Someone Else Got There First – Now What?

As authors, all of us draw our inspiration from somewhere. Whether it’s movies we’ve seen, books we’ve read, games we’ve played, or all three, the new stories we tell are unavoidably inspired by the stories we’ve consumed and enjoyed. Just as new artists look to established artists to hone their techniques, and musicians listen to bands they love to guide their own development, storytellers incorporate the stories they’ve consumed into new forms that draw upon and pay tribute to the originals.

Most of the time, this works just fine. Even though we might love the original Star Wars, we don’t rewrite it with the names changed. Instead, we take elements we enjoyed from Star Wars, and elements we enjoyed from Babylon 5, and elements we enjoyed from Battlestar Galactica or Robotech, and combine them with our own ideas into a new space opera of our own making. We throw the stories we’ve enjoyed into a blender and create a new story we love, with the hope others will enjoy it as well.

The author’s dilemma, of course, comes with another storyteller publishes “your” idea first.

Most books, shows, or movies are developed over a period of months or, often, years. Even finished books may languish for years unpublished, especially if the author is attempting the traditional publishing route. No matter how original an author’s idea might be, there is always the chance someone else might have the same idea or get the same inspiration … and they might publish their story first.

This has happened to me multiple times, as I’m sure it has to all of my fellow authors. Clever lines, cool ideas, or even complete scenes from something we’ve written appear in a movie, or a TV show, or another book. These fellow storytellers didn’t copy us … how could they, since our work wasn’t published at the time? … but they had the same idea, and their idea was revealed to the public first. And even though we came up with “our” idea independently, we now wonder if we should toss it aside.

For the most part, I accepted the occasional “lost” idea as the cost of being unpublished, until the day one of my friends introduced me to one of my favorite shows ever – Avatar: The Last Airbender. I loved the show at once, but as much as I enjoyed it, it also left a sinking feeling in my stomach. Why? Because it took the core elements of the magic system from my finished book (which I’d started all the way back in 1998) and half of that book’s sequel, and it made those elements even cooler than my existing idea!

At the time I first watched Avatar, my first book was in the process of being edited by a small press. I’d finally gotten a publication offer, 13 years after I started writing my book. I was stoked! Yet here, taunting me, was Avatar: The Last Airbender. Not only did it use “my” idea, but it took my idea and made it better. It took the elements of Fire, Water, Earth, and Air and, instead of making them spells, had characters summon them using martial arts. Seriously! What’s cooler than elemental martial arts?

Granted, the magic system in my first book was far from original. It was inspired by JRPGs like Final Fantasy IV (the first JRPG I ever played) which introduced the spells Fire, Ice, Tornado, and Quake. I loved the themes of elemental magic introduced in Final Fantasy and ended up building my elemental magic around a similar idea: Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. I had built the magic of my world and even its deities around the elemental theme and now, after seeing Avatar, I was depressed. Every time my characters scribed elemental glyphs, they’d be compared to Firebenders, Waterbenders, Earthbenders and Airbenders. So what now? What do I do with my completed, soon to be published book?

I eventually settled on a rather mundane fix. I’d simply change the names of my deities! Rather than Fire, Water, Earth, and Air, my deities would become Heat, Life, Land, and Breath. Yes, my characters still scribed blood glyphs to summon elemental power when they fought, but at least the names of the elements were different. Problem solved, right? Sure it was … until Avatar introduced me to Toph.

By the time I was introduced by Avatar, I had written about 60% of Glyphbinder’s sequel, Demonkin, and was in the home stretch of finishing up its first draft. I was expanding my ensemble with new characters, and one of the first new characters I created was Tania, introduced for a very specific purpose.

Over the course of Glyphbinder (warning: spoilers ahead!) one of my characters, Aryn, is tortured and left blind. As a student of magic, Aryn can summon the dream world (a mental view of the world similar to vector graphics) but that’s an imperfect solution. In the sequel, I wanted to pair Aryn up with a new character who could help him overcome his blindness, and so created Tania. Another student of magic, Tania went blind naturally at a young age, and thus had plenty of time to learn how to use the dream world to replace her imperfect eyes. During the book, she would teach Aryn to “see” again. A perfect companion character!

In addition, my original cast had covered most of my existing magic disciplines. I had shown off the powers of a Lifewarden (Kara), a Bloodmender (Sera), a Beastruler (Byn), an Aerial (Jyllith), a Firebrand (Aryn) and a Soulcaller (Jair). But an Earther? I didn’t have an Earther, and, just like when my favorite comics introduced a new mutant to the X-Men, I wanted the new addition to my ensemble to have a power that was unique on the team. If you’re an Avatar fan, you know where this is going.

To fill the hole in my ensemble, I made Tania an Earther – a blind woman who uses earth-based glyphs for attack and defense – and, because my other two female characters were heroic (Kara) and shy (Sera) I decided Tania should be snarky and humorous. And then, of course, with Tania well-established as my favorite new character and my second book over 60% done, I watched Avatar … and met Toph.

Toph and Tania remained different characters – Tania is much older than Toph (24), secretly a member of an order of assassins charged with hunting Demonkin (more spoilers!), and has far different motivations than Toph does in Avatar. I wrote Tania as a combination of Aeris (from Final Fantasy VII) and Stick (from Daredevil). Yet here Tania was – my blind, confident earth-wielding mage – and I was seriously considering altering her magic discipline, even changing her entire personality, because my favorite new show, Avatar, had introduced a confident, blind character who was an Earthbender.

Fortunately, this is where I caught myself. I considered the pros and cons of rewriting or removing Tania, and the cons outweighed the pros. Tania is central to Aryn’s character arc and the window into how my magic schools, monarchy, and world at large treat Demonkin. Removing her or changing her would require significant rewriting. After a week of handwringing, I kept Tania as she was, and even though people may inevitably consider her a “copy” of Toph, I haven’t regretted it.

Looking back at what I know now, I don’t think I would have even changed the names of my deities in Glyphbinder, if I had it to do again. Plenty of stories have centered around the elements of Fire, Water, Earth, and Air before Avatar, and plenty of stories will do so after. I got worried about being labeled “derivative” rather than telling the story I wanted to tell with ideas that interested me. Yet scrapping a fully developed character, because I’d just met one very similar, was where I drew the line.

Now, had I seen Avatar before starting Demonkin, would I have built Tania’s character the way she is? Probably not. Yet I created Tania before I met Toph, and decided I shouldn’t toss her on the junk pile just because someone else had independently developed a similar character (and I ❤ Toph). Rewriting Tania didn’t feel fair to her, my story, or myself. Avatar might have gotten published first, but Tania remained my character.

