Tagged: interactive fiction

Announcing Project Pythias

It’s been quite a while since I had a new story to share online. It’s hard to be too upset about that given that it’s primarily down to some recent successes – crowdfunding Ten Little Astronauts takes up a great deal of my time, and I’m currently sorting out a contract for Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure with a different publisher – but still it seems like a shame.

Another factor in this (and it’s somewhat related to the whole Exponential Adventure thing) is that my work recently has taken a step away from self-contained, linear stories and towards more nebulous interactive pieces, whether I’m putting together Twine games all by myself or whether I’m approaching bigger videogame developers about the possibility of working with them. Amazing as it is to have a hand in something like Craft Keep VR, all the time I spend lining up opportunities like that is time I can’t spend knocking together a short story or chipping away at a novel. And that got me thinking: maybe I can use one of these things to tackle the other?

That’s where Project Pythias comes in.

Project Pythias isn’t so much a game or an interactive story as it is a piece of software. You might have noticed that my interactive work has been getting more and more tech-heavy over time, but actually this sort of thing goes way back for me. Although my BA was in English Literature, and much of that was focused on very old texts, I was studying at the University of Reading which is really big on scientific research. A lot of my friends were involved with neural networks at some point or another, and though I can’t put together anything of the same complexity they were, I’ve got enough of an understanding to bolt together something that, when trained on my own stories, can generate outlines of similar follow-up works. Twine lets you bring in pretty much any JavaScript you like, and if you’re willing to get your hands dirty you might be surprised what sort of functionality you can get out of that.

Essentially, though Project Pythias can’t “think” as such – it doesn’t actually aim to produce anything funny or surprising – it can grasp that Captain Redundancy appears only in stories in which his presence is redundant, and that Girth Loinhammer is supposed to be intimidating but ends up being sexy, and when stories follow some sort of formula like that, it’s reasonably good at identifying and reproducing it.

It’s also still pretty buggy, by the way: you might see an occasional error message, but I’m actually really struggling to work out what’s going wrong. For the most part, you can just ignore those. However, DON’T tick the box to “prevent this page from generating additional dialogs” if it appears. Those dialogs are necessary for Twine to run.

I’m putting this out there partly as a way of offering some new stories to you guys, but as well as that I’m hoping to further refine Project Pythias‘ output. At the moment they’re essentially just outlines, but with some feedback and a few weeks’ work I think I could have this thing generating stories approaching 1,000 words. I’m not exactly going to count on it to tackle Flash Fiction Month for me, but if time is short this July I might set it loose on the ordinary days and just focus on the challenges myself. I’m already relying on automation more and more. If you don’t believe me, consider this: I’m at EGX right now! Today! This very minute, even! WordPress posted this all by itself (under my instruction, of course).

Anyway, here’s that link again. Give it a try, and tell me what you think. If everything works out, there’s a good chance Project Pythias will be producing all my short fiction by 2018.

Ten Little Astronauts has 125 Supporters!

As promised, here I am picking a name from a hat to determine which of these lucky people get a free, signed copy of Kicking and Screaming:

There’s been a lot of interest in Ten Little Astronauts recently and thanks partly to a couple of really good events this month, a whole bunch of those draw places went pretty much overnight. And by “a whole bunch,” I honestly mean about half. They went fast.

If you didn’t put in your pledge in time (or if you did but weren’t that one lucky person who got the book), then no worries. There’ll be other giveaways, but on top of that I’m planning a slightly different reward to mark the 150 supporter milestone, and this one will go out to the first 150 supporters. All of them. Every single one.

As I say in the video above, the plan at the moment is to put together an interactive story (written in Twine, the same software I’ve used for just about all of my interactive works so far) set on board a gigantic spacecraft and featuring the first 150 supporters as its crew. A lot of Unbound authors offer a “name a character” reward but since that’s not an option for Ten Little Astronauts itself (which has exactly ten characters, all of them named after Agatha Christie’s ten from And Then There Were None), I feel as though this is a good way of giving everyone a mention in something else.

If you’ve already put in a pledge for Ten Little Astronauts, then there’s nothing more you need to do: I’ll be working on this new reward as the supporter count ticks up to 150. However, if you’d like to help more – and especially if there’s anyone whose name you’d like to see in this new work – then please encourage your friends to jump on board! They’ll also get their name in the back of Ten Little Astronauts itself once it’s published, but only the first 150 will get a place in this interactive story.

