The audiobook of my first children’s book, Sizzle: The Cat Hub Adventures, Book 1 is now available on Amazon along with the eBook. I wrote Sizzle last year to entertain my kids. It’s about our cats and an opossum named Sizzle who used to visit our deck last summer. In the story, our cats must help Sizzle rescue his mother from an old man who wants to mount her for display.
In the meantime, here is a sample from one of my favorite scenes:
I’ve programmed a new online game, the Collaborative Story Generator, that allows you to trade sentences or words with a computer to write a story. The game uses the text generation API at DeepAI, described as follows:
The text generation API is backed by a large-scale unsupervised language model that can generate paragraphs of text. This transformer-based language model, based on the GPT-2 model by OpenAI, intakes a sentence or partial sentence and predicts subsequent text from that input.
DeepAI is a fascinating website normally used by researchers to mine data. It was fun to adapt one of its tools for this.
Here’s the transcript of a recent game I played:
Mode Selected: Trade sentences
You: I just programmed a game in which you can collaborate on a story with an artificial intelligence.
I think that's great in any way.
You: It works by talking to deepai.org.
I don't know if it works by talking to humans, and maybe it shouldn't.
You: Well, at the beginning, humans programmed it, but I’m confident they are not controlling the interactions at this point.
I am just curious if you can convince them that artificial intelligence is a better solution than I believe there should be.
You: Some people are resistant of the idea of it, but maybe games like this will encourage them to think otherwise.
A quick disclaimer here.
You: Computers are not sentient.
But if they are so, they are intelligent.
You: Some people confuse sentience with intelligence, and I think they are two distinct concepts.
A little background information:
You: I like to program things for fun, and that’s why I made this game.
I have found that interacting with computers is interesting and often helpful.
You: When they work well, the results can be spooky.
I don't make any money from people that send me "games.
You: And why should I?
The idea of games with smart algorithms and intelligent gameplay is all too popular with children right now.
About this time last year, a baby opossum used to visit our deck to steal cat food. Our boys, then aged 8 and 10, loved it. They nicknamed him Sizzle and enjoyed his interactions with our cats: Moody, Shadow, and Buttercup. We started spinning a yarn about how our cats might help Sizzle find his lost mother. So I wrote it up into a 9700-word novelette for the boys’ amusement. I read it to them one day while their mom dyed their hair — because what else are you going to do during a pandemic lockdown?
I’m not sure where to sell a story of that length for upper-elementary aged children, but the good publisher at MW Publications stepped in to help. You can get the eBook edition of Sizzle: The Cat Hub Adventures, Book 1 for just $1.00. An audiobook edition, narrated by me (in better voices than the ones I used last year) is in the can and should be out soon.
The cover art, featuring a photo we took of Sizzle, and purchase link are attached. Enjoy!
Sizzle, an opossum, and Mama are foraging one day when a man captures Mama. This man, Crackle Fingers, runs a taxidermy business out of his house, and he plans to add Mama to his collection. Sizzle turns to a family of cats for help. Shadow, a talkative black cat, invites Sizzle to eat from the family’s food bowl on a backyard deck. Moody is a senile but kind tabby, and Buttercup is an overweight and overprotective orange cat. In order to befriend the cats and rescue Mama, he’ll have to rely on his intelligence and ingenuity.
Thanks to Film Sensei of the HitFilm Community, I had a voiceover role in their collaborative short film, Quantum Stumble. My role was Blue Leader Edward “Eagle” Johnson, who can be heard irritably calling out space battle attack formations starting about 8:49 into the film.
Quantum Stumble is a fan film sendup to the old television show Quantum Leap starring Scott Bakula. Enjoy!
Autonomous Press has accepted my horror/scifi story, “Diary of the Cryonic Pharaoh,” for fall publication in Spoon Knife 6: Rest Stop. The anthology’s theme is “transitional spaces/times/experiences,” which fits this story perfectly. More details as I have them!
Yesterday, coming back from dropping my kids off at school, I noticed the Long John Silver’s was on fire. The FD was just pulling up. I snapped a bunch of photos and sent them into the paper. Here’s a gallery they ran of my contribution–photo credit and all!
The News Leader published my letter to the editor today. In case the link eventually disappears behind their pay wall, here is the letter in full:
Mayor Oakes’ statement excusing the rioters was shameful: Letter
Mayor Andrea Oakes’ statement at the recent City Council meeting concerning the D.C. insurrection was shameful and appalling. It has no place in the City of Staunton, let alone on its council.
Rather than denounce the rioters and murderers as she should have, Mayor Oakes excused them. She said, “Riots are the language of the unheard,” and then she went further by equating the insurrection to the Portland riots.
For your information, Mayor Oakes, the invaders of the U.S. Capitol who bludgeoned a police officer to death with a fire extinguisher were never “unheard.” The country has been listening to their garbage all year. They further had a voice through their votes and then through their dozens of spurious lawsuits to overturn the election. They still lost, but that’s the nature of democracy. That they then attacked the U.S. Senate and the vice president is their crime, not ours to justify.
You would do well to digest Gov. Northam’s recent State of the Commonwealth Address when he said, “I say to every elected official in Virginia: You can be part of our democratic institutions, or you can use falsehoods to try to destroy them. But you can’t do both.”
What is your choice, Mayor?
My first text adventure game, “Tombs & Mummies,” placed 78th out of 103 entries in the Interactive Fiction Competition 2020, sponsored by the Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation. (Full results here.)
This was a fun and well-run competition. In addition to donated cash prizes, there’s a large pool of non-monetary prizes the winners will choose from, including a 30-minute audiobook production from me. At every turn, I was pleasantly surprised at how mutually supportive and positive the I.F. community remained, and that makes me want to program a better game for next year.
I learned many things about programming interactive fiction along the way, mainly from the people who were kind enough to post reviews of my game. For example, I learned there’s a much higher tolerance for difficult puzzles than I expected. The audience for these games doesn’t mind spending hours researching, hunting for clues, unlocking ciphers, and the like. I think they would really get a kick out of Staunton’s Traipse/WQSV 106.3 Treasure Hunt — and in fact, I discovered that one of the Traipse creators is a huge interactive fiction fan and served as an IFComp volunteer judge.
If you’d like to play the free game “Tombs & Mummies,” please click on the picture below. I advise you to create an account at the Text Adventures website, install the Quest 5.8 interpreter locally, and download the game to play it that way. Many of my reviewers were frustrated with the online experience. (I have the same advice about “Omelet Miner,” which really depends on speed. The online experience of that frequently hangs and locks up.)
There is still time for you to be a IFComp judge and play the best in interactive fiction. Click here.
My entry to the Interactive Fiction Competition 2020 (IFComp2020), Tombs & Mummies, received a kind writeup by reviewer Mike Spivey. He says, “Tombs & Mummies is a puzzle game in a classic setting that nevertheless manages to do some interesting things both technically and story-wise.” Read the review.
There’s still time for you to review five entries in IFComp2020 and thus serve as a contest judge.