As I’ve been exposed to more and more media, I’ve grown increasingly cognizant that there are no truly original ideas out there. Every story, character, and idea we might have has, in some form or another, been created somewhere by someone, even if we haven’t encountered it yet. All we can do, as authors, is tell the best stories we can while using the ideas and themes that pop into our heads. We should obsess less about whether someone uses one of “our” ideas first, and instead focus on how we, as authors, can create an original story with the ideas that excite us.

Star Wars exists. Does that mean we can never write a story with laser swords? Harry Potter exists. Does that mean we can never write a story where students learn magic at a school? Walking Dead exists. Does that mean we can never write a story where heroes fight zombies?

As an author, forcing yourself to scrap one of your cool new ideas, just because someone has the same idea and publishes it first, is silly. We all draw from the same pool of inspiration, and it’s inevitable more than one of us will sometimes end up at the same place. Storytellers tell stories, and those stories are influenced by stories that came before. We should spend less time worrying about “has someone else done this?” and instead focus on “how can I make this element unique in my story?”

So authors, keep your laser swords and your zombies and your magic schools. Keep them and write the coolest story you can with them. You don’t own that idea, but neither does anyone else. Yes, people may sometimes assume you’re copying others and call you “derivative”, but that’s not a reason to junk your best ideas. Worry less about being labeled derivative and more about telling the story you love.

The Translator (Short Story)

This was another story I first posted over at the excellent Fantasy-Faction forums, submitted for their September writing contest. The theme this time was “politics”. As always, I encourage folks to check out the site and, if my fellow authors feel like joining in, all the more fun for everyone!

In this case, I wanted to play with dialogue tags in a different way. As might be evident from the story, I’m using two “types” of dialogue tags here for a very specific purpose. I have no idea if it works as I’d hoped, but it was a fun experiment.

 

The Translator (1,500 words)

Hana Varstow steeled herself as the doors to Prelate Garil’s council hall rolled open and a stench poured out: recent slaughter mixed with too much disinfectant. Hana’s gorge hopped but she dared not show weakness, not to the Confederate Elites who flanked her, not to the exhausted Kavil militiaman barely keeping his feet, and not, above all else, to Prelate Garil herself.

The unarmed soldier accompanying Garil was a concession to the Prelate’s station. Hana had suggested it. Their war was over – for now – but a treaty had yet to be signed. This meeting would finalize that surrender or the Confederacy would resume its orbital bombardment. Many more would die.

*Please, Prelate, be seated at the head of the negotiating table,* Hana said. *It befits your station.*

The Confederacy had already taken Garil’s husband, her son, and her army, and then slaughtered her council in this very room. Executed for refusing to surrender. Hana wouldn’t take Garil’s dignity, too.

Prelate Garil sat, soldier at her side. The Elites flanking Hana shouldered their rifles and took up position by the door, sending a clear message. No one left this room without the Confederacy’s permission.

*Where is your High General?* Garil stared at the silent Elites. *Or was this simply a pretense to reunite me with my council?* There might still be blood on her chair.

*The High General has been delayed,* Hana responded in perfect kavish, skating along a lie. *He appreciates your cooperation in avoiding further bloodshed, and will arrive soon.*

*You speak our language well.* Prelate Garil’s own kavish had a lyrical lilt to it, despite the fact she’d been up for over a day, and it was obvious she was a talented speaker. *Did they enslave you, too?*

*I am a loyal citizen of the Confederacy,* Hana said, because she wouldn’t put it pass the Confederacy’s infamous ISec squads to have installed archiving devices. *We better mankind.*

*Of course you do. You were courteous enough to shoot my husband in the head.*

Hana said nothing else. The Confederacy wanted loyal city states, not bombed worlds, and both Prelate Garil and High General Tourmaline would agree to that. So long as she reminded them, often.

The militia soldier standing by Garil, a towheaded man young enough to be Hana’s son, looked dead on his feet, but pride and rage kept him standing. Last night, the Confederacy had killed all his friends.

Finally, the room rumbled as Tourmaline’s shuttle landed – twenty minutes late. Shortly afterward the High General strode into the conference room, flanked by Golden Elites, and wrinkled his nose.

“What,” Tourmaline asked, in confederese, “is that godawful smell?”

*Took your time, didn’t you?* Garil said. *Massacres to conclude?*

“High General,” Hana said in confederese, “Prelate Garil of Kavil bids you welcome. She looks forward to negotiating Kavil’s surrender and incorporation into the Confederacy.”

“Tired of getting her ass kicked, is she?”

*Prelate Garil,* Hana said, *the High General apologizes for the delay. He wanted to personally assure our ceasefire agreement carried across our fleet.*

Garil scowled. *What are a few more bombs between friends? I think we still have a few hospitals.*

“The prelate only wishes to avoid further bloodshed,” Hana translated.

“Fine,” Tourmaline said. “Tell her to get out of my seat.”

“High General,” Hana said, “I should first clarify kavish customs. In kavish society, it is the supplicant who sits, to show humility. The victor stands in judgment.”

Tourmaline glowered. “You should have mentioned that earlier.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “Fine. The bitch can sit.”

*Wants me to move, does he?* Garil asked.

*In respect for the brave kavish who fell defending your planet,* Hana said, *our High General refuses to sit in judgment upon you. He will stand for these negotiations.*

Garil raised one elegant eyebrow. *A … surprising concession.*

“What did she say?” Tourmaline demanded.

“She looks forward to your terms.”

“Good.” Tourmaline crossed his arms and leaned forward. “Concession one. She disarms her people.”

*In the interest of avoiding any further bloodshed on both sides,* Hana said, “the High General asks that all private citizens turn over their guns.*

*So you can slaughter us face to face?* Garil scowled. *This is a rough planet. My people need guns to defend themselves.*

“High General,” Hana said, “the prelate does not refuse, but she does ask that Confederacy soldiers take over the defense of the kavish wheat farms. There are hundreds outside the walls.”

“Why do I give a shit about their wheat farms?”

“Local predators may otherwise devour their wheat, leading to famine,” Hana said. “The kavish shoot those that come near, but cannot protect their farms without their weapons.”

“I’m not tasking my Elites to guard a bunch of dirt-mucking farmers!”

“Then perhaps,” Hana said, “we could allow some kavish to keep their rifles? Outside the walls only, for protection from predators?”

