Tagged: design

Project Procrustes Has Been Solved

As you might have guessed by the suspicious timing, Project Procrustes (and its accompanying competition) was my April Fools’ prank for 2018. This one was subtle, and unless you worked your way through a substantial portion of the game, chances are you won’t even have noticed what was going on. However, two people managed to finish the thing on April 1st, so given the challenge involved I’d consider that quite a success.

Phil McArthur completed the game staggeringly swiftly, tweeting a line from the final passage within a couple of hours of release:

However, since he already owned Kingdom: New Lands (the game I was offering to the first person to complete Project Procrustes), he very kindly decided not to share a screenshot of the ending, giving someone else a chance to solve it and win the prize.

That person was G. Deyke!

Don’t go clicking for the original tweet if you still want to explore Project Procrustes for yourself: the screenshot (necessary for me to verify it had been properly completed) contains both spoilers for the story and some hefty hints on how to complete it yourself.

Despite having been made as a joke, I’m hoping that Project Procrustes will serve as a portfolio piece when I’m looking for work in games. As well as being a substantial piece of interactive fiction in general, it includes a sophisticated character creator, a very versatile battle system, and easily the most refined design of anything I’ve made so far. It’s very finely tuned and I put it through a lot of testing.

Revealing the joke here would also reveal quite a chunk of the solution to the game, but if you’ve been trying to work your way through and have found yourself hopelessly stuck, here are some very general clues:

  • Project Procrustes is tougher than you think it is. Find yourself hitting the back button looking for a choice that won’t kill off your character? You can stop looking: there probably isn’t one.
  • Reaching the true ending of the game will take a lot of lateral thinking. Focus on what you have to do, not what you’re supposed to.
  • There’s a reason Project Procrustes has such a naff title: a little familiarity with Greek myth could help you out a lot.

And one more thing. Don’t expect to get anywhere importing the flowchart back into Twine:

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Announcing Project Procrustes

Project Procrustes is my latest work of interactive fiction, and I’m pleased to say that (besides Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure), it’s the largest yet! It clocks in at 23,649 words according to Twine’s built-in counter, though I’ve put considerable effort into making the text of individual passages react to past choices, so you’re not likely to see most of those words unless you play through many many times.

Like the other titles in my “Project” series, Project Procrustes focuses on one particular element of player interaction and explores it as fully as possible. In this case, that element is character customisation. All my previous Twine works have seen you taking on the role of a particular pre-selected character – whether that’s the nameless officer in Blacklight 1995 or the far too fleshed-out Girth Loinhammer in Exponential Adventure – and then the story branches out from there. Project Procrustes, on the other hand, provides you with a very sophisticated character creation tool up front and lets you begin your adventure as one of four classes (each with their own strengths and weaknesses) with points distributed across four essential stats. You can alter your character’s name and appearance too.

These early choices will prove extremely important over the course of your quest: the default barbarian protagonist might be able to casually blunder through enemy encounters, but a rogue would do better to try and avoid getting into such scuffles in the first place (and, to that end, is better equipped to avoid being seen). I strongly recommend trying a few different classes with their stats distributed in different ways: the prospect of flinging spells about may be very tempting, but you’ll be missing a lot of the game if you only ever play as a mage.

To make things interesting and hopefully get this game some extra attention (as it turned out to be a far, far bigger project than I initially planned), I’ll be sending a Steam key for Noio’s excellent Kingdom: New Lands to the first person to share a screenshot of Project Procrustes’ true ending. To avoid any confusion (since there are a couple of occasions in the game when your character can choose to simply walk away from their quest), this is the passage that ends with green text and does not include a “Restart?” or “SAVE GAME” link.

Happy questing – and may the best barbarian, rogue, mage or hunter win!

Please be aware that, having released Project Procrustes with this little competition in mind, I’ve taken certain precautions to prevent cheating. Revealing my methods would almost certainly make them less effective, so I’ll simply say that I believe I’ve been thorough enough that if you can reach that end screen without progressing through the game in the intended fashion (and without me noticing), you’ll have earned your Steam key anyway.

We All Saw It Coming Paperback Now Available

It’s here at last! The paperback version of We All Saw It Coming, my flash fiction anthology for 2017.

If you’ve come across previous anthologies in the series, you’ll know the deal: 31 stories, each written on a single day during July as part of Flash Fiction Month. The stories are generally funny, sometimes serious, and don’t really match up to any kind of theme. Except on this occasion, maybe, when you might be forgiven for thinking that the theme is bananas. Continue reading

Twine for Beginners: Displaying Random Text

Even using only the most basic range of tools, Twine gives you a lot to work with. You can produce a fully featured interactive story with nothing more than plain old hyperlinks, and if you’re willing to sink just a little time into learning how to use variables, you can introduce some very sophisticated adventure game elements with minimal effort. But those tools only take you so far. No matter what you do with them, games produced with only hyperlinks and variables will always be entirely deterministic: the same sequence of actions will always produce the same effect.

That’s actually a perfectly good way to go. Sometimes – if anything most of the time – you want people to know that what happens in the game will be a direct result of what they’ve decided to do. But an element of chance can spice things up, and if the player is going to be coming back to the same passage again and again (maybe it’s a room they pass through several times, or an action they must take repeatedly) then it never hurts to vary the text they see. There’s a really easy way of doing this:

The (either:) Macro:

Simply writing (either: “one thing”, “another”) is enough to display one thing or another. If you don’t have a whole lot of possible options in mind you can just stick this in the story where you want the random text to appear and it’ll do the job nicely.

