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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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!
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).
The campaign to get Ten Little Astronauts into print has now hit 15% of its goal! A strong start, but to keep up the momentum I’ve got something new in mind: if we hit 25% by the end of September, I’ll reward all supporters with a new, polished work of fiction immediately.
Ten Little Astronauts might have been the final project for my MA in Creative Writing – and it was definitely what earned me a Distinction overall – but it wasn’t the only project, and it wasn’t even the only reimagining of a classic work of fiction.
One module of the course pretty much just invited us to do something a little unconventional and, having already been tinkering with interactive fiction for quite a long time, I knew what I wanted to do from the very start.
My Name Algernon is an interactive work of science fiction that places you in the role of Algernon: an ordinary chimpanzee who, through experimental drugs, it is hoped will gain an extraordinary level of intelligence. Being an interactive story, however, whether he does – and if so, what he does with it – is up to you.
As you might have guessed, My Name Algernon draws inspiration from Daniel Keyes’ Flowers For Algernon, in which mentally handicapped man Charlie Gordon is given experimental surgery to significantly boost his intelligence. The story is told through a series of reports, and as Gordon himself changes the style of these reports changes in kind. My Name Algernon follows a similar format, though being interactive the text displayed is generated by the reader’s computer in response to their actions so far.
I think My Name Algernon will be an interesting read for anyone who’s already following Ten Little Astronauts, and particularly for anyone familiar with certain other stories of mine. I’ve chosen 25% as a goal for this not so much to push things further as to continue the progress that the campaign has made so far: if everybody who’s already pledged found just one friend or family member to join them in supporting the book, we’d be there right away!
So to sum up, My Name Algernon is an interactive science fiction story that, like Ten Little Astronauts, borrows from a well known work. If the campaign to get Ten Little Astronauts into print reaches 25% of its goal by the end of September, I’ll be sending it out to all supporters the moment that happens.
Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 25
Challenge #11: Write a work of interactive fiction beginning with a knock on a door.
You knock on the door.
There is no answer.
Knock again: 2
You knock again.
“Who’s there?” calls a voice from inside.
Kick down the door: 4
“This is Inquisitor Kostov of the Empress’ Hand!” you bellow through the wood. “Open the door immediately!”
“A moment, please!” calls the voice from inside.
Senator Vye is a prominent figure in the City, and a crowd is beginning to form.
Grant him this mercy: 5
Kick down the door: 4
For anyone who was suspicious about the fact that my Project Proteus competition coincided precisely with April Fools’ Day, you were on to something. At this point, having put together an online April Fools’ prank every year since 2013, I’d be a little disappointed if nobody was expecting one! For anyone who actually entered that competition, though, you may have had a tougher time spotting this year’s than most, effectively because it’s you who’s been pulling the prank this year!
Played just once, on just one device, Project Proteus appears to be a perfectly ordinary interactive story. If played again, it appears exactly the same. You can load the game up as many times as you like, and you will always have the same range of options to click through and explore.
However, the story experienced by another player on another device is probably not the same as yours.