Distant Shores

I made an account over at Nightcafe the other day and started to play around with the Stable Diffusion Model trying some phrases from my stories. This one turned out quite decent I’d say. I added the titles in Gimp afterwards.

Fascinating topic, endless possibilities, and it will only get better… or worse… depending on your POV.

Check out the rest of the creations on my profile here.

bird by bird

“bird by bird – Some InstructionsRamblings on Writing and Life” is a short book by Anne Lamott that essentially recaps her life as a writer, her challenges, failures and successes and lessons learned. She is funny at times and most of what she says will sound familiar to anyone inclined to put words on paper. Is it a surefire way to a bestseller? Certainly not, you may even decide not to write anything because you are tuned in 24/7 to “KFKD radio” and you can’t turn it off. Well, Anne has been there, she can turn it off and so can you. You can find your “broccoli” (watch Mel Brooks in “The 2000 Year Old Man”), you can quiet your distractions, be it through rituals or whatever works for you, like focused breathing as my Apple Watch reminds me just after getting up.

Personally, I am a big fan of “morning pages”, getting a cup of coffee, sitting down with my A4 notebook and Sailor fountain pen and just let the ink flow onto the page, watching it form words as if by magic. I usually don’t revisit these pages for months, if ever. That’s not the point, it’s not a diary, it’s just like warming up, like a singer would do scales of “üh ah oh” for the vocal cords before starting to actually sing.

Anne Lamott does give some advice in her book, of which none are new and you probably have heard them all before and if not, it doesn’t hurt to hear them again, like short assignments, use formulas like ABDCE (Action, Background, Development, Climax, Ending), use index cards or an app on your phone (I use “Day One”) to jot down ideas, give yourself a daily minimum quota (300 words), have someone to read your draft, know your audience and so forth but most importantly, get out of the way and let the writing happen…

I would say it’s not about the advice as much as it is about her truth and the way she tells it. You can enjoy that and in the end it may not help you with your writing but maybe it will help you to regain your buoyancy and that is a good start.

The DM Screen

Who remembers this?

DM Screen (1999)

A throwback to my AD&D days, oh how glorious they were, the adventures, the battles, the atmosphere down in the dungeon err… basement. Back in 1999 this little Dungeons & Dragons adventure came with the Collector’s Edition of Diablo II, along with a set of dice, cardboard tile sets, Quest and Rules book, character sheets and of course, the Dungeon Master Screen!

I haven’t touched these in ages and only recently found them collecting dust in one of my old PC games boxes. I went and scanned in the original cardboard tiles, the character sheets and printed them so I can keep the originals unscathed as they are still in pristine condition, a miracle after all this time.

Of course, my son and I had to play! He had many questions! How does this work? Oh, imagination is a powerful thing! But how do you know where to go? How do you fight the monsters, who wins? How? What? Why? So many questions! And naturally, I again assumed the role of DM, a concept my son thought to be a “conflict of interest” with me being the dad and all and he wanted to be the DM but nay, son, first thou hast to complete thine quest!

And questing we did, he totally got into it and with the added fun of laying out the dungeon with the tile sets and the little tokens for heroes, monsters and treasure or traps he was fully immersed into the story, making his way to the Monastery of the Sightless Eye, carefully contemplating his every action, lest his little wee Necromancer would find an untimely end… after all, there have been frightening rumors of great evil surrounding the monastery!

Dungeon Layout for Quest 0

It was a great way to introduce role playing to my son, a passion of mine from my childhood, having played AD&D (or “Das Schwarze Auge” as it was called in German), Midgard and Mers and a bit of Hârn but mostly AD&D through endless nights together with friends, making lasting memories of candle wax dripping onto the carpet and mom shouting from above “DINNER IS READY!!!”, ah yes, the days when you couldn’t connect to the internet because … take note, there WAS no internet! Yes, yes. No Google. No Spotify. No nothing. We used MCs for ambience… true story.