This looks like a mess, but the text it generates when played is perfectly serviceable. It might look like this:

Continue reading

Twine for Beginners: Using Variables

Back in my first Twine for Beginners tutorial (which I recommend at least taking a glance at before tackling this one), I mentioned that it was possible to do just about anything you see in the classic Fighting Fantasy books using only passages and hyperlinks. These gamebooks use a system of numbered passages and references, and choosing which passage to turn to performs exactly the same function as choosing which hyperlink to click in a Twine game. In addition to these standard choices, however, the passages will occasionally say something like “If you have a dagger, turn to 294. If you do not have a dagger, turn to 334.”

I think if I were going to fight Eyeface McBlubberson or Beardy the Dragon Wizard then I’d probably want something bigger than a dagger, but whatever.

There’s a totally obvious way to do this in Twine, and that’s to directly copy the method used in this Fighting Fantasy book. “[[If you have a dagger, click here]]. [[If you do not have a dagger, click here]]” will do exactly the same job and involves absolutely no Twine know-how that wasn’t covered in my first tutorial. If you’re happy to simply ask the reader to keep track of their previous choices (or note things down on some kind of character/inventory sheet) and don’t fancy reading on, then you can just do that. Continue reading

Last Chance to Support Ten Little Astronauts

It’s the eleventh hour. Aragorn is making his “It is not this day” speech. The rebels are approaching the Death Star. Neville Longbottom has destroyed the final horcrux and Harry Potter is preparing to battle Lord Voldemort. I’m not familiar with Twilight, but I’m sure there’s some confrontation between Heartthrob McSparklepants and a bad guy of some kind.

The point is, there are just days left to fund Ten Little Astronauts. At 63%, it’s the bulk of the way there and it has a solid chance of reaching its target, but only if the people who want that to happen make it happen.

At this point, you’re either behind the book or you’re not: there’s no time left to “get around to it.” 213 people (at current count) have pledged for a copy of their own. Countless more have shared it, told their friends about it, and generally helped it along in less direct ways. If it’s not your kind of thing, I get it. If you can’t afford to chip in for a copy right now, I definitely get it. But if you’d like to help my career as an author all the same, doing something – anything – to spread the word about it before that Christmas deadline would make a spectacular difference to the book’s chances of success at absolutely no cost to you. Continue reading

Twine for Beginners: Pen and Paper Stories

If you’re writing interactive fiction, you’d be hard pressed to find a better tool than Twine. It’s incredibly simple and incredibly powerful, with a reassuringly shallow learning curve. With a little know-how you can use it to create very sophisticated role-playing games, but even with no know-how at all you can jump right in and write a fully functional Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style story. I’ve already written a tutorial that shows how you can get started in just four clicks! This one will pick up where that left off and show you how to convert your Twine story into a format that can be read on plain old paper without the aid of a computer.

Just like these!

I do very much recommend having a look at that first tutorial before beginning to follow this one, by the way. At least keep it open in another tab to refer to. Nothing in here is going to be particularly complicated, and if you’ve already had a fiddle around with Twine 2 then chances are you could probably follow along well enough. However, having my Getting Started in Four Clicks tutorial handy would probably save some confusion, as I’ll be referring back to it here from time to time.

In Getting Started in Four Clicks I made the case that merely by knowing how to link passages in Twine using double square brackets, you’ve got just as many options available to you as Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone did when writing the Fighting Fantasy series back in the ’80s. However, though these simple Twine stories would in theory work perfectly well on paper, there are a few extra steps involved in converting them from Twine’s (far superior) system of hyperlinks into the (slow but printable) system of numbered passages and “Turn to…” instructions used by pen-and-paper gamebooks. Continue reading

Upcoming Winchester Events (and other news)

I’ve got two fairly big events coming up next week, so if you’re anywhere near Winchester then do check this out. The first is the Hampshire Writers’ Society Gala Evening (Tuesday June 13th, 6pm in the Stripe Building of the University of Winchester), where I’ll be setting up with my books as part of the Members’ Book Fair. If you’ve been following since I posted about the event last year or the year before, you’ll probably have some idea what that’ll be like, but the speakers at the Society are different every month and this time around I think they’ve got some especially good people on board. One of the speakers is Claire Fuller, who I’ve mentioned on this blog on a few occasions already, and the other is Erwin James, a columnist for the Guardian.

If you check out this writeup of last year’s event, you’ll notice I mentioned that the other authors there really seemed to have put a lot into their displays and that it was all very professional. Well, I’ve stepped up my game this time around with some lovely swag! Continue reading

Craft Keep VR Now Available

Back at EGX 2016 I got involved with virtual reality game Craft Keep VR. A certain portion of the game was already available in Early Access before I even heard about it but over the past few months I’ve been writing story and dialogue and gradually seeing the whole thing take form. At this point my work is done and, not only that, the finished game has just been released! You’ll need either an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive virtual reality headset to play it, but even if you don’t have one of those knocking about I highly recommend checking out the trailer.

I got a chance to play a very nearly complete version at EGX Rezzed this year, and the experience was…strange. Amazing, but strange. I don’t have the VR equipment necessary to play this sort of thing at home, so beyond a few YouTube videos I hadn’t really seen the work in progress while I was writing. It’s quite a shock to go from “Ha ha! This’ll make for a fun bit of dialogue,” to “Oh wow! There’s the guy saying it!” with absolutely nothing in between. It would be weird if the jump were simply from page to screen, but when it’s from page to 3D people walking around in the room with you, it’s especially striking. Continue reading

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.