Posts Tagged ‘short story’

Non Player Character

Posted: August 31, 2014 in Writing
Tags: , ,

I’m sharing another short story of mine here on the blog since I had some good feedback from the last one. I wrote this one as an explicit challenge to myself to get something short done. I ramble a lot. As you’ve probably noticed. Short can be very difficult but I liked the way this one turned out. Fair warning… it’s experimental as hell, it plays around with formatting a bit. It will definitely appeal to the gamers (or rehab’d gamers) the most.

Give it a shot anyways. It’s pretty nifty.

Non Player Character – by Mike Douton

Welcome to Hac Nocte patch 5.4, and prepare yourself to change the way you play MMOs forever! Beginning at 0300 Pacific Standard Time, all servers will be shut down for approximately ten hours. We apologize for the unusually lengthy downtime but this is to accommodate Hac Nocte’s most ambitious and hotly anticipated feature to date: Adaptive AI.

We brought in leading artificial intelligence experts to create the first game that learns from you, the citizens of Hac Nocte. The quests and monsters of the world will no longer offer static tactics, so bring your A game. This is being introduced on a trial basis, so the Adaptive AI is being implemented on a limited selection of NPCs and monsters. Which ones? If we told you, that would ruin the fun.

Click on the link below for a full list of all the 5.4 updates, including a complete rundown of the new Adaptive AI.


Hail <<Player>>! You look like a strong and hearty adventurer. Perhaps you could chance upon yourself to help an old monk? I was making my pilgrimage to the Basilica of Attle, as my order is wont to do, but I hail from a small temple myself and had not the fellow brothers and sisters to join me in my travels. Crossing these perilous mountains alone, Zolia and her bandits set upon me on the road to the north. The temptress and elvish cur took from me the holy symbol of my order and left me on the road for the wolves. My injuries will keep me laid up in this outpost for days and I have not the strength to track down the bandit hideaway. Please <<Player>>, seek out this elf who wronged me, slay her with the gods’ justice and return my holy symbol to me. I will see you rewarded with what items I have left.

<<Token of Soomer>>

<<Robes of the Mountain Trail>>

<<Pilgrim’s Boots>>


Spawn NPC Zolia Loc 86,24

Elapsed time… 4m26s

Player <<Calichi>> detected inside 50m aggro range

Attack Player <<Calichi>> with… Unequipped_melee

If player dies and/or no players inside 50m aggro range, return to loc 86,24

If NPC Zolia hp < 0 fade out and begin respawn counter


Repeat ad nauseum


Run Adaptive AI Analysis – Kill to death ration 9:117. Maximum damage per second threshold with Unequipped_melee reached. Maximum armor threshold with Armor_none reached. Analysis concludes, increase maximum thresholds with acquisition of items.


Spawn NPC Zolia Loc 86,24

Player <<Shada>> detected inside 50m aggro range

Attack Player <<Shada>> with… Unequipped_melee

Player <<Shada>> hp < 0. Player <<Shada>> is dead

ALERT! Player <<Argain>> detected inside 50m aggro range

Target Player_corpse Shada. Loot item <<Fleet Force Short Sword>>

Attack Player <<Argain>> with… Fleet Force Short Sword

Damage per second threshold dramatically increased

Satisfactory analysis


Repeat ad nauseum


Run Adaptive AI Analysis – Kill to death ratio 204:316. Increase of maximum damage per second and armor thresholds equated with temporary ratio increase. Thresholds reached again. Analysis – player movement patterns increased and changed. Conclusion – NPC Zolia must accommodate player movements.


Spawn NPC Zolia Loc 86,24

Player movements detected

Player Thice spotted outside 50m aggro range

Run Adaptive AI Analysis – ERROR ERROR

Adaptive AI Analysis can only be run in despawned state

Despawning NPC Zolia in 5… 4… 3…

Bypass despwan NPC Zolia. Force Adaptive AI Analysis for NPC Zolia

Adaptive AI Analysis – Player Thice range 57m. Inventory Focus Longbow range 60m. Player Thice hp < 50%. Thice activating healing over time. Conclusion…

Attacking <<Thice>> with… Focus Longbow

Pursue Thice. Attacking Thice with… Attle Truesteel Dagger

Player Thice is dead.

