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Building Cylinders in Conan Exiles Part 1

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

meI know; I’ve gone and done it again - vanished for weeks while I obsessed on a new project. This time it’s the new online game Conan Exiles, which is currently in Early Access.

What has excited me the most about Conan Exiles is the ability to build permanent structures from local materials. Today I’d like to give an example of this, and take you step by step though the construction of my Mark I Cylinder, a building design that is modular and expandable, with plenty of room, while maintaining a minimal footprint on the land.

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step00The first thing you will need is a patch of ground that is preferable free of weeds. It’s annoying to have bushes sprouting up in the basement. It would be ideal if the patch of ground you select for your cylinder is completely level, but as we shall see that is not really necessary if you take care in setting your foundations.

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step01The first thing you will do is set down a triangular foundation stone. This picture shows how NOT to do it. When you set down the stone the game will tend to place it flush with the ground. Why is this a problem? Because unless your land is absolutely flat, you will run into problems. Specifically, as you place more of the foundation if the land is not flat you can end up with foundation pieces with one or more corners covered by sand. When this happens, you will not be able to place the next level of stones on top of them.

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step02Instead, one the stone appears appears flush with the ground hold down the left SHIFT key and srin the mouse wheel. You will find you can move the stone up and down before you finalize its placement. Move it partly up out of the ground as shown. You can do this less for more flatter ground but you will have to raise it more for more tilted ground. The rest of the foundation will snap to it at the same height it was placed, and if you do this correctly ALL of your foundation stone corners will be uncovered so that the next layer will place on them with no problem.

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step03Now place 5 more triangular foundations stones snapped to the first one to form a hexagon out of six triangles. I hopped up on top so you could see how they fit together.
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step04The next step is to place 6 square foundation stones, each sticking out from a triangle, like the petals of a flower. You’ll notice that this leaves triangular gaps between the squares.

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step05

Now place 6 more triangles into the gaps between the squares.

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step06When you are finished you will have a foundation that is a 12-sided approximation to a flat disk.

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step07Time to add the first floor outer wall. Don’t forget the doorway! When you place it the label “Outer face” should look backwards….because you will be inside, looking at the INNER face of the door. Place the door frame on one of the 6 square foundation stones. This will turn out to be handy for spacing the stairs, as we shall see soon..

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step08

After you have the doorway placed, begin placing the 11 remaining wall pieces. I like to use “sandstone frame” for the walls instead of “sandstone wall” because it gives you windows. It’s nice to be able to see outside if you have to — and keeps the fairly small rooms of the MK 1 from feeling cramped.

As before, make sure you see “Outer face” backwards when you place them.

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step09On top of the 11 wall pieces and the doorway, add a second level of 12 wall pieces to give the room you are making a nice high ceiling. If you do not do this you will get more rooms - but with very little headroom especially for tall avatars.

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step10Since you raised up the foundation to avoid corners being underground, you should probably add stairs to the outside of the doorway. If your ground was really flat, you might get to skip the stairs. I add them just in case the game doesn’t let me walk right into the ground floor from outside.

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step11 It is OK if most of the stairs are underground. The game does not care. If you skip the stairs and your foundation is a little high because of tilted land, you will have to hit the jump key to get in which is a hassle. So add the stairs.

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step12At this point you could add a ceiling but why do that? By building up you can add as many rooms as you like without using up any more ground! However, you will need stairs to reach the upper levels. Let me show you how to add them. You can figure this out on your own but hey, let me save you some time so that you can use that time playing instead. Assuming you placed the doorway on a square foundation stone, face the doorway from inside, turn to your right, and find the next triangular foundation AFTER the triangles on either side of the door.

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step13Tilt your view up a little and place a triangular ceiling piece above the triangle foundation between the first and second layer of windows as shown. It will not be part of a ceiling; this is a little landing between two flights of stairs you will need to reach the second floor.

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step14Now you will connect the ground floor triangle with the one you just placed. We do this because their facing sides are parallel which the stairs need since the stairs are like a tilted square. The stairs will probably look wrong as shown, and this IS wrong! But don’t worry. Do not click the mouse button yet to finalize them. Instead, spin the mouse wheel WITHOUT holding down a SHIFT key. The stairs will flip though several orientations. You want the one where the stairs are against the wall and parallel to it. Like in the next picture.

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step15This is what you want. When the stairs are parallel to the wall and connecting to the upper triangle THEN click the left mouse button to finalize them.

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step16The stairs will take the space between two triangles. Now turn a little more the right and add a second triangular ceiling piece on TOP of the second layer of wall pieces as shown. After you do this, you can add the second flight of stairs to connect to this piece and enable access to the second floor.

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step17Now climb the stairs and stand on the top triangle. Add a square piece connecting to it as shown. You are now making the second floor, which is the ceiling of the first floor.

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step18Now add four more square pieces as shown, leaving triangular gaps between them just as you did with the foundation.

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step19And then fill in the gaps with triangles. This will leave a hexagon-shaped hole in the middle of the floor AND a square+triangle hole to come up on the stairs.