And now? Well, I am looking forward to braving many more adventures again with my young apprentice, no internet needed either, although we may use it to stream some ambient music and use tablets or phones for digital character sheets and all that. One day, I am sure he will be the DM and go on adventures of his own with his friends, one day soon…

The Design of Everyday Things

Have you ever pondered why a door handle is designed the way it is or why a tea pot look the way it looks? Quite mundane objects that we don’t really spend any further thought on and take for granted that they work the way we expect them to.

The same could be argued for any piece of software, from the UI to the result after a user’s input, yet designers, developers, user experience professionals and even users often fail to see the forest for the trees and then you feel like using this teapot when e.g. using Tableau:

I would highly suggest the developers of Tableau to read this book and maybe learn a lesson or two and not put up a workaround on how to create a doughnut chart with their very powerful visualization tool but rather offer a one click solution for their users. There are a multitude of other abhorrent inadequacies in the UI and feature rich/lessness of an admittedly powerful enterprise level visualization tool such as Tableau and after 3 years of using both PowerBI and Tableau, I still prefer PowerBI simply because I feel more listened to by its Product Advocates whereas Tableau mostly ignores customer input and ideas gather dust on their community hub without any traction whatsoever. Software as an end to end service is real. Tableau may be on top today (arguably) but things can change in a heartbeat, esp. if you think you can ignore your user base.

I have no ties to either tool and this does not aim to recommend one over the other as both have their merits and downsides but from a mere UX point of view PowerBI wins hands down.

This is why the design of every day things, like door knobs, faucets or the software you are using daily to do your job are incredibly important to get right to the stroke of a t and the dot of an i. Anything less won’t do.

Why do I bring this up here? Well, it’s the same with everything you create, be it a house, a car, a painting, a piece of writing or sculpture, a software, anything we design really, your “design” matters in ways you may not be aware of and I found this book to be a must read if are into designing just about anything used by humans and I would go as far as calling it gross negligence if you didn’t, unless of course you know everything about design already, then I am just preaching to the choir…

Asheron’s Call – The Talla’Karan Heart

It all began on a dark night… some 21 years ago that I would find myself in a heroic fantasy realm as a Gharu’ndim War Mage named Shai Ilu. Much fun we had, no manuals, no online guides, a confusingly mysterious spell system with scarabs, herbs and tapers where no one could figure out how to cast anything let alone an all powerful Acid Wave AoE spell, all except one player, who had unlocked that secret.

Knowledge was truly power in Asheron’s Call back then and it was coveted and only shared among initiates, which could mean winning a PvP battle or losing it, esp. if one from your own ranks betrayed you.

As with Ultima Online before Asheron’s Call had it all and then some, including dying to a mob somewhere out in the Gharu desert and then trying to find your corpse for hours so you could get back all your stuff, before anyone else had the chance to loot it. No corpse marker, no nothing. Just running around, searching sand dune after sand dune. I will never forget the moment I finally found it, with all the stuff still there. Maybe you can relate, if you only know today’s MMOs you maybe don’t. That’s OK. I wouldn’t want to do that again either.

I have stumbled across old screenshots and lo and behold also one of my stories that Microsoft published back then in 2001 on their now defunct Microsoft Zone Player Chronicles: The Talla’Karan Heart.

Here’s a screenshot of our guild headquarters on Thistledown, including our very own sparring dungeon.

Our Guild Headquarters on Thistledown, 2001

Oh yes, fun was had. While Asheron’s Call is no more since 2017, I would wager a remastered version would do quite well, esp. with all those remastered titles popping up left and right these days.

I have also found some old Ultima Online screenshots, but that’s for another time…

Kayne – An Origin Story

Back in 2007 Crysis was released, a stealth first-person shooter and I played the heck out of it, although my PC could only run it at reduced settings; it was rather demanding in terms of hardware specs. Besides eating up my free time, running around in a Nanosuit and blasting everything in sight, it also came with a great editor.