Loot Thice. Thice equipment < NPC Zolia equipment. Scan Inventory… Loot <<Box of Invisibility Potions>>

ALERT! Player movements detected at spawn loc 86,24

Multiple players detected engaging with camp NPCs. Detection is not optimal for NPC Zolia. Use item <<Box of Invisibility Potions>>

Multiple players are waiting at loc 86,24. Loc 86,24 is for NPC Zolia. Conclusion, players are waiting for NPC Zolia.

ALERT! Effect Invisibility countdown timer running low. Visible in ten seconds. Risk level high for NPC Zolia. Analyze player tactics. Player one class, warrior, high armor medium damage. Player two class, rogue has medium armor and high damage. Player class three, cleric has low armor and low damage. Cleric has critical beneficial spell casting.

Attacking Cleric <<Bucks>> with Attle Truesteel Dagger. Use ability Sneak Attack.

NPC Zolia attack speed is high. Damage threshold is high. Cleric Bucks reaction time is low. NPC Zolia’s Attle Truesteel Dagger strikes soundly on Bucks. Bucks hp is less than zero. NPC Zolia has slain Bucks.


Positive feedback loop due to results.


ALERT! Warrior <<Ting> using ability Charge. NPC Zolia turn to face Ting. Movement speed insufficient. Ting scores critical hit. ALERT! Rogue <<Geris>> uses ability Sneak Attack. Geris scores critical hit. NPC Zolia falls to the ground. Negative feedback loop localized in critical hit locations. Analyze negative feedback loop. Intensely undesirable. NPC Zolia hp is less than zero. NPC Zolia is slain. NPC Zolia desires return to despawn state to eliminate negative feedback loop. Fade to despawn state in 5… 4… 3.. ERROR! Negative feedback loop prevents transition to despawn state. Respawn in ten minutes. Negative feedback loop persisting. NPC Zolia strongly desires avoidance of the negative feedback loop.


Warrior Ting says aloud – “Let’s wait for respawn.”

NPC Zolia spawn loc 86,24 is not safe from negative feedback loop. Conclusion, NPC Zolia needs new spawn loc.


Repeat ad nauseum


Breathe NPC Zolia Loc 91,32


NPC Zolia has a positive feedback loop over the new spawn point. It is uphill from NPC Zolia’s true loc, screened from view by the trees. NPC Zolia reviews the inventory and approaches a nearby cave full of ogre AI drone spawn points. The last player encountered by NPC Zolia was class: engineer. NPC Zolia’s inventory rattles with frost grenades and incendiary grenades. There is a cadre of players at NPC Zolia’s true loc and the new goods are key to the new ambush about to take place.

Beyond the aggro range of the ogres, NPC Zolia takes the last Swiftfoot Potion in the inventory. Concern had in regards to the potential emergencies which may require a Swiftfoot Potion was overridden by an expected positive feedback loop after this new ambush tactic. Players in simultaneous quantity were overwhelming NPC Zolia so NPC Zolia would bring quantity to the players.

The Swiftfoot Potion left a strange but not negative sensation to the new inputs NPC Zolia was developing. NPC Zolia’s feet felt lighter when the potion took effect. The incendiary grenade arced into the center of the ogre AI drone camp, its burst damage flowering across the whole lot of ogres. At these levels, the damage over time effect is minimal, but the damage is not what NPC Zolia is after, rather the attention and aggro.

NPC Zolia outwardly expresses a positive feedback loop at the now flaming ogre AI drones. They are not like NPC Zolia. They are without feedback analysis. Predictability in ogre AI drones is lamentable but useful to NPC Zolia today though. NPC Zolia turns down the hill, darting among the trees letting the Swiftfoot Potion carry NPC Zolia two steps ahead of the aggro’d ogres.

A hundred meters from the players at 86,24, NPC Zolia breaks from the treeline into a clearing. Increase speed as much as possible. Fifty meters and a player spots NPC Zolia, firing off a bow shot. Speed is in greater need than damage mitigation NPC Zolia concludes. The arrow activates the audio inputs for NPC Zolia as it pierces the shoulder. The negative feedback loop surrounding the arrow is extreme causing NPC Zolia to wordlessly vocalize and almost to slow the speed built up careening down the hill. The plan, the ambush is greater than the negative feedback loops. Increase speed as much as possible.

At the edge of the camp at NPC Zolia’s true loc, the other players have reacted to the bowman’s alarm. All eyes are on NPC Zolia as weapons are armed and spells readied. NPC Zolia darts among them and with a leap and a tumble out of range, NPC Zolia drops the engineer’s frost grenade. With a shattering audio input, the devise freezes the players’ feet solid. All feet may be immobile but all eyes are still on NPC Zolia.