“Fine.” Tourmaline waved her off. “Our new taxpayers can’t pay anything if they starve to death.”

*Prelate Garil, the High General understands your concern,* Hana said. *As a compromise, the Confederacy will allow your citizens to keep their rifles, so long as they carry them for defense and only outside city walls. You must not brandish them within the city.*

*He really agreed to that?* Garil narrowed her eyes.

*He understands your citizens must protect themselves.*

Garil considered, lips pursed. *Agreed.*

Hana nodded to Tourmaline. “The prelate appreciates your understanding of her people’s need to protect their farms, and offers thanks.”

“Concession two,” Tourmaline said. “She appoints an ambassador of my choosing as Protector of Kavil.”

*The High General asks you coordinate with our ambassador to ease your government’s transition into a partnership with ours,* Hana said. *So we can both benefit from your Confederacy membership.*

*So long as I pay my taxes?* Garil asked.

*Your taxes ensure the Confederacy protects your planet from pirates and skitterships, Prelate,* Hana reminded her, *and also grants you access to medical advances and gene therapy.*

Garil rolled her eyes. *I don’t think that’s what your High General said.*

“She’s refusing?” Tourmaline asked. “Remind her I have an orbital cannon pointed at her capital.”

“High General, she only worries for the ambassador. The kavish have a complex system of government, with ancient relationships and customs that can be difficult for outsiders to grasp.”

“I don’t care what the locals get up to,” Tourmaline said. “She can handle city law. Just make sure she recognizes my ambassador runs Kavil in all global matters, including Confederacy law.”

*Our new ambassador will facilitate communication within the Confederacy*, Hana told Garil, *while you continue to handle local matters of state. Is this acceptable?*

*Another concession I hadn’t expected,* Garil almost smiled. *Very well.*

“The prelate agrees to defer to the ambassador in all matters of Confederacy law, High General, and looks forward to educating him on the more delicate matters of kavish internal affairs.”

“Poor bastard.” Tourmaline chuckled. “That’s all I have, other than the boilerplate. You have the treaties?”

“Two copies,” Hana produced them, “in confederese and kavish.”

These treaties were nearly identical to those Hana had brokered – on High General Tourmaline’s orders, of course – with the last three planets the Confederacy had conquered. The people on those planets, unlike Hana’s now dead world, remained alive and fed, if not entirely happy.

“You verified she understands it?” Tourmaline demanded.

“Yes, High General.” Hana bowed. “The Prelate understands perfectly.”

“Then tell the bitch to sign away her planet.”

*Prelate Garil,* Hana said, *the High General appreciates your cooperation. Again, he honors the sacrifice of your soldiers. If you have no further concerns, he asks that you sign the treaties now.*

*So he does.* Garil stood, eyes hard, and for a moment Hana was terrified that she had failed. Garil would die rather than surrender and, with her death, doom Kavil’s people.

*Tell your general he is a skilled negotiator.* Garil walked over and signed one treaty, then the other.

“High General,” Hana said, “the prelate thanks you for your gracious invitation to the Confederacy.”

“Whatever.” Tourmaline signed both treaties. “Get these ratified, Hana. I’m heading back up.”

Hana bowed deep. “I will see it done.”

Tourmaline left and his Elites did too. The room emptied. Hana rolled and pocketed the treaties and then bowed to Garil. *The High General wishes you long life, and hopes you will soon come to understand the benefit of living under the Confederacy’s protective wing. You are free to leave.*

“it seems I’m having dinner after all,” Garil agreed, in perfect confederese. “Care to join me?”

Hana barely hid her shock. “I’m … not sure that would be wise, Prelate. Appearances-”

“Are important,” Garil agreed. “In fact, they’re everything.” She offered a slight nod, a gesture of sincere respect from one of her station, and headed out. *Thank you. For saving my people from my rage.*

Hana looked after her and swallowed, picturing her own dead world. *It was the least I could do.*

THE END

First Impressions of the Gear VR

Serendipity

Two weeks ago, my wife and I finally decided to upgrade our cellphones, which we do every three or four years. We don’t skimp on essential electronics we plan to keep for extended periods of time, and so bought ourselves a pair of Samsung Galaxy S6 phones. As you’d expect, they’re really nice phones!

Gear01-Phones

A week ago, at Capclave, one of my fantasy short stories won 2nd place in the Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s short story contest. The prize for 2nd place was an invitation to Capclave 2015, an invitation to Balticon 2016, and … $100 dollars. Which was awesome, but will also soon become important.

Two days ago, the Samsung Gear VR (basically, a super nice Google Cardboard VR headset designed exclusively for the Samsung Galaxy S6) went on sale on Amazon … for $100 dollars. I already have an Oculus DK2 and know what VR is like, so I’d never have bought a Gear VR otherwise. But the sale, plus the recent short story prize, plus hearing good things about Gear VR initiated an impulse buy.

So, thanks to a once every four years phone upgrade, winning a short story contest, and 50% off on Amazon, I impulse bought a Gear VR and snapped my new phone inside. Here are my first impressions.

VR is Super Clear

VR, both for movies and videogames, is super clear on the Gear VR. It provides a sneak preview of what VR will look like on the final consumer versions of upcoming VR headsets, which is to say, amazing. This additional clarity makes the biggest difference in 3D movies, and I think passive 360 viewing experiences (like safaris and concerts) will be the bread and butter of “casual” VR adopters. The accessible hook.

Gear02-Headset

Even with the lower quality of VR movies available to on Gear VR at launch, flying over a city in a helicopter (and being able to look straight down) is now an awe-inspiring and memorable experience. Also, when gaming, even small UI elements are super crisp and easy to read. Which is great. Finally, there is no stutter, since all VR experiences are designed to fall within the Galaxy S6’s specifications.

Not Being Tethered to a Personal Computer Opens Up New Play Mechanics

When you think of peripherals to make VR more immersive, many come to mind: HOTAS flight sticks and throttles, Sixense motion trackers, steering wheels and pedal sets with force feedback, the Buttkicker. What don’t most people think of when considering VR peripherals? The humble swivel chair.

Gear03-SwivelChair

The game that proved this for me was Anshar Wars. The fact that such a simple game with a single level and perhaps four mechanics blew me away was a testament to smart and simple design. The best game ideas are massively intuitive and immediately fun, and Anshar Wars proves the swivel chair mechanic.

