Books & Stories

The following anecdote is not going to make much sense to non-gamers. Mea culpa. Other stuff for a general audience follows the anecdote. Special designer anecdote begins in five four three two one


At a convention in Dublin, Ireland, several years ago, one of the guests was a fine fellow named Andrew Rilstone. Andrew was the editor of the journal Interactive Fiction, published for a couple years by Hogshead, and a long-time proponent of envelope-pushing in gaming.

A bunch of us were staying in some rooms above a pub, said pub being the unofficial hangout space for the convention staff and guests. The rooms had bunk beds: serious cheap lodging. We closed the bar in the wee hours, having literally drunk all the Guinness the bar had in stock. (The owner was exasperated but also thrilled at the great cash-throwing mob who took over his pub for the weekend.) Andrew was there, as was James Wallis and Marc Gascoigne, and I believe it was Marc who delivered the witticism that is the point of this anecdote. Late that night a very drunken Andrew was trying to get in his room, and for some reason was only wearing his underwear. He’d gone to the bathroom and gotten locked out. But it was the wrong room, and the fourteen-year-old boy inside took one look at the mostly-naked drunken man trying to get in and slammed the door shut again in blind fear.

A separate incident that night or the next involved an anonymous drunken gamer banging on doors in the inn, demanding to borrow dice for a game. The next morning as we related these tales, someone made the joking suggestion that, owing to his earlier and unfortunate encounter, it must have been Andrew banging on doors and demanding dice.

“No,” said Marc. “If it was Andrew Rilstone he’d have been banging on doors and demanding diceless.”

Ba-dum, chish!

Today we recorded dialogue for the DG computer game engine demo, which I think went pretty well. They’ve got a keen DAT recorder intended for field use–a little bigger than a videocassette, and battery powered to boot. Afterwards I spent several hours doing layout work on UA2 and some other tasks.

Tonight I spent a couple hours chatting with my friend Rob Heinsoo. Rob and I met through Jonathan Tweet, a few weeks after I started work at WotC, and eventually we were co-workers on the Three Hour Tour that was Daedalus Entertainment. Rob now works at Wizards, as a game designer for their soccer CCG (out now in Italy, France, and the UK, I believe) and design contributor for their miniatures game and the recent Forgotten Realms sourcebook.

When Rob and I get together it’s mostly to talk about hypothetical books–books one or the other of us might write. And they’re always great talks about great books that may or may not ever exist. Rob’s particular bent is for books of sufficiently high concept that just conceiving and planning them is something of a game, let alone actually writing them. Our conversations always leave me with these chunks of imagined books swimming in my brain that I tend to remember the way I want to remember them, rather than the way Rob intends to write them.

For example, I wanted to do a haunted-house novel that would marry Shirley Jackson with Borges. The layout of the house would shift over the course of the story in significant ways, but the characters would never notice–only the reader would have the opportunity to flip back and forth and realize that the green bedroom used to be on the second floor but now is on the third with a trapdoor into the attic. Eventually even the characters would begin to change, first little bits of their clothing or hair color and then names and genders. None of them would notice, and it would occur without expository comment–again, only the reader would have the perspective to realize that what first looked like sloppy writing was actually the influence of the house. Finally the characters would realize that they were not in a house at all, but in a book, and would plead with the reader to stop reading, to put the book down and never finish it, because as long as they were in that Schroedinger’s Cat sort of state then they thought they might still be alive, whereas if the reader finished the book then they would cease to exist. The final lines would be shrieking cries from the characters to not read the next page, then the next paragraph, then the next sentence, then the last word and that’s where it ends. The working title was Book of a Haunted House.

I love brainstorming with Rob about these ideas. They’re usually his ideas–I just modulate them and kick them around. It’s all the joy of editing/developing manuscripts without the actual hard work. I love the shaping of concepts and conceits, but the real work tends to wear me down. Sometime soon I’ll be done with editing other people’s work and can just write my own, and I look forward to that greatly.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I’m making plans to revamp Revland into a database-driven structure with some goony new features. Thanks to regular reader and swell guy Clinton Nixon, I’ve found a promising software solution called pMachine. It’s SQL-based, which is a problem for my current host, but I’ve found another host I can move the site to where that won’t be an issue. I have a stupid list of stupid features I want to implement, like online postcards using my photographs, print-ready versions of my stories and essays, a searchable database of movie reviews, and other things. If there’s some kind of ridiculous feature you’d like to see on the site, post a comment about it. Everything’s up for grabs.

And once again it’s bedtime. Tomorrow I go see Scotland, PA and then off to Flying Lab to see how work on the engine demo is coming.