Twine for Beginners: Getting Started in Four Clicks

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.

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Ten Little Astronauts at 25%!

Another milestone, and this one’s a biggie! Ten Little Astronauts is now at 25% funding, meaning that we’re a quarter of the way towards getting the book professionally edited, designed, and finally distributed by Penguin Random House. This would be well beyond anything I’ve managed to do so far, and with the support behind it already it’s starting to look like a real possibility.

If you’re supporting Ten Little Astronauts already, you’ll now have access to a couple of rewards not available anywhere else. One is an audio recording of the first chapter, the other is the just-released My Name Algernon, a work of interactive science fiction quite different from anything I’ve written before. Since Ten Little Astronauts launched, I’ve been determined to make sure that the people who are generous enough to help it reach the bookshops get way, way, way more than their money’s worth, and there are more rewards on the way. When the campaign reaches 30%, I’ll be making available Harvest Moon, a short folk horror that you’re unlikely to have come across before, along with a brand new audio version of the same.

Before that, though, I’ll be running another book giveaway, this time for a copy of short story anthology Kicking and Screaming, which includes (among many other things) Harvest Moon itself. I’ll be sending out a signed copy to one of my first 125 supporters at random, which means that at the time of writing there are just 10 slots left. Those last few draw pledges went pretty quickly ahead of the 100 supporter giveaway, and I actually had a couple of people put in pledges right after the cutoff. Don’t hold off and get caught out!

Of course, if you’ve already put in a pledge for Ten Little Astronauts, then your name’s already in the hat. A couple of very generous people actually have their name in the hat twice, partly because it would be hard to keep track of the total otherwise, partly because I’m aware it’s fairly common for supporters to pledge on behalf of a friend.

Part of what makes reaching 25% funding such a big step is that it means there’s a huge group of people willing to put money towards making Ten Little Astronauts a reality, and I’m hoping they’ll be willing to help spread the word about it too. If everybody who’s put in a pledge so far found just one friend willing to do the same, we’d be literally halfway towards getting the book funded. That’s the stage we’re at now, and it’s huge! So seriously, thank you to everyone who’s supported it so far, and everyone who simply let someone else know the book exists: you’ve all made a massive difference.

Brighton Global Game Jam 2017

This weekend was Global Game Jam 2017, which means that much like last year I ended up spending the whole shebang knocking together a complete game in just 48 hours. Not on my own, though: that would be crazy! These things are best tackled as part of a team effort. Last year’s game was Brituals, a social-awkwardness simulator set in a hellish parallel Britain (playable here). This year’s was Undercurrent, a nautical interactive fiction piece featuring rhythmical Mexican-wave action. The theme for this year was “waves,” by the way, which will probably be apparent in the range of games produced for the event.

This video should give some idea of what the finished game might look like: impressive, no? Unfortunately, we didn’t quite get the whole thing put together in time for the presentations at the end, but basically all the elements were there. If you download the source code .zip file on the GGJ page, you’ll find what we’ve got so far. However, if you don’t feel like poking around with that, have no fear! I spent a frantic three or four hours at the end of the event implementing the entire game in Twine, complete with an approximation of our central Mexican wave mechanic. It doesn’t have any of the audio or eye-candy hinted at by the video above (in fact, anybody who spent a particularly long time trying to uncover the arcane meta-mystery of Project Proteus is likely to find the overall appearance of this game very familiar indeed), but it is playable beginning to end and should give some idea how the finished thing would actually behave.

Team Undercurrent

From left to right: Laurence Bush, Damon L. Wakes, Mark Grizenko, Fiona Roberts, Morrison Cole.

I feel as though I managed to weasel my way into a really strong team this year. Laurence had a hand in the audio for Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, and Mark is the guy behind the Posetastic drawing reference app. Fiona wrote the bulk of the actual story in the game (my main contribution was the nonsense island encounters), and Morrison tackled getting the interactive text into Unity. I’ll definitely be checking out how to do that myself because if I could manage even half of what he did, my interactive fiction would be at least 800% more stylish and flashy. Continue reading

Robocopout Available Now!

It may have taken the longest of any of my Flash Fiction Month anthologies to put together, but 2016’s collection – Robocopout – is now available, and for the first time ever I’ve managed to release the ebook and paperback simultaneously.

