to write publishable novels.

12. What is your current state of mind?
Surprisingly positive.

13. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I'd be more outgoing and confident.

14. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Placing 9th in the TIGSource B-Game competition. Also, I got a degree of some sort or something.

15. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
What do I think it would be (as opposed to, in question 35, what I would like it to be)? Something on another planet. A Lovecraftian fungus, drifting in the clouds of a gas giant, contemplating the strange, the beautiful and the horrifying.

16. What is your most treasured possession?
My books and DVDs, I suppose. Or my computer.

17. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Udge had a quote on his sidebar a while back about how there's no worse feeling than the realisation that you are the cause of all your own problems. That sounds about right. And dying a slow, lingering, painful, scary death would be probably be pretty bad too.

18. Where would you like to live?
In a nearby town, which shall remain nameless. It has a castle.

19. What is your most marked characteristic?
Personally, probably diffidence. In conversation or writing, I guess it's, um, I don't know?

20. Who are your favourite writers?
Virginia Woolf, Steph Swainston, Alistair Reynolds, William Gibson, Haruki Murakami, Joseph Conrad, Franz Kafka. If you can see a pattern here, let me know...

21. Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
Oh man, tough one. Exactly how heroic do they have to be? Oh wait, Nausicaa from Hayao Miyazaki's comic book epic Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. A great portrait of a strong and compassionate heroine striving to do what's right in a complicated and strange fantasy world.

22. Who are your heroes in real life?
Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Mahatma Ghandi and Aung San Suu Kyi.

23. What is it that you most dislike?
A large umbrella of habits and behaviours that I like to think of as 'lack of imagination'.

24. What is your motto?
You know, I should really get a motto. Okay, Asimov once said something like, “I'll believe anything, however crazy, as long as there's evidence for it.” That'll do.

25. Favourite journey?
Train from here, heading away from London.

26. What do you value most in your friends?
Their tolerance of my many negative qualities.

27. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
'Seem'. Whenever I write anything, fiction or non-fiction, I have to go back and delete about a million 'seems', 'seemed', 'seemingly' and other variations. It obviously stems from a lack of confidence - I can't just say, “This is so.” but have to phrase it, “This seems so.” It's a great quality for a scientist, but not so useful in a writer.

28. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Jesus. No, wait, Adolf Hitler. Oh, I can't decide, there are so many. Actually, I've always been surprised by how similar a life H.P. Lovecraft lead to mine. When I die unrecognised and poor, it will be in the certainty that my fiction will go on to just as great a posthumous legacy.

29. What is your greatest extravagance?
I can't believe how much money I've spent on the DVDs of the various incarnations of Ghost in the Shell. I guess I'm also an extravagant time waster.

30. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
I'd make them both exceedingly rich and exceedingly generous.

31. What is your favourite occupation?
Being creative.

32. What is the quality you most like in a man?
Sensitivity, kindness, understanding.

33. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Sensitivity, kindness, understanding, glasses.

34. How would you like to die?
Old and happy.

35. If you could chose what to come back as, what would it be?
Someone just like me, only better.


Ring Angle

Image source with more information
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

This image is, I am narcissistically going to declare, my birthday present from Cassini, appearing on the internet, as it did, on the 21st November. It's a rather nifty shot of Saturn, it's rings and a few of it's smaller moons.

One interesting thing to note is that Mimas is almost directly to the left of its shadow on Saturn's northern hemisphere, meaning, if you think about where the sun must be, that this photo accurately portrays Saturn's tilt relative to the ecliptic.

Probably. My brain isn't working so well right now.


High Score

The End

Work on my mute cowboy game has now officially advanced from 'implementing things' to 'ironing out niggles'. I'll iron out as many as I can over the next week or so (depending on how many I find) and then it's onward to beta testing, if I can find any schmucks to inflict my game on.

Working title thus far has been High Noon on Radiation Plains, but I should maybe change that. I haven't been able to come up with anything better, though, except perhaps Gun Mute, or is that even more rubbish?

Distractions and worries are on the horizon for the next fortnight. I'll also have to change my ISP as my sweet dial-up service is being discontinued and I've now realised that most people are paying twice as much as I am for dial-up and slightly more than twice as much for broadband. On the plus side, I will be getting a faster connection. On the down side, if there are any problems I will be muchly without internet access and will probably die of withdrawal.


Blogger have now changed so that commenters from other blog hosts can no longer leave a URL, something I consider to be pretty basic functionality. Coupled with their simply broken support for .gif and .png images, the only reason I'm still with Blogger at the moment is because of their huge image allowance (of which I am using only 1%) and because I'm a stubborn bastard.

Until Google reinstate the 'other' commenter option (don't hold your breath, they're Google, they don't have to listen to anyone), please feel free to sign off your comments with something like: