The 25th Interactive Fiction Competition is now over, and the results are in! Girth Loinhammer and the Quest for the Unsee Elixir came 33rd in the end, which may not be a Top Ten result but I’m still pretty happy with. There were 82 entries altogether so that’s very much in the top half of the rankings, and apparently high enough to score a small cash prize and possibly some other stuff. (IFComp is pretty generous when it comes to runners-up: if you’re on the fence about submitting something in 2020, I highly recommend giving it a go.)
The range of responses from the judges is interesting: the game attracted more votes than most (I’m guessing because people saw the title, thought “Haha what?” and clicked it), and managed to snag every possible score from one to ten. It didn’t divide opinion enough to earn me the Golden Banana of Discord (which, as you can imagine, I really really would have liked to win), but clearly there were at least a few people out there with strong feelings about it, and quite a few more who got a chuckle out of it. For something I hammered together in about a week, I think that’s a pretty good response.
I’ll be aiming to produce a slightly more ambitious version of the game in the not too distant future, which I’ll hopefully make available as an actual printed gamebook. There should also be an ebook, an online version, and probably a mobile app.
Girth Loinhammer and the Quest for the Unsee Elixir got a mention in Part 2 of The Short Game‘s IFComp 2019 podcast! (That bit starts at 00:39:27 if you want to skip ahead.)
It’s great to see the game reaching people in any form – this being my first time entering IFComp, I’ve been pleasantly surprised just how many players have already given it a go – but it’s especially nice for it to be so well received!
If you haven’t yet played Unsee Elixir, this might be a nice little lead-in to it, and if you haven’t got involved in IFComp at all, it the podcast as a whole might point you towards some good ones to try. You’ve got until November 15th, you only need to rate five to be a judge for the event, and naturally it’s easier to manage that number in that time if you throw a few short ones into the mix. For an introduction to the entire event (and a few more games), do check out Part 1 of their IFComp podcast as well.
Since Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure will be returning to EGX next week, I thought it was about time I uploaded the audio from its appearance at EGX Rezzed back in April.
If you’d like to catch Exponential Adventure at the main EGX event, it’ll be running from 13:00 to 13:45 on Friday the 18th of November. Even if you’re not there in person, the Fringe Theatre schedule suggests that you should be able to catch it streaming live on the official EGX YouTube channel, so you can still enjoy my live interactive* theatre thingy from the comfort of your own home!
*Unfortunately you can’t actually interact with it over the internet.** You’ll only be able to have a hand in the story if you’re there in the ExCeL centre.
**I guess technically you could still yell at your computer screen, but I won’t be able to hear you. Also, you’ll probably get some funny looks from anyone who can hear you. Especially if you’re in a library.
Flash Fiction Month 2019, Day 27
Challenge #12*: David Bowie Day. Write a story worth at least 100 Bowie Points based on the following scoring system: 1 point for each non-consecutive letter Z, 5 points for each string of song lyrics, 20 points for meeting a specific word count (69, 270, 369, 599, 700), and 10 points for each reference to Bowie’s movies or personas (a labyrinth, goblins, stolen babies, bogs of stench, a magic dance, moving the stars, childhood obsessions, memory loss, one or more men that fall to earth, aliens in disguise, best intentions, unforeseen complications, dying planets, a character with heterochromia, a character that is an avid painter or art collector, glass spiders, lots of drugs, saying goodbye, dramatic departures, black stars, swansong, an alien god with a guitar, five years, a character that is bisexual or LGBTQ, a character that is struggling with mental illness, dead roses, lightning bolts, panic in Detroit). Optionally, the story must also include a character with a distaste for music.
This story is worth 1258 Bowie Points altogether.
“YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!!!” yelled the wizard, as he crashed through the ceiling of Girth Loinhammer’s subterranean labyrinth.
“Hi Grandalf,” said Girth.
“Hi.” Grandalf the Gay stood up and brushed the dust from his robes.
“Tough day?” asked Sekhmet, once she’d finished her mouthful of black pudding bagel.
He squinted up through the hole he’d just made. “I think the eagles are getting tired of me using them like Uber.”
“Maybe you should…not do that?”
“I try not to take advantage, but I’m old, my knees ache, and I can hitch a ride with an eagle without having to climb downstairs.” Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2019, Day 3
“So there I was,” said Girth, “choking the chicken in the middle of the cathedral, when suddenly this fancy church guy walks in!”
“That must have been awkward,” observed Sekhmet.
“It was – but how was I supposed to know it was his pet? If you’re going to get attached to an animal that edible you should at least put a bell on it or something. Anyway, he gets all indignant and starts whacking me with his rod.”
“At which point you decide to bash the bishop?”
“Yeah, it sounds bad when you put it like that but I didn’t have a lot of choice but to beat him off. The thing is, it turns out that the bishop didn’t just keep chickens because the moment I hit him, this capuchin drops from the ceiling and just starts screeching and biting me. Naturally it had to be punished?”
“So…you spanked it? You spanked the monkey?”
Girth nodded. “I was tough but fair.”
“I’ve gotta tell you,” said Sekhmet, “your whole day sounds gross.”
“Yeah, well what have you been doing all this time?”
“Me? I’ve been right here, just flicking the bean.” She placed it on the table in front of her, lined up her shot, then pinged it into an upturned hat on the other side of the room. “I’m getting pretty good.”
If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:
Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.
More specifically, a live reading of Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure will be taking place as part of the brand new EGX Rezzed Fringe Theatre. For anybody unfamiliar with the story, it’s a massively interactive fantasy parody that plays out sort of like a Fighting Fantasy gamebook, but typically involves much, much more booze. I’ll read a chunk out loud (probably with funny voices – it gets hard to tell who’s who otherwise), announce the options available to the audience, and then whichever one gets the loudest cheer decides how the story will continue.
This is essentially what I’ve been doing at open mics for the past couple of years, but instead of taking place in a dingy pub somewhere, it’ll be at London’s largest games event.
If you’d like to come and get involved, Exponential Adventure will be running Thursday 4th of April at 2pm, and go on for about 45 minutes. This should allow time for at least three readings, but could stretch to as many as four or five depending on how things go on the day. We’ll be on the ground floor of the Tobacco Dock, which is probably the second most dungeon-y venue I’ve ever had for this.
Tickets are very reasonably priced for an event of this size. If you’re already near London, twenty quid gets you in all day Thursday which will let you see my show and still have a go at plenty of games. If you’re coming from farther afield, a Super Pass for the full three days is just £44.
Also, not to pile on the pressure or anything, but if nobody turns up then I will literally be standing on stage doing nothing because interactive fiction does not work without an audience. So please do share this around!
Flash Fiction Month 2018, Day 21
Challenge #10*: David Bowie Day. Write a story that begins as hard fantasy and ends as space opera. It must include five different images taken from Bowie’s song lyrics and the names of two bands in which he appeared. At least one of the characters must be iconic and the word count must correspond to the length of a track from the album Blackstar.
“Ew,” said Girth Loinhammer, putting down his stein. “That is…”
“Yeah,” agreed Sekhmet, hurriedly rubbing at her tongue. “It’s…it’s got an aftertaste.”
“I don’t understand the hype. It’s big and it’s bland.”
“Yo, bartender!” Sekhmet snapped her fingers. “What sort of mead is this?”
“That, my good…” the bartender seemed a little thrown off by the fact that Sekhmet had the head of a lioness “…lady?”
“Was it the miniskirt that gave it away?”
“Yes, well. That is the finest mead that Urmaland has seen since the winter of 409, when levies imposed by the neighbouring Fiefdom of Kirik disrupted trade agreements that had facilitated the import of the king bees necessary to—” Continue reading
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!
Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure is now complete! It took 25 months to write and is comprised of 1023 passages of text totalling 181,029 words (107 of which are “nuts” and 62 of which are “balls”). At least 1,024 of those words are simply “The End,” which should give you some idea of the range of alternate endings available. If you’ve been following for a while, you’ll know that it was always planned to have 512 of the things.
I’ll be attempting to screenshot the entire flowchart at some point to give some idea of the scale, but don’t currently have the necessary hardware attached to my computer. The full thing – even at the minimum level of magnification that Twine allows – spreads across eight monitors, so the only way I can actually capture it is to spread it across two and use those to grab the four corners of the chart, which I later stitch together. Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 29
Challenge #13*: David Bowie Day. Write a story exploring themes of death or identity, including something beginning and something ending, and incorporating transhumanism. It must include at least 10 quotes or lyrics by David Bowie, and a character based on Bowie himself.
Blasting across the universe in a napalm-propelled rocketship with an Egyptian goddess in the driver’s seat and a money-pooping goat in the cargo hold was not the carefree getaway Girth Loinhammer had hoped it would be. He let out a gentle sigh.
“What’s wrong?” asked Sekhmet. Despite being the goddess of bloodshed, she was surprisingly sensitive to other people’s feelings (and unsurprisingly liable to punch in the face anybody who mentioned this out loud).
“It’s nothing,” he said. Then, feeling he might as well get it out there: “It’s just…you know we’re fictional characters, right?”
“No,” said Sekhmet, rolling her eyes. “I thought we were in a real napalm spaceship with a real money-pooping goat.”
“Okay, point taken. The thing is, when we exist, it’s because we’re in a story. And when I’m in a story, I almost always have to explain that I used to run a generic fantasy dungeon, that everyone I took prisoner in it was expecting a different kind of dungeon, and then within a thousand words it ends with me running off because things get…erotic.”
“Why do you always say that in subscript?”
“Because I don’t like it! You know me, I like violence. I’m not happy when things get…sexual.”
“Hey, foos!” put in the ship’s computer, which of course contained the uploaded consciousness of Mr. T. “There’s a starman waiting in the sky!”
“What?” asked Sekhmet.
“Knowing my luck,” said Girth, gloomily, “it’ll be some androgynous weirdo.”