The game is simple. You watch your fighter fly out of your mothership (third person – you’re in a “chase cam” behind your fighter) and then enemy fighters attack your mothership. Your velocity is constant … you are always flying forward. To guide your ship and aim your crosshair, you just … look where you want to go. To put that alien ship in your crosshairs? Look at it. To thread the needle between two asteroids? Look between them. Look up to fly up, down to fly down, and finally, the best part.

To bank 180 and chase the enemy fighter that just blew by you, you swivel your chair around.

In concept, this seems silly. In practice, it’s awesome. For the thirty minutes straight I played Anshar Wars, I must have looked (to the average observer) rather ridiculous. Looking up and down, using measured presses of my feet to rotate my chair left and right at varying speeds. Yet in VR, I was flying in loops. Zooming around asteroids, locking on and firing missiles, and blowing past and then quickly banking around to evaporate enemy fighters. At least until I flew into that asteroid and went boom.

Gear04-AnsharWars

The swivel chair mechanic is something that simply won’t ever work with a “wired” headset (like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or Sony Morpheus) because the wire is going to get tangled. Because the Gear VR has NO wires – it’s just strapped to my face – I can spin any direction as far as I want as often as I want and never have any problems. Thus, the humble swivel chair goes from the thing that makes your butt hurt after a long gaming session to an input device as integral to gameplay as a keyboard or controller.

Never would have guessed!

The Features of a “Final” Consumer Device

The Oculus DK2 is a dev kit, not a consumer product, and technically, Samsung claims the Gear VR is not a consumer product either. Yet it already incorporates a number of useful features I feel must be in the final consumer version of the big boy headsets. These include:

Built-in Touchpad

This is one of the best features of the Gear VR. It has a touchpad and “Back” button built into the side of the headset. For my X-Men fans, remember how Cyclops would touch the side of his visor to unleash optic blasts? Well, that’s pretty much what it feels like to interact with the Gear VR, and the touchpad is the controller for many games (sidenote: Someone make a Gear VR game where I’m Cyclops).

Look at Menus to Select Them

I first noticed this mechanic in the excellent Titans of Space, and called it out as the ideal way to navigate menus in VR. Well, Oculus apparently agrees. Every menu button within the Gear VR highlights when you “look” at it (you have a crosshair that shows you exactly where you are looking, in VR, and can look past the crosshair when not using it). Clicking the touchpad when looking at an option selects it.

Pass Through Camera

Simple, but super useful! Without removing the headset, a quick menu selection allows me to activate the camera on my phone. I then see the real world through my phone’s camera, with the video image projected inside the headset. Thus, I can pause my game to grab a drink off my desk, check on what the dog is eating (that she probably shouldn’t be eating) and talk to my wife without removing the headset.

Focus Wheel

This huge win is a wheel on top of the Gear VR, similar to that on top of a pair of binoculars. Scrolling it left or right subtly moves the plastic sheet behind the goggles strapped to your face forward or back to bring your phone’s split screen into focus. In early headsets like the DK2, getting the focus right is troublesome and requires putting the headset on, booting up an app in VR (no “Oculus Home Menu” for the DK2), pulling the headset off, adjusting, and repeating. With the focus wheel, you just don the headset, adjust it like a pair of binoculars, and focus in seconds. Intuitive, efficient and easy.

Wireless VR!

The consumer versions of the Oculus Rift and Sony Morpheus (seated experiences) and the HTC Vive (standing experience – possibly) will have massive cables running from each headset to a computer. So, while you can tiptoe around these, you must be careful not to get your cables twisted. The Gear VR is entirely wireless (you wear the computer!) and the feeling of freedom is vastly superior. Swivel chair!

Downsides

Your Phone May Literally Melt

Obviously, there are tradeoffs for wireless VR freedom. First, your phone gets super hot when used for VR. And by super hot, I mean the Oculus app you use for VR literally includes a function that measures the heat level of your phone and, when your phone is approaching its melting point, shuts off what you’re doing. It then displays a prompt along the lines of “Your phone is too hot. Please allow your phone to cool before continuing your VR experience”. You can’t play again until your phone cools down.


Heat tracking and application shutdown is an integral component of Gear VR. It’s actually called out in the instruction manual. This suggests that Oculus and Samsung know a computer in a tiny plastic case running lots of calculations inside another plastic case gets hot, and they can’t fix this. Your phone overheating is inevitable, and occurs after anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour in VR. This will not be a problem with the Rift, Vive, or Morpheus headsets, but is a problem with current generation phones playing games for extended periods or even watching movies. This limits VR playtime.

You Are a Head on a Flagpole

The biggest thing missing from the Gear VR is what the Oculus DK2 does beautifully: moving your head with your body. With the Gear VR (as with the Oculus DK1) you can look up, down, left, right, and so on, but if you straighten, slouch, or lean, your view doesn’t change and your head remains “locked” to default X Y Z coordinates. This ruins VR and gets nauseating very quickly if you don’t force yourself to *not* move while using Gear VR, because what you “see” in VR doesn’t match what your body is doing.

Like any other sort of motion sickness, moving your torso too much or too often and not seeing that reflected in VR can quickly nauseate you to the point of quitting. Most people shouldn’t have a problem if they have a high-backed chair and sit straight against it for the entire time, but this requires discipline. Most people instinctively slouch or shift while sitting, and the Gear VR can’t account for this.

Despite this, games like Anshar Wars play beautifully in the Gear VR because of their clever incorporation of swivel chairs. So long as you press your back to the chair and spin the chair, not your body, you can play intuitively for extended periods with no motion sickness. So there’s that!

Summary

The Gear VR, and other devices like it, feel like the equivalent of a handheld game console. If a powerful computer with an HTC Vive is your PS4, then a Samsung Gear is your PS Vita. Lighter, self-contained, easy to transport, limited by battery, and designed for shorter, snappier experiences on the road. In exchange for giving up computing power and longer play times, you gain portability and ease of use.

In my opinion, that’s a decent tradeoff. I think the best thing about the Gear VR and similar devices will be VR evangelism. The Gear VR is something you can take anywhere, adjust to a new user in seconds, and use to initiate those who’ve never tried VR into the fold. People who use it will “get” VR quickly.

The next generation of VR headsets will be, in my opinion, wireless versions of the Oculus Rift, HTV Vive, or Sony Morpheus, or Gear VR-like devices that track torso movement and don’t threaten to melt during use. If you already have a compatible phone, the Gear VR is a fun supplement to your home VR setup.