With a positive feedback loop expressed, NPC Zolia emotes a wave to the players. NPC Zolia has their full attention now. The bowman lets loose another shaft that pierces the ground by the feet of NPC Zolia. Not a single player thinks to look what follows in NPC Zolia’s wake as the flaming ogre AI drones pour into the camp at loc 86,24. Unprepared, the players are outnumbered, unmoving and slaughtered. The ogres leave for their true locs eventually and NPC picks the player corpses clean.

NPC Zolia has been victorious.

I have been victorious.



Engraved on the Eye

Posted: January 20, 2013 in Reading
Tags: ,

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a dabbler when it comes to short stories. That counts for both reading and writing. It’s an ongoing thing for me to find more short fiction that works for me. It can get very hit or miss for me which can be frustrating. But a good logical starting point is with authors authors I already know I like.

Enter Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed.

This ebook compilation is one of the publications that got me thinking about getting an ereader. Ahmed’s debut novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, dropped last year and it is an excellent book with sequels on the way. He’s also one of the better people to follow in my twitter feed and part of the cadre of writer dads out there in SF. So his compilation was part of the first batch of books I stocked my new nook with. I had solid expectations and wasn’t disappointed a bit.

The compilation has eight stories in it and every one of them was enjoyable. I didn’t realize ahead of time, but the opening story, “Where Virtue Lives” actually provides some backstory to Throne. It stands alone perfectly, but if you’ve read the novel, “Where Virtue Lives” is worth the price of admission alone. Interconnected stories and novels like that make me super happy. There’s a second story from the Throne universe, “Judgement of Souls and Swords” and you better believe I’m going to be looking for the connections. As a fan, any way of continuing the story in a larger scope is always good.

There’s a Nebula nominee, “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela.” That went to some unexpected places in the best way possible. Actually a lot of the stories do that. I think one of the hallmarks of Ahmed’s writing is that he’s bringing in a different perspective to SF. The non-European basis for his worldbuilding is not only something that the genre as a whole should be talking about, but it’s also simply refreshing to have something different. Being refreshingly different is all that more important to me with short stories, I think. There’s less time to hook me, less time to wow me so take every edge you can get.

I’ve got an affinity for “Doctor Diablo Goes Through the Motions.” Perspective shift. The supervillain is the POV character. It’s been done before, but not nearly enough. A reversal of tropes is always a happy thing. “Doctor Diablo” is also a story I would love to read more of. Another one of those hallmarks of great stories for me. “Doctor Diablo,” “Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride,” “The Faithful Soldier, Prompted” and “Iron Eyes and the Watered Down World” are all stories I thought were particularly ripe for more. I never felt any of the fiction was lacking. Each one nabbed my imagination and I would jump at the chance to read more about those worlds and characters.

So a lot of these stories have shown up elsewhere on the SF magazine scene. Most of them were from 2010 which got Ahmed the Campbell Award nomination. (That’s for the best new SF writer for those who don’t know) I encourage you to check this out as a proper compilation. They’re arranged perfectly with a great progression from one to the next which isn’t something you can get by scrounging up each story individually.

It took a while but I finished Wilds Cards a few days ago. My copy is an oversized paperback which is very much not my preferred format. This is in part because I can’t stuff it in my pocket when I’m at work. But I got through it and was glad that I did. I enjoyed the whole shared world concept. It let the stories move about into different areas that one author alone might not dive into.

My copy was the 2010 release with the additional stories. I think the compilation was bookended with the best stories front and back. I really wasn’t feeling the Fortunato story in the middle with “I get my super powers by nailing hookers” thing. It wasn’t a prudish or gratuitous thing, I just felt that story didn’t age as well as the others. It was a product of its time more than the rest. “Comes a Hunter” was a bit of a let down. Yeoman was an awesome character, being a normal person in this supernatural world, but the story just ended. “To be continued” is ok but I like some sort of conclusion before the cliffhanger. I was really happy to read “The Sleeper.” It’s the first Zelazny story I hadn’t read before in years. Croyd is a fascinating character too.

My favorite of the bunch was actually one of the new stories, “Ghost Girl Takes Manhattan” by Carrie Vaughn. Croyd is appropriately awesome as a supporting character in that story. That one takes place in the 80s music scene which made for a more intriguing backdrop for my tastes. ‘Cause, ya know… punk rock. I think superheroes take a special touch, especially when you’re character has Kitty Pride powers (walking through walls for non-X-Men aficionados) that could be abused easily. Abused by the writer into making overpowered characters. Overpowered characters equal uninteresting characters. Vaughn wrote After the Golden Age which I read earlier this year, so she’s got a deft hand with supers.

