Back at EGX 2016 I got involved with virtual reality game Craft Keep VR. A certain portion of the game was already available in Early Access before I even heard about it but over the past few months I’ve been writing story and dialogue and gradually seeing the whole thing take form. At this point my work is done and, not only that, the finished game has just been released! You’ll need either an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive virtual reality headset to play it, but even if you don’t have one of those knocking about I highly recommend checking out the trailer.
I got a chance to play a very nearly complete version at EGX Rezzed this year, and the experience was…strange. Amazing, but strange. I don’t have the VR equipment necessary to play this sort of thing at home, so beyond a few YouTube videos I hadn’t really seen the work in progress while I was writing. It’s quite a shock to go from “Ha ha! This’ll make for a fun bit of dialogue,” to “Oh wow! There’s the guy saying it!” with absolutely nothing in between. It would be weird if the jump were simply from page to screen, but when it’s from page to 3D people walking around in the room with you, it’s especially striking. Continue reading
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.
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.
I realise we’re halfway through March at this point, but wow is that second half packed full of things to do! If you fancy meeting me in person, you’ll have plenty of chances over the coming couple of weeks (though it helps if you’re currently in the southern half of the UK). Here’s what’s coming up, in order:
Truth is Like a Lazarus Launch
(University of Reading [Van Emden Theatre, HumSS Building], 6pm Monday 20th March)
I got my BA it the University of Reading, and after getting in touch to let them know about my recent success with Ten Little Astronauts, I was invited to submit something to this year’s Reading Creative Arts Anthology, Truth is Like a Lazarus; or, A Roof Bursting with Stars. That something is in there now, and if you turn up in the Van Emden Theatre at 6pm you’ll hopefully have the chance to hear me read it!
As an added bonus, the HumSS building is worth a visit in its own right: think “Hogwarts as imagined by M.C. Escher.” In my second year I almost missed a class because it took place on a floor I didn’t know existed. Fortunately, however, the Van Emden Theatre is up just one flight of stairs visible from the main entrance. Reading’s Whiteknights Campus is full of quirky things like this: it was very nearly declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest and has its own (obsolete) nuclear bunker. Well worth taking the time explore beforehand if you do decide to come to this event!
Winchester Comic Con
(Winchester Discovery Centre, 9am – 6pm, Saturday 25th March)
The first ever Winchester Comic Con is coming up, and I’ll be on the first ever author panel! I’m also one of the judges for the flash fiction competition, so if you fancy making a day of it then come prepared with a ≤100 word speculative fiction story. The competition is open to anybody with a ticket (which presumably you’ll need to get in there anyway, though it may be possible to pay on the door) and this is very much my kind of thing.
As you might expect from a nine-hour event, there’ll be lots going on. There’ll be guests from Harry Potter, Star Wars and Doctor Who, as well as the world’s leading Tintinologist (an expert on Tintin) Michael Farr. Also, it’s not certain at this point but I’m hoping fellow Unbound author Niall Slater will be there too.
(Tobacco Dock, London, 30th March – 1st April)
After having a really great time at EGX in September last year, I’ll be returning for EGX Rezzed at the end of the month! I say “returning” but actually this’ll be a fairly different event. For one thing it’s in London rather than Birmingham, and for another the focus is more on PC and indie titles such as Craft Keep VR, which will be on display there!
For anyone who hasn’t been following for a while, I first came across Craft Keep at EGX and, soon afterwards, ended up writing for it. That was a bit of a dream come true, really. EGX was the first games event I ever went to, and standing in the massive crowd heading in at the start of the first day, I never imagined I’d have my own work on show in the next one I went to. It was only an outside possibility even at the point I was on the train back home! I met a lot of great people at the last event (and bumped into a couple of people I’d already met at the Brighton Global Game Jam), and I’m hoping there’ll be a chance to catch up with at least some of them at this one.
As the “VR” in “Craft Keep VR” might imply, this is a virtual reality title and you’ll need a VR headset and motion controllers to play it. For most people (including me) then, an event like EGX is your main chance to give it a go. Tickets are available here, and they’re actually not too pricy considering the range of games you get to see! I gather that Rezzed will be more low-key than regular EGX – I’m not expecting to grab quite as many free T-shirts (if any) this time around – but even so you’re looking at three full days of gaming for less than the price of one current-gen console release. It’s certainly cheaper than buying an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive if you just want a go at Craft Keep VR!
