Wednesday, 29 May 2013

It's All John Lennon's Fault

It's all John Lennon's fault.  I'd planned to finish off "Some Information Concerning Wandering Mountains" today, I'd produced a pretty decent version of the "Stranger"'s tale - beginning, middle, end, bit of a twist - for exactly the purpose, but - thanks to John Lennon - I can't put it up on the blog.

You see, I was idly scrolling through Facebook at the end of a long day of coming up with new ways of saying "You missed" for a "major entertainment franchise" game, and I came across this recording (a huge hat-tip here to Joel Morris) of John Lennon's demo tapes for "She Said, She Said", in which he bloody-mindedly plugs away at turning half an idea into the song that will see Side 1 of Revolver making its jangling run towards the sunset.

Somehow, after seeing that, my usual Otherwhile practice of knocking out a story in an afternoon then making the odd tweak here and there the next morning no longer seems like the ideal way to get my thoughts on paper.  So, the Stranger's tale will need to wait until next week, so I can take it apart, play with it and see if I can, in the words of another Beatles song, make it better, better, better.

So, sorry for the lack of an update.  I hope to see you here next week.  In the interim, here's the upshot of all Lennon (and Ringo and George and Paul and George Martin and ... &c)'s work.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A Quick Game of Cards

[Again, just time for a quick update this week, looking at one of Otherwhile's favourite pastimes: Wyrtekken]

The average Otherwan, on the rare occasions he can get hold of anything to gamble with, is particularly fond of card games played with the Wyrtekken deck.  The deck contains sixty cards in five suits, listed here in their standard order of game rank :


There are twelve cards in each suit, each given a number and title.

None – The Absented
One – the Heart of the World
Two – The Brother and The Sister
Three – The Queens of Day
Four – The Fallen Stars
Five – The Thieves in the Palace
Six – The Fools of Runne
Seven – The Walking Stones
Eight – The Candles in the Tower
Nine – The Laughing Cats
Ten – The Faithful Hounds
Eleven – The Dancing Crows

Unusually, in most Otherwan card games, a card's rank is inverse to its numeric value.  Thus The Absented of Hopes is the most prized card and The Dancing Crows of Sleeps the least.

Although Wyrtekken decks vary quite widely, it is normal for each card to bear an image fitted to its name.  The Laughing Cats is a frequent exception to this rule, often being illustrated not with an image of cats but with the picture of a silver-haired woman and a fallen citadel.  Perhaps significantly, an image of this same silver-haired woman walking arm-in-arm with a tall, dark-haired man is frequently used for The Brother and The Sister.  Again, the image used for The Dancing Crows is often that of a group of dancing Cawfolk or Crowpeople, rather than birds; it tends to look rather sinister.

Though the Otherwan people are highly susceptible to superstition, and have much to be superstitious about, the use of Wyrtekken cards for divination or prophecy is either unknown or extremely rare.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

More News from The Real-ish World

Back in the real-ish world, I can announce that today sees the publication of "Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery", a game project I had the enormous fun of writing on.  It's a puzzle-adventure from Lucid Games, it's only £1.99/$2.99 on the Apple App Store for those of you with iPhones and iPads and £1.59/€1.99 on the Playstation Network for PS Vita users.  

Merrily cherry-picking my ways through the reviews thus far (and studiously ignoring the one reviewer who loathed it in a way normally reserved for Genghis Khan or a new episode of Ben Elton's The Wright Way) I can officially big myself up by describing it as infusing "the cute story of one boy and his yeti with enjoyable conundrums and head scratchers" (Pocketgamer), add that it has "a superbly whimsical story" (God is a Geek) and that the "interactions are funny, unpredictable and a delight to watch" (The Sixth Axis)  and finish up by saying "the dialogue is brilliantly written" (Push Square).  More importantly the game and its characters are the brainchildren of the fabulous team at Lucid Games, it has an art style that bowled me over from the moment I saw the very first render and it should be enormous fun to play.  Lastly, I had nothing to do with the puzzles themselves, so will be absolutely no use if you're stuck.

*** UPDATE 17/05/13***

Ooh, and here's the new trailer:

*** UPDATE 24/05/13***

And more nice words about Jacob Jones.  According to The Guardian "There is justifiably bags of buzz about this", "its the quality of the puzzles that makes it a keeper" and "the storyline also keeps you engrossed".  This is some sort of karmic repayment for four decades of loyal Grauniad-reading.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Some Brief Information Concerning The Heart of The World

[I'd planned to continue Some Information Concerning Wandering Mountains this week but, irritatingly, haven't had time to translate the rest of Lemnick's letter from the original Shendish ... or, indeed, to invent it.  So instead, a little information about the Heart of The World.  This may be of particular interest to anyone following The Theft of The Heart of The World, which is yet another story I promise I'll get back to ... just as soon as I complete my plan to shoehorn more hours into the day, which, let's face it, is going to mean getting to grips with my time machine design, which in turn means getting that whole grand-unification theory nailed down, which in turn ...]