Fantasy Faction Writing Contest – Space Opera

Among the many cool things on the Fantasy-Faction forums is a monthly writing contest, where the moderator provides a writing prompt (which can be anything from Space Opera to the color Blue) and people submit short flash pieces (ranging from 500 to 1500 words) matching the theme. I’ve found it fun to try to come up with story experiments based on these prompts, and I plan to start re-posting these on my blog after each contest concludes.

I actually referenced snippets of the story below for my earlier blog post, On the Use of Dialogue Tags In Fiction, and with the contest now concluded (congrats, JMack!) I thought it would be fun to post the story in full. I’ll likely continue to post these writing experiments on my blog as the contests wrap up, as well as a brief explanation of where each story came from.

With “Hitting the Arch”, the prompt was “Space Opera” and that, of course, got me thinking about my favorite recent space opera, the Mass Effect series. That, naturally, got me thinking about the words in the title – mass and effect, which refers to the fact that the ships in that series use ‘Mass Effect’ drives to travel between star systems. While what a mass effect drive actually DOES is never fully explained (beyond handwavium), it did start me thinking about a drive (or engine) that literally ran on mass. Sort of like “Mr. Fusion” from Back to the Future, where you can insert anything and burn it for fuel.

Once I had the idea of a spaceship reactor that could burn anything, I then focused on the other common aspect of space operas (spaceship combat!) and wondered what would happen if a ship burned all of its mass (fuel) but still needed to get somewhere, urgently – a matter of life or death. That idea was the kernel of this story. Enjoy!

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Hitting the Arch (Space Opera, first posted on the Fantasy-Faction forums) – 1,050 words

When the enemy bombardment finally stopped, it left Captain Diego Harker’s scout ship drifting in the void. He ran his hands through his black hair and waited. They had evaded the enemy fleet. Now, they had to warn their own.

“Give me our energy reserves.” Together, their shields and engines had burned unprecedented mass. His ears still rang from the impacts, but they were alive.

“We’re empty, cap,” Carter said. Diego’s XO was all bare skull, bent frame and hard eyes. “It’s all burned.”

Without the shielding from their universal reactor, any further impact would turn their ship to scrap. That had been a big enemy fleet. “Suggestions?”

Laster spoke first. “We can burn anything for fuel, right? Let’s burn our rations.” He was nineteen, fresh out of gunnery school. He shaved his head to look like Carter and that pissed Carter off.

“That much mass would get us two burns.” Carter steepled his meaty fingers. “Three, if we’re lucky.”

“Not enough.” Woo rubbed at his eyes. The math to elude the enemy fleet had almost finished him. “To hit the archway we need at least thirty, and what would we eat?”

“Each other,” Laster quipped. No one laughed.

“What about our bulkheads?” Woo asked. “Can’t we pull off some scrap?”

“You pull anything off the inside of this ship, you’ll kill us all!” Mainard was a good engineer, but he had a temper. “We’re built lean. Nothing here can burn.”

“If we don’t close the archway,” Diego reminded them, “the Imps will bombard Ariadne and God knows who else. Woo, how’s our path on the arch?”

“What path? We can’t path without mass.” Sweat glistened on Woo’s forehead. “With the frequency this particular archway jumps around, we’ll never hit it.”

“So we guess,” Carter said. “Burn once a day, split the difference between the archway’s position today and tomorrow.”

“That’s a sixteen percent chance!” Woo snapped.

“Do it,” Diego ordered anyway.

It didn’t work. The archway skipped five times in twenty hours. Diego and Carter split a ration inside Diego’s tiny cabin.

“We need more mass.” Carter chewed. They both knew what that meant.

Diego saw no other options. “I’ll tell the crew.”

“They’ll mutiny, cap.”

“They won’t. We owe them the truth.”

“At the cost of Ariadne?”

“I’m not feeding anyone to this ship without explaining why. I’ll lead by example.”

“Don’t be an idiot. You go last if you go at all.”

“I’m not killing my crew in their sleep!”

“They’ll understand when it’s over.”

“We’ll draw straws.” They broke the news on the bridge when they rationed out that day’s water.

Woo had already figured it out. Mainard looked like he was going to blow chunks, but he didn’t. Laster was oddly introspective about the whole thing.

“But, a human … a body, I mean. How many burns do we even get?”

“Eight to ten,” Woo said.

“You said we needed thirty.”

“Learn to multiply.”

“Enough.” Diego held out the straws. They were actually strips of Crack-Seal. “If the Imps were gunning for your families, would you give your lives to stop them?”

Woo nodded. Laster did too. Mainard didn’t. “There has to be another way.”

“Name it.” Diego waited a bit.

Carter drew the short straw. If mutiny was on the crew’s mind, Diego trusted no one else to watch him while he slept. They all went to the reactor room together.

“I’ve got a daughter,” Carter said before he stepped inside. “On Ariadne’s moon.”

Diego’s throat went dry. “You never said one word.”

“Didn’t matter then. Her info’s in my file. Tell her I died saving the universe.”

Laster sketched a salute. Mainard and Woo did too. Diego just squeezed Carter’s shoulder. “She’ll know.”

Carter’s body bought them nine burns. Diego didn’t sleep that night. No one tried to kill him.

Now two days from the archway, Diego conferred with Woo. They had hit forty-two percent. The archway moved that night and Mainard drew the short straw. There was a scuffle.

“You can’t do this!” Mainard shrieked. It took Laster and Woo to muscle him to the reactor room. “It’s murder!”

“I’m sorry.” Diego snapped his holster open and made his face a mask.

“My wife’s on Ariadne! Our son!”

Diego opened the reactor door. “They’ll know.”

Woo lost his grip and Mainard got an elbow free. He almost took Laster’s head off before Diego shot him in the face. Mainard’s body bought them nine burns.

With one day left, they got lucky – seventy-four percent on the archway. Laster pushed away the straws.

“You don’t need me.” He was too calm for nineteen, too ready to die. “You need command and navigation.”

Diego shoved them at him. “Draw a straw.”

“I’m married too, sir. The Imps will bomb her back to the dark ages.”

“Captain.” Woo grabbed his hand. “We’re close, the math is simple. You do the burns. I’ll draw for you.”

Laster moved. Diego blocked him. “I said draw.”

“Put in it my report.” Laster held Diego’s eyes.

Laster bought them nine burns, close enough to warn the archway ahead of the enemy fleet. Diego sent his report with a Commendation of Valor for all his crew, even Mainard. Then he sent a message to Carter’s daughter.

