Announcing Project Pythias

It’s been quite a while since I had a new story to share online. It’s hard to be too upset about that given that it’s primarily down to some recent successes – crowdfunding Ten Little Astronauts takes up a great deal of my time, and I’m currently sorting out a contract for Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure with a different publisher – but still it seems like a shame.

Another factor in this (and it’s somewhat related to the whole Exponential Adventure thing) is that my work recently has taken a step away from self-contained, linear stories and towards more nebulous interactive pieces, whether I’m putting together Twine games all by myself or whether I’m approaching bigger videogame developers about the possibility of working with them. Amazing as it is to have a hand in something like Craft Keep VR, all the time I spend lining up opportunities like that is time I can’t spend knocking together a short story or chipping away at a novel. And that got me thinking: maybe I can use one of these things to tackle the other?

That’s where Project Pythias comes in.

Project Pythias isn’t so much a game or an interactive story as it is a piece of software. You might have noticed that my interactive work has been getting more and more tech-heavy over time, but actually this sort of thing goes way back for me. Although my BA was in English Literature, and much of that was focused on very old texts, I was studying at the University of Reading which is really big on scientific research. A lot of my friends were involved with neural networks at some point or another, and though I can’t put together anything of the same complexity they were, I’ve got enough of an understanding to bolt together something that, when trained on my own stories, can generate outlines of similar follow-up works. Twine lets you bring in pretty much any JavaScript you like, and if you’re willing to get your hands dirty you might be surprised what sort of functionality you can get out of that.

Essentially, though Project Pythias can’t “think” as such – it doesn’t actually aim to produce anything funny or surprising – it can grasp that Captain Redundancy appears only in stories in which his presence is redundant, and that Girth Loinhammer is supposed to be intimidating but ends up being sexy, and when stories follow some sort of formula like that, it’s reasonably good at identifying and reproducing it.

It’s also still pretty buggy, by the way: you might see an occasional error message, but I’m actually really struggling to work out what’s going wrong. For the most part, you can just ignore those. However, DON’T tick the box to “prevent this page from generating additional dialogs” if it appears. Those dialogs are necessary for Twine to run.

I’m putting this out there partly as a way of offering some new stories to you guys, but as well as that I’m hoping to further refine Project Pythias‘ output. At the moment they’re essentially just outlines, but with some feedback and a few weeks’ work I think I could have this thing generating stories approaching 1,000 words. I’m not exactly going to count on it to tackle Flash Fiction Month for me, but if time is short this July I might set it loose on the ordinary days and just focus on the challenges myself. I’m already relying on automation more and more. If you don’t believe me, consider this: I’m at EGX right now! Today! This very minute, even! WordPress posted this all by itself (under my instruction, of course).

Anyway, here’s that link again. Give it a try, and tell me what you think. If everything works out, there’s a good chance Project Pythias will be producing all my short fiction by 2018.

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