A to Z Challenge ~ Is the truth out there?

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Tomorrow I start the A to Z Challenge, the brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out. (Although this was written in February just before we lost our Internet). 

The A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. We can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day. 

As my theme I have chosen ‘The World of Gossamer Steel’, which is the SF-fantasy setting for a series of short stories and novellas, that portray the tales behind the MMORPG that is central to my crime novel ,Wyrm Bait’. Some of the tales are fantasy, while others have steampunk elements. However, this is a post-apocalyptic world where survival depends on taking the remains of consumer society and rebuilding with a new vision. Alongside this green or solar punk, there are areas where myths have come alive.

Beware though, the central theme of my crime novel ‘Wyrm Bait’ is deception. Do you really know who you are interacting with online? Who are you? Who am I? What am I?  Can you believe anything you read?

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ITHAKA: THE TAPESTRY

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The concept of “Ithaka: The Tapestry” was devised with my wife and gaming partner. My wife contributed her knowledge as an experienced gamer and beta tester, while I brought my expertise as an author, photographer and film producer.

Our extensive contact with gaming company Prinaka in Bangalore, India, will ensure that the concept is progressed. Prinaka are the publishers of the fantasy-SciFi MMORPG “Gossamer Steel”.

The game is a remediation of Constantine P. Cavafy’s poem “Ithaca”, which itself echoes “The Odyssey” one of the two major Ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. While the poem addresses the goals that the reader sets in their own life, the focus of the game ‘narrative’ is on the more archetypal aspects of this “marvellous journey”. However the player also chooses to embark on a quest, with their avatar, or character. The gaming medium allows the player to weave anew, creating the tapestry of their character’s quest, and echoing a form of art that dates back to Hellenistic Greece.

GENRE: “Ithaka: The Tapestry” is envisaged as a single player, role-playing game. However, it would have the potential to evolve into an MMORPG, once established.

CHARACTER CREATION: In the beginning, the player has to create a character of either gender and with a customised appearance. There are no races or classes, and all this new characters abilities derive from their initial Stats. Following in the tradition of “Dungeons & Dragons”, and most recently seen in “Neverwinter”, the player rolls, and maybe re-rolls, a computer dice to establish their six basic stats for Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), Constitution (CON), Intelligence (INT), Wisdom (WIS), and Charisma (CHA).

GAMEWORLD: However rolling to prepare just for combat might be unwise, even though the character starts in a game world that resembles Ancient Greece just after The Trojan War. The player emerges on a dock in a burning city. The three options presented are: (i) to scavenge in the ruins for anything of use, from valuables to weapons; or (ii) to set sail for new adventures and perhaps encounter “the Laestrygones, the Cyclopes, the frothing Poseidon” and other foes; or (iii) to “linger in Phoenician markets so that you may acquire the finest goods”, perhaps opening up trade routes or unlocking knowledge.

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NARRATIVE: As Cavafy says of the monsters, you will not encounter them “as long as you don’t carry them within you, as long as your soul refuses to set them in your path”. However, if the player is foolish enough to choose the wrong abilities – stats – for their character, or embark on the wrong ship, then those monsters may well arise. But in fact there is no such thing as a wrong choice as all decisions lead to a journey on which you will gain “so much wisdom and experience” as Cavafy says. And this journey will lead to Ithaka, or death.

But the choice is the player’s. You can adapt your approach at each stage, as long as your character has the abilities.  And your decisions will affect how the narrative unfolds, reflecting your own style of play. For instance, choosing to accept stats that enhance Dexterity increases ‘Cunning’, the ability that Odysseus was renowned for. This valuable trait could be used to trick some of the monsters or ensure a better deal with merchants.

Furthermore, a character with an enhanced ‘stat’ will have other quest choices unlocked as they progress, therefore ensuring that their journey is unique. “Star Wars: The Old Republic” has demonstrated the potential for player decisions to change the narrative. For instance, when some NPCs are spared, they still want to silence you. Even survivors can want to avenge their comrades. Talk your way out of that scenario. Personal digressions from the narrow path enhance the narrative, growing organically.

QUESTS: The path that your character treads will be paved with quests that enlarge on the events and places mentioned in Cavafy’s poem from “the Laestrygones” to “an Egyptian city” and beyond. Success will yield rewards including experience, gold and more important, ‘points’ that can be allocated to individual stats, either compensating for weak ones or strengthening ones already developed.

Your character can continue down a path of pure exploration, or one of martial adventure, or they could even settle down as a renowned culinary master, or into a life of academia taking quests to find rare artefacts or scrolls. But cooking delicacies or trying to “to learn, and learn more, from those who know”, doesn’t guarantee a peaceful life, because your stats are still at work weaving your destiny in the shadows.

Raiders may come and torch your home, or fire ravage your ancient library in Alexandria. Collecting herbs, artefacts or rare metals can unleash hostile gatherers, as in “Age of Conan”, where the foes materialise beside you and match your level. The crafter still needs his sword as much as the warrior needs his wits and charisma. You need to have been “enriched by all you’ve obtained along the way”, if you are to reach Ithaka and escape death. In the journey is the learning, as many wise people have said.

SPATIAL DIMENSIONS: As the game journey is single-player the world map will be made up of zones. Each zone can be explored and the challenges/quests there faced to acquire experience, knowledge and valuables. When the game evolves into multi-player, some of the quests will be Instances restricted to either just the player or their party, depending on the quest’s value to the player.

DESTINY & CLIMAX: On the journey there will be setbacks, but if you recognise what your character needs to be a whole person, there should be few loose ends, or threads, before the player faces the final challenge.