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step20Now fill in the hexagonal shaped hole with 6 triangles. Voila! you have completed the second floor. Isn’t geometry fun when it works?

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step21If you hop[ down to the ground this is how it will look at this point. You have a roundish building with two levels of windows and front steps. But hey, why stop there? A taller cylinder has more rooms, so let’s build up!

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step22Go back up to the second floor and add two more layers of walls to the outside of it to enclose a second room atop the first.

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step23Now place another 2 flights of stairs the way you did on the ground floor. Don’t go directly up from the top of the first floor stairs. Skip over to the next triangle as shown..

This will make it easy to continue up, or turn right into the second floor room. Otherwise you have to hop off the stairs which is less smooth.
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Add the second ceiling (third floor) the same way you did for the first ceiling.
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step24Now it is beginning to look more like a tower…more like a cylinder. Go ahead and make it taller if you want! There is nothing new from this point on.
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By the way…if you have enough land, it is pretty easy to make four towers, connect them with walls…and have an instant castle.

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OK that’e enough for this installment. Next time, i’ll show you how to build the MK II cylinder — similar but roomier.

— MRK

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Day Two

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Gamers and GodsAnd here we are on the second day of this experiment.

Egad! I have lost ground! Someone else must be selling a lot of books, because the ratings have not risen, they are descending. But the promotion has not yet begun.

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Who Owns Language?

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

meNot long after humans began to use shaped grunts as symbols for things, we discovered that we could argue as much about symbols as about the things they represent. The most obvious example of this is monotheistic religions which argue, among other things, about the proper name for God. This often baffles outsiders, who would suppose that if, as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all assert, there is only one God, then surely they must all be talking about the same Deity. Does giving Him a different name really change anything? As Shakespeare observed, “That which we call a rose, by another other name would smell as sweet.”

And yet words and names do matter to us. Though some names are neutral, many names carry the connotation of male or female, a phenomenon exploited by Johnny Cash in his famous song “A Boy Named Sue”, in which a father gives his son a female-sounding name in order to ensure ridicule will cause him to grow up tough.

The wrong words at the wrong time can lead to altercations: “them’s fightin’ words”. The right words can pour oil on troubled waters and broker agreements, and we even have a word for that: diplomacy.

Words have a magic all their own. In A Wizard of Earthsea, author Ursula K. Le Guin introduced a world in which a pebble could be made to look like a diamond, but merely by calling it by “tolk”, its true name in the Old Language, one could shed the spell of glamour and restore its appearance as an ordinary rock.

Nowadays, one of the more peculiar (and often annoying) uses of language is political. We feel that we can somehow right wrongs (or at least, prevent their recurrence) by changing the words we use to refer to things and people. The rise of Feminism, for example, has caused the term “stewardess” to be replaced in common usage by “flight attendant”. Stripping job titles of their gender-implications, it is thought, will stop men from viewing women as mere sex objects. As an extension of this, the use of the word they as a nonsexual pronoun was made Word of The Year in 2015.

Even words which change their meaning can be outlawed nowadays. The infamous “N word”, used in centuries past to denote non-Caucasians by the British has, because of its association with American racial slavery, been hacked down to a single letter used to represent the word that must not be spoken (except by descendants of the wronged who are allowed to use it on each other, for some reason).

But who owns language? As a writer, a person who views words as my pigments, and my ability to string them together into sentences as my paintbrush, I know that the words I use, precisely because humans instantly convert them into memories or imaginations of images, sounds, actions, and so on, affect people…and this puts me in an awkward situation. I want to trigger passions as well as pondering, but violating the new political taboos could limit my readership. I am reminded that the library of Samuel Clemens High School, named after the author who went by Mark Twain, had to take Twain’s book Huckleberry Finn off its shelves because Clemens used the N word. Think about that for a moment. They want to remember his name…but not what he actually wrote.  To moderns who excoriate him, I must point out in Twain’s defense that he did not use the N word to incite hatred or scorn for African-Americans, as modern racists do. He had his characters use that word because that is the way people spoke in the South before and after the Civil War. Clemens was doing what Steven King recommends in his book On Writing, in which he advises that characters must be allowed to speak as they actually would if they were real people: a coarse villain must be allowed to swear instead of saying “my goodness gracious” because to do otherwise would be out of character and destroy the reader’s suspension of disbelief.

I have seen agents and editors and publishers and booksellers all state they will do no business with books that employ “hate speech”. And look, I get it. No one wants to be associated with hatemongers. No rational person wants to be the one who abused freedom of speech by shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater, causing people to be trampled to death in the ensuing panic.

I would argue, however, that there is a difference between a real person shouting the N word at another in order to cause pain, and having a character in a book use that same word in order to explore and condemn the use of it. I’m not saying I’m a fan of that word or that I plan to use it in my own novels. But please, cut Mr. Clemens some slack. How can we condemn racism if we cannot even discuss it rationally…even in fiction? How can we see how far we have come in our discourse, if we censor out past references to hated words, out of fear of offending the descendants of the wronged?

