I’ve been so busy with Ten Little Astronauts recently that I haven’t properly managed to write about any of the games events I’ve attended this year, even though I’ve got to more of them than ever and exhibited my own work for the first time. For that reason, I’m cramming them all into this one big blog post, in reverse chronological order, starting with…
Reading Comic Con (25th-26th November)
This was the final event at which I exhibited Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure before finishing the whole thing, and the advice I got there (particularly from Noaksey) helped shape the look of the version that’s gone out to all the supporters of Ten Little Astronauts who’ve asked to get an early look at it. (I’m still sending those out on request, so if you’ve put in a pledge – even if you end up doing it after this – and want to have a play at that, get in touch and let me know.) Basically, I was set up in a corner of the room just inside the door, which was an absolutely ideal position for catching the attention of passers-by, except that the default Twine stylesheet I was using for Exponential Adventure at that point made it look more like a survey of some sort than an actual playable game. Compare to how it looks now:
It’s basically just a parchment background with the links coloured to suit it, but I think it makes an absolute world of difference. I made the change literally overnight on my woefully underpowered netbook so that I could have the improved version ready for the second day of Comic Con the following morning, and made a few further tweaks with help from Isak Grozny and G. Deyke after the event.
Oh, and I also got a chance to step away from my display table to meet Danny John-Jules! It was pretty amazing to be able to head over and say hi because I’ve been a fan of Red Dwarf literally my entire life. The theme song was among my first words. Anyway, I couldn’t stick around for long because I’d left the guys behind Elemental Flow watching my table and also there was a pretty huge queue to meet the Red Dwarf cast members who were there, but the main thing I took away from this is that Danny John-Jules is a spectacularly nice guy. He was only announced as one of the guests last thing the day before – since up until then he’d expected to be needed for filming elsewhere – and he was raising money for charity at the event. If it was me, I might have just taken the opportunity for a day off!
If you’d like a look at some of what else went on in the Indie Games Zone at Reading Comic Con, you might like to check out this post from Noaksey himself, and also the (then) live video stream from the event. If I look a little dishevelled in the video, it’s because I’d spent the night sleeping under my coat on the floor of a friend’s house (it was good to catch up, and also saved me having to book accommodation at a spectacularly busy time).
AdventureX (11th-12th November)
This was definitely the biggest games event I exhibited at, and to be honest I’m kind of surprised they accepted Exponential Adventure. This one was ludicrously popular: the queue went out of the building at times and they hit capacity at the venue within half an hour of opening on the first day (so I’m hoping they’ll be able to get a bigger space next year). Mine was the only entirely text-based game on show (as far as I’m aware), and it was only only me behind it, while some of the other projects were highly polished efforts from whole teams of people. It did seem to go down very well, though, despite this being before I’d improved the game’s style or even had a chance to write as much of it as I would have liked. By this point (and indeed at all of the events this year) it was nearly complete, but still something like 1 in 16 possible storylines would lead to a dead end at a certain point.
Despite its flaws at this stage of completion, Exponential Adventure went down very well indeed. AdventureX attracts an international crowd of developers as well as just regular games fans, and I’d say probably quite a majority were developers of some sort or another. Gamers seem to understand Exponential Adventure better than readers in general, but people who have tried to produce any sort of branching path narrative for themselves are nearly always the quickest to realise just how much work is involved in writing a narrative that branches exponentially. This guy, for example, definitely gets it.
This made AdventureX probably the most interesting event to set up at, because usually people were keen to talk about the story in more depth and were curious about the character and setting as well as just the basic structure. I think that’s part of the reason I’ve ended up staying in touch with so many people from this particular event. Also, it turned out that I was staying in the same hostel as a whole bunch of them. I find a lot of people seem reluctant to turn up to events if nobody they know is going to be there, but usually if you’re staying nearby you’ll run into people who are doing exactly the same thing, and then pretty soon you will know people who are there. As it happened, however, I actually did know quite a few people at this one, including Joey Jones (author of Trials of the Thief-Taker), who very kindly watched my table from time to time over the weekend.
If you want an overview of the entire event, Space Quest Historian’s video report is pretty comprehensive. Naturally I was manning my table most of the time, so this video was pretty much how I caught up with everything else that was going on!