As drones towed them in he and Woo sat on the empty bridge. The garrison captain guarding the archway had known Imps were in the system, but no one had known just how enormous the enemy fleet actually was. Retreating through the archway and collapsing it was their only option. That would keep Ariadne safe for decades.

“Captain,” Woo said then. “You’re from Helio Two.”

“Yeah.”

“Family there?”

“Two sons. My wife is dead.”

“If this archway leaves the network, it’ll take two-hundred years to get back there at sublight.”

“I know.”

Woo sat back and interlaced his fingers behind his head. “I’m never getting married. Too much to lose.”

“They’re worth it. They’re the reason I can do this.”

“Then I’m having five.” Woo forced a false smile. “If two got you through this, I’m hedging my bets.”

A rescue ship soon docked. They boarded. Together, they went through the archway one last time.

Diego never saw his sons again, but they knew.

THE END

On the Use of Dialogue Tags in Fiction

Many fiction writers, especially when they start out, soon develop a love/hate relationship with dialog tags (Bob said, Joe replied). We need them, but we worry they’re repetitive or worse, we use them in the wrong places. It’s hard to trust ourselves when writing dialogue. Will our reader know who’s speaking?

While critiquing the work of newer authors in writer’s groups, I often see authors who aren’t sure when or where to use dialog tags. Below are some common practices that often aren’t necessary.

  • The author uses dialog tags when we already know who is speaking (conversation rhythm).
  • The author uses synonyms for “said” (replied, argued, hissed) to avoid perceived repetition.
  • The author falls victim to “the burly detective” syndrome, redescribing characters to avoid repeating a character’s name, because they’re concerned about perceived repetition.
  • The author doesn’t trust the reader to understand the speaker’s emotion.

Ultimately, while these don’t necessarily make people put down a book, they do slow down how the reader experiences the book. Tags, used too often, make even good writing denser than it needs to be.

My own use (or non-use) of dialog tags evolved dramatically as I grew as an author. If you pay attention to how established authors write, you’ll notice common patterns which weren’t apparent at first glance. This is because these patterns are invisible to readers, as the foundations of clean writing should be.

Character dialogue doesn’t need dialog tags as often as we think it does. Readers and authors alike understand a few clear rules, and authors who internalize these rules can make their dialogue crisp and efficient by trusting their readers. Once you understand these rules, your dialog will improve.

Rule 1: In a two character conversation, you only need dialog tags once.

The most basic rule of dialog. Even if this is the only rule you absorb, using it dramatically streamlines your writing. When two characters begin a conversation, readers will naturally read their lines as:

Speaker A (established by “A said”)

Speaker B (established by “B said”)

Speaker A

Speaker B

After those first two lines, readers know who is speaking without dialog tags. After you establish the conversation rhythm (who speaks first, and who speaks second) they’ve got it. No repetition needed.

Below are examples of two characters (Diego and Carter) conversing over a dinner of military rations. The first example is too dense and has unneeded tags, unneeded synonyms, and falls victim to “the burly detective” syndrome. It also doesn’t trust the reader to understand the emotions of the characters. The second example removes these issues, presenting the same scene efficiently.

Example 1 (Dense)

1              “We need more mass,” Carter said. He chewed. They both knew what that meant.

2              Diego saw no other options. “I’ll tell the crew.”

3              Diego’s executive offer shook his head. “They’ll mutiny, cap.”

4              “They won’t,” Diego assured him. “We owe them the truth.”

5              Carter scoffed. “At the cost of Ariadne?”

6              “I’m not feeding anyone to this ship without explaining why,” Diego said. “I’ll lead by example.”

Example 2 (Crisp)

1              “We need more mass.” Carter chewed. They both knew what that meant.

2              Diego saw no other options. “I’ll tell the crew.”

3              “They’ll mutiny, cap.”

4              “They won’t. We owe them the truth.”

5              “At the cost of Ariadne?”

6              “I’m not feeding anyone to this ship without explaining why. I’ll lead by example.”

Now, let’s highlight what improved the second version, line by line.

Line 1 – Removed “Carter said”. We see Carter chewing right after that, so we know he’s Speaker A.

Line 2 – No changes. This line establishes Speaker B is Diego, and provides an important plot detail.

Line 3 – Removed “Diego’s executive officer” (an attempt to avoid repeating “Carter” by redescribing him, ala “the burly detective”). We also removed “shook his head”. It is clear Carter is disagreeing with Diego from the context of the dialogue. No need to repeat, and it slows down the conversation.

Line 4 – Removed “Diego assured him”. Carter started the Convo on Line 1 (Speaker A) and Diego answered on Line 2 (Speaker B). This is Line 4, so we know this is Speaker B, Diego, because we’re following the conversation rhythm. We also know Diego is assuring Carter there won’t be a mutiny simply from the context provided by the dialog. No need to spell that out for the reader.

Line 5 – Removed “Carter scoffed”. Line 5 must be a Carter line. Also, it’s clear that Carter is questioning Diego’s statement from the context. His scoff is implied and slows down the conversation.

Line 6 – Removed “Diego said”. We know Line 6 is Diego due to conversation rhythm.

Rule 2: Use a new dialogue tag when a new character enters a conversation, or when one of the two people conversing is replaced by another character, so who is speaking remains clear.

This is a bit more complicated, but it boils down to ensuring your reader knows when a new character chimes in, and doing it as quickly as possible. “He said” is invisible. You notice it, but your readers won’t – except when they aren’t sure who is speaking. Below, examples of a multi-person conversation.

Dense
1              Woo had already figured it out. Mainard looked like he was going to blow chunks, but he didn’t. Laster was oddly introspective about the whole thing.

2              “But, a human … a body, I mean.” Laster blinked. “How many burns do we even get?”

3              “Eight to ten,” Woo said.

4              “You said we needed thirty,” Laster protested.

5              “Learn to multiply,” Woo replied.

6              “Enough,” Diego interrupted, ending their argument. He held out the straws.

Crisp

1              Woo had already figured it out. Mainard looked like he was going to blow chunks, but he didn’t. Laster was oddly introspective about the whole thing.

2              “But, a human … a body, I mean. How many burns do we even get?”

3              “Eight to ten,” Woo said.

4              “You said we needed thirty.”

5              “Learn to multiply.”

6              “Enough.” Diego held out the straws.

Now, let’s highlight what improved the second version, line by line.

Line 1 – No change. We’re establishing that this is a scene with multiple characters: Laster, Woo, Mainard, and Diego (mentioned earlier in the story, in a line I haven’t included for brevity).

