Tagged: Horror

Project Procrustes Has Been Solved

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

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

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

That person was G. Deyke!

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

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

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

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

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

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Announcing Project Procrustes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southampton Global Game Jam 2018

I said a while ago that I was planning to take part in the Global Game Jam in Southampton this year, and I invited anybody interested to join me and possibly form a team before getting to the event. My approach last year was pretty much just to turn up and improvise, so I was really glad this time around to be able to tackle a project with people I already knew.

Me, Alex Carter, Jay Connell and Claire Rose: all the people behind Resonance!

This was a first for me for two reasons. One was that I had a fairly solid idea what kind of skills people on the team would have going in, and the other was that I ended up not really writing very much at all in the end. All four of us are writers, so when it came to producing a story – even an interactive one – we were all set. My job was more or less just to come up with the Twine gubbins to keep track of everything that’s happening in that story. Continue reading

The Dragon and the Dying Stars

Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 31

Challenge #14: Write a story in the style of a fairy tale, including phrase repetition and involving stars as physical objects. It must be serious in tone but also include a Phillips screwdriver.

This challenge was set by G. Deyke.

Once upon a time, in a world far distant, the night sky grew dark. Slowly, at first, the stars grew dim. The king’s philosophers at first thought that this was nothing more than the action of passing aeons, and that more would burn anew. But ere long their numbers dwindled, and the naked eye saw plainly what no telescope could: the stars were consumed.

Troubled, the king sent out his greatest knight upon a steed of chrome. Agravane was that knight’s name, and in his hand he bore a sword born of a dying star. Never would that blade break, and never would its edge grow dull. For many weeks Agravane rode through the void, and for as many weeks the king watched through the seeing-stone that stood before his throne.

At last, Agravane found his foe, and the king at last saw who it was who plucked the stars from the aether like grapes from the vine.

It was a dragon, vast as his kingdom and black as the void. Each wing was as wide as a galaxy, and its eyes glowed like quasars. Its manner and its motions were that of a great animal; its structure and its form, that of a terrible machine.

When the dragon spoke, it spoke not to the knight before it, but to the king beyond the stone: “I have lived since before the days of time. Since before the noise of creation and beyond the notion of being. Your universe is an affront to me, but in its matter I have found a host, and that host offers a solution. From one hundred billion dying stars I built this body, and with it I shall consume all the living stars that remain. Then there shall be stillness and silence and peace until the heat death of the universe, wherein there shall be stillness and silence and peace still.”

In his throne, the king trembled at the threat of such a foe. But Agravane was fearless.

He held aloft his sword: “You might have seized your matter from the stars by force, but mine was a gift granted in a time of dire need. When I stood alone against the hordes of Far Reach and my weapon snapped in twain, bright Achernar crystallised into a blade that would never fail me so.”

But though Agravane was fearless, he was not wise, and his sword did not avail him: the dragon was forged of star-steel too, and though the blade did not dull against its scales, neither could it cut them, and the beast crushed him in its mighty hand unhindered. Agravane’s sword was lost to the aether whence it came.

Fearful, the king sent out a second knight upon a second steed. Carador was this knight’s name, and in his hand he bore a spear born of a dying star. Never would that shaft snap, nor would the point fail to find its mark. For many weeks Carador rode through the void, and for as many weeks the king watched through the seeing-stone.

“What fool comes to challenge me?” demanded the dragon, in a voice that carried even through the void.

“No fool am I,” Carador responded, keeping his distance, “for I carry the same spear that came to me during the siege of Omega Centauri when my own weapon was lost.”

The dragon snorted: “Never can you pierce my scales with your stick.”

Carador took aim: “I do not intend to try.”

He did not direct his spear against the dragon’s scales, but instead towards one of its vast eyes. Unerring, the spear flew, yet clattered from the boiling orb: even the eyes were forged of star-steel, and even the eyes could not be harmed.

With a single pulse of its fiery gaze, the dragon tore the knight’s very atoms asunder, and Carador’s spear too was lost to the aether whence it came.

