Old(ish) Projects: Descent into Wonderland

Dealing with some wannabe gangers.

I feel like the king of half-finished projects: an epic poem (which I’ve written about before), a tabletop roleplaying game system, the notion to write a book of poetry, half-finished (and very old) fantasy novels, the burgeoning idea for a graphic novel recently, the list goes on. Having watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 recently, I think my mind has slid back towards science fiction again, and a very specific old project of mine that has nothing to do with cosmic superheroes: my mod (short for module) for Shadowrun: Hong Kong.

Shadowrun has been around since the 80’s, building on the idea of a cybernetic dystopian future with the twist that magic is real, and the reawakening of magic causes dormant genes to suddenly manifest in various humans, transforming them into elves, dwarves, trolls, dragons, etc. Basically, it’s Dungeons and Dragons meets Johnny Mnemonic (okay, okay, The Matrix, that’s a more well-known comparison), high fantasy mashed into cyberpunk with touches of horror splashed in. It’s gimmicky, but it’s also pretty damn cool. Aside from tabletop roleplaying, there was an old console version of the game for the… Super NES? I could look it up, but I feel too lazy right now.

Much more recently, there has been a series of computer games starting with Shadowrun Returns, and proceeding to Shadowrun: Dragonfall and Shadowrun: Hong Kong. The games come with a built-in toolset that allows you to modify the game, create your own content, and even effectively create your own version of the game (if you’ve heard of Skyrim mods, it’s the same sort of customization but for Shadowrun: Hong Kong instead). The games have a top-down, tactical control system in combat that is very much like XCOM if you’re familiar with those sorts of games. Unlike XCOM, instead of building a base between missions, you have character interactions, dialogue, world exploration, the whole RPG (roleplaying game) package.

So! The point is, I have been crafting a mod for SR:HK (Shadowrun: Hong Kong). I’ve taken a couple of runs at it so far, but I have been working alone and I seem to lose interest after a few months and burn out on the project. I came back to it once already, then set it down again for a while. Now I’m starting to feel the urge to fire it back up again and start working on it some more. It’s still a long, long way from being done (my estimate on how complete it is ranges from about 2% to 5%, it’s meant to be an entire stand-alone campaign, not just an add-on to the base game), and I probably need help from other people if I plan on getting it done before, say, 10 years roll by. This leads me to conundrums: do I release a horribly-incomplete, buggy mess to the public at large and ask for help in troubleshooting and feedback? Do I keep it safe and secret for an untold time while I try to get it closer to a playable game (not even a polished game, just a playable one)? I don’t know what the right answer is.

Aside from having to learn tiny amounts of programming and using the toolset (which is daunting), the thing that’s bogging me down right now is the tremendous amount of dialogue I have to write. To give the player any feeling of autonomy and choice, there must be multiple options in dialogue, different choices to be made in what to say and how you say it. Think of it like an iceberg: if you did a complete playthrough of the game once, you might encounter, say, 10% to 30% of all of the possible dialogue that exists in the game. So, if one playthrough of the game takes 20,000 words of plot exposition and dialogue (just throwing out a number, not based on anything really), multiply that by 3.5 to 10 times and that’s how much more writing is lurking down all the paths the player didn’t choose in that playthrough. On top of that, it’s not like writing that many words for a novel, it’s a herky-jerky writing method where you keep doubling back to different dialogue trees and putting yourself into a new frame of mind based on different choices.

It’s a labor of love, because you wouldn’t do it if you didn’t love it.

I should have started with teasing the plot, shouldn’t I? The name of the mod is “Descent into Wonderland,” and it has a lot of neat themes running through it. I think I described it as “Alice in Wonderland” meets “Dredd” meets “Tron” meets “Die Hard,” but don’t worry, I will explain what I mean if that didn’t make any sense. So, first off, there is a strong element of “Alice in Wonderland” inspiration in this mod, but it’s not a retelling of the story by any stretch. More like… elements have been borrowed, and the characters in the game are aware of the references they’re making. Without giving too much away, you end up getting trapped in a skyscraper, and have to fight and think your way out (the “Die Hard” and “Dredd” elements come in). You are a hacker for this game, and sometimes you have to go into the Matrix and either beat up defense programs or solve puzzles (the “Tron” element).

That's a lot of blocker IC, chummer.

On top of all that, you end up dealing with a sort of “retirement community” of old shadowrunners (mercenaries and hackers who work outside the law, sometimes for the highest bidder, other times they have moral causes) who come with outrageous personalities and problems in many cases. I could tell you even more, but I’m probably running past a reasonable word count now. Suffice to say, I am enthusiastic about my project, and I hope I can stick with it this time around. Life may take me in other directions soon, so there’s no telling what might happen. I’d like to think the 450 or so hours I’ve put into this project so far weren’t wasted time, but who knows?