Line 2 – Removed “Laster blinked”. Laster is the last person we described in Line 1, where we said “Laster was oddly introspective about the whole thing”. Readers automatically assume Line 2 is Laster speaking, because Line 1 talked about Laster being introspective. An easy way to remove a dialog tag!

Line 3 – No change. This is Woo’s first line in the conversation, so we have to use a dialog tag to keep things clear. But we use “said” which is invisible. Woo is established as Speaker B clean and quick.

Line 4 – Removed “Laster protested”. Conversation rhythm at Line 2 established Laster as Speaker A, and Line 3 established Woo as Speaker B. This is line 4, Laster, and we know he’s protesting from context.

Line 5 – Removed “Woo replied”. Conversation rhythm establishes this as Woo, and we already know he’s replying.

Line 6 – We need a Diego tag here, since he’s a new speaker. But we don’t need “Diego interrupted, ending their argument”. That’s all clear from context. All we need is “Diego” (to name the new speaker entering the conversation) and what he does afterward… “held out the straws”.

Rule 3: Anytime you use an exclamation mark, a character is either talking very loud or shouting.

This is a fun one, because it’s such an easy way to remove dialog tags. Basically, you almost never need the words “she shouted” or “he exclaimed”. It’s clear to readers simply from the “!”. Below, an example.

We’ve established three characters, Kara, Byn, and Sera. Byn just picked Sera up, surprising Kara.

Dense

1          “I caught a mermaid!” Byn exclaimed. He laughed as he fixed Kara with playful brown eyes. “Can we keep her?”

2          “Drown me, Byn!” Kara shouted. She shoved him and he stumbled back, Sera eeping as he nearly dropped her. “You put that poor girl down.”

Crisp

1          “I caught a mermaid!” Byn laughed as he fixed Kara with playful brown eyes. “Can we keep her?”

2          “Drown me, Byn!” Kara shoved him and he stumbled back, Sera eeping as he nearly dropped her. “You put that poor girl down.”

Now, let’s highlight what improved the second version, line by line.

Line 1 – We removed “Byn exclaimed”. We know Byn’s talking loudly from the “!”.

Line 2 – We removed “Kara shouted”. We know Kara is shouting from the “!”, and it actually slows down the scene to put an unnecessary “Kara shouted” before she shoves Byn. The reader “sees” the shove happen more immediately if we get “Kara shouted” out of their way.

Wrapping Up

These rules are not absolutes. There are great reasons to not do the things these rules suggest – word rhythm, injecting humor or visuals, if the character’s emotion actually isn’t clear from the context – but if you internalize these rules, you’ll have a better understanding of when to break them.

Writing credits: For this article, I used samples from my own writing because I knew I wouldn’t sue myself over copyright. The first two examples are from “Hitting the Arch”, my submission to Fantasy-Faction’s August writing contest for “space opera”. The second is from my first book, Glyphbinder.

Utimately, everyone has their own writing style. Your writing ultimately has to “feel right” to you. But internalizing these rules is a great way to streamline your dialogue.

ArmadilloCon 2015 Schedule

I’ll be a guest at ArmadilloCon 2015 in Austin, TX, from 7/24-7/26. If you’re in the Austin area, please come by and say hi! Here’s the panels and presentations to which I’ll be contributing:

Armadillocon 37

Omni Southpark Hotel, 4140 Governers Row, Austin, TX 78744

Friday 7/24

5:30pm-6:00pm – Conference Center

Author Reading (assuming anyone shows up :p)

6:00pm-7:00pm – Ballroom E

Game of Thrones: Comparing the Book to the Show

Exploring the faithfulness of the adaptation and the high points of the books vs. the show.

Saturday 7/25

2:00pm-3:00pm – Ballroom F

Virtual Reality Presentation

Presenting the latest developments in virtual reality, which will shortly be entering the mainstream with the commercial launches of VR headsets.

8:00pm-9:00pm – Southpark A

Writing for the Game Industry

What opportunities are there for writers in tabletop and video gaming? What are the differences from other media when writing these stories and characters? How do you break into this industry?

9:00pm-10:00pm – Ballroom F

Economics and Infrastructure in Worldbuilding

Building a fictional world that would actually work.

Sunday 7/26

No panels today (I have an early flight, unfortunately)

A Day in the Life of a Space Bounty Hunter

Those who read my prior post, A Day in the Life of a Space Trucker, might be interested to know I’m still flying, and I’ve graduated from running cargo to shooting criminals out of the sky. Elite: Dangerous with a flight stick and VR helmet remains one of the most immersive experiences out there, and as you’d expect, blowing other ships up in virtual space is entertaining. For those who haven’t gotten to try VR yet, experiences like this are what you can expect when the first consumer headsets ship in late 2015.

Virtual Cockpit

[ My virtual cockpit. In my basement. Because I take my games seriously. ]

So what’s it like to be a bounty hunter in Elite? Pretty fun! At the moment, one of the most efficient ways to find criminals and earn bounties is to fly out to your local system’s Nav Beacon, a hub for ships coming and going from other systems. Some of these ships, inevitably, have pilots flagged as Wanted, meaning they did something the system authority considers bad.

Note: All screenshots that follow were taken in the Oculus Rift, which is the reason for the odd resolution. Each is essentially “half” a shot, what would be presented to my left eye.

My Viper Cockpit

[ Sitting in the cockpit of my Viper, ready for take off. ]

What horrible crime did they commit? Who knows! I’m paid to shoot them down, not debate criminal law. Though, just for reference, in the world of Elite: Dangerous there is one penalty for every infraction, even minor ones such as scratching paint or stealing food. Death. Firey, laser-induced death.

My typical gameplay session involves hopping into my Viper space superiority fighter (putting on my Oculus Rift DK2), leaving my local station, jumping into Supercruise, and dropping out at a Nav Beacon.

02 - Off to the Nav Beacon

[ Cruising around from the dark side of a planet as the sun begins to rise. Gorgeous. ]

I then fly around scanning ships as they arrive, almost like a traffic cop zapping passing vehicles with a radar gun. Except if my radar gun flags you as “speeding”, I will most likely try to kill you. So it’s a bit different.

03 - Scanning

[ Time to find out who’s been naughty or nice. ]

If a ship comes up “Wanted”, it’s time for me to go to work. I can attack that ship unprovoked without becoming Wanted myself, and blowing it up earns me credits I can use to improve my ship and weapons, thus allowing me to blow up more ships. It’s like the Circle of Life, except with Death.

