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.
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!
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
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.
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
Dungeon Lord lovers rejoice: I’ve signed a contract for another book, and this one features none other than Girth “Meatthrust” Loinhammer himself. Just look how happy he is!
If you’re subscribed to my newsletter or a regular at the open mics I read at then you’ll have known about this for quite a while, but Aperture Editions are now on board to publish Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure, the massively interactive Dungeon Lord story that I’ve been working on for the past year and a half. This thing’s huge: it’s currently 150,00 words in total and it’s still not quite finished. The version available online only includes half the content. There’s a lot I’ve held back. Continue reading
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 taken a lot longer than expected (the original plan was to have the entire thing wrapped up by the end of November 2015), but the first (or arguably left-hand) half of Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure is now complete!
Provided you choose to sit around moping at the at the very beginning of the story, rather than going off and doing something interesting, you can explore every single possible option leading off from that point, and follow along all the way to every possible ending: 256 in all!
I’ll be starting work on the second (or right-hand) half of the Adventure pretty much immediately, but it might be a while before I make the new content available just so that there aren’t too many dead ends for readers to stumble into. If you haven’t taken a look at this yet, now’s a great time: you’ve got absolutely masses of options and I can guarantee that any storyline you can start, you can also finish.
At the time of writing, the story is 78,629 words in length altogether, making it the single longest work I’ve ever released by a reasonable margin (the next longest is currently Face of Glass, at 55,550). Despite that, this novel-length interactive story is completely free to explore. If you’d like to chuck some money my way, however, please consider pledging to support Ten Little Astronauts, my crowdfunded novella. You’ll get a book that wouldn’t have existed any other way, every copy will have your name recorded in the back as one of its patrons, and you’ll be helping me achieve my dream of having my best work to date distributed by Penguin Random House. It’s a win-win-win!
It’s Day Five of National Novel Writing Month, which means that my quest to produce a 100,000 word work of interactive fiction is already four days closer to completion. And what a four days they’ve been.
Since my last NaNoWriMo post came after just the first day of writing, and only included the bare minimum of work-in-progress work necessary to illustrate what I was doing, part of the point of this post is just to say that I’ve got into the swing of things and I’m expecting to have more of my NaNo project online and ready to read almost every day. I’ve found that although philome.la (my Twine hosting site of choice) doesn’t allow me to “edit” stories, it’s simple enough just to delete one and then reupload it under the same name. This means that the most recent version of Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure can always be reached through the same hyperlinks, no matter what version I was actually linking to at the time. I won’t announce every single update (except on Twitter): just check out the story whenever you feel like it and you’ll be able to see all the stuff I’ve added since you last had a look.
If you can find it, that is.
I’m currently writing the story back-to-front, in a sense. Rather than writing the first decision-making passage, then the two passages leading off from that passage, then the four passages leading off from those two passages, I’ve prioritised completing endings over writing beginnings. This is ridiculously complicated to describe, so here’s a screenshot of my work in progress:
The highlighted passage in the top left of the screen is the start of the story: the one containing the “You are Girth Loinhammer…” introductory text, and your first opportunity to decide how the story progresses. The passage far below it, connected by a long vertical line, is one I haven’t written yet (it just contains some NaNoWriMo filler text). However, the vertical chain of connected passages just to the right of that long line is one complete storyline: you’ll see it in its entirety if you choose to mope in the dungeon (or generally not do anything interesting) at every opportunity. Running horizontally along the screen are all the endings I’ve written so far. You can see how some of them branch off that complete “moping” storyline earlier than others.
The upshot of this is that rather than slowly building up more options at the beginning of the story and maybe starting to write endings about halfway through the month, I was able to have a dozen or so endings ready for people to discover on day one and add a dozen or so every day afterwards. I’m actually aiming to complete 16 storylines a day. Working like this has its good and bad points, and I think I’ve been at it for just long enough to get into those now:
- Word count is not a problem. I was originally wondering if I may have bitten off more than I could chew by trying to tackle 100,000 words for NaNo rather than the usual 50,000. I planned my project on the assumption that each passage would average 100 words in length, when in fact most of them naturally come to a fair bit more.
- Ideas are easy to come by. I thought quite a bit about what sort of story I wanted to write before I started. I even put out a poll to gather readers’ opinions. Turns out you guys were onto something: writing a massively branching story that doesn’t take itself seriously has given me a lot of options for endings: everything from alien abductions to death by boredom. This kind of massively branching format makes it difficult (though not impossible) to write yourself into a corner as you can when working on a linear novel.
- Quality seems okay so far. It might be too early to say for sure, but I don’t think the quantity of work I’m trying to produce this month is having too much of an impact on the quality. There are a lot of typos and I’ll want to do quite a bit of fixing up before considering this thing properly finished, but I don’t feel like I’m writing for the sake of it. I’m really enjoying coming up with these storylines and there are a few I’m particularly looking forward to.
- People seem surprisingly invested in the story. I really wasn’t sure what sort of reaction to expect to something I was putting on show in such an unfinished state. Interactive fiction often behaves a little like a machine, in that if parts are missing it won’t work at all. However, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the response. People have said they’ve gone through and read every ending, which even on day one meant sifting through 5,000 words of story divided between 30 or so passages.
- I will probably not finish on time. Despite being likely to absolutely shatter my word count goal at this rate, completing the entire story in November would involve an absurd amount of work. The problem is passages. Words might be easy enough to accumulate, but the easiest way to keep track of the story (for complicated mathsy reasons) is to aim for 31 passages a day. This is the easiest number to aim for, but it’s quite a challenge to write and it’s still not enough for me to finish in November. At this point it’s looking as though I’ll finish something like a week late–and even then only if I really stick with it.
- The story is difficult to organise. Twine is a great bit of software, but it’s difficult to set out a story this large as a readable flowchart. I’ve already ended up skipping passages because I lost track of what I needed to add where, and though I think it’s all fixed now, it’s a problem I just wouldn’t face with a linear novel.
- Many choices are inconsequential. I’m actually playing this for laughs quite a bit, but ideally interactive fiction should make you think about what you’re doing and what effect your choices will have. However, the sheer number of choices I have to write for this thing means that they can’t all be significant. The fun of Exponential Adventure will come primarily from exploring its multitude of storylines, rather than getting seriously invested in the fate of its protagonist.
- Interactive fiction gives me nightmares. This hasn’t so far been an issue with Exponential Adventure, but it happened with both Blacklight 1995 and Outpost, and I think it has more to do with format than genre. These things are all multidimensional worlds rather than linear stories, so it’s a lot easier to get wrapped up in them. On the plus side, though, I hope that also makes them more interesting to read.
So that’s how things are going so far. I’m on track to hit my target of 100,000 words, but at the same time it looks as though that target won’t be quite enough to get the story done during NaNo. However, it’s all going well so far, and if you haven’t checked it out since day one, Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure now includes nearly 20,000 words worth of silliness for you to explore. Also 64 unique endings.
Those things add up quickly.