Indies Unplayed (29th October)
This was the absolute first event I ever attended to exhibit my own game. and I think it was a great one to start off with. It was held at Secret Weapon, a London gaming bar that I would totally go to all the time if I lived anywhere near it. I’d already met a couple of the other exhibitors – Gary Kings and Chris Payne – at EGX the month before, so again it’s worth noting how easy it is to get to know people in games. Two years ago I hadn’t been to anything like this, and it wasn’t until pretty much this time last year that I started making a concerted effort to do that, so it really doesn’t take much to meet developers provided you can physically turn up at places where they’ll be.
Indies Unplayed was probably the smallest of the events I went to, but actually Exponential Adventure seemed to attract more interest here than at Reading Comic Con even though some of the other, flashier titles were the same. Thinking back, AdventureX was pretty much the ideal place to exhibit because people were there for narrative games specifically, while Reading Comic Con probably wasn’t such a good match simply because not everyone there was into games at all (though the variety of things going on also meant it was probably the most fun for me to be at: I saw some great costumes while I was there!). Indies Unplayed was somewhere between the two, in that although people woludn’t necessarily have been expecting a text-based game, they were very much there for games in general.
I did have a bit of a think about how I’d set up the table for this first event, and – since I wasn’t sure how long people would be likely to play or how much competition there would be for screen time – made sure to set up some posters pointing people towards the online demo, which loads reasonably nicely on a mobile phone. I printed QR codes, which turned out to be the most popular option, but also made one copy of the poster you see above, largely just because I thought “Tap phone on rippling muscles to begin demo” set the tone nicely. The poster includes a concealed NFC sticker which I’ve set up to open the demo on any (unlocked, NFC-enabled) phone placed on it. This saw less actual use, but got a few laughs and proved useful on at least one occasion when a player didn’t have a QR code reader installed but did have NFC working. The mobile option was useful in general because it meant that anybody who took an interest in the game due to seeing someone else play could have a go right away: that might not be practical for all games, but for all my Twine stuff at least I’ll be sure to sort it out somehow.
This being the first event – and having no idea what the response was likely to be like – I also considered how I’d get people to take a look at Exponential Adventure in the first place. Ultimately, I ended up ordering a super cheap fancy dress robe off the internet and wearing that while I was at the table. Partly that was because I hadn’t had time to think about designing a T-shirt with the game’s title on it, partly because I’m not sure I want a T-shirt with the game’s title on it. It did seem well worth wearing something to indicate that I was actually there to display the game, though, rather than just mooching around the pub with a pint. The Ten Little Astronauts T-shirt I’ve had printed has turned out to be surprisingly effective in getting people to take an interest in the book (which also helps explain why so many companies at EGX have been lobbing merch at me – the first NFC device I started fiddling with was a PS4 branded rubber bracelet flung by someone from Sony).
EGX (21st-24th September) and EGX Rezzed (30th March – 1st April)
Okay, I’ll be honest. Both these events were long enough ago that I’d struggle to write anything meaningful about them. EGX Rezzed was my first chance to actually play the (nearly) complete version of Craft Keep VR, the game I was brought on board to write for after meeting the developer at EGX in 2016. Basically, though, the main thing I’d write about is the people I met and the games I saw, and since I’ve met and seen several again since, I think the better option would be to list a few…
Games you should take a look at sometime (in no particular order):
- 2000:1: A Space Felony obviously caught my attention as it’s a murder mystery in space. That gets it brownie points (as does the knowledge that the creator has also produced an Agatha Christie-inspired game specifically), but what really stands out is the openness of the mystery itself. I’ve been tempted to write a mystery in Twine, and one of the biggest stumbling blocks to that is that if there’s an option inviting you to “Accuse the butler,” that might provide a hint even if it appears alongside the option to accuse any number of other people. 2000:1, however, demands that you scour the spaceship you’re on in search of clues (which could be anywhere), photograph them, and then use those photographs to interview the suspect, MAL. Essentially, the fact that you uncover the mystery by asking questions, rather than providing answers, means that there’s virtually no way for you to pick up clues from the way the game challenges you. You have the clues. What you need to do is address them in the right order.