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Cavafy writes, “If you find Ithaca wanting, it’s not that she’s deceived you.” But your character does reach Ithaka in the footsteps of Odysseus and like that cunning hero you are faced with deception. With Odysseus out of the way, unscrupulous men want to marry his wife Penelope and take his wealth. But Penelope had been keeping them at bay by weaving a tapestry, saying once she was finished that she would marry one of the suitors. Penelope weaved during the day, but secretly undid her work at night, still faithful to her husband. However her cunning has been exposed and the suitors are threatening to destroy her world.

What will you do? You have perfected your abilities and now have the ultimate choice, dictated by all your previous adventures. Will you, like Odysseus, kill all the suitors? Or is there another way to punish them and still earn respect? And how do you reward the dutiful Penelope, and her son Telemachus?

How will Odysseus respond to your decision when he returns? Will you have to face the hero of the Odyssey? Has your Tapestry been woven into his?

REFERENCES:

Excellent article on “Ithaca” and link to Sean Connery reading, with music by Vangelis:

http://ninaalvarez.net/2008/08/09/poem-video-of-the-day-ithaca/

Extract from “The Odyssey” re Wily Penelope: http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa103100b.htm

Tapestry reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tapestry

Game Guide: The Complete Guide to Game Development, Art & Design – David McCarthy, Ste Curran and Simon Bryan. www.ilex-press.com

Translation of “Ithaca” used: Stratis Haviaras http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?id=286&cat=1

Forty Days & Forty Nights without Internet

Could you survive without your internet connection for 40 days and 40 nights? What about your phone?

Okay, it’s not like living without food or water or shelter as too many people do in this unjust world. But for those of us that have been pampered by modern technology it’s a big ask. One that BT aka British Telecom seems to feel is reasonable, or do they mean excusable. My multiple sclerosis disability has little if no bearing.

As I type this, on Saturday February 22nd, we will be sans broadband and sans phone from Friday February 28th to Thursday April 10th.

The outlook is bleak. The meaning stark and troubling. The portents are… okay I’m exaggerating but I’m still worried. Whinge warning.

Imagine no emails, or rather over 50 a day piling up in my AOL inbox = 200 plus by the time we get back online. Forget about sending out review copies of ‘Spiral of Hooves’ or promoting the novel. Surfing social media like Facebook and Twitter will be abandoned, as will any appearances in the cyber-world.

“Get a dongle”, I hear you shout in mass cacophony, and I know that you are right. With a dongle, and a signal, we can check our emails at least. If the charges are not too massive we can do a little more… others do from their iPods, Androids etcetera, from all kinds of locations, including Internet cafes. But going out to find the right place is not the same as working from our new office in our new home, where the desktops will be, with all the software. At least I don’t have to be online to create using Scrivener… just to back the work up on Dropbox or OneDrive.

In fact blog posts, either mine or anyone else’s are a non-starter. This one will have to be posted in advance, set for public consumption on Wednesday March 5th as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Whether anything will appear in April is a prediction that I cannot make… the crystal ball is dim. I’m meant to be taking part in the 2014 A to Z Challenge in April, but it could be hard.

If I find time in the midst of packing, I might attempt to write the first ten posts – A to J – and schedule them to appear on time. At least I know the theme – the World of Gossamer Steel.

With that reference I know that my alter-egos will suffer too. No gaming for 40 nights is almost worse than no surfing. How will I live if my avatar is unable to stop monsters pouring through Rifts or perverting Good in Middle Earth? The Sith Empire will conquer the galaxy in my absence and Conan will be deposed.

Oh wait, they’re not real and there are others to continue the struggle.

But ordering groceries and other goods is essential. There are local shops crying out for our custom, but being disabled there are advantages in having things delivered. Maybe we can do that by dongle as well. Reminds me, have I downloaded enough books onto my Kindle?

I envisage a problem occurring when we begin ordering from a dongle – the security guys at our bank will query the purchase in their diligent way. I’m pretty sure that online banking will be tough, although not impossible. But sending money to my wife’s kids in the US will be very hard, The only consolation is that my accounts package is offline.

As a writer I have some worries but know that I can continue to scribble without the internet. In fact removing it might lead to more productive days, as well as more days exploring the real world and making useful observations. Time to bring out the parchment and quill notebook and pen. So my scribbling life will be okay, if I ignore my other insecurities…

However, for my wife there is a more real problem. All her family are in the States and staying in touch with the USA by mobile/cell phone will be extremely difficult. Her mother is elderly and poorly. She keeps falling down and she would be unable to ring. It will be very expensive phoning the States on a cell phone, even with an international service.

Ultimately life with only a cell phone becomes a major problem in an emergency. We can call for help, if there is a signal. Being disabled I feel vulnerable, but that doesn’t seem to make any difference to British Telecom; any more than it does to the British government who sees us as a drain on the system, along with other scroungers.

Whinge over. Our situation is not dire. In retrospect there are others with far greater issues. Ours are just frustrating and grrrr.

Wife says we’ll live off the land and be sending smoke signals. Maybe the pigeon can come out of retirement along with the pony. The positives outweigh the negatives. New home, bespoke design to meet our needs, fabulous location, wonderful neighbourhood. I can feel another post coming, once we have explored the immediate area and have some great pictures. Just need to find a means to post it. But here’s a taster:

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22 Pant Mawr Park, Harlech, Wales

If all goes to plan, this will be my third posting of 2014 for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. This is when we release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the logo and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. Visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

The awesome co-hosts today are MJ Joachim, Elsie, Elizabeth Seckman, and Julie Flanders! Many thanks to all you co-hosts for your time and effort towards making all IWSG members feel welcome.