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.
I’ve been writing interactive fiction using Twine for a few years now, but one thing that’s stuck with me is just how simple it was to get started and just how quickly that simple start led to bigger, more impressive things. In fact, starting out with Twine is actually easier now than it was when I first gave it a go, and in my opinion there’s quite a bit more you can do with it than there used to be. The software has changed a lot in the time I’ve been using it. Take a look!
On the left, My Name Algernon, written using Twine 1.4.2 and currently available to supporters of Ten Little Astronauts. On the right, Inquisition, seen here in Twine 2.1.1 and included in my flash fiction anthology, Robocopout. (Click the screenshots to see them full-size.)
There are a whole bunch of great Twine tutorials out there already, many of which already make the case that Twine is a great way for non-programmers to get into making games. However, as a non-programmer who has used Twine to get into making games, I feel as though I’m in a pretty good position to add one more to the mix. Here’s my comprehensive, foolproof guide to making your first game in Twine 2.1.1.
I’m not kidding about it being foolproof, by the way. I’ll be describing the entire process click-by-click, and I promise if you follow these steps exactly, you can have your first Twine story set up in literally four clicks. I can do it in three.
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
Imagine having a little community of eenie weenie bunker-dwellers living in your smartphone.
No, seriously, imagine it. Imagine tapping on a tiny little man wearing a tiny little radiation suit, living in a water purification plant the size of a Tic Tac, in order to drag him into a cafeteria that’s also the size of a Tic Tac. That’s pretty much how Fallout Shelter plays out.
Fallout Shelter is apparently a tie-in to some new community building/managing elements in Fallout 4, but I’ve never really looked into that side of things because a) I don’t have Fallout 4 and b) Fallout Shelter holds up very nicely as a game in its own right. You build up your underground vault, you send adventurers out into the wasteland above, and you complete fun little objectives along the way. You can pretty much just load it up once in a while and check how all your little guys are doing: it’s not a game that will soak up hours at a time. Occasionally a crisis will crop up, but when it does you’re free to shuffle your dwellers around wherever they’re needed: when the all-clear sounds, they’ll automatically return to whatever they were doing before. Continue reading
I don’t think this has actually come up in my writing much, but I quite enjoy a good game of poker. I played through college and university, then for a while in a bar down the road. It was all very amateur, which was interesting because it’s pretty much the only game I’ve come across that people will join without having any idea how to play whatsoever. I strongly suspect this was because I wasn’t playing for money–just in tournaments or against friends–but I also suspect that part of it was down to poker, on the surface, being a game of luck. No matter how bad you are at poker, you will occasionally win a hand just by being dealt the right cards. That’s not something that can be said about chess.
The thing is, some people take this to mean that poker is all about luck, and it’s really not. Having a strong hand is certainly an advantage, but “strong” is relative. The trick isn’t in being lucky enough to get dealt a flush, but in judging whether or not that player who just called your raise has a three of a kind (which you beat) or a full house (which beats you). That’s potentially the difference between winning a ton of chips or losing a ton of chips, and it has almost nothing to do with luck. A game of poker is not a roulette table, and it’s not a slot machine.
Reeelz is not a slot machine either, no matter how much it looks like one. Reeelz is to slot machines what poker is to blackjack. You spin the reels and get a random series of images, but how the game plays out from there is all strategy. The goal in Reeelz is to make combos–“Hot tea,” “Ice tea,” “Holiday house,” etc.–which behave much like poker hands. Continue reading
It’s likely that this month’s newsletter and this week’s game article will both be delayed as I’ll be spending the last couple of days of January at the Brighton Global Game Jam. Heading off to this thing was kind of a last-minute decision, and it’s come at a time when I’m already juggling a lot of other stuff. Still, it’s too good an opportunity to miss.
This week’s (late) game article will most likely be a write-up of the event, but over the weekend itself I’m hoping to keep people updated via Twitter (most likely using the hashtag #BrightonGGJ16). I would have liked to do something like this at the Winchester Writers’ Festival this year, so I’ve since used my staff discount to get hold of a phone with a camera and a steady internet connection. I’ve done a few “make a thing in a really short time!” events in the past, but not typically with games and never as part of a team, so this should be something interesting to try. I’ve got no idea how the weekend will play out–and it sounds as though it could be very, very busy–but I’ll do my best to keep people posted if I can.