- Elemental Flow includes another interesting mechanic, also conversational. I think it’s best described as playing out like a cross between a puzzle and a quick time event: you have a range of different conversational abilities (explain, empathise, etc.) that have different effects depending on who you’re talking to and what they’re saying at the time. Sussing out which to use is a big part of the challenge, but then on top of that you also have to be attentive and react quickly so that you don’t end up either talking over the character you’re conversing with or listening intently while they’re waiting for you to speak. I get the sense that it’s possible to muddle through with a less than optimum strategy – and I’m pretty sure I did this myself during the demo – but working out the ideal approach to any given conversation makes things much, much easier.
- Critical Annihilation is a frantic voxel-based shooter that reminded me a lot of arcade classic Smash TV. The view is more or less top-down, giving you the opportunity to run in any direction you like while also shooting in any direction you like, which is handy because enemies tend to flood in from pretty much any direction. Single-player gameplay at least is tough as nails, with vast swarms of baddies flooding towards you within the first few levels, but on top of simply blasting your way through them (which is tremendous, scenery-levelling fun) your character will gain perks and equipment as they gain experience, meaning that you tend to gain a few more goodies even when you lose.
- Mao Mao Castle takes advantage of the LEAP Motion Controller to great effect, allowing you to guide a pixel art Cat-Dragon through levels crammed with flowers, pebbles, rainbows that you want to run into, and buildings, trees, pillars that you don’t. There’s also a mobile version on the way with touchscreen controls, but seriously, if you get a chance to play it using the motion controller, don’t pass it up. It’s spectacularly good fun.
- Attack of the Earthlings would be best summed up as “reverse XCOM.” It’s a turn-based strategy game on a grid pitting humans against aliens, but in classic sci-fi fashion it turns out that…DUN DUN DUN…mankind is the evil invading force! I actually wasn’t a fan of this idea to begin with – it’s been done plenty of times and tends to come across as preachy even though the basic point is fair – but two things about Attack of the Earthlings specifically mean it works really well. One is that it’s really, really funny. The writing is just superb. The other is that though I think it’s fair to describe it as “reverse XCOM,” it does genuinely invert rather than simply re-style the game. In XCOM, you control a squad of soldiers and much of your attention is focused on gunning down the aliens’ deadly close-combat troops before they can eviscerate anyone on your team. In Attack of the Earthlings, the situation is flipped: most of your units have no ranged attack and a great deal of the challenge comes from positioning them to deliver those close-combat attacks without being obliterated by the humans’ superior firepower on the way. The game actually introduces some neat stealth elements in order to let you do this effectively and those are – to me at least – totally original. I don’t think I’ve seen quite the same thing anywhere else.
There are definitely games I’m leaving out here, partly because I have a literal list scribbled down and the ones from EGX alone would make for a long post in its own right. As this is a long post as it is, I think I’ll leave it there. This is what I’ve been doing for the past few months, and those are some of the things I’ve seen. If you made it to any of these events or know about any more coming up in future, it would be great to hear from you!
You might recall that Craft Keep VR, the virtual reality game I ended up writing for after EGX 2016, was up for a Game of the Year award at Login Vilnius a while back. Well, it’s happened again, and this time it’s through the TIGA Games Industry Awards!
This time around, Craft Keep VR is right alongside big names like Forza Horizon and Horizon: Zero Dawn. Even just in its own category – Game by a Small Studio – there’s Yooka-Laylee and The Flame in the Flood, both of which have quite a bit more clout behind them than “Small Studio” would suggest: the teams behind those include some of the people behind Banjo-Kazooie, Halo and BioShock.
I hesitate to ask people to vote in this because I’m aware fairly few will have the VR hardware necessary to actually play Craft Keep, but if you’re in a position to compare the games in the shortlist (maybe you got a go at EGX or EGX Rezzed), then here’s the page where you can vote for your favourite.
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 6
Challenge #3: Write a piece of Gonzo Journalism with a word count that is also a Cuban Prime.
I had just lost my job, I had a gash in my leg the size of Warwickshire, and the Navy thought I owed them money. It was the perfect time to spend four straight days playing videogames.
Five days including travel.
Somehow, at some point several weeks before, I had managed to snag the very last early entry ticket to EGX, the biggest games event in the UK. I’d had vague plans to try and land a better job there, so actually the timing was pretty handy. I hopped on the train to Birmingham, arrived at a station that wasn’t on my ticket, and spent the night in a dubious hostel just across the road from some absolutely top notch graffiti of Inspector Gadget.
