Tag Archive: sports

Writing Prompt: Games

I don’t usually give writing prompts, but one occurred to me recently, one that I’ve used in my own writing.

Invent a new sport, game or competition.

I have three in Homecoming.

One is obstacle racing, a horseback riding sport involving elements of steeplechasing, cross county, competition trail riding and a dog obstacle course.

The second is a mental sport, pattern chess, which involves rearranging colored tiles with the mind alone. (Not much use if you can’t teleport objects, but there is a version for non-espers.)

The third is imagined as a replacement (given the technology) for soccer or American football: plasmaball. The game is played in free fall, and the “ball” is artificial ball lightning. This is a very physical sport, with teams competing.

As an example of pattern chess, here’s the scene from Homecoming when Coryn is teaching Roi the game – and gets a bit of a surprise:


            Roi did try to say his thanks that evening, but Coryn was playing a board game with Ander and simply waved him toward the computer interface. “Get your homework in,” he ordered, “and then we can talk.”

That didn’t take long, as Roi had already worked out what he wanted to enter. He glanced toward the older students when he’d finished, confirming that they were both still engrossed in their game. Pattern chess. He went back to the computer briefly, checking what information it had on snow, and then turned back to watch the game. Pattern chess was almost as prestigious a sport among the more intellectual students as plasmaball was among Xazhar’s group, and Coryn was one of the best players at Tyndall.

“Gotcha,” Coryn said at last, and Ander leaned back and rotated his neck, eyes closed.

“You can’t give me enough of a handicap to make it an even game,” he said. “Hey, Roi, why don’t you learn? Give me a break from getting beaten. Maybe we could even double up against him.”

“Why not?” Coryn grinned. “Finished putting in your homework? Come on over, then. I could use a review of the basics, and you’ve got the abilities.”

Ander pulled back the thing he’d been sitting on, and Roi moved his float chair into its place. Cory had shoved most of the colored tiles into a loose pile, and picked out two red and two white pieces. “We’ll start with a level one game,” he said as he arranged the pieces in a square, the two red tiles on Roi’s left, the white ones on his right. “This is the starting pattern. We each have a goal pattern, from rearranging the starting pattern. Yours is to have your lower left and upper right red, and the other two white. Mine is the opposite. It wouldn’t even be a game in the non-esper version, with alternate tile swaps—the first player would always win. But in the esper version you don’t touch the tiles except mentally, both players go at once, and you have to hold your pattern for three seconds to win. The struggle is strictly for control of the tiles—you can’t contact the other player’s mind directly. The computer will give us an audible starting tone. Got it?”

Roi reached mentally for the tiles. It sounded simple enough—hold down the two tiles closest to him, interchange the other two. “Got it,” he repeated.

When the computer gave its starting ping, Roi shifted his tiles as he had planned, hardly aware of opposition. Coryn cleared his throat and said, “That’s good. Now let’s try a level two.”

Levels two and three—four and eight squares on a side, respectively, went the same way. Coryn looked stunned, and Ander had both hands plastered over his mouth. “Did I do something wrong?” Roi asked uncertainly.

“You’re about an order of magnitude better’n either of us expected, that’s all,” Ander chortled. “Sure you’ve never played before?”

“I don’t think so,” Coryn said. “He feels like he’s learning as he goes along. But he’s strong—well, I guess he’d have to be, working through the suppresser field. Roi, let’s try a real level four game, with the computer figuring the starting and goal patterns. It’s pretty hard for a person to set up the patterns—unless they’re as simple as the stripe-check we’ve been using—so they come out with equal moves for both players, but the computer’s set up to do it, and put the tiles in their starting positions. Can you handle a two hundred fifty-six tile grid?”

“I can try. How long do I get to study the patterns?”

“Five minutes.”

Time enough, Roi thought. He identified the teleports he would need to make, felt out the tiles, and set the jumps in his mind. When the computer beeped, he got all but eight of the tiles where he needed them on the first try. The remaining eight seemed glued down, and he had to pry them away mentally to put them into place, exchanging only one pair at a time. When he raised his eyes again, Coryn’s mouth was hanging open, and Ander was in the recliner, doubled up in silent laughter.

“I haven’t been beaten that thoroughly since the last time I played my father,” Coryn said.

“Maybe the two of you together could beat him,” Ander managed to choke out between fits of laughter.


Granted these are all played in science fiction, but games could be invented for other genres as well. Try to write a scene with an invented game.

Again, this is a bit from Tourist Trap, which should be out soon. The final proofs are in my hands — uh, on my computer.

It was an even race, over the distance. Timi had the advantage of sheer strength and power, but Roi was more agile and his endurance, always better than Timi’s before his paralysis, had finally returned. The trail had been engineered for the sleds and curves were gentle, which favored Timi, but by the time they burst out of the trees Roi was closing the gap between them. “I won,” Timi gasped, collapsing onto a downed tree.”

