Category Archives: Software

The Lady of the Lions – now available through Amazon

The Lady of the Lions - cover image

Well, Amazon have duly done their bit and this short story is now on sale on Amazon and .com, though not so far as I can tell on the other international sites. Links are: and

I have also updated the links on the main kephrath site and the Matteh Publications site. Phew…

Feeling truly geeky, I also started preparing the epub files for uploading to other ebook vendor sites once the Amazon KDP Select exclusive period is over. This turned out to be more of a trial than I had expected. First go – just use the auto-convert feature in the excellent Calibre program. But that turned out to mess up all of the contents links. So I turned to the internet, and the first web page I looked at was breezily confident. Seemingly, all you had to do was put files in the right folders, use the same metadata specification file as you had with kindle, add a couple of extra config files, and compress the result. Well, the steps were easy, but the result omitted the cover art and had a number of other annoyances. Eventually I solved the problem with the help of a handy tool called Sigil which did a nice job of disentangling the various bits and pieces. A few tests on various epub apps were (broadly) successful so now I have the basic principles OK. When epub distribution time comes I feel in a much better place now than I did last night.

Talking of being geeky, my next plan is to add a timeline feature to the Kephrath site to clarify when the different bits occur, and what was happening in terms of near eastern history…

Sabiya Seega released

Well, last week saw the release of my new game-app Sabiya Seega, out to various app stores for both Android and Apple phones and tablets. While I can’t say that it has taken the world by storm yet, I have been delighted by a quick response, especially at the iStore and Barnes & Noble. Perhaps people really have been waiting anxiously for this game to appear on their mobile devices! So I thought I’d say a bit more about it here.

Seega icon
Like most board games from the ancient world, we cannot be certain of the rules, and it is a fair guess that there were many local variations rather than a single universally agreed form. Seega boards are nowhere near so commonly found as Senet or Aseb (the Royal Game of Ur), although it has successfully retained a following in parts of Africa through all the years until today. Although the Greeks said they had learned the game in Egypt, direct evidence for this is lacking. Where we do have possible remains of boards – such as in Petra – these are not unambiguous, and might have been used for a different purpose altogether.

Seega screenshot
What we do know is that the principles of Seega became popular in a range of games across Europe. In particular, the capture method of sandwiching the target counter between two of your own counters appears in games spreading all through the Greek and Roman worlds up eventually to the Vikings.

The original game seems to have been played on several different sized boards – all of odd numbers of cells on a side, so that there is a central cell which in the early stages must be left blank. The first release of Sabiya Seega only allows 5×5 boards, with 12 pieces on each side, but future releases will be more flexible about this.

Something that fascinates me is what role games were thought to have in ancient cultures. Senet, for example, seems to have been strongly linked with religious and spiritual issues, and many of the pictures we have show a tomb occupant engaged in play. Was this just a picture of elite relaxation, or was a direct link seen between the game stages and the progress of the player through the afterlife? Some modern writers think so, suggesting that the game was played by different people with very different aims in mind, from fun or gambling through to religious symbolism and engagement with the other world.

With Seega we cannot be sure, as visual images are scarce. Something that might have made a key difference here is that Seega involves no chance element. Unlike Senet or the Royal Game of Ur, where skill and chance are combined and so even the best of players might suffer ill-fortune, the moves in Seega are completely under the players’ control. Perhaps this set a trend for a mental attitude that inclined towards the military rather than the religious?

So such is unknown about this game, and I have tried to reflect that by providing multiple game options. Players can tweak the settings how they please between games to give themselves different experiences of play.

I hope you enjoy playing Seega – it is available for both Android and Apple phones and tablets from the major app stores. There are even other board or pencil-and-paper versions you might play! Open up your favourite app store and search for Sabiya Seega (or DataScenes Development) and see what you think. For more information navigate to and follow the links there.

Back to writing – or maybe reviewing – next week!

Ancient world board games and phone apps

These last few days have seen me try to get a bit ahead with my other writing activity, namely mobile apps for Android or Apple mobile phones or tablets. So not too much on the word front this week. I did add a couple of reviews for numbers 3 and 4 in the excellent Fargoer series by Petteri Hanukkah (on Goodreads: Fargoer 3 – Of Fire and Stone and Fargoer 4 – The Roots of Evil, and also on with pending) but otherwise it has been time spent in code development.