I set off the next day for the NEC, a building so incredibly huge that I think I’ve seen more of Birmingham inside it than out. The place is bafflingly massive—a bizarre cross between an airport and Purgatory—so rather than bother to get hold of a map, I simply followed a guy who was either dressed as a character from Fallout 4 or just super into BDSM. Handily, whichever one, he was going the same place as me. Continue reading
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
I realise we’re halfway through March at this point, but wow is that second half packed full of things to do! If you fancy meeting me in person, you’ll have plenty of chances over the coming couple of weeks (though it helps if you’re currently in the southern half of the UK). Here’s what’s coming up, in order:
Truth is Like a Lazarus Launch
(University of Reading [Van Emden Theatre, HumSS Building], 6pm Monday 20th March)
I got my BA it the University of Reading, and after getting in touch to let them know about my recent success with Ten Little Astronauts, I was invited to submit something to this year’s Reading Creative Arts Anthology, Truth is Like a Lazarus; or, A Roof Bursting with Stars. That something is in there now, and if you turn up in the Van Emden Theatre at 6pm you’ll hopefully have the chance to hear me read it!
As an added bonus, the HumSS building is worth a visit in its own right: think “Hogwarts as imagined by M.C. Escher.” In my second year I almost missed a class because it took place on a floor I didn’t know existed. Fortunately, however, the Van Emden Theatre is up just one flight of stairs visible from the main entrance. Reading’s Whiteknights Campus is full of quirky things like this: it was very nearly declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest and has its own (obsolete) nuclear bunker. Well worth taking the time explore beforehand if you do decide to come to this event!
Winchester Comic Con
(Winchester Discovery Centre, 9am – 6pm, Saturday 25th March)
The first ever Winchester Comic Con is coming up, and I’ll be on the first ever author panel! I’m also one of the judges for the flash fiction competition, so if you fancy making a day of it then come prepared with a ≤100 word speculative fiction story. The competition is open to anybody with a ticket (which presumably you’ll need to get in there anyway, though it may be possible to pay on the door) and this is very much my kind of thing.
As you might expect from a nine-hour event, there’ll be lots going on. There’ll be guests from Harry Potter, Star Wars and Doctor Who, as well as the world’s leading Tintinologist (an expert on Tintin) Michael Farr. Also, it’s not certain at this point but I’m hoping fellow Unbound author Niall Slater will be there too.
(Tobacco Dock, London, 30th March – 1st April)
After having a really great time at EGX in September last year, I’ll be returning for EGX Rezzed at the end of the month! I say “returning” but actually this’ll be a fairly different event. For one thing it’s in London rather than Birmingham, and for another the focus is more on PC and indie titles such as Craft Keep VR, which will be on display there!
For anyone who hasn’t been following for a while, I first came across Craft Keep at EGX and, soon afterwards, ended up writing for it. That was a bit of a dream come true, really. EGX was the first games event I ever went to, and standing in the massive crowd heading in at the start of the first day, I never imagined I’d have my own work on show in the next one I went to. It was only an outside possibility even at the point I was on the train back home! I met a lot of great people at the last event (and bumped into a couple of people I’d already met at the Brighton Global Game Jam), and I’m hoping there’ll be a chance to catch up with at least some of them at this one.
As the “VR” in “Craft Keep VR” might imply, this is a virtual reality title and you’ll need a VR headset and motion controllers to play it. For most people (including me) then, an event like EGX is your main chance to give it a go. Tickets are available here, and they’re actually not too pricy considering the range of games you get to see! I gather that Rezzed will be more low-key than regular EGX – I’m not expecting to grab quite as many free T-shirts (if any) this time around – but even so you’re looking at three full days of gaming for less than the price of one current-gen console release. It’s certainly cheaper than buying an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive if you just want a go at Craft Keep VR!
And that’s it.
I’ve got a few more things planned over the last little while, quite a few of them related to Ten Little Astronauts, but none of those involve turning up places in person. Or at least, none of the ones that do really offer an opportunity to meet up with people. If you are planning to head to any of these, though – whether you’re near Reading or Winchester or fancy a trip into London for EGX – then let me know! It would be great to say hi.