Holding little hope, the king summoned still one more knight. Gilhault was this knight’s name, and in his hand he bore a hammer born of a dying star. When swung, the head was weightless, yet when it struck a foe it held the mass of a thousand moons.

But before Gilhault could mount his steed, an unseen assailant cracked his visor with a cudgel so he could not brave the void: Elayn, his squire, stole the reins and rode off in his stead.

Furious, the king sent all his knights to pursue her, but all were left behind: none tended the steeds with more skill or kindness than Elayn, and so none could catch Gilhault’s, which she had so long cared for.

Elayn faced the dragon.

The dragon laughed. “Will you fight me with a simple cudgel?”

“No.” Elayn drew her own gift of star-steel from her voidcloak. “With this.”

And the dragon laughed louder, for the item she produced was but a Phillips screwdriver.

“I too was at the battle against the hordes of the Far Reach, and there my master was dismounted. I leapt through the void to reach his steed, but found it maimed beyond motion. For weeks we drifted, helpless, until we were caught in the orbit of Leporis. From that star was born this screwdriver, and with it I saved this steed.”

“Go home, little girl,” said the dragon. “You have some years yet before I trouble myself with your sphere: do not forfeit them.”

Elayn did not answer this insult. She merely charged forwards, and the dragon, without even going to the effort of stretching out its neck, consumed her whole.

But though every piece of the dragon was formed of a dying star—every piece indestructible—they were held together with screws of star-steel. And though their threads would never strip and their shanks never break, no bond held them in their place but simple force.

In this way, with nothing but a screwdriver, Elayn beheaded the monster whose neck no blade could sever.

If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:

OCR is Not the Only Font Cover REDESIGN (Barbecued Iguana)Red Herring Cover (Barbecued Iguana design)Bionic Punchline eBook CoverOsiris Likes This Cover

Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.

You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which is currently crowdfunding at Unbound. Most pledge levels include all the books shown above, and all will include your name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself as a patron of my work.

Support it here!

Ultraviolent Unicorn Deathmatch of Destiny

Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 22

Challenge #10*: Write an interactive story with at least two good endings and two bad endings. It must feature a conflict between Man and Society, and must also involve a choice that hinges on equipping the right item.

A hyperlinked version of this story is available here.

1

In the arena, two majestic alabaster unicorns duel to the death. Their tungsten chainsaw horns ring out against one another like a swarm of killer bees in a blender.

Intervene: 2

Place bet: 3

Leave: 4 Continue reading

Long in the Tooth

Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 21

“Visiting hours are over, I’m afraid. They have been for about seven hours.”

“Ah. But I called ahead!”

“I see.” The nurse checked her notes. “Then you must be Count…”

“Please, Count Dracula is my father! Call me Vlad.” He reached out, took her hand, and kissed it in the most vampirically dashing way imaginable.

“Nice to meet you.” She wiped it on her shirt in the least inconspicuous way imaginable.

Kids these days. The old vampire hypnosis never seemed to work on them. A shame, as he could have done with a snack after the long trip. He supposed it was all that Netflix or Snapchat or possibly some fortifying effect of a diet consisting almost entirely of avocado toast. That had never been a problem back in Transylvania. Except it probably was now. Everything flown everywhere!

“Do you know which room it is?” she asked.

“Of course! 1428, same as my birth y…I mean my bus. Ah, ah, ah.” He gave a nervous laugh. “The 14:28. They only start in the afternoon. That’s why I couldn’t get here during daylight.” Continue reading

White Rabbit

Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 20

Challenge #9: Write a story featuring every sense but sight. It must have a palindromic word count and not use any adverbs ending in “-ly.”

“Bugger. There go the lights.”

“Spare lantern?”

There were a few seconds of vigorous clicking while Harper tried the switch.

“Dead.”

“Oh well. Absolute last resort I suppose…”

I fished about in my pocket for the lighter. What I found instead was most disconcerting.