Robocopout Paperback Cover

Not pictured: ebook edition. Because it’s made out of electrons and they’re pretty shy.

This particular copy is already in the post to Jo Bellamy, the Ten Little Astronauts supporter who won the 100 supporter draw a little while back. If you want a paperback of your very own, you can get one on Amazon UK or Amazon US (and probably other places too). If you want an ebook, I highly recommend Smashwords which has every format you could possibly want and they’re all DRM-free.

Flash Fiction Antholoy Fan sam_2320

Every year my selection of flash fiction anthologies gets a little bit more garish. Continue reading

Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure 50% Complete!

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!

exponential-adventure-half

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!

NaNoWriMo 2016

It’s got a little overshadowed by Ten Little Astronauts and Craft Keep, but yes, I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month again this year! However, I’m not writing a novel this time around. I’m continuing last year’s massively interactive fantasy story, Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure. The upshot of this is that although we’re only six days into the event, and although I only really got into it on Day 3 myself, the project is already more than 60,000 words long (50,000 from last year, plus 10,000 words of never-before-seen storylines from the past six days).

exponential-adventure-wip-flowchart

The only way I could get the entire flowchart into one image was to set up multiple monitors, and even then I had to stitch two screenshots together.

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Ten Little Astronauts – Milestone Rewards

You might recall that I promised to release My Name Algernona never-before-seen work of interactive science fiction – if Ten Little Astronauts reached 25% of its goal by the end of September. Well, that hasn’t happened. Partly I think that might be because I underestimated how much of an influence the initial surge of pledges had on the book’s overall progress so far (20% would probably have been the target to go for), and partly it’s because I made trips to both Torquay and Birmingham this month and being out of town left me with a lot to catch up on. Book-wise, not a whole lot happened while I was otherwise occupied.

Ultimately, it looks like it’s mainly up to me to get the word out about the book, and with that being the case it seems a shame to have rewards for supporters depend on how much I can do in any given month. Instead, I figure it’s best to simply break the big 100% goal down into nice, manageable 5% chunks with a bonus for supporters each time we reach one. My Name Algernon will still go out at 25%, but there’ll also be something else at 20%, coming up imminently!

I figure this’ll help keep things moving – get your friends on board and you’ll all be that much closer to getting some neat stuff – without having to make it all-or-nothing each time. It also has the added bonus that if things go especially well, the bonus rewards will come out extra quickly: they won’t be limited to just one a month!

So that’s the plan from now on. Just a handful of pledges is all that’s needed to take Ten Little Astronauts up to 20%, so that first milestone reward could be out very quickly. My plan is to make it an audio version of the first chapter of the book – already finished besides a final polish – so if that sounds like something you’d like to get hold of, pledge your support if you haven’t already and tell your friends if you have!

EGX 2016 Writeup

It’s been a ram-packed four days (plus travel), but well worthwhile. EGX 2016 was the first event of its kind that I’ve been to but, much like Agatha Christie’s birthday celebrations, I’m already looking forward to the next one. I pretty much just caught the train up to Birmingham and stayed in the cheapest hostel I could find, which turned out to be a decent enough plan since plenty of other people had had the same idea. I spent most of my evenings hanging around with other EGX people, though the first night I was there I ended up grabbing a burger with Markus Stitz, who was heading to the same venue for a different reason: it turns out that EGX overlapped exactly with the Birmingham Cycle Show, and he was there to display the bike he used to cycle around the world. I definitely recommend checking out the video on his site – the distances he covered on not just one bike but one gear are simply extraordinary – but I also recommend getting out there and not just going for the nearest hotel next time you’re headed off to something like this. You meet people, you learn things, and your entire stay costs the same as one night in a Travelodge. That’s a definite plus point.

EGX_Blue

I actually managed to snag the very last EGX early access ticket going on the website a few months back, which turned out to be well worthwhile because it meant that I could get into the venue at 10am each day when the bulk of visitors were getting in at 11. That typically made for a chance to queue up for one huge thing for half an hour or so when it would have taken more like two hours at any other point during the day. If I’d had to wait that long to try Final Fantasy XV, Battlezone, or Gears of War 4, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. I might have stuck it out for Dishonored 2 just because the first game was so spectacularly well constructed, but for the most part a wait of more than an hour would have felt like time that would have been better spent trying out some of the excellent indie games on offer. Continue reading