This weekend was Global Game Jam 2017, which means that much like last year I ended up spending the whole shebang knocking together a complete game in just 48 hours. Not on my own, though: that would be crazy! These things are best tackled as part of a team effort. Last year’s game was Brituals, a social-awkwardness simulator set in a hellish parallel Britain (playable here). This year’s was Undercurrent, a nautical interactive fiction piece featuring rhythmical Mexican-wave action. The theme for this year was “waves,” by the way, which will probably be apparent in the range of games produced for the event.
This video should give some idea of what the finished game might look like: impressive, no? Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get the whole thing put together in time for the presentations at the end, but basically all the elements were there. If you download the source code .zip file on the GGJ page, you’ll find what we’ve got so far. However, if you don’t feel like poking around with that, have no fear! I spent a frantic three or four hours at the end of the event implementing the entire game in Twine, complete with an approximation of our central Mexican wave mechanic. It doesn’t have any of the audio or eye-candy hinted at by the video above (in fact, anybody who spent a particularly long time trying to uncover the arcane meta-mystery of Project Proteus is likely to find the overall appearance of this game very familiar indeed), but it is playable beginning to end and should give some idea how the finished thing would actually behave.
I feel as though I managed to weasel my way into a really strong team this year. Laurence had a hand in the audio for Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and Mark is the guy behind the Posetastic drawing reference app. Fiona wrote the bulk of the actual story in the game (my main contribution was the nonsense island encounters), and Morrison tackled getting the interactive text into Unity. I’ll definitely be checking out how to do that myself because if I could manage even half of what he did, my interactive fiction would be at least 800% more stylish and flashy. Continue reading
You might recall Craft Keep VR from my writeup of EGX 2016, where I was lucky enough to try out the virtual reality fantasy artisan game first hand. Well, there’s some exciting follow-up news. First of all, Craft Keep is coming to Steam Early Access on the 10th of November: that’s less than a week away!
Second, I’m writing this thing! At EGX I got talking to the developer, Arvydas Žemaitis, who said that he was looking to include an interesting story as the player travels about setting up shop in all these weird and wonderful locations around the world. Naturally I sent off an email about it after the event, and here we are! Continue reading
It’s been a ram-packed four days (plus travel), but well worthwhile. EGX 2016 was the first event of its kind that I’ve been to but, much like Agatha Christie’s birthday celebrations, I’m already looking forward to the next one. I pretty much just caught the train up to Birmingham and stayed in the cheapest hostel I could find, which turned out to be a decent enough plan since plenty of other people had had the same idea. I spent most of my evenings hanging around with other EGX people, though the first night I was there I ended up grabbing a burger with Markus Stitz, who was heading to the same venue for a different reason: it turns out that EGX overlapped exactly with the Birmingham Cycle Show, and he was there to display the bike he used to cycle around the world. I definitely recommend checking out the video on his site – the distances he covered on not just one bike but one gear are simply extraordinary – but I also recommend getting out there and not just going for the nearest hotel next time you’re headed off to something like this. You meet people, you learn things, and your entire stay costs the same as one night in a Travelodge. That’s a definite plus point.
I actually managed to snag the very last EGX early access ticket going on the website a few months back, which turned out to be well worthwhile because it meant that I could get into the venue at 10am each day when the bulk of visitors were getting in at 11. That typically made for a chance to queue up for one huge thing for half an hour or so when it would have taken more like two hours at any other point during the day. If I’d had to wait that long to try Final Fantasy XV, Battlezone, or Gears of War 4, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. I might have stuck it out for Dishonored 2 just because the first game was so spectacularly well constructed, but for the most part a wait of more than an hour would have felt like time that would have been better spent trying out some of the excellent indie games on offer. Continue reading
I’ve had a ticket for gaming trade fair EGX 2016 for a while now – I actually managed to snag the very last early entry one on offer – but only just got around to booking transport and accommodation. If anybody else is planning to go (or just happens to be in the general vicinity of Birmingham regardless), I’d love to hear from you, but more on that later.
It’s been overshadowed somewhat by the fact that I’ve recently had a book launched by Unbound, but I’m still very much hoping to take up a career in the games industry. Interactive fiction has always been an interest of mine, and I already have one commercially released game to my name, but getting a steady job in the area is proving to be extremely difficult just through regular applications. There are very few positions available for writers, which is what I’d like to do in the long run, and intense competition for entry-level QA Tester roles, which is what I’m more likely to get without previous experience. Continue reading