And that’s it.
I’ve got a few more things planned over the last little while, quite a few of them related to Ten Little Astronauts, but none of those involve turning up places in person. Or at least, none of the ones that do really offer an opportunity to meet up with people. If you are planning to head to any of these, though – whether you’re near Reading or Winchester or fancy a trip into London for EGX – then let me know! It would be great to say hi.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every year my selection of flash fiction anthologies gets a little bit more garish. Continue reading
Here’s a video by Alex Carter (Lexica Films) explaining a little about the anodised aluminium necklaces I’m offering as a reward for supporters of Ten Little Astronauts, as well as a rare opportunity to see how they’re made! There’s also a little more information going in this Shed post on Unbound’s site too.
If these catch your eye at all (or you’re looking for an extra-special Christmas gift for someone), do consider putting in a pledge for the book. The entire necklace reward level (which also includes signed copies of Ten Little Astronauts and Face of Glass, all the ebooks I’ve ever released, and an audio collection of my most popular fiction) is actually going for less than the usual cost of the necklace alone. That’s £50 worth of book rewards, plus a £90 necklace, for £75.
If that’s not good enough for you, Unbound are also running a promotion at the moment that gives 20% off your first pledge: the code is snowman16, and naturally it’s best used for a big reward like this. There’s little point using it to shave £2 off an ebook when you could be getting £15 off a huge bundle of stuff! To use that offer, just hit the “Pledge £75” option under “Anodised Aluminium Necklace” on the book page and enter the promotional code when prompted.
As milestones go, this one’s kind of a biggie. Ten Little Astronauts has reached 100 supporters, which was the target I set for my first book giveaway. One lucky person–revealed in the video above–is getting a signed copy of Robocopout as soon as I have one to send.
In terms of funding, Ten Little Astronauts is currently at 22%, so there’s quite a way to go. However, just the sheer number of people who’ve pledged to support it by this point is a huge boost. I’ve seen other books on Unbound published with under 100 supporters. If this were just an ebook, we’d be there already. But it’s not. There’ll be a super high-quality first edition for supporters, with a trade paperback distributed by Penguin Random House. That’s where the other 78% comes in, which will probably mean reaching another 300 or so people, but hey. There are 100 people on board already: there are at least 300 more out there.
If you’d like to be one of those fantastic people who gets their name in the back of the book and a ton of neat rewards along the way, you can pledge your support right here on Unbound.
Happy Halloween, everybody! I would have liked to write a brand new horror story for the occasion, but things have been a little busy recently so I never got around to it. Instead, here’s an audio version of Failing That…
If you’ve enjoyed this, you might also like to pledge for a copy of Ten Little Astronauts. The story revolves around a series of murders on board an interstellar spacecraft, everybody who supports it gets access to (among other things) an audio version of the opening chapter, and if you’re really quick you’ll be in the running to get a signed copy of my 2016 flash fiction anthology, Robocopout, which isn’t even on sale yet.
Ten Little Astronauts has now reached 20% of its crowdfunding goal, which means – as promised – the audio version of the first chapter is now available to all my supporters! If that link just takes you to the standard book page, you either haven’t pledged or you’re not signed in: either way, there’s an easy fix. 😉
One thing you might notice (and may already have noticed if you read the excerpt very closely) is that the first chapter of Ten Little Astronauts is in fact titled “Eleven.” This is because the title of each chapter corresponds not to the chapter number, but to the number of crewmembers alive on board. As a result, the chapters count down rather than up.
This is the first recording made using my new equipment – a condenser microphone connected to a mic preamp and voice processor – that I’ve released online, so I’m hoping it’ll hold up favourably to the audio I’ve put out there in the past. I’m still learning how to make the most of the equipment, and I expect that the next few recordings will rely less on editing the sound in Audacity and more on finding the right settings to use on the hardware itself. “Eleven” does feature quite a bit in the way of ambient noise added in afterwards, however. If you’ve already pledged and you fancy having a listen, I recommend using speakers if at all possible: if you’re just using earbuds, chances are some of the detail won’t come through. Continue reading