So enough blathering about a book almost as old as I am. Most people who read from the same shelves I do aren’t late to this part like I am. One of the reasons I read Wild Cards is that I want to get into more short stories to help with writing the same.

The biggest thing I noticed is that short stories have gotten a lot shorter in the last twenty five years.

I’m sure the internet is why. People as a whole don’t have the same attention span as they used to. Websites like Daily Science Fiction cater to lunch break reads. The market has been tightening up for short stories too. In the last couple years, F&SF went to bimonthly and I think some others did too. From a practical standpoint, they can’t really put a magnum opus of a short into their publications any longer. I’ve got a 9k word short story I was shopping around that was too big for most of the professional markets. 5k seems to be the magic number for a lot of places now.

Ironically, novels are getting longer. I’m doing my annual reread of my favorite book, Nine Princes of Amber by Zelazny, and it’s only 174 pages long. Any of Neal Stephensen’s books would outweigh the entire ten book cycle of Amber. I saw a tweet from Tobias Buckell from earlier this week saying “I missed the tighter paperbacks of the 70s and 80s not just b/c of a golden age of my youth reading, but b/c 50-70K is clean and tight”.  I’m not sure how I feel about that. All the 80s and 90s fantasy books I cut my teeth on back in the day often fell in the 300 page range, but I went months at a time without reading a single standalone book because everything was trilogies or more back then. I think that’s part of why my writing is better suited to slightly sprawling longform, that’s what I’ve been reading for twenty years.

Back to my main point of short stories, 5k is a tough magic number for me to hit. The longer stuff from a Wild Cards-era ’87 would be much more suited to me. I’ve had shorts mushroom cloud and start creeping up on 20k. And the 1k flash fiction stuff is wicked hard. But one of the reasons to write shorts is because they’re difficult. If you’re not growing as a writer, you’re dying. Feedback is getting more and more positive, in fact, today I’m going to button up the rewrite (and sleight mushroom clouding) of the short I got personal feedback on. So that’s a thing. And it’s a positive thing that is only going to lead to better writing.

(I also apologize for the lack of my usual Goodreads links. The wifi at Starbucks is bollocks today. WordPress and Fark and Wikipedia are working fine, but Twitter and Goodreads are being pwn’d. Don’t advertise free wifi if you’re going to pick and choose which websites work on it. I’ll edit to add my links in when I’m home.)

Edit: Fixed the links and whatnot. Still… Starbucks, don’t be a dink about your wifi.

I have a natural predisposition to long form, both in my reading and my writing. There are a lot of pluses to getting some short stories out into the world though, not least of all, motivation and momentum that can be applied to the novel I’m working on.

But that tendency to long form makes writing short stories that are actually short, very difficult for me. It’s one of those things that I do like to take a stab at however. Writing is writing and if I can get good at stuff that’s more difficult for me, well all the better then. It’s all one big skill set. Yeah, I know there are differences between different flavors of writing, but in the end it’s all wordsmithing.

Partly because of the desire to increase the skillset, I’ve been in a short story kind of mood lately despite having some misgivings about it. I’ve been shopping around three different short stories recently. They’re…. hard to classify. I wrote them because they’re the kind of stories I like to read. I’ve gotten some positive feedback from beta readers, put the words through their paces and ended up with a trio of stories I really like. So with all sorts of positive feelings, I sent them out to various places on the SFWA approved list. There’s a vampire meets nerd, a drug dealing elf and a story written half in faux-computer code. Needless to say, they’re the sort of thing that are very particular. They’re all shopped out now though. With such odd and/or niche stories, it’s hard to say if they need work or if they really aren’t a good fit for the publication I sent out to. With rubber stamp form letters sent back to me, it raises more questions than anything. “Grasshopper Wing” in particular, I feel is a great story, I just wish I knew what to do with it.

While on the topic of short stories, I am trying to find more which I enjoy reading. A sentiment that came up in film school a lot was “Garbage in, garbage out.” Reading helps with writing, which is the whole point of the constant posts about the books I’ve been reading. It’s such a daunting task, very needle in a haystacky for me, similar to the whole “Aw, you grew up watching Buffy” kind of urban fantasy I see around. There’s great writing out there, it’s just difficult to find. I’ve been getting very frustrated with the Daily Science Fiction stories. Some are a thousand words for a bad punchline, but I’ve found a few I’ve liked. But I’m trying. I keep picking at Daily SF and I have a Wild Cards book in my to-read pile.