“Another twenty strides and I’d have had you,” Roi replied. He, too, was breathing hard, but he stayed on his feet, flipping off his forcewebs and walking in circles on the gravel bar where they had stopped.

Thanks for the comments. For other Six Sentence Sunday posts, check here.

KOKO: #scifi #horse Bay gelding owned by Derik and trained for obstacle racing, not as fast as Sundrop but handier and with more endurance.

FORCEWEBS: Force-field generators attached to the feet. They can be adjusted in a variety of ways to mimic snowshoes, sandshoes, skis, water skis, snowboards, or surfboards, among others.  Some (e.g., those used for avalanche surfing) have levitation circuits to reduce the operator’s effective density.

AVALANCHE SURFING: An individual sport, considered extreme even by Riyan standards. The athlete uses forcewebs on a snowboard setting, usually with some levitation, and rides atop a triggered avalanche. Don’t try this at home, or on your local friendly mountain, unless you can levitate and teleport!

OBSTACLE RACING: An equestrian sport similar to a combination of the cross country phase of a three-day event, a particularly fiendish trail riding class, a steeplechase and dog agility.

PLASMABALL: A physical team sport with balls and goals, played in artificial free fall, with the “ball” being essentially ball lightning, controlled by electronic “rackets” wielded by the players. As a school sport it is as safe as any sport of this type–the players are required to wear protective armor. Professional players can elect to wear full shielding–which slows them down–or take the risk of playing with lighter shielding. Deaths are not uncommon if players elect to play with minimal shielding—ball lightning is dangerous!

PATTERN CHESS: An intellectual sport in which the players compete to move colored tiles into a designated pattern using mental powers alone. The simplest games involve a 2 x 2 grid of four tiles, but competition play normally utilizes an 8 x 8 grid with the starting pattern and the goal pattern for each player determined by a computer. There is also a non-esper version in which the players swap one pair of tiles at a time.

The Horses of Homecoming

Horses and starships in the same novel?
Well, why not?
I’m not talking about horses as transportation, at least not on Central. But as Winston Churchill said, the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man. Why shouldn’t people capable of interstellar travel keep and breed horses for sport and recreation? Derik does and so does Vara, though they don’t have much else in common.
The Humans of the Confederation never forgot where they came from. They didn’t (and don’t) interfere with us, but they took a lot of plants and animals with them, including cacao and honeybees, both now widespread in the Confederation. When Humans on Earth began domesticating plants and animals many of the domesticates were imported by the Confederation—including horses. On Earth at that time, they were used largely for warfare and transportation. In the Confederation, they were a novel form of recreation and several horse sports were developed.
I actually invented three sports for Homecoming, including one, obstacle racing, on horseback. (The other two are pattern chess and plasmaball.) When he has any spare time, Derry designs obstacle courses—and they can be fiendish. These courses combine elements of several equine sports of Earth with a few taken from dog agility.
Obstacle racing started out in my imagination with the cross-country phase of three-day eventing. This gave me the jumps, the banks, uphill and downhill jumps and the idea of a more or less fixed course. The idea of two or more horses taking the course together in an actual race came from steeplechasing. The pen jump comes from handy hunter classes. The weaves come from pole bending, but the obstacles the horses have to weave through are rigid—trees or boulders. Hard on the riders’ knees if the horse makes a mistake! Finally, the course may incorporate elements from a trail riding class—opening a gate to go through it, for instance, or retrieving an article from a box.
Canine agility incorporates jumps and weaves, but it also has tunnels, teeter-totters and a high walk. The tunnels in obstacle racing might be covered bridges, caves or large culverts. The teeter-totter can be taken at speed, but the horse must be taught to accept the change in footing as the balance of the teeter board shifts beneath him. The high walk as used in competition is the only type of obstacle that requires technology not available on Earth. Physically, it may be a narrow bridge without a visible railing or a narrow trail with drop-offs on either side. In either case, this is an obstacle that could be very dangerous to the horse—not to mention the rider—so the sides are normally protected by force fields. If the force fields actually come into play, the horse is automatically disqualified, but will at least live to try again!
A particular course need not use every type of obstacle, of course. Derry’s courses, at least, are designed to take as much advantage of natural obstacles as possible.
In addition to being divided by age of the rider and level of experience of the horse, there are several types of obstacle racing in competition. The riders may go individually, with advance knowledge of the course—the easiest type of class. In scramble classes riders go in heats of three to six riders at once, with a final class made up of the heat winners, usually with some change in the course. Finally there are the surprise classes, where the riders have no knowledge of the course until five minutes before they start their rides.
The obstacle race in Homecoming is not this type of competition, of course, just something set up by Derik to entertain his son (and himself.) But this kind of event does exist as a competitive sport, and if I ever get that trilogy published, it will come up again.