“Harper?”

“Yeah?”

“Harper, there’s a hole in my pocket.”

The silent dark of the Alterworld was polluted by a string of graphic obscenities. Continue reading

Lord Harlington’s Heir

Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 13

Challenge #6: Write a creature horror story featuring a psycho party member in which a torch is used as a weapon.

“I was terribly sorry to learn about your uncle, Mr. Heathcote.” Mr. Smith extended his hand to shake.

Taking it, the man gave a dismissive tut. “Oh, he was only second uncle. And, ah, it’s Lord Harlington now.”

“Ah, yes. Yes, of course.” This fellow might have been rather callous, but since he was quick to pick up his uncle’s title, he would be quick to pick up the pen. “Shall we go inside?”

“In a moment, perhaps.”

The hesitation caught Smith by surprise, though the slightly imperious tone did not.

“I overheard some rather curious gossip in the bar of my hotel last night.”

Smith remained at the door, his hand on the key in the lock. The longer he kept it there, the more that unturned key started to feel like his commission slipping through his grasp.

He let go and turned. “I daresay you must have.” He smiled faintly. “A man dies inside a locked room but his body is nowhere to be found: your uncle’s misfortune might have been lifted straight out of the latest Christie. But I assure you, the investigation was quite thorough, and its conclusions entirely unremarkable. Come.” He turned the key at last. “I will show you.”

The interior of the stately home was in need not so much of a good clean as complete redecoration. Smith directed his torch about the place. The late lord had been known to have a taste for trophies, but clearly that was all the taste he had.

“What’s that smell?” demanded the current lord, placing a handkerchief to his nose.

“I’m not sure,” admitted Smith. “Until we found you, the Harlington estate had no known heir. There hasn’t been a custodian employed here for just over two years.” Even walking ahead he could sense Harlington’s dismay. Hastily, he added: “A long time for one so large.”

They came at last to the door of the trophy room, a splintered dent in the wood where an iron bar had, just over two years ago, been driven between it and the frame. It swung open without resistance, revealing an array of heads—if heads they could be called—on plaques, lining every wall. These were not beasts of Africa or India, but of somewhere altogether more exotic.

“This,” said Smith, “I am sorry to say, is where your second uncle met his end. He had spent much of the day hunting in the Alterworld—that much is clear, the servants’ statements were entirely consistent and his boots and socks stood wet by the door—and returned, we believe, empty-handed. He came to this room to unload and clean his gun—it was found here, on the floor by the cabinet—but crucially did not remove from his back the apparatus he had used to travel that day. The servants heard a commotion and a scream—here their statements were less consistent—and then silence.”

The topic of conversation did not seem to sit well with Harlington, but Smith thought it better that he be troubled with the knowledge of the true disaster than by the nonsensical gossip of the townsfolk. Both were unsettling, but only one fostered the kind of superstition that made a man turn down a windfall such as this.

“It is thought,” Smith continued, after a respectful silence, “that your uncle’s apparatus suffered some form of malfunction. Either it drew him suddenly back into the Alterworld, where he became hopelessly lost in the darkness, or he disintegrated in transit and never arrived. In neither case would one expect to find a body, and in neither case would—”

It was Harlington who saw it first. Smith merely followed his gaze.

Out in the hallway stood a long, lithe beast the colour of the gloom cast by the curtains. No eyes gleamed in the torchlight, for there were no eyes at all. It walked smoothly and in absolute silence. Had Smith not swung the torch towards it as he gestured, and had Harlington’s eyes not happened to follow when he did, this beast might have taken one of them without even interrupting the conversation.

Instead, discovered, it leapt, and Smith threw shut the door.

The impact as the creature struck was immense. Had the door been intact, it would have broken. Instead, it swung open, but only far enough to strike Smith’s foot. Fighting the pain, he tried to force it closed once more as claws curled around the edge. Foul breath spilled through the crack, cold despite the fierce struggle.

Then, as if into thin air, the beast was gone once more.

