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.
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 31
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:
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.
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 29
Challenge #13*: David Bowie Day. Write a story including a character in mourning and exploring the theme of religion. It must include at least three David Bowie film titles, a swan song, and a character who speaks to the audience only in David Bowie song titles.
Everyone had been sad about it, naturally. To so suddenly lose a figure so beloved to so many. But it had struck Hades more than most. To him it was deeply personal, somehow. It shouldn’t have been—until it had happened, he’d never even been in the same room—but it was. He bet Baal never had to put up with this sort of sacrilege.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” said Virgil to the reader.
That was Virgil’s imaginary friend: “the reader.” Hades wasn’t sure when it had started, but he suspected it had something to do with his still-alive friend Dante waltzing off to Purgatory and leaving him stuck here. That or the linguine incident. That had been hard on everybody. Hades himself didn’t much like to think about it. He turned his attention instead to Charon, still trying to lift the deceased into his tiny little canoe.
“Have you tried using a lever of some kind?” yelled one of the shades.
“For the last time, Archimedes, enough with the levers!” Hades yelled back, then turned to Charon once more.
He didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. Continue reading
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.
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.
Place bet: 3
Leave: 4 Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2017, Day 4
Challenge #2: Write a four-part story featuring four different settings. Each part must have an identical word count and the settings must correspond to the four classical elements.
Once upon an ancient time, a terrible giant rose from the land. A remnant of a savage age, the giant had no taste for peace: his only joys were destruction and strife. Stone was his skin and stone was his heart, so neither arrow nor entreaty could end his assault upon the good people who lived in those parts. But still they had one hope:
“Cornwall John, Cornwall John!” the people cried. “Save us from the terrible giant who tears up crops with his stone hands and treads upon our livestock with his stone feet.”
So Cornwall John strode out upon the plain to face this dire foe.
Now, Cornwall John was big as a house, but the stone giant was big as a castle, and it laughed to hear his challenge.
“Go on then,” the giant said, leaning down and pointing to its chin. “I am generous. I shall let you throw the first punch, since any punch of mine is sure to be the last.”
Then Cornwall John drew back his fist, and with a single strike cast the great stone giant into the sea, where he sank and drowned. For you see, not only was Cornwall John as big as a house, but his fists were made of brick! This, in the end, was the giant’s undoing. Continue reading
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
You might recall Craft Keep VR from my writeup of EGX 2016, where I was lucky enough to try out the virtual reality fantasy artisan game first hand. Well, there’s some exciting follow-up news. First of all, Craft Keep is coming to Steam Early Access on the 10th of November: that’s less than a week away!
Second, I’m writing this thing! At EGX I got talking to the developer, Arvydas Žemaitis, who said that he was looking to include an interesting story as the player travels about setting up shop in all these weird and wonderful locations around the world. Naturally I sent off an email about it after the event, and here we are! Continue reading
Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 30
The corpse of the dragon lay steaming upon the floor, the marks of its wrath seared permanently into the cavern walls. Yet the heroes stood victorious. Leaving the dragon to stink and smoulder, they ventured deeper into its lair, appraising the stock of treasure the winged terror had amassed across the ages.
“This will ease the suffering of our land…” observed Khemaghan the Keen, lifting a gem-studded chalice, worth several fortunes on its own.
“…but it will not repair the devastation that the beast has wrought.” Quilbar the Quick was troubled by the same thought.
“We beat it,” said Skondar the Strong, speaking firmly as ever. “We won. It’s over.”
But from the bones of the dragon, there sprang forth a new threat. For in its hoard—beyond the reach of mortal man for years known only to the gods—there stood a copper lamp upon a bare pedestal. In every other room, gold and jewels had lain strewn across the floor, a careless bed for the vile serpent.
In this room, the floor was bare. A perfect, solid circle of clear stone marked a perimeter about the pedestal, as though gold and silver feared to draw too close to the base metal that stood atop it.
Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 4
Challenge #2: Write a story in 300 words or fewer that involves a little-known historical figure and begins in media res.
“Alright, Zhang Xun!” Linghu Chao stamped with his right foot, inadvertently splattering his left with battlefield muck. “It’s been a …fun…four months, but this really has to stop! You’ve got no food, no arrows, and no lumber. My army outnumbers yours twenty to one. Why don’t you come out here and we can talk about this?”
“Why don’t you come in here and we can talk about it?” jeered Zhang Xun, from the top of the ramparts.
Linghu Chao spluttered momentarily. “Do you remember that time a couple of months ago when I sent in, like, six of my best guys to do just that?”
“And you were all like: ‘Oh! I’m convinced! These six guys have put together a really coherent and well reasoned argument! I’ll surrender now! Okay!’”
“And then you beheaded those six guys?”
Linghu Chao spluttered again. “It’s…you see… You’re really screwing me over here, man!”
The soldiers of the Yan Dynasty were looking less and less loyal after four months of Zhang Xun’s nonsense. This particular diplomatic exchange was not helping matters.
“Surrender now, or we’ll just bust right in there! Our fortifications are looking great, but your fortress might just fall down on its own!”
“Okay,” called Zhang Xun. “How about you back off, say, thirty miles so all my guys can retreat.”
“What?” blurted Linghu Chao. “I’m not about to go thirty…” there were mutinous groans from the troops. “Alright, fine!”
Linghu Chao and 40,000 very tired Yan soldiers began to make their way back the way they’d come four months ago.
“They’re not retreating,” said Linghu Chao’s advisor as they crested the first hill. “In fact…” he squinted through his telescope. “Yeah. They’re stealing our tents.”
Linghu Chao put his head in his hands. “I don’t even care anymore.”