So who owns language? The racists? The politicians? The scientists? No. We all own it. While it is laudable to try to correct certain ways of thinking by “correcting” the terminology we use, we must keep in mind that so-called “political correctness” can become its own kind of verbal fascism. We must use this tool of language-change cautiously…because you never know who will decide they are in charge of it in the future.

— MRK

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The Question

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

me in Rift

The Question

And old man gazed with sightless eyes upon a silent sea
and wondered: have I missed the tide?
I should have scattered seeds upon the wind
and sewn a richer tapestry
I should have built my castles in the sand
and dared the wind and waves to do their worst
Instead, i stand here wond’ring on the dune
and wait for evening’s breeze to call the night.
Yet none can say that I did not attempt
to make a mark. I soared on wings of hope
and raced the sun across a hollow sky
but when the flight is done, no trace remains;
the clouds themselves will fade, their storms forgot
as mountains crumble into sand
I wipe my weary brow with trembling hand…
Please tell me it was not in vain
when all the stars go out, and silence reigns
Please say there was a reason for it all
when matter is a memory
I was too busy earlier to hear
but I am listening now. Is there a Plan
that holds a place for rocks and trees and us?
Were all our minds mere accidents -
our cries in pain and joy a useless noise?
Or is there more to know, a path unwalked
I want to know. I want to hope.
But so far, all I hear is gulls and wind.

– MRK 7/31/2016 Crystal River, Florida

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Struggling On

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

sisyphusContinuing to continue. I know some of you (hopefully) are impatient to see the next installment of The Metaspace Chronicles and might be wondering how I am spending my time.

The good news is, part of the reason I seem to be slowing down is that I am mulling over ideas for several upcoming books. I will admit that part of the reason is also that I am calculating that I can increase my income more rapidly with one-off, non-serialized novels…than I can writing more sequels to books not yet popular. And a third part of the reason for the slowdown is that I am wondering how long I can sustain this effort before the need for more income (partly for promotion costs) will force me to get a full-time job and slow down even more.

HealspaceBut fear not. So far the Chronicles is planned to be at least 7 volumes, so there are at least four more of them you can expect to see over the next couple of years.

And there will be other books, perhaps even other series. Black Sea Apprentice, currently being edited and rewritten from its original form of 2004, could very well be the beginning of a trilogy (it was originally intended to be). And then there are some nonfiction books I have been meaning to get around to writing.

I haven’t run out of ideas yet.  –MRK

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Black Sea Apprentice

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

BSA thumbnailTwelve years ago I was between jobs and decided to write a novel. It was the first book i complete, and naturally I made plenty of first-time writer mistakes.  When I submitted it to agents you can imagine the kind of responses I got: mainly none. Landing an agent can be even harder than getting a publisher, because literary agents are “the first line of defense” between the reading public and bad literature.

Publishers and editors use agents as a screening mechanism.  In the old days it was possible for an unknown author to submit “over the transom”, meaning to send your manuscript directly to a publisher.  But as word processors and personal printers made it possible for more and more people to try their hand at writing as I was doing, the number of major publishers who will accept OTT submissions from first-time authors has shrunk to approximately zero.

I did get one favorable response from an agent in CA who said she would be happy to take another look after i got my manuscript professionally edited.  I looked into this and quickly realized I could not really afford it on my unemployment checks.  So the project got shelved, and Black Sea Apprentice ended up one of those books only a few close friends and family members got to see.

However, all that was before the rise of eBooks and the indie author revolution.  Thanks to folks like CreateSpace and Smashwords anyone can upload their work and have a chance to have it seen by people all over the world instead of languishing in some publishers slush pile.  Now that I have six novels on Amazon & Smashwords, I’ve decided to broaden my offerings by improving the old manuscript and showing readers yet another combination of magic & super-science.  It’s time for BSA to meet the world.

Black Sea Apprentice takes its name from the setting.  When I wrote it, many believed (and some still do) that the modern Black Sea has gone through many changes over the ages, and that before Egypt and Sumeria got started, there may have been people living on a shelf of land around what was at the time a fresh water lake. When the rising sea level at the end of the last ice Age eventually caused the Mediterranean to spill over into it, raising the level, flooding the shelf of land around it (including the south Crimea) and creating the strange state of affairs that now exists.  For the Black Sea is a sea like no other - it has two layers.  The top layer is much like ordinary salt water, but the lower layer is anoxic, practically devoid of oxygen, and has preserved some wooden remains.  Ballard and others were hoping to find the remains of cities, a sort of Atlantis-like lost civilization, but so far all that has really been found is the remains of ancient ships.

Some have gone so far as to suggest that the flooding of the Black Sea may have been the inspiration for the Flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh (which many believe to be the source material for the story of Noah’s flood in the Old testament).  In any event. I decided to create a universe in which there was a civilization living on the shelf, a civilization which eventually was flooded out and colonized Egypt and Mesopotamia. So, we begin with a previously-unknown civilization, add some super-science which has decayed to the state of being regarded as magic, then add in a modern-day physics student to give the fish-out-of-water perspective, and voila!

Black Sea Apprentice will soon be available at Amazon & Smashwords, after I have satisfied myself that the quality is up to the level of my more recent work.

– MRK

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