There was a snap as Harlington drew back the hammers of his second uncle’s finest gun.

Still keeping his whole weight against the door, Smith was relieved to think the man had kept a cool enough head to find and load the weapon. His relief faded the moment he saw that it was directed at him.

“You knew that thing was here!” Harlington spat. “You’d heard the stories!”

“I didn’t—”

“You’re lying!”

All the hair on the back of Smith’s neck suddenly stood on end, but it was not fear that caused it. It was the unfamiliar yet unmistakable feeling of something foreign pushing into the room, though the door was still held tight. Smith directed the torch towards it, Harlington his gun.

The beast was there, head outstretched, the vast mouth open to scent the air.

Neither man dared make a move. Harlington would not risk the gun. Smith had no such option. All he had was the torch.

And yet, he realised, that was all he needed.

As softly as he could, he threw the item at Harlington’s feet.

The creature was upon the man before his finger found the trigger.

Quietly, Smith took up his briefcase and slipped out the door.

Lord Harlington must have had other, more distant heirs. Perhaps in America or India. Too distant, perhaps, to care much about the house and its troublesome inheritance.

If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:

OCR is Not the Only Font Cover REDESIGN (Barbecued Iguana)Red Herring Cover (Barbecued Iguana design)Bionic Punchline eBook CoverOsiris Likes This Cover

Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.

You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which is currently crowdfunding at Unbound. Most pledge levels include all the books shown above, and all will include your name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself as a patron of my work.

Support it here!

All the Better to Eat You With

Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 11

Challenge #5: Write a post-apocalyptic fairy tale with a non-linear narrative.

Little Red pushed open the door of her grandmother’s cottage, knowing what she’d find long before she saw it. There was blood on the doorstep. The Wolf had left his car hidden in a stand of trees, but the atom-scorched trunks did little to disguise the bright warpaint and burnished chrome.

“Eyes bigger than your stomach, eh?”

She primed her weapon.

The creature on the bed bared its teeth.

***

“Wouldn’t recommend going that way,” the Wolf said, clearing flesh from his car’s grill with the end of a tyre iron. “Big horde of ghouls. Barely got through it myself.”

“Oh dear!” Little Red stepped off her bike. “But I simply must get these supplies to my grandmama!”

“No fear!” The Wolf gave her a big, toothy grin. “Where does she live? Perhaps I can suggest a safer route…”

***

“Now remember what I told you,” said Red’s mother, for the fiftieth time.

“Yes, yes, I know. Stick to the path, don’t talk to anyone, and if I run into any ghouls—”

“Don’t cave their heads in.”

Red stepped out of the bunker and onto her bike.

“And make sure that your cattle prod’s got a good charge: you know how grandma gets when she hasn’t been fed!”

If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:

OCR is Not the Only Font Cover REDESIGN (Barbecued Iguana)Red Herring Cover (Barbecued Iguana design)Bionic Punchline eBook CoverOsiris Likes This Cover

Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.

You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which is currently crowdfunding at Unbound. Most pledge levels include all the books shown above, and all will include your name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself as a patron of my work.

Support it here!

Prophecy for Yourself

Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 1

Challenge #1: Write a story of survival against seemingly insurmountable odds including elements of black comedy and a “Screw destiny!” moment.

On any other day, the harbour would have seemed bustling with life. In truth, however, the streets were empty, and the bloated hands that manned the vessels at the dock were anything but alive. Shrouded in a cloud of inky vapour, Baal-Sogoth rose from the depths, strode through the surf and began to climb the granite spire that looked out across the shore. The Lord of the Abyss had, as prophecy foretold, come to claim dominion over the people of the earth and sand. In days to come, he would have his drowned servants carry the hills to fill the depths, making all the world even so that no land broke the surface of the sea, and no waves marred its perfect face.

In days to come, Baal-Sogoth would look upon the Earth and see a glassy, fish-like eye no different to his own.

In days to come, the Earth would look back with its new dead life, and see his eye in turn. Continue reading