Thus the idea of Kayne was born, a kind of stand-alone DLC Mission or Expansion using the CryEngine 2. But wait… what should it be about? What’s the story?

I find among the best stories are Origin stories and so I started writing about this guy Kayne, evil corporation, check, torn by inner conflict, check, mysterious woman, check. Is he really the hero or is he the henchman? Was “Operation Unity” a lie or a necessary evil to save the world? Let’s get to the bottom of this! What is the truth? Reminds me of A Few Good Men! But I digress.

Here’s the first page of the script I wrote back then. Want to read more? Let me know!

Kayne (Working Title)

Ipfelkofer Ironkeg

After 17 years it’s time to start a new adventure as my journey with Blizzard comes to an end. I could fill books with the stories and experiences made throughout those years, good, bad and sometimes ugly, but mostly good and some unforgettable.

One of my favorite moments was back in 2007 when one of my game design drafts for World of Warcraft came live. Which one, some might have guessed it from the title of this post. It took a year though to get from design draft to implementation.

The 19 page document for “The Brewfest” covered everything from the historical facts of the real event “Octoberfest” which it is based on, from activities to traditional clothing, food and even mystical creatures such as the Wolpertinger. The designers did a great job bringing this spectacle to WoW and I hope that players have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy it.

So, one morning back in 2007 I come to the office, switch on my PC and start up Outlook as usual, sipping my morning coffee when my eyes catch a mail without subject from Dave M. Strange, I thought. I click…

The preview window filled with a screenshot, no text just an image. In the center of that image was a dwarf and the name tag read “Ipfelkofer Ironkeg“. I looked at the screen bewildered. What was this? A joke? A tease? I remember, I felt giddy with excitement, even though it was an Alliance NPC and I played Horde. I immediately went on to the test servers and lo and behold, there was a dwarf with my name…

Ipfelkofer Ironkeg

It gets even better! In 2008 the Gamer’s Edition of the Guinness Book of World Records named the Brewfest the world’s largest virtual beerfest! Say what?

The Brewfest will start again September 20th, if you play WoW, maybe you can catch one them elusive Wolpertingers!



The Importance of Suspension of Disbelief

If we are being earnest, no pun on Oscar Wilde, the importance of suspension of disbelief cannot be overstated, not in books, movie or games or any other parts in life, even relationships, or maybe especially relationships, be it professional or personal.

If you were in a professional relationship at work and everyone just sees you for who you are and not for who you could be and esp. your manager, then you will have a hard time becoming the best version of yourself. You need to surround yourself with people who will support you for who you could be and believe in you and ignore things like “Halo” or “Horn” effects and other biases.

The crux here is that suspension of disbelief is the holy grail of “story telling”, in all walks of life. You want to be supported in who you could become and not in maintaining the status quo. You want to be writing stories that entice the reader into asking questions, wanting to find out more and finding it easy to suspend their disbelief because they feel compelled to do so.

Today’s media landscape, be it movies, series, books or games seem to have forgotten this and prioritize quantity over quality. I have reviewed some screeners lately (Netflix/Amazon) and the majority is mediocre at best.

So are most games, mobile or otherwise. In a way, that’s OK. We need the crap so that the jewels can shine. It’s just… do we really need that much crap?

Maybe anyone who is even marginally interesting in any creative process, should read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Tree and Leaf or any other work on Suspension of Disbelief, I just found this one most applicable to the concept of creating compelling stories in general and as such can recommend it. This and Aristotle’s Poetika, since it deals with art and mimesis. And since the number thou shalt count is three, as any good Monty Python fan will know, not 4, not 5, the third work I shall “throw” at you is Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”.

Now, I am not saying you have to read these before you can write, because you don’t have to read these at all ever and just be fine or even stellar, there are some people like that. It may be interesting though, to read them. If you decide to do so, let me know what you think. If you have read them, also let me know what you think. Either way, agree, disagree, suspend your disbelief and give it a try!