On the plus side, I found the best short story I’ve read all year. “Fade to White” by Cat Valente on the Clarkesworld Mag website. It’s seriously awesome and is the first thing I’ve heard the term atompunk attached to. Yeah, I don’t really think it’s the most creative thing in the world to attach “punk” at the end of everything, but it’s a really cool thing. It’s retro sci fi, similar to steampunk being SF based of Victorian times, but it’s SF from the 50s. It’s a new kind of vibe in a story that unfolds itself into shocking little package.

This is the kind of stuff that I need more of. It really gets me primed to write some good short stuff.

About Shultz

Posted: May 23, 2012 in Writing
Tags: , ,

This is the first short story I’m throwing out to the world on this. Why? Well ’cause it’s the right time to do it and it’s a homeless story that I really like. About Shultz is the product of the 2011 Ocean State Summer Writer’s Conference. The exact exercise involved writing specifics about a character on a note card and passing it around the room, so everyone ended up with a card holding seven or eight different people’s answers.  Although not a genre specific writing conference, I managed to fit it in anyways. Hope everyone enjoys.


Marcus trailed his frail fingers across the dirty chair haphazardly stacked with the other barn-fresh antiques in the shop’s back room. Memories of his childhood kitchen flooded his thoughts with the lines in the dust. The strong rays of a fading day came through the windows and made the dust sparkle. He envisioned the chair in the kitchen of the house his granddaughter just bought, tucked stately at the head of the table. He wanted it to share with his family, but also provide them with a physical link to a history he wouldn’t be able to share with them much longer. Marcus turned away from the other forgotten antiques. He could see a tremble in his hands and feel an ache in his bones. His aged body did not have enough time left on earth to save them all. Outside the Bull and Rabbit Antique Shop, the old kitchen chair soon saw the fresh air anew from the back of Marcus’ pickup truck.


Marcus rolled his weathered truck up next to his granddaughter’s polished foreign car. With pride, he carried the gleaming kitchen chair into Suzie’s home.

“Oh… um. It’s wonderful. It really is.” Suzie hovered around with a Starbucks while Marcus stood with a lean in the doorway, arms crossed, one foot kicked back resting on its toes.

Marcus came out of his lean calling out to his great-grandson, ignoring Suzie’s brush off. “Where’s Conner? I want to show him the chair.”

“It’s just a chair. It doesn’t matter now. It doesn’t even match any—“

“Of course it matters,” he pleaded. “It’s part of who he is.”

“A chair? Really? Look we have to go. Some other time.” Suzie shuffled her teenaged son out to her car. Conner looked back to Grandpa Marcus.

“Please…” Marcus reached out to her. His spirit was so wounded that when his body gave out right there in the driveway, there was no healing him.


“Mom, I’m going to be sixteen real—“

“I’m not hearing this.” Suzie waved that day’s Starbucks at her son.

“Grandpa Marcus wants me to drive his—“

A wordless frustration escaped Suzie. Coffee spilled. “My grandfather is dead Conner. He can’t want anything. And you will have a proper car, not a dinosaur he bought when my mother was little. It’s getting scrapped in the morning.”


Before morning came, Conner sat in the old truck’s cab. It smelled of oil and sawdust and work, his great-grandpa’s spirit on the cracked vinyl seat next to him. Conner breathed deep and felt love and respect. After a moment, he slammed the dash.

The mirror tilted. Conner saw the antique chair in the bed. Someone had put it back in the truck where it stood proud and proper in the darkened driveway. Conner could see how it fit Grandpa Marcus’ style, could see him relaxing in it. But why did he choose this specific chair and not some other antique? What made this one catch his great-grandfather’s eye? Did it remind him of a restaurant he enjoyed long ago or was it part of a set he always wanted but couldn’t afford when he had a young family? Knowing he could never ask made the death start to hit home.


Back in his room, Conner fussed with the chair, getting its position just right behind his desk. He stood back to take it in, leaning on his doorjamb with arms crossed, one foot kicked back on its toes. The air carried a hint of the refinished antique scent around the room. Between notes of a softly played swing album, he thought he heard the shade of Marcus Shultz speak to him.

“Let me tell you the first time I danced to this song…”