Free E-Books #2

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I ran across two sources for free e-books lately, so here’s a quick post to share them.

1) Free stories by Philip K. Dick: Open Culture collected a list of the PKD stories that are available as free e-books for download through Project Gutenberg. These include Beyond Lies the Wub and Second Variety. If you’re looking for longer works by PKD, you can’t go wrong with The Man in the High Castle or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the latter of which was the basis for the movie Blade Runner. They’re not free but they’re well worth the price.

2) A collection of (nearly) all fiction eligible for  this year’s John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It’s a gigantic trove of short stories, novellas, and novel excerpts. Stupefying Stories is hosting the ebook, but due to popular demand, Tor.com and other sites are mirroring it. It says it’s up for a limited time only, but that time isn’t specified, so get it while you still can!

The writers eligible for the 2014 award must have had their first work of science fiction or fantasy published in a professional publication in 2012 or 2013.

Image of books by Peter Dutton on Flickr (CC BY).

Browser Game: GoScurry

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Imagine racing along on a track high over an infinite city of blank skyscrapers, the road barely appearing in front of you before you’re jetting over it in your rocket-powered race car.

Left, right, left, left, jump the gap, swing sideways to dodge a divider, right, right. CRAP! Took the turn too fast. Your rocket car spirals into the city below.

That was me the first few (dozen) times I tried GoScurry by Holoville Games, but something kept drawing me back. Each time I crashed, I would immediately start a fresh game.  “I can do better this time. I know it!”

One of my toddler-aged daughters, watching me play, asked if it was a racing game and I said, “Not really,” because it’s not. Yes, you’re racing down a track, but you can’t control your speed and there are no other contestants. It’s you versus the track. “It’s more of a dodging game,” I said. She watched me for a while and then decided, “It’s a crashing game.” That’s it exactly. The crash is inevitable. The only question is how long you can survive until your rocket car goes up (or down) in flames. (The other name my kids have for GoScurry? “The Boom Game.” Kids get right to the crux of the gameplay, don’t they?)

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The background electronic music track is part of what makes the game so addictive. I want to survive to hear the music continue and not end up with that jarring, warped “you just died” version of the music that accompanies the game’s inevitable end.

Speedfreak mode: Certain parts of the track speed you up and they come in two varieties. One is a straightaway filled with barriers and dividers. It’s okay. Not too difficult to pass it once you get the timing down, and it doesn’t earn you much in the way of points. The other kind, my favorite kind, is the twisty-turny snaking path that builds itself before you so fast you can only react on instinct. That builds up your combo multiplier and is just plain exciting. It’s pretty easy, too, once you master the timing of the turns. Most of my best scores come from tracks that have one of these sections in them.

It’s when you’re not in speedfreak mode that the twists and turns can really get you, because then you also have obstacles to contend with. An ill-placed divider or barrier right after the camera turns to follow you through two or three tight turns usually leads to death, because the fleeting glimpse of the barrier that you get before you’re upon it is unclear. Is it a center divider or a road-wide barrier? Dodge or jump? Crash. Boom. That might need fixing in my opinion. Pull the camera back a little so there’s a chance in hell of seeing that obstacle to avoid it in the first place. (Note: this is a problem in Hard mode, but not so much in Pro mode, where the camera doesn’t follow you.)

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My other complaint is that sometimes the background color of the city is black, the same as the track, so all you have to go on is the thin gray line that runs down the center of the track. This adds a significant amount of difficulty to the game: it should go or you should earn bonus points for racing when the city is dark.

As I mentioned before, Pro mode takes away the camera following you, which is a two-edged sword. When you’re pointed down-screen and want to head to the left side of the screen, you need to press the right arrow. It makes sense but when I’m making turn after turn, sometimes I get mixed up and fly off the track. That’s not a complaint, though; I actually enjoy the challenge. Pro mode also adds tighter turns, which require a quick double-tap to navigate. Pro mode intimidated me at first but quickly became my mode of choice.

I’m still playing this game after a few days whenever I want to goof off for a couple of minutes, so it has some staying power despite its repetitive nature. Check it out and discover the joy of surviving for as long as you can before going BOOM.

The game is still in development and some elements of it could use some improvement.  The version I played was 0.6.803. It is currently up for voting on Steam Greenlight and from the comments there it sounds like several nice improvements are in the works, including controller support.