If you’re not fussed about following along on Twitter, there’ll still be some neat stuff coming up once the event is over. Besides whatever I end up writing about it, there’ll also be the game itself: event rules require all the entries to be made available for anyone anywhere to play and see, so hopefully I’ll be linking to some good stuff on Sunday!
Given that Chapter Two of Epistory came out while I was writing the review of Chapter One, I had been hoping to get this second review done sooner. Part of that is down to things being busy at Christmas, part is down to my job, and part is down to my job being busy at Christmas.
Yeah. I played through Chapter One again as recommended (because there’s no guarantee that saves from the earlier version of Epistory will still work 100% correctly since the update), and managed to break the game pretty much the moment I started Chapter 2. That held me up a bit. Being an Early Access title, this kind of thing is to be expected, and I hope my experience helps the developers iron out the kinks. Continue reading
I’ve been keeping an eye on Epistory – Typing Chronicles for a little while now, pretty much determined to give it a go and pretty much totally clueless as to whether or not it would run on my newly assembled computer. A few days ago I decided to bite the bullet and try out the early access version, and wow am I glad that I did.
Epistory looks beautiful. If you haven’t stumbled across it already, this is a typing game where, rather than simply hammering away at letters and words that appear on the screen, you’re free to wander around a beautiful origami world typing things into (and out of) existence. Your character–a little girl riding on a many-tailed fox–doesn’t say much, but her story appears etched into the landscape itself: a neat way of moving the plot along without breaking away from the action. Continue reading
UPDATE: As the Humble Weekly Bundle is only ever available for a week, the links to it here will no longer work properly. Anything that originally pointed to the bundle in which Spoiler Alert appeared will instead point to the current weekly bundle. Chances are there’s some good stuff in there, but it won’t be the same stuff I’ve described below.
I’ve been putting off sharing a lot of interesting things just because I won’t be able to do much with them until I hand my 20,000 word final project in at the end of the month. However, this is something I think it’s well worth passing on now.
For anyone not already sick of hearing about it from me, Spoiler Alert is a platforming game played entirely backwards: You un-collect coins! You refill the health bars of fallen bosses! You sprint backwards right-to-left through a cartoon landscape while rain falls up!
If that sounds like the kind of bizarre thing you’d get from me during Flash Fiction Month, then I’m afraid that’s mostly down to coincidence. Though I did have a hand in it, the game was already in great shape by the time I got involved.
My main contribution was the final/first boss, Mr. Deathbunny:
So that’s the first part of this post’s title covered. The second part is the Humble Bundle. This thing is both a great idea, and a great deal: it’s a name-your-price bundle of games with whatever amount you decide being split between the game developers, the guys organising the bundle, and a deserving charity (you decide who gets how much). You could get Spoiler Alert and four other games for a dollar if you wanted to. Spoiler Alert on its own is typically about £2 (or £5 if you’re after the collector’s edition, which is what you get here), so if you want to try it, now’s the time.
However, I’d recommend sinking in a little more. The Humble Bundle typically offers additional games if you pay more than the average price offered at that point, though at the time of writing the big bunch of games is being offered at a steady $6. That’s not a bad offer given that it includes a Professional license for GameMaker Studio, which would ordinarily cost $149.99. Also the source code for Spoiler Alert itself.
If you really want to splash out, $12 gets you the Android export module for GameMaker (ordinarily $299.99). However, that bundle tier is almost all GameMaker-related, so if that’s not something you’re interested in then a $287.99 saving could still end up being a waste of $11. Personally I’ve gone for the $12 option, since I’d love to be able to put out a couple of mobile games even if they’re no more ambitious than Blacklight 1995 or Rainbow Bears’ Playtime.
So just to sum up, Spoiler Alert is in this week’s Humble Bundle, and it’s possibly the best bundle I’ve ever seen. I know with downloadable games that the chore of setting up an account to buy them can be more of a put-off than the money itself (perhaps especially when it’s such a trivial amount) but the Humble Bundle is well worth keeping an eye on.