I’ve been pretty heavily focused on getting Ten Little Astronauts ready for publication recently, which might be why I never noticed that two of my interactive fiction games were on the People’s Choice shortlist for Wonderbox’s Opening Up Digital Fiction Competition.
You can play either one by clicking its icon above.
I sent in a whole bunch of games back when the competition was open for submissions, but wasn’t particularly confident in any of them making the cut. To see two in there is a real surprise, especially since these two in particular are very different in tone.
Because I discovered this pretty late on, not only has voting now closed but the winners have already been announced! Sadly neither of my games are amongst them, but there was some pretty serious competition: the winners look absolutely top notch, and I encourage you to check them out.
This is hardly the first time something I’ve worked on has been up for a prize, but it is the first time it’s happened specifically for an interactive piece that wasn’t a team project. It just goes to show that it’s usually worth taking a chance on these things even if you’re not sure what will come of it. Also, do keep an eye on Wonderbox specifically: the competition is annual so if you’d like to take a shot at it yourself then you’ll have a chance next year!
Back in May I set up Codename Caerus: a game project bringing a team of people together to make something better than any of us could have produced individually. That something is still in the works – it’ll take more than a couple of months to see it through to the end – but we’ve made great progress and Codename Caerus now has a title: Wolf at the Door.
Our efforts so far have been focused on getting a demo prepared for submission to AdventureX. At this stage, it’s not in good enough shape to share – this one’s just to demonstrate that we have the bare bones of a working game – but it can be played start to finish and most of the gameplay that’ll appear in the finished version is already present in some form or another. In some ways it’s already more ambitious than what I first planned, as we’ve got in-game sound: something I wasn’t even sure was possible to do in Twine back when I organised this! Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2018, Day 19
Challenge #9: Write a story in collaboration with at least one other author. It must feature a ragtag bunch of misfits, a humanoid abomination, as well as MacGuyvering and a character being punished for doing a good deed. Of these tropes, one must be played straight, one inverted, one subverted and one exaggerated.
“Hi. My name’s Steve, and I have the face of an eldritch abomination.”
A mumbled “Hi, Steve” made its way around the room in acknowledgement. Steve, indeed, had the face of an eldritch abomination. Tentacle-beard and all.
“I wasn’t always this way,” Steve explained. “I mean—obviously. Can you imagine what my mother would have said if I’d come out like this?”
The room tittered nervously.
“I’ve always had skin problems,” Steve continued, “but, like, conventional skin problems. Not go-mad-from-the-revelation skin problems. I try to stay fairly upbeat, but…” Steve trailed off dejectedly, staring into the expectant, if uncomfortable, faces before him.
“Anyway, there was a sketchy clinical trial in Fresno and here we are.” He scratched a tentacle. Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2018, Day 16
This is Professor Granham of the Department of Xenobiology at King’s College London, recorded July 16th, 1930. I leave this message partly because others will doubtless come looking for me, and partly because the…the [inaudible] compels me. There will be those at the University who know the nature of my latest avenue of research and may be able to retrace my steps. Please do not attempt to do so. If you were to see what I had seen…such glory, such hideous—
[Here there is a knot in the wire where a length has been excised. Staff are reminded to check all wastepaper baskets thoroughly before emptying.]
I have wrestled with the possibility of making my discovery known. Part of me wishes to reveal what I found, to allow my colleagues the opportunity to…to make it safe somehow. To stand against the horror I could not. But I know that at best this is foolish. At worst, the will of… Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2018, Day 11
There was once a city with wealth beyond measure. Its streets were gardens, with statues in every alcove and trees in every square. By day travellers marked the place by the mist that rose from its fountains, and by night the smoke that rose from the palace spire. The city was a lighthouse to the desert’s sea: those who passed by knew no bandits dared to stalk the roads in the places where it watched, and those who passed through knew they were sure to find cool water and a warm bed.
Though this city was home to many guards who manned towers set about its border or patrolled its roads on horseback, the king himself would often watch over the land from the palace spire. His advisers were wise and the court’s demands few, so the lord of that high palace spent his days in much the same way as the lowest of his soldiers. He did, however, have one luxury they did not: an ingenious device—a gift from an alchemist—that allowed him to view passers-by on the horizon with such clarity that they might have been walking through the gardens below.
One day, while watching over the desert, the king happened to notice a figure upon a camel, robed in garments of dust-stained linen. The sight of such a traveller was far from unusual, but this figure did not seem to be travelling at all. Observing him through the alchemist’s device, the king saw that he was indeed merely seated upon his camel, motionless in the desert. Fearing some misfortune, the king sent for a guard to ride out to meet him. Continue reading
Codename Caerus – my portfolio-building game project – has had a phenomenal level of interest since I announced it a couple of weeks ago, and although I’ve yet to look through all the example pieces people have sent in, I’m now pretty much certain we’ll be able to get a great team together. Every role has at least one person going for it, and in most cases more than that. I’ve been hugely impressed by some of the work people have chosen to share.
However, if you’ve been meaning to put your name forward to work on this game and haven’t yet got around to it, don’t worry. You haven’t missed your chance.
In a way, you’ve actually got more of a chance than you did when I first announced this project because I’m extending the deadline to apply. When I decided to stop taking applications at the end of the month, I neglected to consider that I’d be attending Feral Vector from May 31st to June 2nd. Continue reading
So I made a trip to London for EGX Rezzed last month, and up until now I’ve totally neglected to write anything about it for two reasons:
- I’m still just a little freaked out over how many people recognised me as “that Girth Loinhammer guy.”
- The event gave me an idea for something big and it took a while to come up with a plan for it:
I want to get a team together to make a game.
At this point I feel as though I’ve got a pretty good number of games to my name – I’ve even set up a separate website as a portfolio – but it would really help to have a few more team projects out there for people to enjoy. I expect plenty of other people are in the same position. So far I’ve mostly worked alone, and (with the exception of the two commercially released videogames I’ve had a hand in) when I haven’t it’s generally been for Game Jams. Game Jams are great, of course, but the results are never particularly polished and they don’t really demonstrate the ability to work with a team on an extended project. As a writer, I don’t feel as though there are all that many opportunities already out there. Some, certainly, but far from oodles.
That’s why I’m planning to set something up: not having a title for the game itself yet, I’ll refer to this whole endeavour as Codename Caerus for now. This will be an opportunity for anybody who wants to get more of a foothold in games to work on something polished and substantial as part of a team. Continue reading
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:
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.
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.
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