No poem for this entry.

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Between

I know space can be cold and dark
a vacuum scarce on particles
and when you’re in the black
it might feel like death
the misery expands from you
with nothing to hold it back
and at the same time you can’t breathe
trying to gasp but there’s nothing
only your rising, then fading, heartbeat
to make the slightest semblance of noise
in your ringing ears
that burst from the pressure changes.
But before you give in,
let me offer you this lunar landing module:
if you must die,
wouldn’t you like to walk on the Moon first?

If You Could See the Stars

Like a nebula you surround me
in a cloak of forming stars,
setting sail on astral vapors
across the heavenscape;
you softly light
in clouds’ delight
a cosmologic scene:
a cerulean sphinx, a verdant cove,
or eyes aquamarine,
a crimson girl with umbrous curls who delves the velvet deeps;
if this be dream,
then may I never waken from this sleep.

Within the deeping pockets,
I can spy chaotic scenes:
as the forming stars are burning,
as the gases storm and keen,
colossal
elemental forces are at work within,
sublime;
and I love you,
every particle:
we are fleeting, and we
did/do/will exist
at every point,
and past
the ends
of time;
my nebula,
my starscape,
my sea of astral rhyme.

In Case You Were Wondering

What essences I have dreamed,
what hearts and souls I have schemed,
What darknesses I have screamed,
I do not know;
what beauty I have made,
what shimmerings in the shade,
what wistfulness I have bade,
oh my soul;
what Whitmans I have been,
Dickinson again and again,
I’ve been wallflower, I’ve been spin,
and this grows;
you don’t drain the Poe out of me,
you give it heart and you set it free,
can I say, “What will be, will be?”
I do not know;
what dreams had I given up on,
how many times cursed the dawn,
now it’s here, and it’s simply wrong,
oh, our souls;
prisms dancing in rainbow hues,
music instead of morning news,
castles crumble for love of you,
this I know;
this is more than exotic love,
or melancholy erotica,
intoxicate me and take my blood,
and this grows;
neon skirt and transparent blouse,
among the stars living hand to mouth,
when we’re together it outweighs doubt,
this I know;
I can touch you without my hand,
I can clothe you in astrakhan,
I can love you without a plan,
oh our souls.

Cosmic Love

Sunshine and stars shine,
and it makes me wonder
if the only thing within the sky
or under…
if the only thing out of step
with its harmony
is the human race,
and the love of we;
but aesthetic perfection is not the same
as being truly perfect in the cosmic game:
the sun burns chaotic, the stars drift agley,
and the universe
unravels
infinitely.
If there is a grand design,
it must look like my room:
too far gone now to be helped by a broom,
and when Order itself stands against God’s intent,
is it really so strange Love has our consent?

Sunshine Psychedelic

Sunshine Psychedelic
on a hot summer day
you’ve an appetite for rocks,
and you’re coming my way
(it’s actually spring,
but come anyway);
mushrooms on parade
in this pretty how town,
you’re the bell I want floating upside-down.
Dig:
the fashion displayed
and the colors arrayed
and the children at play,
but the stones you hold
are what turns the day.
Within our hands we turn to clay,
we mold ourselves warm
and wet
and God, but we need a space private and away.
Sunshine Psychedelic,
you take every pose:
coquettish and coy,
inviting sans clothes,
the thoughtful intellectual,
the playful tease,
the mourning heart,
the one to please,
and I’ll love them all,
each and every one:
I’ll make love to each facet
’til you tell me you’re done.
Sunshine Psychedelic
on a hot summer day
I’ve an appetite for pie,
and I’m coming your way.

50 Years Late and $7.37 Short, Adjusted for Inflation

Daydream darling,
I decorate a psychic space for you:
this space is filled with colors,
filled with textures
and tastes;
dark chocolate M&M’s
silken paisley, astrakhan
green and blue and purple and black
and every other shade has a turn
on its back.
Rainbows in bottles,
artistic banal
it might be mundane
but I’ll color it all,
I’ll color your world,
I’ll color it all.
Floral prints and gothic refrains
the goal is not to mask the pain
but make it palatable,
a bit more sane
in the madness of our love,
in antique daisy chains;
daydream darling,
awaken me
awaken all
that we could be,
as we defy
normality,
every law
including gravity,
connect and drift
on astral tides,
heal me and
consume my love,
my life.