The Heart of The World, perhaps the most famous gem in all the globe, has been the symbol of the rulership of Otherwhile since the time of the Three Queens of Day, more than half a millennium ago. Unlike the other royal regalia, it is kept in its own chamber within the Tower of the Heart, the tallest turret of Farla’s Palace of Days. Its precise location with the tower is a mystery, as is the nature of the many guards and wards said to have been set about it.

Probably not very like The Heart of The World
Unseen by the general public in centuries, the gem itself has been variously described. Early, most certainly exaggerated, references estimate its size as something approaching that of a small human head or a medium-sized cabbage, and in one notorious account, as being the size of a small human head that resembed a medium-sized cabbage. More modern descriptions put it nearer the size of a goose egg.  Again, there is some dispute as to the gem's colour: some sources describe it as blue, some purple and others red, while yet others suggest it moves slowly between all three colours in turn.  The only matter on which all are agreed is the ancient legend that the loss or destruction of The Heart would mean the end of Otherwhile.  But then, the same end is variously said to be portended by the birth of a crow with two heads, or a cow appearing on the altar of The Absented in the Capital, or the notorious miser, Cranholm of Runne, deciding to buy a round of drinks without having a knife pointed at his throat.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Some Information Concerning Wandering Mountains, Pt I

[ Luckily for me, Lemnick of Carysfort, the estimable (if ridiculous) Ambassador to Otherwhile  continues to be extremely careless of his diplomatic bag.  As a result, I've been able to come across some further correspondence pertaining to his recent travels in Otherwhile's great mountain range, The Spine of The World.  I hope you'll find it as intriguing as do I.  I'm afraid Lemnick continues to be extremely liberal with his use of capitals, as well as being an inveterate snob and terrible crawler; for all of which my apologies.  I have done my best to skip his extensive preliminary remarks to "His Most Serene of Highnesses" and cut as near as I can to the meat of his letter.]

... Despite all that had befallen us on our previous Journey across The Spine of The World1, my good friend Merrum had insisted on accompanying me once more, assuring me that he was fully recovered from his encounter with the Snowstorm and that strange Band with whom we had shared such shelter as was to be found.  This was perhaps unsurprising given he remains almost Oblivious of all that occurred on that day.

A View of The Spine of The World

In any event, we set out in good heart and made our way deep into the mountain passes, which were, thanks to the season, almost entirely clear of snow.  For the first three days it seemed unlikely that anything of great moment should befall us and we contented ourselves with exchanging Stories, Merrum skipping through his extensive store of Otherwan lore while I answered in my turn with the tales of ancient Shende that I had picked up whilst being dandled on my Mother's knee.  On the third evening, with each of us conscious that the other had long ago started to supplement his portion of Folklore with the inventions of his own Mind, we settled down to camp both hoping that some Event should supply us with a new Subject upon which to dwell.

As Luck would have it, our Wishes were soon fulfilled.  For no sooner had we sat down than there came a Sound the like of which I had never heard before and sincerely hope never to hear again.  Though I hear it in so many Dreams and it haunts many waking hours even to this day, it remains beyond my humble Powers to capture it in Words.  I can only say that there was something about it suggestive both of Enormousness and Enormity, loud beyond enduring and somehow very Wrong.  It was enough to inspire Fear in the stoutest Heart and Merrum and I had cause to assume that our servants would desert us.  Happily, after learning of my previous Adventure in the Mountains, our attendants had come to the Conclusion that I was some sort of Charm against Ill-Fortune and better to stay with than to quit.  As a result they remained nearby, despite the dreadful Sound, though they had to Fight long and Hard to keep our horses from bolting.

The dreadful Sound continued long into the Night, galloping about the Mountains, darting hither and thither, as if taking part in some monstrous Chase.  And all this in the absolute dark of a Moonless, Cloud-filled night.  And so we sat by our campfire, staring into the Flames, none daring to speak, sure in the Knowledge that any Words would be torn away and Lost in that shuddersome Pandemonium.  At length, my man, Reech, persuaded me that the wiser course was to retire to my tent.  I confess it was advice I accepted eagerly, knowing that, though the walls of my tent would offer little to lessen the Clamour from without, they would at least serve to hide its Effects upon my Countenance from Merrum and our attendants.  Whether I slept or no I cannot Say for, waking or dreaming, the Sound echoed in my Mind throughout the Night.  At length Dawn came and, with it, blissful silence.  And then, I feel, I Slept.

"When mountains run
And stars fall
And ships sail over land ..." 
- fragment of Otherwan doggerel

Doubtless Your Most Ineffable of Majesties will assume that, the next Morning, Merrum and I made sure to give a wide berth to that Location from which the Sound had issued.  However, knowing Your Most Highness's  deep Interest  ...2 I resolved to press on towards that very Spot, determined to gain some Clue as to what may have Occurred.  There was little demur from our Retinue who, though doubtless Disturbed by the singular Events of the Night, remained Convinced of my Worth as a Talisman.

