Codename Caerus

So I made a trip to London for EGX Rezzed last month, and up until now I’ve totally neglected to write anything about it for two reasons:

  1. I’m still just a little freaked out over how many people recognised me as “that Girth Loinhammer guy.”
  2. The event gave me an idea for something big and it took a while to come up with a plan for it:

I want to get a team together to make a game.

At this point I feel as though I’ve got a pretty good number of games to my name – I’ve even set up a separate website as a portfolio – but it would really help to have a few more team projects out there for people to enjoy. I expect plenty of other people are in the same position. So far I’ve mostly worked alone, and (with the exception of the two commercially released videogames I’ve had a hand in) when I haven’t it’s generally been for Game Jams. Game Jams are great, of course, but the results are never particularly polished and they don’t really demonstrate the ability to work with a team on an extended project. As a writer, I don’t feel as though there are all that many opportunities already out there. Some, certainly, but far from oodles.

That’s why I’m planning to set something up: not having a title for the game itself yet, I’ll refer to this whole endeavour as Codename Caerus for now. This will be an opportunity for anybody who wants to get more of a foothold in games to work on something polished and substantial as part of a team.

The Game

  • It’ll be made with Twine.
  • Basic gameplay will involve collecting and managing resources in order to build up and defend a base, with various narrative sections popping up along the way.
  • The story won’t revolve around straightforward choose-your-path decisions, but events will play out differently depending on the player’s decisions. There will be multiple endings.
  • The genre will be folk horror, and the length of any given playthrough will be limited. By day things will be bright and sunny, with the player working to upgrade their plot of land. By night, however, hideous creatures stalk the woods and the protagonist dreams of a powerful figure: the Wolf King. Every night the Wolf King appears a little bit closer. Actions taken during the day can slow (or hasten) his approach, but he can never be stopped. When he arrives – appearing in the waking world – the game ends.
  • Individual elements of the game may be “completed” – a player might fully fortify their base, for example, or maximise its output of crops – but the speed of the Wolf King’s approach will make it impossible to do everything in any given playthrough. The tasks the player prioritises will determine what happens when he arrives.

The Plan

  • I’ll be inviting people to get involved until the end of May June 7th. Currently I don’t have a deadline in mind for the game itself, largely because it’ll depend who else wants to work on it.
  • The structure of this game should make it comparatively easy to divide sections between other members of the team. As well as making it easier for me to organise, that should make it easier for you to point to something in the finished game and say “I did this bit specifically,” rather than just point to the game as a whole and say “I did stuff for this.” I feel as though that’s important when you’re contributing in order to get your work out there.
  • The finished game will be made available for free on philome.la and itch.io (as well as possibly other places), and I’ll link to it from my website and generally promote it as well as I can. Anyone who works on it is welcome (and encouraged) to post it and share it around wherever they like. I’m super uncomfortable about the prospect of asking people to work for exposure, so this thing will never be sold. If you’re not getting any money out of it, neither should I. Beyond that, a free game will be vastly easier to publicise.

The Team

Me: I’ll be putting the thing together in Twine, and editing the text to make sure the spelling/grammar is good and the style consistent. It’s likely that I’ll also end up writing the endings, which I plan to assemble out of various chunks of text depending on certain game variables. I’ll endeavour to add notes throughout, so that anybody opening it up for themselves will have at least some idea how it works.

Writers: to actually write the thing. If you’ve only produced linear fiction so far, this might be an adjustment. A lot of the game’s story will come through many small actions taken by the player, so much of what you’ll have to write will be little snippets that appear in response to those actions (probably selected at random from a large pool). For an example, take a look at Wendy Despain’s mini-game barks for Bratz: Forever Diamondz!

Obviously the tone of this game will be completely different, but the structure will not. You’ll probably be looking at a list of individual sentences or paragraphs rather than a complete story running beginning to end. If you’re writing sections in which the player upgrades a wall, you might have a few ways to describe them repairing a rickety old fence, a few ways to describe them making it taller, and a few ways to describe them installing spikes along the top as a final upgrade. This might sound dull, but I don’t want to misrepresent the sort of work involved. Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that every snippet of text is another opportunity to add to the story and the setting: the more descriptions there are for each action, and the more varied they are, the better the final game will be.

Artists: to make the game eye-catching and set its tone. With (I hope!) multiple writers on board, I think the artists will have an important role not just in providing illustrations to appear in the finished game, but also to pin down its overall feel. How does the Wolf King appear to the player? What do the monsters look like? Where does the protagonist live? Concept art would be a huge help in keeping the characters and world consistent, and there would probably be a place in the game for it somewhere. Ideally I think it would be good to get one artist for day scenes and one for night scenes, but I’m sure there’ll also be an opportunity for others to work on icons etc.

Web Designer: Twine puts out games as a single .html file, and the content can be styled using CSS. I’d be very keen to get someone on board who knows what they’re doing with that. A unique style well suited to the story would immediately set this title apart from other Twine games and give it a level of visual polish even for sections without actual illustrations.

Testers: I imagine anybody sinking time into this game would want to give it a go and be happy to offer feedback, but I feel as though testing a game is a skill in its own right. I’d really love to get help from people who are out to break the game, not just play it casually.

Audio/Video: I’ve got to be honest, as much as I would love to include these things it would be a real challenge in Twine. Even if I could manage to get sound working, for example, chances are my solution wouldn’t do justice to the work of whoever had provided it. However, it would be great to have some sort of ambient sound/music people could stick on in the background, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have a trailer, so if sound and/or video are your forté then there’s still a chance to get involved.

How To Get Involved

One thing that bugs me about applying for opportunities in general is that you frequently have to send absolutely masses of information just to express an interest. I also feel as though there’s often far too much of a focus on what you’ve done compared to what you can do. To avoid that, I’m only asking for a couple of very small things in the form below. You don’t even have to say “hi” if you don’t feel like it.

I want to know what role you’d like, and I want a link to one example of where you’ve done it before. If you want to write, show me some writing. If you want to do artwork, show me some artwork. You don’t need to put together a portfolio, just pick one thing. If you want to link to a website as well, I might take a look, but I’m more interested in what you think is relevant to Codename Caerus in particular than I am seeing everything you’ve ever done.

That said, one-size-fits-all forms tend to be staggeringly unhelpful, so if you don’t have some handy thing to link to, you don’t have to find one. Got a knack for breaking games but never bothered to record any gameplay footage? Just tell me about it instead. Mostly want to write but intrigued by the possibility of doing audio? Tick that “Writer” box but add a note about your other work. The last thing I want is for people to have to send multiple submissions or cram something online at the last minute just for the sake of filling in a box.

Oh, and if you think you can contribute in some way I haven’t already considered, go ahead and chuck your hat in the ring anyway.

If this sounds like your kind of thing and you want to have a hand in it, fantastic! If not, I’d still really appreciate it if you could pass this opportunity on to anyone else who might be interested. I already know a lot of people who I’m really hoping will want to do this, but I’m also really looking forward to getting in touch with writers, artists and designers I’ve never come across before.

Remember, though: I’ll only be considering submissions until the end of May June 7th!

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6 comments

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