Coding is a funny thing, and shares a lot of oddities with writing. In both, you can sometimes see very clearly what you want to do, but actually doing it is a different story (ha ha). For reasons unexplained, the supposedly inanimate compiler or word processor seems to thwart you at every turn, twisting your fine and apparently clear intentions into a confusing mess! And it always takes longer than you expect…

Anyway, the next app target is a game which seems to have been popular across several parts of the ancient near east and elsewhere. There are rough outlines of what might be boards for the game in the city of Petra. The Greeks said they had learned it in Egypt, and passed it on to the Romans, and it eventually made it all the way north to Viking lands. It changed its name and some of the rules as it migrated, but the one I will release in a few weeks is called Seega. It’s a little bit like draughts in that pieces can only move one place at a time. However, you capture not by leaping over an enemy, but by sandwiching an enemy piece between two of your own. Also, the board starts out empty, and the first stage of the game is to take turns placing pieces into the empty squares. The later variations in other counties used different size boards, and different original layout positions, so you can expect to see other games in the same family come out through the rest of 2013.

To check Seega out (when it’s released) go to the major app stores – iStore, Google Play, Amazon Appstore, or Barnes and Noble – and search for DataScenes Development. More details and links will follow before too long. RIght now there are just two games in the stable – Senet and Aseb (also known as the Royal Game of Ur) but one of my goals for this year is to at least double the count. Senet is always the most popular across all of those app stores, presumably because more people know the name.

I have really enjoyed getting to grips with these ancient world board games for several reasons. Firstly, we do not have clearly defined rules for any of them, and we suspect that there would have been local variations or house rules in different places anyway. So part of the task has been to piece together several different opinions about the rules, and provide several play options so that people can experiment. Some are more interesting and challenging than others! Then there are problems of putting together some simple visuals and creating a reasonably strong AI strategy.

For the most part these games have not retained favour in the way that Chess or Go have done, but they have some really interesting features of game play and, at least in my opinion, deserve another airing. Enjoy!

Board games in the ancient world

Today I’m thinking about ancient world board games, for a couple of reasons. The first is that one such game, Senet, features quite prominently in my work-in-progress novel. This has the provisional title Scenes from a Life and, all being well, I hope to get that out into the wide world sometime next year. That story starts in Egypt, in and around the town now called Luxor but at the time Waset. It ends… well, you’ll have to wait and see! But along the way the game of Senet features quite prominently, both as a recreational pursuit and as a metaphor of progress and disappointment.

Senet is the Egyptian game about which we know most detail, since we have numerous preserved boards as well as pictures in tombs. But there are still huge gaps in our knowledge. We don’t exactly know the rules used in play, but there are more profound unanswered questions as well. Was it just a game? Or did people see deeper religious meanings in it? Could it have had a similar range of uses as a deck of cards today, which can be used for simple recreation, for gambling at both low and high stakes, for fortune telling, and a multitude of uses in between? So we know most about Senet – but there were others, with varying mixtures of chance versus skill factors. Sometimes we come across skilfully made, purpose-built boards, but other times we have found just rough hand-sketched outlines. The British Museum has one such, on the side of a large Assyrian bull figure – see Other boards have been found roughly cut into stone in the ancient city of Petra, though in this case it is not clear what game is intended.

The second reason for thinking about this today has to do with one of my other interests, namely writing mobile and tablet apps. Under the banner DataScenes Development, the games of Senet and Aseb (also known as the Royal Game of Ur) are already on the various app stores – Apple, Google, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Search for them by name for whatever phone or tablet you have! Currently under development is Seega, a game which many people think is the ancestor of several games in Greece, Rome, and Europe all the way up to the Viking north. Development is going well on that, and the game now plays through successfully on my phone… though with a rather dismal computer strategy which gets bogged down about half way through the game! Keep watching this space…

Book signing and Java problems

Cornerstone Books Sat Nov 17th 2012Two things this time. First, the book signing at Cornerstone Books in North Finchley on Saturday went well. Some interesting conversations, some good contacts for the future, and some book sales! Now I have to think about how to follow this up.

Secondly, the Kindle Previewer program on my Mac suddenly stopped working a short time ago, and over the weekend I managed to get it working again with the help of a blog article by Adam Bien at
It turns out that the latest version of the previewer (2.7.1) does not work with Java version 1.7 (also confusingly known as Java 7). So as and when some other program updates Java, the problem surfaces. In my case it was probably one of the application development programs I have installed, but as so many things use Java it could have been something different. Whatever the root cause, the result was that Kindle Previewer would not start up.

Fortunately the blog article tells you exactly what to do – follow the directions about opening the launch file and pasting in a specific line exactly as shown, and lo and behold everything works again. Basically what you are doing is forcing the previewer to continue to use the previous version of Java, rather than it automatically selecting the newest version. In brief, you need to find the launch file
and insert the following as a single line of text
export JAVA_HOME=”/System/Library/Java/JavaVirtualMachines/1.6.0.jdk/Contents/Home”
directly after the initial line
If this makes no sense at all to people then there are step by step instructions and a couple of alternate options at the above blog.

A quick experiment suggests that there is not a corresponding problem on a Windows machine, but I am not 100% certain that I have exactly the same versions of everything installed there.

I imagine that Amazon will bring out an updated version at some point, but until then this will keep you able to use the previewer.