We tracked on for some Hours, led by our most Able guide, a little, light-boned man, whose age I could not hazard beyond the Fact that he was Past childhood and not yet into his Dotage.  He seemed to have the Mountain Scree in his blood on one side and Mountain Goat on the other, and skipped across those climbs and through those passes with absolute Ease and Certainty and without any recourse to a Map.  For Hour after Hour we followed him, never stopping, until, of a sudden, he came to an absolute Halt.  We had been leading our mounts along a thin track, carved close in to the Wall of a steep-sided Valley and had at last rounded a long corner near the valley's End, expecting to come to a narrow Pass of which our guide had Warned, but instead found ourselves staring into a smooth-bottomed Basin, wide enough that it would have taken our horses perhaps half an hour to cross at a good Canter.  For some Reason, perhaps the egregiousness of his Error, the sight seemed to Offend our guide beyond all Imagining.  He closed his eyes and placed an arm across them, then turned Away insisting that all was Wrong, and could not in any way be Consoled until he had been plied with large amounts of Drink by Reech.

As hard as herding mountains.
 - Otherwan expression, used both to mean very easy and, rarely, very difficult.

It was while Reech was so engaged that Merrum and I looked down into the Basin and happened to espy what appeared to be a man lurking among the Shadows at the basin's far Edge.  Thinking that he might have some Knowledge of the Occurrences of the previous night, we remounted and rode off to Speak with him.

Thinking it foolish to approach a Stranger in these Wild mountains without first taking some steps to assess both him and his demeanour, and perhaps still a little Unsettled by the dreadful Noises of the previous night and the sudden change in the Demeanour of our guide, Merrum and I reined our horses in while we were still at a pretty distance from our target, the better to Examine him.  He was seated on the ground, leaning against what appeared at that distance to be the wreckage of a cart or carriage, though clearly one of some Substance given the size and number of the pieces; indeed, Merrum remarked that the figure leant perhaps against the Wreckage of his home, destroyed in some dreadful Storm.  As for the man himself, he was perhaps a little under average height and leanly built, though well-muscled, having the corded aspect of one of those sailors whose time at Sea has turned them half into Rope themselves.  We agreed that he seemed no threat and eased our Horses forwards.  As we approached, it became plain that the man was Sobbing, and in such a heartfelt Manner it seemed there could be little ease for his Pain in all this wide World.

To have the patience of a mountain herd.
 - Otherwan expression meaning to be very, very patient indeed.

"A moment", he cried, "that is all!  One moment in forty years of watching".  And then he returned to his sobbing.

Merrum and I dismounted and approached the figure, but he seemed heedless of us being all at Sea on his grief.  At length, Merrum spoke up, asking the fellow who he was and what could Pain him so and whether we might offer him some small Aid.  The man looked up, and turned a misty Eye - an Eye I feel sure had been as clear as a hawk's but one Night before - upon us.

"I have lost a sheep from my flock", he said, "and my ship is wrecked".

And then we asked him more and he began his Tale.

[Unfortunately, I've not yet had time to transcribe the rest of Lemnick's letter.  As a result, I'm afraid, the tale of this sad man of the mountains will have to wait for another time.  With any luck, it will be worth it.]

1. Details of which can be found here.
2. I have omitted here a lengthy digression by Lemnick on His Highness's deep and abiding "Interest" and "Knowledge" of "the Fantastickal", partly for length and partly because throwing a "k" into the middle of "fantastical" is perilously close to lobbing one onto the end of "magic" and that way lies Tarot cards and healing crystals]

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Mistress Cats

[This seems like a good time to start to get to know some of the characters of Otherwhile and its surrounding lands, beginning with the legendary figure, Mistress Cats]

Known variously as The Mistress of Cats, The Lady of the White Veil, The Teacher of the Unseen, The Mistress and, so the tales would have it, by one person simply as Cats, Mistress Cats is said to be the leader and instructor of the world's greatest thieves.  This same claim can be found carved by ancient hands in long-buried stones and  has been told in markets and bazaars for as long as tales have been told, which leads the wise to believe that The Mistress of Cats is either a title handed down across the years or simply a myth.  Sometimes the wise are foolish.

Some tales say Mistress Cats is as old as age itself and lived when The Absented was still among us.  Some say it was she who taught Arbor Vulpa how to commit The Greatest Theft in The World.  Some that, to this day, she instructs the eldest sons and daughters of the Vulpate line in her craft.  Some tales tell of her kindness and some of her cruelty.  It is said she casts her young pupils into prison, teaching only those who escape their bonds, leaving their fellows to wither away in chains.  It is said she raises beggars to kingship and is a mother and father to all orphans.  It is said she weeps every night for the woman who broke the world's heart.1

Whatever the case, and whatever their many differences, tales of The Mistress do agree on certain matters.  The first of these is that she is a tall and slender figure, apparently in her early middle age and said to move like silk in a breeze.  The second is that her hair is silver, like water in moonlight.  The third is that, though she smiles often and easily, she has laughed only three times and each time meant the fall of an empire, though which empires fell and the dates of their falling are matters that vary from tale to tale.

The stories further agree that Mistress Cats' academy of thievery lies in the city of Veresh, carved into a mountain of red rock that lies deep among the sands of Afar.  But more of that strange city another time.

Reputed Entrance to Veresh

1. Of whom more can be read here