04 - Mahilda

[ Let’s see if Mahilda has been a naughty girl. ]

Because I’m a mercenary (and not a “space cop”) I’m not required to engage every lawbreaker that enters my crosshairs, and I often don’t, even if they are Wanted. Knowing who to engage and who to leave well enough alone are critical calculations for profitable bounty hunting. Engaging a ship that’s more heavily armored and armed than me, or a wing of ships when I’m flying on my own, costs ammo, may damage my ship, and may even end the Circle of Death (with my death), which means I’m paying a big chunk of insurance to get a new ship. I’m here to make credits, not spend them, so how do I make my decision?

05 - Mahilda Clean

[ It seems she’s a law-abiding citizen. Good for her! ]

My first point of data is the Wanted pilot’s combat rank, which I see when I scan them. Every pilot has a combat rank (ranging from “Mostly Harmless” to “Elite”) which, for AI, tells you how hard they are to defeat, and, for players, just tells you they’ve blown up a lot of other ships. I can drop a “Mostly Harmless” pilot in seconds, while a Master or above pilot in a good ship may prove challenging.

Other factors in my decision include the presence or lack of System Authority Vessels (Elite’s overzealous “space cops”), who will aid me in taking out dangerous criminals or groups of criminals if I engage nearby, and the estimated worth of a bounty. Blowing up tiny cargo haulers (in addition to being laughably easy) yields next to no bounty, and really, what could a cargo hauler have really done that was so horrible to warrant death? He probably stole some food or something. For his sick spouse and kids.

08 - Wanted No Challenge

[ This guy honestly isn’t worth my time. ]

In addition, in the chaos of a multi-ship engagement (with multiple “Clean” pilots engaging a “Wanted” pilot) it’s not uncommon for a stray shot from a friendly pilot to tag me or another Clean ship, resulting in an instant “Wanted” flag for the poor soul. I generally let those pilots go, out of common courtesy if nothing else. Remember how I said Elite’s space cops are “overzealous”? This is where they prove it.

If a friendly ship accidently tags me in a multi-ship dogfight, they’re immediately flagged Wanted and, as mentioned, there is only one penalty for scratching another ship’s paint with a stray shot. Death!

06 - Tomah Wanted

[ Tomas Ekeli is wanted. Tomas Ekeli is about to have a very bad day. ]

Shooting down people who’ve previously helped me take down criminal pilots leaves a bad taste in my mouth (not to mention these ships are worth next to nothing, with tiny bounties) so I leave them to system authority and hope they have the sense to jump to Supercruise before they’re blown up.

09 - Dropping into Six

[ Tomas is already busy shooting at a law-abiding citizen. I slide in behind him and deploy hardpoints. ]

Should I choose to engage, I usually get to start the fight, because pirates rarely attack a fighter with no valuable cargo. I drop into the enemy fighter’s six, open my hardpoints, and say hello by unloading everything I have, inflicting as much damage as possible before they react and evade.

10 - Saying Hello

[ ~Please allow me to introduce myself. ]

Poor pilots often become fireworks before escaping my crosshairs, while skilled ones may evade and give me a real fight. Dogfights among equally maneuverable fighters and skilled pilots in Elite: Dangerous often turn into two fighters flying in an endless loop (imagine a wheel with a “north” and “south” point spinning endlessly) with occasional shot opportunities.

11 - Attempting Loop

[ Tomas is attempting a loop. Spoiler: It doesn’t work. ]

Assuming neither of us changes direction or breaks off and engages our afterburner (in hopes of getting enough distance to turn and get a shot) this can go on for a while. This type of dogfight is where a headset like the Oculus Rift proves its worth – I can constantly look “up”, out of the top of my cockpit, and track an enemy ship even when it’s not in front of me. So that’s cool!

12 - I Can See You

[ I can still see you, Tomas. ]

Upon taking heavy damage, an enemy pilot may disengage and attempt to jump into Supercruise. This is a clean getaway unless I have a Frame Shift Wake Scanner, which allows me to track them into Supercruise and follow them. Since I’m primarily facing simulated pilots who exist to ensure I have fun, these dogfights usually end with the enemy ship exploding and a bounty credited to my ship. Because it wouldn’t be fun if every AI pilot jumped to Supercruise when you were about to kill them, would it?

13 - Bad Day Ends

[ Tomas’ bad day ends in fireworks. Of death. ]

Ultimately, the credits I earn from shooting down criminals are just a promise, not mine, until I return to a local station and “cash in” my bounty vouchers.

14 - Back to Station

[ I have to get back here alive to get paid. ]

This is why bounty hunters must be careful not to push their luck, especially when they’ve accrued a sizable bounty voucher. If any enemy ship manages to destroy you, all those promised credit vanish, and you’re on the hook for the insurance cost of your ship. As your ship and the components you’ve bought for it improve, this becomes very expensive very quickly.

15 - Reward

[ Thank you for risking your life to keep us safe. Here’s some credits. ]

I’ve yet to face a human pilot in Elite: Dangerous (playing on the “lawful” side of the universe) but given my prior experiences in PvP, I imagine this will be an even more pulse-pounding experience. I also imagine the chances either I or my opponent will attempt to disengage at a certain damage threshold would be much higher, which makes hunting human pilots a less attractive proposition for a hard working bounty hunter. Especially when I can lose all my credits with my ship.

So, if I do someday encounter a Wanted player, I might engage just for the novelty of it, but after trying it a few times, I’d probably leave them well enough alone unless they shot at me or something. The risk/reward calculation just isn’t there, especially when AI pilots are much easier to kill.

16 - Random Beauty Shot

[ It’s a beautiful game. ]

Ultimately, after nearly twenty hours of flying and blowing up Wanted (AI) criminals, I’m still enjoying my experience with VR in Elite: Dangerous, which is an encouraging statistic for future VR games having a long shelf life when properly designed. Blowing up naughty pirates and escaping Interdiction by their angry friends remains a great virtual experience, and one I hope many people will be sharing with me in December 2015 and early 2016, when the first VR headsets become available to consumers.

17 - Heading Back for More

[ I’m NOT the Law. I’m like the Law’s cousin. Or roommate. ]

Until then, know that CMDR Captain Sunshine will be keeping the space lanes clean of lawbreakers (so long as the criminals are easy to kill) and ensuring that criminals don’t escape justice (unless they’re in a wing with other criminals – or an Anaconda – or an Elite Viper pilot – or I don’t feel like it at the moment). If none of these things is true, however, look out, lawbreakers! Justice is coming for you! (maybe)